Monday, 10 November 2008

Xanadus and Xanadon’ts - Charlie Butler

Last night I dreamed I went to.... where was it, now?
Haringey? Melton Mowbray? Manchester?
No – it’s gone. As it often does. I do try to sleep with a notebook and pen within reach, in case inspiration strikes in the night, but it’s seldom done me any good. The truly atmospheric and inspiring dreams just fall to pieces in my hands when I wake, and reconstructing them is like trying to build the Taj Mahal out of gossamer. Sometimes I simply forget the details, but often it’s a matter of finding that the gold coins I thought I’d stuffed into my pockets are nothing but stones and crinkled leaves when I wake. I hate it when that happens. And I hate the echo of that sneering elfin laughter.
For this reason my dream notebook is rather sparsely populated, mostly with orphaned phrases and ideas that go nowhere:
“The pennies dropped from my eyes.” Three puns in one! Keep for special occasion.
An alternative universe where all the men have pet pythons and all the women have pet eels. Think this through!! [Last sentence underlined twice.]
Am able to fly – but only nine inches off the ground. Zoom down street as if on bob-sleigh. Fun had by all.
Rare non-paradoxical time-travel story. Man goes back in time and is shot by own grandfather. Novelty value?
I’m sure you get the idea by now. Personally I can’t bear to expose my inner torment further. In fact, I wonder whether anybody is ever inspired in any detailed way by their own dreams. My guess is that we only get to hear about it after the dream’s been buffed up and made shiny, with a lot of gaps filled in and jaggedy corners rubbed smooth. It’s not that writers are dishonest about this, exactly. It’s just that that’s what writers do.
The great example is Coleridge, of course, who claimed to have dreamed the whole of “Kubla Khan” and then been interrupted by a person from Porlock before he could finish writing it down. That pleasant Somerset village has never recovered from the disgrace, but I share Stevie Smith’s suspicion that Coleridge let the Porlock person take the rap for his own failure of inspiration:
Coleridge received the Person from Porlock
And ever after called him a curse
Then why did he hurry to let him in?
He might have hid in the house.
It was not right of Coleridge in fact it was wrong
(But often we all do wrong)
As the truth is I think, he was already stuck
With Kubla Khan.
He was weeping and crying, I am finished, finished
I shall never write another word of it,
When along comes the Person from Porlock
And takes the blame for it.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of trick that can only be played once. Otherwise I’d be submitting my next children’s book to my agent tomorrow. After all, I've already not finished writing it.

6 comments:

Nick Green said...

Of course, now we all know that the person from Porlock was Dirk Gently.

I like the pennies dropping, by the way.

Doda said...

What a hilarious post!
I know exactly what you mean about trying to reconstruct your dream in the morning.
Been there, tried to do that and failed miserably.
I do sometimes get inspiration in those semi-awake drowsy moments in the morning though. So it is still important to keep that notebook beside the bed.

Lee said...

I love your list!

I fear I have an even more ridiculous habit: not just the bedside notebook, but actually trying to programme my dreams into solving my plot problems via pre-sleep suggestion. (Ahem, I'll leave it to those of you who have read my stuff to decide if that's why my fiction seems so - well, discombobulated.)

AnneR said...

This is the best title in the history of the world! And a great post :-) Sometimes, stones and crinkled leaves are more interesting than gold coins, though - and certainly more prized by children.

Lucy Coats said...

" My guess is that we only get to hear about it after the dream’s been buffed up and made shiny, with a lot of gaps filled in and jaggedy corners rubbed smooth. It’s not that writers are dishonest about this, exactly. It’s just that that’s what writers do."
You hit the nail on the head, Charlie! Honing and buffing is exactly what we do--and are we ever really satisfied with the rock that we have polished and beautified out of that first rough dreamstone? Well, sometimes. I think you are very brave to let us see into your dream notebook--mine is a lot less coherent and I'm certainly not letting ANYONE in there apart from me!

Charlie Butler said...

Yes, I guess we're all just buffers, when it comes down to it. You're right, though, AnneR, about the stones and leaves being valued.