Jenny Alexander is a true Inspirational Dreamer- a prolific author and creative tutor who uses dreams in her writing practice and teaches creative dream-working for writers as well as more mainstream workshops on the art and craft of writing. Her first book was published in 1994 and since then she has written scores of fiction and non-fiction books for children and several for adults. Her adult books include two practical handbooks for writers, Writing in the House of Dreams and When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow.
Do you remember any childhood dreams? If so, what’s the earliest?
When I was about five years old, I dreamt I was riding along my road on a horse-and-cart, on a sunny summer day. The horse was trotting happily, and the cart was full-to-overflowing with gold coins that jumped and jingled and sparkled in the sun. Everyone came out of their houses to wave as I went by. I liked that dream so much that I used to deliberately go back into it every night, as soon as I closed my eyes. It made me fall asleep with a smile on my face.
When did you first get interested in understanding your dreams? How did that unfold for you?
When I was in my second year of university I started having nightmares about killing myself, waking up at the point when I was about to put my finger in the light socket, or turn on the gas, or jump off a high building. One night I woke to find that I had indeed climbed out of my third-floor window in my sleep and was, as I’d been dreaming, standing on the ledge outside. I thought my dreams were trying to kill me. It didn’t occur to me that I could try to understand them until I went into therapy after my sister’s suicide, a few years later. I told the psychiatrist about the terrifying dreams I’d had and was still having, and he encouraged me to record them and bring them to our sessions.
How did dreams play a role in your life, whether in decision making or in healing?
Dreams have always played a huge role in my life. They provide depth and context for my waking experience, but I only interpret my dreams if the interpretation is obvious, and then it doesn’t feel like a process of interpretation so much as a conversation between close friends. Just as important to me is the opportunity dreams offer to go beyond waking life into a completely different and unrelated world, which can only happen when we let go of the idea of interpreting and treat them as experiences for the self, in exactly the same way as we treat the experiences of waking life.
If you could give one piece of advice to those who are just starting to listen to their dreams, what would it be?
Simply that. Listen. Be receptive. Observe. Don’t demand explanations and try to manipulate meanings. Be patient. Meaning will emerge naturally over time, as you begin to see how and where your dreams resonate with your waking experiences, as well as how and where they don’t.
Anything else you’d like to share about dreams?
Dreams are pure imaginative substance; if you can let go of looking for psychological explanations they can be an endless, vibrant source of inspiration and ideas for creative work.