Interpreting Dreams, Life, and the Big Story
by Rachel Creager Ireland
When I was at a point in writing my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids, that I had more behind me than in front, I had a dream that I was sort of a motherly person to a band of runaway kids. They had no one else to look after them; I did what I could. We had a bond of loyalty and mutual trust that comes of surviving difficulty together. There was a teenage boy who I felt particularly close to. He had maybe had some trouble in the past, maybe not all that serious. He had yet to demonstrate any outstanding talents or gifts. But he was a good kid, attentive, quiet, sensitive in ways that you would only notice if you were paying attention, which no one ever had, to this kid. What kind of chance did he have in life? I was going to do everything I could to help him, not just to survive, but to establish a life for himself, to create opportunities for himself to realize whatever potentials he had yet to discover, whatever dreams he might one day allow to blossom in his spirit.
Conflict arose when his abusive father re-entered his life. The father was a surly, bitter man, whose sole way of getting his needs met was to extract them from the people around him, by any means that he could. He located his son and demanded that he come home with him, because it was the son’s responsibility to provide for his father, regardless of any future sacrifices he might have to make in order to take up menial labor and start bringing in paychecks immediately. Wielding the power that only parents have, he took his son home.
I was infuriated. What a shameful twist of logic, to require the son to support the father, instead of the father nurturing and supporting the son. What an ugly, hateful way to raise a child, to thwart any potential before it had been discovered, to extract whatever monetary profit could be gleaned from the relationship. Parenting ought always to be managed with an eye to the day when the child will stretch his wings and leave the nest, to start his own life, to make a way that he owns, free to become what he will become.
But there was nothing I could do for this boy. He had chosen, uncomplaining, to follow his father, and really, what did I have to offer but some kindness and undreamed dreams? He really was a good kid. That was the end of the dream.
There’s a method of interpreting dreams in which everyone and everything in a dream is understood to be a part of the dreamer. It’s not an original idea, but I have no idea what famous psychologist or psychoanalyst presented it. I think I got it from Rosalyn Bruyere, but last time I quoted her, I made a huge gaffe, so don’t go blaming her for anything I say. In this dream, I am the mother, of course; I am the boy; but do I have to claim the father? That hateful, petty man, whose only goal in life was to get his due from other people? Oh, it makes me shiver to think that he is part of me.
Here’s how I interpret this dream. The boy was my novel in progress. I was both mother and father, encouraging, discovering, nurturing; but also wanting to make this creation of mine work for me, to bring me money. Was I willing to thwart its potential to that end? I’m not sure, but I can say that to date, it hasn’t provided any profit, and I don’t hold that against the book. If anything, it’s my fault for not nurturing it adequately, not helping it to find its wings. Don’t ask me what that would mean in practical terms; I honestly have no idea.
I read the Hunger Games trilogy this week, and I was so impressed, much more than I expected. There’s a Big Story in it, not just a dystopian teenage love triangle or a heroic warrior girl leading an army. Like life and dreams, the Big Story can be interpreted by the “I am everything and everyone” method. I haven’t untangled it all yet, but for some reason this dream inserted itself into my musings. So here it is, and tomorrow I’ll write about Hunger Games.