I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
RL Stevenson, My Shadow
What do you do with your dreams? The things you dream of doing? The person you dream of being? I hope that you share them. Dreams kept to yourself can turn you into a dreamer. Too many dreams in your head (and these are just day-dreams that I’m talking about) can leave you feeling as if you’ve eaten too much. And when you’ve done that don’t you just feel like sleeping? So better share your dreams.
It isn’t until you’ve shared your dreams that you can see whether they may come true. That means taking care who you share them with. There are some unpleasant people around who are more than likely to stamp on your dreams or want them for themselves. You need someone who doesn’t want to steal from you.
Once you’ve found a listener try telling them all of your dreams, particularly the outlandish ones. Some might sound strange to you, and possibly to your listener. Maybe these strange dreams come from the shadow side of you that you’d rather keep secret; the side of you that you’re ashamed of. I met a famous author once who told me she grew up feeling ashamed that she wrote so much of the time: in her diary on the bus on the way to school; under the covers at night with a torch; on the beach on holiday when her sisters were sunbathing or swimming. For some reason her parents didn’t like the idea of a girl spending too much time writing. It’s a good thing she told a teacher at her school, who was able to tell her what an incredible writer she was.
Of course that teacher could have said something else. She might have liked the writing but not so much, and not made a fuss. I used to dream of playing international cricket when I was a boy, and was pretty good. There was a man called Mick, however, who captained me and found a way of telling me I wasn’t quite good enough. He was a poet though, and suggested I keep writing.
Your daydreams, waking dreams, could be telling you what your future might hold, but not if you keep them to yourself. Sleeping dreams can tell you more, sometimes, if you’re lucky and you find a way of understanding them.
In a sleeping dream you’ll find a trace of the day that’s just gone. Something about the dream will lock onto the very near present. The rest of it can be like a puzzle, only not one you’ll be able to solve if you go looking to make common sense of it. There’s the story of a dream you can tell someone, however surreal it sounds, and the weird sense of it that you might wake up with, which doesn’t quite feel like nonsense but which is usually beyond words. Find someone to tell your dream to, keeping in touch with both of these elements without trying to add them together. Then see were your mind goes. What’s the next thing you think of?
Your dream can be like a key once somebody else has heard it; one that works so strangely. I’ve found that telling a dream to someone and them reflecting back the parts of it they find interesting, perhaps saying what it makes them think of, can give me ways of thinking about my life that were hidden from me. I let my mind go off wherever it wants after we’ve talked through the dream, see where it lands, and ask myself: ‘why have I landed here? Why has my dream taken me here?’ More often than not, although certainly not every time, something, an answer, jumps up out of nowhere. A secret is revealed to me: a thing that was hidden from me. That secret can reveal to me something about how I am now, so that in the future I can be different.
Dreams can be wonderful. They take you places you’d never go without them. You have them on your own and then you can share them. I hope that yours help you find your way through life.
I remember being about twelve and worried by the stern, serious attitude taken by the more clever boys at my school. I realised that in some ways I was far more clever than them but my take on life back then, as is still sometimes the case, suffered from blind spots. Were these boys in touch with one, I wondered? Seriousness generally worried me like that. Should I be being serious, too? Or was it another case of the phenomenon that I’d noticed the last time I’d seen those boys with their fathers (school plays, cricket matches): their fathers looked similarly serious, but as much as their sons without any reason I could fathom.
As I grew older I realised that seriousness is often a front for uncertainty; being told to learn, an act of obsessive control. Clever people may be loud or quiet, and are often serious, but when they talk about something serious they tend not to be – the ones I like, anyway. They can be emotional or amusing, or stupid or enigmatic, but rarely would I say they were serious. I watched a video clip of Jacques Derrida in Ken McMullen’s Ghost Dance the other day. How was he? Pouting, dramatic, funny, suave … he’d have given Dean Stockwell a run for his money with a continental Candy Coloured Clown (which leaves me wondering what Foucault would have done with Frank). People I can learn from don’t ask me to learn anything at all.
