Cameron MacKenzie, a Virginia-based professor and author, loves to use dream interpretation to teach his students how to understand poetry. We talked about Freudian and Jungian interpretation, Joseph interpretating the Pharaoh's dreams, and Black Elk Speaks. Cameron's new book River Weather: Stories is now available through Alternating Current Press.
Keep up with Cameron MacKenzie on Facebook and on his website
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- Kevin T. Porter's Sorkin supercuts: First, Second and Third.
- Alice Munro (Nobel Prize winning author)
- The Red Book by Carl Jung
- Freud Dream Interpretation
- Irma's Injection
- Black Elk Speaks
Leah Jones 0:00
So the last thing I need from you before we stop recording is to record the bumper -- where you just say, "Hi, my name is blank. And my favorite thing is blank, but you fill in the blanks."
Welcome to the Finding Favorites podcast where we explore your favorite things without using an algorithm. Here's your host, Leah Jones.
Leah Jones 0:25
Hello, and welcome to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones, and this is the podcast where we learn about people's favorite things and we get recommendations without using an algorithm. It is Saturday the 18th, this podcast will be going out both on time *and* a week late. As you already heard from the intro, we're missing our usual bumper. This week, I have Cameron Mackenzie on -- he's an author. His new book, "River Weather: Stories," launched a couple of weeks ago, and this episode was meant to coincide with his book release. Unfortunately, I switched from using Zoom as my recording software to something called Riverside, and our audio was filled with problems.
Leah Jones 1:19
We had this amazing conversation, and random phrases -- random two to six second bits of his side of the interview got doubled and tripled. But nothing on my interview got doubled. So editing this interview was very difficult. And now that I'm six weeks into chemotherapy, I just simply have less time and energy for doing complicated mental tasks. So this episode had to sit for a week while I thought about literally how to do the math of making this work. So I believe I've pulled it together as best as I can, this episode with author Cameron Mackenzie.
Leah Jones 2:09
In my personal life updates, like I said, this week marked the halfway point of my chemotherapy. If you're new to the podcast, this summer, I was diagnosed with breast cancer; all known breast cancer's out of my body after a successful surgery and lymph node biopsy, but I'm doing chemotherapy. So, I'm halfway through my treatment of Taxol which means -- losing my hair, my taste buds are kind of getting hollowed out in a weird way. The circle of what is bland is increasing for me, and that is very strange. I did go back today to Pilates. I take one-on-one lessons, or training, at a studio down the road from here, and I love Pilates. It's one of the exercises I found as an adult that I love the most. I love the stretches of it, and I love the small, concentrated movements that really engage your core muscles and your hip flexors. So I have some kind of euphoria from doing Pilates again.
Leah Jones 3:32
I actually had expected to be totally exhausted, and I'm not, so that feels really good. In this cancer treatment that I'm in, you know the chemo's just the first 12 weeks of the treatment. I have a year of antibody treatment. So once the chemo ends, and I do radiation, at some point I get a CPAP machine, so I'll get some better sleep. It's really been a lot of just showing up for appointments. I have had people say they're really impressed by my attitude in this. I just have a very much -- I show up for the meetings, I stay hydrated, I put Aquaphor in my nose before I go to bed, so I don't get bloody noses, because the Taxol really dries you out.
Leah Jones 4:36
I just heard today that maybe Claritin helps every day because it helps with inflammation that Taxol starts. I'm starting to get my chemo farts under control -- I don't remember I've been on the podcast since I talked about that. But a friend in The Doughscord last night said, "Well, chemo is essentially like exfoliating your GI tract." It's really messing with my gut flora. I'm really trying to take it easier on dairy, because chemo farting has turned me into Beavis and Butthead -- both of them. I am disgusting. And I'm talking about it because nobody does. How is it that nobody talks about ...?
Leah Jones 5:25
Cancer man, it's so dumb. It's like the most generic diagnosis. I think that's the other thing I've learned -- that to say you have a breast cancer diagnosis, is to say practically nothing. It's like in a movie, when somebody walks up to the counter, "Hey, bartender, I'll have a beer." What does that mean? When I say I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it doesn't tell you anything. It doesn't tell you what type of cell it started in, the genetic makeup of it, do I have BRCA, is it triple negative, triple positive? In my case, it's positive, negative, positive. There's just like, all this stuff. And breast cancer I realize it's just generic, and you have to get more and more specific of finding the people with similar diagnoses and treatment plans, to get advice that is useful. So, that's been kind of wild.
Leah Jones 6:26
My thank you pins came in that I got to give to people that say, "Today's hospital husband." You know, it is a problem with our society that the assumption is any man who would accompany me to the hospital is my husband. And, that any woman that goes with me to the hospital, she does not become my wife. But I had these really lovely enamel pins made for friends that say, ,"Today's hospital husband," on one side -- on the public side -- with a little hashtag -- #fuckcancer on the back. To say thank you to friends and family who are bringing me meals, and keeping me company, and helping me clean the litter box, and fill the ice trays, and go to the store. And as I get into the second half of chemo, I'm saying yes to a lot more help. Which has been very hard for me to do.
