I'm one of those weird people who don't like to sleep. I need sleep, I do sleep, but most of the time I'd rather be reading, cooking, shopping...or anything else people spell out on their license plate frames. As a kid, I used to sleep in my clothes for the next day, ready to be awake again before I'd even nodded off.
I do, however, love to dream. I've had vivid dreams my whole life and usually wake up wanting to talk about them. I remember reading the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, wanting to jump right through the page and into her kitchen, because unlike the members of my family, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle loved nothing more than to sit around the breakfast table listening to a child's dreams.
Failing that jump into my Mrs. Piggle Wiggle paperback, I resorted to writing down my dreams, as frequently and in as much detail as I could. Over the years, it's become a sort of diary, and looking back at a catalogue of my dreams over a period of time, I can recall more about what was going on in my life than I can when I look at my more lucid, actual diaries.
Once, I read an article in Vogue about celebrity dreams, and almost all of the actors interviewed claimed to have recurring dreams of flying. Even now, I can't decide whether to be jealous or bored by this. I have falling dreams. I have morphing dreams where I watch a friend become a family member or I feel myself turn into someone else. When I lived in New York, I had plane crash dreams, which ended abruptly when I moved away. I've been in L.A. now for two months and I haven't had any earthquake dreams yet, but the other night I dreamt I was judging a surfing competition with the waves crashing right up against my window.
My husband is a musician, and he's always dreaming songs. He keeps a tape recorder by his side of the bed, and probably two or three nights a week, I'll wake up to hear him crooning into it in the darkness. Sometimes he goes on to write and record songs based on his dreams, other times, he says it's just a way to get rid of them, to clear up space in his head for other things. For every half-filled dream journal I've got crammed in a drawer, he has a one-verse-song-filled cassette tape stashed in an enormous green trunk. How did we find each other? I know.
When I teach creative writing classes, I usually ask my students to keep a dream journal for extra credit. Their entries might begin as only a few hazy sentences, but after a month or two of dream journaling, each dream can go on for pages. I always get a few who really can't — or, for whatever reason, would rather not — remember their dreams. But the ones who do rave about the assignment and many of them use one of their dreams as a starting point for a short story. For privacy's sake, I don't read their dream journals; I dole out credit by asking for a six-word short story (à la Hemingway's six word story) based on a recurring theme or element in their dreams. A few of them have stuck with me:
Break up with him or else.
Time to tell Mom what happened.
Woke up and wrote it down.
I've been circling around this idea that dreams have something to do with writing, but I still can't articulate exactly what I think it is. None of my own stories are based on the dreams I've written down, and yet I know there's a connection. My characters dream. Their dreams might not appear on the final pages of the book, but I almost always draft at least a few of their dreams, the way I might draft a character sketch. It's one of the best ways I know to check in with them over the course of the book.
I'm writing this now at about four a.m. on a night when I can't sleep. Would I rather be cooking or writing or surfing? Not tonight; for once, I think I'd rather be dreaming.