by Jenny Palmer
You asked me about my dreams. I keep having this recurring one. I’ll be back in my old school, about to sit for an exam, when I realise that the subject is one I know absolutely nothing about. It might be Chinese, or computer programming, or bio technology. Or I might be in a classroom and everyone is expecting me to teach one of those subjects. Naturally I panic. When I wake up, it’s a relief but the panicky feeling stays with me.
I used to have pleasant dreams where I’d be climbing up the Atlas Mountains or rolling down a sand dune in the Sahara Desert or lying on a beach by the Pacific Ocean. I’d be conversing with people in their language and wake up speaking Spanish, as that is the language I know best, having lived in Spanish-speaking countries. I used to look forward to going to sleep at night, wondering what adventures my sleeping self would get up to.
I suppose people in your profession would call them anxiety dreams. I’m not anxious, no more than the next person. I’ve heard there are people so traumatised by the prospect of leaving the EU that they are prone to feelings of anger and despair. They say they feel like lemmings rushing towards the edge of a cliff. I am not one of them. I always look on the bright side.
Sure, the government is making a hash of it. And no one knows really what the outcome will be, no matter what they say, but it’s so much worse in America. Over there, university students are so depressed that they can’t even function. One professor at Yale has taken to teaching course on happiness and it’s the most popular course on campus.
‘You might not be able to change the world,’ she tells them, ’but you can change your mindset. Take up yoga or meditation or mindfulness. Get absorbed deeply and mindfully in every experience.’
Sometimes I have the moving-house dream. I’m living in a house with a group of strangers. I need to get out of there, quick. I set off walking in one direction and then I realise I am going the wrong way, so I turn around and go back the other way. In one of those dreams I came across a building. It was brand new and made of red-brick.
‘That could be a nice place to live,’ I thought, ‘to make a new start.’
The door was open. It looked inviting, so I went in. But it turned out to be a school again and I was the new teacher. It was full of children who looked about seven years old. I was there to teach them creativity. The kids were running around all over the place. It was chaos. I knew I’d never get them to sit still and listen. It was hopeless. I went in search of the head.
‘I can’t teach them,’ I said. ‘Anyway, they already know how to be creative at that age. School will only knock it out of them.’
‘Well, in that case, we’ll have to give you the sack,’ the headmistress said, calmly.
‘I wish you would,’ I said. ‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure.’
And I walked out, just like that. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. I’d let myself off the hook, you see. I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to do battle with a load of riotous kids and coax them into producing something artistic.
‘There is no such word as can’t,’ someone told me once. ‘Everything is possible if you put your mind to it.’
‘I’m not sure about that,’ I wanted to say. ‘It depends on your background, your upbringing and your genes.’ But I didn’t say anything. People don’t like to be contradicted.
I gave up my course. I was studying International Relations. I wanted to work for the United Nations or in some human rights agency. I wanted to make a difference. But it all started to seem pointless. I couldn’t face going on. There are worse things than taking time off, like carrying on when you don’t feel up to it. I adopted a motto. It became my mantra.
‘You don’t have to do anything in life, if you don’t want to.’ I said to myself.
I’d been carrying the world on my shoulders, you see, feeling responsible for everything that happened. If someone died, I’d think it was my fault. If a light bulb fused, I’d think I’d caused it. It was that bad. My mantra reminded me that there are some things we have no control over, like being born, for instance, or dying.
II’s up to us what we do with our lives, isn’t it? Naturally there are some things we need to do, like eating and sleeping and keeping a roof over our heads. But apart from that, we can do what we like, so long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else. We’re not sheep.
It was easy enough to give up doing, far harder to give up thinking. There are some thoughts you can’t blank out of your mind, like seeing people so desperate to flee their own countries that they will pile into makeshift rubber dinghies, float off and risk drowning in the Mediterranean. Or watching women and children, with no means of escape, being bombed from the air by fighter jets, because they happen to live in a worn-torn country. They stay with you, those images. They haunt you at night.
As I told you, I’m an optimist by nature. I believe there’s always a solution to every situation, no matter how difficult it is. It’s just a matter of finding it. I won’t be coming here anymore. I’m ready to face the world again. I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing I just wish I could stop having these dreams, though.
About the author
Since she returned to Lancashire, Jenny Palmer has self-published ‘Nowhere better than home’ a childhood memoir about growing up in rural Lancashire in the 1950s and 60s, its sequel ‘Pastures New’ which follows the heady days of the 70s and 80s and a family history called ‘Whipps Watsons and Bulcocks: a Pendle family history 1560-1960.’ More recently, in June 2018, her collection of short stories ‘Keepsake and other stories’ was published by Bridge House and is available on Amazon.