The Sirens of Massachusetts
I dreamt of a house on a sea-cliff, a widow, her two daughters, and the introduction of a feral girl to the household. Judging from their clothing, it was the late 1880s or early 1890s. Following that, came two boarders. Whatever difficulties the women faced, there was always the escape of swimming to a nearby island. The island became their moral rallying point, from where they drew strength to bear their repression.
I recognized the rocky shoreline of the first dream as typical of New England. A brief satellite-map search revealed an island which looked like theirs: Salt Island, off the coast of Gloucester. That dream became the first entry of The Salt Island Diaries.
In subsequent dreams, I saw other characters in very similar situations. There was always a group of women, unmoored from their greater society, and seeking to establish some kind of life-raft society among themselves. Most often, they were residents of a common house.
In the case of the 19th century women, there was no desire for and no use to recreating inside the house the repression and the smug friction of Victorian society. But what were the alternatives? Even today, there is little discussion, however fanciful, of alternatives to capitalism. What kind of life-raft society is possible, however small and isolated?
What I observed in this series of dreams were characters that participated in an unspoken society, whose rules I slowly induced. The primary social unit was the pair. Each woman participated in multiple pairs, and the pairs formed a network. As I began to research the historical facts, I discovered smashing and the shadow society that it implies. Victorian women had indeed come up with a work-around!
I believed that I came to understand why the characters in the dream house were all female. They were simply similar in that way, among others. They were not competing with each other; they were not forming hierarchies of control. This drew my attention to the fundamental philosophical problem of management of similarity. That was the project of the dream-house women. For them, there was no competition, no issue of dissolving differences, but rather of amplifying pair-wise interests, in a network whose actors engaged in multiple pairings. Mind-blowing. I felt I had stumbled upon some social order whose echoes were yet impressed on my genetic brain structure, now revealed in its dreams.
During this time, I was logging these dreams directly into the Diaries. I would wake up, and record a dream using the characters and vocabulary from the book. I would later have to extensively edit the entries, shuffle their order, and create bridging entries, but the process, on the whole, was one of discovery, not creation.
As the dream worlds of managed similarities captured more and more of my attention, I saw that femaleness was not important. I began to notice men in the dreams, and I began to wonder whether they were there all along. Femaleness was just an artifact of my introduction. It had drawn my attention to their similarity and to their coöperative projects. But if that introduction worked for me, it might be useful to others, and so I’ve left the Diaries as I’d written them.