Leah Jones 7:20
You know, I'm a very independent, stubborn, stoic Aries, and to accept all the help that has been given to me and accept the love that has been shown to me, is very hard to do. But, I'm very grateful for the friends teaching me this lesson in this time of my life. In January -- right now, the plan -- I've got one more episode banked, and one more interview that I need to reschedule. And then in January, I've asked my friends, Shai Korman, from "Friday Night Movie" podcast and Amy Guth from "Crain's Daily" to take over hosting in January while I finish chemotherapy. I will add these intros to the episodes, but they're both fans of the show, they know the format of the interview, they kind of have access to different people, and they know how to record and edit.
Leah Jones 8:17
So, in January, Amy and Shai are going to take on guest hosting for me, which I'm very grateful. And then my plan is to come back in February. Hopefully, with some recordings from my -- we'll see what Omicron does. But the carrot at the end of the stick for me, the carrot at the end of chemotherapy, are going to three Doughboys live shows. One in Chicago, one at Foxwoods casino, and one in Boston. Right now, all entertainment in New York is getting shut down, so I'm not feeling great that in late January, early February, we'll have live shows and that I'll be getting on an airplane. But if we do, I'll be at the Doughboys con in Foxwoods casino, and I'm going to be like Podcaster from the new "Ghostbusters" movie, and I'm going to take my little Zoom recorder on the floor of the casino, and find my fellow Doughmies, and we're gonna talk about why we love the Doughboys, live from Foxwoods.
Leah Jones 9:23
So, hopefully, I'll come back in February, but grateful in advance for Shai and Amy agreeing to take on a few episodes for me. So without further ado, today's episode with is Cameron Mackenzie. His favorite thing is dreams and dream interpretation. And please get boosted -- get that third vaccine if you're immunocompromised, get the vaccine if you haven't yet. Wear your mask, wash your hands, and keep enjoying your favorite things.
Leah Jones 10:10
Hello and welcome to Finding Favorites. I'm your host, Leah Jones. And this is the podcast where we learn about people's favorite things and get recommendations without using an algorithm. Tonight, I am joined by Cameron Mackenzie. Cameron is an author and educator based in Virginia. His new book, a series of stories called "River Weather" is coming out this winter, you can pre-order it now. We'll talk a lot more about it. Cameron, how are you doing this evening?
I'm doing good, Leah, it's really nice to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Leah Jones 10:45
Is it winter yet, where you are in Virginia?
It has become winter. We had sort of a false winter, got some cold, and then it got warm again. Normally, it doesn't get this cold for another month or so. But, I like the cold. I 'm hopinpg this sticks.
Leah Jones 11:03
Friday was our first little flurry. I'm in Chicago.
Probably colder there.
Leah Jones 11:09
Yeah, I think so. I was downtown, and I was looking at Lake Michigan like, "Oh, what a beautiful view, the colors are really nice today." Then I looked out 10 minutes later, and I was, "Uhh ..I can no longer see the lake. It has disappeared."
And that was the end of fall.
Leah Jones 11:32
That was the end of fall. So I was reading your bio, and it's very brief, but you talk about that you were born in Virginia. And you've worked as a dry cleaner, a doorman, a house painter, farmhand; you've lived in Santa Barbara, London, Tokyo. And now you're back in Virginia again. You mentioned that you're a teacher. What brought you back to Virginia?
Oh, gosh, the price of buying a house in the Bay Area in California. I was living out there -- loved the Bay Area, loved everything about Northern California, but just got to the point -- I wasn't working at Google or Facebook. And I didn't have Google and Facebook money, and family in Virginia. I'd be back here for the holidays, and I would start to look at, you know, the price of homes on Zillow, and laugh and laugh. And then, slowly said, "Maybe, that's actually a really good idea," until it became a great idea. But I'm really happy that I moved -- Northern California is not necessarily what it was when I moved there 10 years ago, and there's a lot of really interesting stuff happening in this part of Virginia right now.
Leah Jones 13:00
What part of Virginia are you in -- are you like, close to D.C? Are you further -- I don't know Virginia well.
So, I grew up outside of D.C. in northern Virginia. In Ashburn, Virginia, which was a place you know, when I first started college, I would tell people, "I'm from Ashburn," and they had no idea where that was. And now, so many people know -- what was really just an intersection 20 years ago, is now a monstrous development that just keeps growing and growing. I'm not living in Northern Virginia now. I live in southwest Virginia, I live in Roanoke, Virginia, which is a hip, little mountain town. It's a lot of fun. Great biking, great hiking. It's sort of a an undiscovered jewel, so far. We don't want to tell too many people about it.
Leah Jones 13:54
Well, I think people think about Roanoke, and then they get spooked. Right? Isn't that where the first colony was? Was supposed to be? The first landing? Isn't that a piece of trivia is lodged in my brain?
And a good piece of trivia, it is. I guess they wrote "Roanoke" on a tree. So that happened at the mouth of the river, or has a lot more to do with the river. So the Roanoke River starts up here in the mountains, and then runs all the way, and that's where that colony was.
