Self-Cannibalism

I dream I’m a story, then I write it

A shapeshifting blob from another dimension crept up the stairs last night from a hidden cellar, and smeared me with terror-jizz while I thrashed and sweated with sheets twisted around me. But that wasn’t the worst part (I’ve met that blob’s kind before). The worst part was I couldn’t stop thinking, stop having ideas. The worst part was that even as the blob crept over me I thought, “How can I use this? This blob — how can I make it work for me?”

Since my early childhood I’ve had nightmares. I’ve sleep-talked and sleep-walked. I’ve suffered “night terrors”. On our arriving in England via Japan in April this year, every night for two weeks I awoke regularly from repetitive dreams of failed travel-plans, missed train- or flight-connections, unpaid-for lodgings (a recurrent fear in my dream-world, and one that has tormented me since I began frequently moving house almost 25 years ago), or of finding that those lodgings were nothing but a corner in a train-station corridor, or a couch in an airport, or a public space with no shelter from the public. (A common/recurrent variant: I’m sleeping in a room above whichever short-term employer I’m working for; the building is my workplace and the boss is knocking on the door.) None of which, I suppose, sounds as if it should quite provoke “terror”, but it seems to: racing heart, bursts of adrenalin, shouts, etc, etc. Worse still, for long seconds after I wake my dream-world persists: I fight against the revelation of waking reality. So I’ll argue with my wife (she too half-awake) on behalf of a fast-fading illusion, sometimes insulting her in the process. It’s humiliating, to be so certain of something one moment only to have it dissolve into fantasy the next. But this I can live with (I have to); this “having ideas” is something else.

So… I wake, drenched in terror, from the same old dream of homelessness. Something’s wrong and it’s my fault! Oh no, I forgot! What have I done?! My wife tries to calm me and I shout her down — “Don’t you understand?” — before my interacting with a real person in the real world really wakes me, and I flop down exhausted. The now-familiar lines of our London bedroom fade into focus. “Ugh!” I say as the blob-slime soaks into me or ebbs into dream-ether, and the blob slithers down through the secret doorway to await its next feeding time (my adrenalin, I guess, is what it feeds on, and it might as well since I have no other use for it); I’m lost for words, and ashamed, and I hope my wife will fall asleep quickly. But am I relieved that the terror has subsided? That I’m at home (inasmuch as another temporary sanctuary can be called home) in bed with my wife rather than sprawled in the corner of some public thoroughfare or air terminal? Not in the least, or hardly. I’m back to thinking: of writing schemes, of music promotion, of perspectives on a sentence or paragraph or mode of describing or seeing or feeling.

BFI Reuben Library, London

It reminds me, I realise, of the Adelaide Hills in 1996/97, back in the days when I was a “professional writer”. I fled in frustration from that place when I couldn’t reach my own high standards, owing to lonely dogs barking throughout long days nextdoor, to social commitments, promotional commitments, insomnia and my inability to reconcile my relationship with my then-lover (later my first wife) with my work and my thirst for solitude. Not that I didn’t write — I wrote plenty. Journal-entries, mostly. And in between, with stops and starts and multiple redrafts and ample breaks for bashing my head (or my fist) against the wall, I wrote 100 pages or so of creative prose. Of course when I escaped to Tasmania I wrote much more, but in the meantime I feared often that such struggles were inescapable, though in retrospect I see that my excessive focus on the distractions which led to the struggles gave those struggles power, and that the image which I suspect I held in my head then of myself (or of my ideal self) battling adversity — that is, of a kind of yogic telepath dissolving all obstacles with mind-power — was not only inaccurate but harmful, since the only way I could conceive of “mind over matter” was as a process of giving power to the mind at the expense of the body, rather than training the mind via the body (or via the breath) so that it might learn discipline. In short, my mind was a despot, capricious and ornery — powerful, maybe, but that power turned against me. And the shapeshifting blob, in league with the mind, would crawl across me in the darkness (it crept down from the eaves in that house — lived in the damp sagging roof) and I’d awake soaked in terror and, as I did last night, start analysing.

But one night, unable to sleep or surrender to dreams (a greater challenge for me back then than recently, thankfully), I dreamed I was a story — or a part of a story: say a sentence or a paragraph — and that I was “redrafting” myself. To make matters worse (and to provide the requisite gothic/horrifying atmosphere) I was some kind of hybrid Poe story, and with every shuffled sentence or cut-and-paste or change of word-order I’d sink ever deeper into a premature burial. (Being buried alive has been a feature of my dreams since childhood, but that’s another story.) The point is I was cannibalising myself, I now see: I’d made myself the story. And last night, for the first time since, I felt a hint of that same dynamic. And, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I realised it I had the idea of writing about it — the idea for this post. In other words, upon realising I was returning to self-cannibalism, I cannibalised myself. (A dramatic way to put it, no doubt, but when you’ve started a passage with a shapeshifting blob from another dimension, cannibalism seems a fitting way to end it.)

The process — the experiment —of this blog is to make myself the subject. The aim is to use the resultant material to communicate, rather than just to self-analyse. The challenge is to switch off at times — to swing from microscopic focus on self to loss of self (and not just via distraction) with natural pendulum-like regularity (ie: not wildly). To find release from self as much as I find immersion.

(Handwritten Tuesday June 13th)

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