Dreaming in Dundee, New York
with Susan Watkins
(Editorial Preface) This publication aspires to encourage,
educate and validate the experiences of every dreamer, so it is fitting
to introduce this special issue of Dream Network with this interview.
Susan M. Watkins conducted one of the most unique and unusual projects in contemporary times/communities related to dreams and dream sharing, beginning in 1979. She was, at the time, the editor of the Dundee Observer... and in that post, elected to place a notice in the paper asking individuals in the community to send in written accounts of their dreams. She wanted to see if the ‘unofficial’/downunder news comingthrough in dreams did, in fact, influence the ‘official’ news.... as recommended by Jane Roberts in the following quote.
The impulses and circumstances leading up to andfollowing her project are beautifully accounted in her book, Dreaming Myself, Dreaming a Town, which teaches us that everyone—from bank CEOs and politicians to farmers—have a healthy curiosity and are paying attention to the messages in their dreams. It seems we are a majority!
Susan Watkins: I’ve been interested in my own dreams
and dreams in general for most of my life. As a child, I had vivid, recurring,
sometimes terrifying and often precognitive dreams that seemed to spill
over into my waking life in the form of coincidences and “odd” events.
Even then, I noticed connections between my dreams and tidbits in newspapers
the next day and other interesting pieces of personal fortune-telling.
Then there was “the committee,” a recurring dream that I still have occasionally.
DNJ: You were fortunate to know Jane Roberts. Would it be possible to summarize Seth’s perspectives on dreams, as conveyed through Jane Roberts?
Susan Watkins: Summarizing Seth/Jane Roberts’s perspectives
on dreams is a little like trying to summarize the nature of reality in
25 words or less. But, basically, the idea is that dreams are a portion
of the whole of consciousness, delivered in the language of consciousness,
and since consciousness forms the environment we know, dreams are the medium
through which we create it. Also, I really like this quote, which appears
on page 218 of Dreams, Evolution, and Value Fulfillment, Vol 1: “The waking
state as you think of it is a specialized extension of the dream state,
and emerges from it to the surface of your awareness, just as your physical
locations are specified extensions of locations that exist first within
the realm of mind.”
That says it pretty well. Reading the body of Jane Roberts’s work opens up an infinity of material on the subject.
DNJ: How was/is your expressed and overt interest in Jane Roberts work, in dreams..... received by the average person in your small community, particularly since you worked as a reporter for newspapers, radio stations and were co-editor of the Dundee Observer?
Susan Watkins: Well, first off, let me say that ten years
ago I moved out of Dundee proper and quit my reporting jobs to live out
in the middle of nowhere and write full-time — something I wouldn’t especially
recommend for writers, by the way — but that’s another story.
Second, my friendship with Jane Roberts and my interest in her work were never “overt” in Dundee, though there was certainly an undercurrent of acknowledgement about those endeavors. Mostly the energies of my life were devoted to my son, to making some kind of living and to writing, writing, writing: science fiction and fantasy in my private moments; municipal and grassroots events in the reporting biz. If the subject of dreams and “ESP” came up, I talked freely about it; but it wasn’t until Conversations with Seth was published in 1980 that my particular interests and ideas in that area were exposed, as it were, to the community at large. It caused no major ripples, locally, as far as I could tell, for which I was grateful. I wasn’t being secretive, exactly. I just never considered myself a missionary for the Seth material. Also, I hate being at the center of public attention. My work, yes. Me... no.
How were my interests received by the “average” person? In about every way there is to receive it. By the time Conversations.... came out (and was reviewed in local media), I’d been living the small-town life for eight years and had been editor of the Dundee Observer for six of those years. Some people read the book and most didn’t. Coffee shop gossip noted that I had been seen walking in the town cemetery. A few people said that Conversations, and later Dreaming Myself, opened a door in their heads and they went on to read everything on the subject they could find. One or two came right out with the opinion that I was nuts! Most of those who said anything to me about it were interested in the fact that I’d written a book, period, hang the subject.... and simply appreciated the accomplishment.
These last are the folks I like to hang out with.
DNJ: Would you say that this dimension of your work affected you, socially, in the community? If so, how?
Susan Watkins: No, I don’t think the subject or expression
of my work affected me socially in the community, other than to make me
more visible in a certain way. In a village the size of Dundee (pop. 1,632),
your social standing is based on things that are rather less ambiguous
than your beliefs about the nature of the universe. The fact that at the
time (the Seventies through mid-Eighties) I was a single mother running
the local newspaper with another single mother and that each of us were
married and divorced at least twice apiece had much more impact on the
community psyche than some book blathering on about ESP!
