The garden path…


I have patches like this when my dreams are fertile and vivid. They resonate through me and provoke wonder and thought. Mostly I don’t remember my dreams, but at these times they come fresh to me every morning.

I had at least two interesting dreams last night, one of which I want to describe for you.

We live in a futuristic, utopian society, a feature of which is that men can carry children, though not to term. By some medical wizardry, men can carry the growing babe in their stomach for the first two months of pregnancy before somehow it is transferred to the mother.

I have carried one child like this before, and it was a happy, joyous experience. Now I have another. The wife, mother, whatever you wish to call her, doesn’t feature in the dream at all. I am light-hearted as I make my way towards the medical clinic for a check-up, stopping on the way to take in a beautiful vista.

In the clinic, a doctor takes me aside and explains all is not as should be. Something has gone wrong, and it appears that I have misinterpreted some earlier advice that has led to this. The pregnancy appears doomed.

I am devastated by the news. I’ve gone from being buoyant with joy to terribly sad in the blink of an eye. I shake my head and wander away before being called back by the manager of the clinic. He leads me into a room out the back, and we sit down. He expresses his condolences at the news and apologises for it. I explain to him that I think it was my fault; I didn’t listen as I should have, distracted by the happy news that we were to have a second child.

He is kind and sympathetic. He has a gruff but compassionate manner. He looks like the undercover cop from Hill Street Blues, if you can believe that. He assures me I did nothing wrong. The responsibility is all theirs, and he can’t possibly express how sorry they are for my tragedy.

His kind manner does me good. For a moment, the sense of personal tragedy lifts and I feel grateful to him. The dream ends.

The dream follows from the news yesterday afternoon that the long-mooted promotion and pay rise due to me come July is no longer. I suspect it never was. Instead, I believe they were happy to give me vague assurances hoping to string along because they needed me onside.

This was revealed to me by my direct manager, who shared a cab with the head of the section on Wednesday night when they discussed me. It seems nothing is in the budget for me, and there was no indication that anything more would come my way. It’s not definite or confirmed – surely, they must give me something? – but I trust it to be generally accurate. I need more than a token gesture.

We were on a Teams call when he told me. I didn’t quite explode at the news, but something bubbled over in me. As I explained to him, as I had before, I was disinterested in titles, though the title they had mooted is something I have been doing for a year in all but name. To grant me the title would force a substantial pay rise to go with it, and so they refuse to give me the title. Fine, just give me the money.

I was furious. No, it wasn’t about the title. And though the money was bloody important, it wasn’t entirely about that either. It was trust and respect and loyalty and the brazen disregard of it that stuck in my craw.

I’m an old-fashioned guy, I told my manager, I believe in these things. I’m happy to give them but expect to have that reciprocated. When it’s not – when they lead me down to garden path with honeyed words, leading me nowhere – then all bets are off.

This is a trigger event for me, for complex reasons I’ll write about another time. I’ve realised that my future lies elsewhere.

And it was this event that led to the dream last night. The promise of a promotion and pay rise was the child in my belly – something grand, latent and yet due to be. Then, naturally, the news that the baby was no more – and was it my fault? Had I got it wrong? But the kindly doctor at the end set me straight – I had every right to expect better. I’ve been failed.

That’s what I think, Freud.

Time to be


I had a dream last night that I was in a new relationship with a woman. She was tall and dark-haired with intelligent eyes and raw sensuality. I found her very attractive, but she seemed familiar to me also as if she was an amalgam I’ve known and been drawn to before or those I’ve imagined.

Despite her sensuality, there was something reserved about her, much to my frustration. She was the cerebral type, deeply engaged with the community and passionate about the affairs of state and society that come to dominate our health and wellbeing. In so many ways, we were a good pairing. She had interests in the same things I did. We could talk intelligently across a range of subjects, and, for the most part, our beliefs were aligned.

I was frustrated because, though I was sympathetic, she took these passions and interests too far, leaving too little for the earthly pleasures that mean so much when you’re with someone you like.

It seemed to me that the difference between us is that I could switch off, whereas she never did. There was a time and place for matters of the mind. As for the issues and controversies that dog our times, it’s fine to be passionate, but there’s also a time to take a break from it.

