For the year-end DOORS issue, we asked poet Siobhan Collins and flash fiction writer and publisher Jude Higgins to chat in an email exchange between Canterbury, New Zealand and Bristol, England. Jude was a Gestalt Psychotherapist and Siobhan is a Jungian Analyst. We asked them to meander through a few topics together and see where the landed. They not only discuss the value of dreams and creative writing, but they each share some work of their own.
We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did!
Being trained in dream work, I often speak with my patients about their dreams and my own extensive training analysis has given me the opportunity to examine my own dreams over many years. I am intrigued by the idea that a dream may morph into a piece of flash fiction. I suspect dreams and creative work spring from the same source deep in the psyche.
I’m a grandmother to seven grandchildren and live on the edge of the sea – both physically and metaphorically!
I’ll include a recent poem of mine and look forward to hearing from you and beginning a conversation
Emigration Bluesyou swapped the smell of the fierce honeysuckle twisted through damp boreens for the heady scent of daphne in an Auckland garden in this strange Spring you are a visitor from another world fresh off the boat your bones sing the deep ship’s strum stepping down the gangplank with your post-war Dublin airs bespoke tailored tweed, nipped waist and peep toed shoes into the arms of strangers you read the tealeaves my cousin recalls a brown kaleidoscope stuck to the cup never the same pattern but always the same message a visitation from a stranger we watched the door, swung long legs in shorts waited for the kin who never came What chance flung you here a toss between Manhattan and an island at the bottom of the world Americas gone to the dogs Mammy Will we make the cup of tea? Brew another pot and read the leaves that stick darkly to the white wall
Jude Higgins: Hi Siobhan, thank you very much for your email. Thank you also for your poem. I loved the vivid images and was particularly struck by the image of tea leaves and how evocative that was because of what we can read into them. To fill you in on my background: I was a Gestalt Psychotherapist, trainer and supervisor in private practice for about 25 years until I retired ten years ago. Since then, I have been immersed in the writing world, in particular flash fiction. I founded Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Flash Fiction Festival UK and direct Ad Hoc Fiction, the small independent press that publishes short short fiction.When I was a therapist, I loved running dream groups, where participants would explore their dreams. In Gestalt, therapists don’t offer interpretations but work with individuals (or groups) with creative ‘experiments’ to raise the awareness of the dreamer. One classic experiment in Gestalt would be to consider all aspects of the dreams as aspects of the self and then experiment with giving these aspects a voice. I do varieties of such experiments in the ‘Dreams into Fiction’ writing workshops I run now, to make stories, rather than as a therapy exploration. Although it is always interesting to see what the fiction reveals about the self.
Just recently I ran an online ‘ Dreams into Fiction’ workshop for writers where I offered several ways of working with the same short dream. I offered a dream of my own as an example to demonstrate the different ways. Here’s my dream, written in the first-person present tense, which is what I always ask writers to do initially. And which is also a standard way of asking someone to tell a dream in Gestalt Therapy.
I am standing in the large, sunny garden of a former friend, next to a cabinet with several narrow drawers. I open the drawers and discover rows of cherry tomatoes in various degrees of ripeness. My former friend turns up and asks me what I am doing in her garden.
One of the writing exercises I asked people to do in this workshop was to write down words associated to an image that struck them from their dream. They were allowed to search on the internet for further associations. I then asked them to write a very short micro in the class, including as many of these words as possible. And to use the same structure as my example below: Begin with ‘Don’t’ and include a sentence(s) beginning with ‘Let’ and another with ‘We don’t mind’. This structure was to help with the ten-minute time constraint. I chose tomato for my example, although I could have used any other aspect of the dream. Like the cabinet, or the friend. Or the narrow drawers, or the sunny garden.
When I searched for varieties of cherry tomatoes on the internet, I discovered that one variety is called a ‘Baby Boomer’ which I found really interesting because of my age. Some of my other word associations included: canned, juice, Bloody Mary, sour, blight, ripe, tomato festival, sweet.
So my little example micro turned out like this:
What to do with Baby BoomersDon't bottle us up or get us canned. We'd prefer not to be squashed or frozen. Added to vodka, never. Who wants to be called Bloody Mary? Let us ripen slowly to our prime and if we're sour, lay us in the sun to sweeten. We don't mind when we shrivel and our skin wrinkles. Unless we're blighted, you're still fond. But it's best, when we're old and soft to take us in lorry loads to 'La Tomatino', the tomato festival in Spain. The young people will pelt each other with us. They'll roll around in our juice, laugh when we splatter their clothes, their faces, their legs. When we've all gone, they'll remember what fun we were. It's the best way to go.
I am looking forward to our continuing conversation! I was always interested in the Jungian Psychologist James Hillman and was trying to remember an article, or maybe it was a TV programme in a series I think he had, when he spoke about thresholds. And I thought that might be interesting given that Flash Frontier‘s subject is Doors. And dreams are thresholds into new awarenesses.
Do you know of it?
All the best
Siobhan: Love your work with dreams – it certainly accords with the Jungian approach in which all characters in the dream are considered as aspects of the dreamer’s psyche. As a fellow BB I particularly enjoyed the tomatino festival and the notion of creative recycling!I trained initially in Psychodrama which I think has resonance with Gestalt.
