Private Screening Room

Picture yourself in a private, movie-screening room like ones in the mansions of the old movie moguls. It’s night. You’re the only person in the room. There are two rows of dusty, red-felt seats, a silver screen to the front, and three small squares of light on the wall in back.  An unseen projectionist behind the back wall changes reels. The lights slowly dim.  Without your having arranged it, your favorite movies flash on the screen. It’s a Wonderful Life appears, followed by Citizen Kane, then perhaps Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  In this dream-like situation you don’t select the movies. They just mysteriously appear on the screen.  And, you notice something else after you’ve watched several movies. Time doesn’t matter–you don’t get tired and hungry or thirsty (even though you can’t remember the last time that you’ve sat through a double feature).  You’re very content to sit and watch one feature after the next.    

The following night the same thing happens.  You’ve come to accept the magic, but after the second film you think to yourself: These movies are even better than I remember them. They have only the parts I like.  Transition scenes and characters I didn’t care for in the original have disappeared. You switch from one movie to another at will.  The movies weave in and out. It’s like a dream that intermixes things that don’t go together in real life, but within the dream they follow a new kind of logic (at least until you wake). You’re able to transport characters from one feature into another and introduce people from your own life into the movie. You add scenes. Perhaps during the day you’re driving through an ugly area of town. That night this becomes a setting in one of your movies. “What could be more fun?” you ask. Then you discover something that is. There you are in the movie on the screen.  You’re standing in a crowd to begin with. The next thing you know you have a minor role in the background while Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson are talking. You say a few lines and, by God, you’re pretty good. These are nice dreams. Perhaps it’s all you can take for a while. But, eventually you come back.  When you do, you start where you left off. Have you ever had the experience of having a dream interrupted and you wished you could continue from the moment just before you awoke? You can do that here, in your private screening room. You are interjecting yourself into different kinds of scenes. You’re changing plots, making up new ones. To your surprise and enjoyment you’re playing greater roles.    

Think about this: What would it be like if you could program your dreams before you went to sleep each night?  What sort of plots would you choose?  What sort of stories?  In what sort of situations would you want to find yourself?  You might ask yourself, “What would I really enjoy?  Sex?  Romance?  Adventure?”  At first many of your dreams would be wish fulfillment. You’d begin with subjects you feel comfortable with, then after awhile you might try some you are curious about which are less safe. Occasionally you might even want to scare yourself.  Why shouldn’t you? It’s only a movie. It’s only a dream. Sometimes you appear in these dreams as yourself–as in a documentary–sometimes you appear as a fictional character in a plot that’s obviously not factual. You put people and places you know into the story, then restructure events so they come out well. Conversation is witty, relationships are poignant. Life outside of the private screening room may be lackluster, full of irrelevancies, beyond your control, but the day’s experiences provide raw material for your nighttime dreams, and this makes even mundane experiences more interesting. During the day, for example, you’re in a meeting and afterwards you think: I wish I’d have thought to say something more insightful.  Later that night in your movie you do. You are the hero. In real life you see different possibilities with every person you meet, in every situation in which you find yourself. Everywhere you go there are people, actions and places you want to incorporate into your private screening room dreams.

The dreams are effortless; one image suggests the next. You seek challenges now, dare to face unpleasant, realistic problems. Troublesome feelings and emotions are bearable, if only because you know you can pull back.  You even select traumatic situations–rejection, death, someone you love betraying you.  You feel the power of these experiences, but also take refuge in the fact that the story you’ve constructed, no matter how realistic, is something you can stop or leave. There’s always escape. I asked, what would it be like if you could program your dreams every night before going to sleep.    The fact is we do program our dreams, but we do it unconsciously. And we choose the things that we dream, whether pleasant or unpleasant, just as we choose the things that we write about.  The use of our imagination to explore possibilities adds richness to our lives. Where will this ultimately lead? One night, when everything has seemed so perfect, you suddenly have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  You know something is wrong. You’re filled with anxiety. Slowly you take your eyes from the screen. Someone else is in the room watching along with you.  Somebody you know.  It’s not your husband or a close friend, but someone you went to school with, an associate from work, or a neighbor from down the street. This is awkward; you feel embarrassed. You tone down the scene being projected.  You’re self-conscious.  Maybe It’s A Wonderful Life returns to the screen. The visitor says, “No, hold it, that was…interesting!” This person enjoys what’s there and surprisingly doesn’t seem particularly critical of it. You feel uneasy, but okay.  As you proceed you watch him or her out of the corner of your eye. But over the next few weeks you gradually work yourself back to where you were. In fact you enjoy having someone with which you can discuss these movies.  Your companion tells you how he or she relates to the subjects. And, whether or not this visitor is capable of the same power of projection you are, the visitor doesn’t seem inclined to use it. Your audience is content to sit there and watch with you.  This person might even make some suggestions, which you incorporate into these movies, but perhaps you don’t. This is your vision after all. You’re no longer embarrassed.    

The next time you look around, there are other people in the audience. Some are your friends and some are relatives.  There are people who know you intimately, and some you don’t know at all. Once again you go through the process of holding back, saying, “Do I dare?  What will they think?”  But, your audience isn’t negative; it’s impressed.  People see the stories as part you, but also as something that’s different from you–something to which they too can relate.  They find meaning significant to their lives.  Rather than analyze your personal reasons behind what you’re creating, they’re lost in their own dreams that your stories suggest .How does it end? It’s hard for you to imagine life without this private screening room. It fuels your imagination, expands your realm of possibilities, lets your unconscious express itself. You still don’t understand why others are interested. Perhaps they think they’re incapable creating like this, themselves. You could tell them otherwise, but it’s fun to leave them in awe. And, nice to have them along. You are their guide. There may be things that you can do for them.  Your vision, your ideas include subjects you feel they would like to confront, but can’t.  You are giving them something and giving yourself even more.

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