Nick Wood – January/February 2007

Happy New Year to all for whom it is a new year- and hopefully a continuing happy 'old' year for those to whom it is not new! I have good news since my last blog - it seems that the High Court in Botswana has ruled in favour of the San against the Botswanan government land removals - see:

This is at least some good news to set against ongoing atrocities and war in places such as Darfur: and Ethiopia/Somalia:

Dreams have been vivid for me at the start of the New Year - often the case in transitional times, I've heard. In my case, it's settling back from our 'Antipodean' venture and into new and challenging work. Having been in dream analysis for several years under a Jungian analyst, and having carried out some dream interpretations myself clinically, I had a 'go' at unpicking the most recent dream. So I've started a dream diary again, but it's a lazy one, limited to dreams remembered on final waking. I've had enough of mid-night recordings and being unable to fall asleep again - and I don't want to be shot by my partner either!:-)

It starts with a gathering of swimmers on the coast of Cornwall - tri-athletes I imagine, from an elevated view, as if in a helicopter. They then leap into the sea and in a desperate surging of limbs, power through the water towards…the east coast of the United States? 'Surely not', I think, 'A leisurely solo unaided swim, maybe', (!) 'but surely not in a flat out race?'

The swimmers, numbering about a hundred or so, reach the mid-Atlantic and exhausted, dive suddenly, powering down to the bottom of the ocean, where they batter their heads against a sea-bed of discarded Ken and Barbie dolls, limbs broken, heads bobbling loose. As the swimmers bash their heads against them and the ocean floor, they are transformed into immobile, broken and empty plastic dolls themselves, drifting in the debris of dolls on the ocean floor.

And then I am in a room with three other swimmers, chained and being prepared for training to do a trans-Atlantic race. 'I think I need to get out of here,' is my final thought before waking.

Not the sweetest of dreams, then, to welcome in a New Year. But helpful perhaps if I can penetrate the language/symbolism to uncover its' meanings. It's been over a hundred years since Freud (1900) published his ground-breaking The Interpretation of Dreams, arguing for dreams as symbolic messages from the unconscious. Often ranged against this notion is the idea that dreams are just jumbled detritus from the day, randomly sifted by residual nocturnal cognitive processing.

For me, I've had too long a history of seeing the veracity of the first principle operating in my own life to believe all dreams are merely chaotic and trivial reprocessing. It may be the case that some may be though - there are dreams that appear so jumbled and potentially related to the day's activities, it's hard to penetrate an underlying set of meanings. Then again, though, waking recollection may be so flawed as to leave only the impenetrable and seemingly trivial pieces left. I do think however that we are essentially meaning makers in our conscious existence - so why not when we are asleep? (Rollo May's The courage to create illustrates the creative capacity inherent in dreams too.)

The language of dreams appears to be a primarily visual one, though, as if operating on a primordial pre-linguistic level. So, I had an idea where to start - trying to unravel the visual images as symbols. (Certainly not with dream dictionaries - symbols are so often individually nuanced with idiosyncratic associations, that the idea of a universal dream decoding dictionary is over-simplistic and reductionistic – although it may well be that some symbols may have more common meanings or associations, such as houses perhaps reflecting the psyche: Hall, 1983. This essentially means that no one can tell you what your dream means.) So it essentially becomes a matter of tracing the associations connected to components of the dream and piecing together the narrative/structural sequence.

And I do think daily events may provide triggers for stimulating dream concerns - so daily contexts are important. For me, it was attending a stimulating, high powered academic conference given by leading researchers in the area of developmental psychopathology. There's a collaborative collegial atmosphere amongst many researchers, but it's hard to ignore a rivalrous, driven and competitive edge amongst some too. I was aware of having done some research in the area myself, but feeling it was not enough - knowing that I had primarily been a clinician with very limited time to do research due to high clinical demands assuaged this feeling to some extent – but I guess I still took this to bed with me.

So I explored the main symbol of the swimmers - associating the issue of a race to personal competitiveness. That is, there's a competitive part of me that's setting very high goals - manifest in a dream that has a swimming race across the Atlantic - and another part of me that realizes it's an impossible target with an inevitable end; i.e. burn-out as symbolized by the diving, drowning swimmers. The dolls are an interesting twist - I think for me it's a realization this competitive drive is more about 'shells', i.e. external appearances rather than internal substance or conviction. It's also a drive that is restrictive to me - symbolized by being chained - and I would obviously rather be elsewhere.

So where would I rather be? (When dreams have unsatisfactory endings, it's sometimes useful to visualize alternative, more positive endings. This is a recommended cognitive-behavioural strategy for children with nightmares, for example.) Actually, I love the ocean and I love swimming, so I'm generally happy where I am in the dream - but as for details, I would rather be in the surf at Muizenberg (Cape Town) than churning across the Atlantic Ocean. What does this metaphorically mean in terms of my life?

I think it means I'll be happy with a publication or two this year on top of work, whether it's fiction and/or non-fiction. It won't be earth shattering stuff I'm aiming for either- if just one person finds it useful and/ or entertaining, that will be good enough. I don't think it's a matter of settling for mediocrity, but recognition that we're not all cross-Ocean swimmers - in fact, none of us are – and it's the act of swimming that counts, not how far you go.

I wish you sweet dreams tonight.

Hall, James A. (1983) Jungian Dream Interpretation. Inner City Books; Toronto.

Some science fiction works focus on dreams too - Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heavenfeatures a protagonist who can change reality with his dreams. Roger Zelazny's The Dream Master has a character that can enter and change other people's dreams from within. Some of the works of PK Dick and JG Ballard carry an inherent surrealistic style that mimics dream-like states and blurs distinctions between fantasy and 'reality'.

For current speculative short-fiction with a range of styles and value for money, Postscripts will be hard to beat. Thick with content, Issue 8 contains an excellent lead-in by Michael Swanwick entitled The Bordello in Faerie, supported by consistently strong work from a variety of authors throughout; with even a couple of excellent sharp, sweet short-shorts by Brian A. Hopkins and Terry Bisson. (I'm generally not a big fan of short-shorts as I prefer a longer story immersion, but these were really very good!) Issue 9 has just been received - they follow a regular quarterly schedule. Postscripts is published by PS Publishing, who are a dynamic company publishing great twenty-first century fiction at:

I've read a few comics and graphic novels recently, the most interesting of which features the work of Brian K. Vaughan. Y: The last man is a tale of one man and his monkey surviving a biological catastrophe which means essentially only women are the other remaining survivors. A great story makes a whole lot more of what seems initially like a wish-fulfillment tale. Ex machina is an even more engrossing tale for me of post 9/11 politics and the nature of (super) heroism.

Talking of politics, I've ordered and am looking forward to reading Glorifying Terrorism a new anthology edited by and available from Farah Mendlesohn on her live web-journal (Wednesday 13th December 2006) at:

As a brief addendum, there is a magical South African novel where dreams feature prominently too – The Heart of Redness. by Zakes Mda (see South African SF; part 3). The novel explores parrallel stories of post-apartheid rural life and a nineteenth century where the amaXhosa face border wars with the forces of British colonialism. Here, the lasting legacy of Nongqawuse's dreams – which almost resulted in national starvation – are unravelled.

May you all have a wonderful 2007.

Nick Wood – January/February 2007