Lois Lowry's Blog


Dreams of the sordid past

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Thursday, 24 May 2007 in Uncategorized

Just about everyone of my age is a former smoker. Well, maybe not everyone; but a large number, certainly. Back in the 50s's, when people of my generation went to college, they actually gave out cigarettes in the college dorms...little 5-in-a-package Winstons; and when your little pack was gone, you could get another, free of charge. The cheery TV commercials said, "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should!" in a jaunty voice. College classroom chairs, the ones with the little table growing out of the arm, all had a small silver square of an ashtray on them, and we puffed away while listening to the professors. It is so hard to picture all of this now.

So we all became addicted, with the help of the tobacco comanies, and then we all had to suffer through quitting, sometimes years later.

I only mention all of this because last night I dreamed I was smoking, something I haven't done for many years. And I was loving it. But there was another element, more contemporary, because I was in someone's New York apartment in the dream - some friend - who was being very pleasant and accepting while at the same time asking me nicely to be more careful, please, and pointing out that I had dropped burning ashes on her very nice couch. So clearly smoking was BAD in the dream, something to be scolded for and to apologize about....yet I was still doing it and enjoying it thoroughly.

It raises the question for me, once again...the question I have wrestled with in at least one book...of the origin of dreams. Clearly it's the bits and pieces of the past re-surfacing, along with other stuff (In the dream I was sitting on that nice couch leafing through a book of drawings, and one drawing was by Lucien Freud. Now Lucien Freud happens to be an artist I admire greatly, and coincidentally he was an answer on "Jeopardy" the other night (and I knew the answer, but none of the contestants did, since I am a longtime fan of Lucien Freud)...but why on earth did he pop up in my dream)?

There was one other thing, as well. I asked the apartment owner, the same one whose couch I was ruining, how large the apartment was, how many square feet. She replied "150." I looked around and told her she had to be mistaken, she had to mean "1500."

So there were three elements, three things I remember clearly. The cigarettes. Freud (not Sigmund, but his grandson). And a number: either 150, or 1500.

I can't seem to connect those dots in any meaningful way.

But I have certainly wasted half of an early-morning hour thinking about it.

And it occurs to me that in the writing of books, we traffic in the connection of disparate elements also: presenting things that seem unrelated (think of "Holes," a good example of this) and then cleverly (one hopes, at least, that it is cleverly done) bringing them together, making the connections seem inevitable and important.

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Jennifer Elliott Monday, 29 November 1999

I agree with that last sentence in your blog-- and in fact, I see that with many of my students who read The Giver-- and in different places of the novel. Always, at some point, when the students say, "Why does Jonas put up with things this way? How can he live like that?" I say, "If you've always lived your life a certain way, why would you question it-- until you saw that it could be different?" I give them an example-- one that only certain students can identify with, yet sadly, does apply to several students' lives every year. I say, "It's kind of like if you've grown up in a family where one of your parents is an alcoholic. You're used to covering it up, doing things early on that adults are supposed to do for you, etc. You don't know that there's a different way of life until, say, you go to spend the night at another friend's house and see how different it is."
Usually, I see students nod, letting me know that they understand how that could be. This year, one of my students, whom I had yet to make a big connection with, looked at me like, "How did you know that?" I looked back at him, letting him know that I saw his look, and to my surprise, he revealed his thoughts to the class.
He said something like, "It's true. Both of my parents and my cousin who lives with me are all alcoholics, and you do just think that's the only way to live because you've lived it for so long. Even when you know there's a different way of living, it's hard to believe that." That, in turn, led other students to connect to HIM, giving us all a little insight as to why his grades are lower than most, yet suddenly very proud of him that he is the one responsible enough to get himself ready for school each day- wanting, perhaps, to miss that time AWAY from his family. Plus, he made a connection with a book, and he didn't want to let that go. I could see it in his eyes.
-Jennifer Elliott

annie Monday, 29 November 1999

It's "theory of mind" you're looking for. I also have a distinct moment in childhood where that idea just clicked into place. I can still call up the emotions of it.
We were driving past a grocery store, with people walking in and out and going about their lives.
I realized that the person I was looking at, with her grocery bags full of mysterious items, was heading back to a life and a home I knew nothing about, was thinking thoughts of her own, without my knowledge, and had been and would be.
I can't describe how shocking and illuminating and scary and wonderful that feeling was. It was simultaneously that kinship your post refers to and a new separateness I had never considered.

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