An Experiment in Knowing: Sabrina Dalla Valle on Kelly Lydick’s Mastering the Dream


Mastering the Dream, Kelly Lydick, Second Story Books, 2007

You could call this a quiet reflection on the nature of permanence as the text opens with “And the next thing I know, I’m lying on a sterile table, saran wrap between my body and the black vinyl, my arm out to the side getting inked: Aleph, Mem, Shin…” Or, say this is a tale of broken attachments, “forgotten coat. fading scent of cologne. something like a backyard that burns.” And it is… everything in between. Mastering the Dream is a non-linear synthesis of important things in the life of a seeker – essentials distilled into words that once pieced together provide a poetic précis of the narrator’s integrated identity: “I was six years old when I discovered that light is both a particle and a wave.”

In the tradition of hermetic mysticism voiced through Kabalistic overtones, Kelly Lydick, not only masters the dream, but masters cross-genre experimental prose: journal entries, accounts of near death experiences, letters to self, story compositions, instructions from her teachers, dreams, and pure lists of distilled words cleansed of any specific reference: “sunrise. morning. day. afternoon. evening. twilight. dusk. nightfall. night.”

Form follows function; this book is a creative template – transparent to how the mind wanders through different spaces as it follows a thread to the past and other preoccupations. “A couple of years back I looked for you in my sock drawer and I found only old fortunes from a dozen different Chinese dinners.” I sense Lydick is at times in a trance using her body to dig for something in her soul.

Lydick creates coherence between the different texts by disciplining herself to method, employing classical Cartesian essay writing to organize her mix-genre pieces: cycles of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The themes of dream awareness, drug- altered reality, childhood memory and creative writing tumble around in an orderly fashion as the narrator, Marie, finds their crossroad. The intention of such a design could be to dissolve the boundaries of consciousness and unify all parts of self: “Maybe cremated thoughts are like disintegrated opposites. Maybe you have to murder the Either/Or to get the And.”

Each entry ebbs and flows, at times seeps into the other – like life, death, and the dream. In a journal entry Marie writes, “This morning when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t see myself.” Crossing boundaries of consciousness and possibility requires the bold strike of a pen, no less, because as “The rabbi says: the brain cannot distinguish between what it sees and what it remembers.” This is where imagination tunes in.

Lydick leads us to question the conventional margins we delineate between existential states – as well as our tendency to cast our life experience in terms of binary opposites, “I think every time you say ‘I am’ you’re also saying ‘I’m not’. Does this make sense?” Marie incubates her need for resolve in her dream life, like a good postmodern thinker would, to find the “supplement” – that which lives between the pain and ecstasy: “love. admire. like. estrange. dislike. abhor. detest. despise. hate.”

Marie ruminates over several major life events: near death and death of best friend, as well as pains of love – seeking resolve first by wishing to forget.  I like the elegance of how various themes pertaining to difficult memories fit together in patterns, telling a deeply emotional story without being sentimental, “all the make-up has been thrown away. rolled under the vehicle and smashed. I am glad for my bare face.” The text deftly stitches these lacerations from loss with a nearly clinical use of language, “acquire. consummate. gain. conserve. sustain. lose. forfeit. misplace. forget.” Lydick is a doctor of the phrase, bringing voice back into silence created by difficult memory.

This she can only do through love cultivated for her Self, a phenomenon that develops through the text in letters that Marie writes to herself. The Rabbi, steers her gently, “Your ability to love is found in your ability to pay attention.” And Lydick does pay attention to details, “the clouds before a thunderstorm. the shingles on a roof. static on the television. the exterior casing of a 1980’s boom box.”

The tone and direction of this work reminds me somewhat of the Imagist HD, words tightly arranged into impressions. “Be mindful of your words as they become your actions,” writes HD. In the economy of language, every word is essential. Both authors share the Hermetic preoccupation with transformation and return to origin through an individualized psychoanalytic self-examination of their own suffering. “My vision is what I thought was there. My vision is what was not there. My suffering is realizing what was not there.” For, to master the dream is to decipher the irony of sufferance.

Despite the collage of expression, the book’s direction is clearly set by the first page. Time is related to matter moving forward in a measured return to the origin – from density to the ephemeral. It is this walk through the continuum of binaries that makes mastering the dream possible, resolves life’s ironies. If Lydick has by this first book negotiated the presence of mastery in consciousness, I am curious to see what such mastery is capable of in her next work.

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