This quiet unknowing

Other people’s words about … dreams

I am trying to find my dog, which is going to be put down. Not a dog I live with in my waking life, but another, a black Labrador. The dog has already been taken away and is awaiting its death at a pound on the edge of town. This awful knowledge permeates my sleep. When I get there, however, my dog has gone. In its place, lying sick and exhausted on the concrete floor inside a large cage, is a young, very beautiful red setter. As I enter, the creature raises its head towards me and I see with slow shock that its muzzle has been sewn up with fishing line. The red dog pulls itself off the ground and limps towards me. Rising on its hind legs, it puts its forelegs on my shoulders, and rests its head against the left side of my neck. I can sense it begging me to save it. I feel great pity; I embrace and try to comfort it. But there is no sense that I can or will do anything to help it. The burden would be too great. Words come into my head. The dog’s name: Gadget. (Why Gadget? I wonder, even in the dream.) Then the thought — with which I am already justifying my decision to abandon it — that red setters are not very intelligent dogs. I step away. The animal stands there, hopeless. I touch it on the back and I leave.

What to do with a dream like that?

From ‘Anaesthesia
by Kate Cole-Adams

What to do, indeed?

I love the words in this passage: this description of a dream, which is vivid and haunting and bewildering all at once, as dreams so often are. Over time, Cole-Adams goes on to say, various astute readers have suggested to me that this particular dream might not belong in this particular book, that it is a dream that emanates from somewhere else and that ought to be left there …. And yet she includes the dream in her book anyway. In doing so, she allows herself to write intuitively, blindly, instinctively, knowing — knowing — that what she is writing must be written, but not knowing why.

In the quiet after waking I lay curled on my side suffused with the knowledge of irrevocable loss. I had betrayed the red dog. And in doing so I understood that I had disavowed some helpless, voiceless part of me. The dream did not feel like a dream. The house was still and very dark. I did not know what the dog had been trying to say, but I could still feel almost physically the place above my left shoulder where it had nuzzled its head against my neck, and I accepted finally that I could not write this book without it.

Do you sometimes have dreams like Cole-Adams’s dream — a dream that [does] not feel like a dream? Do you feel memories rising in you that feel more alive than memories should ever feel? Do you get a feeling of sickness in your gut that you know — you just know — isn’t a sickness; and yet it is, it is?

I do.

These days, I’m not much one for grand resolutions. I don’t know what path I’ll follow this year (though, hopefully I’ll get to walk one of the sandy paths in Aldinga Scrub, like the one pictured above, every now and then). I don’t know what 2018 holds, for me or for you.

I do hope, though, that there will be some moments like Cole-Adams describes, for you and for me: those quiet moments after waking when you do not disavow the helpless, voiceless part of you; those moments when you accept finally that you cannot otherwise do what it is you need to do.

The standstill

Other people’s words about … writing

I knew I was writing a book about anaesthesia, but I didn’t know why. Nor did I know why it mattered to me that I didn’t know. Why does anyone do anything? What I was struggling with … was not simply why I was writing (and consequently, I felt, what I was really writing about), but who was doing the writing. There seemed to me two ‘me’s — each with their own agendas and itineraries and neither able or prepared to communicate with the other. Everything one wrote, the other rejected. One I will call the journalist — a pragmatic procedural self, this ‘me’ positioning myself as the objective observer reporting on what I found in my travels. The other I will call the dreamer. Not in the romantic sense, but the dreamer as fool, blundering around, kicking up fragments of a different story.

from ‘Anaesthesia’
by Kate Cole-Adams

I’ve been writing the same book for the last seven years, and that seems to me, in today’s world of electronic publishing and social media, a very long time. It is a long time. I’m a realist: I know that there are no guarantees I’ll ever finish it; and I know, too, that even if I do, there no guarantees it will get published. Still, for whatever reason, I find I can’t write any faster than I do.

So I was encouraged when I read that it took Kate Cole-Adams ten years or so to research, write and publish her non-fiction book Anaesthesia, from which I’ve quoted above. It’s a very fine book, worth taking ten years to write, I think. I found myself marking out several passages as I read it — passages I returned to over and over, and thought about using for one or more of my blog posts. So the quote I’ve used today may be just the first: there will be more to come, I hope.

Everything one [part of me] wrote, the other rejected. It occurred to me when I read these words that, over and above her own personal experience of her self, which Anaesthesia in part explores, what Cole-Adams is really describing in this passage is writer’s block. People think of writer’s block as being unable to write, but I don’t think that’s what it is, not really. In my experience it’s more a case of writing and writing, but hating everything that you write. You write, you write, you delete, you delete. Eventually, you come to a writing standstill.

At a standstill —
or poised to soar?

I like Cole-Adams’s image of herself, the writer, as dreamer and fool, blundering around, kicking up fragments of a different story. For me, too, that’s what writing often seems to be about. And sometimes — just sometimes — when you allow this to happen, when you allow the judgmental, procedural part of yourself to step back from the stage, it seems okay that this is how it feels.

At moments like this, it seems okay, too, to be taking your time to write what you write. Five years. Seven years. Nine years. Ten. It’s all part of the blundering, right?