DREAMS + STORY
Are dreams part of your creative process? I remember dreams quite often and like to think about my dreams. It’s frustrating how they have that elusive quality. They seem so clear and fresh in your mind but then the moment you’re out of bed and into your day they fade from your grasp.
I love the way dreams so often play not just like scenes from films but like sequences, how there is a logic to the cutting between these scenes but how this logic is warped and unexpected. I do think dreams can play a part in your creative process, can give you story and an insight into what is going on in your psyche, your subconscious mind – even (particularly?) if it’s something that your conscious mind is resisting. I’m desperately scribbling this down on my Phone Notes before it disappears.
This is how the conversation normally goes of a morning –
Me: I had a weird dream. Can I tell you about it?
Wife: No! You can’t. Your dreams are the most boring thing.
Me: Oh go on I need to tell you.
Me: I’m going to tell you anyway…
In this scenario dear reader I’m afraid you play the role of my wife.
The dream I remembered as I woke just now – it was a few scenes but only two I currently remember with any clarity. The basis of the dream was that I had got into a prestigious university- a sort of romanticised, idealised version of Oxbridge. The first image I recall is if three students finding their new university rooms but the doors to their rooms are in some sort of beautiful field / forest in a weird rural idyll. I’m not an active participant in this scene but I’m listening to these new students who – in an entirely believable and engaging way – are talking about how they as new English students are looking forward to when they will be successful novelists.
In the next part of my dream I am now starting at this or some other prestigious university and have a smug feeling knowing that I know more about what I am doing than the other new students. I talk to people who’re going to floor 5 but I know with confidence and certainty that I am going to floor 4. I have found my name etched into a silver sign on the list of room occupants (what a brilliant visual detail – carved confirmation of my rightful place in this superior society!) (Wow as I’m writing / recalling this it’s telling me so much about my deep-seated lack of self-worth! Ha!) I find the door to my room on a rather beautiful, characterful, spiral staircase and turn round to meet the father of one of my 4screenwriting script readers from a couple of years ago (this is a real person to whom I have been introduced but don’t know and whom I have subsequently passed in the street, seen in various situations and avoided because I’m sure he doesn’t know / remember who I am. This man also happens to be one of my favourite contemporary novelists). In my dream he is effusive in his friendliness, knows exactly who I am, is delighted to see me. I realise that the fact I know his daughter who is moving into the room on the same spiral staircase and therefore starting at the university at the same time as me puts me in a strong social position and I continue to feel smug and happy that I have a place in this Superior Educational Establishment.
So that’s about it with my memory of the dream.
At this point my wife will respond: ‘Is that it? Christ that is so f***ing boring. Please DO NOT TELL ME YOUR DREAMS.’
I imagine you now may be feeling something similar.
My justification, what this dream evokes for me, what it tells me about story and about myself –
Although I try not to be, I am a snob. (Interesting internal character conflict?)
In the dream I feel like I am 18/19 ie student age and that I am the contemporary of my script reader (the reality is that she is 35 years younger than me). In my dreams I am nearly always a far younger version of myself (Is this a normal dream in older people? – an expression of our desperate desire to hold back time?).
But the main thing this dream makes me think about and its main application to story – is the importance of First Days in one’s life, of how some of my sharpest memories are of my first days in new places, new stages in life.
At 17 I sat the Oxford entrance exam, was interviewed but didn’t get in. I don’t remember much about this process but do remember the moment I didn’t get in and sharing that moment with my mother (for some reason I opened the letter at the National Theatre – English Institutions have loomed large in my life).
Oxford University has been a factor in my life and maybe trying and failing to get in has caused me subconsciously to romanticise it. Several of my friends / contemporaries from school, my sister went there and my son went there (and didn’t have a particularly happy time. For quite a while I think I had a bit of an anti-Oxbridge bias (hard to sustain when my son went there although the fact he didn’t think much of the place was strangely reassuring!).
The drive to my first boarding school in Broadstairs, Kent – my earliest memory of a First Day. My self-contained focus in looking at and appreciating the scene flying by from the car window, knowing the outside, ‘free’ world was to be denied me for the next 12 weeks (an unimaginably long period of time to a 7 year old). Another vivid memory is returning there many years later to find the playing fields of which I had so many positive memories, an anonymous Barrett housing estate).
I don’t remember the journey but I remember first moments at public school at age 13. The strangeness of it, of my anxiety- but most of all I remember being introduced to and shown round by house prefect Lionel de Rothschild. I remember (although this is something that crystallised as I considered it later) my parents being so taken and impressed by the fact we were being shown round by a member of one of the best-known Jewish financier families (my mother was also from a Jewish family with history). This was a detail that must have gone right over my head at the time but has taken on meaning since.
After failing to get into Oxford and by a circuitous route I arrived at what was then Ivy House, Middlesex Polytechnic to study drama. My very first encounter was sitting at a table in the canteen with Clive Ward and my future wife. I remembered little about the conversation but Cindy (my wife) told me I told them about my summer working at camp in America. She said it made an impression (although not that much of an impression- she didn’t show much interest in me for the next few months – not until we were on a TIE tour together right at the end of term) and my most vivid memory then is of my forcibly and presumptuously introducing myself to her father – which seemed very important to me because I had become so besotted with his daughter. It’s funny to think back to that moment. He is now dead but was one of the most important people in my life, part of so many wonderful memories.
I remember another moment in my first term when I was in a car with a few fellow first year students. Laura Cooney told me there was someone in the first year who fancied me. I hoped very much this was Cindy but she eventually told me who it was and suffice to say I was disappointed. I have a lot of positive memories about Laura Cooney, she was a huge personality. She died only a year after leaving college, hit by a bus in a road accident.
The takeaways – so many of the memories that imprint themselves on your brain are those first encounters when we are emotionally vulnerable and receptive.
It’s also about the different roads we take or don’t take. A tragically short road for Laura Cooney. If I’d got into Oxford I would never have met Cindy (we’ve been married 40 years), would not have had the 4 children we have. My mother mentioned / talked about me not getting into Oxford once (I can’t remember the context) and said ‘But then you wouldn’t have met Cindy which is unthinkable.’
ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you’
Paul Simon, Bookends Theme.
PS My wife’s response to this piece of writing – ‘The dream isn’t any good, as usual.’
PPS My wife has just reminded me that my mother used to say to me that it was unlucky to recount your dreams before breakfast (her subtler strategy for getting me to shut the f**k up about my dreams).
PPS Thank you for indulging me.
The next newsletter will be on Friday Feb 21st,
All the best
Feb 7th 2020