Here’s Part III of my interview with memoir writer, Shirley Showalter.
Question #3: I can only consciously remember one dream from childhood. How might I explore its depths of meaning beyond the rather obvious ones? You remembered one dream also. From it, you constructed much of your life’s work. Is it possible that a dream about finding a television set (something I longed for but could not have) in the basement of our farmhouse could hold larger meaning? The dream was so real that I actually went down to the basement to look for the TV.
My Answer: Dreams that stand out from childhood are very often Big dreams. A Big dream may contain one or more of four characteristics. First, it makes a powerful emotional impact on us that is impossible to ignore. Second, a Big dream may have a numinous or sacred quality about it, filling us with awe and making us feel it might contain a special message from God. Third, in a Big dream the dream ego is usually actively involved in the events instead of passively watching or waiting for something to happen. Finally, especially with childhood dreams, it can prefigure the essential issues and direction of our lives.
Your dream definitely meets the first and third criteria, so to start with, I’d ask myself when I’ve felt the same emotions of longing and deep satisfaction in waking life. Then I’d ask: In the big picture of my life, what might my childhood longing for a television set represent? The first answer that pops up in my mind is that since I grew up in a rural farmhouse which probably didn’t have a lot of modern amenities, it might symbolize my longing for an expanded knowledge about life, a wish to see the big world and live a more civilized, educated, accomplished and sophisticated lifestyle.
To me that, combined with the fact that I find the television in the basement, (a symbol of the unconscious), suggests a strong unconscious wish to move from a more primitive, more instinctual form of consciousness (farms almost have animals on them) into greater self-knowledge and wisdom. You don’t say how old you were when you had this dream but I would suspect it would be between the ages of 10 and 12, a time when most children acquire greater self-awareness, and with it, self-consciousness and the growing recognition of internal conflicts.
So could this dream have a deeper meaning? Most certainly. Could it prefigure the essential issues and direction of your life? Well, only you can answer that question by looking at your ambitions and the inner motivations for your later behaviors and goals. Could this dream, in fact, be a sort of “message” from the sacred within, the archetype of the Self that inspires us to find the sacred meaning of our lives? Again, only you can say; however, if your life has, in fact, been marked by a powerful desire for self-understanding, purpose, and fulfillment of your potential, I would expect it very well might be.
After reading the above, Shirley wrote, “You guessed correctly that the dream dates to age 10-12. Likely about age 10. ….I’m excited about the possibilities this dream holds for shaping the memoir. I would never have thought of it, except in passing, without you!”
Wish me luck, friends. I’m off to New York for the BookExpo America. I’ll be doing a video podcast Tuesday afternoon and signing my new book Wednesday morning at the Javits Center from 9:30 to 10:30. If you want to see the podcast it will be available on the BEA Web site and distributed on a special feed (www.bookexpocast.com/authors-studio) to iTunes and across the Web through BookExpoCast.