Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Of zephyrs and islands

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.


Wanda Burch said...

Your evocation of a dream wisp as a zephyr resonated with me and I went googling into JMB Le Clezio as well. In reading about his life I enjoyed comments he made on the interconnections of all life and nature,and, specifically, on a connection with life and nature that he made in Nice, reading and writing while sitting under an olive tree. He felt there the strong association between human beings and the rest of nature - a sharing of the same world. In exploring both the light and the dark in that phrase and responding to the skepticism of his interviewer he noted: "We have the same language, dreams, the same impulsions, as the animals and the vegetation.”

Robert Moss said...

Reading Le Clezio you certainly feel immersed in his landscapes. The sound of water running along the cobbled street and dripping from the trees and the eaves of a French border village occupied by Italian carabinieri in 1943 echoes in your mind long after you close the pages of "Wandering Star" (the Le Clezio novel I am currently reading). Here you know winter is over when water is "running down on all sides, making that music, those whoshing, swishing, drumming sounds." This is a marvelous writer of PLACE and the senses with which we inhabit place, and I look forward to traveling with his pen to other places, especially Mauritius and West Africa.

Unknown said...

I am so very much enjoying your communicative mind and use of languages-stumbled across your new book last week-and this post reminds me of an amazing dream in which I swam up from the depths of the ocean, over warm sands, onto a mountain on the island of New went on...the imagery and range of this years ago dream, and the feeling were immense and oh so memorable. And thanks for the pointed leads to other wonderful-sounding authors like Le Clezio!

Robert Moss said...

Jeff, just a taste of your amazing dream voyage to New Zealand leaves us avid for more. I hope you have written this up as a narrative, or will now do so.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Robert...the details are written down somewhere, most likely in one of countless journals. Not that I'd be able to find it....or doing so could take weeks. But I have never-so far-tried making a painting from this particular dream...and it certainly could inspire something wonderful. So we'll see....

Another notable aspect of this dream was transforming from one creature to another....I began as a great whale, swimming a long while, initially through deep and dark, then under bright ocean surfaces....then became an amphibian, going up onto the shore, then a lion going through jungle/forest up the mountain, then an eagle or hawk, flying off and circling over the island, seeing it all from above.

Once awake, the certainty of knowing it was New Zealand was startling, as I had never been on that side of the planet.