Sunday, 17 February 2019

Trauma Remembered

I woke up with the memory of a childhood trauma pulsating in my head.

Around 10 years' old, I had been "tight-rope walking" on the top of the iron railings that divided our house from our neighbour's.

The type of railings on which I was tight-rope walking (the car and flower pots are new since that event of 60 years' ago).
Mother had often warned me against this practice, and, no doubt, forbidden it on the basis of its inherent danger. I protested that it was not dangerous for me, since I had the skill to avoid an accident. She warned that I  could lose my balance and fall. I answered that, of course I would lose my balance; I always lost my balance after a few steps, but, as soon as I began to lose my balance, I would hop off the railing and land on my two feet. Each time I went onto the railing, I hoped to extend the distance walked.

On this one fateful day, however, as I went to hop off the railing, the side of my foot momentarily touched against the railing, and, instead of landing on my feet, I toppled over and crashed head-first on the concrete path. The brunt of the fall was taken by the bones surrounding my right eye: my forehead, nose and cheek bone. Waking from my sleep this morning, these three areas remembered the trauma as if it were only recent.

I know what brought this memory to the fore. It was the selfie I recently took for the cover of my second book of poetry, recently published:

The crookedness of my nose is very apparent in this photo. Hippocrates asserts that a crooked nose is always evidence of a poor physician, since a broken nose can always be restored to its correct shape, either by the physician's hands, or by stuffing the nostrils and using plaster and bandages on the outside to keep the shape.

My physician was my mother. I must have been knocked unconscious by the fall, and awoke in bed with my mother ministering to me. She gave me something to drink and asked me questions to elucidate the extent of my concussion. She offered me a chocolate finger, but I thought it was her own finger.

I felt vague, particularly in the area of my head impacted, as well as in pain. I drifted back to sleep. It was observed that a doctor was not necessary, so my nose remains crooked.

The memory of the trauma is still there in my head. My left nostril is narrower than my right and more inclined to get blocked.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Lost in London

I dream I am visiting my brother in London. It is nearly 50 years since my brother lived in London, so this is a throwback to old times. However, the brother in my dream bears the features and characteristics of my son, Ronan, instead of those of my brother.

I am as ignorant of the geography of London as I was the first time I visited it nearly 50 years ago. It is just a huge, shapeless, conglomerate.

We are standing at a bus-stop, somewhere on the outskirts of London, accompanied by a poor boy (young adult). I notice a shoe-shop near the bus-stop, with a sale sign up in the window. I realise that I have a discount voucher for shoes in my wallet, and that the poor boy could do with a new pair of shoes, so I give him my voucher and urge him to the shop.

My brother thinks the voucher may not be enough to cover a pair of shoes he might choose, so decides to go into the shop with the poor boy.

Just then, a bus arrives at the stop. Is it our bus? The brother nods, but continues to the shop. I try to hold the bus, but the driver pulls off. Interestingly, the model of (double-decker) bus is that of today (with entrance door beside the driver, rather than at the back, and no conductor), rather than that of 50 years ago.

Soon after, another bus pulls in at the stop. I guess that there are several bus-routes that use this stop. Would this bus also suit us? I look at the name of the destination, displayed on the bus, and guess: yes! that sounds like where we are going.

Again, I try to hold the bus, expecting my brother and his companion to emerge from the shop at any moment. I reach the door, and have to step onto the bus to avoid missing it. I have to proceed to a seat. I go up the stairs and take a seat where I have a view of the shop door.

Brother and companion emerge; but now there is a surge of people onto the queue in front of them. It looks like they won't make the bus. I try to mouth to the brother a message that I will wait for them at the terminal. What is the name of the destination? I can't remember. It was something like "Tomorrow Market." I try to mouth "Tomorrow," meaning that I would meet him at "Tomorrow Market." The brother nods; indicating, "Yes: I'll see you there."

The bus pulls off. Now it occurs to me that "Tomorrow Market" may not be the correct name of the destination and that the brother might have understood, "See you tomorrow," rather than, "See you at the destination."

It is very warm on the bus. I notice that my neighbour's head is resting on my shoulder, and that he/she is asleep. I don't know what kind of person it is, because I can't actually see him/her.

