Came across this bizarre “little” dream, of a dream within a dream, whilst looking for something else. It doesn’t make much outward sense, I suppose, but there are certain “loaded” aspects which I thought may be of interest to some of my readers.
22 Aug 2010 for those interested in such things.
I also feel bound to highlight that, for me, it is an INCREDIBLY long read. Get your coffee refilled now… 😉
Today, I want to tell you about a dream I had. Only I’m not entirely sure how to tell it. Because when I was a boy, I did a lot of reading but not a lot of listening. Read, read, read, read, read. But very little listening. So I don’t really know how to tell a story well.
And one day, I realised that everything I had read didn’t mean very much. It was all just words, words, words. And I couldn’t remember most of it. Then I realised that because I hadn’t really been listening, I couldn’t remember any of the words that really did mean something.
And it felt strange. Because my father never read. Never read a thing. And because I read, read, and read, I’d buy him books that I thought that he might like to read. But he never did. And all the time, I never really listened to the stories that he had to tell.
He never wrote either. Except the once. And they printed it in a magazine. And I never saw the magazine. So never read the story that my father most wanted to share. And sometimes that makes me sad because I never saw the magazine. And sometimes it makes me really happy that they read something my dad had to say, and saw that it was really important, and they printed it in the magazine that I never saw.
Not that it was a story, he wrote. It was things that he had noticed change during his life. So it was a kind of story – a true story. A story about things that others had, perhaps, noticed too but had never written down. And my dad had written it in his own words.
And it made me realise that all stories were like his. And that all his stories had either happened in his life time, involving people he knew, or loved, or both; or had happened before he was born and he had heard the story, and it was important, or funny, or silly enough to remember. And it would be different every time it was told, but at its core it was always the same.
Not like the ones I read. Because once it was written down it always stayed exactly the same. Like a photograph of a story. And though the story ‘lived’ on the page, it never changed and no longer had a life of its own.
So in the dream:
I had painted three pictures. Three massive paintings that hung side by side. There is a word for three pictures that are essentially one picture, but I can’t remember what it is. But there was three of them.
And they were all painted in grey. The entire canvas of each was a uniform grey from a distance. Close up, there were subtle variations in shade which made them different. But if you didn’t know them well, they were very difficult to tell apart. Like a piece of modern art which you could hang upside down and nobody would know, you could probably make a mistake and hang the three in the wrong order and most people wouldn’t notice.
The first picture was grey. And some people saw a river, and some people saw a robe, and some people saw a cloud, and some people saw a mountain, and some people really liked the first painting and wanted to buy it. But I wouldn’t sell it to them, because all three had to hang together. All three were the same painting. One simply didn’t make sense without the others; but none of the people who really liked the first painting, seemed to get the other two.
And it was the same with the second painting.
The second painting was grey. And some people saw a river, and some people saw a robe, and some people saw a cloud, and some people saw a mountain, and a few people saw a little island with trees, and some people really liked the second painting and wanted to buy it. But I wouldn’t sell it to them, because all three had to hang together. All three were the same painting. One simply didn’t make sense without the others; but none of the people who really liked the second painting, seemed to get the other two.
And it was the same with the third painting.
The third painting was grey. And some people saw a river, and some people saw a robe, and some people saw a cloud, and some people saw a mountain, and a some people saw a little island with trees, and a few people saw the boat with the man standing in it in the shade of the trees on the island, and some people really liked the third painting and wanted to buy it. But I wouldn’t sell it to them, because all three had to hang together. All three were the same painting. One simply didn’t make sense without the others; but none of the people who really liked the third painting, seemed to get the other two.
Some people didn’t get any of the three paintings. They didn’t really get the other half dozen or so either. My other paintings were in colours other than grey. A couple even had more than one colour!
One in particular seemed to attract attention.
It was a saffron painting. And though some people saw a river, and some people saw a robe, and some people saw a cloud, and some people saw a mountain, and a some people saw a little island with trees, and some people saw the boat with the man standing in it in the shade of the trees on the island, and a few saw the village by the stream, nobody really wanted to buy the painting. Which I thought odd. Because it was a complete painting. It was a single, stand alone painting.
