DECEMBER 28, 2011 9:45AM

Dreaming Wood

Rate: 20 Flag

I periodically have a dream that, generically, is not uncommon, though I suspect its content might be.  It is the dream in which one discovers a previously unknown room in one’s house.  In my version, I am in the basement, walking past the furnace, when I suddenly notice a door in the space behind it.  I am astounded.  The space behind the furnace is not especially dark or obscured from sight.  How, in the twenty years I have lived in this house, did I not notice a door in the wall behind the furnace?  This defies reason, I dream myself thinking.  I walk to the door, open it, and peer in.  I see a cavern that has been hewn into the earth with obvious care and is illuminated with a yellowish-white light, the source of which is hidden from view.  Intrigued, I enter, walk about 20 yards, follow the bend to the right, and come upon a pile of neatly stacked lumber and several professional-grade woodworking tools: a table saw, a radial arm saw, a planer, a band saw, a router table, and a drill press.  I am delighted, for woodworking is my hobby.  It never occurs to me that someone else might own these tools.  No, those tools, more numerous than, and vastly superior to, the ones I own are obviously there for my use.  And on that note of delight, the dream ends.


Theories about why we dream abound.  Some consider them clairvoyant, even precognitive.  Freud considered dreams the place where the riotous id came out to play.  Jung believed dreams featured archetypal symbols that connected us to the collective unconscious of the human race.  Some cognitive scientists claim dreams are the means by which we process the events of our days and ways; others, that they are a kind of sanitation crew sweeping away the debris of our conscious lives; others still, that they are nothing more than the random detonation of neuronal bottle rockets and roman candles.  My sense is that dreams are not forewarnings, not symbols for something other than what they feature, not a quality-control processing station, not a janitorial service, and not haphazardly firing neurons.  Rather, I see dreams as transparent metaphors for embodied experience, for that which in our ordinary lives we invest considerable mental energy and strong feeling.


I took up woodworking some eighteen years ago because it required a set of skills and offered an end result that my professional work as a teacher did not.  In a sense, I have never been delivered from the womb of education.  After being graduated from college, I taught high school, which I left to attend graduate school, from which I entered university teaching.  I came to worry that such an immersive experience would cause an inbent, progressively narrowing spiral of subjectivity.  I did not want my thinking and feeling to gutter like a candle flame in its own wax.  I wanted my horizons expanded, not my views reinforced.  In woodworking I found the motor skills required to handle tool precisely and efficiently, the judgment necessary to gauge the best way to cut wood to minimize waste and chipping and splintering, the consideration demanded by the thickness and grain and type of wood I worked with, the mathematics involved in cutting arcs and stair stringers and roof runs and dovetail joints, the reading skills entailed in making sense of cutting diagrams and blueprints and tool manuals, the language of kerfs and dadoes and rabbets and mortises and tenons I was compelled to learn, the sensual delight of wood itself—its look and feel and smell, the shaping of it, its receptive materiality.


And in woodworking I found that a well-planned sequence of tasks led to a material result—so unlike teaching, where the most scrupulously crafted lesson can produce no observable result; where whether or how well students have learned is often not immediately apparent, if it ever is.  I liked the teleology of wordworking—a conception calling forth and sequencing my action, an end explaining the means.  Woodworking produced a visible testament to my competence, or incompetence; something I could point to in pride, or humiliation; a practical purpose rendered wel,l or imperfectly; an aesthetic intention made into an object to be seen; a realization of my ability, my craftsmanship, that does not rely on words, that is not subject to interpretation, but is plainly, or maybe painfully, apparent.  I was sometimes successful, and I felt pride.  I sometimes made mistakes, and I learned from them.  I sometimes failed, and I learned to start again, to be more attentive, more mindful, better.


Everything we make, it seems to me, is purposeful striving embodied, will made visible.  It is ourselves inside out, constituting what appears.  We are transitive.  We pass into what we make.  We leave traces, revelations of mind and heart and hand.  A piece of us takes its place in the world of intentional things.  Our makings are a sign of our reach and our limitations, our triumphs and our flaws, our status as self-governing subjects and as material objects governed by laws beyond our choice or influence.  Our makings are, finally, our selves, a humble offering to the often generous but always critical gaze of a judging world.


Author tags:

dreaming; woodworking

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
This is so beautifully realized. And I wish I could use those tools to some artful purpose.
This might be read in a church service as the week's sermon. It awakens me.
"The Dream of the Rood" comes to mind, given your title and the symbolic quality of wood.

Though I lack such a constructive pastime as woodworking, I follow precisely what you mean. As always, I am deeply compelled by the central metaphor of this piece. Is it a coincidence that you write at this time of year of the abstract being given physical form?
Wonderful read
The ebb and follow of your words reminded me of Thoreau, "dreams are the touchstones of our character"
If we pass into what we make, then I am a chopped and channeled '49 Merc with a badly-botched yellow paint job.
I Love making bent-kerf - Civil War style coffins, dove-tailed keepsake boxes,
Hope Chest,
Walnut Pout Chairs,
and other utilitarian wooden things.
I was fortunate to have a Father who:
Always 'snuck off' to his Place called:
The Shop.
He made consoles and wired radios.
He' get "HeathKit" catalogues to read.
He' put out his two hands and say`Look!
These are the best tools Nature gave us.
I worked with a West Virginian who taught.
I worked a bit with artisan Lawrence Crouse.
He was mentioned as one of the Best in USA.
Paul Rung - woodworker - His wife is Bonnie.
She has mastered plant-dye stains with oils.