This is my predicament, uncomfortably warm on a London bus, with an un-knowable stranger's head resting on my shoulder. I am in a city of 10 million inhabitants, a huge maze of streets. I don't know where I am going, but, in addition, I don't know where I am coming from.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Ard Hessly

I dreamt I was at a conference of Celtic scholars at a mysterious town a little to  the west of Galway City. It was fine weather and this afternoon's session was outdoors. Now, evening was drawing in and we were moving indoors. I said to someone, "This is where I met my wife  many years ago at a Gaeltacht Department seminar" (not actually true, for I met her in Brussels when on secondment from the Gaeltacht Department to the EEC).  I pointed to a man who looked like an older version of John Bacchus, a detective sergeant in the series "Inspector George Gently," (which I had been watching before bedtime) and said, "He was very eloquent and persuasive then," which is hardly true of the John Bacchus character, but I was indicating this unknown person who had been at the old conference.

Somebody on my left, as we moved along, said, "Will ye sing Ard Eas Laoi (pronounce: "Ard Ass Lee," meaning "High-place of the Waterfall of the River Lee) by Seathrún Céitinn (aka Geoffrey Keating)?" I never heard of the song. He recited a verse. It was in a fairly ancient version of Irish and I did not follow the words very well. Then a long-time learned acquaintance of mine,  who happened to be in front of us, turned and sang this translation, in a soft hoarse voice:
"Welcome, men, to Ard Hessly,
Whose priests, fathers Coyle and Shaw,
Will lift your faith to a frenzy,
And all for the glory of God."
I happened to be carrying somebody's guitar, and, I picked out the tune on the guitar, (although I actually don't play guitar). The guitar and singing blended nicely, and my acquaintance sang a few more verses. The song was, more or less, to the air of "Only our rivers run free," though I was not aware of that, just treating it as an air I was hearing for the first time.

It turned out that the  song was an invective against enthusiastic priests who raised a rabble army in Cromwell's time and led them, unskilled, poorly-equipped and badly-led, into battle, to be slaughtered by Cromwell's veteran army.

Now, fathers Coyle and Shaw were probably not the names of the priest of those days. Father Coyle is a former schoolmate of mine, who became a missionary and served in the Philipines. Shaw is the name of the actor who plays Inspector George Gently in the TV series, two names that were in my mind, only slightly below the level of consciousness, at the time. Irrelevant to the theme of the song, I changed them to "Fathers Kiely and Claud" in my verse-blog, to fit in better with the rhythm and rhyme, but a day later, took the names out altogether.

There is often more to a dream than meets the eye, for dreams are full of symbols and metaphors and refer to matters unconscious to the dreamer. I would guess a few meanings:
  • The mysterious town to the west of Galway, is my life before marriage, and the conference an expression of that life;
  • An unknown person who was eloquent and persuasive, refers to the enthusiasms of youth;
  • Ard Eas Laoi is a random name concocted by the subconscious to refer to a scenic place high in the mountains;
  • Seatrún Céitinn (in English, Geoffrey Keating) was an Irish priest, poet, patriot and historian, of Old English stock, who wrote a history of Ireland in the Irish language, based on tradition, modified by the Bible, and died during the Cromwellian war. He never wrote this poem, but my subconscious took his name to give it an ancient source.
  • The names produced in the dream are opportunistically drawn from my memory.
  • Bacchus and Shaw occur in the dream to remind me that recent TV material is relevant to the message; so
  • Ard Hessly is probably a metaphor for a place in recent news where, I suppose, people have been stirred up by eloquent and persuasive leaders and passionate men of the cloth to confront a deadly army with home-made weapons: the Gaza Strip, where, in recent days, protesters were fired upon by the Israeli army with multiple deaths. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Shoe Shop

I dreamt I was in a shoe-shop on Dawson Street, Dublin. This was one of those places, familiar in the dream, which has no counterpart in the real world. I wanted to buy a pair of shoes the same as I bought here about 20 years ago. Don't worry, I was not relying on the shop-assistant matching the shoes from a description: I had the product-number, which I handed to her. You might think it would be a simple matter for her to key the product-number into her computer to check if these shoes were available, but she considered that it would take considerable research, and she was too busy to engage in that. So, she lifted the phone and spoke to her father. Her father was retired, but living upstairs. He came down to the shop, rolling up his sleeves, eager to get into the project. She sent him downstairs to the cellar to do the research down there.

