For a long time, I had crazy dreams whenever I wrote.
(Which was constantly, so you can see how this might be a problem.)
All my base, primal fears would float up from my subconscious to terrorize me at night. Or simply perplex me with the randomness of a dream about dolphins laying seige to a circus filled with robots (feel free to psychoanalyze that one).
After a few years (years!), the dreams tempered. My mind, it seemed, had adjusted to the onslaught of creativity I was shoving into my subconscious every day.
At the same time, I noticed I had become much more emotional during the daylight hours. I would cry more, laugh more, get angry more – sometimes all in the same minute. This was separate from the wringer of emotion I would experience while actually writing. Tears would splash down on the keyboard on a regular basis. My body would be tense for hours after writing a particularly gripping scene.
For an emotionally repressed engineer, this was an alarming turn of events. I was seriously concerned about my mental health for a while.
When that turbulence slowly passed (or perhaps I became more accustomed to my swings in emotional state), I finally felt in control enough to explore the darker, deeper corners of my writing. The ones I feared to shine a light upon, afraid of what I would find there – and what it would mean for my mental state. But forward I went, and that was the most freeing experience of all – daring to feel whatever may come.
I had a dream recently which reminded me of how far I had come.
It was an anxiety dream – you know, the kind where you find yourself giving a presentation in your underwear, or rush to arrive late for a Final Exam that you somehow forgot to study for. In this particular dream, I was back at NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) – a place filled with more brainpower than any other place I have worked. Me and a bunch of other people who had been “interns” were brought back and locked in a room together. We were each tasked with completing a complex project with nothing but our own brains (no sharing! No helping!) and whatever materials we could find in the room (no outside contact! No Google!). Everyone had already started on their (secret) projects, but I had somehow missed getting the assignment. I tried to ask the lady in charge, but she slipped out the door, giving me a condescending look on the way.
Anxiety dream, remember? Right.
Normally, this is the point in this kind of dream where I run around frantically, or get caught in some hellacious dream slow-mo, trying to figure out what my task is or trying to beat the clock to do it.
But this dream was different. I could feel the shift, even in my dream state. I turned to my equally-stressed compatriots and said, “What are you guys working on?” I completely forgot about my own project (or lack thereof). The others were skittish and afraid to share, so I offered one guy my cell phone (to use for research) in exchange for him telling me about his project. He snatched the phone and ran off, leaving the rest of us with his half-knitted, rather sad-looking sweater. (Why we’re knitting sweaters at NCAR, I’ll leave to the reader to analyze.) Together, we gently critiqued the sweater, allowing that it was a fine start, but had a ways still to go before it was finished. One by one, the others shared their projects and we helped each other see the flaws – and the strengths – of each.
The deadline was forgotten.
The stress was gone.
There was just the joy of the work, and it wasn’t even mine. The joy came in the sharing.
I awoke to a peaceful feeling that I recognized as the kind that comes when I’ve done a lot of hard creative work. Dreams being creatures of emotion not fact, I paid attention to that feeling – it seemed to carry some great weight of significance.
To me, this is what it meant:
My creative work was unfinished. A good start, but with many strands that had yet to be woven into the whole. It would take much help and sharing, but if I let go of the anxiety and stress, all that would be left would be the joy of the work itself. It was a kind of emotional freedom. There was still turbulence ahead, whitewaters of emotion that would have to be navigated to complete the work. But I had the emotional tools I needed to accomplish the goal.
Writing has indeed changed me. I’m no longer that emotionally repressed engineer. And, finally, I can say that it’s truly a change for the better, equipping me for the work that still lies ahead.