Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Seven Ways of Looking at an Ambiguity

Last night I dreamed I went to UCLA again. It seemed to me I stood midway between Royce Hall and the Library, amazed at finding myself there. Unlike the protagonist's experience in Rebecca, I found no gates closed against me, no ominous chains or locks, only a mild and not unpleasant drizzle as I purposefully moved toward the library and the sprawl of steps leading to the main entrance. From that point, it was over to the western banister, a large concrete slab near which chums often met between classes and at which place many of us left books, notebooks, even temporarily unworn jackets or sweaters, a sort of large, informal substitute for a bank of hall lockers. There were present at the steps a group of younger men, all clad in suits and ties. They did not seem to know me nor I them, giving me the sense that some form of closure with them and the venue, itself, had been achieved, a closure that could not be sorted out at the moment because, approaching me was a young woman who apparently had been expecting me and although I did not recognize her as a specific individual I nevertheless felt pleased to see. I strode toward her and the dream ended.


There are two psychotherapists in my Woodside writing workshop, one Jungian psychiatrist, making him perforce an M.D., the other a psychologist who is also an educator and multifarious writer, currently about to publish a book about the uses of LSD. Each of the two have a similar take on dreaming, more or less boiled down to one of five or six episodes a night of events during which the individual dreamer resolves or edits waking hour conflicts. Each of them was discussing these dream sessions in his own context, leaving me to wonder aloud of patients of Freudian psychiatrists have Freudian dreams, patients of Jungian analysts accordingly have Jungian archetypal dreams, patients of more eclectic therapists having eclectic dreams, and those of us not in any special mode of dialogue or, perhaps, past patients in a dialogue, having random dreams. We concluded affably that the psychiatrist/therapist is a partner in the transaction, his or her encouragements, even sub-vocal grunts being a part of an invitation to "have" a particular format of dream.

Not too long back, after mentioning the details of one of your dreams in a classroom setting, one of your students offered a Zen interpretation which seemed entirely plausible. In general, it is difficult to dismiss dreams as having no contextual value nor indeed precluding their predictive or warning or omen potentials given the vast outreach possibilities of the brain as a processing organ.

You don't think you'll be spending too much time ferreting out meaning from your UCLA dream or the sense of closure it gave you, rather content to interpret it as a fanciful construction implying you'd finished--dare you say come to terms with--your classroom aspects of learning and were more likely now to achieve learning in the library.

You'd give a pretty to know who or what or both the young woman was, what she wanted, and what was in store. But you suppose that will be the subject of one or more dreams to come. The question is whether you will remember the answers that will occur, which very question leads you back to the subject you raised yesterday of resident attitude and motivation for writing.

Ambiguity is as much a presence in life as loss; it may be redundant to say you live with loss and ambiguity but nevertheless, redundancy earns its keep here. The things you believe you know, the experiences you believe you have had, the observations you have made with varying degrees of intensity are all subject to the revision of your waking memory, your sleeping dreams, and the contrary impressions of individuals who claimed to be present at the same time or place. You may love some of these individuals deeply, consider some not worth the time it takes to hear their views, or regret having any cause for further dealings, but all of these bring into play alternate views of the reality you carry about.

Much of what you write and write about is an attempt to deal with ambiguity, have a dialogue with it. A dialogue you will remember and it will remember. One of the lovely ironies inherent in ambiguity is that the more you invite readers in to your reality, using deliberate techniques that allow them to see their certainties in your narrative, the more you are using the tool of ambiguity.

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