The Unhidden Room

Do you dream?

I am a vivid dreamer. If I don’t quite remember a dream, I can still ‘taste’ it for hours. Wonder, panic, laughter, fear, anticipation, guilt, joy, anger, pleasure, mourning; sensations seep into my consciousness and colour my day.

Mostly I remember dreams. I have made stories out of some. Other times when I feel as if I’ve dreamt the perfect plot, either it dissipates before I can write it down or I start to write it down and realise it is total nonsense. Mostly, I put off transcribing, thinking the dream will be impossible to forget and then… forget.

As a teenager, I was fascinated with dream interpretation, but the book I got tended towards prophecy. It said that dreaming about bras meant I’d be coming in to money. I’m still waiting.

So it was with some scepticism that I half-listened to something on the radio when driving home one day. I had left work earlier than usual and the person was dream-interpreting. A caller rang in to say that they frequently dreamt of finding a room they didn’t know they had.

My ears pricked up. This was a dream which I had so often, I frequently woke up convinced the room actually existed. Sometimes, the room was off the attic, sometimes off a downstairs room. I usually had to crawl through some narrow opening to get to it. Sometimes a room, sometimes two floors, sometimes virtually a whole other house was hidden beyond the chute or corridor or hole. Sometimes the rooms were in disrepair, sometimes they were sumptuous and elegant. “Come on then,” I said to the radio, “tell me something ridiculous, I could do with a laugh.”

The dream interpreter said simply that the house represents the self and that finding a room which is hidden means there is something about yourself which is not being expressed. Usually, it means your creativity is suppressed and the dream is an expression of frustration.

I think hearing this was a sort of turning point for me. At the time, I was mother to two children still in primary school. I was also working part-time. My life seemed to consist of being late, running between school, work, clubs, swimming lessons etc. When I wasn’t doing that, I tackled the Sisyphean task of trying to keep on top of housework, laundry, shopping etc. At work, my husband and I, having signed up several years earlier into a career in a “job for life if you want it” organisation, were both having to reapply for our own jobs or similar jobs as that organisation restructured into something where a “job for life” was a distant memory. (This exercise has repeated itself almost every eighteen months since.) In terms of creativity, pretty much all my outlets had dried up. My watercolours were lost in the attic; sewing was restricted to responding to emergency requests for costumes (“oh, didn’t I tell you that I have to be the Queen of Sheba tomorrow?”); writing was reduced to emails which intending to be funny, mostly indicated a high level of stress and encroaching depression. OK I still cooked, but cooking for children is always more about the anticipation of rejection than applause.

So my hidden room dreams meant I had submerged my creativity? Was this the root cause of my fundamental unhappiness? If I found time to paint, sew and most importantly write again, would the feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction recede? Would I be a nicer person to know?

It was a slow process from then. I still didn’t have much time. I was afraid I had no ideas any more. But I got some new watercolours and painted a picture of our son and daughter gathering shells for my husband’s birthday. My husband bought me a laptop and I started to write again. What if I had no ideas? I started to write anyway: a story about two children who discover only their grandmother can save the world. I challenged my father to writing competitions. (Dad never let anything stop him from writing and was even doing it in hospital the day before he died, when too weak to do much else). Little by little, I widened the entrance to that hidden room.

It’s been a long time since then. Now I work full-time and chase round after teenagers. I am still running slightly ahead of the redundancy monster. In the story about the alien grandmother (not finished) the children are eight and six. How strange: mine were that age at the time I was reading it to them. They are now nearly eighteen and sixteen. I have learnt a lot about writing and a lot more about giving myself permission to be creative and let the housework pile up. I am happier, less frustrated. I hardly ever dream about hidden rooms and when I do, I know it’s because I’ve got the balance wrong again.

But this doesn’t stop me from dreaming vivid, often narrative dreams. Certain people appear when I feel a certain way. Sometimes I dream something awful has happened to someone I love and I have to ring them to check they’re all right. Someone used to turn up when I felt guilty, until it occurred to me that they didn’t deserve to be put into position of judge by my subconscious. More to the point, it occurred to me that because I might be contemplating something that one person would not approve of, didn’t mean it was actually wrong. In fact, worrying about certain people’s approval was one of the things which had been holding back my writing for years.

I got a more sensible dream interpretation book. This makes a lot more sense. The house represents the self. Animals represents emotions. Exposure represents anxiety.

One night I dreamt about teeth. In fact I was dreaming that two fillings (one which doesn’t exist) fell out. I looked in “The Top One Hundred Dreams and What They Mean” by Ian Wallace and it said “losing your teeth indicates something is challenging you and causing you to lose confidence in your ability to deal with it…. a loose filling suggests you are no longer filled with confidence.”

This part of the dream followed on from one where I had to find a toilet at an event I was going to be running the following week next (and, you’ve guessed it, about which I felt zero confidence). Apparently “searching for a toilet shows you are looking for some way to tell someone what you really need”. (What I really wanted to tell everyone was that I needed another job).

I’m not sure it means to have to use the toilet once found (even though the door is inadequate and you’re about to be discovered) but I think it’s fairly obvious. The toilet dream is fairly recurring and is my equivalent of dreaming about being naked in public. I dream it when I’m feeling unconfident and fed up. I am not sure why my subconscious needs to reinforce this. Similarly, I don’t need a book to know that dreaming about reversing a car which turns into a bicycle, with no lights or brakes in a snow storm onto a motorway at night means I’m feeling just a little stressed.

Occasionally I dream about my Dad, who died a few years ago. He is usually bringing lots of clutter and a certain amount of chaos (which was pretty much what he did). He is usually silent (which is uncharacteristic. Ask my mother: he couldn’t even sleep in silence.) I don’t know what this means for me. It quite possibly means I need to dig out all his writings (which he left to me, only fifty percent in digital format) and do something with them.

On the other hand, you can only interpret things so far.

The other morning I dreamt I met a demon sharpening his teeth on a road name sign. That’s not in the dream book. I have no idea what that might mean.

It’s nice to know there are bits of my subconscious that is unfathomable. It makes me feel enigmatic.


Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

2 thoughts on “The Unhidden Room

  1. Interesting. I never ever remember dreams, even in the days of getting sleep I never really remembered my dreams. I wonder what that means?!

    So, so glad you’re writing again, and even more pleased you’re sharing it with the wider world.

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