Here was this woman, alluring and attractive, a worthy, warm-hearted character, yet she never allowed herself to relax when I, as her partner, wanted to relax with her, wanted to discover her in the quiet times far away from the noise and clamour of normal life. I wanted to be with her, and only her, and yearned for the intimacy of body and mind that seemed denied to me.

I appeal to her in the dream, urging her to let go and be present. Don’t think – be! I tell her. Open to me, I tell her, let yourself feel, let it flow and happen. I murmur to her, asking if isn’t this something she wants? I tell her how I feel about her, how she warms my heart just thinking of her, how I yearn to be inside with her, to share and be as if one mind. Connect with me, I tell her, forget everything else, and with a glint in my eye, tell her how much she turns me on…

Curious to think what this dream might mean. There are elements familiar to my life and times – thought-addled, with too many causes and issues to be passionate about. Yet, I am someone who can switch off and indulge in the sensual – if only there was something in my life now to indulge in. That’s another element. My desire is no less than it has ever been, but there is no woman in my life, nor even the hint of one.

I’ve come to believe that one of the things that have had a detrimental effect on my wellbeing through the Covid period is the lack of meaningful contact with women. That might sound strange or even trite, but I believe it to be true. I hesitate to use the word virile because it’s not an exact fit, but it’s as close I can get to describe my outlook for most of my life.

Virile suggests that my relationship with women is purely sexual, which it isn’t. I’m no shrinking violet. I’ve enjoyed lots of sex over the years, but really, that’s just a subset of something more substantial. For whatever reason, I’ve always been drawn to women (and yes, some of that will be sexual and sensual). I’ve enjoyed the difference – the different way of thinking and feeling, of seeing. I’m not one of those men intimidated or dismissive of those differences – I embrace them because I learn something so often, because it stimulates my mind and senses, and because curiosity draws me on.

What that means is that I’ve had a lot of female friends, not all of whom I’ve been involved with. My life has been infinitely richer because of this. If I’m honest, I’d suggest I prefer the company of women to men generally. I’m rarely surprised by other men, though sometimes disappointed. Women make me think.

While all of that is true, I miss the incidentals – the fun, harmless little flirtations and banter. The teasing sense of wonder when you meet someone and get to know them. The curious sense of adventure and the gentle musing after the event. What does it mean? Will it? Won’t it?

There’s been zero of any of that in the last 14 months. There’s barely the opportunity for it working from home and with routines so predictable. I miss it.

I don’t know what to do about it. I resist any phone methods of meeting anyone. No internet or apps for me (been there, done it a million times). That leaves very few opportunities. I need it, though, in my soul.

My mate Fozzy reckons I’m looking good, and it’s funny to think how reassuring that is – I don’t just need an alluring woman (perhaps one like in the dream) to agree with him. Like I urge her, time to open up – time to be.

The man of my dreams


I had this dream not last night, but the night before, that left me mildly disturbed when I woke.

The details of the dream mean little. Basically, I was on my way to a wedding, somehow got dunked in the surf, and then met an attractive blonde woman in a bikini I utterly charmed. What seemed meaningful was the man I appeared to be in the dream.

He was me; I was him…but he was an optimised version of me. He was handsome and witty and very charming. He was fit and tanned and well-groomed, even after taking a dunk. He was supremely confident and in control, and people clamoured to him. He had a great presence, and everyone loved him for being a fun guy and a good man.

He had all the attributes I possess, but dialled up to the max, as if I had spent a month being prepared to become this person – primped and preened, tailored and groomed, made fit and healthy, and all my worries disposed of.

If I was ever that man, then we parted company about 20 years ago. I still have many of those qualities, but the years have diluted them. I was a 10 on every measure in the dream, but in life now, most have been dialled back to about 6, and my pre-eminent quality – self-possession – is now a fragile thing.

Still, I could see myself in him, especially in his wit. After he got bowled over in the surf, he absolutely wowed the woman who came to his assistance – witty and smart and very alluring. It was my style of wit, words I could easily have spoken – but without the force or confidence of the man in the dream. It was no wonder the woman fell for him – I thought him a rum fellow myself.

