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  • It's been a dramatic night: you were in a hotel at a crossroads; the tide was coming

  • in; someone threw a pencil at you; you were in the back of a big car with your grandmother,

  • on the way to sit an exam; you had to climb over a wall but kept being tickled by a giant

  • squirrel. Then you woke up. It felt immensely important, but when you go downstairs and

  • try to tell your companions about the extraordinary things that travelled through your sleeping

  • brain, the results are sobering. You keep saying that it felt "exciting", "so

  • weird" and "absolutely amazing" , butstrangelyyour attempts to get others

  • to experience the particularities of your night are met by some dispiritingly blank

  • stares. Half-way through the narration, someone pipes up to say the cereal is running low.

  • Another person mentions it might rain later. Then the doorbell rings. It's a poignant

  • impasse, but not an untypical one either. It's tempting to think the problem has to

  • do with dreams themselvesbecause they are so odd, unique and specific to us. But

  • the difficulty isn't limited to dreams: it's a general problem of existence, which

  • can just as well strike when we try to explain how our holiday was, what we feel about our

  • childhood or our ideas about how society should be run. Much about our lives is like a very

  • intensely-felt dream we can’t quite get others to listen to properly. The reason is

  • to a striking extent down to a collective lack of preparation, an insufficient sense

  • that what were trying to do is really very hard and therefore will require a high degree

  • of skill and practice. We naively assume that enthusiasm and authenticity can be enough;

  • and that if we feel something to be important or beautiful, it will inevitably and immediately

  • strike others as being so as well. This charming, though ultimately lonely, egocentricity can

  • be best seen in children who are among the worst story tellers, because they have a touchingly

  • weak hold on a very painful idea: that other people are liable to be in different places

  • from us internally and are highly unlikely to understand, feel and see as we do unless

  • we go to considerable lengths to extract, arrange and systematically package up the

  • contents of our minds for them. These are some of the rules for storytelling: – firstly,

  • we know what we mean far earlier than anyone else can and so we must understand a story

  • at least five times as well when it is to be shared in company as when it is merely

  • left to marinade in our own brains. – secondly, keeping a story brief takes far more effort

  • than letting it expand. The philosopher Pascal once touchingly apologised to a friend for

  • the length of a letter he had written him. As he admitted, "I'm sorry I didn't

  • have time to make it shorter." – Thirdly, we need to simplify. The downfall of almost

  • all anecdotes is an accumulation of incidental detail untethered to the underlying logic

  • of the story. If one is explaining how it felt to see one's grandmother, it is irrelevant

  • (and a waste of someone else's rather precious life) to say what time one left the house

  • and what the weather happened to be like. We need a view of the branches, not of every

  • leaf. – fourthly, factual events (dates, times, actions) are always less interesting

  • (though far easier to remember) than feelingsand yet it's the feelings that invariably

  • contain the kernel of what can intrigue others. It's how we feel about what happened, not

  • merely what happened, that counts.

  • Those who grow up to speak clearly are those especially alive to the risk and the tragedy

  • of being misunderstood. The contents of our minds, and even of our dreams, are never really

  • too strange or boring for others to understand: it's just that our culture hasn't yet

  • taken seriously enough the bracing challenges of narrating the real substance of our complex

  • days and nights to other people.

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It's been a dramatic night: you were in a hotel at a crossroads; the tide was coming

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How to Recount Your Dreams

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