Last night I had a dream that I happened to remember very clearly even after I woke up. In it, a middle-aged fortune-teller with a bandana over her hair was reading my palm. I waited to hear what she would say but all she did was fold my fingers shut over my palms and turn away with a smile that stuck in my mind even after I woke up. A smile that was toothless and wide, with a finality that declared, “your future has nothing to say”.
The dream did not end there. Still asleep, I somehow figured out what it was that she had seen on my palm. I opened my shut fingers and looked at it. The lines that I understood to be signifying my lifespan stood out. They were very short. It was crystal clear what the fortune-teller had refused to tell me. I was going to die soon. Then there was a secondary realization and all at once, a sad feeling seized hold of me.
In the morning I narrated this dream to my husband. I told him about the sad thought that had popped into my head after knowing about my imminent demise.
“Can you guess what I was thinking about?” I asked him.
“You were worried about our little daughter?” He ventured.
I shook my head grimly. “No. The immediate thought that crossed my mind was not about myself or my loved ones. It was only this: ‘Oh no! I have not written that one article … that one short story … that one novel … that I’ve always wanted to write.'”
Simply put, I felt a surge of regret at not having written enough.
The dream had then ended with a scene where a friend’s sister was showing off something that she had written, while I looked on with envy.
I imagined later that if I ever died too early, you would find my ghost, not just terrorizing people (what? shouldn’t ghosts have some fun?) but also spending a good chunk of time working on that draft of writing that had been in progress.
I googled for interpretations of such types of dreams involving the death of the self, not so much with any sense of alarm but more with a curiosity. I found the following:
According to this article containing a conversation with Jeffrey Sumber, a psychotherapist and author, dreams about death often indicate “the symbolic ending of something, whether that’s a phase, a job or a relationship.” He suggests that a dream about death can also indicate attempts to resolve anxiety or anger directed toward the self. “It does not, however, suggest that [a person] will actually die imminently,” Sumber notes.
So, that was a relief! However, the symbolism pointing towards anxiety about my writing practice, about my writing life being in jeopardy seemed spot on. It was not all hopeless, though. When I mentioned my earlier complaint about not pursuing my passion for books, I was not being completely truthful because if the level of interaction with books in my life dropped to zero, I would already be dead. It is just that it is not up to the mark, not as frequent as I would like it to be.
For example, being a new parent, whatever little I have been reading has to do with parenting. Books about raising children and to some degree, books on self-improvement, is all I had been able to manage intermittently. My only connection with fiction – a real time-saver that my husband had once suggested – is a podcast I listen to during my daily commute to and from work. The New Yorker Fiction podcast has a rich collection of short stories read out by different writers (not the same author who has written it) followed by an engaging discussion with the editor analyzing the story. It is both entertaining as well as educational and the most fruitful minutes of my life that would otherwise have been regretfully lost crawling along in peak work-hour traffic. It helps maintain my sanity.
I know that life is one big re-arrangement of priorities and I teeter on the edge of dissatisfaction about not pursuing my passion and an understanding that it can get compromised when some other things take precedence. However, when I start falling off over to this side where there is no time and space for the written word, it seems natural that I am plagued with such dark dreams. And this serves as a wake-up call (pun intended!) to resume writing.
When the story inside me is struggling to be heard, when it is thrashing about, yearning to come up to the surface, the following saying pretty much sums up what I am feeling:
“Writing is torture. Not writing is torture. The only thing that feels good is having written.” – C B Mosher