What disturbed me is that the dream seemed to taunt me: this is what you could have been. It felt as if it was rubbing my face into my middling existence. It was a pointed finger – how did you manage to lose this possibility?

I choose to believe that man is in me now – not lost, but dormant. That’s how I turned it in my mind. Not as something that might have been, but something that still could be. That was my challenge. Be the man in your own dreams.

It’s my birthday today, and it seems an apt occasion to set myself. If not now, then when?

The dreams I have


I dreamt last night that I was a contestant on MasterChef. I had been entered into the competition by friends and wasn’t happy about it. I felt out of place. Everyone was younger, and most appeared to be exhibitionists, rowdy with exhortations and positive vibes. There were a couple I’d become friendly with, but otherwise, it was foreign to me. No-one seemed capable of a meaningful conversation that didn’t involve food, and that left me feeling sour.

There was a food challenge – concoct a finger food involving chicken. Pretty simple. While everyone whirled about me coming up with their fantastic concoctions, I stood there like a shag on a rock. Since I was there, I had to come up with something good, but not just good – novel. That was the crux of it.

Then I started. On reflection, the recipe isn’t as novel as I hoped, but – given it was a dream – not nearly as ridiculous as it might have been.

I cut pieces of chicken into long fingers and then marinated them in lime juice and chilli. In the meantime, I crushed some cruskits and seasoned with chilli. Then I coated the marinated chicken in the cruskit crumbs and fried until they were crispy – the cruskits gave it a distinct crunch. That was the novelty angle. Then I served with a dipping sauce of sour cream with pomegranate and lime rind.

Don’t know how I got on with the judges. By this time, I had become fascinated by the recipe. I might try it some time – crunchy lime spiced chicken fingers.

PS I may as well record this in the same place – my dream the next night, which is unusual enough to be worthy of recording.

It’s in the last days of WW2, and I’m a German commanding a King Tiger (II) tank. The war has come to Germany and we’re stuck behind enemy lines trying to make our way to the relative safety of the west.

Though we are without support and against the might of the Russian army, for a warrior such as me, there’s a kind of exhilaration as we battle against them. Our tank is the most mighty weapon on the battlefield. Any opponent we strike is destroyed, but they seem unable to inflict serious danger upon us. Our major threat is being overwhelmed by numbers, which is a real possibility.

We shelter in the ruins of a village one night. Around dawn, I sense the enemy approaching. I rouse the crew so that we can make a quick exit. Unfortunately, it takes minutes longer than it should for us to get underway. By the time we do, the enemy is behind us and, as we roll towards the outskirts of the village, we can see a dozen Russian tanks coming in the other direction. We appear trapped between two forces.

I curse and change direction. I’m defiant, but years of battle, of death, have left me bitter.

The enemy has not spotted us as yet, and we hide in the ruined streets of the village edging our way towards a potential escape route between them. Finally, we make it through, our engine’s noise and crashing through the ruins unheard over the massed engines of the Russian tanks.

When it appears we have reached some safety, I turn on my 2IC. He had been slow to pack up when I commanded it. He had doubted that the Russians had closed so near. He is a good man, capable and compassionate. He cares for the men, as I do, but in a different way.

I am a tough leader. I know to be compassionate means sometimes being harsh. My sole objective is to lead the crew to safety, and there are no compromises. I remind him that next time I give an order, he is to follow it without question – they can come later. I suggest that he trust my judgement and instinct, my experience, which is far greater than his. And I give him the very practical instruction that for everything he unloads from the tank he must put something back, and that we must be ready to break camp within a maximum of two minutes, that’s the rule.

I don’t know if we make it to safety – the odds are against us – but I’m a believer it can be done. I won’t surrender or give in. The dream ends there.

Losing control


I had a dream last night that I was a part of a paramilitary type unit. I was in command of a small troop patrolling a city when race riots broke out. My unit and I fought to protect the vulnerable, ushering them to safety. Outnumbered, it was a bruising experience both physically and mentally. We fought hard and long, but we couldn’t protect everyone and watched as some we couldn’t save set upon by the mob and beaten.

