Everyone dreams, so we’re told, but I rarely remember mine. I often wake with vague lingering impressions of having dreamt something but the feelings are, by that point, so nebulous and fuzzy that I can’t recall any dialogue or action.
Once, many years ago, I tried keeping a dream journal as an exercise. I was a young writer, struggling to finish the stories I started, and had just read Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande for some help. In her book she recommended keeping a notebook under a pillow or on a bedside table to capture those waking impressions and then tease out the fuller details of a dream. You were to do this immediately upon waking, without even sitting up and definitely without turning on a light. The idea was to stay as close to that dream state for as long as possible. Ideas for stories, she wrote, might very well come out of those dreams.
What I captured on paper turned out to be mainly anxiety dreams. You know the genre: you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry but you feel like you’re moving through a vat of molasses instead of making the kind of rapid progress necessary to reach your destination.
I also had a lot of “crumbling teeth” dreams that, I understand, may also be anxiety-related. I can believe that. After a childhood full of teeth being drilled and filled, I now take compulsive care of my teeth and have an obsessive fear of having a bad checkup.
All of which tells me, I guess, that I’m a very anxious person, and all my worries manifest themselves in my quieter moments. Not what I wanted to learn. While I found the writing exercise very helpful at getting me writing every day, I was disappointed in my material.
Being stuck, teeth falling out of my head – what I really wanted was a wild, vivid, action-packed, non-frightening and anxiety-free dream. I wanted something plot-driven, something to help me write a story. Or two.
Right here is where I might heave a big sigh, a great big feel-sorry-for-me-I-feel-sorry-for-myself sigh. But I won’t because – and it’s only taken a number of years – over the past two weeks my dream life has, well, come to life! Even better, I remember them in the morning. Finally: material!
Although maybe the dream where my car broke down on the side of road on the southbound side of I-95 in the pitch black of night and my dog turned up in the way back of the wagon, having snuck into the car to hide herself under a blanket falls into the category of anxiety (instigated no doubt by the tanker truck accident I got trapped in on the same stretch of road). But the wonder of the dream, for me, was its vibrancy. From the panic-inducing bright flash of the check engine light to the Navajo pattern of the dog’s blanket to her brown and white head shaking free from its blanket confines to the mischievous twinkle in her big dark eyes. I was happy, anxiety aspect overlooked, because of all the details.
The rest of my recent dreams have been a little less bizarre but equally vivid, fun but purposeful. And extremely helpful. Yes, helpful dreams. Not that they have unlocked the latched up mysteries of my future, or answered my deepest and most metaphysical Life questions. Nor have they solved plot problems or gifted me with story ideas. (And I have heard other authors talk of that, of how the story came to them “in a dream”, and I have been very jealous.) But all of that might be a little much to ask. I’ll take what I can.
And what I’ve taken is this: detail from these first two, descriptions I can make note of and use in a story somewhere down the line; and recipes ideas from the next two.
Recipes! I’m calling my second type of vivid dream my food dreams, although maybe this is a misnomer for they are not dreams about feasts or eating. Rather, these are dreams in which I cook or plan to cook, dreams in which I concoct actual recipes. In a way, I’m not surprised. With all of the summer’s farm stand cooking, not to mention the writing about food and the sharing of recipes, that I do in my waking hours, it’s likely that food would figure in my sleep too. Nevertheless, the recipes are a gift; I’m grateful food visits me while awake and asleep. If I had enough dreams like this, or recalled enough food dreams at this nice and steady pace for an extended period of time, I would be able to put out my own, original, cookbook in short order.
So far I’ve only had two, but in rapid succession. The first came after I made a tasty warm weather dessert to follow our family Sunday dinner a couple of weeks ago. I had seen a lot of recipes for ice cream sandwiches in recent weeks, and one in particular – one made with a thin gingerbread bar – caught my eye. So I whipped up a batch of the thin bars, cut them to the approximate size of a classic Hood’s ice cream sandwich, and filled them with a good quality store bought vanilla ice cream. They were good: spicy and chewy and neither too sweet nor too dense for a summer dessert. But the blend of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg – I felt – overpowered the straight vanilla ice cream, made me focus only on the sugar taste of the ice cream instead of the deeper and richer vanilla flavors. As I said, good (for anything with ice cream is good), but a little unsatisfying.
I stewed over the dessert a bit the rest of the day then went to bed. By the time morning rolled around I knew how I could improve my dessert…because I had dreamed the answer. Next time I would serve the ice cream sandwiches open-faced, Danish-style, topped with a homemade mace ice cream and a warm compote of nectarines and candied ginger. Awake and planning out this dessert, I might have reached for a ginger ice cream as well. But I think my dream mind made the better choice. My subconscious was probably telling me that ginger in the ice cream compounded with the ginger in the bars might overpower the cinnamon and nutmeg, render both spices undetectable, making the bars themselves one note. While mace, the spice ground from the outer covering of the nutmeg, might add another layer of flavor – deeper but still (because of its relative, nutmeg) complementary. Besides, I just love mace and look for excuses to use it. Mind you, I still have to make this version, but when I do, and if I’m right, I promise I’ll let you know.
The second dish I dreamed up may have been inspired by the huge pile of freshly cooked and shelled lobster I saw at Ipswich Shellfish last Friday afternoon. Naturally, lobster reminds me of corn on the cob, and with dizzying thoughts of lobster and corn whirling together in my head, is it any wonder I woke up the next day with a fully formed recipe for lobster-enriched corn chowder? I could practically taste the soup as I dreamed it: a base flavor from crisped, unsmoked and sweet pancetta; corn sliced fresh off the cob, simmered in and slightly pureed with a stock blended from vegetable and clam broths; a few splashes of heavy cream (or, if I’m feeling virtuous, half and half); maybe a little snipped tarragon, and one shelled lobster claw, red and pink and white and perfectly intact, floating in the middle.
Forget me simply telling you about the results when the tasting has been done and noted. You’re all invited over instead, for I think– no, I know this soup will be delicious.
And if you’re wondering what the heck the title of this entry has to do with anything, let me get to the latest dream I had: the one where my subconscious finally answered the longstanding question of whether or not I would get a tattoo.
I have long been flirting with the idea of a tattoo. Don’t ask me why; there’s never any good reason to start drawing on one’s body. Embarrassingly, I am actually on record with a number of friends as being firmly anti-tattoo. Somewhere along the line, though, I started to think it might be fun, and I speculated about it a bit. Maybe it’s a bit of a gym thing – so many people at the gym are tattooed and when you start looking at these same people day in and day out you realize the art work is kind of cool. I never got beyond speculation to planning, however. I kind of got stuck in the weeds of the “what?” (what image should I choose?) and “where?” (do I show or not show?) questions.
And then I had my dream. I dreamt my future tattoo in all its glorious detail. So I now have a plan. The tattoo has a theme. And a name. And a location: apparent but not overt. I even have an appointment.
Real, honest to goodness dreams: you gotta love them.
©2009 Jane Ward