I was channel surfing last night, and this shot from of Magnum, P.I. nailed it! (S04E04, “Distant Relative”)
Here is one of the collages from Serrah Russell’s book tears tears. It’s made with what I call “the simplest cut,” but I especially like the title, which I’ve stolen for this blog post: “I’ve been trying to hold onto last night’s dream.”
I did not sleep well last night, which is funny, because I started a book called Why We Sleep before falling asleep. (For me, it’s the season of going to bed at 9AM and loving it.)
I’ve noticed this bizarre thing about my brain: After a bad night’s sleep or a hangover I feel like I’m actually better at making art. It’s unhealthy and unsustainable, of course, but as bad as I feel, I enjoy the results: I’m slower and dreamier and a lot of ideas come to visit. All I have to do is keep the notebook handy.
When I was trying to fall back asleep last night, I put on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Volume II. It’s an album I’ve listened to over and over this year, mostly on plane rides during book tour. Richard D. James claims he made 70 percent of the album while experimenting with sleep deprivation and lucid dreaming. (A lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer is aware she is awake and can control some of what happens in the dream.)
That’s what James told David Toop, anyways, who notes that James speaks “in a way which indicates either a serious person who has never been taken seriously or a practical joker who has been taken too seriously for too long.”
From Toop’s book, Ocean of Sound:
“About a year and a half ago… I badly wanted to make dream tracks. Like imagine I’m in the in the studio and write a track in my sleep, wake up and then write it in the real world with real instruments. I couldn’t do it at first. The main problem was just remembering it. Melodies were easy to remember. I’d go to sleep in my studio. I’d go to sleep for ten minutes and write three tracks — only small segments, not 100 percent finished tracks. I’d wake up and I’d only been asleep for ten minutes. That’s quite mental. I vary the way I do it, dreaming either I’m in my studio, entirely the way it is, or all kinds of variations. The hardest thing is getting the sounds the same. It’s never the same. It doesn’t really come close to it.
In his book on the album, Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Volume II, Marc Weidenbaum recalled an interview in which James told him why it’s so important that he work in his bedroom:
To me, it’s essential… I mean, I didn’t realize it when I was growing up, until I moved my studio like out of my bedroom into another room—when I came to London I thought that was a really good idea: you know, studio in one room and bedroom in another—got really excited. And I just, for ages, I just wasn’t as happy and I couldn’t work it out, just ’cause I wasn’t sleeping in the same room as my stuff. There’s something magical about having all your equipment in the same room as your bed, and you just get out of bed and like do a track and go back to sleep and then get up and do some more and do tracks in your pants and stuff.
In Keep Going, I wrote about that dream-like state and how much I love napping, and quoted William Gibson: “Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.”
An artist could use it as a mission statement: “I’ve been trying to hold onto last night’s dream…”
Read my post at the Remotely Connected blog, or below:
“I like to sleep so I can tune in and see what’s happening in that big show. People say we sleep a third of our lives away, why I’d rather dream than sit around bleakly with bores in “real” life. My dreams…are fantastically real movies of what’s actually going on anyway. Other dream-record keepers include all the poets I know.”
– Jack Kerouac
Like all artists since the beginning of time, I’ve looked to dreams for inspiration.
I started writing down my dreams as a teenager, after I got my hands on Jack Kerouac’s Book of Dreams–dreams he collected by scribbling in his notebook the minute he woke from sleep.
Later on in college, I studied just enough psychology to learn that the creative process mirrors the dreaming process. As the film director David Mamet says in his book On Directing Film, “The dream and the film are the juxtaposition of images in order to answer a question.” Not only can the dream provide us with material, but the process of dreaming itself can provide us with inspiration towards a process of working.
Any artist will tell you that when the work is going really well, it’s as if you’re taking dictation. The characters speak because they want to speak. The act of art-making is an attempt to fall into a kind of dream state. We do this by abandoning the linear and the logical for the non-linear and the free-associative. This is when creativity happens.
After watching this NOVA episode, I pulled out my pen and crayons and attempted to digest what I had seen through drawing–juxtaposing images in space. It was not unlike dreaming, watching the images come out of my hand…
The NyTimes ran a piece on dreams today that included commentary from Roger Knudson, a psychology professor at Miami who really helped me out quite a bit when I was trying to figure out my senior project. At that time, we talked a lot about men, specifically the idea of men living without women, as I was trying to write a novella about a father and his two sons living together after a divorce (snooze). But we also talked a lot about dreams, and Roger introduced me to the work of archetypal psychologist James Hillman. Here’s a bit from the fascinating article:
“Back to life” or “visitation” dreams, as they are known among dream specialists and psychologists, are vivid and memorable dreams of the dead. They are a particularly potent form of what Carl Jung called “big dreams,” the emotionally vibrant ones we remember for the rest of our lives.
Big dreams are once again on the minds of psychologists as part of a larger trend toward studying dreams as meaningful representations of our concerns and emotions. “Big dreams are transformative,” Roger Knudson, director of the Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Miami University of Ohio, said in a telephone interview. The dreaming imagination does not just harvest images from remembered experience, he said. It has a “poetic creativity” that connects the dots and “deforms the given,” turning scattered memories and emotions into vivid, experiential vignettes that can help us to reflect on our lives.
The idea of the “poetic creativity” of dreams got me thinking about comics and dreams, and how comics can do dreams really well — you can be trodding along in a narrative, and suddenly slip into a dream state. I was trying to come up with some good examples, but all I could think of as far as examples were David Heatley’s dream comics and Jesse Reklaw’s “Slow Wave,” which is actually a comic strip illustrating the dreams of other people. If anybody can think of any others, I’m just totally blanking at the moment.
Anyways, I love the idea of dreams re-connecting us with people who are out of our lives (either alive or dead), who visit us in visions. The bottom line is, dreams can be useful.
Apart from an effort to understand the physiology behind the content of dreams, what do we do with big dreams? If we ignore them, said Dr. Knudson of Miami University of Ohio, “we discount our most valuable resource in understanding ourselves.”
America is not a country with a ritualistic approach to grief. Many employers offer as few as three days off after a family member’s death. Dreams of the dead keep alive our connections to lost loved ones.
“Big dreams, those dreams that stop you dead in your tracks, are for precisely that purpose,” said Dr. Knudson, whose father died three years ago. “They pull us out of our headlong rush forward. They yank us back down from our schedule books and our jobs.
He continued, “I don’t want to get over my father. That’s not to say that I want to suffer on a daily basis or that I don’t want to understand that he is dead. But I look forward to dreams in which my father will come again. What does it mean to ‘get over’ it? I think that is crazy.”
It’s the craziest thing: one of the reasons I lost contact with Roger my senior year after some cool visits was because of his father’s death. And there I was this morning with my breakfast taco, reading about him.
Once again, there are no coincidences.
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