Unusually for a shoe-shop, this shop had a line of tall bar-stools, facing a line of computer-screens, where customers could research  the store's products. While waiting, I engaged with one of these computer-screens. The matter I requested was taking time to load. So, while it was loading, I decided to type a letter to a newspaper, using another window. The newspaper I was addressing was the Sunday Independent. In my letter, I recalled the advice of Hippocrates that, if a person becomes sick after changing his dietary habit, (for example, if he starts having two meals a day where he formerly had only one, or having three meals a day where he formerly had only two), then, he might be cured by returning to his former habit. I suggested that the same could be said of a nation. When I was a boy, we Irish ate our dinner in the middle of the day. Now, having bent to the practice of the western, industrial, world, we often have our dinner at night. Consequence: increased obesity and incidence of cancer. The solution could be to return to our former custom. As usual in dreams, what starts out as a simple proposition becomes more complex as I recall that in my youth, Irish people often had a glass of milk with their dinner, but now have soft drinks or  wine, and that we had milk also with our breakfast, with porridge or cereals; that we only occasionally had "Irish Breakfast" and then on special occasions as a Brunch rather than a breakfast, and that the matter was more complex than just the timing of the dinner.

I was tired of the letter-writing and of waiting for the man to finish researching my shoes, so I decided to go home. When I went out the shop door, instead of turning left towards Trinity College and home, I turned right towards St Stephen's Green, and wondered why I did that. "O yes," I answered myself, "No doubt I am going to turn right at the top of Dawson Street and then turn right again at some street, such as Grafton Street or Georges Street, to head for home."

I found I was walking funny. My left knee would not straighten nor move forward. I was going high with my right foot, and low with my left foot. I tried and tried and tried to straighten and move my left foot. Eventually, I gave a kick that awakened me from my dream. Then I realised that I had been lying on my left side and in some way restricted the flow of blood or life-energy to my left foot. I recalled many dreams of my childhood years, where I had dreamt I had difficulty walking, and had to drag myself along by the railings. I reckoned now they were probably the result of a similar restriction of energy to my leg(s) because of my sleeping pose.

As to the shoe inquiry, this matches a real-time mental exercise as to a possible purchase of a new pair of shoes. As to Hippocrates, I have recently downloaded his collected writings on Kindle, and, yes, he raises the question of illness resulting from changes of diet, from which discussion my subconscious mind is obviously drawing parallels.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Snow Inscriptions

I dream I am at a meeting to discuss my recording of the inscriptions on the snow monuments. As I begin speaking the issue is totally clear and simple in my mind: the inscriptions have been recorded and should now be published. However, as I speak, I become aware of complications, and moderate my recommendations subtly as I proceed.

"Well, of course," I say, "the inscriptions were given to my by Professor Bright, and perhaps it is my duty, or our duty, since I am agent for this  organisation, is to return the record to him, and it would be his decision as to what to do with the record." As I speak, I wonder have I Professor Bright's name right, but continue without alluding to this doubt.

"Then," I say, "there is the matter of copyright. The inscriptions are in three categories. First, you have the multiple anonymous inscriptions, which would have no copyright. Then, you have the history of the monuments, in very cryptic language, by someone called McCormack, and, thirdly, McCormack's account of his/her own activities, also in cryptic language. Should these latter two categories by published as they are, - in cryptic form, - or should the material be elaborated, either speculatively by us, or by Professor Bright, or pursuant to inquiry to this person McCormack, and is his/her permission needed anyway to the publication."

"The snow is now melted, and mine is the only existing record of the inscriptions."

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Bell-Ashton Foundation

The name "Bell-Ashton" came out of my dream, and does not, to the best of my knowledge, have any relevance to any real world entity.