“But it wasn’t grey”, they said. They really liked it, but it needed more grey. “If only it was a saffron grey”, they said, “then they might like to buy it”.
And it was the same with the green, the red and black, the orange, the blue and the purple. “Couldn’t it be more like the grey one?” they asked. No! Because there is no need for any grey in any of these paintings. And anyway, they stand alone. The grey is a three picture painting, and that’s that! You simply cannot take saffron, red and black, orange, blue or purple and integrate it with grey!
But they didn’t understand…
I should really say something about where the paintings were.
Well, I don’t really know where exactly. But it was weird. They were all outside, but on a wall. And in front of the wall was a massive, waist deep murky, muddy lake. And to view the paintings, there was no other way but to stand in the waist deep murky, muddy water. (Maybe that put people off too? I don’t know).
And the grey ones were right at the left and took up the whole of that part of the wall. Then, on the right, were all the coloured ones; all different sizes, and kind of separate, but looking like a patch work. They could have gone well together as they were hung, but they really shouldn’t be seen like that. I just didn’t have enough wall.
And behind the wall was a rocky place, quite high up, but not really. And way below was a river full of large boulders and small pebbles.
And all these people walked back and forth carrying boxes, sacks, ladders, teapots, crockery and blankets and all kinds of stuff. And some would stop, get into the water and take a look at the paintings. And some would stand for a long time and really look at one, or another, but soon enough would haul themselves from the water, pick up their bundle and carry on.
A few stopped and stayed. Not in the water, but nearby: so that they could come any time they wanted and look at the paintings. They didn’t seem to want to buy; but just to look. It must have given them some enjoyment to get their feet wet, but not feel the need to make any commitment to buy.
And they started to get really annoying.
Finally, my wife had had enough, and she came with a big pot of varnish. And with the varnish, she added a long, slow, sinuous stroke to the first; a long sinuous stroke to the second; and short half stroke to the third. (I thought this a little unfair, and was slightly angry at her, as the third painting hadn’t been given its due share of varnish. But the paintings were so big, that maybe she ran out). With these three strokes of varnish, it became immediately apparent that all three were the same, single painting, and simply HAD to be seen as a whole.
But still, people didn’t get it…
When my father was alive, I often thought, and likely said more than once, you should really write these things down. I knew I hadn’t listened properly. And it was unlikely that the stories were personal enough, or important enough, or funny enough, or silly enough for other people to want to remember them. And once they were forgotten, or told out of context, or reworded for a different audience who only knew vaguely the context; then they were gone forever. And when he was dying, my one regret was that I had not taken the time to listen, to remember, to take notes of his stories that he, of course, had never written down.
And a strange thing happened when he died. I realised that I no longer had a point of reference. Until then, I was known as his son. “Oh”, people would say, “aren’t you your father’s son?” Yes, I was. And it used to half ways annoy me. I didn’t seem to be anybody without him as a point of reference. Now that he was gone, who was I? I was still me, but other people no longer had the peg of my father to hang me on.
Round about the time he was dying, my wife and I were in a cafe and heard two women (I didn’t know who they were) talking about my father’s poor state of health. And one woman said, “No, I don’t know him”. And the other said, “Well, you know his wife: she used to be her brother’s sister”. To which the first replied, “Oh, I know who you are talking about now!”
My mother used to be her brother’s sister?!
This made me laugh, and it also made me realise what my new identity must surely be. “Oh, didn’t you used to be your father’s son?” So I felt happier that there may be some continuity after all.
So in the dream…
I was the shepherd’s son. And in the dream, I was a little arab boy, with long, black curly hair and a dark complexion. Which was strange, because my dad was a pale scot with short hairy legs. And I was a little arab boy tending goats. And he was a pale scot tending sheep with short hairy legs – not the sheep: my dad had the short hairy legs… (though sheep too have short hairy legs).
