Arthur Miller said that a good play should have the economy of a dream. Nothing is unnecessary in a dream, he added. When I first heard this remark, I was puzzled since dreams often seem to be such a lot of nonsense when one remembers them the next morning. However, I think he was talking about the intensity with which the dreamer experiences the dream, and the way that levels of meaning are condensed into the dream imagery.
Recently, I dreamt that I was walking down the street and I saw a house with some velvet curtains hanging in the window. I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to eat those curtains. The next thing I knew I was inside the house and I’d just finished eating the curtains. (I can still remember what they tasted like!). Then, I went outside again and there was my wife. She said, ‘You haven’t just eaten those curtains, have you?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘What’s the problem?’
She pointed to a sign in the window which I had somehow missed previously. In large, bold letters it read, ‘Warning. Poisoned Curtains.’
What makes this dream significant for me is that when I was growing up my parents were fairly poor. Not destitute, just hard-working immigrants who struggled to make their place in the world. They sent me to a school run by Catholic priests which was very big on Latin and I developed a real taste for Latin poetry. But I’d never learned Greek and I suspected that this might be even more enjoyable. So when I was sixteen, I went to a Summer School to learn the language of Homer. Everyone else there came from very wealthy backgrounds. I soon began a relationship with another student and she invited me to her house. Frankly, I was shocked when I went there by how luxurious it was. In particular, I remember looking at the velvet curtains and thinking that when I grew up that was what I wanted. And indeed, I now have blue velvet curtains in my living room (although they were bought second hand).
I felt the dream was about my own death. It was telling me that when you achieve all your goals, there is only one thing left to do and that is to die. But obviously it’s open to a number of different interpretations. That’s the point that Arthur Miller was making, I believe. If I could write a story which has the same level of resonance for the audience as that dream has for me, then I would be a great writer. The question is: how much longer have I got before the curtains kill me?