This dream springs from my recent activities:

  • preparation for my "Land of Ireland" lecture to the Leixlip History Society, which half-opened many inviting doors to avenues not yet explored; 
  • last Thursday's music session by my little band of Imposters at Clareville Day Centre, where we found two wedding anniversaries to be celebrated, one a sixtieth and the other a fifty-eighth, and the sixty-celebrating groom sang two songs from an old tradition of comic songs, the first, called  "the Two-hundred Year Old Alcoholic" describing a man, who, at eightyyears decided to start living and took up smoking, drinking, gambling and womanising, to find himself becoming an alcoholic as he approaches two hundred, and the second an American song to fit in with our America theme for that day (next Thursday has a Scottish theme).
  • The other recent activity is my editing of Clareville Centre's "Dublin Memory Book," a book of contributions by clients of the Centre, (including one from the sixty-year groom), which I expect to be published soon,  to which I contribute a story called "Big Boys' School," describing how different schooling was in my time, in the era of large classes and corporal punishment.

In the dream I set out with an Active Retirement group on a bus tour. The Active Retirement element is mixed up with echoes of school and church-choir outings of old. We are heading for the sea-side, and, as in the school trips, I am eager to get there and a bit irritated by the cultural and historic stops we make on the way.

We stop at a site reminiscent of a university campus, the Bell-Ashton foundation, imbued with layers of history like Lismore Castle in my Land of Ireland lecture, This campus is apparently in County Meath, the county that hosts the famous Megalithic sites of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, and historic Tara, seat of the High Kings. Soon head on towards the coast.

We spend a long sunny day (and extensive dream-time) engaging in the pleasures of the sea-side, and then board the bus for the return journey.

This time, when we stop at the same campus we visited briefly on the way out, we follow a flow of people towards the door of what? The door of a large church or cathedral. The people have lighted candles and are parading in for Mass. Since we are there for the tour and not the ceremony, we deflect out a side-door and into another edifice of the campus.

Here a man is giving an informative talk. He takes a saxophone and  plays a couple of scales. Then he explains: "Bell developed the basic structure, but Ashton developed the many variations." He played the saxophone again, this time not a scale, but multiple variations between various sequences of two adjacent notes. "While the Bell patent gave the original funding, the multiple Ashton patents provide the vast bulk of the funding."

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Dream Watching

My first engagement with Dream Watching occurred when I was about 20. A peer at a social gathering posed the question: "Do you dream in Technicolor or in Black-and-White." (At that time "technicolor" films were a novelty).

Even though my dreams felt very real, I did not know the answer to this question, nor did my peers. So, in the nights that followed, I observed my dreams.

I found:

  • Dreams are in technicolor.
  • The dream-master uses a policy of extreme economy of "paint." You see the detail of what you are focused on, but the rest of the picture is more "understood to be there" rather than actually seen. When you move your focus, the detail in what you are newly focused on is immediately provided.
  • The style of painting is Caravaggio, rather than El Greco
  • The technique of chiaroscuro is widely used as part of the policy of economy, although the dream-artists are allowed to give extravagant colour-patterns and impressionist effects as special exhibits when required. (I think the latter are more often viewed in the "vacant or reflective mood" prior to sleep than in the actual dreams, which follow Caravaggio pretty loyally).
  • Perspective in dreams is always perfect. This is amazing considering how contrived perspective is in paintings. Dream-artists get it right first time all the time at perhaps 30 frames per second!
Around that time, I took my sketch pad and box of paints up into the mountains. I had an idea that, just by being there, rather than stuck in a room at home, I could magically "capture" the atmosphere of the scene. It was a dull day, and my picture turned out to be a brown-grey mess. Painting is an artifice, and, whether in the studio or en scene, must be contrived.

It is remarkable how Caravaggio managed apparently to copy dream images extremely faithfully. In sleep, or in reflection, we can conjure up amazing images. Stand in front of a canvas, however, and all you have in your head is blank space. You can't project those amazing images onto the canvas: you have to re-create them by artifice.

A few years later, I had occasion to visit Jesuit, Micheál Mac Gréil, at Miltown Park. I paused on my way in to view a large painting that hung over a stairs. "What do you think of that?" asked Mícheál. "It looks like a Caravaggio," I said. "Do you think it's a Caravaggio?" asked Mícheál, "it came down from our house up in Scotland, and it is thought to be by a minor Scottish artist." "Ah no," I said. "I am no expert. I only said that it looks like a Caravaggio. It could, of course, be a copy by a student-artist, or a picture 'in the style of' Caravaggio." The net point of this story is that years later the Jesuits submitted the painting to the National  Art Gallery for cleaning and evaluation, and it turned out to be a genuine Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, now on view in Ireland's National Art Gallery.

