Friday, May 27, 2011

To One in Paradise

I wouldn’t turn every dream I’ve ever had into a novel, but that has worked for me at least once.

The Scifi novel I finished writing last year was based off of two dreams that I had during the early part of my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had the first dream during my time at the MTC (missionary training center) and the other was in the first area where I was assigned in the field. The first one… well, it might baffle one to hear that this dream sparked that story. It makes sense to me, but some people have commented on how it is interesting that this particular dream helped me conceive of Salvages.

The hardest thing for me to get over in the MTC was not being able to read any literature besides the Holy Scriptures and the Missionary Library. I adore literature and it was difficult for me to reconcile my mind with the fact that I would be cut off from said literature for eighteen months. I accepted it quickly enough. After all, I had accepted the call already which to me meant that I had turned my will over to God.

I was thinking a lot about The Divine Comedy. My father went on his mission to Italy and owns a beautiful illustrated copy of The Divine Comedy in the original Italian text. I couldn’t read it at the time, but I remembered being very sad that I hadn’t thought to write down the last stanzas of each of the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso in Italian before I left. I thought to myself that it would have been very nice to have those words in my journal as a kind of talisman and a link to my father and his beautiful experience as a missionary.

The MTC is great. I covered my love/anguish concerning the MTC in my letters home. It does make one go a little crazy to be so confined. One of my companions was a marathon runner. She keenly felt the sobering effects of being shut up behind walls. We were all anxious to get out into the field and yet none of us felt ready to leave. There was still so much to learn.

I had a “Mormonized” dream of the The Divine Comedy one night. I was with Virgil and instead of leading me through the nine circles of hell and beyond, he took me through the Telestial Kingdom and then The Terestrial Kingdom and then my alarm went off just as we approached The Celestial Kingdom. It was a bizarre and vivid dream, laced with horror-movie imagery and psychedelic sensations. Very trippy. I woke up, shook it off and went for a run around the rat-wheel like track in the gymnasium with the marathon runner.

I wanted more than ever to see those stanzas.

In class that day, my companions and I were distracted by the hilarious and utterly classic antics of the Elders in our district (Oh, how I miss them). My companion asked our Hermano Antonio for a suggestion of where we could go on the MTC campus that wasn’t saturated with cabin-fevered missionaries. He told us about a secluded section of the basement and said “I believe you’ll find what you’re looking for there,” and winked at me.

Very Dumbledore.

So, following his instructions we made our way to this basement of mysteriousness and came upon a secret MTC contraband library!

It had all the best books that we weren’t technically allowed to have; including a copy of The Divine Comedy in Italian.

Later someone pointed out that it might have been a test of temptation rather than a gift from a loving God. Huh. Maybe. At the time, temptation wasn’t a thought. My exact thoughts were something along the lines of ‘Well. That’s a freebee.’

I wrote those precious words in my journal to be a constant reminder throughout my mission that God does know me personally and cares. Cutting me off from the things I love, ultimately only helped me to appreciate them on a new level and in a way that was healthy and fulfilling.

A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle,
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

I can understand why it might seem strange that this incident led me to write a violent Science Fiction novel about pirates, gladiators, assassins and gangsters in Deathraces on artificially terraformed planets. Maybe not. Inspiration is something that everyone has experienced. Sometimes it comes in the form of cut-and-dry instruction just falling into our brains and sometimes inspiration is the product of our personal perspective shifting the beauty and enchantments of the world around us into overwhelming impressions that can’t be described.

This dream was the latter. The next dream was more cut-and-dry. The resemblance of certain chapters in the book to the aesthetics of the dream was completely intentional. It was gritty, decadent and there was a lot of blood, naked people, big armored monsters and a general vibe of chaos.

If I’m driving at any kind of a point (which I’m not convinced I am) it would be this: mission dreams are weird.

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