Because of their intimacy, because of their possible significance, because of their occasional mind-shearing improbability, dreams have always been a subject of the creative process. Like art, they try to drag us into another world, or at least offer the possibility of looking at our own differently. Sometimes, their banality can draw our attention to beauty in its simplest forms; sometimes it’s a dream’s separateness from everyday life that makes it linger. Whatever the reason, dreams have inspired work in just about every artistic medium.
For our third subscriber invitational, we asked Esopus readers to share their dreams with us, then passed these on to musicians for inspiration. Accompanying the selected dreams published in the issue are five images created for Esopus by New York–based artist Daniel Gordon, each of which represents his take on a common dream subject.
THE SELECTED DREAMS:
1. “Dreamed I had an extra big toe growing out of the side of my foot; I peeled off layers of skin and the toenail began to disappear. My bed was full of earthworms. I was awakened by my cat touching my back.”—Meg Armstrong (London, UK)
2a. “For many years I have had a recurring dream in which, in the course of a complicated dream scenario, I arrive at the top of a flight of steep stairs. I become frozen when I look down, because the stairs drop off like a cliff and don’t continue for at least 15 to 20 feet. The dream is always quite visually vivid: The stairs sometimes look as if they are in a beautiful old opera house or are outside in a garden. The light is beautiful, and everything is very detailed. Everyone around me is blithely descending the stairs without paying any attention, and I do wonder how they are able to go down them without falling. (In life I have pretty bad depth perception, so stairs are always a bit of a challenge.) The dream usually ends there without any resolution.
After having had this dream since I was a teenager I have had an amended version where I actually go out of my way to confront the stairs rather than taking an easier route that doesn’t have them.Other people in the dream are counseling me to go the other way because they don’t want to deal with the staircase, but I cheerfully refuse. (And yes, in this dream I am very cheerful.) In this version, the landscape is much more rugged and rocky but just as beautiful and vivid.”—Anonymous (New York, NY)
2b. “My most recurring dream is really quite a simple one. It involves me being very high up, sometimes in a tree and sometimes on a building. Each time, I have to overcome my fear of heights and then it becomes inevitable that I have to jump to get down—always from these impossibly high places. Each time I eventually pluck up the courage and jump, falling through the air, slowly, seemingly for ages, until finally I land on the ground, unhurt and relieved.”—Sonic Boom (Rugby, UK)
3. “In my dream I am riding on a train. I am looking out a window at a snowy landscape. There is an overall feeling of sorrow and sadness and melancholy. Based on the feeling the dream gives me, I know that I am trapped: I don’t know where I am coming from and I don’t know where I am going to. The sky is gray, and the dream is always in black and white. Throughout my life I have felt this train ride takes place in northern Europe in the winter, a place that I have never been to. The ride never ends. I am always in the same seat looking out the same window at the same landscape, feeling the same cold sadness.”—Roxanne Jannette (Venice, CA)
4. “Me and my daddy are walking in a hot desert and I am about 6. We are tired and hungry, and we need shelter. Out of nowhere we see a hotel and run to it. When we get inside there is something odd: All of the people there have human heads but very large spider bodies. Although we are disturbed by this, we are so tired we decide to stay. Once we get all situated we go down to the pool. I hop in with all the spider people and then turn around to wait for my daddy to get in, but then I see that he has been stabbed in the back of the head. I start to cry and then the spider people tell me that it will be okay and I look down at myself and I have become a spider person. The pool opens up into a whirlpool and I am sucked in. As I am going down, I wake up.
I have this dream about once or twice every two months. It deeply disturbs me.”—Caroline Duble (Houston, TX)
5. “There’s all this buzzing, reverberating noise around me and I see flowers everywhere. Most are in baskets and bouquets. I don’t really know why, but I can’t move or walk around. It’s a little unnerving but also somehow comforting. Suddenly, someone like a 50-foot woman appears, picks me up, and takes me to a store counter, and it dawns on me that I’m in a flower shop. And I’m a flower. Or, at least, I’m embedded in a flower, because it doesn’t make sense that I could be a flower, really. Then suddenly I’m transported in this whizzing, crazy, frenetic hyperspeed sort of way to some place that’s really quiet. It’s a relief. But people seem sad. I’m placed next to a large pine box, and I see someone in it. It’s a funeral home, and I’m a token of appreciation or memorialization, I guess (as the flower). I feel sad and proud at the same time.
