I had a dream last night. Very few of my dreams are elaborate; most go nowhere. Most of the dreams I recall are anxiety dreams. These are, I suppose, my dispatches to my dreaming self. I occasionally have dreams of simple calm and nourishment. These might be its answer to me. Last week, I had a lucid picture of myself sitting on the floor of my apartment, eating instant noodles sopped in egg yolk. This may have meant, We enjoy noodles. Or, We have been eating noodles every night. Or it might have been saying, Be comforted, frantic sister! For here is comfort, even from your daylit world.
If it notes the anxieties I bring to sleep, my dreaming mind must see waking life as a city bombarded by light and noise, and its own dwelling as a quiet shelter underneath. It worries about me, I think, and tries to help, although it is baffled by the conditions of its neighboring state. It never gives me nightmares and hardly ever gives me visionary dreams. I think it shoots for respite. Sleep now, go back to your besieged country as though you are still protected. I may be anthropomorphizing my own subconscious, if that’s the word.
The dream I had last night was unusually elaborate. I was planning to kill myself. I was also planning to write a book about it. It’s not clear whether I had decided to commit suicide in order to write a book, or whether I saw the book as a natural and necessary part of the process of self-destruction, but the book was the center of my preparations. I did not envision myself writing – I think you do that in dreams as seldom as you do it on television – but I took a great many notes and collected a great many photographs and documents. I spent a lot of the dream leafing through them. I believe I was planning a hefty, detailed work, like a true-crime novel, with pictures and redacted text. I could see inserts: official records, family pictures, panoramas.
I devoted some time to considering the means of suicide, and I think I settled on throwing myself off a bridge. This option afforded many beautiful images – landscapes, soaring architecture – and a beautiful picture of the death itself. I had a clear image in my head of a woman, not myself, falling into the air, the hem of her skirt lifted up just slightly, translucent in the clear light of the harbor. It was a serious project. The book was a lot more important than the death.
I know it sounds bad to say I’ve been thinking of suicide in any context, even a literary one, even a symbolic one, but I believe that my dream-self lit on suicide precisely because suicide has no personal meaning. I have never been suicidal, even when I was desperately unhappy. I’m resilient to a fault. And my sleeping mind knows this.
Nor did it have much interest in the death itself. There was planning woven through the process of the dream – arranging and carrying out the suicide was a task in the creation of the manuscript – but the book was much more important. There was also no sense that ending my life would end my life: aside from the assumption that I would go on to write about having killed myself, there was no anticipation associated with my impending death, no fear, no eagerness or satisfaction. I believe it was a story according to the dream, simply an event to explore with words. Even the method was light: I envisioned the fall as floating down, only a short distance.
I’m aware that this could come off as worse than mere thoughts of suicide: dissociating from the prospect of one’s own death is, in its way, a suicidal state of mind. But I believe my subconscious was presenting me with a topic for memoir that had no personal connection to my life. This was another comfort dream.
Suicide is an easy theme. It has a balanced structure: the plotline divides into motive and consequence as cleanly as a cut deck of cards. Suicide is a natural hook. Readers are curious about the reasons behind a suicide, and the circumstances of the death itself. Suicide also offers opportunity to write about the character’s surroundings – most stories of suicide sketch out a character through the shape of their absence. Readers connect with the helpless family and bewildered community. Suicide on the other hand is not terribly mysterious: we are accustomed to its presence in fiction and nonfiction. We do not tend to look for rationales that astound or upset us. Love, pain, loss, imbalance: suicide is a tragedy that makes sense.
So my subconscious brain was suggesting that I write a memoir about someone else’s life, a memoir that would be readily understood by most people who glanced through it, a memoir that might be popular.
It wanted to release me from the nightmarish aspects of memoir: to create a vision of autobiographical work as supple and weightless as a dream, as impersonal as a story that could only happen to someone else. An easy project.