Leah Jones 14:33
So you're at a different side of the river, then.
The original name of this town was Big Lake --
Leah Jones 14:37
-- Up River.
-- because there was a big salt lake. And when it became sort of a railroad hub, and they wanted to sound more fancy, they changed the name to Roanoke.
Leah Jones 14:49
Yeah, I was just telling a story that my dad had told me, that isn't true, but that I love about my hometown, that I think is just a Larry Jones original. I'm from Terre Haute, Indiana, which in French means "high land." We're on the high side of the river. But he was teasing me once and telling me originally, it was Tar Hut, because you would stop there and you would put tar in your wagon, to ford the river. But then, they had to class it up -- again, the railroads are coming through, and you can't be Tar Hut. And so they became Terre Haute. But considering across the river, there's a Toad Hop, and it's still called Toad Hop, it's possible.
Yeah, I read something about this, doing research for another book that I have yet to write -- I sort of hit a wall with it. But if you follow the migration of the Scotch-Irish down, they came in through Philadelphia, so many of them came down through the Shenandoah Valley. And you can tell where they've been, based on the names of things. It's just very sort of plain, flat, sometimes vaguely obscene, place names. And you can follow their progress through North America based on it.
Leah Jones 16:16
Yeah, that makes sense -- to me. Is this your second book?
Actually my third. I wrote a book of scholarship inbetween the novel and this one.
Leah Jones 16:31
That was the one about -- there was a poetry one, right?
The first book was a novel about the Mexican Revolution. And then I wrote -- gosh, how would I describe this? It's a book of scholarship, pretty much about modernist poetry and about how a lot of those same ideas are still being talked about by contemporary philosophers. So, this would be the -- the story collection, that'd be my third.
Leah Jones 16:59
And for "River Weather," I've found it really interesting talking to authors, as -- we're not out of COVID, but we're sort of in the thaw, of the pandemic, maybe? How much of "River Stories" for you was pre-COVID writing, how much was COVID editing? Where does COVID fall in the creation of this book for you?
Most of the stories in the book I started shortly after I found out that my novel was gonna be published. And what that gave me, was a big boost of confidence that I wasn't a crazy person sitting in a room alone for hours every day. And I was able to -- loosen up -- I'd published stories before then, they're very, very tight. I think they're very sort of mannered. And I was able to loosen up a lot, once I really just had more confidence in my own writing, that I could do this sort of thing.
And so the stories, I think, got better. They got longer, they got more complicated, perhaps more sophisticated. And so they came out, you know, I went through a phase I think of writing long stories. And then, I think I sort of got burned out by long stories. And I started writing flash fiction. Probably a lot of the COVID stuff, during COVID, I was writing mostly flash fiction, and I think there's maybe four or five of those pieces in there. But that's been a lot of the COVID writing -- the flash stuff. The editing, probably, has been through COVID. Especially when I'm putting the book out there to see who's interested, the editing process starts to become ongoing. And then I have to stop myself and I say, "No, this story's done. Leave the story alone. It's gonna be okay."
Leah Jones 18:56
Right, at some point, the words have to stay on the page.
Yes, somebody has to decide the story's done. I'm the only that can do that.
Leah Jones 19:08
Is flash fiction is it defined by a word count, or by the amount of time it takes to write it? That feels like a dumb question, now that I've said it out loud?
I only give myself 30 seconds. [laughter] Well, I started reading very short things. And I started liking them. And I started to think about doing them. I think the difference between flash fiction and micro fiction and short shorts and you know, all these sorts of different names people want to give it, and even what it is it's supposed to *do.* Some people believe that it should do everything a story does, it should just do it on a page instead of 20 pages.
I don't necessarily think it has to do that *at all.* Some people would call, you know, a piece of flash fiction, poetry and not fiction. All of these labels get -- they're sort of beside the point. Some of the stuff I write, it sounds more like a story, and some of the stuff I write sounds more impressionistic. For me, it's all sort of part of the same practice. So it's a question of length. When I'm thinking about a traditional American short story, I think it has to do five or six particular things. And maybe one of the fun things for me about the flash fiction is I'm able to leave those idea of what a story is behind?
Leah Jones 20:40
Is it asking you to step into the classroom too much to ask you what your five or six things that define a story are? Or are you secretly a chemistry teacher?
Actually, I think a lot of the stories in this book came out -- and it's sort of one of the reasons why I stopped writing these long stories. There was almost a question of once I figured out how I wanted to do it, then I began to lose interest in the form. But I would say that when I look at a story, what I was trying to do with the stories, they have to begin in a particular way. I like to begin long stories sort of in the middle of something; I want to drop the reader right in to a scene of action, and then try to wrap that up with first couple pages, then drop down-- I hate exposition. I hate exposition with a white, hot burning passion.
And I never want to write it, I often have to go back. But when I'm first writing a story, I'll try to lay down as much as I can, as quickly as I can, and sketch out different parts. So, I despised exposition until I started to read Alice Munro seriously. And once I -- of course, she's a genius in everything she does -- but once I saw how she could make exposition exciting and interesting, and just have so much texture to it. I said, "Oh! Well, that's how you do it." And that really helped me approach exposition with something other than dread. I think probably my more successful stories are the ones where I'm enjoying the exposition, as opposed to just trying to get through it as quickly as possible.