Eventually, the riots died down, and reinforcements were sent to the city. It was in the aftermath, and we were sitting in a room sore and reflective when one of the replacements pipes up. There’s one like this in every group. He’s had a look around, and everything has become quiet, and with a mocking tone to his voice, he wonders aloud what the big deal is about? He goes onto to say it’s all an exaggeration and probably political anyway. And what does he care about the victims of this – they’re not his people.

I’m respected by my team because I’m calm and measured, and I’ll always make the right call. They know I’ll do everything to protect them. They understand that I lead with a moral imperative, but I’ll always have their back. They’re shocked then, by what comes next.

I’m exhausted. Though we’ve fought hard, I’m dismayed at the thought of those we couldn’t save, some of whom were friends. I hear this man’s words, and I sit there reflecting on them, then I get up. I walk across to him, and though I know it’s probably the wrong thing and counter to my image of self-control, I feel great satisfaction as I swing with my fist and knock the man down.

I’m disciplined for this, obviously. I’m stripped of my command locked away for a few days. My team is shattered at what’s happened. Though they understand my feelings, they wonder what got into me. Is the old man cracking up?

I’m released and return to the unit. My 2IC has now taken over the team. She’s someone I have an intimate relationship, and she looks at me with tenderness and pity. The rest of the team are happy to have me back but uncertain given my present status. It doesn’t feel right that I’m not out in front.

Also, there is the man I struck, as well as some of the top brass. There’s trouble brewing again, and we’re about to be thrown into the cauldron. The new skipper, my lover, is angry at how I’ve been treated. She wants to protest and demand that I’m reinstated. I smile at her and with a gesture as if releasing something from my hand, I tell her to let it go.

One of the top brass has observed the interaction. He chuckles, makes a comment about wise words, and then proclaims that in light of the coming troubles it’s been decided that I will re-assume command of the team.

The whole team is thrilled. They come to me, one by one, to let me know how relieved they are that I’m in charge again and how much they’ve missed me. One or two admonish me gently, but even the recruit is happy to have me back.

They feel safe with me, and it’s an obligation I’m happy to shoulder. I look at them knowing we have a job to do. They look back, waiting on my command. The world has righted; there are things to do – and our mission to do them.

Thus ends the dream.

As always, I wondered what all this meant. It seemed to me that once upon a time, I was once that person known for calm and unflappable judgement. I used to thrive when the pressure was on. There was an edge to me, and I was more inclined to go my own my way than the character in the dream, but he’s recognisably similar – at least in my mind – to who I was.

That I’m not that man now is something I’ve come to accept, though most of the elements remain – they’ve just combined in a different way. Funnily enough, a work friend told me a couple of weeks ago that I was the wisest person she knew. I felt uncomfortable with the praise and made light of it, remembering how much I’d fucked up in my life.

I like that man in the dream and wish I was he. That I dream this now is a reflection of recent times I think. I’ve been off the last few months, as many have been. In that time, I’ve been managing what I’ve described as the most unpleasant project of my life.

Much of it is just plain difficult – an incompetent vendor, a tricky brief, everyone working remotely, and perceived pressure from board level. What’s made it more challenging is that the team drafted in for this – unlike the dream – are unwilling to be part of it. They don’t believe in the value or purpose of the project and question it. I share some of their reservations but, as I tell them, our job is not to question the validity of the project but to deliver it. (Unfortunately, all of this plays into the general malaise I feel, doubting the value and purpose of every task.)

For me, it’s been difficult because I’ve got little practical support but from one, and so have to shoulder much of the burden myself. Like the character in the dream, I feel like snapping sometimes. I look at them occasionally and think how nice it is to have the luxury of an opinion when you don’t have to put anything on the line.

But how does the dream reflect all this? And what is it telling me?

Uncle Don


I dreamt last night that I was Donald Trump’s ‘nephew from Australia’. I went to visit him, and we went on a road trip together and hit it off fine. At one stage we’re walking side by side along a busy road with a lake on the far side of it. It’s pretty, and we’re talking and as we go along, he takes my hand in his. Though I’m in my early twenties, I accept it as a fond gesture. And in fact, all through my dream my experience of Donald is that he’s a friendly, generous and fun to be around sort of guy. And actually, quite a basic character when you strip away all the bullshit – which is an awful lot.

