I keep having dreams about driving. When I say “keep,” I mean that the dreams are recurring over several years, although not with great frequency. In high school and college, they were usually about not knowing how to drive, or driving too fast and losing control, or driving down the wrong side of the road. Lately, they’ve been about driving into water.
Often the dream starts with me already falling off the road, helplessly buckled into the driver’s seat as my vehicle nosedives into a river. (Or lake, or sea.) I always manage to get out well before drowning, but then I can only watch the water slowly rise, flooding the engine, ruining the car.
Obviously these dreams are metaphors. My subconscious’s way of speaking to me, of digging out some kind of psychological splinter. Is it about my life? My relationships? My writing? This particular manuscript? Or is it broader than all of that — maybe a general sense of unease or uncertainty that’s running through me like a secret undercurrent?
The exact meaning might always be a mystery. Fortunately these dreams don’t trouble me. They aren’t nightmares, merely scenes. Scenes from a larger story that I don’t yet understand, and possibly never will.
Recently, however, the scene has changed.
Earlier this week, I stayed up late to read a new book. I bought it after browsing through several books at random in the store, because within a few pages, this one had me in tears. TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is the collected writings of Dear Sugar on TheRumpus.net, an “anonymous” advice column about love, grief, and everything in between. (“Anonymous” because just a few months ago, Sugar revealed herself to be Cheryl Strayed whose new memoir WILD is sitting comfortably on several bestseller lists.)
I had heard of Sugar once or twice in the past, most notably through her popular advice to “write like a motherfucker,” but I was already subscribed to plenty of writing blogs. I didn’t need another.
If only I had known that Dear Sugar wasn’t a writing blog at all. Well, it IS a blog of beautiful writing — but not like any other. It is equal parts advice and memoir, full of heart and grace and hard truths and simplicity and profundity and courage and… well, just about everything I aspire to, in both myself and my work. Sugar has a way of really seeing the letters that are sent to her — not through them or underneath them, but not just the surface of them either. She sees them like someone staring directly into the sun without squinting or blinking or going blind. Somehow she can do that. Somehow she sees that light, touches it, then radiates her own back into it.
I’m not a religious person, but TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is probably the closest thing I have to a personal Bible, in the sense that it is a collection of stories that exposes the many facets of humanity, validates them, accepts them, allows me to recognize them within myself, guides me toward the ones I want to nurture, and inspires me to let go of the ones I don’t.
So. For obvious reasons, the book was hard to put down, and I found myself pushing my bedtime further and further until at last, the beautiful, bittersweet ending came. I had read all there was of Sugar, both in the book and online. There was nothing left to do but sleep. Absorb. And dream.
That night, I dreamt of driving. Driving into a large indoor pool, falling into gleaming blue-green water, splashing into cold and sweet. I swam out of the car as it sank, watched as it was swallowed inch by inch. For a moment I stood there bewildered, waist-deep in the water, wondering what I could do now, how I could keep going without a vehicle to carry me.
Then I thought, “Who says this one can’t?”
Reaching forward, I pulled the car out of the water. I carried its body, wet and shriveled like a rag, and lay it out piece by piece, ministering to each part with a blow dryer, the way you would with a cell phone rescued from a puddle. When I was done and the car was as dry as it would ever be, I put the key in the ignition, took a deep breath, and turned my hand.
The car sputtered to life.
In that moment, I felt the amazement of someone who both completely disbelieved and yet also knew all along that things would work out. I hadn’t ruined it after all. Or maybe I had, but then I had worked hard to save it and I’d succeeded. Achieved the impossible. Un-drowned the engine.
Like I said, there’s no way to know exactly what these dreams mean, but regardless, I believe this was a good sign. I think my subconscious sees something new in me. A spark, a light, a sun.