10 January 2007

Mind Map: Through the Text

They say you can tell a lot about a person by asking whether they dream in color or in black and white—something about the vividness of their imagination or whatnot. I sometimes wonder about what this means for me because, as far as I can tell, I don’t dream in images at all. I dream in text.

Yes, text. Text seems to permeate my life, and not just when I’m reading books either, though I’m sure that’s how it began. I knit in my spare time, and each pattern I make is like a story. The decreases and increases, purls and knits lead inevitably to one end, one message, interplaying off of each other just as characters in a book. As I study chemistry, each particle, molecule, solution has a purpose, an end to achieve, and a specific character. I couldn’t tell you what any of them look like or what they are used for, but I could tell you what they are like. Beyond the illusion of appearances, I see an intention, a will. When I listen to music, I don’t really hear the notes or the beat (thus my complete lack of dancing ability). I hear the lyrics, the words, the text. When I listen to music, I don’t rock to the rhythm; I contemplate meaning. When I sing, I’m not really singing; I’m telling the story of my soul.

And I guess that’s where the dreaming in text comes back in. I can’t seem to experience anything directly. I don’t get the actual pictures, no sense of 3D space. But I see through my two-dimensional textual glass, sometimes darkly, sometimes more sharply than any reality. I hear the dialogue tags, letting me know what people really mean with their words. I see the character descriptions, where physical and spiritual traits intertwine. And I can be confident that every detail I am given will be significant, that the gun in Act I will be fired before the end of the play, that the identity of anyone I notice will be revealed before the finale. Every word is filled with intent: it means something.

This effect spills over into my waking life: I experience life as a story. Just as in fiction, every detail has meaning. People’s looks reflect their character, either directly or ironically. The pathetic fallacy of the weather is a matter of course. Above all, the cause and effect of all events are carefully crafted by a purposeful author who has something to say to me.

Sometimes I think the author of my life is me, and I attach significance to the events and people around me, discarding all details that don’t directly influence the course of my narrative. I must synthesize all these seemingly meaningless details into something more, something that says something.

But at other times I clearly see that the author cannot be me. There are too many variables, too many other narrators. It is then that I see God, not in color, or in black and white, but in text, speaking and acting through me and the millions of other characters on His stage. Denying His existence would be purposeless. But as I seek out His will, I occasionally catch a glimpse of the entire narrative. For a second, the world is infused with more significance than my little story could ever give it. It is then that I see the real dream, the vast story arc of life stretching out before me reaching to an eternal destination just over the horizon.


Ben Crowder said...

Great post! That's quite interesting -- I've never heard of anyone dreaming in text. Being a bookman myself, I'm kind of jealous, actually. I dream in color, and the only time I experience text is when I'm reading a book in my dreams. (Or the one time when I was programming and my mind turned into the monitor. That was when I realized I needed a break. :))

All that said, I too find myself experiencing life as a story. It's almost as if I'm lifted up out of myself at times (metaphorically), watching my life in third person. And every time something of interest happens, I can't help but try to figure out if it's foreshadowing something in the future, or an allusion to something in my past, or a red herring, or what have you. It certainly makes life more interesting.

But as you say, it's when God steps into the picture that the magic really starts to happen. (That reminds me -- C.S. Lewis used the image of God as author to describe how God exists outside of time. Time within a novel has no connection to the time in which the writer lives. Fascinating concept.)

Your last paragraph is beautiful.

Liz Muir said...

Thanks! Yeah, I admit dreaming in text is really weird; I'm still not quite sure that that's what it is, but it's the only way I can think to describe it. I never see images in my mind--even when I'm reading books, which is probably why book-movies don't disappoint me. Sometimes I'd really like to be able to picture things better. It makes it very hard to create convincing characters when you can't picture people in your head.