However I've decided it's better to post something I wrote before than to post nothing, so a few original, if old things will follow in a day/week or two. In the mean time here's a thing I wrote several years ago, when I was well and so was my creativity ...
The Nutshell and the Oyster – thoughts on ‘making the darkness conscious’.
The opposite of “putting it in a nutshell” could be to “have the world as your oyster”, but for all its pearly sheen, an oyster is just another container. Another shell to cut us off from the universe outside. I feel this is what happens to me, with my dreams, they don't connect me to reality they cut me off from it. When it has been suggested to me that, as a writer I really ought to keep a dream diary, I just know that I can't. All I can do with the dream diary idea is try and explain, to myself, why I can’t write one.
In my dreams my imagination is not merely beyond my control, not only out of synch with where I need it to take me, but its intensity, even when I have forgotten the dream, can invade whole days, making me useless. I know that there are accepted reasons for people to believe that dreams are a way out of the nutshell or the oyster or the cave with shadows on the wall, I just don’t happen to believe them. For me, it feels like the opposite.
Since I was tiny, my imagination has been my constant familiar. I love it dearly, it is probably the most important thing in my life. This may well make me borderline certifiable, but I feel I am in charge of it. I began controlling and experimenting with my imagination from before I can remember and it mostly does what I want. It has carried me through stormy days and sleepless nights. But when I can sleep, dreaming is seldom helpful.
When I was a child, for a time I became petrified at the prospect of sleep, because my worst nightmare was waiting for me. This dream, recurring time after time, was of walking down a dark stairwell, down almost endless staircases, descending into catacombs or cellars or dungeons, spiralling out of my control and I knew there was something terrible and nameless at the bottom, waiting just for me. I would have welcomed Esher’s staircases, they make complete circuits, therefore there is no end. That would have been preferable to the knowledge that there was indeed an end.
I finally invented a way to escape from the horror of this nightmare. When my fear reached a certain pitch, I learned to very deliberately tell myself, this is a dream and now I am going to wake up. It worked, I did wake up. And a mere shadow behind the door was just my dressing gown hanging there, and the creak of the tree branches outside held no fear for me. And after a while the dream became less frequent. It has left me with an abiding horror of enclosed spaces, and a suspicion of staircases.
I have no desire to analyse this dream. I’m not interested in Freudian or spiritual interpretations of it. Dream imagery is bound to differ not just according to culture but also personal experience and associations. My nightmare is simply about an uncontrollable fear, which must be a pretty universal emotion. This is what I get from memorable dreams, emotion, not imagery.
I know that I do have pleasant dreams, but they seldom last into daylight, beyond a certain feeling of well being or satisfaction. Memorable dreams are of frustration, or fear, or exhausted anxiety because I have to perform some mundane task which is nevertheless so enormous as to be impossible. I often wake with a clear memory of sobbing my heart out from anxiety and frustration, so maybe I am still telling myself to wake up.
Such are my excuses for not writing a dream diary. So as a writer how do I go about “making the darkness conscious,” without this apparently invaluable tool? When writing fiction I find it comparatively easy, I make my characters suffer, putting myself into their heads, their minds, so that I can feel how they respond to the suffering. Perhaps this is where my dreams come in, enabling me to heighten the emotional intensity that my characters feel, but I don't need a dream diary to remind me of this.