These days I find my professional world littered with ‘what can we learn from this’ type exhortations; from UKCP research conventions to the kinds of letter the BACP ask psychotherapists to write after acts of mild misconduct. The Guardian’s plastered with it: what can we learn from outpourings of grief? Tweets about bombings? Police investigations.
We will learn, however hard we are compelled to learn, very little, I can assure you. Or maybe less, the harder we are told to look.
Because they are used to control.
Over the last few days I’ve heard several different accounts of how to work with addiction, from the ones reluctant to talk about addiction as something in itself (psychoanalytic, the one I was trained in) to those so specifically about addiction you’d think they were talking about a chemical (coincidentally). All and none work. As Freud remarked, intellectual awareness never changed anybody … and in all the books, pamphlets, youtube clips and Ted talks there’s no more truer truth than that. Whatever your thoughts it’s the way you bring them to bear that matters. I have reduced everything you need to know down to one simple step.
STEP 1 (and only) Don’t try it on your own.
I’m not sure what happens after this step, but nor is anyone else. If you look at step one-and-only really closely you’ll notice a number of things. First of all it’s a negative statement, which isn’t ideal. I could have said: do this with someone else, or try it with friends, or something like that; but I think I would have missed the point. There are many ways to do it, just one to not do it: on your own. This leads us to the ‘it’. What is it? You tell me. Tell me what ‘it’ is and we’ll have something on the go, you and I, if it’s me you’re talking to – and if not you’ll have someone else there. How can you work out what ‘it’ is? Look for an explorer, not an expert to talk to. You don’t need facts, you want to go on an adventure.
I read Patrick Süskind’s novel, Perfume, shortly after he wrote it in 1985. It was a strange, rootless time for me: I wasn’t welcome at home and I didn’t have another place I could call my home after leaving school. I found myself in different places, looking for some kind of consistency, something that at least reminded me who I was when I woke up the next day. Perhaps it was something to do with Süskind’s novel. I shall never know. I began to look for perfumes that helped me feel myself. Continue reading “Perfume”
Sam at Dodo Ink has posted a piece I’ve written about how I got to know the author Christine Brooke-Rose. It’s available here.
I used to sometimes feel as if I might fall from the edge of the world. It would happen in the middle of the night, without warning and nobody would notice. The idea didn’t frighten me: I’d given up on being afraid and begun saying I was depressed; and for some reason I hadn’t picked up an interest in alcohol, or drugs to compensate. Somehow I accepted that I would simply, if awfully, vanish. Then, in a scene like one of those in films where the film jerks to a halt and everything freezes I realised I was wrong. It felt as if I was clinging to guard-rail at the edge of the world, a metal post buried in concrete like one running along a sea wall, in a storm, waves rising above me like horses and I had lost my footing. I stopped thinking too much in metaphors, came back to London, and got on with it. So don’t you drop off either.
A couple of the posts I’ve written recently have ended up with me mentioning narcissism. Where does my mind go when I think about that? There’s Narcissus, a figure from a Greek myth. I find the thought of him, transfixed at his reflection and losing the will to live, more like an explosion than an idea. I would – my father was such a narcissist. Can I ever have an ‘idea’ of Narcissus: the silent scene from the myth, of him staring into the water? I always hear noise around him.
I think of people I work with as a psychotherapist who are disgusted by their bodies but who remain just as trapped looking at them, not seeing what I or other people see, stopping eating and slowly dying. I then think of the narcissists I’ve known who lose sight of other people in different ways (in both cases there’s fear of other people) and the angry sound of them colliding with individuals who they won’t truly acknowledge as other people … more as ideas from their own minds: knowable, malleable, useful.
