Due to some trouble sleeping lately, last night I prowled around my bookshelves looking for a book that would have something of a more soporific effect than the one I’d been reading. I stumbled upon something I’d been given as a child called A Walk in Monet’s Garden. This isn’t actually a book; it’s a pop-up paper tableau that unfolds to display Monet’s lily pond, gardens, house and studio. The studio has windows that open so you can see miniature replicas of the lily pond paintings on the walls inside.
I found myself quietly setting up all the paper features at a very late hour, curled up in my pyjamas furtively folding open the weeping willows, the Japanese bridge, the arches of climbing roses over the avenue to the house. I tried to imagine myself walking around this little paper garden, pillowing my head on one of the flowerbeds, surrounded by beauty, peace and calm.
This brought back memories of the time I actually did visit Monet’s garden. I must have been about nine or ten years old and my mom and I were in Paris together. One morning we woke up really early, before sunrise, so we could take the train out to Giverny. I remember it being a beautiful sunny day as we wandered around the flowerbeds bursting with life and the big old studio with fantastic skylights which is now the gift shop.
After peering over the luminously pasteled little paper world for a while, I quietly folded everything up and stowed it away. My thoughts assiduously bent on happy garden memories of fragrant trellises, I prepared myself for a quiet night’s sleep.
That, unfortunately, is not what transpired. For the past few weeks I’ve been having nightmares. Not every single night, but often enough. Last night I had two.
I’ll spare you the (literally) gory details, because the thing that makes nightmares scary isn’t actually the images but the way you feel when you see them. For example you could have a dream about a large steak being cut up by a knife and fork. It could be an enjoyable dream: hey, I’m eating a delicious steak! Or it could be a horrible nightmare: a feeling of sinister unease could pervade throughout, causing a sense of dread every time the knife approaches the steak. See?
Nightmares, I am told, are often a reflection of stress or tension in a person’s waking life. What I don’t understand is why I dream about elaborately fantastical frightening situations instead of plainly on the things that are bothering me. If I’m afraid of doing poorly at my PhD or if I have anxieties about getting a job while the economy is collapsing, why don’t I dream about my supervisor hovering over my thesis with a great big FAIL stamp, or that my CV is being burned up to power a CEO’s golden hot-air balloon? I’d be happy with just plain old scary, but scary and cryptic is a little much for me.
To be honest I feel pretty indignant about the whole thing. I feel my subconscious is not providing me with the level of service I have a right to expect. I mean, I think I am perfectly entitled to complain if I’m going to have to have unintelligable nightmares all the time. What’s the good in sleeping if you’re just going to wake up more tired because you were so busy dreaming about finding the key that will keep the world from exploding, or about giant maurading flying sharks? I mean if I’d learned something about myself or made important progress on a deeply troubling psychological issue maybe I could make allowances. But as it is, I’m seriously considering a formal complaint. Now if only I knew where to direct my strongly worded letter…