Friday, September 7, 2018

At Home in My Own Skin

I have a recurring dream I call the house dream. It tends to take two forms. The first is not so much scary as it is frustrating. In it I’m always looking for my dream home, usually with a pressing sense of urgency that’s never made clear to me. Every time I think I’ve found the perfect place, there’s some serious flaw that I can’t quite overcome. There’s a swamp in the back garden – or even worse a swamp in the gigantic bathtub. The stairs are too steep and too narrow to actually climb. I discover the house is the sight of a murder or some other tragedy. I discover the previous owners have simply walked away, and the house is still crammed full of their stuff, as though they might return at any moment. In spite of the obstacles, I really want the house, and in the dream, I‘m always trying to figure a way to get around the deal breakers.  

The second type of dream is the worst. It’s the forbidden room dream. This dream terrifies me every time I have it, and I often wake up crying out, usually drenched in sweat and breathing like I’ve just ran a race. Afterward, I’m never too anxious to go back to sleep again. The dream always involves me having lived in a big, usually very old, house for a long time. No matter how long I’ve been in residence, there’s always one room I never go into. No one goes into it because it’s locked and off limits, and yet every second I live there, I’m aware of that room, aware that it’s dangerous. I’m never really sure what it is that I fear, or why the space is off limits. Is there a ghost, an evil spirit, a body long dead? Is there a demon, a crazy person, a mad serial killer? I never know. And when I do go into the room, which of course I always must, I am so frightened I can’t breathe. And yet I never actually see what it is that frightens me. Sometimes I almost convince myself there’s really nothing to be afraid of, but I never quite manage it. At the very least, the room feels strangely off, disturbing in some way I can’t define.

I’ve done enough dream analysis to know that the house is me, whether I’m looking for my dream home or whether I am terrified of some room inside. Swamps, locked doors, steep and dangerous stairs, it doesn’t matter, it’s all me. All my hopes yet unrealized, all my issues, resolved and unresolved, all my neuroses, all my fears, all my quirks, they’re all right there in good old REM sleep. Okay, I get that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I also know the difference between a romp through the ragged depths of my unconscious and the old internal computer simply processing daily detritus. 

The efforts to find my dream house are just my battle to get comfortable in my own skin. The forbidden room is my unconscious’ way of dealing with my darker fears in order to make the Self more at home in said skin. Everyone has rooms they’d rather not revisit. And while those rooms may be places of terror in the dream world, they’re often places of true treasure when we’re willing to confront them in the waking world. That is never truer than it is for a writer.

I chose to share these dreams because for me the battle to truly come home, the effort to explore the immense geography of that home, all takes place inside my own skin. I’ve travelled a lot and lived in a lot of different places. My father got wanderlust every few years and uprooted us to yet another place where he was convinced the grass was greener. While Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz might click her heels together and declare, ‘there’s no place like home,’ I’m far more likely to shrug my shoulders and admit, ‘there’s no place that is home.’ I’ve lived in the UK now longer than I’ve ever lived any place. But what that means is that I’ve never lived anywhere long enough for a place to seep into my veins and into my soul. I live my life always ever so slightly disconnected, and I suspect I’m not the only one. 

Sorry Dorothy, but if home is where the heart is, then Kansas ain’t it. My dreams would suggest home is that vast undiscovered country inside my own skin – the place that fascinates me, delights me, frustrates me, terrifies me, and leaves me wondering how I’m ever going to explore it all and make peace with it before it ceases to exist. 

It’s no wonder that vast unexplored, often forbidden, dark places are a recurring theme in my novels. Nor is it any wonder that I gravitate toward bodies shared with demons and other entities, who appreciate flesh and bone a lot more than we who live in them often do, and who love nothing more than to tag along for the ride. The voices inside my head are the voices of my Self, and as a storyteller, I have perhaps the best way of giving them a little more autonomy. Story gives me the perfect way to let them out of their locked rooms for a little romp. I suppose that being the case, my novels and my stories, are the best representation of the geography of my true home. While the stories may be read and enjoyed by
anyone, only I have the true map -- well at least the map of what I’ve managed to explore so far. That map gets extended a little bit with each tale I tell.

It’s also no wonder that my stories are physical, that the body plays as powerful a role in the narrative as do mind and
motive. My characters are flesh and blood. Their drives and desires are my own -- sometimes in darker shades, sometimes in higher contrast. They are the best way of exploring the parts of me that are not safe to be allowed a more physical manifestation. They are the best way to deal with my fears and my neuroses. They are, in so many ways, my efforts to be Lewis and Clark, and Freud and Jung all rolled into one. After all, my body is the vessel that carries that terrifying consciousness, that prodigious geography that is truly my home, and those boundaries are more permeable than I’ll ever fully understand, thus the forbidden rooms, thus the swamps in the bathtub.  


  1. What a gorgeous, insightful post, KD!

    Certainly I feel the echoes of that hidden room terror in some of your best stories.

  2. Very intriguing post, KD. Your "forbidden room" scenario echoes a recurring bad dream I have, about living in a large familiar house and discovering rooms I never knew existed, filled with all sorts of bizarre stuff. Until I read your analysis, I was never quite sure what it meant.

    1. I sometimes dream about that sort of a house, too, but I think it may be inspired by a long-ago visit to The House on the Rock, a tourist attraction in Wisconsin that was built by a very eccentric collector of oddities, and expanded, largely underground (if I recall correctly) by his heirs.

    2. Have you been to, or heard of, the Winchester Mystery House. It's just like that, only in real life. (And I have dreams which may have been inspired by it...)

  3. What a creative approach to the topic, KD! The large house with the hidden room suggests the story of Bluebeard, who always tells his new brides there is one room in his house that has to remain locked and off-limits to them.


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