There are days when the words on the page are just that: on the page. They’re flat, functional, dull. They do the job you’ve asked them to but not much more.
I’ve been writing reports, factual articles and military history for a few years now and I realised recently that my language has lost some of its dynamism. Everything felt muted when I read it back to myself. There was nothing wrong with it, per se, it was just a bit ‘meh’.
Time for an injection of something radical to incite my writing to rebellion (!). Lucid dreaming was the unexpected answer. For those of you who haven’t encountered this phrase before it’s that state in a dream when you are aware you’re dreaming and you have control of what happens in the dream.
Setting intentions to dream and to dream lucidly hasn’t been the gentle, ethereal journey I’d imagined. It’s been a wild and chaotic ride, like a cartoon clown stumbling around, crashing into delicate bone china and suddenly discovering a new planet hiding under a dancing dog wearing a tutu. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? It is.
Sharpening my imagination has been more like taking a knife to cookies than rocks. I’ve had a tumble of new ideas and an explosion of vocabulary that has been fermenting in the demijohn in the airing cupboard of my childhood (my father was an avid wine-maker and my mother was excellent at removing damson blood from the walls).
Now, I know that there’s a hotch-potch of metaphors and subtext and half-cooked meanderings in here, but that’s what I’ve discovered by peering into my dreams and asking the trees what they’re made of and chatting to a serial killer about humming birds, and feeling a never-ending mattress blocking my escape from an old school with collapsing walls. I didn’t expect it to be cosy in my dreams but I didn’t realise quite how repetitive and simultaneously extraordinary it would be. I saw a lot of schools, a lot of institutional olive-green painted walls, a lot of corridors. And then there was the Wild West hairdressing salon where I sang rap songs and danced to them in proper house style (!) while my hairdresser floated towards me on her side, scissors extended and a Cheshire Cat grin on her face. Or the two puppies who texted me to pick them up from the train station while I was defending myself against an attacker using only a rolled-up carpet to fend him off. Dreams don’t have to make sense, and lucid dreams are all the better for that lack of sense. They open up unexpected plot lines, impossible scenarios, characters who shouldn’t exist. My lucid dreams freed up my thinking and provoked my writing to wander into dark corners that my rational mind wanted to avoid. Exactly the place where all the best stories live.
This experiment, as part of research for the University of Swansea, has taken me back to a sense of creativity that had been boxed, filed, and forgotten while I pursued the day-job. I am so relieved and grateful that it did because it is like I’ve been sleep-walking as a writer and connecting with my sub-conscious has released my writing voice again. The voice that howls through the lead of my pencil and scratches canyons on the parchment journal that once belonged to an ancient zebra.
See you in my dreams and don’t forget to bring a notebook and your dancing shoes.