But really, this is how it should be—or at least it’s how it fit my purposes. Though I experienced a brief time as a kind of dreamer’s listening post, my aspirations were first and foremost those of a writer’s. Once you start presenting or dealing with these issues as separate from daily life, or exalted somehow, you’ve just kinda boogered it up.
Today, my ‘social standing’ is moot, mostly because I hardly ever go into town. At one point the rumor mill had it that I’d become a nun.
DNJ: Though you have outlined it thoroughly in your book, would you share how you initiated the community dreamsharing project?
Susan Watkins: Dreaming Myself, Dreaming A Town emerged
from a combination of other writing projects: my frustrations while putting
together the chapter on class dreams for Conversations with Seth, an Observer
series I was doing on local house histories, a novel I’d been writing about
a small town whose dreams start to come true and the family history written
in 1933 by my great-grandfather, a Dundee native. Struggling to collate
ESP class dream records too often written on scrap paper and matchbook
covers, I’d been brooding about official vs. unofficial history.... where
events “come from” in the first place.... and the difficulties of documenting
anything, let alone the invisible.
I’d spent a particularly grueling morning at my desk trying to sort through my papers and decided to take a break. On impulse I picked my great-grandfather’s memoir out of the bookcase and started paging through it. I remember that it was a warm day in March and air redolent of spring mud was wafting through the open apartment windows, hinting of things to come. I turned to my great-grandfather’s description of the huge fire that had leveled Dundee’s downtown 118 years before. I started to read about how baby Asbury’s mother and grandmother had dragged him in his crib between lots to get away from their burning house. I remember that gently, like the spring breeze, the notion flitted across my mind that it was too bad nobody had recorded their dreams the night before that fire. How interesting it would have been to compare!
And then all at once, from one moment to the next, all of these pro-jects clicked together, a crack opened in the sky and the idea to collect dreams from people in Dundee and compare those dreams with daily life — to document unofficial history — fell out and hit me on the head: BONK!
I was in a unique position in that time and place to do this. By then I’d been a newspaper editor/reporter for long enough that everyone was more or less used to my asking questions and writing about community events and controversies. I had complete access to the newspaper, so I could announce my project, keep track of daily goings-on and write about my results as I pleased. Also, I thought that people would trust me to protect their identities, since I’d done so faithfully in the past. I also thought that I could do all of this objectively, from a reporter’s position of non-involvement. I was dead wrong about that one — much of the book springs from my private exper-ience — but the delusion gave me enough courage to go ahead with the impulse.
I wrote up a piece asking for dreams and ran it in the Observer for several weeks. All I wanted initially was Friday night dreams. I thought this was attainable, since Saturday mornings might be less harried for most than the rest of the week. I said that I wanted to compare dreams with daily events and that I was in-terested in precognitive elements. I took out a post office box and waited for the floodgates to open, or not. And simultaneously, I received less than I expected and more than I could have imagined.
People did send me written dreams, but the one thing I hadn’t anticipated — the wonderful, delightful, astonishing thing — was that the majority of responses were spontaneous face-to-face encounters in every nook and corner of the village. I had just assumed that nobody would want to talk about this stuff head-on. I was stopped on the street, in the hardware store, in the post office and supermarket checkout line, after board meetings, in my drive-way — everywhere — by people eager to tell me their absolutely amazing dreams and experiences. Folks from all walks of life did this: Local politicians, real estate brokers, farmers, unwashed hermits, domestic engineers, artists, even — to my biggest personal surprise — two of the local ministers. People still do this. Even in the village where I do most of my business now, where Dreaming Myself isn’t “known” as it is in Dundee, people tell me their dreams.
How do they know?
And I just want to add here that I didn’t do “dreamsharing” with this information; that wasn’t my initial purpose. I kept these records to myself, with the exception of an occasional Observer column on the subject, until I wrote the book some years later. Under the surface, it was all “shared” anyway. But in the usual terms, nobody knew what was going on except me.
Essentially, this was the only way that people would feel comfortable enough to participate.... but more than that, I just wasn’t sure what I had even after I’d collected it. For this and other reasons, the book itself took almost eight years to put together.
DNJ: What was the most inspirational incident that occurred as a result?
Susan Watkins: The most inspirational — maybe the better
word is educational —incident, or incidents, was that the individuals I
least expected to care about such things as dreams were almost always the
ones who had the most vivid dream life and the most unabashed manner of
relating it. This included a range of stereotype-busters from the aloof
MBA-educated bank CEO who called me on the phone with past-life memories,
of all things (and some years later gave me a mortgage without requiring
a down payment) to the unemployed former hog farmer who’d left school in
the 8th grade and had remembered dozens of dreams every night since he
was a child.