I enjoy your reads. I dream of rooms and doors.
The night emotions can be very un`comforting.
People goe through doors and become lost too.
This Post reminded me of Alice's Adventures.
Lewis Carroll was Oxford's mathematics guru.
He had an influence on my Mother. Oh! sigh.
I always remember constructing her coffin.
One day I may get help 'cutting to paste' it.
She couldn't hop forth from the 6 X 6 hole.
How much land does a person need? a hole.
Greedy folk think a hearse has side-racks.
The hearse driver smokes weed in route.
He dangles a roach from his lip in jams.
If you live in NYC etc., you need pot?
Mexican fill pot holes for limo riders.
I had a brief conversation with banks.
I sent them to Eric Holder. heehaw.
I built my huts and have no mortgage.
I ask Eric Holder to ask banks to call?
Why do corrpt mortgage bankers call?
I think it's rude to hang up the phone.
I think crooks will rot in wood boxes.
Thank You
Great read
I go off`gin

I almost wish it had a false bottom drop.
The coffin was too beautiful to cover it.
My Mother was gone in`Spirit. She care?

Alice Liddel and her Friend were 7- and /1/2.
I believe there is something? Door Universal.
Seriously. It would be One amazing research
I doubt dreams are the same from individual to individual. Mine seem to be "what if" experiences, both pleasurable and frightful, to test what it would be like if possibilities occurred. And they can be very wild indeed.
I have read, without dreams, even when we don't remember having them, we would go stark-raving mad. I believe it. I used to work with my hands, building and doing home improvement work. Along with construction work like welding and pipe fitting. I consider what I'm doing now my legacy. As long as this world survives, I will be remembered on this computer. My stories, no matter how terrible, may be read by people a million years from now. The house I fixed, or built, will be long gone, but the words I write, aren't going anywhere. I think! What have you made?
Jerry, I'm moved, as always, by your compelling writing and insight
particularly on this topic. I find myself smiling in agreement at ". . .dreams as transparent metaphors for embodied experience" and wonder why I often fly- so effortlessly- in mine.

Sir Jerry- what a delicious post. Full of meaning and wondering. It reminds me of His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman's sublime series. In it, he explains objects acted upon by conscious beings are surrounded with "dust" or a golden energy of awareness.

Also, you remind me of my favorite prof from LC, Prof. Westervelt, who spent his off hours laboring over woodworking in his shed. Or so he told his class. I never saw an example.

Take care.
I've been doing some research into dreams, and dreaming of a house is supposed to indicate yourself. A previously undiscovered room, then, might mean a part of yourself is to be found.

You should post some pictures of your work. I would love to see them. Though I do think woodwork begs to be touched and I always have a hard time at the fair when everything is untouchable yet sanded smooth and polished to a fine sheen.
I know what you mean by getting locked down into your world as a teacher and I felt that pull.

Whose the judging world? Is that you found those magnificent tools and in your right mind, mind of now, mind of awake-ness, you feel wrong to be entitled to such wealth of goods.

I think its our own self that judges more harshly than the world.

"It is...everything we is ourselves inside out..." Oh, your words do make my heart sing. I love how introspective you are, but so gentle in casting the words out.

Shared on my Facebook.
An anteater.
A tree stump.
A 1940s era green Plymouth.
A gray pair of ski pants.
A beautiful, thick pine forest.

This is a list of what showed up in the dream remembered upon awakening this morning.

Your post.

A shorter list of the synchronicity of my day so far.
 [technê]
Greek term for the art, craft, or skill involved in deliberately producing something

Perfect to balance you out, as your pursuits before woodworking were strictly “episteme”,
Aristotle’s term for disinterested knowedge of principles leading to Theoretical Science,
which, by the way, is needed just as much as Productive science.

Ah, just look at Newton & Einstein.
Wood, hm? Some say we theoretical types are “wooden”. Meaning spiritless, emotionless.
Hardly a word I would use to describe your Humanistic outlook, and now I see what could be a contributing factor to your accessibility as, frankly, a brilliant man. The wood . Working with the wood.

The paper of your cherished books, may I remind u, comes from wood as well…
Hey, did u know that in India wood is the symbol of the universal substance? Or in ancient Greece, “hyle”---primordial matter---literally means “wood”?

You’re a sort of demiurge, you devil!

And maybe that explains the dream? The urge to create? Not only material things, of course.
To be in the image of God, a Creator.
Yeah, I like that.
I agree with you as far as dream interpretation is concerned. I understand about the woodworking. For me, the nonverbal form of activity and creative expression comes out on the basketball court, I think...
We dream because we want things and don't get them!

If we got everything we wanted, we wouldn't dream.

We'd shrivel up and die! (some people got a head start)
Always superb, Jerry.
I was waiting for you ... waiting's the wrong word ... expecting maybe you'd come back to the dream at the end.
Not that you needed to of course, just that you often book-end like that.
Very satisfying, and your craftsmanship shines.
re the dream : I'm inclined toward the keri h idea, beginning with the door you hadn't noticed before. That it was closed, & you opened it.
The soft, warm earthy light inside, & beyond not just tools, better than your own, but 'neatly stacked lumber' as well, ready to go.
It doesn't just speak to me, Jerry ~ it yells ;-)
Jerry, I imagine your woodcraft to be as wonderful and beautiful as your wordcraft.

It was a pleasure to read this, Jerry. But then again, so are all your posts. With deep admiration and respect, Jerry .... thank you.
Mr. Paust has echoed what I thought after reading this magnificent, contemplative piece. It is always a pleasure to visit here. R
My house dreams consist of entirely different houses that I've forgotten. And they range from strange absurd abodes, that are uninhabitable, to mansions that never seem to end. Strange stuff our minds conjure while we slumber in the dark. And interesting to see the connection to the moments we're awake.
Wonderfully crafted.
I like all of this one, but the closing--oh so full and rich.
there is a house