Themes and Dreams of a Lifetime

Pouring my thoughts onto a receptive white screen almost every morning for fifteen years or so tends to capture themes I may have missed in the hubbub of daily existence. Reading what I have written, though, reveals those themes. Sometimes they are clear, like flawless glass. Sometimes, they are concealed beneath a smoky translucent film, a camouflage unwittingly designed to hide the frame of mind that led me to write the words. Either way, though, the themes emerge from the flood of words, over and over again, as if—drowning in murky language—they were trying to save themselves and the writer from sinking into impenetrable silence.

That may be overdramatizing, but not by much. Truly, often without even realizing it, my writing, both fiction and nonfiction, translates my state of mind into words and sentences and paragraphs. And those assemblies, collectively, capture distinct themes. And those themes describe the way I think, the way I see the world, and the way I see myself interacting with the world. I attempt to exercise some degree of control over it, but my writing suggests I feel like I am walking into a heavy headwind with occasional brutal crosscurrents. That does not mean “poor, pitiful me.” It simply means I recognize my attempts at control are essentially futile. The world I face is too complex and powerful and its inertia too immense to be shaped and molded by me. And I am not alone. Most of us recognize how insignificant and feeble we are in this immeasurably enormous universe. Yet we keep on trying, half expecting a magical transformation to take place in us, imbuing us with the ability to cause spectacular, positive change. That is to say, we’re all delusional. I know I am.

My themes are riddled with disillusionment and hope; grey dreariness and sparkling optimism. Fear and loneliness. A thirst for love in spite of an unlovable core. Goodness buried within a shell permeated with foulness. Perhaps no theme is as obvious in my writing as the theme of not knowing whether there is a “me” in there or whether I am an apparition created entirely by my context. A writer friend claims I attempt to create characters who are “good people who do bad things.” She says people who are good at their core simply do not do bad things, so my attempts to create such characters are doomed to fail because I attempt to create that which does not exist. I disagree, of course. But, then, I wonder whether our definitions of goodness and badness operate on two different levels; the superficial and the intrinsic. That gets at another theme common in my writing. And the idea of superficiality is important, too. My themes, even after all the years of writing (since I was a kid), are touched on briefly, but never sufficiently explored to yield any significant insights. Which gets to another theme: my interests and thoughts are wide and varied, but shallow and short-lived.

I do not need to re-read what I’ve written to know that many of the themes that find their way into my writing argue against themselves. Ideas about people, for example, that offer either inspiration or depression; bubbling enthusiasm versus crushing pessimism. My emotional themes almost always incorporate those opposites, as if I feel compelled to tell both sides of every story, whether the focus is positive or negative. In that sense, I tend to write as if I were a battery; one positive and one negative terminal.

I am going through this exercise of self-examination—again—with the idea that I might be better equipped to compile some of my writing into theme-based collections that could stand alone or as part of an aggregation of related writing. But I probably won’t finish the exercise. I never do. That’s a theme, too, both in my writing and my life.


Another bizarre dream. I dreamed I was in a car that an older woman friend was driving. She somehow fell forward onto the very long floorboard as the car headed down a hill. I was able to slip past her and put my foot on the brake pedal, bringing the car to a stop. From there, three of us (the driver, someone in the back seat, and I) got out of the car and walked into an elaborate web of tunnels that stretched for miles. The tunnels were packed on both sides with businesses, most festooned with colorful banners, streamers, and cloth. The driver was trying to find a bank called the Tulsa Bank and Trust, which she said had a window where tickets to a Las Vegas show could be purchased. After a long walk through the tunnels, she stopped at a hotel registration desk to inquire as to whether this bank was located. The desk clerk told her it was unlikely the bank would have Las Vegas show tickets. Suddenly, I noticed the woman was gone; the clerk did not know which direction she took. So the other passenger (a man I do not know) and I attempted to make our way back to the tunnel entrance but we took a wrong turn someplace and found ourselves walking along a raised concrete walkway next to a body of water. When the walkway ended, the other guy jumped into the water at a point where a group of teenagers (but looking surly and closer to drinking age than youthful) were playing. I followed him. As we rounded a bend and found a place to climb out of the water, he said he was afraid of the teenagers; he had called the police, he said, and alerted the property owners. I was afraid and confused and felt like we had no hope of ever finding our way out. The dream ended about that point. Crappy way to end a dream, in my opinion.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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