I woke with this dream in me and didn’t know what to make of it. Then I thought some more and it didn’t seem so strange.

Like much of the world, I despise Donald Trump, but I also pity him. It seems a generous position given all the terrible things he’s done, but when I look at him, I see a man terribly out of his depth. He’s not smart enough to know it, and certainly not to admit it, and so he blusters and pontificates to hide his ignorance and to supposedly portray the sort of character he wants to be. Unfortunately, the real tragedy in this is that he’s been allowed to get away with. He’s a prime analog for the emperor with no clothes, and so he swans around naked while his cronies and the corrupt and imbecilic who follow him fall over themselves to exclaim what a splendid suit of clothes he’s wearing.

This is one of the diabolical aspects of these times. I don’t know of any other era when someone so profoundly incapable would attain such a position of power, and maintain such power throughout. It says a lot about the fierce polarisation of ideology these days when someone so inadequate and dangerous is preferable to the power-brokers behind him than some liberal alternative. And it says a lot about the usual checks and balances in society that have allowed this – a critical media and an educated electorate.

I wonder sometimes in his reflective moments – if he has them – if Donald suspects he might be such a strawman? Does he ever look in the mirror and realise he’s a terrible fraud?

I think the truth about Donald Trump is that he’s not very bright (and has probably some form of Alzheimer’s), was badly brought up, and learned early it was more important to bullshit and bully and barge your way through than to get your hands dirty. I suspect he’s a man without any real values or convictions.

He certainly has a history of bigotry, but I suspect little of it is firmly held. It’s more a matter of convenience or some perverted sense of being cool, which I think is important to him. He’s a populist carried away on the tide of his own narcissism. Everything is status for him, and he can’t bear to be seen wrong or ignorant, which is why he invents such fantastic tales and why everything is always the best or biggest. He’s really a child who somehow has become the most powerful man in the most powerful country on earth.

That’s just my opinion and none of it excuses his behaviour, though it might explain some of it. If not for all the bullshit he might be a reasonable guy – but then, there’s a lot of bullshit.

Dreams and long hair


I think the hardest thing for me being in lockdown is the utter sameness of life, from one day to the next, and from week to week. There’s nothing that disrupts the monotony because the opportunities for variety are so limited. You could do a time-lapse of my life right now, and it would be a suite of scenes repeated again and again. For me, it makes the routine of life close to meaningless because you recognise in its sheer repetition. It’s no different from life before – except that before there was padding in our life to hide the fact, and enough variety to make it less critical.

The other thing, obviously, is the lack of human connection. I see Cheeseboy every Saturday morning when we walk our dogs, but other than that it’s incidental contact with people in shops, and through remote meetings – if you can call that a connection at all.

As I’ve expressed before, I accept it, but I don’t have to like it.

I had a dream last night, which, when I woke up, left me feeling more positive. The details are blurry, but I remember I did a lot of moving around in the dream and that a lot of it was work-related. There was an incident when I’d been called away to do some urgent work and had to briefly relocate. I was returning with all my stuff under my arm. As I passed by a woman said: “you’re a good looking man, man”. Then I was joined by a friend who helped me with my stuff – in actual fact an Essendon footballer, Michael Hurley. When I got back to my (company allocated) apartment, I found someone else had moved there. He’d pulled rank and taken over the vacant property when they were short of space. He said I’d have to find somewhere else. I knew better.

I didn’t make a fuss, I just dumped my stuff on the floor and made a quick call. A moment later he got a call from the top asking him to vacate and leave the place to me. He was bitter and complained about my ‘friends in high places.’ I just shrugged. I knew my work was essential, and it was valued, which is why I knew this would happen. Then I woke.

It felt like the old me in the dream. A me I used to take for granted. And I woke still feeling that sense of being valued.

It puts a different spin on these sterile days. I’ve been growing my hair long – haven’t had it cut since before started in lockdown back in March. I started off curious and without any great need to get my hair cut since I was working from home. It had a symbolic element to it also. This was reverting to type, I thought, to my natural and untamed self. It was an assertion of independence in a way, of individuality. Isn’t it strange where we search for symbolism, and where we find it?

