Part 82: Dreams

I’m going to tell you a secret:

My ex-lovers haunt my dreams like ghostly stalkers. They slip into my bedclothes and unravel the past from twisted threads – soft and benevolent, whispering indecipherable endearments, moving towards me with a yearning, ethereal tenderness and, sometimes, checking me into cheap hotel rooms like they used to do in real life. Or else they appear as bitter, demonic versions of themselves. Barking indecipherable abuse, moving towards me with a deliberate malevolence and, sometimes, forcing me to join them in sexual trysts in front of their new girlfriends (which, I’m pleased to report, has not ever happened in real life).

There are moments during these recurring dreams when I become lucid. But in such lucid moments I can’t be sure whether it’s me dreaming the dream, or whether it’s the ex-lover and, somehow, I’ve made my way inside his consciousness.

Occasionally, out of nowhere, an ex will totally freak me out by shape-shifting into a lamp or a kitten or – when the dream morphs into a Freudian nightmare – my father.

This is what my dreams have taught me: love doesn’t ever leave you. It clings like an invisible film to the deepest crevices of the psyche. It is a very consuming emotion – I have always said this. (Except for the times when I have denied its existence in an attempt to suppress the aching of my poor, bruised heart.) Love is beautiful, but it is also the hardest thing. In love you are vulnerable and exposed, but also (and it occurs to me that I have recently forgotten this) love makes you a warrior: alert, poised and oblivious to danger.

It is both tragic and delicious enough that the universe forces us to make such painful bonds with friends and family members – let alone that it complicates the experience of being alive with romance. And I’m not denying that love can be delicious.

blog image 82

Here is another secret:

There are moments on winter evenings when I feel content. Sitting by the fire in my parents’ London living room, sipping on good brandy and knowing that, at least for now, every single person I want to protect from peril is tucked up asleep under warm blankets where they cannot be harmed. It’s the same feeling I used to feel resting my head against my boyfriend’s chest and listening to the steady beat of his heart.

Though, of course, it is less than cool to admit to feeling anything at all, ever, I have to acknowledge that it is an actual miracle my heart doesn’t just literally explode out of my chest on a regular basis.

How does anyone bear it? I can hardly stand the pain of loving my friends and pets and family members. I simply don’t know if I can drag myself through another relationship only for it to result in my heart breaking and my subconscious replaying painful fragments of the experience all the night forevermore.

I mean – I’m tempted. Of course I’m tempted. I paint my nails blood red and I circle my blue eyes with kohl and I drape whimsical scarves around my neck and I occasionally leave the house and I do all this, not just because of vanity, but also in the hope that one day I’ll find another lover who’ll make me feel something. And then, at night, I fall asleep and I dream and I wake up remembering how hard it actually is to feel something. It is very hard indeed. It is much easier to sit in your flat cooking delicious food and watching Six Feet Under and arranging cut flowers and writing hilarious blogs and finally finishing your PhD thesis.

But that is not a very brave way to go about living. In fact, now that I’ve reached the end of this posting, and despite my resolute solitude up until today, I’m realising that, however I try to frame it, that is a very bleak way to go about day to day life indeed.

It turns out, on close inspection, that my dreams are perhaps a reason not to be single after all.

*With thanks to Nina Toussaint-White (@NinaToussaint) for the image.

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Part 81: Doing Nothing (or, Feast/Famine)

I live my life according to the hunter-gatherer philosophy of feast/famine. For those of you unfamiliar with this primitive way of living, let me explain. I should probably preface this with a disclaimer: I’m talking about cave people. Also: calling it a philosophy is a misrepresentation. These were people living in civilizations so underdeveloped that they considered it normal practice to draw rudimentary images of cattle onto stone walls with their own faeces and beat wild animals to death with batons hewn out of rock. It was a time before navel-gazing had evolved as a legitimate use of calories. At least, it was a time before humans were able to record navel-gazing in a lasting medium. (If only the same could be said for the Greeks).

Still, I think misrepresenting people who are long dead, in a language they definitely wouldn’t understand – if some Jurassic Park style DNA experiment resulted in them coming back to life – is about as ethically uncontentious as misrepresentation gets. So here we go:

In times of plenty, when the land was fertile, the moist soil produced bountiful crops and great buffalo grazed on greenest grass, our ancestors would stuff their faces with so much food each night that it was as though they were guests at the kind of gluttonous Royal banquet that probably hadn’t been invented yet. This was the feast.

