I have several recurring dreams. In one of them, I’m at university, faced with having to find a group to move in with for the coming academic year. But I’ve left it too late. Everyone has already made their plans – none of which include me. I spend the rest of the dream, trying not to cry, whilst behaving as if nothing is bothering me.
In another, I stand on stage. It’s not that I’ve forgotten my lines – this wouldn’t be a problem, it’s always possible to improvise. The fact is, I can’t remember what the actual play is.
In the one recurring dream that (oddly) isn’t that bad – the world is being overtaken by zombies. One bite and you’re infected! Often, I have a weapon – a gun – which I shoot, though my aim isn’t great. Sometimes, I have a stick of wood that I swing at the zombie’s heads. I’m happy to run – the choice is clear and this clarity calms me, despite the surrounding chaos. The other component of the dream is Dan. At some point we become separated, but I know he’ll stay safe for me – that he’ll find me. There’s never any fear the two of us could be lost to each other.
I’ve already blogged about my experiences at Drama School. In my short story called ‘No Drama Whatsoever’, Muriel – the central character – is trapped by her increasing self awareness: able to discern when she’s faking it, but unable to locate the truth – the way out. I’ve a similar feeling in my recurring dreams – of having no way out.
Muriel sharpens her pencil while Clester hands out the photocopied scripts.
Acting, he says. Is an absolute art.
She stares at him as he holds one hand in the air, lightly cupped. He looks along the row of students, his face stretched tight with intensity. Muriel glances away when his eyes meet hers.
Acting, he starts again. Should be effortless.
She tries to focus on that last word, breathing deeply and dropping her shoulders. Rather than ‘hold’ her eyes open, she allows the lids to droop – as they have been taught – but as she watches Clester, with his forced expressions and dramatic pauses, she cannot suppress the suspicion that these classes are his substitute for the stage. This thought comes from somewhere near her hip. She tries to keep away from it, to have faith in Clester and what they’re all trying to do here. She swallows, and exhales from the centre of her body, but it’s like trying to submerge a plastic bag with an air pocket: just when she thinks she’s winning, a corner rises to the surface, defiant.
I’ve been having treatment for a build up of tension around my right hip and lower back. It has never got in the way of my physical activities, but disturbs my quiet moments. I can trace its beginnings to Drama School – over ten years ago.
During my sessions, I began to talk with the practitioner about dreams. I told him that I often dreamt lucidly – even as a child. The dreams that aren’t lucid stay in my mind with meticulous detail. He said I was lucky: Tibetan Dream Yoga is a practice developed in order to make the dream state more meaningful by awakening the consciousness. (I didn’t mention that, when I was little, I used my awareness to go on shopping sprees, grow my hair, kiss famous actors and fly.)
During the course of our conversation, it occurred to me that the tension I felt in my hip was a block – a part of myself I wanted to keep hidden. It made sense, because at Drama School – when the tension began – my self was challenged in a way it never had before: I felt devoid of any depth and didn’t really want to explore that.
I considered the dreams I have, which aren’t lucid: my recurring ones. I’m trapped in a distressing world, and because I believe that world I have no ability to break free. What was preventing me from seeing that the world was a dream?
I began to think more of the dreams. This is a technique to bring about lucid dreaming: compare your dreams to waking reality and know what it feels like to be conscious. What I began to realise was that I didn’t know what it was to be unconscious, or unaware. It began to dawn on me that I had a state where I cut myself off. A state of denial.
Acting, Clester says. It all about the effect your actions have on another. He points at Muriel and Steven and says: off you go!
They come to the front of the class and sit. Steven has blonde highlights, but claims emphatically that they’re natural. There’s nothing effortless in the way he makes this claim, despite the fact that it’s an act.
Steven delivers the first line.
His lips have no creases in them. They’re all pumped up. Roz the voice coach is always going on about how gorgeous Steven is, to the extent that Muriel has begun to wonder if there’s something wrong with her because she, most insistently, does not feel the same. Despite the level of insistence, this opinion feels effortless.
Play! Clester says, circling them.
Muriel knows that if she takes the word into her brain she will become sidetracked by what it means, rather than how it feels, so she stares at the script in front of her and tries to absorb Clester’s advice through her skin.
She slumps down in the chair. She says a line as if trying not to laugh, as if she doesn’t care; even though she really truly does. She slumps further as the scene progresses. She makes enormous gestures with her arms. She notices Steven has a tan line around his eyes from those goggles they make you wear on sunbeds.
