Here’s the final question Shirley Showalter asked me at our recent interview.
Question #4: If you were writing a memoir, especially one about childhood, would you expect to write overtly about your own remembered dream about the Lone Ranger or would you use the dream work as a covert influence helping you to sort detail, which stories to tell, etc.?
My Answer: This is a very insightful question. As I mentioned in response to your first question, my last three books were all memoirs, and in them I took both of the routes you’ve mentioned. The Bridge to Wholeness started out with my earliest memory of being lost and alone at the age of three on the shore of Lake Michigan because both parents had gone back up to the cottage, each thinking the other had taken me with them. That experience was so traumatic that I never forgot it. It very much had the quality of a dream and when I wrote about it I automatically approached it that way.
In other words, I looked for the emotions I had felt, (a lot of fear and questioning and imagining the direction my life might take), and examined the symbols (it was night, I was lost and alone, and I was determinedly walking toward a small light in the distance) and then looked for the metaphorical meaning. I was surrounded by darkness (the unconscious) and the only direction I knew to take was toward the light, i.e. toward consciousness and enlightenment.
There could not be a more apt metaphor for the essence of my personality and purpose. Looking for personal meaning in the emotions and symbols that show up in waking life, is, to me, an extremely valuable way of making sense of our lives. So yes, even when I wasn’t writing about my dreams, my experience with dreamwork definitely covertly influenced my writing.
After treating a few other big early memories the same way, I arrived at the age of ten when I had my really Big Lone Ranger dream. Since it was the only dream I remembered from my childhood, and since it, too, was so traumatic, it felt necessary to write about it, so I did it overtly. By that time I had found my voice, and the rest of the book continued in the same way: writing about important events of my waking life the way I write about my dreams, and occasionally sharing an important dream that helped me make sense of my waking life.
Then one day when I was most of the way through, I had a sort of waking dream in front of my makeup mirror in which I spontaneously made up a fairy tale. (I love the symbolism of a mirror as a medium for engaging the instinct for reflection!) I was so used to paying attention to my inner life that I knew this had value and meaning too. Sure enough. Once I had written it down I realized it was the story of my life up to that point, and it became the central metaphor for the entire book.
In sum, trusting my dreams and imagination has allowed me to discover my creativity and fulfill my purpose in life. This is why I say, “My dreams are my life, and my life is a dream.” This concludes my interview with Shirley. I hope those of you who are writers or are considering writing have found it helpful.
As many of you know, I’ve been at the Book Expo America in New York for the past three days and had a wonderful time introducing my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide. Advance copies are now available at www.larsonpublications.com. The picture above was taken just before my book signing. I’ll tell you more about it soon.