A note on perspective is relevant at this point. We all learned at school that all parallel lines meet on the horizon, and I have seen art-critics rehash this principle as if it were gospel truth. A neighbour of mine (now deceased) propounded to me the theory that the preaching classes (teachers, preachers, journalists, politicians and critics) are people who are not able to do anything (i.e., do not excel at any craft) and, therefore, make out in professions where all they have to do is preach. The idea that all parallel lines meet on the horizon is true only where the landscape is flat.  Every incline in a landscape produces its own false horizon where its parallels meet. Indeed, where the slope of a rising or falling road is not constant but increasing or decreasing, every change in the slope produces its own horizon.

Here is a photo of a picture I painted about ten years after the initial experiment described above. This again is a "grey" scene: a wintry stormy sea-scene. I did not stand at the location vainly trying to capture the atmosphere in the rain-spotted wind, but took a photograph and returned to my chalet to do the  painting. A photograph itself must be artificed. You can't just whip out your camera and expect to "capture" the atmosphere of the scene. You must select your objects and walk around until they make a satisfactory composition. When you come to paint the scene, you can remember the feeling of the place, leave out unnecessary detail, re-arrange the objects, and manipulate the palate to give the feeling you wish the painting to have.

The over-all wintry grayness is alleviated by choosing objects of high contrast.  The furthest objects are misted down. The golden-brown yellow of the grasses is reflected in the grey sky and brightened with touches of red in the foreground. The road leads down to the sea-front, so is drawn in perspective to a false horizon way below the real one, and leads the eye in to the turbulent waters.

My next bout of dream-watching came years later. I was reading the autobiographical "Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman," of Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner, and observed how he engaged in a period of Jungian dream-watching. The technique is simple: when you go to bed,  tell yourself that you will observe your dreams. This keeps a part of the brain alert while you are sleeping and you are able to watch the dreams as if you are an outside observer rather than a participant. If you don't understand  something in the dream, you can ask "the Director" of the dream, and he will keep you informed.

Following Feynman's lead, I spent a while observing my dreams. Amazingly, I solved the riddle of all of my childhood nightmares, which had continued to my middle age, but disappeared when resolved.
These nightmares were:

The Greek Temple
I seemed to be inside a Greek Temple. Life was cosy enough there, but I  desired to visit the world outside. (I had wondered if this nightmare was a memory of a previous life). When I approached the door, however, the sunlight outside was so strong that it hurt my eyes, and I retreated to the dim inside. When I was dream-watching, I noticed those spikes that are found in the triangular architectural feature over the door. "How," I asked the dream, "can I see those spikes if I am  inside?" Then I focused closer on the spikes. They were not spikes at all, but frills. The frills, in fact, of the ribbon-thing that hangs down from the shade of a baby's pram. Suddenly, I knew the true story of the dream. My mother would often put the baby's pram outside in the sunshine. The sun gradually moved across the sky, and the pram had to be turned around to keep the sun out of the baby's eyes. On one occasion, the pram had not been turned in time and the sun blinded my eyes as a lay in the pram. This was quite traumatic, and my sub-conscious mind kept stirring the memory until a satisfactory explanation was found, through dream-watching.

The Abyss, or Migraine Dream
I used to wake  up from this dream with a migraine. I dreamt I was but a speck and was hanging from a very thin filament, suspended between two cliffs and overhanging a bottomless abyss. My situation was very  insecure. A good shake of the filament, and I would be thrown off into the abyss. There was a great voice shouting from one cliff and being answered by an equally great voice on the other cliff. The roar of their voices made the cliffs and my filament shake, so I was in grave danger. The voices were those of Hitler and Stalin. Their foreign words were unclear to me, but their meanings were, "I will rule the  world," "No, I will rule the world." Now, observing the dream, I asked, "Are they really the voices of Hitler and Stalin," and no! they were, in fact, the muffled voices of my father and mother. The words were not discernible, but indicated a disagreement. The muffling of the voices was like the muffling of sounds during a migraine aura, so here is the explanation: I was having a migraine while still in my mother's womb. This was the correct explanation, and this dream never recurred after that.