When they finish the scene, everyone claps, which Muriel thinks is generous, considering what a turnip she feels. Clester nods and says: keep playing!
Does that mean she’s already playing, or does the fact she doesn’t know mean she didn’t come anywhere close? Muriel waits for Clester to say something else, but he doesn’t. She can’t think how to keep playing – any more slumping and she would have slithered off the chair. Maybe that’s what Clester means. Maybe she should have thrown herself onto the floor. But would that have been effortless?
The blog posts I’ve been reading this month, have an air of energy about them – hope, resolve, fresh aims – which I love. Thank you bloggers! January is a time of leaping clear of bad habits. I haven’t had a new year’s resolution for some time – I don’t need any more boundaries to hem me in! But I realised something at Christmas when I took time off: just because an added resolution seems excessive, doesn’t mean I don’t need to look at how to better my self. I saw that deciding to take time off is a worthwhile resolution.
This year, I’m unpacking myself, and learning that letting go, giving oneself space, isn’t easy, but it’s such challenges that will take me to deeper delights.
I’ve been holding myself in for over ten years. That point in my hip is like the nozzle on an air mattress. Mine is fixed in place, taped over and then secured with a padlock. What am I so afraid of? Why is the thought of deflating so terrifying?
In my final recurring dream, I’m losing Dan. There are various settings – the last one was an industrial port, but instead of a city on the shore it was a wasteland: sodden stretches of clay-like mud. A castle floats on the water; its walls made of shipping containers. Dan is fascinated by another woman. She’s the wife of someone we vaguely knew in Mexico: dark, oily skin; thick, bleached hair. They’re talking, but the sight upsets me – the way he listens to her, leans in to her. I fly away, up onto the shipping containers. But I realise I cannot bear to leave them – allow them a space, which they may fill in a way that distresses me even more.
I have to follow them, but I can’t see where they are. I fly down to the muddy ground and then I go into the castle, which is now a cargo ship. I’m on deck, walking through an area with tables and chairs. A little boy sits on his own. I know this is the woman’s son. He leans slumped on the table, abandoned. I’m scared. Why would they leave him? Why would they need to be so alone – without the boy?
He looks up at me. Seeing into his eyes is painful, because of what I feel he knows.
I continue on, going into the ship. No one is about. I listen for sounds – I do not want to be caught.
A giggle comes through the ship and I know they’re together, behind a door. When I get closer, I see Dan’s long, slender feet beneath the door. They stand facing a pair of patent leather stilettos. A pain grows from my centre, expanding, aching.
Suddenly, the feet move to the door. I leap and cram myself into a small space in the wall of the ship as they come out. I can’t see them. The only way to end my pain is to prove it, but I’m afraid of being caught if I peer out.
In the end, the pain is greater than the fear of being seen – the promise of truth more powerful than the strength I have to keep myself hidden. I look out from my hiding place, and then I wake.
I was just wondering, Muriel says.
The rest of the class turn to look at her and, even though this is perfectly natural, Muriel can’t help sense a shift in the atmosphere. The air in the room becomes heavy: it presses up against her as the one who can’t do it; whatever it is. It makes her continue with: soooo, I totally get the idea…she trails off because this has now left her stuck.
She backtracks: well, I sort of get it.
The proximity of sort of to not at all makes her shiver.
What I mean is, she tries and then sighs.
Clester holds up his arm and rubs his thumb and forefinger together for a moment, before opening his hand and letting it flap away like a bird.
See? he says.
Muriel screws up her nose.
First you feel it, Clester says. And then you allow it.
The rest of the class nods.
Thanks, Muriel says. She opens her notebook and spends some time writing the date.
The other night, I took a new step in my dreams. Again, it was the one where I feel I’m losing Dan. Instead of standing by, miserable in my sense of helplessness, I said to him: I hate it when you do that.
When I woke, I realised what I’d done. I also realised that the object of his fascination, which threatened us – a woman with short, soft, golden curls – was me.
Haven’t I read somewhere that every character in our dreams is a version of us? It explains why, in that dream on the cargo ship, I never saw who came out from behind that door with Dan. I’ve been hiding from myself.
I spent a lot of time at Drama School, looking for someone to blame for my disquiet. What if I’d stopped for a moment and taken ownership of my block; seen that I’m my own worst enemy – that the words ‘I hate it when you do that’ can be directed at the mirror. No-one can trap me tighter than myself?
This is a year for breaking patterns, letting out the air.