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An Interview with Wayan

From Chris Wayan's journal, 1994/3/20

In spring 1994, dream researcher Stephanie Van Zandt Nelson held a dreamwork class in San Francisco. I guest-lectured on dream art. As a warmup, Stephanie asked about my dream-process...

SVZN: How'd dreams come to play such a part in your life?

WAYAN: They didn't. They were my life--from the start. My very first memory is being a horse, and waking to find I was human. I dreamed other lives all along, though for ten years or so I led a double life: a "normal" day self and a dream life I kept completely private and didn't write down. Being split had advantages; I never interpreted or worried about my dreams, so they had complete freedom. Except... I just wouldn't act on their messages.

It was analogous to sexual latency, the way most kids learn gender roles by five or so, but then put the whole can of worms aside for about five years and learn how to read and tie their shoes first. Or don't. I'm still weak on shoes.

When I started to write dreams down in high school, and face the forbidden urges in them--sex, flying, transforming into animals, sending my spirit to other worlds-- the conflict between day- and dream-values stopped being latent. They fought. Took years to let the dream-me out, and I'm still struggling with it.

SVZN: was the nature of your dreams due to your environment? Ancestry, genetics? Family tradition?

WAYAN: Both my parents had psychic dreams but denied it. Both my sisters have vivid, psychic dreams as well, but don't cultivate it as aggressively as I do. I suspect dreaming vividly may run in families, like musical talent. I want to emphasize, though, that America has a false picture of dreaming: something marginal that happens to you now and then. We're still in a stage where people can say "Oh, I don't dream" unashamed, though it's as idiotic as "The earth is flat." The full implications of REM, of universal dreaming, may be as large as universal literacy or voting. Consider: WE ARE WALKING AMNESIA CASES. I recall at least a thousand dreams a year, yet even I forget more dreams than I remember. We have amnesia. Any other form of amnesia, of black-outs on this scale, we'd recognize as a serious illness. Well, it is. We're sick. We don't have to be.

Besides quantity, there's quality. Great dreams are not just for some elite few Carlos Castaneda initiates! Powerful dreaming may be a somewhat innate gift, but so is being a musical prodigy. That doesn't mean you can't learn to sing, read music, play an instrument. But this society likes superstars and ignores anything less...

Hmmm, environment. I'm a native Californian, my family's been here 70 years. That may be significant; California cultures did encourage dreams and I believe the land does talk to us. California tribes valued dreams (Theodora Kroeber, who should know, said "the Mojave are the only people who dreamed their entire literary corpus") and I feel great affinity with their stories. A sharp sense of place, growing from the microclimates so crucial here; quakes and the concern for balance that's almost Greek; an empathy with animals that's even stronger than in the rest of North America; a sense of California as an ecological island, a world unto itself; the biggest and oldest trees being here--do their spirits have an influence? It's so different from Plains spirituality and dreamwork--their stark, toughminded vision, and zany humor. Or the East Coast peoples with their rhetoric, snow, and political federations...

SVZN: About those animals. Jung noticed American dreams are different from Europeans'--he said they have far more animals in them. Maybe the native spirits survive, working through the children of those who stole the land.

WAYAN: Yes exactly. Spiritually, many of us are not our ancestors' children. Millions of Native Americans who died in the smallpox epidemics had to get born again somewhere. Why should we leave our homeland? So now, smallpox-resistant invaders bear us and raise us. We're cultural changelings!
SVZN: How did your creative work grow? Artist first or dreamer first?

WAYAN: Dreamer first. I started dreamwork for entirely practical reasons. I was ill, and in an abusive relationship, and dreams helped me get out and heal. Then, for a long time, I drew dreams whenever I was given art materials, I wrote dream stories when I had free access to a Mac, I made dream songs when I first got a tape recorder and keyboard. It took years to learn to choose a medium consciously to fit the kind of dream: painting visual dreams, writing abstract or highly psychological dreams, making active and highly narrative dreams into comics, crafting emotional and poetic dreams into songs. I still don't choose wisely, but I do try now--not all dreams are "writing" kind of dreams. It's like choosing the form of a story, but on a larger scale, and an earlier decision. Because of this, I've never settled down to one medium, and probably never will--my dream material's too varied, and the dreams themselves often suggest how they want to be portrayed--both style and medium.
SVZN: what about the examples of your dream-art you're showing us today? Any comments on the fact you use a computer so much?

WAYAN: I write my dreams in the morning when I get up. I won't work a fulltime job, because I won't give up that dream-writing time. The computer speeds up writing and also makes it easier to find things later. Handwritten journals are full of character, but dreams disappear into them forever. On disk they're easier to skim--I can make connections I otherwise wouldn't. When you have thousands of dreams and know two of them link together to form a story, the computer makes searching practical.

The comics and picture-poems and dream-paintings I'm showing here today were mostly done on computer, because I don't visualize things clearly till I've sketched it many times. That tentative process is much faster on the computer. Plus you can hit UNDO... It certainly isn't a preference for a "computer" look. I just haven't mastered painting or ink yet, not to the point they can express what my dreams want to say. I may get to that point, and if so, my art may well shift away from the computer. If the dreams want me to. Conveying their message, not establishing some "signature" medium or style, is the point, after all.

This prediction was accurate; now, in 2008, I paint more than in 1994. I let the dream decide what medium it wants to be--painting, story, watercolor, poem, comics, song.

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