Last night, I dreamed about Maggie Stiefvater. As dreams go, it was pretty cool. I don’t remember all of it, but there were definitely a lot of fast cars and human drama happening in the background, which is what you might expect from a Maggie Stiefvater dream if you know her at all, or even if, like me, you just know of
her in the semi-obsessive sort of way the internet age allows us to know our modern heroes: through her books, her blog posts, the names of her Miniature Silky Fainting Goats
…but I digress.
The really cool thing about the dream is that it was both totally realistic and completely implausible: we weren’t catching rides on phoenix tails, Maggie and I, or braiding each others’ hair and swapping leathery friendship bracelets. We weren’t even paying a whole lot of attention to each other. Maggie’s one of my big heroes, and we’re about the same age and both snarky weirdos with hearts of gold, too many hobbies, and something of a flair for the dramatic, but that doesn’t mean I think we should be best friends. As far as I can tell, we both have about all the best friends we can handle, and also she would eat me for breakfast.
(It does sometimes make me feel terribly inadequate about where I am in my writing career, because unlike many of my other heroes she’s also a mom, which blows my best excuse for not keeping up with her, but whenever that happens I just remind myself that her race is Maggie versus Maggie
and mine’s me versus me, and we’re not even on the same race course anyway. I mean, I can’t even drive stick for fuck’s sake.)
So anyway, in this dream I wasn’t suddenly Maggie’s best new friend and confidante, or even her latest brilliant critique partner. I was just me, and she was just her, and she hardly even knew I was there.
But we were, both of us. There.
What’s most interesting to me is where there
was, though, and I’m not sure I can get that across without a lot of mostly irrelevant backstory. Maybe you have a place you keep going back to again and again in your dreams: a lost paradise of your childhood maybe, or the place where your life took a turning point, where things suddenly got a lot better or a lot worse or just, terrifyingly, a lot clearer.
For me, all of those places are a cottage in Muskoka which I visited in the summers from the ages of about three to seventeen. (It’s where I learned to handle a boat, how to make a doll out of grass, and how long I can hold my breath underwater. It’s also where my first dog lived, which is the really important bit.) Again and again I dream that I go back, hoping to finally belong there again, the way I thought I did at seven and knew I did at three and finally understood that I never had and never would at seventeen. But it always goes sour somehow.
The dreams are boringly repetitive: I go back and it’s changed beyond recognition, ruined beyond the point of repair. I go back and I’m welcomed, only to become more sure than ever that I’m not really wanted. I go back and it’s subtly wrong, but everyone around me insists it’s fine. I go back and the wrongness is not subtle—they’ve planted a McDonald’s in the middle of the cove—but everyone still insists it’s fine. I find myself near it and decide to go for a visit, but the terrain becomes strange and unfamiliar, and I never find my way.
In this dream, none of those things happened. Instead, Maggie and I sat in the screened-in porch, watching a beautiful sunset over the lake and working. Oh, there was plenty of drama in the background. Those fast cars smashed themselves up, and my former family acted as they always do in these dreams, and people came and went in a flurry of dramatic activity, and Maggie went on working.
Once or twice she looked up and smiled at me, once or twice I wondered what the hell she was doing here and did this mean we were best friends now, and should I have brought a friendship bracelet or something, but mostly she just did her own thing. The dream did pull me off into its drama now and again, catching me up in things I couldn’t control that would only hurt me anyway, but I kept coming back to that room, and Maggie working. And somehow, there was always a chair for me. And somehow, in spite of everything else, I found myself working, too.
I can’t describe what that felt like: to be working
, in that place of all places. To be sitting where I always used to sit, without questioning my own right to be there, without worrying about what anyone else thought, to be paying attention only to what I needed in order to thrive and create: the beauty of the sunset, the companionship of someone who inspires me, the page in front of me, and the worlds inside my head.
When I woke up I knew, at least for a while, that the place in my dreams was mine,
after all. Oh, that actual cottage in Muskoka where I spent so many shining, bittersweet summer days may not be mine—certainly it’s not only mine, and certainly the people with a legal right to it aren’t my people anymore, so it’s pointless to keep returning. I’ve been back once or twice since I was seventeen, out of politeness and curiosity and unresolved need, but I doubt if I’ll ever go again.
But my memories of it are mine. The version of it that lives in my head, the one that I keep finding in my dreams? Of course that’s mine. It must be. No one else could, or would, have invited Maggie Stiefvater there.
So thank you, Maggie. You don’t know me, but you live in my head, along with everyone else who’s ever told a story so real it became a part of me. (Some of the stories you’ve told are about yourself, and those are the best ones of all.) One day I’m going to tell a story so true that I’ll shift someone else’s internal landscape around, and so real that some version of me will move into their head and never leave. When I do, it will be partly because you came home with me when I needed you to, and showed me that my story is my own, no matter what. Maybe you really can’t go home again, but you can carry it with you or let it go, and both are fine. Nobody else gets to say what you love, what’s yours, what isn’t yours, or what you should do with it when you have it.
Next time, though, let’s go check out what those race cars were doing. That looked like a pretty exciting time.
(And then I went and found this lovely thing
on Maggie's blog, which was a bit of exactly what I needed right now. Seriously. Go check it out.)
[Edited for many typos and html errors, sorry!]