I think of beautiful things, too. The vase of daffodils (narcissus) on a table at work that so surprised me when I saw them. My writing (if ever there was a narcissistic project). My clothes and other people’s clothes. All the colours and shapes in the world, dressing people. I love fashion without looking particularly fashionable.
Fashion is superficial but everything happens on the surface. Without fashion there would be no form to the living world; no attachment to the things we cover ourselves and our environment with. Fashion’s sometimes stupid and the fashion world, having dealt with some of its casualties, often particularly cruel. But there will always be things we consider beautiful, and as a phenomenon fashion will always happen.
How can you keep sane in the face of fashion?
- Don’t wear the same coloured socks and trousers.
- Fashion needs to leave room for movement. If you can’t move freely it’s wrong.
- Fashion should never look down. Fashion must look up, because we are the ideal.
- People criticise fashion and waste their time on money on so many other things.
- Don’t talk about size, talk about how you’re feeling.
It’s a foggy morning – which I think is more eerie than a foggy night. As you find the edges of the fog there’s blue sky, but unless you’re on a train, as I am, you probably won’t find the edges. You’ll feel the fog around you, damp and cold, and you’ll lose touch with what you normally see. There’s no horizon. Fog is where ghosts live: a confusion of the senses, a place where things come back unexpectedly – echoes. A familiar street sign appears in front of you when you know it should be yards away.
The novel I have written which is being published in the autumn is a ghost story. Sometimes I scared myself writing it. It grew out of some ideas about ghosts; but like all ideas these didn’t seem to mean much until I felt something from my life playing out. I’ve been haunted by my father’s indiscretions and mistakes.
I like psychoanalytic theories involving ghosts, transgenerational hauntings; I like the kind of ghost Marx writes about … a ghost that hasn’t happened yet (‘A Spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism); and I like ghosts by MR James, the terrifying kind. I’d recommend Ken McMullen’s film Ghost Dance, not least because it stars Robbie Coltrane and Jacques Derrida and I cried when I saw Ghost (the Patrick Swayze one). Ghosts, then. What can ghosts tell us, whatever they are?
- A lot of people live ghost-lives. They carry on driven by a promise caught up in the future: one day I stop working like this. I promise you, when we get there I promise I will stop. The only thing that’s real about this is that person’s absence while they work. Even when they are there, with you, a part of them will not be. It’s promised to the future, not you. Your relationship with them now is always diminished. These people don’t often know how to stop.
- Ghosts don’t only drag up the past. We can be haunted by spectres of the future: not only in our imaginations but in things we see (a black man being punched in the face by a white man at a rally for Donald Trump). A Spectre is haunting America – the spectre of Trump.
- what haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others (Nicolas Abraham)
- When you remind me of somebody they are suddenly somehow here.
- I’m listening to a dead man’s voice and it chills me (Bowie). What am I in touch with of him that scares me?
- I’m reading a dead woman’s words and they excite me (Woolf). What am I feeling of her that moves me?
There’s a whole field of study devoted to animals, and a way of thinking about the era since human activities have affected the world, the anthropocene. I doubt if I can add much to what Freud said about animals: that children don’t find it strange to think that animals might talk or do things just like them, and that the same child might grow up to insult another human by referring to them as a kinds of animal. Our narcissism includes others in our lives in ways we sometimes don’t realise, and can leave us making judgements where we dismiss people and animals in the same breath.
Respecting life in all of its forms and the environment that sustains it can’t make living any worse; but if we don’t think about the conflicts that arise when we do and the poorly informed compromises we continue to make all life will probably end.
- We’re all narcissists, but some forms of narcissism are more open to the other.
- Be aware of what you’re doing and make choices. Eat meat because you choose to after you know what’s involved in the killing, not before.
- A lot of animals seem to know me better than I know them.
- Sometimes I think an animal understands something about me better than I do, and I wonder what it does with that.
- I feel desolate without the sound and sight of other animals.
- Birds in the trees let me think of people calling out: I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.