Not one of my respondents had ever set foot inside an “ESP” class.
I wish I’d been better acquainted with the area Amish and Mennonite communities at the time. I’d love to find out what their collective dreams are like.
DNJ: The most uncomfortable?
Susan Watkins: Other than my initial fears about exposure
and ridicule, something all writers have to deal with no matter what the
subject matter, I never experienced any undue discomfort, unless you want
to count bafflement and speechlessness with anyone local who talked
to me then or later about their dreams.
Occasionally someone would relate tales of incredible disasters in their lives, which made me feel awkward and ashamed, but this wasn’t their fault. Whatever truly uncomfortable moments I’ve had along these lines has almost without exception occurred when people from elsewhere track me down in a certain predatory kind of way. Fan mail I love, but....! I wrote above one such encounter in Dreaming Myself, so at least it proved useful. Still, this sort of thing never ceases to appall me.
DNJ: The most meaningful, in your perception, for the community, itself?
Susan Watkins: The most meaningful thing about this project
for the community? Well, I hesitate to speak for the good people of Dundee,
but probably the recognition that not only was I interested in dreams but
that I thought them important enough to put in a book was mutual-ly important.
I’d like to think that the initial collection of dreams — and later the
book — sparked off some-thing inside everyone, me included. It was a community
creation. Most of all, I discovered that my “peculiar” interests had a
place in the world at large. This is no small realization.
Whenever any individual begins to trust inherent characteristics, the community as a whole does likewise. This goes for any individual or set of characteristics, of course.
DNJ: You commented in your book that during the time you were collecting dreams — and since — your perception is that most people have a natural inclination toward understanding and utilizing information from their dreams.... everyone from public officials to farmers. Would you elaborate?
Susan Watkins: When people talked with me about their dreams,
they often prefaced their accounts by saying, “I don’t know what this means,
but...” and then would go on to summarize the “meaning” perfectly,
sometimes obliquely, almost always with a measure of embarrassment. Too
many of us have been taught to think that authority figures know more about
us than we do. Less than any encultured notion that dreams were crazy
or evil, people who talked to me seemed to feel that because they
weren’t some kind of “expert,” their own dream interpre-tations couldn’t
possibly be any good. (Unfortunately, too many “ex-perts” share this belief.)
Most times, all it took was a little prodding on my part, or a suggest-ion or two and people would say, “Yes, that’s what I thought it meant, and besides that...” or “Maybe what it really means is that... “ and then they’d go on to give me beautiful, canny pieces of self-insight that took my breath away, listening.
Most times all I had to say was, “What do you think it means?”
They always knew.
The fact that I didn’t laugh or try to impose on their obvious “natural knowing,” and that they also didn’t laugh and were willing to open up to me in this way was the matrix that made the whole thing work.
Anyone who thinks that the masses lead lives of dreamless des-peration has a lot to learn. I certainly did. Still do. Maybe someday I’ll do a sequel.
DNJ: Dreams, synchronicity and following your instinct/impulse
were prime movers in this under-taking. Are you still on that path?
Susan Watkins: I still follow my impulses and keep track
of dreams and coincidence, though not with any particular project in mind
at the moment. Impulses are what started me writing a humorous gardening
column for the Observer in 1989. This eventually led to my latest book,
Garden Madness, just published by Fulcrum Press.
A very odd and — when you think about it — obvious impulse whacked me in the forehead one morning not long ago and I’ve been collecting dreams and interviews with Jane Roberts for a memoir I hope to write eventually. I just fin-ished a huge novel of “dark magic realism” about the antiques trade, which I dabble in impulsively whenever sitting in front of my computer begins to drive me mad. I even bought a dog on impulse; he was on sale at the mall, so how could I not? This was a distinct departure for a cat person but it worked out perfectly. Now I have a two-year-old around the house again, only this time I can shut him in the laundry room and leave. What fun!
Consciousness is an adventure—your own and everyone’s. This interview was an adventure, too, and I thank Dream Network for asking me to contribute.
DNJ: Thank you very much for being willing to share your uni-que project and experience with us, Susan. •
Dreaming Myself, Dreaming A Town can be ordered
in any bookstore or directly from Kendall & Delisle Books Inc.,1976
West 3rd St., Brooklyn, NY 11223-2709, or from Reality Change magazine,
Seth Network International, P.O. Box 1620, Eugene, OR.
Seth Network International has recently announced plans to publish paperback reprints of Conversations and to produce audiobooks of both Conversations and Dreaming Myself... later this year.
Reprinted from Dream Network, Volume 15 #1.