As a child I had night terrors. My parents were worried sick. I’d wake up screaming most nights. My dreams were long and involved and red and rythmic. I was told by ponderous grown ups looming over me trying to help that I had to “do something” about my “overactive imagination”. Nothing worked. At night I would be lost, surrounded by vast cages where voracious buzzing flickering giant things were hungrily sending tendrils my way. Huge upright toothed slugs would trap me and start to absorb me into their bodies for digestion. Sleep was not a pleasant place to be. Even happy dreams would turn on me. “Oh what a lovely park. What pretty birds as they sing in the trees. What? No! They’re pecking my eyes out! THEY’RE PECKING MY EYES OUT!”
My grandmother solved it with a story. She bought me a huge fluffy lion. It was bigger than me. “If you’re having a bad dream, all you have to do is look for the lion. He’ll come into your dream and whatever it is he’ll fight it and win.” The next night I had night terrors the same as ever. “Did you look for the lion?” she asked the next day. I hadn’t. “How can I when I’m in the dream?” “You have to remember as you’re falling asleep. The lion is always there but if you don’t look for him he can’t come.”
Over time it started to work. The lion would appear, like a Patronus, and it would fight whatever dark shifting horrors I had invented for myself. The nightmares eased and eventually stopped all together as I began to realise the full extent of what my grandmother had given me. So many years later, with time and practice, I dream lucidly. Thanks to Dandy Lion. Dandy himself rarely shows up these days, but I always have a hand on the tiller and if there is horror I shatter the world into light. My dreams still are strange bright arbitrary journeys, but my expectations are positive and the journeys are fun. I can’t go to bed and set out to dream about Michelle Pfeiffer, but if Michelle Pfeiffer turns into a million mosquitoes and starts trying to envelop me then I can switch on the wind tunnel that we were in all the time and they’ll all get blown into a giant frog that was always there too. That’ll teach you, mosquito Michelle!
People love to tell you their dreams, and yet dreams are usually highly personal. Other people’s dreams rarely have much for us, outside of interpretable symbols. We’ve all politely waited for someone to finish telling us their dream. But how extraordinary that everybody spends time every night telling themselves these mad stories over which they have no real control. Some are stories that are so outlandish to the mind of the dreamer that they want to share them to make sense of them. Some are stories that teach the dreamer about themselves. Some are stories that vanish immediately on waking, ephemeral beautiful dreams that are written on the wind.
I’ve often wondered about the connection between my lucidity in dream and my vocation. I’ve been an active part of my own nightly stories for so long I feel called to be an active part of more universal stories with other people. I love the way theatre binds the audience and actors into a single breathing organism. Good theatre is a dream that everyone can talk about afterwards. Bad theatre is a nightmare that everyone can break down into component parts and forensically disempower.
I’m off into a different kind of dream space tonight, so I’m cheating by getting this written in the morning as I won’t manage at the usual time. I have high expectations of today, of tonight. I think I’ll walk in a park for a bit beforehand and see a form of nature. Hopefully the pigeons won’t go for my eyes.
I’ll see you on the other side. Or more likely on the other side of the other side. Which is here. I’ll see you here. Or there. Wherever I end up. Maybe I’ll find the lion.