The Art of Healing: Dreaming is the gateway to writing

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My relationship with writing has changed in more ways than I can count. From warm longing for writing, to visceral action, to stillness, to numbness, then to nothing except dreaming of the act. 

When I first started writing, the act was filled with fever. I would write with the orange, gold glow streaming from outside. The streetlamps in the Biddeford neighborhood where we grew up were always visible from my windows. The light was enough to fill a room. The notebook paper felt fresh underneath my touch. Looking at the page and the car lights floating across the walls in the swollen darkness, I’d drift off to the sound of pen smoothly scratching. 

There was something awe-inspiring at night – an element of limitless creation in what seemed endless, and amorphous. On the bus, or the walk home, or – my favorite – a quiet drive, I’d let my mind wander. While practicing observation with my surroundings, paying attention to the smallest details of nature, I allowed the lines to find their way towards me.

Holding onto what felt like star-striking ideas was a skill I possessed. Just like that, I would have the start of a new paragraph. I had no idea where the feeling would go, yet I trusted this way and that way, following what it spoke in my body. 

In college, I transferred my sophomore year to a new school and the transition impacted me deeply. It was the first time I experienced feeling depressed in a way where I just stopped feeling. Maybe my body was dealing with traumatic experiences it previously didn’t have space for, on top of the natural stressors of such a big change.

Overall though, I felt incapable. The feeling of writing was no longer fun. I kept sensing I was putting to paper the same thing over, and over again, and I judged myself for it. I wasn’t able to focus on reading. And I desperately missed the feeling of being enraptured in something, or anything. 

I struggled with what storytelling meant in my life for several years – throughout college, post-undergrad, and even up until this year. Was it a dream this new self even wanted? I wondered if it was better to just accept that I had changed, and move forward to something new. I thought that maybe I just wouldn’t be able to live out all the dreams my younger self had in mind.

Except the undercurrent within all of this was I still wanted to write. I wanted to read, to actively and vividly imagine worlds that filled my heart. 

In 2020, I signed up for a virtual three-month writing mentorship, attempting to use the experience as motivation to create. I was paired with a published writer who lives in Florida. Although our partnership helped, I would usually end up crafting something to bring to our session in the half-hour before. I started avoiding our meetings, cutting them shorter abruptly, or canceling altogether. 

It wasn’t until I started honestly sharing my struggles that she told me the only way I stop being a writer is if I never return. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since I’ve written something. If you’re still dreaming, you’re a writer. 

I believe how I’m feeling about my artistic process is telling about my emotional life, and acts as a window into what is alive for me, and what I need as support. And at this point in time, I understand much of my struggles were not only writer’s block, but a sign that I needed support from different avenues like therapy, medicine, etc. 

However, my point stays the same. I offer that if a form of art or expression you’ve felt distant from keeps drifting through your mind, no matter how long it’s been, give it another try, and see where it might take you. Whether or not you are actually creating anything physically, if you are still dreaming, that is enough.

Muntaha Mohamed is an artist and activist who works for Portland Empowered, volunteers with Black POWER, and sits on the board of Mindbridge.