What is the best dream you’ve ever had?
Well, there is more to dreams than good dreams and bad dreams. Some dreams are prescient; some dreams are teachers, conveying important information — at least mine are. In 2009, I had dreams of Truman Capote. It was quite bizarre because I had not read his work since the ’80s. I liked it then, very much. I guess it had lain quietly in my subconscious mind until, after a hiatus of five years, I took up my novel, Martin of Gfenn again and read through it, grimmacing all the way.
In the first dream, he just appeared. I was startled and woke up. That was that. But “he” came back…
I was in a huge room, like a gym or shopping mall. All around were stores (strange). I had rolls of butcher paper on the floor, cups of tempera, colored pencils. There was a commotion in the distance, so I got up and went to see what was going on. A man came in, wearing black clothes, a trench coat and so on like a photo of Bob Dylan taken by Richard Avedon; I had recently seen. This was NOT Dylan and this man wore a brimmed hat. It was a short, chubby guy in his fifties. He came right up to me and put his arms around me. I knew it was Truman Capote.
“It should be you,” I said, “this place couldn’t do better than to hire you as Writer in Residence.” Ah, my mall was a school.
“It could be you, honey.”
“No,” I said, “my work is invisible.”
“Not to me,” he said. He went off to work in his corner and I continued working in front of some stores.
Later, it was time for us to go to the homes where we were being “housed.” Mine was horrible. It was an upper and lower room. The lower room was peopled by an immensely cranky and obese woman, her severely retarded, nearly vegetable daughter, and her son/husband — and a lion. When I went down to this room — after being assured I’d be able to live with the lion — the first thing that happened was that the lion grabbed my arm and bit into it; not hard, not all the way, but it didn’t let go. I looked at it; it was smaller than a tiger and I thought to myself, “Why are you worried? You’re a tiger.” It was a smart thought to have because at that moment I was no longer worried about the lion at all, in fact, I loved it.
At some point the family took the daughter up for dinner — they did this by grabbing her by the hair and dragging her around.
And so in the dream I continued to paint and think about writing. I was surprised by Capote. Everyone there — in the mall — was both writer and painter. He was very kind and protective of me and constantly treated me as if I were something precious both to him in a subjective sense and in an objective sense; as if my work were worth attention for its own sake.
When I woke up I was surprised Capote had appeared in a second dream.
I did some thinking about this. “A Christmas Memory” is the most perfect story I’ve ever read. I’d recently seen the documentary of Hunter Thompson showing him copying The Great Gatsby over and over again. I thought of that in relation to my problems with Martin of Gfenn. Maybe I needed to do something like that; learn to write by copying a truly good story, perfectly written, like practicing a piano score. Maybe that diligent attention to technique is what I was missing.
But I was not sure. What was Truman Capote trying to tell me??? I wondered if it could it be this? “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
The upshot was that I spent that summer reading everything Capote wrote. I had more dreams and an experience that shed some light on the context. I went to my 40th high school reunion. I had only gone to one other reunion, my tenth where I was hit on by the hottest girl in school, an experience that — since I’m straight — was nothing but surreal. I was being offered the fantasy of every guy in my class. One event was returning to our school. It was so intense for me — it brought back not memories but realities of those years, that experience. At a certain point I walked to the hallway where my locker had been. I was stunned; the “mall” in my Capote dream had not been a mall. It had been my high school. I remembered feeling like a failure back then when we put on “The Grass Harp” and I neither got a part in the play or the chance to do the publicity graphics. I did get to spread butcher paper out on the floor and paint banners… Whoa. I got a copy of The Grass Harp and read it. I was stunned by its beauty. My dreams had given me the teacher I needed and I set to drastically edit Martin of Gfenn, cutting its length by half.
Wind surprised, peeled the leaves, parted night clouds; showers of starlight were let loose: our candle, as though intimidated by the incandescence of the opening, star-stabbed sky, toppled, and we could see, unwrapped above us, a late wayaway wintery moon: it was like a slice of snow, near and far creatures called to it, hunched moon-eyed frogs, a claw-voiced wildcat. Catherine hauled out the rose scrapquilt, insisting Dolly wrap it around herself; then she tucked her arms around me and scratched my head until I let it relax on her bosom–You cold? she said, and I wiggled closer: she was good and warm as the old kitchen. The Grass Harp
Resonant (for me) Capote quotations:
A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.
Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.
I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
I was eleven, then I was sixteen. Though no honors came my way, those were the lovely years.
Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe.