Saturday, July 02, 2011


All week long I have dreamed swirling vistas of my past lives set before me in intimate detail, none of which I can hold onto now.

How I hate the way dreams evade me in the morning after I launch into the day.
How I hate the way they slip away, those many and exciting scenes that flew through my mind in the night while I was oblivious, unearthed, without body, merely a visual apparatus in my head that scanned the many scenes my unconscious laid out before me.

Events of the day meld with past events, old characters and new flit in and out, but I cannot hold onto the narrative of these past lives.

If only I could I would write out my dreams all day long. I would write into these fantastical stories to try to find some essence of who I am, of what I see and what I think, rather than feel so bogged down with intellectual artifice as I have felt this morning while trying to write into my father’s grief.

My father’s grief was a visceral thing. He wore it in the wrinkles on his forehead and in the stoop of his back.

He had been a replacement baby. His brother born before him bore the same name but was still born, leven los. No one talked about these things in those days.

What did my paternal grandmother do with her grief at the loss of this her first baby? Within a year she had another, a son, my father, who became her oldest followed closely by three others, one boy and two girls.

In the next generation I was born several years after the conclusion of the second world war on the other side of the world from where that war had been fought, but the legacy of this war leaked into my childhood memories like a religion.

As a child I knew there had been a terrible event called 'the war', a time of starvation and of cruelty, a time in which men killed other men, and people starved, a time when work was scarce and people froze.

No firewood for fires. Some tore up their floor boards, or chopped down street trees to make fires in the cold winter nights, until even these sources of fuel ran out.

The war seemed always to exist in my imagination during winter time, never in summer, but it ran on for years and years.

The whole of my first seven years on this earth we could have been at war at the kitchen table in Greensborough first where we lived and later in Camberwell. I was always waiting for a third world war. I still am.

Speak of war and grief seeps in, whether you fought in it or watched from a afar. War has long tentacles that reach far into the future.


Elizabeth said...

From dreams to grief to war and back around in your careful, yet effortless prose. I appreciate your modesty and control here, every word wrapped up tight, it seems, yet we might intimate all that power in our dreams --

Anthony Duce said...

I liked this very much. I have had the same experiences with dreams trying for years to figure out how to capture them. I’ve tried the writing pad by the side of the bed, getting up in the middle of the night, and running to my computer. Nothing really works; words and actions in dreams don’t translate like the images that made so much sense before my eyes open up.
Regarding the wars; I think we are of a similar age, but geography reduced the affects of war in my part of the world, being partially in Canada and then the United States. My dad was in the Canadian Army, but very young during WW Two. His unit just missed being shipped over seas as the war in Europe ended. He spent most of his life complaining about not getting the chance. He, at eighty-six now, still talks about how much he enjoyed his army days.

Rob-bear said...

War, indeed, "has long tentacles that reach far into the future." And you have most certainly have experienced them. You still do, I dare say even in your dreams.

Windsmoke. said...

That was well written. Should a third world war breakout i believe that it will be the last world war ever because it'll wipe out every human being and any other life on this small planet :-).

Isabel Doyle said...

My father, who grew up in Lincolnshire, surrounded by airfields and bombing raids, still speaks with time divided: before the war and after the war, or sometimes 'pre-war' slips out. There is no need to ask which war, in his life there was only The War. He was too young to fight although he did National Service 'after the war' and served in Egypt.

Now our wars are fought with subteruge or at a distance and flap at us though the tv news. We are separate from it, but not innocent.

And dreams: I always get my best ideas for stories in dreams and regularly whisper to myself this dream would make a great story or novel, I will remember this ... and never do.

What if our lives are as ephemeral as dreams? Those lives we agonise over and through - if they truly are as slippery and evanescent as dreams, why are we so tortured?

best wishes, Isabel
ps the wv is 'caring'

Jim Murdoch said...

As a child one of the sounds I became very familiar with was the testing of the air raid siren every day at whatever o’clock – too long ago to remember – and the other while we’re going down that particular memory lane was the sound of church bells. I have no idea when they stopped testing the air raid siren – apparently with the end of the Cold War, the siren network was decommissioned in 1993 but I’m sure they stopped regular tests long before then – and the same goes for church bells. There are a couple of churches about ten minutes walk from where we live now and I’ve never heard a peep (or would that be a ding?) from either of them. Silence reigns.

When I think about a potential World War III the first thing that comes to mind are films like The Day After (1983), Threads (1984) and When the Wind Blows (1986). I know that we’ll never be done with post-apocalyptic fiction until we actually have our own apocalypse but these three, Threads in particular, completely deglamorised what we had seen before with films like Mad Max and even TV shows like Survivors where British pluck won out over everything.

Personally my fear of a biblical Armageddon was far stronger as a child than any concerns that we’d all blow ourselves to kingdom come. Every time we watched the news there were more “signs of the times” and even now I can’t help but see news of “wars and reports of wars”, famines, earthquakes and “signs in the sun, moon and stars” and shudder a little – old habits die hard and by that I mean indoctrination is impossible to shake.

Maggie May said...

This was a fascinating read. Thank you.

Ellen said...

Dreams...dream catching....this week has been a week for much dreaming with bloggers.

I too have a hard time catching those dreams to write down let alone understand them. Sometimes I can fit the pieces of the dream puzzle together to understand who it might have come together in the night.

War...I hate war. That is why I never hoped to have a son secretly...and then I had my last baby who is my son. Fear in war...I do not want my precious child to be a part of this ever. Selfish? No just a mother.

I do enjoy reading your posts...your words flow over me, weaving in and around...

Kirk said...

I, too, wish I could understand my dreams better. I'm constantly trying to interpret the meaning of this fleeting image or that. I can usually remember my emotional state during the dream. It's funny how the things that don't make sense afterwards--why DID that sofa turn into ice cream?--seem perfectly logical at the time.

When you talk about the privations of the war, do you mean rationing? How about the general economy at the time? Here in the US, WWII ended the Great Depression. My father was a boy during the war, and used to reminscence about how flushed with money his family was at the time. I think my father would have been much less nostalgic about the whole thing if his own father hadn't been too old for the draft.

Another good apocalyptic movie is ON THE BEACH, which takes place in your neck of the woods. A nuclear war had wiped out everything in the world but Australia, which is left perfectly intact. But the fallout is a looming threat. It's fascinating to see how a modern (1950s modern), functioning society deals with a gradual, as opposed to abrupt, demise.

Frances said...

In the last hundred years the European wars have been so devastating, so destructive, that it only amazes me that people can see Europe as a place of culture. A bit of good PR going on there.

"The Great War for Civilisation" was inscribed on the medal given to each soldier from here in WW1.
I think that many agree that it was a war that was lost.

tinajo said...

Dreams - I love them most of the time but their elusiveness is highly irritating. Love your words about this. :-)

Ms. Moon said...

In his autobiography, Keith Richards speaks so much of how the war in which he was born affected the lives of everyone even after it was over. It was profound. Personally, culturally, every way.
You're exactly right.

Rubye Jack said...

War. yeah, I have those memories also being born in occupied Japan in 1947, living there for 5 years and then moving to Germany. War was part of my childhood even though I didn't live during the war. I don't normally think of it though. This post made me think about it and how it was there in those early years and never given credit for being an influence on a small child.
Very interesting post.

Snowbrush said...

"No one talked about these things in those days."

Maybe we talk too much, now. I don't know. I just know that when I was in school, and another kid died, we got through it okay without the school district bringing in counselors to help us through our grief--thereby suggesting our supposed helplessness.

I also know that we live in a time when it's mostly the old who die, whereas childbirth, childhood diseases, and epidemics, used to take so very many people who were in their infancy or prime. I've even heard that families didn't name their babies for the first several weeks simply because the mortality rate was so high that they didn't want to get attached. My father's mother had ten children, and lost three of them in infancy.

* said...

Waiting for the 3rd world war, I get this some days, too. (sigh)

Hope you have a happy 4th, wherever you are, dear Elisabeth.

Elisabeth said...

I'm struggling with my prose at the moment, Elizabeth, trying to edit a final draft of my thesis. At times it seems terribly lumpy. It's reassuring then to read sometimes it's tight because often times it's not.

Thanks, Elizabeth.

Elisabeth said...

My Dad did not enjoy his army days, Anthony, so much so that he refused to speak about them. I'm sure war trauma contributed to the man he became.

As for remembering our dreams, there's no foolproof way of doing it, but I find when I'm on holidays or in theory I tend to remember more easily. Either it's about having time or having a structure in which I might share them - perhaps.

Thanks, Anthony.

Elisabeth said...

The tentacles of war are long indeed, Rob Bear. Thanks for your acknowledgement of it.

Elisabeth said...

I share that same fear, Windsmoke. A third world war, should it ever happen, would probably wipe human kind off the face of this earth and might most likely take the whole globe with it. Perish the thought.

Thanks, Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

History has such an odd affect, Isabel, for those who have passed through massive social trauma as you describe here: your father's experience pre and post war.

As for dreams, there are some dreams I'd love to live through in waking life, but there are others at the opposite end of the spectrum that I'm not sure I could bear to live through. Dreams convey such extremes.

Thanks, Isabel.

Elisabeth said...

I can scarcely bear to watch the news these days, Jim, especially the stuff on wars. They may be fought from a distance in some instances but the consequences for those on the receiving end are shattering, no matter how sanitized the news reports.

I've only heard air raid sirens on TV but church bells still ring out in Melbourne Australia from certain churches for weddings and special celebrations. No doubt the sound of bells is preference by far to the sound of siren warnings.

I'm less fearful of world war three these days but it's still possible, I expect. I'm not much into Armageddon. I tend to be an optimist, but get to a certain age and you begin to worry not only for your children but for your children's children.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my post, Maggie May, Thanks. High praise indeed from one who writes so beautifully.

Elisabeth said...

I'm with you Ellen as far as having a son is concerned. I'd have loved a son but to have lived with the fear of having him being shipped off to war would be fairly tough.

Now I worry for my grandson, although these days gender matters less and even girls are sent off to fight, and in some places even conscripted.

I think of dreams as a way of understanding my state of mind in a loose and fairly fluid way.

I once wrote a short story based on a dream but it did not hold together well. It was far more convincing in the dream.

Thanks, Ellen.

Elisabeth said...

A friend sent me a quick email today and in it she mentioned a dream after she had been reading a Cormac McCarthy novel the night before, which contributed I imagine to her dream image: strange cowboy dreams, she wrote, but her horse was a giant whippet and she had a kookaburra on the pommel of her saddle.

I enjoy dreams for the images they provide and yes they can seem so plausible in sleep and so implausible when we wake.

I'm ashamed to say i haven't seen The Beach but I understand it's a terrific movie and as you suggest Kirk, quite contemporary in its themes despite being written so long ago.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

Civilization is such a loaded term, Frances. I can't see that wars civilize. To me they only bastardize, though I do not hold the workers/soldiers responsible. It's the system of abuse that goes back through the ages, but how to turn it around?

Thanks, Frances.

Elisabeth said...

The elusiveness of our dreams is frustrating Tinajo but they are so intriguing, it's also part of their appeal?


Elisabeth said...

I haven't read Keith Richards' autobiography, Ms Moon, but I share his sentiments about the enduring after effects of war.

Thanks, Ms Moon.

Elisabeth said...

Born in occupied Japan, Linda, I'm not surprised that war has had an effect on you, however seemingly subliminal.

It's good to hear from you. I have some further thoughts on war after discussions with my mother, which I will write in another post soon.

Thanks, Linda.

Elisabeth said...

We are so much more sensitive about mortality, Snow, in the western world as you suggest, and yet it's easy to dismiss death as inevitable.

I still believe we don't think about these things enough even though as you suggest we can sometimes trivialize them by idle, mindless and excessive chattering.

Thanks, Snow.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for your good wishes, Terresa.

We don't celebrate the 4 July in Australia, though it happens to be my oldest brother's birthday and the anniversary of my father in law's death. For these reasons as well, I hold the day special.

SE'LAH... said...

i've said it before, are such a talented writer. when's the book coming out ;)


SE'LAH... said...

just had to add...war, the concept of war, the cruelty of war is so prayers constantly go out to those in war torn regions of the world. Bottom line is that the most vulnerable population suffer the most though war is sometime levelled in their name. exhale.

my favourite lines: As a child I knew there had been a terrible event called 'the war', a time of starvation and of cruelty, a time in which men killed other men, and people starved, a time when work was scarce and people froze.

Gisizee said...

This is a wonderful post, E, so much in such a small space! My experience of war has luckily for me been entirely through the effects it had on older relatives, many of whom carried around a weighty silence on the subject that spoke louder than any words. Or by watching the news lately! But just as the memories of others become absorbed into your own over time, I think too that dreams draw on material beyond our own consciousness. I wish I could capture more of what I dream. It is sometimes so vivid yet so unlike my own experience, I awaken feeling I have been living some parallel (or past) life. Many thanks for this writing, E.

Dave King said...

I used to have no problem with dreams at all. I could remember them in great detail, way, way into the day. Some of my childhood dreams I can still recall as if they were actual events - better, perhaps, than actual events. But now I struggle, and any attempt at writing down, erases it completely.

Elisabeth said...

I agree Se'Lah, the most vulnerable tend to be those who suffer most through war.

There are terms for them, just for starters, terms like 'cannon fodder', 'human shields' and 'collateral damage'.

None of these terms do justice to the cruel disregard for human life that war entails.

Thanks Se'Lah.

Elisabeth said...

As for the book, Se'Lah, I have to finish the thesis first, but maybe - hopefully -next year, if I'm lucky.

Elisabeth said...

My experience of war, like yours has only been indirect through the experience of my parents and ancestors, Two Tigers, but it's enough to instill terror in my heart.

And somehow the after effects of war can still sometimes find their way into my dreams.

Thanks Two Tigers.

Elisabeth said...

I have my ups ad downs remembering dreams, Dave. Not so good at the moment but I do hope I haven't lost the ability to remember entirely.

Maybe you remember the images of your dreams through your poetry. Such wonderful poetry, to me as powerful as dreams.

Thanks, Dave.

This is Belgium said...

It is a fascinating read Elisabeth and it fits together well with the speech of liberty and freedom pronounced by the US ambassador here in Brussels yesterday at the occasion of July 4th

Kath Lockett said...

Very thoughtful piece, Elisabeth.

Being a child of the seventies I didn't have a mother who so clearly lived through the war, but even my country town had sirens that were tested every day at 12 o'clock and there were 'old' (in my eyes at least), people at church that had seen some very dark days.

Elizabeth Anderson said...

Your post brought forward childhood anxiety. I did not live through the war - born 1949 but was exposed to the notion of war - cold war. It seemed we were on the brink of WWIII. I watched Hollywood movies on WWII on Saturday afternoons and wondered how people could be so brave. I also learned that Switzerland was a neutral country. I had dreams of trying to find passage to Switzerland for my family. Then had angst that someone would be left behind. Then bomb shelters were being built in backyards and asked why we weren't getting one. The day the siren was installed across from our house and tested I was convinced we were doomed.
The Viet Nam war was in my home every night on the news. To this day I can imagine tanks rolling down our streets as I've seen in news reports of places I have never been but there is a familiarity of these neighbourhoods, children throwing rocks in their defense. I wonder could I be brave.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

War is bred into all of us and like you we do hav some memory of what war is all about. The explosive device I unearthed in my kindergaten sandbox comes to mind and much more.
I love the way you describe the hardship of hanging on to some dreams.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I remember playing "army" with my buddies. We'd do it after watching some war movie at the saturday matinee. It was history and we were detached. In reality the war had ended only 4 short years before I was born.

Now I notice young people for whom Vietnam is a similar historical memory. Maybe it's good that your young people do not have to live with the memories. But it seems odd to me that the older people who SHOULD have those memories, are all too willing to send the younger ones off to fight.

Elisabeth said...

Anni, it's funny how we celebrate war, or the aftermath of war, and still pray for peace.

It may be that war is like poverty: inevitable, but I'd like to think it can one day be overcome.

Thanks, Anni.

Elisabeth said...

As a child of the seventies, Kath, you might remember the Vietnam war. I was in my teens then and remember it vividly but it had a different feel from my parents experience of WW2 for obvious reasons.

And there you are in Geneva in the heart of Europe, the place where that second dreadful war took place relatively speaking not so long ago. May it all stay peaceful.

Thanks, Kath

Elisabeth said...

I recognise such childhood imaginings myself, Elizabeth A : the wish to save your family from dangers that lurk in the atmosphere, that you can't see or touch but can only imagine.

I too found the cold war terrifying, the intrigue and paranoia it engendered stays with me still. And the horrors of the Vietnam war seem almost fresh in my memory of student days.

Thanks Elizabeth A.

Elisabeth said...

That's an extraordinary memory, Kleinstemotte, that memory of an explosive device in your sand box. Scary stuff.

War is indeed etched in our memories.

Thanks, K.

Elisabeth said...

I agree Robert, it seems strange that those who 'should' remember the horrors of war are sometimes the first to send their youngsters off to fight.

It reminds me of that strange anomaly that I witness here in Australia: those who come of migrant stock can sometimes be the most bitter opponents of asylum seekers who seek sanctuary in this country.

It's as if those who have been abused cannot bear others who are similarly vulnerable spared. It's sad to me, very sad.

Thanks, Robert.

who said...

I don't have problems remembering dreams, unfortunately I don't have the same problem of not remembering my nightmares.

So it is not remembering that is considered a problem by me although I wish it were in regards to my nightmares.

but wishful thinking is just that, when my decisive action disregards my honest contemplation.

and besides, is it not the nightmares that affect my life the most. What has the greatest negative impact is seeing my family. My brothers and sisters who know better, who nod as if they understand while mocking a persons naivety for believing them.

Witnessing that, and the conflicting false presentation of genuine communication will begin to tare away the permanence of a person's soul.

witnessing the grins from your own deception, a thousand twins with the same look of sneer in the parallel mirrors of eternity, causes your own soul to scream out in protest.

and the first couple of times this happens, you think the cries that scream out in spiritual pain originate from a source that is external.

it is a pain that will never be soothed in this world. By the time you figure out after frantically searching, that this person whom you are trying to find so that you can help does not exist, it's then that you realize it was you, your own soul begging for relief.

By the time you come to this realization a tsunami of real pain brings you to your spiritual knees.

What happens next removes all facades of falsehoods that may mask who you are. Because it is not easy to have mercy on anyone after you surface from the waters that the tsunami pounded you with. When it sinks in, just exactly what the tidal wave was, and you realize that the whole time you spent trying to reach the wounded soul you heard screaming, the whole time everyone knew it was your soul crying out loud. The ones who sowed the wrongs planted for you to harvest, stood off to the side and watched you and understood your confusion, and did nothing.

what you do next, while holding the keys, with the knowledge of who you are surrounded by, reveals the name the universe had known you as.

Elisabeth said...

Well Who that is one hell of a statement, cryptic and tortured and reminiscent of the nightmares to which you allude.

Your sisters and brothers, those who refuse to acknowledge you or your distress or your existence or whatever it is they deny, sound ghastly to me.

I know that families, like parents, can fuck you up. I've quoted it before, but Larkin's poem comes back to me again:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Thanks, Who, for your depth and intensity.

who said...

:-) I was raised Mormon though, I really can't get the idea out of my head, well, actually the idea has no problem escaping by it's the feeling behind it that makes me want to have ten or twelve kids.

I guess I assumed you could tell from the unspoken feeling I was trying to convey with that comment. An Acquaintance of mine said I needed practice writer from another perspective. And my and my blind ways got suckered into a contest of sorts and the next thing I know these church ladies have a proverbial knife to my throat. They wanted to see it all, they said I wouldn't see the light of another day unless I wrote from a place of magnified out of reality emotion that accompany some sort of cycle. But I don't know what they were talking about, maybe it should for Post Master Schedule.

I don't know, maybe my mind invented the whole post part of it, I guess it just seemed to me like she wanted me to go postal.

so sorry about the disgenuine comment on such a serious matter. If you want I'll make it up to you, give you a new comment with real depth and intensity (but unfortunately still kind of sloppy with my diction and spelling)

NightlySun said...

If we do not dream, we shall not find what is beyond our dreams.

Elisabeth said...

Nothing to worry about in your comment, Who. I take it seriously regardless. It's good to practice writing from alternative perspectives, it gives you some idea of how the rest of the world ticks.

Thanks again, Who.

Elisabeth said...

I couldn't agree more, Tame Lion: the need to dream helps us to reach beyond our dreams and to process the stuff that 's too much to manage by day. Thanks.

Kay said...

My mother has PTS war dreams also. She's 82, but it never leaves. She puts on a happy face for everybody, but at the core is pain.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Some believe it is possible to set an intention before sleep to remember our dreams...and I've found that allowing time to wake up slowly, perhaps still with one foot in the dream, helps to save it. But writing down every bit, as quickly as possible, is the only thing that keeps most of them from disappearing. I may not know what they mean but I know they mean something, perhaps only knowable to our deepest selves.

The wars were part of our family's life, always, but such a difference between having your country under siege and knowing that the people back home are safe. If their marks were not so permanent, we would probably engage in them even more often. Frightening thought. xo

Lolamouse said...

Your prose is pitch perfect and skillful. War affects those even not directly involved. I remember dreaming as a child of being pursued by unnamed people trying to kill me and having to run and hide from them. I think this was from hearing about the Holocaust, despite it being over well before I was born.

Elisabeth said...

I'm not surprised your mother suffers still despite her happy smile, Kay.
War leaves people with endless nightmares.
Thanks, Kay.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Marylinn, to remember a dream more often than not is to write it down.

As for asking yourself to remember a dream before you go to sleep. I've tried it often and it's no guarantee I will remember. If only it were.

Your last thought is frightening indeed and reminds me of the way the things that most need our attention are often the things most likely forgotten.

Thanks, Marylinn.

Elisabeth said...

I suspect that a great deal of contemporary dream imagery comes from our experience of war, or at least from the things we read about, see on TV or hear about. To me in my imagination war equals hell.

Thanks Lolamouse.

Glynis Peters said...

I live in a country that has been split in half by war and invasion. Every day I am reminded it could happen again by a 'green defence line' on the map. Our recent explosion disaster frightened so many people. They thought it was 1974 all over again. While I was at a disco in the UK that year, my Cypriot friend of the same age, was hiding from Turkish soldiers to protect her virginity, eating from hedgerows through lack of food and fearing for her brothers who were fighting.
It made me count my blessings. I do understand your inner fear and imagination war. I have the same.

Thank you for visiting my blog, it is lovely to meet you, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth said...

War and terrorism are terrifying Glynis. They capture our imaginations and infiltrate our dreams, especially when they touch on our realities.

I put up a more recent post on this topic, which might also be of interest. See 23 July, 2011.

Thanks, Glynis.