Leah Jones 22:32
I think it makes sense that ultimately, a story would be more successful if you enjoyed writing *all* the parts of it.
Yes, right? No part should be torture. I like stories to move really quickly. I don't want to -- the lyrical parts of the story, I try to have, I love to write lyrically, I used to simply just do that, and then I realized no one knew what I was talking about. You have to have some sort of structure, you can't just begin. Again, that question of structure takes me back to -- what is the story doing? Why are we talking about a storm cloud, for instance. We have to earn that storm cloud, you know what I mean? So, to try to get to those pieces, which are, to my mind, almost sort of pauses in the story. That there has to be a lot of movement towards it, and then a lot of movement from it.
The question of movement, for me, is so often a question of dialogue, which I do *love* to write, I could write dialogue all day long, it's not difficult. Exposition, incredibly difficult. Dialogue, not difficult at all. I love writing dialogue. It often goes on too long, I have to go back and then you know, cut half of it off, which is, you know, sad. But just keep the best parts. Dialogue into and then dialogue out of, and then it's just a question of what else goes into a story? Exposition, description, dialogue, lyrical passages. And really, it starts to become a question of -- and I think I learned this writing the novel, I learned so much just about *how* to write. The question of pacing is really, maybe top two most important things for me. When are we going too fast, when are we going too slow, when do we need to speed up? When do we need to pause after what just happened, and what kind of pause are we going to have? I don't know if that got too in the weeds.
Leah Jones 24:42
It's not too in the weeds. It's not too in the weeds. Do you ever take your love of dialogue to playwriting, or or screenwriting, or you so far short story, flash fiction, novel focus?
I haven't tried it. I think about it, but I read screenplays and say, "Oh, that's interesting." I guess the screenplays that I have read; I can't think of necessarily names off top my head, but they seem so bare bones, when I look at them on the page, and they're built to do that. I would have a strong inclination to start, you know, coloring in things that I might not need to color in.
Leah Jones 25:27
Right -- that you want to do the direction.
Absolutely, absolutely. And the idea of just just doing a third of the story. A skeleton of a plot, with people talking. I'm like, "What is this? What form is this?" And, it's a form that people are very successful at. [laughter] But one I might have to work a little harder had to really nail that.
Leah Jones 25:53
in the podcast, West Wing Weekly, which was the podcast that got me into listening to podcasts, at all. They used to talk about the way that Aaron Sorkin gets exposition in, is he -- they nicknamed it a "Tell a Donna." And if you ever watched the West Wing --
-- I love it, love, love, love.
Leah Jones 26:15
Okay. So when they're walking down the hallway explaining something to Donna, that was exposition, and that was a "Tell a Donna," and that was Aaron Sorkin like trying to like explain the legislature, or where the where the politics are at, or the details would be a walk and talk with Donna and a "Tell a Donna."
When I was -- I totally get that -- finishing up grad school. And I was just in my house all day long trying to write a dissertation, I would constantly play either the West Wing, or Deadwood -- not many people remember Deadwood. The writing in Deadwood was just so gorgeous. The way that exposition got done in Deadwood, was they would give it to the number one character who was Al Swearengen. And he was, by far, the most dynamic actor. He was usually shouting at someone while he was drinking whiskey. So, you would miss it often, but based on the Byzantine nature of that show, it's kind of beside the point. But if you go back, it was there.
The tough thing about the West Wing, for sure. And I think listening to so much Aaron Sorkin dialogue from simply going through all the West Wing seasons as many times as I did, really sort of soaked into my lizard brain as to how dialogue should be written. And sometimes I find myself, "Where does that come from? Oh, I got that from Sorkin. Maybe I should, you know, de-Sorkinize that a little bit." But he's an absolute -- I love the setups where -- usually, you got the President behind the desk, right? And you have somebody who thinks they're smart, but they're not smart, and they come in. And then they have this conversation where the President just breaks down the person who thinks they're smart. And then, you have a secretary wander in and out, and it's just wonderful. It's the same setup in "The Social Network," when when one of the characters goes to visit the president of Harvard. It's a West Wing scene -- the president's behind the desk, secretary walks in and it's great. Yeah, very Sorkin.
Leah Jones 28:30
There's a couple supercut videos that Kevin T. Porter made, that are have like Sorkinisms of his favorite names, and phrases, and things that have come up in like "Sports Night," "West Wing," "American President," the things that he reuses and recycles and plot points and stuff. But, I don't know, if you got a tool box, and it works well for you, it's okay to keep using them, I think.
Like, why does every character need to give their resume? He loves that. When I watch something written by Sorkin now, Sorkin feels like family to me, and I'm willing to find his faults just endearing.
Leah Jones 29:20
Yeah, I think him and Amy Sherman-Palladino, those writers for whom there's no improvising on set, every word is on the screen. And they're so careful with the words they choose, and every word is important, and they just want their actors to say. the. words. "I wrote them for a reason, say the words I gave you." It's one of the things I enjoyed about that podcast "West Wing Weekly, " was hearing Josh Molina talk about -- because he's been in so many Sorkin projects --and talk about what it's like to be kind of one of his actors. Like in the mix of his different projects.
