And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
A few mornings ago, I woke up laughing. I think the laughter evolved from a couple of levels – first, I was laughing at the dream I was having. But second – I was dreaming. And remembering it. And reacting to it.
Partway through radiation treatments for breast cancer last year, my dreams disappeared. I’ve always been a vivid, graphic, sharp dreamer, dreaming in color and stereo, and I always remember my dreams. But suddenly, they were gone. In its place was a great black void of beyond-exhaustion that reached up and pulled me in to a sleep that didn’t even feel like sleep. There were times I ran for my bed because I felt it coming on. And there were times when I literally did not remember my head hitting the pillow. This beyond-exhaustion just swallowed me up. And it swallowed my dreams up too.
At the same time, and for the only time in my life, I gave up writing. I couldn’t put words or thoughts together. That, more than anything else, more than the radiation, the surgery, the medication, even the word cancer and the uncertain future it brought with it, scared me. My dreams disappeared. My writing disappeared.
I didn’t understand it. The radiation was on my right breast and lymph nodes. But somehow, the scrambling it was doing to my body also reached my brain.
The writing was first to come back, slowly but surely. I worked on a novel and, working on the third draft now, I can still see signs of the mess I was in. Stories came too, and poetry. And these weird little essays. I would say that I’m now back to writing at full force. Though there are some afternoons that the black void comes to take me again. When it does, I accept it. And then I write the next day.
But the dreams hadn’t returned.
Until I came here, to Oregon, to the magic little house by the ocean. And suddenly, one night, it was like someone hit a switch and that part of my brain turned back on.
Just like, on my first trip here, the light over the writing desk suddenly turned on by itself in the middle of the night.
I woke up laughing. And I remembered my dream. So what was it?
I was sitting in a writing class and the teacher was handing out little square pieces of glass. She said it was for a creativity exercise. When I received mine, I saw it had little shapes molded into it, shapes very similar to the seashells I’ve found on the beach. I held out my hand and she sprinkled more glass pieces into it, three-dimensional pieces that were glass versions of those same seashells.
“What are we supposed to do?” I asked.
She said, “Fit the correct glass shells into the shapes.”
I looked around. The other students were already hard at work. I sorted through the glass shells in my hand and ping, ping, ping, put them into their spaces. Easy peasy. “This is kind of silly,” I said. “This isn’t a creativity exercise.”
The teacher sat across from me, smoking a cigarette and smiling. She said, “Well, it makes about as much sense as me teaching you how to write.” Then she leaned forward and laughed.
And I laughed too. And woke up.
Today, I sat down for my morning of writing, which typically continues here until I get hungry and then I stop for lunch. But today, when I looked away from my screen, I found it was 3:30 in the afternoon. I’d written through my coffee break, my lunch break, any bathroom breaks. The world fell away from me today and I was fully lost in my story. And I was freaking starving.
I laughed then. And I laughed when I woke up from that dream. I am dreaming in full vivid color again. Not all the dreams are making me laugh. There was one so disturbing, it took me most of the day to shake it. But that’s okay. It goes with the imagination. It goes with the dreaming and writing brain. It goes with me.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.