And in the dream the little shepherd boy was on the island in my paintings. But instead of being small, like in the painting, the island seemed really big. There were lots of trees, and streams, and animals, and people. The little shepherd boy’s part of the island was a single grassy, rounded tor, at the top of which was a single tree. And the little shepherd boy would shade under the tree. And sit with his goats, and watch the people at the bottom of the hill.
At the bottom there was a stream. And there appeared to be a rather run-down path on the other side of the stream. And people would come stumbling along the path carrying boxes, sacks, ladders, teapots, crockery and blankets and all kinds of stuff to the little shady ford across the stream.
It was a lovely spot. There were trees over a pool to the left. And the prettiest bar of pebbles which people used to get across. But they never stopped to benefit from the shade, or to listen to the song of the stream, or to admire the pretty pebbles, or to listen to the birds, or to watch the sun dance on the water, or to swim with the lazy trout. They just stumbled down with their boxes, sacks, ladders, teapots, crockery and blankets and all kinds of stuff and crossed over the pretty pebbles without a second thought. And finding no clear path on the little shepherd boy’s side of the stream stumbled randomly on as they chose.
Sometimes the little shepherd boy would ask where they were going with their boxes, sacks, ladders, teapots, crockery and blankets and all kinds of stuff. But most of them didn’t really know. Wherever it was, the little shepherd boy decided, it must have be really important for them to get there. For none would stop to benefit from the shade, or to listen to the song of the stream, or to admire the pretty pebbles, or to listen to the birds, or to watch the sun dance on the water, or to swim with the lazy trout, or to just sit with their feet in the water and talk to the little shepherd boy.
One day, the little shepherd boy started to build a path. As people passed, they asked what he was doing. “I’m building an easier road for you”. And the people would laugh. And the little shepherd boy worked hard, building the road in his spare time (between tending his goats, sitting in the shade of his single tree, or in the shade at the pretty little ford, listening to the song of the stream, admiring the pretty pebbles, listening to the birds, watching the sun dance on the water, and swimming with the lazy trout).
Finally, his road was complete. And it led in a single lazy S from the pretty little ford, up the rounded tor, ending at his single tree. The little shepherd boy was quite pleased. It was such a pleasant road. And, reaching the end there was nothing to mar the delight of sitting with his goats in the shade of his tree. He felt certain that some of the people who had crossed the stream, without stopping to benefit from the shade, or to listen to the song of the stream, or to admire the pretty pebbles, or to listen to the birds, or to watch the sun dance on the water, or to swim with the lazy trout; would surely find the road easier than stumbling aimless with their boxes, sacks, ladders, teapots, crockery and blankets and all kinds of stuff.
But no-one ever came.
And looking down on the people struggling to find their way to a place they didn’t know, burdened with their boxes, sacks, ladders, teapots, crockery and blankets and all kinds of stuff, he had an idea. And so he started to pave the road using the pretty pebbles from the stream. And though he knew that no-one else might ever use the road, he was happy. For as he worked, he had come to realise that every pretty little pebble was a lifetime. And every pretty little pebble was a dream.
Then my wife showed up from the first part of the dream, (I was only a little shepherd boy in the second part, and far too young to have a wife!) and she asked if I had sold any paintings yet? But I was too busy making the road to have sold any paintings. So I thought what a strange question this was.
Then I was at the shore, standing in front of an enormous sea. And the tide was out. And there was no sand. No stones. No pebbles. Just mud. As far as you could see, an immense shore made entirely of mud. Thick, black, stinky, sticky, mud.
And the little shepherd boy lay down and started to cry. Where were the lifetimes? Where were the dreams? And he cried, and he cried, and he cried. And I started to cry with him. And our tears became a stream which wound its way across the mud towards the sea. And as we cried together something strange began to happen.
The mud was being washed away. And underneath were the prettiest little pebbles. And in the mud appeared snaking, criss-crossing streams of pretty little pebbles. And the little shepherd boy started to laugh. And his tears became joyous tears, as he realised that under all that mud, there were many, many lifetimes to be found; and many, many dreams.
We watched as the sun set beyond the horizon of the sea. The pretty little pebbles flashing a path of gold towards the distant water…