I feel a bit envious of your capacity to make space for your writing – I seem to lack the courage to give up my day job….or maybe my day job nourishes my creative spirit. Hillman: yes, an amazing man who founded Archetypal Psychology – a whole school of Jungian psychology which I think is the most poetic and soulful of the schools. But I don’t know the article you mention
So where does the creative muse arise is the question on my mind. Doorways to the unconscious… I do think that dreams are a portal, but also the momentary comment or observation. I’m sending you a recent poem that arose from a comment my 7-year-old grandson made to my 6-year-old grandson and which the muse allowed me to hear!
I have no idea how we might shape our exchange for the Flash Frontier issue, but maybe I should trust in psyche or more precisely our psyches speaking to each other across vast oceans.
Jude: Hi Siobhan, Yes I think it seems right to trust in the psyche and with that in mind, before I went to sleep I asked for a dream to help with a response. I just remembered a very small snippet of it – ‘I am waiting on a platform to catch a train’. And that seems to emphasize your suggestion to just let things emerge, which is what I do when I am writing.I follow trains of thought or images and don’t plan anything at the outset. I believe very tiny snippets of dreams can carry so much meaning if we focus on them and also, as you say, just a brief comment or observation can turn into much richness, as with your poem. I enjoyed the resonance of the wolf with fairy tales. The Natural Artistry of Dreams is a book by Jungian Jill Mellick which I like for its suggestions on working with dreams in many creative ways. From this, I have frequently used her idea to shift a dream into a fairy story by making all the characters archetypal and exaggerating everything. I suggested my workshop participants wrote their dreams as a fairy story in this way. And I re-wrote my ‘tomato’ dream as a fairy story as an example. Here’s the opening to it.
The WolfYou know what. Granny has a wolf in her bedroom, ...though its a dead one we don’t take any chances with it and keep one eye swivelled to its glassy one as we tumble in to play jumps on her bed or drip her jewels through our fingers and sniff her fancy soaps You know what we wonder, are we in the presence of a grandmother who could shoot wolves to save her babies? We carefully stroke its shimmery fur, stay clear of its snout in case it suddenly snarls and sinks strong fangs into our soft skin We know what we think when Granny smiles and says its not a wolf, its her own grandmother’s Silver Fox, the one she always wore to church letting Granny sit beside her on the hard pew to hold its pearly claw in her small hand. We don’t believe her you know because we know grandmothers tell lies to protect little children when the wolf howls at the door.
Working title: 'Greedy Nostalgia'After many, many years, the dowager Queen Judith, found herself, by some magic trick, in the vast country estate of Christabel the cunning, standing next to a mahogany cabinet containing hundreds of narrow drawers. She slid a drawer open and the air filled with the nostalgic perfume of the best home-grown cherry tomatoes. They looked so delicious and smelled so much of her childhood, she had to taste one. Just as she was reaching out, Christabel rocked up in her pink galoshes and Barbour jacket, a tiara tilted at a tipsy angle on her head. 'So, you've come to visit at last,' she said, all dimples and white teeth. She pulled out another drawer filled with even more perfect tiny jewel-like globes. 'Do eat one. They're a very special variety, one for the most discerning. Something I know you'd enjoy investing in.' Dollar-signs dinged in her eyes as if she were a cartoon Queen and not a middle-aged former royal, looking for sponsors...
Siobhan: Love the fairy tale take on the dream snippet, especially in the light of this theme of portals – the portal engaging the imagination and drawing from the archetypal level of the psyche. There’s a mischievous streak too which turns the dream snippet on its head, and that to me resonates with Jungian dream interpretation. Dreams so commonly don’t say in a straightforward way what they mean, leaving it to the dreamer to decipher the word play and layers of symbolic meaning. Traditionally, Jungian analysts encourage the dreamer to personally associate to the images along with holding other possible symbolic meanings from literature, myth and story.
You have opened a doorway for me as I had not previously considered marrying dream image with poetry or flash fiction. I’ve enjoyed your demonstration of the richness of this.
So doorways and portals into the depths… I have been musing on what opens a doorway to a creative piece and thought I’d send you one last poem because it came from the landscape I live in. Robert Falcon Scott trained his ponies for his ill-fated last expedition to the South Pole on the little island that I look at every day in the Lyttelton Harbour where I live. He sailed for the ice from the port here and one day when I was in the local museum I found a poem forming as I looked at the case of artefacts recovered from his tent and sent back to New Zealand. An unopened box of Havana cigars was included in the exhibits.
The Cigar BoxDays in the sun dance on the lid. The seal’s unbroken through the glass. The finest box of SOL cigars donated “For the Final Dash.” I like to think that as ice edged the fragile marrow from your bones and packed the space, in that last hypothermic high you stood in hot Havana sun in navy wool, gold brass and braid, popped the seal and flamed the match and drifting on the fragrant smoke fell back into an endless accolade.
Jude: I think your poem, so moving and vivid in its contrasts, would be a great ending to this exchange. I like what you said about how it emerged from such a poignant artefact in a museum. Perhaps dreams are from the museums of the psyche?