I imagine that might be -- I don't know if demanding is the right word? I'm reminded of -- I heard an interview with David Mamet, and he was saying something very similar. He's of course, very careful about his words, and he can be a bit of a -- I don't know, grump? Is that the right word to use to describe David Mamet? Like, actors are getting in the way of his script, seems to be his attitude.
Leah Jones 30:27
But you do need them, in order to have the words meet the audience.
It's supposed to be a collaborative process.
Leah Jones 30:34
Yeah, a little collaboration, right. So are you going to be able to have any sort of in-person launch event? A local kickoff in Roanoke? What's your plan for the book release?
I'm planning stuff. I'm going to be doing a reading in Philly, at a grad school in Philly. have a lot of friends still up there that I know, that's gonna be a lot of fun. That's gonna be the day after the book comes out, that's gonna be on December 8th. It's not quite my book launch, because I'm reading with other very accomplished writers, so it's not like my show. That's kind of the coming out party, and that's gonna be live, and I'm very excited. I hosted reading series here in Roanoke, which was so much fun to do, to get local writers out. And a lot of young people doing it for their first time, and their friends are there to see them. I tried to bring in faculty from the Universities surrounding, prospective writers that achieved a good amount and to watch them, you know, mix and talk. It's a community event, communal event. And I want to start back up. But again, I don't know quite yet what safeguards to put in place, and you know how to bring it up. And, by the same token, what's the appetite for that?
Leah Jones 32:02
You'll be in Philly -- go up to Philly. And see you in the Equinox reading series.
Yes, it's going to be at Fergie's Pub, which is a great spot.
Leah Jones 32:14
Well, good luck, I will release this as as close to your launch date as possible.
Leah Jones 32:29
We're not here just to talk about your book, although the book is the reason we've met; I'm so pleased. We're also here to talk about one of your favorite things. So what are we here to talk about this evening?
Dreams. I loved talking about -- I taught a class on dreams, I did. It was funny because I would have to explain, usually in the first class, that I am not here to discuss and analyze and interpret every student's dreams. Because I think that's why they mostly signed up. And, many, many would express profound disappointment to me over the course of the semester that I was not there to analyze their dreams. But for me, the ties between dreaming -- first off, and how just the mind works, but also the creative process and the interpretive process. They're so intimately tied together, it might even be how the interpretive process began. We dream, animals dream -- things dream -- conscious things dream. There are debates now, can we do A.I. without dreaming? What would that look like? Would they have dreams, anyway? That'sd just stuff that, you know, current neurobiologists sort of batting around.
Leah Jones 33:59
Like that as we build A.I. systems, are we building systems that will dream? Woof.
Is it natural feedback from the process? And maybe it is. Or, if dreams don't happen, then are they considered really conscious? I don't know. Everybody dreams, everybody dreams. And everyone's dreams are so suggestive, and sometimes beautiful, and sometimes horrifying, and sometimes intriguing. And we remember them -- dreams that we had 20 years ago, we remember.I can't remember if it was Nietzsche or Freud. Who said that we're all an artist when we dream. And in that way, we're all sort of in this process of crafting and creating. For the sake of what? That's another sort of question to sort of lay on top.
When did dreams for you go from something you have at night, to something you have at night and you're paying special attention to? When does it actually go from like a passive to active interest?
I think -- I can glean your meaning. My brain, for the longest time, was split between the academic and the creative. And I had a ton of interest in the academic-- I got a PhD in literature. And in the course of my studies, I was really drawn to psychoanalytic criticism. And once you start to dig around in that, the question of dreams is in the forefront. The process of analysis by which -- you know, we're talking about Freud here, but we could go further back -- the process of analysis that comes around dreams, mirrors, I think, to a large degree, the process of analysis that was already in place to work through, say, biblical texts.
It's began to guide really the process of critical reading through the 20th century. So I had to study these dreams, you know, they're given in sort of the classic texts, and then, study the process by which "meaning" was gleaned from these dreams. And once I started to do that, it started to affect my own dreaming. I think that the mind is is very plastic, it is suggestible. When I would read one particular theorist, I would start having dreams that would match up with the theories of that theorist. Then I'd read another theorist who would have dramatically different interpretations, and I started having dreams that would match those things.
Leah Jones 36:59
Right out of college, I worked at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. And one of the group therapies offered by the college was Dream Therapy. And I was a hall director, so Student Affairs staff. I get to campus, and everybody's like, "First thing you got to do -- sign up for Dream Therapy." And that was where I got introduced to the personal interpretation, this is when I got out of out of the group, what your students were looking for -- which is you explain a dream, and then you say -- we were in like a Jungian framework. But I *absolutely* still have dreams that we discussed in that, that I still think about. I think about a lot of things, but that's one from that time where I think about how I had this incredible disconnect between my work and my public face and who I was, and it really came out in that one image. But I did it for two years, and I and I found it really helpful, a really great way to get to know people, but also just helpful.
