Sometimes I lose track of time. I seem to spend much of my life daydreaming or struggling and, in both these instances, time really does fly by my eyes.
A period of time ago that, to me, feels like an age but is more likely just a couple of years, I wrote a blog piece about a dream I had as a small child. A dream that I truly believe shaped my life and my attitude. The piece was entitled “The girl next door” and is one of those few entries in what has become my journal that I’m actually proud of. I try not to read again these words once published, but I have, in that and a few others, found comfort during some of my darkest hours.
Last night I dreamed a dream just as convincing as my childhood dream about the girl next door and one that left me with a similar, yet very different, set of emotions upon awakening. I dreamt I was editing a video for my "French Letters" series on YouTube, a process that takes place weekly in the same seat at the same table as I smoke the same pipe and sip the same brand of remarkably cheap coffee from the same aging Cath Kidston mug with a chip in the rim and, just as in real life, my dream positioned me just so.
I was dreaming that I was playing the raw footage back and, as I generally do, snipping out the parts that don't show my best side.
You didn't think I was really this pretty, did you?
As many of you know, I live in a loft above a garage. The timbers of the loft are riddled with woodworm, the window is nothing more than a hole in a wall with a screen fastened across it and the roof provides me with a lovely, panoramic view of the stars above as I lie in my cot at nights. I love it.
The loft I viewed upon my dreamed screen was in no way similar to the one in which I'm currently sitting and tapping away at these keys. It was a trendy space with solid timbers, expensive rugs, an actual kitchen and a double bed. It even had a staircase that didn't sway from side to side in the wind, a veritable palace in comparison to the spider and lizard infested paradise I dwell in when my eyes are open. The sleeping me didn't question the differences, he didn't realise I was dreaming or that he was nothing more than a construct of that dream dreamed within another head, he just accepted it and moved on.
The footage on the screen was unusual in that I was naked. I'm not given to recording myself naked these days (not for YouTube, anyway), age and poverty having now decimated what was once a physique to be proud of, but again the slumbering John didn't question these anomalies. His finger hovered above the relevant key on the keyboard, ready to edit out any appearance of the aptly monickered "Little John", but no such appearances were made. The footage I surveyed through the eyes of dream John was absolutely fine and required no editing, so back we sat, puffing on our favourite pipe and relaxing, observing and sipping creamy coffee from the unchipped side of our mug, both of us oblivious to the fact that in the real world that only one of us had or would ever experience the real me was sleeping soundly beneath a rotten joist to which a photograph of people we'd once loved and felt loved by is pinned.
As we puffed and sipped and watched I became aware of further discrepancies, little clues that hinted at my real state. During one section of video I rocked a crib in which slept a dark haired infant, a baby girl, who I knew was not the fruit of my own loins but who I knew I cared deeply for. In another clip I lay in my bed, smiling and whispering to the viewer so as not to wake the dark haired woman that slept beside me, a woman I knew to be the mother of the child I loved but who I knew I cared nothing for.
Then, the proof I needed to jolt my sleeping brain from it's ignorance. A shot of me from a distance, naked as in every other shot, revealed a tattoo that I've never had set amidst the tattoos that cover much of my upper body.
I was suddenly aware that I was asleep, that this was a dream from which I was about to wake, and I panicked.
I panicked because of the child in the crib, the child that still slept soundly and whose face I hadn't seen and whose face, I now realised, I would never see. A child my sleeping brain told me I loved, who would be taken from me should my eyelids flutter open.
And even worse than losing her I further came to realise that, once I'd returned to the land of the living, she'd be left with a woman that I now knew I despised.
So I fought to remain asleep. I dashed around the beautiful apartment my subconscious had constructed for me searching for somewhere to hide from the dawning dawn, but to no avail.
I woke, made myself a coffee and sat down to write this entry. This is one of those rare occasions where, even before having taken my seat at the keyboard, I'd known the ending, known the point I was going to make.
As a child, on the morning after my dream of a life with the girl next door, I'd cried. I'd longed to return to the dream I'd just had, for that adventure to continue and to never end.
As an adult, I fought to keep the adventure alive as long as I was able even though the panic I felt as I searched for a cupboard to hide in spoiled the ending of what, until then, had been a wonderful time. I'd focused on the dream's approaching culmination and I'd mourned its loss before its loss had arrived. Now, as I sip and puff and sit and think, I know that tonight will bring with it another dream, and that that next dream is only possible because the last one ended.
Each adventure we undertake has both a beginning and an end but, to paraphrase the great Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. A new adventure can only begin after an end, so was the end really the end or was it really the beginning?
A child will live the dream right up until morning comes, enjoying every moment of it and only allowing the sadness of loss once that loss it found. An adult will see the loss looming and fight against it, prematurely mourning a passing that may never come to pass and, in doing so, wasting precious time that could have been better spent by stroking the soft, dark hair of the child in the crib as he at last looked upon her face. A child enjoys his dreams, an adult fears the end.
The child in you is the optimism you feel when embarking on your next adventure. He is the one for whom the Cath Kiston cup is half filled, probably with Vimto, and who doesn't give a toss that he might get a cold sore from the chip. The adult, he's the pessimist. He looks forward to the adventure, so eager to taste it that he'll blow on the hot coffee to be able to take his first sip then, once embarked upon, dreads the other end as it approaches. His Cath Kidston cup is aging, half empty and he can only drink from one side for fear of the hypothetical scabby lip that may or may not arise at some point in a future he may or may not have.
If your cup is half empty then it's still half full, enjoy what's left. If it has a chip in it, finish your brew, smash the cup against the wall and go find the next adventure. You never know, you might be just the dream-you dreamt by the real-you and your real chipped cup is still sitting, safe and dirty, by the sink where you left if last night.
Don't dread the morn, live the dream.