I woke in the early hours today with just a wisp of a dream, the trace of a zephyr blowing through in the night. I recalled that in the dream, I am traveling to meet a French writer. We are coming from different places. One of his flights will take him from Monte Carlo to Mauritius. We have important things to explore together, some concerning Africa.
I was excited and intrigued. I knew very little about Mauritius, but it did not take me more than a few minutes googling to identify one most interesting French writer with strong ties to that island democracy between Africa and India. He is JMG Le Clézio, the 2008 Nobel Laureate for literature. (Monte Carlo, famed for its casino, could be a dream code for winning BIG.) His family has been connected to Mauritius since 1798, when one of his ancestors left France in order to avoid being compelled to cut his long hair - following the regulations of the French Revolutionary Army - and settled on the island. Le Clézio's novel The Prospector is set in Mauritius, and evokes the beauty of the island and the rich medley of different cultures and ethnicities - African, Indian, European.
I read Le Clézio's Nobel acceptance speech, a passionate defense of books and the power of storytelling, in which he goes deep into the roots of his own creative inspiration. He speaks in very personal ways about what drives him to write, since his boyhood productions, which included a tale told by a seagull and the biography of an imaginary king. These were encouraged by long hours of solitude, by a grandmother’s flair for telling long stories, always set in a forest – and her dictionaries, that took the place of story books.
I was excited to find a strong African connection, a possible clue to a key element in my dream. Le Clezio recalls that after he spend part of his childhood in Nigeria with his father, an English bush doctor, he emerged with a "second personality". He says this second self, “a daydreamer who was fascinated with reality at the same time” has stayed with him all his life. It has constituted "a contradictory dimension, a strangeness in myself that at times has been a source of suffering” – and, it seems, of creativity. “It has taken me the better part of my existence to understand the significance of this contradiction.”
I have long been fascinated by the sacred psychology of the Yoruba, a people of Nigeria, according to which each of us has a second self - a "double in heaven" - who watches us as we progress through the "marketplace" of this world. From one life to another (the Yoruba say) we swap places. I don't know whether this has anything to do with Le Clezio's experience of the "second personality" that emerged from a boyhood encounter with Africa, but clearly we are on fertile ground, for the creative mind and the life explorer. Other writers have written from a struggle with a second self, including Mark Twain, who described more than one form of the double and speculated about the operations of a "spiritualized self" that may travel independently from the regular personality. Mark Twain also visited Mauritius, and reported that opinions were divided as to whether Mauritius was modelled on paradise, or paradise was modelled on Mauritius.
Dreams set us research assignments, and my research on Mauritius and the French writer continues. Dreams also suggest directions and intineraries. I don't know whether I will buy a plane ticket to Mauritius to follow my dream, but I am thinking about it - and the swimmer in me is delighted by images of all those spectacular beaches.
The merest "wisp" of a dream can be a gift. That came out again in a conversation involving another island a few hours later this morning. I was recording a radio interview with Lovell Dyett, the veteran broadcaster for WBZ newsradio in Boston. He mentioned that his family is from the island of Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles, and that his aunt was renowned as a dreamer. If any issue came up, she would say, "I'll dream on that" - and the next day she generally had the solution. Lovell lamented that fact that despite his efforts to develop dream recall, he never seemed to remember his night dreams - except that on the morning of our interview, he remembered just a tiny part of a dream from the night before. I asked if he would share. "Someone was asking me for my phone number, and I gave it. It was my regular phone number. We checked that the numbers were right."
If it were my dream, I suggested, I would be open to the possibility that someone was trying to contact me. It might be someone I hadn't realize was available to communicate - someone like that long-deceased aunt from Montserrat who would make a fabulous mentor on dreams. "Or my mother," Lovell chipped in. I got shivers. I'm not sure whether they came when I was talking about Lovell's aunt, or when he mentioned his departed mother, but I know that for me truth comes with goosebumps.
In one vocabulary of dreaming (that of ancient Assyria) a word for dream literally means "zephyr". A dream or zephyr is a gentle breeze that can blow through a chink at your door, or in your mind, and bring you a message worth hearing.