Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dreams: The Pocket Change of the Psyche

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again," the plain-wrapper protagonist of Rebecca tells us right up front. "It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me." Maybe so, but with those two lines, a few generations of us have pressed to make our way through that gate, along the long drive leading to the main house, and into its secrets. Indeed, the very narrator of the tale did in her dream what we who followed her did. "...then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me."

An archetypal dream and situation to warm the heart of a Jungian. Indeed, I mentioned that very dream to a Jungian psychoanalyst only yesterday when, in my writing group just outside Redwood City, he read of his experiences with dream and memory experienced on the Orinoco River.

The fortunate among us have finite, geographical places in their dreams to which they return on occasion, tourists of past times at that particular place. In one such dream, I know within a matter of months how old I am, six, and with splendid certainty exactly where I am: the northwest wall of the back bedroom of a large, Mediterranean fourplex, located at 6145 1/2 Orange Street, Los Angeles, which would first become Los Angeles 36, then 90036. Both the age and the locale have been bulldozed out of existence, one by the mere inevitability of the passage of time, the other by the inevitability of the advent of the condominium complex. In this dream, I have been reminded that it is my bed time and at that age one is never sleepy at bed time, thus I am six, awake, and acute to the conversational noises of my parents and older sister, sounds that play in my ear like Chopin etudes because I was big on Chopin then and had yet to discover Ravel and Dvorak. They waited until I was off in the rear before the tinkle of their mirth and the nuance of their affection for one another sustained down the long hallway that separated us.

They are dead now, all three of them, and so when I am in this dream I am particularly lifted by these remembered sounds of them.

The Jungian psychiatrist wrote of a dream-like memory from his storehouse of that age, but his memory was one more likely to have been repressed, his discovery of a neighbor who had asphyxiated himself out of some despair, some sense of grief or loss which he could not bear.
I, on the other hand, can happily bear dreams of 6145 1/2 Orange Street.

My other recurrent dream is set in Virginia City, Nevada, best located by imagining an isosceles
triangle with the other two points being Reno and Carson City. Virginia City became a magical place to me when I read Roughing It and became even more attached to its author than I had as a result of reading Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Twain's adventures in Virginia City drew me to books about his exploits and about the remarkable Comstock Lode from which came the silver that among other things helped finance a civil war and the city of San Francisco.

Two college chums, Jerry Williams and Don Pettit, back from a wander-year, came by to regale me with stories of their travels, which left me amused but little else until Jerry handed over a souvenir, a copy of the Virginia City Territorial-Enterprise. It was back in print. Lucius Beebe, the bon vivant, curmudgeon, and historian had purchased the rights to the paper and had begun producing a small town weekly with the editorial attitude of a crooked finger holding the tea cup, a remarkable affinity for Bollinger champagne and a realistic sense that a cocktail canape ought to have something one could sink one's teeth into.

It was not long before I made my first visit to Virginia City, beginning the imagery that would replay in my recurrent dreams of the place.

The Silver Dollar Hotel had a honeymoon suite I liked because it had a private bathroom with a splendid shower as well as a large bathtub with clawed feet. Here, one could shower and soak away the worst hangovers. Alas for the price, however, and so subsequent visits often found me in a room named for Virginia City's legendary prostitute with a heart of gold, Julia Buelette.

In my dreams and in reality, Virginia City is built onto the slopes of the Sierra Nevadas; I rarely dream of it when there is not snow on the ground or when the temperature is not well down into the low teens. Sometimes, in my dreams, I am wrestling with a fifty-pound sack of dog kibble which I am transporting on my shoulders down the snowy declivity of Six-Mile Canyon toward an ashram populated by a group of yogis. I have been drafted into this venture by Florence Ballou Edwards, a Smith College graduate whose story of how she came to own the Silver Dollar Hotel varied with what and how much she had been drinking.

Sometimes in the dream, it is New Year's Eve and I am working on the dregs of a bottle of cognac cadged from Lucius Beebe, and shared with Lee Cake, another frequent VC visitor and school chum.

Joy of joys, sometimes Jim Silverman appears in the dream, invariably wiping snow from his glasses with the tail end of his shirt. Once or twice, Sam, my cat from my early Hollywood Hills days, appears in the dream, using his great body language to demonstrate his complete lack of use for the snow.

Now and again, Bob Edwards, editor of the Territorial-Express, will wonder when he can expect my column, and although I have never seen the Boss man, the guiding spirit of it all, in my dreams, that is to say, Mr. Samuel L. Clemens, I have had dreams in which some of the locals spoke of running him out of town for having gone too far with some one of his many written hoaxes. This was the precursor of a dram link to my awareness that Twain left Virginia City in a hurry, having been challenged to a duel by someone who'd been the butt of one of Twain;s hoaxes.

All of the ones I knew there are surely gone now. I think sometimes of braving the great potential that Virginia City has devolved further into tourism. Perhaps at night, I reason, armed against the Sierra chill with a snifter of brandy, I will run into some glorious ghosts. Jim Silverman. Lee Cake. Pat and Penna Hart, then owners of The Brass Rail. Florence Edwards.

Or, sitting at the entry way of Piper's Opera House, where Twain often held court, I will catch the speculation and bustle of miners, of fortunes made and lost, of dreams, bad food, bawdy humor, and the sense of mischief that has invaded my life and my dreams.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Florence Ballou Edwards was a witness at my wedding which took place in the backroom of one of the saloons in Virginia City. She loaned me her beautiful ring with a blue stone in it so I'd have "something blue" to wear at the ceremony. My husband and I spent our wedding night in her hotel. Later I wondered how many brides she had loaned that ring to, and how many marriages she had witnessed. I also later learned that my husband had previously married two other women in the back room of that bar.