Recently, Sally set us a muse about making a story from a drem, and Rilla came up with a powerful story.
Many people say they don’t remember their dreams, but you can train yourself, by keeping a notebook and pen right beside your bed, and writing down anything you remember immediately, even in the middle of the night. If you leave it till ‘later’, chances are you’ll forget. And once you start remembering, the recall will become progressively more frequent.
Some dreams are significant. About forty years ago, I dreamt that my father called me and my siblings together. In the dream he was old and frail, and looked very like he looks now. (He will be ninety in March.)
‘Children,’ he said. ‘You all know I am an atheist. I do not believe there is any such thing as an afterlife in another place. But remember this. I will live on, in you and in what you do.’
I woke up shaking, the sheet drenched with tears. That dream didn’t need recording: I knew I would never forget it.
Over the years, I have gone through various dream diary phases, and curiously, when I flick through these assorted norebooks, I can barely remember having had a single one of them. I wonder at times what on earth could have spurred them. Here are a few from a couple of years ago (some names changed!):
1. ‘My good friend Carol tells me she has discovered her husband is having an affair. I let it slip in some indirect way to a mutual friend. Carol is devastated that I have broken her trust.’
2. ‘We are getting ready for a party. There’s a nappy on the bed and I’m dressing my mother. I think it’s for Sam, but my father tells me to put it on my mother. “Can’t you see her clothes are wet?” he says.’
3. ‘I am in a plane going to Bangladesh. The pilot banks so my window is facing the ground, and swoops low. I think he’s going to flip the plane right over, but he straightens it out. Below is an ancient, ruined city, like Macchu Picchu. I try to understand how Peru can be on the way to Bangladesh. When we land I realize we are in the Canaries, and I realize I am wearing just a long wet cotton top and no trousers, and I want to find my suitcase.’
4. ‘I have hired to be Luisa [my daughter]’s interpreter for her new job, to ensure she communicates well with her Italian counterparts. One of her friends says I have to know all about her work, but I say I just need to know the words. ‘
5. ‘I’m riding naked on a rickshaw.’
6. ‘A mindmap. One branch is called “History”.’
And I may have mentioned this next one to you already:
7. ‘I have to chair a Writers Abroad meeting, but I don’t know the agenda, so I am feeling very stressed. Then I have a brainwave: If, before each item, I say: “and the next item on the agenda is…” then pause in suspense, someone will chip in with the answer.’
So why bother to keep a dream diary?
Firstly, personally, I find it interesting to see the recurring themes: fairly banal in my case: aging parents, close family, babies, planes, packing, friends, studies, languages, hobbies, work, nakedness…
And secondly, dreams offer a host of ‘what if’s. ‘What if you did find yourself naked on a rickshaw? What if you did land in Gran Canaria instead of Dhaka?
The teeniest dream can be a trigger for a successful story. You may remember this one: one night I dreamt I was playing Scrabble in Bangla, trying to find a seven-letter word, but I was confused by the swirly script, and didn’t know where one letter ended and the next started (not to mention that single vowels sometimes are represented by two squiggles – does that count as one letter or two?) This dream gave me the punch line for an expat piece in The Oldie which was worth 150 quid!
Do you record your dreams, and have you used them in stories?