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Katherine Metcalf Nelson

Katherine Metcalf Nelson's Night Fishing is a rare example of published dream-art by a woman, and the largest collection I know of, with about 70 dreams illustrated. Each dream's a one-page prose-poem facing a picture in colored pencil--often a mandala of motifs from the dream not a literal illustration of a dream-scene. Her writing's vivid and literate if a bit elusive. Her dreams? Advanced! Enlightened, humane, full of animals, especially fish. Often her dreams contrast two choices, and her dream figures often give explicit advice. If sometimes full of puns.

A note on gender: as I read, I thought female characters dominated Nelson's dreams about 60/40. Then I counted. Near-exact gender equality! I'm a feminist and I STILL mistook parity as slanted toward women! Brainwashing goes deep.

As a baseline, I tried sampling my own dreams. Women 55%, men 45--more women than Nelson! Understandable; I grew up in a sea of girls; few boys. For me, female is normal. But most men see male as normal and female as unusual--Jim Shaw or Rick Veitch, the most prolific male dream-artists I know, are both overwhelmingly male. And not just artists; the same's true of text-only dream-journals like Kerouac's Book of Dreams or George Perec's La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams. They're as biased as network TV, where men's faces dominate at least 2:1.

What's your ratio? A good exercise for dreamworkers to try--and then to apply to any art medium. And then look for age, race and species diversity. If any.

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The following are in chronological order, as in KMN's book:
FISH BIRTH: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; c.1978/11/15; a nightmare
My little son accidentally tears the tail off our goldfish. The wound
looks vaginal. The fish, moaning in pain, turns into my daughter...
PLUMBER'S HELPER: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1981/12/8; a punning spiritual dream
A stopped-up mystical toilet gets cleared by an unexpectedly colorful tool;
but then, you never anticipate what'll unplug your, um, "head"...
ARTICHOKE PLATE: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1982 (March?); a punning dream
I realize the artichoke plate in my lap is a pun: ART! I CHOKE! I need to peel
off my thorny outer leaves of professionalism to find the heart inside...
MAGIC FINGER: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1982 (May?); a nightmare veering into mystery
Morocco. Horseback mercenaries attack a town. A boy say "Take their lifestyle, and you must remove their brains."
A protective Hand of Fatima dissolves, leaving a finger, a feather, a... vagina. "What a slit!" We burst into laughter...
BATHSHEBA AT BELVEDERE: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1982 (mid-Dec?); a subtly feminist dream
Boating, we land on a cape and find a house with a Rembrandt on the wall--Bathsheba
holding a letter from David her lover, pregnant with thoughts as well as child...
CAUTION: NUDE SKETCH
FLYING FISH AND LOTUS: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1983/4/10; a dream of quiet transcendence
I catch a magical fish and let it go. A friend and I consider higher learning--and we don't mean academia.
My friend lays a lotus in a chair on the beach. A man baptises in sunset water, shining like a certain fish...
POOL OF TRUTH: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1983/10/1; a dream of shamanic descent
Night. A massive crash on the highway. Bodies strewn. Sickened, I descend a spiral stair to the Pool
of Truth. It gives no answers. Women spout platitudes. I go on, in pain, down past the polar bears...
CAUTION: THE DEAD
THREE WOMEN IN ONE: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1984/2/5; a multiple-self dream
Intimidated by stylish friends, I split in three--myself, and a small child
nursing at the breast of an earth-mother priestess--or Earth herself...
PUBLIC EVENTS vs. SNAKES FROM INDIA: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1984/6-7, a dream contrasting faiths
I meet a Mormon art-educator I know. We're so different! Then I get a call
from India. My friend tells of an erotic Hindu bas-relief of women and snakes...
FISH REMAINS: by Katherine Metcalf Nelson; 1985/9/18; a ritual closing-dream
On my 45th birthday, at the end of my eight-year dream-art project, I dream of a women's rite
turning scraps of chewed flesh into a whole fish I offer to the fishbowl in the heart of the Vatican...



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