I started out this summer with a resolution not to begin any new writing projects. For the first time in some couple decades, I wanted to do nothing. My kind friend, Ayuko, called it my “discipline” of not starting a project, and that made it feel okay. “Discipline”--almost noble.
So I was going to make more dinners, bicycle with my daughter, garden, read. Meanwhile, I happened upon a book, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, by Stephen LaBarge and Howard Rheingold. Lucid dreaming, the act of “waking up within the dream,” interjects conscious life into the unconscious life. I’d only had one lucid dream, many years ago, but I still remember its visceral clarity. I was walking across a street, in tints of brushed gray and pink, with a man I’d never seen before. I liked him very much for his beautiful calm and gentleness. He held my hand, and on his other side held the hand of his young daughter to whom he was devoted. He strode unhurriedly, with assurance. We tightened hands and walked in that electric chain of being that Hawthorne proposed (though we were without a trace of Hawthornian Gothicism).
In the middle of our walk, he turned, looked at me. It was like brushing electricity out of one’s hair. It was like we were taken in a gaze so rife and erotic we would never have to change again--and then, as we were about to step to the far side of the curb, I discovered something. I had a remote in my hand--solid, dense. I could reverse and play again our walk across the street, relive the choate, requited look. Then I could reverse and do it again. As much as I wanted. Needless to say, I pressed it a lot. I might have felt a touch of guilt, punching that endless replay button to what was essentially a spiritual, or at least demi-spiritual, experience, as the button relegated the moment to commodity. But that didn’t stop me.
I was aware that the remote and the man were from different--conscious and unconscious--worlds.
Now that I’ve read about lucid dreaming, I wish I could have known to do something different, use the remote to make the scene hover and ask the man a question: Who are you? or What do you mean? maybe. Asking the right question--important.
I think of lucid dreaming as somewhat like an early Joan Miró painting—the two worlds of realism and chaos curlicued together, the staid table and ataxic ear shapes scattered about, the recognizable animals figures in topsy-turvy settings.
I want to frame a question that will bring the different worlds together.
One of the ways you’re supposed to learn to lucid dream is to ask yourself at several points during the day, “Am I dreaming?” Of course, most of us when we’re awake, know we’re not dreaming, but asking the question is part of the training. After I told my daughter about this, we started testing each other over the weeks, asking occasionally, as when we saw boughs down in the street after a storm, “Am I dreaming?” and eventually teasing while we were doing utterly ordinary things like sitting on the deck eating sherbet-- “Am I dreaming?”--until maybe we freaked each other out a little.
The goal is to be able to ask yourself if you’re dreaming while in your dream; when you can, then you have the conscious and unconscious minds in one field. Asking within the dream came to me rather quickly, within the first couple days of practice. I read a June newpaper forecasting snow, realized that was unlikely (even in Michigan!), identified it as a dream. I watched a bowl of neon-colored fruit stream into neon balloons and float away and thought, how unusual, then realized it was not only unusual but impossible. I was dreaming. The result of asking if I was dreaming, though, was unfortunate: “Yes,” I answered, and woke up. Instead, I wanted to use my new awareness to ride those balloons like horses. To drift between June snowflakes, a sixpointer myself.
At the start of the summer, I had a wonderful dream (just before reading about lucid dreaming) about a white guitar. It came the night after doing a reading at Kalamazoo’s downtown art hop with two women, a musician I used to perform with and a visual artist, both good friends. In the dream I played an electric white guitar that was altogether unlike the Les Paul I actually played for years in rock and roll bands. That real Les Paul, a tobacco sunburst warhorse, could sing like an angel, but felt heavy as a log. (These days I still marvel, when I strap it on once in a blue moon, that I could hold that thing, good friend that it was, for a whole night, five or six nights a week.) The white guitar in the dream, though, levitated. I almost had to keep it down. I thought, “This is easy!” The floating white guitar did all the work for me.
What I fall asleep thinking about now is not that I need to remember to ask myself if I’m dreaming, but that I want to relocate the luminous guitar. I want to ask it something, though I have yet to formulate the question.
I suspect the white guitar is at least partially about, as my friend Anne suggested, undeserved happiness (something I don’t understand but support, at least for others--and would like, despite attendant guilt at the thought of receiving anything undeserved, for myself). I’m experimenting with asking the guitar, “How do you do it?” or possibly, “Can I go with you?” Or maybe just, “What’s up?”
But now that I have gone pretty far into lucid dreaming I have to admit I’ve broken my resolution not to start a new summer project. Lucid dreaming has become the project. I’d so wanted to keep a rigorous regimen of doing nothing, but I’ve failed. And have to admit, alas, that I have no discipline.
Daneen Wardrop is the author of a book of poems, The Odds of Being, and two books of literary criticism, including Emily Dickinson’s Gothic (University of Iowa Press) and Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing. Wardrop has received the 2005 Bentley Prize for Poetry from Seattle Review, the 2006 Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award, the 2007 Gerald Cable Book Award, and two Pushcart prize nominations. Her poetry has appeared in AGNI, Virginia Quarterly Review, TriQuarterly, Field, Southern Review, Diagram, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. Her poem, "Caesura 6" will appear in the upcoming issue of HFR. (To preorder your copy, email HFR@asu.edu!)