Sometimes I wake up with the texture of a dream still wrapped around me. This might last until I take a shower or have my coffee, the sense of all but the most powerful dreams dissipating as I walk around in the daylight. But often when I lie back down at night, the feel of the previous night's dream envelopes me again and it's as though I instantly smell-taste-touch the dream world.
It's impossible to fully explain your dreams to someone else. Maybe you manage to pin down some general plot points or even name the emotion the dream evoked, but you can never truly communicate the heart of a dream, the visceral texture of the world that you created in your sleep.
I keep coming back to that word: texture. It's the best way I can describe this feeling of something that is at once so encompassing and so elusive.
Dreams have textures the way memories do. Lying down might trigger a dream texture, while a certain scent or a piece of music can bring on the texture of memory. Texture itself is a difficult thing to describe unless you and the person you're describing it to have the same referent points. Think of wool, linen, silk, or felt. How would you describe these textures to someone without referring to the material in quetstion? You might use words like wooly, scratchy, silky, or fuzzy, but what does that tell us? What would it tell someone who had never felt any of those fabrics? If I tell you that something feels smooth, would you know what that meant? Both woven cotton and polished granite feel smooth. Besides, how can I ever be sure that you experience the feel of cotton the same way I do?
That's why dreams and memories are so solid in our minds and so flimsy in description: They're composed of textures you can't recreate because no one else has lived inside of your dream or memory.
I've been thinking lately about how music has this textural quality, and not just in the music itself, but in the way it attaches its fibers to the details of your life at a certain time and place, and how all those textures (song + place/time) weave themselves together into something new, a customized fabric for you to wear whenever you hear that song.
When I hear "Raining in Baltimore" by the Counting Crows, I'm always and again a melancholy 18-year-old, and it really is raining -- a slow, misty kind of night rain. (Of course it's so much more than that. It's the ridiculously green grass on the center quad. It's puddles of light underneath lampposts, the smell of old wood in a chapel, and the soft glow-hum of the vending machine at 1:00am, all of it there in Adam Duritz's desperate voice, singing a stilted melody that simultaneously heals and breaks my heart.)
And then there's music that is the soundtrack to memory, even when the music itself may not have been part of the memory. I don't remember hearing David Gray's "White Ladder" album when I lived in England, but whenever I hear it now, especially the song "Babylon," with its traffic lights turning from red to green, I'm right back in Walthamstow, the London borough where I lived for a year after college. I'm standing on the corner of Forest Road by the Bell Pub, waiting to cross the street, reminding myself which way to look because the traffic is opposite what it should be. I may notice that I'm one of the few white people on the street here in a neighborhood with many Pakistani and Indian residents, and suddenly I'm aware of being different in two ways: white and American, a double foreigner. Maybe I'm coming back from the market or from a day in the city, or from my friends' house around the corner, walking back to the YMCA where I live. I pass townhouses with gauzy white curtains, and it's just turning to twilight outside, and the lamps are lighting up those gauzy white windows, turning them rosy and golden, soft and loving, and my loneliness, my feeling of being outside of things, deepens with dusk as I think about all of those people inside those houses, because even if they're not happy families, from out here on the gritty street -- the one in all of London on which you are most likely to get mugged, at least so I once heard -- from here those windows are entryways to homes. And as happy as I am to be here, living abroad for a year, doing volunteer work and having an international adventure, I miss home. But it's deeper than all this, of course. (It always is.) I miss home in a way beyond time and place, for even in my American hometown I've never felt at home. And now, 14 years later and just down the road from that American hometown, David Gray sings it all back to me, brings it all back into focus, even though I don't remember hearing him while I was on British soil. Gray is British, of course, and I think something of that place must have slipped into the texture of his music.
These worlds and memories live inside the texture of songs. i know you have your own worlds and songs, textures to call your own.
I suppose this is one of the reasons I write. I'm trying to weave textures into words so I can share them with you, and also so I can wrap myself up in them again in a new way. This is probably why I'm drawn to meditative and lyric forms of writing, which leads me to write essays in which, as I say, "nothing happens." I love story and narrative, but I'm always running after the texture of things, trying to translate an experience into something you can experience along with me.
** ** **
About Everyday Essays: At least a few times a week I jot down notes about something -- usually a small moment, detail, or thought -- that I want to write about. Most of those ideas stay frozen as notes and never bloom into essays. Everyday Essays is my new writing practice to allow some of those notes to move beyond infancy. I've decided to share some of them with you here, even if they're still half-naked or half-baked. The word "essay" (as is almost always noted when the form is discussed) comes from the French verb essayer, which means to try. The essay is a reckoning, a rambling, an exploration, an attempt. Think of these Everyday Essays as freewriting exercises, rough drafts, or the jumbled, interconnected contents of my mind, which may or may not take root and grow into longer (deeper) essays.