Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

What do your dreams say about writing?

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 15•14


What do your dreams say? Jessica P. Morrell

            My dreams are cinematic, meaningful and sometimes frightening. Celebrities pop in (I recently was heading out for a date with a young JFK in a convertible) and my dead family members appear. My dream life is entertaining, deepening, and provides many lessons.

I woke this morning from a long and vivid dream session. Last night before I fell asleep I was thinking about the upcoming workshops I’m going to teach in the next months. One is called Brave on the Page. So the dream was an answer to my thoughts and plans. In it I was teaching in a high school. We weren’t situated in an ordinary classroom—in fact the space was crowded and another class was only a few feet away. So I was always improvising and physical. Walking around the room, standing next to students, bringing them into the center of things.

The first thing I asked them to do was write down their immediate writing goals. When that task was over I asked them to write down their lifetime writing goals—as in to be a novelist, to become a journalist. There was a lot of complaining, a lot  of confusion as if I was asking too much of them. Then, before they left the classroom for the day, I asked them to stand up before the room and claim what behaviors they were going to change immediately or what they were going to do differently to make room for writing. Students were starting to freak. They wanted an everyday English class where they could pump out essays on Ben Franklin or economic injustice. I wanted to shake their souls.

Three girls scuttled out of the room together claiming they were going to the rest room. About four more people bailed. I held my ground and made the students declare how they were going to get the writing done. It was like wrestling it out of them. They were unhappy, felt pressed, protested.

 Gradually the class thinned, but the declarations came…..the three girls who had bailed out slunk back into the room, but I told them they couldn’t re-enroll in the class—it was only for the true hearted. Outrage followed with threats made. I said, “Go ahead. Tell the administration. You cannot come back into my class.” They left to complain to the principal and I shouted that I’d work on getting them suspended. We got through the class and one by one they left declaring intentions.

 The next day we met again in the odd, cramped space and nerves were high. The assignment of the day was to explain why they need to write. More grumbling and fear. Again, I walked around the room, cajoling, encouraging. Many of the kids were stumped. I asked the students if any of them studied martial arts. Hands were raised. I asked them to stand and demonstrate a martial arts pose where they’re strong, defensive and unassailable.  I got into a pose too. We were all crouched a bit, our thighs at a slight angle. I say, “The point isn’t to stand straight, the point is to stand strong.” I demonstrate, my thighs strong as a tree in the forest. “This is where we write from. Feel your legs. Feel your strength.”

They’ were sneaking worried glances  by now and were  having problems. My teaching methods were baffling them, scaring them. I stood in the middle of the room and start telling my story. I say, “I’m from a big family—I have five brothers and sisters. We lived in a small town and when I was young, my parents didn’t have enough money. We never ate between meals because there wasn’t a lot of food. My mother was always stretching a pound of hamburger or a ham bone.

Her favorite person in the world besides my dad was her father. Sometimes he’d drive over in the middle of the day to visit her and in those moments with her dad in the room she was alight and heard.

One  morning when I was six, almost seven, I woke up and huddled near the stove,  and learned that my grandfather had died suddenly. He was 53. I remember the day as grey, grey pressing in the windows, and as if a light had gone out.  Mostly I remember the sharp and the acute grief  around me that I couldn’t quite grasp. My grandmother in her bedroom weeping for hours.Hushed meals in my grandmother’s usually boisterous kitchen.

His funeral happened a few days later in our beautiful Lutheran church. It’s a place with huge, glorious, stained-glass windows so the light inside is always jewel-like. I sat in the second or third row with my brother and my mother and her sisters were seated in the pew ahead of us.

 My mother had six sisters. She’d had a brother who died when he was three, Paul, named for his father. That child’s death seemed to still hang over the family, though it had happened more than twenty years earlier. It was the sixties and my aunts, all young women, wore there hair off their necks. What I remember is the casket near the lovely altar, the sunlight through the stained glass, and the sight of my aunts’ tender necks bent over weeping. I remember their limp, white handkerchiefs, but mostly the ache and vulnerability of those necks, shaking with tears. I have never since seen such keening.”

 Now I’ve thought and written about this image before. The students were all watching me, silenced, and by now I was weeping too, hard, from a place of deep, old pain. And I said, “I write because of this long-ago grief has always lived inside of me and because I’d give anything to have one more day with any of my grandparents, and because sorrow is part of all of us. It teaches us most. I write because I know what it’s like to be vulnerable. Now why do you write?”

 There was a stunned silence in the room and I swiped at my tears, struggling to control my choked voice. An older, suburban-type woman got up and headed for the door. She was carrying a portable sewing machine and walked outside where her husband was waiting for her in a black, oversized SUV. I asked, “Why are you leaving?” She said, “I never realized writing could be this hard.”

 The rest of my students wrote about why they write and left the classroom one by one, crossing the road in front of the school, into a world where the trees were a spring green. I was wrung out by emotion, realizing how much my grandfather’s death affected me and I never quite knew it. Realizing how vulnerable I’ve always felt to loss and how writing sorts through the gnawing grief, the pains of being human.  

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  1. And I thought I had dreams!

    After I reluctantly left my husband of 25 years, and subsequently discovered that he had secretly remarried within a month of our divorce, I had terrible nightmares of begging him to come back. After months of these dreams, I was once again had a dream in which I begged him to come back. But suddenly the light came on for me. “Wait a minute,” I said to him. “You deserve one another! I don’t want you anymore!” I woke up laughing and knew I was on my way to recovery.

  2. The matter with dreams, bad dreams or night terrors is that they really are all especially connected with the individual significance it has with the person experiencing the dream. Two individuals will have a quite similar dream but suggest various things with regards to one another. And you simply must keep an objective balance when studying the details inside your dream.

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