I feel almost the opposite now, and it’s been coming for a few weeks. I now look forward to getting my hair cut (I can’t until we’re out of lockdown). Besides looking a bit tidier, it would signify a brighter future – a redo, a start again, a let’s get out of this lockdown and live once more vibe. There’s the symbolism I’m reaching for.

It’s all probably a bit strange and empty, but in times like these, the vague meaning of dreams and invented symbolism take on a greater significance. If it feels good, I’ll take it.

 

And what does the prang mean?


I was in a dream where I was a consultant as part of a team pitching for a new job with a client. The pitch was a joint effort between two different entities partnering for the work, and I was engaged by one separately to assist with the proposal and presentation.

The dream begins when we’re all returning after the pitch. We’re all jammed into the one car. I’m in a smart suit and am content I’ve done my bit well. It’s me in an earlier guise when I was younger and more ambitious and at the cutting edge of things.

Next to me is a woman who is a member of the other entity. She’s in her early thirties perhaps, professional and attractive. A lawyer, I think. We strike up a conversation. She tells me a little about her work, then refers to the blue University of Melbourne clipboard sitting in my lip (which I possess), assuming that I graduated from there.

In the dream, I only did a semester (just as in real life), and I have an internal debate whether to admit to that and go down the long-winded and uninteresting path to explain it. I figure I’m never going to see her again – my job is done – and so I basically nod my head without making any comment. It’s an omission of convenience, though it troubles me instinctively.

The next thing is we’re in a minor prang. We all get out of the car and find it’s undrivable. We mill about waiting for a taxi or something, and while we’re waiting I go with the woman to a nearby cafe for a coffee.

We get talking some more and we find ourselves warming to each other. We’re more than just acquaintances thrown together making polite conversation. We’re now genuinely interested in what the other has to say, and I find myself drawn to her, as she seems to me. She’s warm and smart and kind, just the sort of person I want to know, and perhaps get close to – and it feels as if the same feelings are dawning on her.

We laugh easily as it goes along, but in the back of my mind, there’s my faux pas about Melbourne University. It’s a small thing really, and something that can be easily explained without embarrassment, but I don’t feel that. I feel like I’ve lied to her. I feel because of that, she might have the wrong idea of me and that our warm relations are based upon something false. It’s an over the top appraisal of the situation, but you know what it’s like? Everything has more meaning and greater bearing when you figure you might like someone.

It plays on me still when we get news from the others waiting outside that word has come through: we got the job! Everyone is festive. We decide to have a drink together. It becomes clear now that I have some sort of personal relationship with the principle of the entity that engaged me. He’s a kind of father figure, and clearly very fond of me. He starts praising me to the group in general, but particularly to the woman. They’ve all cottoned on that the woman and I have become friendly and the mood is of amused encouragement – let the young ‘uns go!

Not surprisingly, I become a tad embarrassed by his effusive commendation, especially when he gets things wrong, or exaggerates my achievements. All of this seems to pile on top of my original lie. The woman smiles. She’s enjoying it. There’s a teasing affection in her as she observes my discomfort, and it feels as if we’ve achieved some kind of casual intimacy. It’s great, but what am I going to say?

That’s the dream. There are a few things in here to unpack, but I won’t do a public analysis. The key elements, to me, is that this is a previous version of me – a long way from where I am today. And the lie, if you want to call it that, which could be symbolic of many things, but perhaps alludes to not belonging, or perhaps to an embarrassment I’m unwilling to admit to. There’s plenty of those. Then there’s the father figure – it harks back to earlier days also, and to relationships and affection long gone. And the woman? I suspect she’s more generic, though representative of a deeper desire. But what do I know?

Dreams in isolation


I’ve always dreamt a lot, but it seems to me that I’m dreaming more now than ever before. I’ve begun to wonder if this is a symptom of extended isolation. In past times life would contain enough distraction and colour that dreams were no more than an adjunct to that. I’d go out, have a beer, chat to people at work, have a laugh with friends, go the footy, and so on. I had a life outside of these four walls, and external to the internal world I largely reside in since lockdown. Is it too much to believe that in the absence of the normal stimuli that our unconscious will step into the void? Will not our mind conjure up the colour and movement missing from our everyday lives?