The other thing is that during the entire dream I feel like I do when I’m exercising on a stationary bicycle. And at the end I feel like I do after a good workout: exhausted, exhilarated, more focused. The dream seems more like a momentary flash than a series of events, but somehow I have to unpack all these impressions along a time line. It’s like the dream was a quick recollection of another dream.”—Michael Y. Moon (Castro Valley, CA)
6. “I’m in a farmyard, surrounded by cows and white dogs that look like huskies. Whooping cranes are in the air. The farmer is shooting them. As each falls among the cattle, he chants, ‘That’s a one kill.’ ‘That’s a two kill.’ ‘That’s a three kill.’ ‘That’s a four kill.’ He walks among the cattle, retrieves the dead birds, throws them in a heap. The dogs lie on top of them, waiting, smelling the warm, dead bodies.
The dogs’ expressions are hopeful, patient—doglike. Suddenly, people appear and take on the expressions of the dead birds. They look surprised and dignified.”—Sybil Miller (Austin, TX)
7. “I have a recurring dream that started in 1999 when I emigrated from my oceanless, mountainless native country, Hungary, to Vancouver, Canada. For the first time in my life I faced the true majesty of nature: the wild forests and high mountains, and particularly the immense ocean with its powerful tides that I still admire with fear. In my dream, I sit on the seashore in the sand with wide-open eyes in blinding sunlight. I can’t move; gravity holds me tight. I am fully aware that the tide will come sooner or later; there is no escaping it. If I stay, and I can’t move, I will die. Still, I am entirely in the moment and I feel a complete physical sensation of all the elements around me: the salty oxygen traveling to my lungs and tickling my throat; the rhythmic sound of the ocean waves and seagulls’ cries piercing my ears; the cold touch of the water on my toes slowly climbing further up my legs as time passes; and the sense of the weight of my body touching the fine mineral grains of sand.
I don’t know what happens then—I always wake up. I don’t ever remember struggling with saltwater in my mouth, gasping for air. Maybe because of this, I don’t see my dream as a dark one. I’ve started to appreciate instead the opportunity to live through the physical experience of the ocean and nature in my dreams night after night.—Gabriella Solti (Richmond, BC, Canada)
8. “I am in the aisles of a very small grocery store; the shelves are almost bare. John Lennon is there and says, ‘Even Yoko had to deal with loss.’
I am slowly dressing, getting ready for work. I see a man climbing around, painting rooms in my house. He starts to open the door and I hold it closed and say, ‘Just wait two minutes.’ He says, ‘Wrong end of time’—he’s gotta leave.”—Susan Toplikar (Raleigh, NC)
9. “Part One: In my (now-departed) mother’s basement. My dear friend Lucy is with me. She finds a dead spider and says, ‘These are dangerous.’ She goes away and comes back and says, ‘They suck the life out of the sister spider. We have to find the sister spider, too.’ There are old cobwebs all over dusty cardboard boxes reaching up to the ceiling. The webs are full of old dead spiders’ bodies, dead flies, and insects. Lucy says, ‘We have to look through these boxes.’ I say I’m not strong enough (emotionally) to do that. Lucy pulls two dead praying mantis bodies off of the web. They’re dark brown, about seven inches long, and very lightweight. We are both amazed by their beauty.
Part Two: I am the only passenger on a bus. It stops at a deli, and I go in to buy a sandwich. I realize I’ve left my purse on the bus, and when I go back out it’s driving away. I start chasing it and trying to use my cell phone to call 911 to tell it to stop. I pass a young couple on the street and they say, ‘Don’t call, just go into that store and tell them.’ I thank them. I know that corner—it’s a couple of blocks from my house—and I realize there is no store there, it’s a church. I’m annoyed by their misinformation. I finally realize the driver intended to rob me, and that I had voluntarily, trustingly left my valuables on the bus. I have a vision inside the dream: I’m looking through the closed bus door, and the driver looks directly at me as he takes my wallet and pulls the money out of my purse.”—Jo Andres (Kripplebush, NY)
10. “One of my most vivid dreams took place in a café in Paris. It was lovely: the tables and chairs were fin-de-siècle black wrought iron, the walls were all white, and it was very bright inside. Most of the patrons had in front of them those old soda fountain glass ice-cream dishes with the long spoons. The surroundings were very clear, but I couldn’t recognize any of the café patrons, because every time I looked directly at them they would turn their head away and morph into a painting of their own profile. I was able, however, to focus on the hands of a fancily dressed woman having her nails painted. The manicurist was pulling beautiful crimson autumnal leaves off of a bonsai tree and laying them delicately on her nails.”—Lori Spadafora (Norwood, MA)
11. “My dreams are in living color, brilliant and lifelike. I often wander through the past as my younger self, untested and naive. Shadows of former loves, absent friends, and tender moments weave in and out of the haze of memory—choices made, paths not taken. Sometimes in my dreams, I rewrite memories and right old wrongs—given and received. Morning brings absolution, and the joy of my present peace.”—Sally Keller (Gurnee, IL)