Yeah, I think there's a -- this is not something that, let's say, analysts argue about necessarily, I don't think, but it's definitely something that scientists are -- really worthwhile questions to whether or not is something that ... sometimes the point is moot. And you believe the dream means something, that's the most important thing is your belief in the meaning of the dream. For instance, scientists like Hobson will point out that the difference between the waking mind and dreaming mind is that different systems in the brain are shut or, you know, amplified or turned down.
So when you are dreaming, your motor skills are very low, and your emotion is very high. And your logic is very low. So the things that are running through your mind, while all those systems are doing something different -- why did I look at, I don't know, a colander and cry? What does the colander mean? And crossed your mind when you had this spike of emotion. I think there's some truth in that, but I also think -- but to say that there are no messages in dreams, I think is sort of a willful ignorance. On the other side, of rational logical processes I can, to some might find that frightening. Yeah, that's a pretty good reason to just dismiss them altogether.
Leah Jones 40:03
So when you set up your syllabus for your class on dreams -- which was not Dream Therapy, and not dream interpretation -- what were the sorts of things that you walked your students through? Are you starting with like, Joseph? And are you starting with biblical texts and coming through, and looking at it that way? Or are you saying, "Start a dream journal and turn it into literature?"
Sometimes I did that. I would start with Joseph, and we talked about his interpretation of Pharaoh's dream, and what that made Joseph in relationship to God. Because for so long, dreams are messages -- they are -- but they're messages from what, from whence? All the way up through, and certainly, even today, God is the one talking to you through your dream. And if we can understand the dream, we can understand God. We can understand what God wants from us, we can understand what God is trying to tell us, and we can even have a closer relationship to God, because the dream is where he speaks.
And then that changes as God becomes increasingly less important, certainly in European culture. By the time we get to Freud, God is not outside, God is inside -- this is the unconscious that speaking to us. But, in both cases, the dream is the conveyor of truth. Either God has the truth, and he's telling us through the dream, or the unconscious has the truth of what we want, and who we are, and it communicates that to us through the dream. The interesting Freudian spin is that there is something in you that knows who you are more than you do, and you need to let that speak, or try to understand. Really, it's just an internalization of the divinity that was that would be running, pulling the strings of the dream through time immemorial.
The interesting thing about Jung -- and I have gone through tons of million texts to try to find something condensed where he explains how a dream works, because I really want to teach Jung. I think so much of what we understand about the creativity is such as is gleaned from from Jungian ideas. I think Jung holds a lot more cache now, certainly, than Freud does, for a lot of different reasons. But the thing that drew -- the thing that fascinated me about Jung, was The Red Book. Have you ever heard about The Red Book?
Leah Jones 42:47
It rings a bell, but I can't remember what it is.
It was a personal journal of his. It was published finally, when I started teaching this dream class, probably in like 2011. And Jung had a mental breakdown, really, because of good Dr. Freud, who threw him out of the psychoanalytic establishment because they had a big debate about whether or not sexuality was the key to -- Freud said, "Yes," Jung said, "No," Freud said, "I'm so sorry, you have to leave." So Jung was sort of cast out and had really no prospects anymore. He couldn't practice psychoanalysis, because that was a Freudian thing. And that, and combined with a lot of other things, led to this mental breakdown that went on for years.
And what he started doing, was he started --because he was having visions, and hearing voices and all these sorts of things -- so he started to record them. And he recorded them in this huge book -- it's probably two or three feet wide. And so he started drawing everything he was seeing, and writing down almost in a sort of cartoon fashion, the things they were saying. And he was first doing it -- he had no plan as to what it was, he just needed to get these things out. But as as it continued, it began to form a narrative. And he began to realize, that it was a sort of classical quest narrative. And through the course of composing this book, he sort of wrote himself back to sanity.
What he believed had happened, was that his breakdown had accesssed this overstory, this sort of uber-story that was at the center -- not just of *his* consciousness -- because I don't think he believed that this was his unconscious doing something to him -- he believed that there was something much greater. Which is why, all of the iconographic figures that he was coming up with and they were speaking, or rather, were speaking to him, have ancilliaries to a very rich history of folklore. But they finally published it in 2011. It was kept on his estate under lock and key. You can buy one now -- they're several hundred dollars. But, they're gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
Leah Jones 45:23
I just did a Google image search for it, just to get a hint of it. Because I was doing, I was in the stream group in '99 to 2001. So, this book wasn't available. I also think it would be really interesting to hear people who did Jungian dream interpretation, or worked from his framework, before this was published, and how that has changed. I wonder if I can get a hold of Colin, who ran our group?
It feeds into the notion of -- because Jung wasn't necessarily writing his dreams, he was writing his delusions, right? But the question of what is psychosis like? Is it like dreaming while you're awake? That's one gloss that's been put on it. I don't know if that's still necessarily that holds value or not. But it sort of goes back to a bigger question, which is, one of our perception. What is our perception doing, what is it for? I can't remember what book it was, maybe "The Four Agreements," something like that. There was one line out of it, that jumped out at me, which was that you're not asleep when you're dreaming; you're conscious when you're dreaming, it's just a different kind of consciousness.
