How Benedict Cumberbatch Saved My NaNo

2014-11-27 10.03.07

On the Ocean, the first night of a long holiday weekend that I’ve escaped to write and hopefully– though it wasn’t looking good– finish NaNoWriMo, I had a dream. I dreamed of Benedict Cumberbatch, which seems a silly, frivolous, school-girl thing to do. Except I know of many people who have had such dreams of the man that were not anything of the sort. They were insightful, full of meaning and not at all about the shenanigans but all about “The Message” as if the man is somehow a conduit of the subconscious of the artistic process. I have friends who believe this and I take their word for it.

So, when I tell you I had a Benedict dream, take it to mean a short hand for all that and not an OMG BENEDICT IS MY LIFE AND SO SO DREAMY!! <3 <3 type thing, okay? Cool.

The coffee shop is filled with three rows of four seats with an aisle down the middle. We 12 are there for a performance for which none of us know the details. A friend and I are in the middle row discussing what we might witness. Suddenly, from a side door comes a man that I almost immediately recognize as Benedict Cumberbatch. He walked to the front of the room where the stage is, not a stage really, more an opening of space that is obviously designated as “Stage.”


So overcome with his appearance and the strangeness of the situation, I didn’t follow much of his performance. When I say I was overcome with his appearance, I do not mean that I was shocked it was Benedict Cumberbatch—and I guess that was part of the strangeness of the situation, how no one made a fuss about him being before us in this coffee shop and an audience of a dozen—I mean how he looked. He looked like he had been beat up, but only in his eyes. They were purple and red rimmed and were painful to look at.


Like I said, I didn’t follow much of the scene he was performing for us, but I did get enough to realize that his painful appearance had nothing to do with the character he was portraying. The scene was not about a beaten and broken man, it was just him. I was alarmed and concerned for his well- being. Looking around though, I realized I was the only one. Surely something was going on that I was not privy to, so I relaxed and got into the story.


It wasn’t a story, per se, but more a collection of stories. The details of them fuzzy and incoherent in my waking memory, like a concert of your favorite band’s and you are convinced there isn’t a moment of it you would forget and then the next day you can’t even remember all the songs they sang.


That is actually a good analogy because the whole performance seemed to be like a collection of songs, three of four minute stories acted out with very loose, if any, connection. I noticed in the intermission that there was even a set-list that he has crossed off titles. I watched from a few feet down the counter as he slid his pen along a title and felt a pang of sadness that there were only a few titles left to perform. He capped the pen and put it down before looking up. He looked at me and smiled, saying something I can’t recall. It was one of those polite things you say that don’t lend to further comment, something like: “Thanks for coming,” or “Enjoy the rest of the show.”


Again, my focus was on his eyes. Maybe there had been a trick of the light onstage, or maybe I had imagined it worse than it was, but they looked much better. They were still bruised and obviously injured, but he didn’t even seem to notice, nor did any others in the room. I think it was on the tip of my tongue to say something, to ask if he was okay, but he got called back to the stage and I found my seat.


The coffee shop had transformed over the intermission, as things in dreams do, to a much bigger venue. There were tall plants along the walls to still give the appearance of intimacy, shading us from the outside world. But the original 12 seats, the original audience were no longer in rows, but spread out haphazardly. The stage was even less defined and separate from the audience, so that Benedict could move around us as he performed.


Like before, the actual stories were hazy and song-like, tiny little scenes that maybe were connected in some undefined way. I was starting to feel out of place though. Everyone around me suddenly turned into those hipster douchebags who gather in packs at art installations and gallery openings. They nod knowingly at things you have to study to see; laugh at jokes that you don’t get until much later—and then they aren’t really all that funny. They were getting things from this performance that I wasn’t seeing; I hated them for it.


Then Benedict hunched down in front of my friend, resting his elbows on her knees and resting his head on the heel of his hands, as if they’re in the middle of a conversation and he’s rapped with attention to what she has to say. But, he looked over his shoulder at me and, of course, his eyes are the things I noticed first. They are completely fine, completely healed, completely transformed before me.


“I get it!” I shouted, jumping to my feet. For suddenly, it came to me, the meaning, all of it. And I was standing there, everyone looking at me as if I was suddenly nude before them—as happens in dreams—and the hipster douchebags looks were either annoyed for disrupting the performance, or pitying that it had taken me so long to figure it out. I was horrified by what I had done to the performance, but more than that, I was overcome with euphoria for all the pieces falling into place.


It was about all the ways stories could be told, that small, seemingly inconsequential and unconnected stories can mean so much more than that when told together. Most importantly though, it was the way that stories, the telling of stories, the living of stories can heal you in imperceptive, but very real ways.


As I stand there having my mind blown with revelation after revelation I see Benedict come to stand before me. I am terrified that I am going to be reprimanded by a celebrity in front of the whole crowd for disrupting his performance. Instead he stood before me, handed me his pen and said the only words my waking mind remembers him saying:


“Thank you.”


And at first the thank you seems like the thing you say when you are returning a borrowed pen, and it was on the tip of my tongue to say, “But this isn’t mine.” But then I look in his eyes, his perfect eyes, devoid of all bruise or scar and see what they’re telling me. Thank you for understanding, for being the one who truly gets it.


And I look around at the hipster douchebags and see their pompously knowing nods and I want to laugh. They think this is part of the performance. So busy striving to be the first, to be seen as intelligent they didn’t really delve deep enough to know anything.


So, I turn back to him, nod my understanding of all that “Thank you” meant and take the pen.

bc eyes

Then I wake up.

Weird, right? And in my waking mind I’m replaying the dream and marveling at all the details I remember and mourning the ones I can’t, and in the back of my mind is the question: But what about the pen? What did that mean? Was it an allusion to Lloyd Dabler in Say Anything?

“I gave her my heart. She gave me a pen.”

Maybe. I don’t know. But I do know that on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, having written furiously for 26 days, my word count was at 29k and with 21k to go in four days, I had very little hope of winning NaNoWriMo this year. Four days, four pots of coffee, the ocean outside my door to inspire and distract, I finished NaNo on November 30th with 50,999 words.

So, no, THANK YOU, Subconscious Dream State Benedict Cumberbatch, Thank You. I don’t know where I lost my pen, but I’m so glad it was you who found it and that you returned it to me just in the nick of time.

2014-11-30 10.34.11

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