It’s an interesting question. Do prisoners dream differently to the man on the street? What about the man marooned on a desert island? Or is this just me?

It’s got to the point that I feel it’s affecting my sleep. For the last month particularly, I’ve been sleeping poorly and as a result, I’ve felt more lethargic than usual, and sometimes just ‘off’. The other day I felt particularly unrested after a night I dreamed away. My sleep stats showed that my REM sleep was four and a half hours – surely that’s excessive? But it made sense because that’s what I felt.

Then there are the things you dream about. The prisoner probably dreams of his liberty. The man on the island probably dreams of crowds. My dreams are no more than fragments to me now, but what I recall is, yes, of being out and about, but then there’s another strong thread. There appears a strong aspirational theme in many of my dreams – of situations in which I achieve what I don’t have now. That may seem positive, but there’s a melancholy angle to it because they play like movies of things I might have – or might have had – but do not. There’s almost a taunt in it.

Dreams like that are probably common in days like these when we’re set back to basics. All the trimmings and flummery have been removed. Exposed are the bare bones of our existence. Much is revealed at ultimately hollow. Where do we find meaning then? What does ‘meaning’ mean to us? When everything is cut back to the bone, what brings us solace?

I dream of the things others have but I don’t, such as a family about me, and regular intimacy. The other recurring element has less substance, but when you don’t have a family to fall back on then you must find purpose elsewhere. In my case, it returns to work, though more accurately it might be termed, ‘calling’.

In this, there’s a comparison between what I do and opportunities to do something nobler. I’ve commented on that enough that I don’t need to again. There’s meaning in doing something close to your heart, whatever that might be. In my case, while that’s true, there is something more superficial in it, too. I long to be the hero again, as I felt so often before in my work – it’s why I did challenging, independent work, and it says a lot about my psychology. I guess everyone wants to be their own hero, though some more than others. In the absence of anything else to fall back on, and for someone like me, it becomes purpose.

It’s probably more true now that I’m closer to the end of my career than the start of it. No matter what I’ve done before, it’s the past. I don’t want to go quietly. I want to believe there are great things in me still, but I feel more of the old stager these days. Not the virile matchwinner I used to be, more the clever and reliable stalwart of the team. And, before I’m trotted out to pasture, I want to prove that I’ve still got it.

I’m too old to change that and the instinct too deeply ingrained, even if ultimately it’s an empty thing. I know that. I need to get past that, and the best way to do that is by substitution – find something else that will satisfy that innate need. I know what it is, I just don’t know how to get it.

 

Tilda and Rocky


I had a lovely dream this morning that made me sad when I woke up.

I had a daughter, Tilda, who everyone called Harry for reasons no-one knew. It seemed apt though because she was a happy, intelligent, confident kid, always with a smile. She radiated kindness and wisdom, and everyone who met her came away thinking that she would make her mark in the world. She was one of those rare people that others gravitate to and cherish.

She’d befriended a stray dog that became our pet – a handsome, tan coloured dog, a bit like a Viszla, though with a bit of mongrel thrown in. On it’s back it had five small discolourations that looked like stars, lighter than the surrounding skin. Tilda – Harry – had named him Rocky.

I was so proud and happy, so grateful, to have a daughter like Tilda. For someone like me, who’s lived a solo for much of my life, and therefore independent and egocentric, it was a welcome and surprising sensation. There was something self-effacing in the experience. I’m just her father, and it was enough for me to put aside my ambitions, my striving, my sense of having to act and do. All of that seemed small and irrelevant to me then, puny and petty and self-conscious. What need had I of any of that? I had Tilda. She was my legacy and my gift to the world. For the first time, I understood what it was like to live for another.

I woke with an ache. There was about a time, about ten years ago, I was determined to become a father and thinking I had to find a surrogate. That never happened. And I was reminded of the women who had set themselves for me, so determined and certain that they would win me when I knew they never would. I was ‘unwinnable’ – too independent, too contrary, I didn’t want to be won. This morning I wondered, as I have before: what if I had allowed myself to give way? What I lacked was humility, and the capacity to see myself as a part of a whole, rather than as a single whole.