And to follow, let's say, what Hobson says that might be, to some degree, the truth -- insofar as your systems of perception are doing different things in this phase versus another phase? But what are these systems of perceptions for? That's to say that when we're awake, we're seeing what's true, and what's accurate. And that's not the case at all. The reason we perceive things is so we can move through reality and not die, right? But I was thinking that like in a dream -- you don't have to worry about that. You can die in a dream, and you can come back in a dream. You can do more in a dream. Maybe that's what dreams are for -- maybe it's an *unfettered* expression of something that we might call consciousness.
Leah Jones 47:52
It's been a while since I've really thought about dreams so much. It's so interesting. And because that framework I was given was just -- you would ask yourself -- essentially, that Jungian interpretation was -- everything in the dream is you. And if your dad is in your dream, if your teacher is in your dream, how did they make you feel? What was the emotion? And what in your waking life carries that emotion for you? And that was sort of like, on one foot, how we would do it. It was, "Okay, everything you interacted with was you -- but look at -- what are the emotions that you can carve out of it? Where have you felt that emotion recently in your waking life? And what is it that you're trying to work through there?" Because it was within the context of therapy -- so, it wasn't in the context of literature or universal consciousness -- it was very --everybody was like, 18 to 23 years old. You're still very self-centered in a universal conscious sort of way.
Yeah, I was in therapy where I was talking to a therapist, he was Jungian-based, I think, at some point he told me he was. I had a dream where -- I had a series of dreams, they were beginning to be annoying -- where I kept seeing this person from my past in these dreams. And it was an ex-girlfriend, and I didn't want to talk to her, but she kept showing up in the dream. He said this fascinating thing he said, and it you know, coming out of Jung, it makes a ton of sense. He said, "She is your feminine manifestation of yourself, which is why she's there." And that hit me really hard. This is one of the things about analysis; it's almost like the question of whether or not it's right or wrong is beside the point. The point is, does it resonate? And if it resonates, yes. And, if it doesn't resonate, no. Unless, it **really** doesn't resonate -- at that point, that's a yes. [laughter]
Leah Jones 50:21
Keep going -- just come back right around the circle to yes. And it's called denial and trying to --
You would dismiss my interpretation, because that's part of your psychic makeup -- the therapist is always on the right side. But what he said resonated, and I was like, "What do I do?" And he said, "Next time you see her, go up and tell her that you're sorry." I was like, "Okay, okay."
Leah Jones 50:54
Wait -- in the dream, or in real life?
In the dream. And I did. And I went up to her, and she was talking to a group of friends and I remember, I tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned around, and I said, "I'm sorry," and she just turned back around. And I was like, "Okay, I guess that worked." And then, you know, the dream went on, or whatever, and then I stopped dreaming about it. For six months. [laughter] But what I will say that when she did come back - she's gone now, God bless her -- when she did come back, the valence was a lot less. The intensity was much lower. It was just a character, it had been disconnected from what it had been.
Leah Jones 51:51
What are other exercises you have your students do or that you do when you're diving in? Okay, let me rewrite this question. Do you have a dream practice?
I don't -- easy answer is no. What I do think, and where the dream class went, was we would begin to look at poetry, and to try to understand -- and it certainly doesn't work, you know, for all poetry -- but to try to understand poems, in the same way that we would try to understand dreams. In the same way, to try to understand -- where's the emotion here, and what word encapsulates it? And how did we get here? And assume that nothing in the poem is avmistake, assume that everything in the poem is working towards the incitement of an emotion.
Where's the poem calm? Where does it peak, and how does it end? Various dream interpretations will have very strong feelings as to why a dream ends and how a dream ends. Can we use those ideas to understand a poem? And then from that, we can start to build out towards literature more generally. Poems are great, they're short. If you just give them to students, and don't tell them what it "means," let them -- so often, they come up with things much better than what maybe I would walk in with. But poems are also they're drawing from classical literature, they're making allusions to things that are outside and that can you know, begin to pull on Jungian theses. I don't know if you ever read "Black Elk Speaks?" Did you ever read that book?
Leah Jones 54:06
Black Elk was -- he had been at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Leah Jones 54:19
Oh, we definitely -- this book was in my house growing up. I've seen this cover 100 times.
It's a beautiful book, it's an nterview with him, I believe it's in first person. Of him talking about the history of the nation, and when the settlers came out and things like this. But because he's a shaman, there's a lot about his visions. And one of his visions, is this monsterous vision. And they move to the north, and they do a thing; and they move to the west, and they do a thing; and they move to the south, and they do a thing; and then they move to the northwest, and do another thing. And it's this massive rotating thing. And I would read it and read it, and I'm like, "What the hell is he doing?"
Went back into Jung, and when Jung talks about a mandala, and how the dream is a process of making this mandala figure, then I could look at -- this is, this is a mandala that he's making. This is the vision, the vision is an object. And one of the funny things -- I just sort of thought of this -- this is Freud's first classic dream, "The dream of Irma's Injection," it's called. In which, there's this woman that won't speak to him properly, and all these things.
