Paper Weight (Sweet Dreams)
Reflections on diaries, drawing, and dreams
Welcome to this sixteenth reflection on In Fragments — this week exploring Paper Weight (Sweet Dreams), a ritual to clear the burden of my mother’s fearful dreams:
A couple years ago, I dreamed of a woman I know named Susan, who I see as a living embodiment of happiness and health. In the dream, I asked her how could I learn to live a life of fertility and abundance like her. She looked at me and said: “You have a journal and you know how to use it.”
I have indeed been keeping journals for most of my life. Some are exquisitely hand-bound and filled with watercolor paintings, pen and ink drawings, and pasted plants and insects. Others are more literary, containing stories and reflections of my life experiences and dreams. Others yet are more diagrammatic, filled with design ideas and visualizations of things to create in the future.
As my journaling practice has deepened over the years, I’ve begun to notice an eerie interconnection between the intentions I express in my journals and what ends up happening in my reality. Especially when I express my intentions through drawings, they seem to function as predictive portals into the future, as though the act of drawing itself plants a kind of seed in the quantum field, which then begins a life of its own, exerting its will to exist. The more specific the drawing, the more energy it seems to carry, and the greater its probability of manifestation.
They say that the art of manifestation has three basic steps: Seeing, Claiming, and Accepting. First, you need to see a vision of what you want to experience in the future. Then, you need to claim that vision through a conscious act of will. Finally, you need to acknowledge and accept that vision as it begins to coalesce around you, like the gradual brightening of dawn.
What is the relationship between drawing and dreams? If things are thoughts and thoughts are things, then drawing is a tool for thinking through things — bypassing the intellectual center by working directly with images. Dreams are things that come to us: whether in sleep as messages from the unconscious, or in waking life as visions of the future. Drawing is a way of “drawing out” these dreams from pure potential into reality. It is a way of “drawing the line” between what you do and don’t want — a way of attaining the “lucky draw” of a dream coming true.
It is said that each of us is dreaming our reality into existence from moment to moment. Drawing is a tool for working more consciously with this ongoing practice of dreaming — and a vital technology for creating works of Life Art.
When cleaning out my mother’s closet in 2016, I found her meticulous collection of dream journals, spanning 1989–2002. Reading through her dreams, I came across one nightmare after another, many of which were set in the buildings and landscape at High Acres Farm. I wondered how her dreams affected her life in that place and vice versa — how the energy we all experienced there was shaped by her dreams.
Several years later, life at High Acres Farm had progressed. We’d renovated the old main house, which was now a popular hospitality offering. My sister and I had built homes of our own on the land, and were living there as neighbors. Yet despite these positive developments, I still felt the presence of my mother’s old dreams, rooted in her collection of journals, which were stashed away in a box in one of our barns. I felt that a new ritual was needed in order to clear her old dreams once and for all, so their heaviness would no longer burden our future. I opened my own journal, and began to draw out my dreams for this ritual:
Last Easter (2021), I strung up a set of blue cords through a maple sugaring grove in the woods at High Acres Farm, running from tap to tap. In the middle of this network of cords, I placed an old wooden bed that belonged to my great-great-grandparents, engraved with a blue cherubim angel. In the bed, I lay my mother’s 1950s childhood doll, Baby Linda, and from the network of cords, hung hundreds of pages from her dream journals with clothespins — like dirty laundry or Tibetan prayer flags, now receiving the sweetness of the flowing sap of spring.
The following morning, my sister and her kids gathered up the paper dreams and took them to a nearby hillside, where we used my mother’s glass paperweights to weigh down the dreams on a large sheet of glass spanning two stacks of bricks from the old High Acres Farm chimney. When the glass finally cracked, four white doves flew into the sky, released by Gary Reid, the gentleman who five years earlier had performed my mother’s cremation. We turned the fallen dreams into handmade paper kites, decorated with drawings of flowers, and my nieces ran the kites across the fields, with their grandmother’s dreams tumbling through the Easter sky behind them.
Paper Weight (Sweet Dreams) — film (duration 9:45), essay (980 words)
Any act of creation is a process of drawing dreams into reality, and these weekly essays are no different. Since we’re on the topic of journaling, I thought I’d share a little glimpse of my process of writing these weekly reflections — itself a kind of ritual over these past sixteen weeks.
I usually begin on Thursday evenings by visiting a wonderful bar here in Santa Fe called the Brakeroom, which was once an old bunkhouse where railroad brakemen used to sleep. Unlike most bars these days which are crammed with televisions and blasted with loud music, this bar feels like an old house, with warm dark wood, beautiful wallpaper, subtle music, and a fireplace. I like to sit at a table in the back room next to a window, and sip a pint of their delicious Happy Camper beer. From that convivial perch, surrounded by the warm buzz of conversation, I take out a blank sheet of white paper, and write the name of that week’s ritual in the center of the sheet. For the next hour or so, I free associate topics and teachings that seem to relate to that particular ritual, producing a kind of “brain dump” like this:
The following day over coffee, I parse the brain dump into an outline, organizing its various disparate ideas into a narrative structure that seems to make sense. On Saturday morning, I go for an early swim at the local community center, and then drive to a nearby coffee shop called Java Joe’s, where I open my laptop and write the actual essay. On Sunday, I read the essay aloud to a friend, and incorporate whatever feedback she offers. On Monday, I transfer the essay to Substack, adding images and hyperlinks as needed, finally producing a finished post such as this.
It’s been an interesting process writing these weekly essays — a wonderful way of clarifying my perspectives on a wide range of topics, while also quite a burden each week in terms of the time and attention required, both for me as the writer and for you as the reader. I wonder sometimes if we’ve reached “peak newsletter,” propelled by the ease of use of Substack — and if perhaps the written word is no longer the most powerful way of expressing ideas, inundated as we are (between books, articles, newsletters, blogs, tweets, and more) with so much written text.
Perhaps it is time to revisit the power of drawing.
Thanks for reading Jonathan Jennings Harris. Subscribe for free to receive new posts.
Thank you . . . . . again.
I found the ritual/film very moving. I loved the general notes on journaling and insight into the process for writing the essays. Seems like a worthwhile practice for clarification of my own thoughts and I wonder if even drawings would simply be lost in the barrage of inputs. Seems to me that we are inundated with images as much as text these days. With an infinite number of distractions to choose from, it's no wonder that many (me included) often choose the less healthy and easier options. I think this has to be an intentional and personal shift.
The current onslaught seems to be the product of defaults and defaults have a powerful inertia. FOMO is real. I try to remind myself of what I actually miss out on by getting wrapped up in the fear of missing out. Thanks for the lovely essay.