Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 27: Dreams

I guess I should have known that making something based on a dream would turn out to be a longer project. I keep a dream journal, and I tend to have long, semi-coherent story-like dreams full of strong symbolism and mythology. Needless to say, I had a lot of material to choose from, and I even had multiple dreams that connect to books. I narrowed it down to two choices and in the end I'm not sure either one could have been done in a day.
The book shown here isn't a work of fiction, it's more a study of certain mythological symbols and what they stand for psychologically. The story of the Fisher King goes way back, and has been adapted into Arthurian legend. The king, as a young man, suffers a serious injury. Some versions say in the thigh, while others versions don't mess around and say it's in the genitals, the point being it's in the 'generative' region. He lives, but the injury will not heal, and he's left forever cold, or unable to feel, no longer able to enjoy life. The author links this to the psychological impairment of being wounded in the ability to access the passionate, warm, creative and feeling side of one's self. It's not strictly a masculine problem, but in Western culture men are encouraged to focus on the logical, practical side of things, to live more by 'cold' reason.
Don't ask how he drinks his coffee...
There's a lot more to the myth, which you'll have to read the book for, but ultimately it takes someone else to go questing and bring some symbolic thing (such as the holy grail) to heal the fisher king. It's an interesting analogy, and an interesting book. For another interpretation of the Fisher King story, I highly recommend you look up 'The Lazarus Heart' by Sting, even if just for the lyrics. He's said the song was inspired by a dream he had, which he later learned from a friend was the typical dream of the Fisher King myth. Apparently it's not an uncommon symbolism in dreams, and that probably means something.
Here then, is my own dream journal entry, dated 12/21/08 6AM-ish:

The initial setup of the dream reminded me of the movie Matilda, with my viewpoint character a very young girl with two inadequate parents.
Intelligent beyond her years and very self sufficient, the girl noted the absence of parenting in her life and was constantly dismayed by it. She was always sweet-tempered towards her parents but spent much of her time being left to entertain and care for herself. Sometimes there was a vague suggestion of a disinterested brother, which I think was my brain leaning on the movie, but half the time I had the impression she was an only child.
The mother was a genuinely loving but vapid and useless figure. She seemed mostly distracted with her own interests but truly affectionate when she remembered to show it. Affection came in brief bouts, clumsy and ineffectual, then she’d grow distracted and distant again without meaning to, until she realized her own absence and overcompensated to try to make up for it. The cycle was repeated so many times the girl just accepted it and was grateful for the periods when her mother was overindulging her to try to make amends, even though she knew that was a passing thing. The mother was very pretty, and vain, mostly concerned with her appearance and clothes and make-up. I remember an impression of blonde curls and frilly clothing, a vague kind of Marilyn Monroe-esque appearance.
The father was distant, cold, sometimes caustic. He regarded wife and daughter both with a proprietary air, but didn’t really want any close contact with either. He thought mostly of his work, kept apart from his family, and spent most of his time out of the house in his business. The only time they really saw much of him was in the mornings at breakfast, and late in the evenings when he finally came home from work tired and uninterested in talking to anyone. The mother accepted his manners with a kind of mild and quiet wifely fretting, bringing him whatever he needed in the evenings unasked and unthanked.
That's a working hinge made of metal tape on his side.
The dad’s appearance is where things get surreal. One of the reasons his cold manner was so accepted by others was that he’d suffered some kind of serious wounding in the past. His heart was gone, as were his lungs, and I think the right side of his face was just dark and cratered. The front of his torso unhinged and swung open like a panel, and whatever prosthetics inside that kept him going needed daily maintenance that required it. The man looked like some kind of Dave McKean creation. Early in the mornings he’d get breakfast for himself, moving around the kitchen with the front of his torso hanging open and fiddling with the interior while he drank his coffee. He was red and lumpy inside, but fairly dry. The man was a Fisher King if ever I saw one.
I had the impression everyone in the family moved on their own schedule without much contact with anyone else’s, although the little girl fairly often ate breakfast while her father was still getting his, and she watched him quietly because he didn’t want to be bothered. One morning in a fit of mothering, maybe on a weekend, the mother decided to make pancakes. I don’t think she was much of a cook because the process left the kitchen a horrible mess, and there was supposed to be big dark pieces of something in it, some kind of fruit. The father came in halfway through this, getting his own breakfast and coffee. As some kind of practical joke, he put cockroaches in the pancake batter (Don’t ask me where he got them from). The mother didn’t notice, and cooked them and served them up. The little girl just sat there looking at her pancakes, some of the big dark pieces fruit and some cockroaches. The mother was glowing, pleased with herself, and chatting gaily, and sat down and ate some herself. The father, standing by the counter with his coffee and his interior maintenance, silently laughed at the scene. Some of the cockroaches in the pancakes were somehow still alive, and moved, trying to escape the cooked dough there were now baked into, and that’s the only reason the mother noticed at all. There was no big horror reaction, but she was very surprised and bewildered how they’d got in there.
The next scene I remember was the little girl gathering up some of her most important belongings in a nice sturdy ornate box, maybe a jewelry box, and running away. The setting was vaguely my parent’s house with her running towards the hillside and up into the more large-scale woodsy scene it sometimes became in childhood dreams. Then it was on to a more park-like setting, again familiar as a dream setting; light woods with trails leading off to meadows mostly on the left, deeper woods ahead. She was headed off on one of the trails toward a meadow when she ran into what seemed almost like some version of myself with my parents, or some prosaic version of us. The older girl was someone she knew, and she was privately a little jealous at her nice stable parents and the whole cohesive family they made. They invited her to join them for a picnic, and she was a little afraid of joining them because she was worried they’d realize what she was out there for was to run away. She was nervous they’d return her home. She accepted their invitation only because she was worried not to would look suspicious, and they were very nice and polite to her but it was pretty obvious she was upset about something. Trying to make excuses I think she opened up her box and was talking about the things in it, and I think that’s how she found the little wrinkled, dried-up lump slightly smaller than her fist, dark dusty red and looking for all the world like a big prune. As soon as she saw it she recognized it and so did my brain, even though I got the impression she’d never seen it before. How it got into her box I don’t know and neither did she, but this was her father’s heart.
This is a poor substitute for a heart.
She had the idea that if she could somehow mend this heart and put it back in him, he’d be a changed man and might feel some affection towards her, which she longed for. At this point the dream swept along in vague narrative impressions, whisking frustratingly along like my brain was bored with the story now that it had worked out the resolution. Somehow the heart got outfitted with some small mechanical workings to enable it to go again, and these were basically the way a winding pocket watch works. He’d still have to maintain it. They carefully wound it up with the top stopper pulled up, and when put into place in his chest that was going to depress the stopper and it would begin ticking away. But it wouldn’t work with this alone, it needed the organic component it was missing, that was essential to the magic of making it work properly. A heart needs blood. With the help of some expert (I think the me-girl was helping her get all this accomplished, taking her to the watch/heart experts and all), the girl was going to donate some of her own blood to put into her father’s heart to make it work. I remember it being magically drawn from her chest, leaving her dizzy and drained.
At that point my subconscious decided it knew how the story would end so it was time to wake up, even though it was ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. I’m annoyed that happened. It was such a wonderfully symbolic story and I guess I was waiting for some kind of fun and interesting twist or something, but mostly I just wanted to see the ending.


  1. It was well worth the effort, the end result is really lovely!

  2. I'm not sure lovely is quite the word I'd use, but he did turn out pretty neat, very much like the image from my dream.

  3. Oh wow...I rarely remember my dreams in any detail, and never enough to describe them so vividly. I know this project took longer than you intended, but the work you put into it really shows! I love that you actually made the hinged panel that lets us see the mechanism underneath.

  4. Not all my dreams are so coherent and symbolic, but enough of them to make about a dozen dream journal thingies per year. I try to record them as soon after waking as possible, and with as much descriptive detail as possible. I have a dream journal on LJ if you're interested in reading more...
    I was determined to work on this guy however long it took to get him right. The hinged chest panel seemed important, as did getting the weird dry-red peach-pit look inside his chest.