My Premise, My Promise


They say, in so many words, that each mammal that has ever lived harbored a seahorse inside its head. Right there, at the base of every brother’s skull, a tiny creature engineered for no less a thing than memory. Hippocampus, they call it, this seahorse, and he is to us mammals as a film editor is to a moviegoer. Snipping and splicing away, he spins crazy yarns out of untold reels of memory, stretches out an infinite canvas and conjures up a rambling cinema just for us, for our poor sleeping selves. Defenses down, we are more revealed to ourselves in that fleeting maelstrom than in waking life itself.

So reads the preface to Raw Footage: dream-tipped memoir. In a few carefully chosen words, I tried to set the stage for what comes. Rooted in both science and art, the idea is that our hippocampus (the seahorse-shaped brain element located at the base of the skull) is responsible not only for long-term memory but–possibly–as well for dream production. To me, that is quite a statement, one that gave me a big opening as a writer. So, I mused, I could create a premise where my own hippocampus, my very own film editor, taps the bottomless well of mammalian experience and memory and plays me film-dreams every night as I snore away. Do you see what I mean? If dream is memory, then the written dream is memoir! With this one notion I was given the premise for a memoir narrated to me by my seahorse and made available to you. What a writing field, what a pallette!


I began to line up formative experiences in my life, actual events, and embed them in the kind of dreamscapes that an unkind seahorse might conjure up (for seahorses, especially our own, are severely unkind), scenarios and settings meant to be disturbing exactly because there is just enough reality in the dreams to indicate that all the rest of it might be true, too, and that is indeed a scary prospect.

I started writing my way into this project and found a rhythm, very much a jazz rhythm, that I had never experienced before in my writing. I caught the voice of the seahorse. At times taunting and hostile, at others passive, at still others chiding and ridiculing and scornful, he is no mere alter ego, more like an alter id! He wants me to suffer in the unconscious recollection of events, the more embarrassing and confounding the better. I should wallow in past failures and lose all hope for the days yet to come.

Somehow, in this maelstrom of personal loss and failure and nakedness, there is revelation, there is a fullness never achieved in consciousness. I wrote each dream (1/2-5 pages each) in about 3 hours and did not feel obligated to edit it until I had finished all 41.

That is the premise. My promise follows from it: You will know me.

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