Saturday, June 04, 2005

Seeing and Dreaming

I recently finished The Onion Girl, by Charles de Lint. I think high school was the last time I had read any of his stuff, and I'd almost forgotten how much I like his books. My favorite thing about them is how beautifully he integrates the world of magic with the "World As It Is," the real world. He shows you how magic, fairies and the like are not just fantasy but are actually all around us. Jilly Coppercorn is an artist in the Newford books (and the central character of The Onion Girl) who draws and paints the things that she sees and other people miss:
"Do you have to be magic yourself to see them?"
Jilly shook her head. "You just have to pay attention. If you don't, you'll miss them, or see something else—something you expected to see rather than what was really there. Faerie voices become just the wind, a bodach, like this little man here"—she flipped to another page and pointed out a small gnomish figure the size of a cat, darting off a sidewalk—"scurrying across the street becomes just a piece of litter caught in the backwash of a bus."
(page 141)
It reminds me of learning about "top-down processing" in a cognitive psych class somewhere back in college. Perceiving what you expect and what makes sense in the context can be very efficient at times, since you don't have to take in every single detail. But what do we miss by doing that?

A lot of this book also takes place in manidò-akì, the Dreamlands. This is a place inhabited by various spirits since before the world began, but it is also continuously being created by human imaginations. I love this because imagination and creativity are huge in my conception of magic. One of the characters, Sophie, created an entire city called Mabon, beginning with her daydreams as a child and continuing through her life in what she called "serial dreams" before she realized that it all went beyond simple dreams.
It began with Mr. Truepenny and his curious shop in which you could find all the books that authors hadn't gotten around to writing, with a gallery in the back that held the same never-to-be-seen treasures of the great artists....
She daydreamed the shop and its contents with such clarity that her time spent imagining them was as real to her as the world around her when she was awake. And slowly a city built up around that shop. First it was only the street outside as seen from inside, then the buildings on either side of Mr. Truepenny's establishment and across the street, finally the city blocks that started up on either end of the street. The city grew and spread out, no longer under her control, its existence fueled now by other dreamers who came and stayed and added their own ideas and considerations.
(page 316)
So in addition to making me want to pay more attention to the world around me, this book also makes me want to start paying attention to my dreams more, and start working on lucid dreaming again. There are so many worlds to explore....

1 comment:

Miriam said...

It would be awesome to be able to consciously turn expectations off at will and just pay attention. Besides just helping you see the faeries, it would be useful for visiting other countries or dancing (as a follower) with new people. Unrelatedly, I object to your use of the words "somewhere back in college". You are nowhere near old enough to use the words "somewhere back in college". Maybe when you're 26.