Leah Jones 55:38
Is to cure himself, perhaps, and not her? Fix his attitude towards her?
Yeah, well, this is Freud, now -- his attitude is fine.
Leah Jones 55:49
No, he's perfect. My bad, my bad.
Yeah, of course. The critiques of this -- people have been critiquing this stream for 100 years, and they're endlessly fascinating. But one of the best ones I ever read was to analyze the structure of the dream. And Freud has a vision, right at the end of the dream, of a chemical compound that is central to the meaning of the dream, a he sees the chemical sort of laid out before him. This guy did analysis of the dream, and he said, "If you look at the structure of the dream, as to, if you understand the characters in the dream, as elements in the compound, they're forming the same pattern." Which is same sort of thing. The dream is presenting almost a physical object. For the sake of what? I don't know. Because again, what knows that object? Where does the dream come from? What's speaking to you?
Leah Jones 56:57
So, you found just a thin vein of -- I can't think of what the word is. So, my sarcasm just drops flat. I'm just like out of my brain. By applying dream analysis and these different frameworks to literature, I think that's a really powerful way to turn it over. In my synagogue, one of the things my rabbi will say when he's giving a sermon, is he'll say, "Devar Acher" -- another interpretation. We turn things over, we turn things over. So I think it gives you this really interesting way of -- you know, cause I was a chemistry undergrad, I wound up in marketing. Somehow, I skirted major literature courses as an adult, and I consider myself a reader. And I have books of poetry, and I still find poetry kind of inaccessible. But I do think putting a dream analysis framework on it makes it immediately more accessible to me.
Yeah, the one of the definitions that I've read of poetry, one that sticks with me -- I don't think there's a way to define poetry -- but one of the definitions is what a poem does is, it is able to manipulate syntax in such a way that it delays the logical part of the brain from processing what the poem is saying. But, the more -- or rather, less rational processes, when you read it are being activated, so that you get the emotion of the message before you understand what the message is.
And sometimes, you never understand what the message is. You can work on a poem to unlock it, and to be like, "Oh, that's what it's saying". And there's poetry that works that way -- I think of John Ashbery, for instance -- I think you get more out of the analysis than you do of the poem -- but he wants the poem to do that, and that's fine. That's a school, and a style. But for me, logical thinking about it, and just allow my emotions to read the poem. In the topic of the day, the dream works, because it *feels* like something. If you went if you went to sleep, and just had like messages, like emails? Could you imagine how terrible that would be? And you wouldn't want to go to sleep, there'd be no mystery, there'd be no interest, right?
Leah Jones 59:58
Ugh, miserable. A miserable night. [laughter]
I think as I have begun to have done really more creative writing in the last 10 years, the thing that's fascinated me about dreams and because I'm doing my creative writing, this is what my mind does now when I sleep, is that it starts to, "Instead of this, what if this happened? Why don't we try it this way? But why don't we try it this way?" And I find that when I'm writing or editing, I'm doing it well, when I'm not thinking about it. When I'm just playing, when my brain is doing something *else,* and it's operating on "Maybe this, maybe that? Does this feel good? Does *that* feel good?"
And the question of whether or not it feels good, I think is intimately tied to dreaming. What's gonna make the dream go? What's gonna make the dream more interesting? What if I said this? What if I went here? Now, there's a fine line for me when I'm dreaming. Where if I try to *do* something, the dream falls apart. The dream feels intentional. The dream, the magic goes out of the dream, and it's just me.
Leah Jones 1:01:12
If you try to take too much control?
Yeah, yeah. And that's less interesting. But, I think the notion of play, that can happen within a dream, I think is directly relatable to what's happening when writing's going wekk. A lot of times, if a scene's really working, it feels like a daydream. It feels like a scene that I'm not consciously controlling. But one that's sort of moving through me in a way that I think would would probably be relatable to something.
Leah Jones 1:01:55
Do you want people to be able to find you on the internet?
I do. Best place to find me probably is -- I talk about the writing on Facebook, which is, I believe, Cameron.Mackenzie.7.
Leah Jones 1:02:12
All right, I will make sure to do that.
Please do. I have a website, which is cameronmackenzie.org. And that's where you can find the books and buy the books and read the reviews and short stories, as well. I think some of them are linked up there -- the ones that they published. But, it's also where I update the events. I will be book signing in Roanoke, in January, and then there's another reading outside of D.C. All that stuff is on cameronmackenzie.org.
Leah Jones 1:02:48
Great, and "River Stories" is available on December 7th.
Leah Jones 1:02:53
"River Weather." What did I? I just completely skipped a word. "River Weather" is available on December 7th. And, you'll celebrate with a live event in Philly, which people should come out to.
Please do, I'm looking forward to it.
Leah Jones 1:03:13
This has been great. Thank you so much for joining me.
Leah, this has been great. I've really enjoyed it.
Thank you for listening to Finding Favorites with Leah Jones. Please make sure to subscribe and drop us a five-star review on iTunes. Now, go out and enjoy your favorite things.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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