Between pages 274-277, S. describes four separate dreams he has of Sola in one night. Though the dreams are very different, they all have a common theme.
Swimming in a Mountain Lake
He is swimming in a mountain lake, and she is waiting for him on the far bank. They are at high elevation: the flora consists solely of twisted krummholz formations, and the moon, fat and gold, takes up an eighth of the night sky. He strokes and kicks through ink-dark water but gets no closer to her. She waves, calls out something that might be hisname, and he strokes faster, kicks harder, but getsno closer—he might even be drifting backward—and this is when he feels tiny punctures breaking the skin of his belly, thighs, feet, and legs as leechesbegin feeding on him, and the dread that grips him has nothing to do with losing blood or realizinghe has become some other creature’s prey but rather has to do with fear of what he will look like to herwhen he gets out of the water, and he wonders whether perhaps it isn’t better to drown—
The krummholz symbolizes S’s crooked hand as he attempts to write in his room on the ship. The lake and its “ink-dark water” represent his attempt to write, but he is getting nowhere. His muse, Sola, is far away, and he cannot seem to reach her.
The Entrance to the Orlop Deck
She is waiting for him in the passage to the orlop deck. He cannot tell whether she is barring him from entering or beckoning him to come with her; she stands perfectly still, and her face, backlit, is unreadable. For no reason that he understands, he opens his mouth and screams. Is it a scream of anguish? of frustration? of fear? Strangely, he cannot tell. Whatever its source or purpose, it surprises him in the dream and jolts him awake in the hammock, which swings violently.
The entrance to the orlop, where the crew is free to write on ink and paper, signifies S’s longing to write freely himself. Sola, his muse, is the doorway to writing freely. Once he stands directly before her, he is terrified of what happens next.
On a Roof Amid a Cluster of Old Pigeon Coops
He is on a roof amid a cluster of old pigeon coops. A bird arrives, a message tied to its leg withblack thread. S. intuits that the message is from her and that it has come over a great distance, but whenhe unrolls the thin paper, he can make no sense ofthe shapes that are inked on it. They are words, heknows—and they are her words—but the alexia thathas stricken him is total. He needs to send a responseto her, needs desperately to have some words pass between them, and he puts pen to paper, rolls it uparound the bird’s tiny, hollow-boned leg, and knots the thread. It isn’t until after he releases his messenger to the gray skies that he realizes he forgot tomake a single mark on the page. The bird disappears into an anvil cloud, and S. waits and waits forit to emerge, but the bird never does.
Carrier pigeons carry the written word from one person to another. They connect people with words. Sola, his muse, is calling to him, but S is not able to understand what she says. He tries himself to write, but fails. This is his biggest fear: of failing to write what he wants to write and connect with his muse, Sola.
On a Giant Sofa in Front of Sets of False Teeth
He and Sola are in an enormous, echoing room of stone walls and floors; of burgundy and gold rugs, arrases, drapes; of furniture scaled for impossibly large people. They sit, pressed tightly shoulder-to-shoulder, at the center of a sofa, the distant armrests of which rise above eye-level. Before them, on a table with swirls of gold inlays that induce a mild vertigo, are dozens of sets of false teeth, each contraption more complicated than the last, some of them so ghastly that it chills him to imagine how they might be made to fit into a mouth. Sola turns and opens her mouth as if to speak, revealing a space of uninterrupted pink. S. runs his tongue over his own gums, finds himself toothless as well. The dream-imperative is clear—they must both try on sets of teeth until they find ones that fit—but they sit, unmoving, because neither will risk looking monstrous to the other, and this dream goes on for what feels like forever (O, fickle and variable Time!), ballooning impossibly as they sit there, sit there, sit there, ever in silent anxiety, toothless and still, waiting for something to change—
This dream ties the other three together with the same theme, but leveraging a more intense objective correlative. Here S. finally sits with his muse, Sola, side by side. But they are in a room for bigger, richer people. In S’s eyes, he is too small and too poor to be significant in this room. The dream imperative – to try on sets of false teeth – represents S’s feeling that he must conform to some pre-designed, uncomfortable, unnatural method of communication before he can get out of this prison. He is afraid of doing so because of how he will look to his muse – Sola. In this dream, even his muse is in the same situation as himself.
The Common Thread
S. has these dreams in his room on the ship. In his dreams, Sola represents S’s muse.
It is remarkable: for so long, he tried and failed to summon her when he was in this room, and now here she is, the muse as her physical self. (p412-413)
S. repeatedly tries to connect with her through writing, but fails. He begins with a tortured form of writing – using a nail or fish hook and scratching his words into wood. Even then, those words don’t come out as he intends. Later, he begins to write freely in the orlop, though his words don’t connect well.
When S. is on the orlop, with the pen’s nib flying over paper, with ink spattering over skin, fabric, wood, what emerges on the paper are flashes of image, lightning-strikes of sense-memories, fragmented impressions of events. They refuse to be strung into coherent, linear narrative no matter how consciously he tries to arrange them so; in fact, the more he tries, the more the pieces resist his efforts. (p309)
Finally, when S. and Sola connect and are physically together on the ship, S. begins to transition from this disconnected writing to something much different. On p407-408, we see that S. finds his muse completely, so much so that he spends the end of Chapter 9 writing the beginning of Chapter 10.
S. wants to be a writer, but he is afraid that he can’t. That he won’t. That he never will be. He is swimming in ink without actually moving. He is standing before the orlop without actually entering. He sends a carrier pigeon away with no message. He is too small and insignificant in the room of those “real writers,” too unwilling to become something he is not, and so nothing ever changes.
And yet, S. is fully capable of becoming a writer – a great writer. He needs only to let his muse find him. Connect with him. Lead him. Be with him. Help him face his greatest enemy face to face.
The dreams seem to represent the fears of all would-be authors. We fear what we will look like to others. We think we do not have what it takes. The ability. The talent. We are terrified of what we will look like if we actually try. The words don’t come out as we intend. We feel so small and meaningless, and think that to change that feeling we must pretend to be something we are not.
And yet the truth is, we can all write. We all have a story to tell. We just have to be ourselves.
If S. can be a book made up of the raw writings between two young people struggling to find themselves, and Ship of Theseus can be a controversial book of mingled conversations enciphered and interlaced together between FXC and VMS, then our own writings can connect with others, too. Just put pen to paper. Fingers to keyboard. And write without trying to be anyone other than your true self.