Photo Credit: Hope, Zelda Fitzgerald, 1938, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, AL. Like her writing and her speech, Zelda’s art shows her unusual perspective on the world.: ShanMcG203/Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0
In my blog tagline, I include dreams because my intention was to discuss my own dreams or other writers’ dreams (as in my new Author Dream Series) in the literal and metaphorical sense. I do dream and from my sister, who is an dream interpreter, I learned the importance of writing down and exploring my dreams. Sometimes I have vague dreams but recently I had a vivid dream I realized had meaning for me and my writing during this specific time. So I wanted to share it.
Please note I am in no way a professional dream interpreter. The analysis and ideas here are strictly that of an amateur.
The dream I had was the following (edited somewhat for confidentiality reasons):
I am in a house on a suburban street with my family. We have just woken up and I notice that a favorite ring of mine is gone. I’m not too concerned at first, assuming I misplaced it. But my father insists that it was stolen even though there is no evidence that there was a break-in during the night. He sends all of us out into the neighborhood to look for the ring. We find other people are out searching for things they are missing as well. The things weren’t very valuable in terms of money (like my ring) but they are still searching for them. We walk around the neighborhood, looking on the ground, in bushes, mailboxes, etc., but find nothing. We come back home and two of my friends are there. I am now feeling very anxious and one of my friends, in an attempt to calm me down, convinces me to do a guided meditation. After we finish, we suddenly see snow falling outside the window, very large flakes of snow. I start to leave the room but then I turn to my friend and tell her I ordered a pack of oracle cards that she introduced me to but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. For some reason, this makes her and my other friend very happy and they hug each other. The dream ends after that.
One thing my sister told me about dreams is that they happen at certain times in our lives as a way of telling us something about the present. So when examining a dream, we should look at what’s been going on in our present to see what the connection to the dream might be. When I examine this dream, I see two connections for me – anxiety and voice.
The anxiety I feel in the dream mirrors my current anxiety because my debut short story collection, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories is now officially released. I have dreamed of being a published author since I was fourteen, so this is a huge deal for me, as it is for any author, each in his or her own personal way. I grew up in a very patriarchal family where gender roles and expectations were rigidly defined. As the youngest child in the family (technically, since I do have a twin sister) and a girl, not much was expected of me. I was expected to marry a nice Jewish boy (preferably a doctor or lawyer) and have kids, maybe with a small insignificant job just to keep me busy on the side but one that wouldn’t interfere with raising children or being a devoted wife. When I was getting my bachelor’s degree, a teaching certification program was on offer and both my parents tried to convince me to enroll and I will never forget my mother’s argument that “if you become a teacher, your vacation time will always be with your kids.” Needless to say, this did not convince me to enroll in the program.
I did none of the things that my parents wanted. My desire to be a writer and a published author was something no one but me ever really took seriously. Because of this, I didn’t take myself as seriously as I should have until about a year and a half ago. Now, in my mid-40’s, it’s almost surreal to see my book in print, to know that people will be reading it (and some have already) and maybe reviewing it, for better or for worse.
But I believe the dream wasn’t merely reflecting my nervousness over my first published work but a deeper anxiety that goes to the very core of who I am as a writer. Last week, I finished reading the Sally Cline biography Zelda Fitzgerald: The Tragic, Meticulously Researched Biography of the Jazz Age’s High Priestess. I read Zelda’s (I’m referring to her by her first name because I don’t want her mixed up with her husband, famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald) book Save Me The Waltz quite a while ago and was fascinated by it and by the woman who wrote it and I’ve always wanted to know more about her.
One thing that struck me about Zelda’s novel was that she had an unconventional writing voice. We associate writing in the first part of the 20th century with Modernist writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald who were fighting the kind of ornate, long-winded, and elaborate prose favored by writers in the Victorian era. Their prose was sharp, clean, and trimmed of excess language. Zelda’s prose, in contrast, is “bursting with high-flown metaphors and disconnected associations…” (Cline, location 868). It’s more than just “flowery”. It is colored by strange connections and images that most people don’t readily recognize or understand.
According to Cline, this quirky use of language was also characteristic of Zelda’s speech. The best known and most revered literary critic of the 20th century Edmund Wilson was a good friend of the Fitzgeralds and described Zelda’s speech in this way:
“‘She talked with so spontaneous a color and wit – almost exactly in the way she wrote – that I very soon ceased to be troubled by the fact that the conversation was in the nature of a “free association” of ideas and one could never follow up anything.’” (as quoted in Cline, location 1927)
Her use of words was so idiosyncratic that her husband was not averse to lifting them, verbatim, for his novels and short stories.
Cline provides many examples of Zelda’s unusual prose. Below is from an article Zelda wrote for McCall’s in 1925 titled “What Became of The Flapper?”:
“‘The flapper springs full-grown, like Minerva, from the head of her once-déclassé father, Jazz, upon whom she lavishes affection and reverence, and deepest filial regard … The best flapper is reticent emotionally and courageous morally You always know what she thinks, but she does all her feeling alone.’” (Cline, location 2661-2717)
Sadly, Zelda’s beautifully strange way of speaking and writing became one of the basis for psychiatrists later to diagnose her with schizophrenia.
As I read about Zelda, I had an epiphany. I have experienced similar confusion about my own writing. Sometimes, people reading and critiquing my work would tell me they didn’t understand a certain metaphor or they couldn’t visualize a certain image. I took a novel writing course in college where my confusing prose came up when we were critiquing excerpts and the professor (a published author), tried to comfort me by saying that he felt my use of language was, at times, “brave”. My mother’s speech is similar to Zelda’s in that she makes sometimes strange associations and gathers pieces of different thoughts that are going through her mind at that moment into her conversation. The result is that people are sometimes bewildered and confused about what she is talking about. My brother calls it “being random”. Reading about Zelda made me realize my mother is not being random but has her own way of making associations and connections that is different from most people, possibly because her emotional intelligence dominates her logical thinking.
Going back to the dream, I believe the ring I lose which is causing me so much anxiety is this strange way I have of seeing things and making strange connections that I got from my mother, either by inheritance or learned behavior (probably a little of both). By publishing, I am exposing my writing to the world for their evaluation. I think the fear in the dream is my own fear that I will be swayed into pruning my strange style in an attempt to make my prose is more conventional and acceptable.
I don’t think the fact that I don’t find the ring in the dream means I will lose that style when I am published because of the oracle cards that appear in the dream. According to this blog post, oracle cards are similar to tarot cards but they are less structured in terms of their amount (tarot cards have a very specific number in each deck with very specific picture cards and suits while oracle cards can differ in their pictures and number from deck to deck) and they are easier to work with because they are more free-flowing. The oracle cards, to me, represent a move towards freedom with language and writing. It might even mean I will become more confident in my writing style, regardless of those who might not like or understand it, and that will allow me to sharpen my craft and expand my writing.
I don’t think that it’s unusual for me to be very anxious about my first book. I do think it’s significant that I had such a vivid dream so close to my release.
Cline, Sally. Zelda Fitzgerald: The Tragic, Meticulously Researched Biography of the Jazz Age’s High Priestess. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2002.