In leaner times, when the Earth was brittle and dry – or flood waters had ruined the crops – and anorexic buffalo nibbled at weeds withering by the side of a toxic river, our ancestors suffered famine. Many of them died. (I do not recommend you do this if you adopt my version of feast/famine). Others of them grew very thin, or fell ill. But some – usually those who had taken full advantage of the ‘feast’ period – hunkered down and soldiered through. Gnawing at bits of bark and the rancid skin of months-dead buffalo, they waited patiently until such a time as their bounty flowed plentiful once again.

My own feast/famine schedule does not (yet) rely so heavily on the fickle fate of climate change as the feast/famine schedule of my forefathers did (though I’m willing to bet it soon might). Instead, it relies upon how quickly I burn through the money in my bank account in any given month.

Usually, I burn through it pretty fucking fast.

Feast days include: booking spontaneous holidays I will be unable to afford to enjoy by the time they come around, drinking £12 cocktails, eating out with friends – chewing through a garlic prawn appetiser and the softest fillet steak you ever did taste – and then washing it all down with a whisky-on-the-rocks before being escorted home by a muscular Eastern European with excellent bedside manners and enough charm to bring me eggs and bacon in bed before we part ways never to speak again*.

Conversely, periods of famine comprise endless days spent alone in my flat. Sleeping in until 2pm and then moving to the sofa – where I stare vacantly at the wall. I usually fail to change out of my pyjamas until midnight, when I have a shower and climb into a new set ready to start the cycle of sloth once again. My fridge is so bare that my daily meal consists of a lump of cheese dipped into a jar of pesto sauce from which I have just scraped a fuzzy layer of mould. My hair is greasy; my chin sports numerous teenage spots (which, while fairly unsightly, do have the advantage of making me look and feel younger than the frown lines that carve deeper crevices into my face with each passing hour).

This might sound terribly depressing. However, one of the skills to living a happy life – as I’ve recently discovered – is learning how to feast without letting the famine drive you to suicide. You have to become comfortable with doing nothing. And by nothing, I mean: NOTHING. Famine days are not for blogging, catching up on neglected doctoral research, cleaning the flat or washing the foetid pile of clothes looming at you from the foot of your bed. Indeed, you will not have the energy for any of these things.

Famine days should be spent lying prostrate on the sofa, or in bed. (You are allowed to move your head and arms to play Candy Crush Saga, text your friends, write provocative Facebook status updates and watch DVDs of Six Feet Under). On no account should you leave the flat to enjoy the weather, take in the fresh air or engage in similar worthy pursuits. Leaving the house will only cost you money, and calories you can’t afford to replace.

Granted, days like those described above feel gross. In the same way that reading a copy of Take a Break, eating three twirls and drinking half a leftover bottle of Prosecco for no reason feels gross. They will be dark, but quite gratifying at the same time. There’s something wonderfully decadent about festering in your own filth and thoughts – which is very difficult to do once you have a partner and children who will no doubt cajole you into activity at precisely the hour when you ought to be pressing snooze on your alarm clock **.

Of course, I can’t promise that my system of feast/famine will keep you fulfilled. It’s really only a healthy lifestyle choice if you work freelance (and are rarely commissioned to produce anything), or part-time, or in education with massive periods of holiday. It helps me to stay fulfilled if I think of my famine days as extended nuggets of meditation. This has the advantage of making them feel spiritual. And, as I don’t go to church or subscribe to any organised system of religion, periods of meditative sloth do help to keep me stable. You might have noticed that this is something I very much need.

*That last part never really happens.

**To be totally honest with you, I have found it possible to do nothing in a relationship. But only because, in the past, I made the mistake of forming unions with men who had similar economic capital to me and smoked a lot of weed. Plus, I was pretty much a teenager then. I don’t think proper late twenty or early thirty something adults can get away with luxuriating in their own filth for days and days until work commitments force them into action. That’s just not sexy. Although I still find it sexy. (I might be quite fucked up).