Asheville, North Carolina
"I'm a dreamer," Emoke B'racz, the owner of Malaprops bookstore in Asheville, greets me when I slip through the door behind the three wild sculpted ladies on the sidewalk. I respond that it seems to me that everyone who has the passion and fortitude to run an independent bookstore in current economic conditions is a dreamer. "Maybe so," she agrees, "but I learned to dream with my grandmother in a village in Hungary. She learned from her grandmother. And we've dreamed together long-distance." She recounts, with a wistful smile, a dream from many years ago in which she was trying to find her grandmother and give her a bathrobe. She had a great sense of blessing and relief when she succeeded. Later she learned that at the time of her dream, her grandmother had been in a hospital and was feared to be close to death. After the dream, she recovered and was allowed to return home.
Emoke's mother named her after the favorite concubine of Attila the Hun, and she has wonderful fight in her. When she came to Asheville in the early 1980s and opened Malaprops on downtown Hayward Street, there wasn't much going on around the store. Emoke's vision coincided with a cultural and economic resurgence in this lovely little city nestled among the mountains.
We had a large and lively turnout for my talk at Malaprops that night. When someone asked about how to break a dream drought, I was able to recall an incident from my first visit to Asheville, back in 1997. I gave a lecture at the local campus of the University of North Carolina. Afterwards, a distinguished professor in his mid-60s approached me and said graciously, "You are a wonderful speaker. I could listen to you all night. However, I have no direct evidence that I can trust anything you say because I have never remembered a dream in my life. So I have no personal proof that dreaming exists."
"That changed tonight," I told him. "You spent the evening with more than a hundred people who are all passionate about dreams. This kind of enthusiasm is viral. It's gotten into you and tonight you'll go home and dream up a storm."
The professor left with his eyebrows crawling toward his hairline. But in the morning, he reappeared at the door of my workshop. "I've got money," he cried, waving a check. "You have to let me in. I don't know how you did it, but I had a doozy of a dream last night and I've got to share it." That workshop was fully booked, but of course we magicked up space for the professor who had remembered a dream for the first time in his life.
I asked him to tell us his dream, like a story, and he took us on a magic mystery tour that began with the professor riding in the back of a long black limousine driven by a chauffeur named Spirit. They stop for gas at a service station where he recognizes everyone he knows who has died. They proceed to a strange multi-level building that proves to be a ferry boat with a mysterious pilot on top that is preparing for a crossing.
This was all too rich for us to sit around merely analyzing it. "Let's turn it into dream theatre," I proposed. The professor, naturally, had no idea what this meant. I explained that I would help him to cast the members of our workshop in the roles of every character and element in his dream - including the gas pumps and trash bins at the service station, the wheels of the limo, and the "beefy" friend who had died. Soon the man who had never recollected a dream was watching with delight as 45 workshop participants brought his dream alive, in every detail, all around him. He got to interview his dream characters, and clarified the nature of the crossing and the way in which the dream might be preparing him - in a generous and inspiriting way - for a big journey that lay in his future, into life beyond this life. The whole experience filled him with courage and joy. He wrote to me afterwards that this was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
Cheered by this tale, the person who had complained of a dream drought at Malaprops left - with a couple of my signed books in hand - promising to ask for a juicy dream that night. I know she succeeded, since she turned up at my subsequent workshop, eager to tell the dream that had come.