I get to participate in a craft whereby the corpses of trees are used to sop up human dreams, then passed on as gifts, and kept in public mausoleums where they can be exhumed and borrowed.
Last post, I type-jabbered about twitter fiction as a writing exercise. Tonight, before bed, let’s you and me lay the lowdown on another goody-goody habit I’m getting back into.
First, set up a writing station—the closer to your bed the better—could be your computer, laptop, a pen n’ notebook, or the Etch A Sketch you stole from that orphan (I prefer a keyboard because my typing fingers can still go click-clack when the rest of my mind/body isn’t functioning).
I’ll wait while you set up. Never mind the silhouette at the window.
But keep this thought in the back of your lizard brain: when you wake up, you will go straight to that writing station. Do not hesitate. Do not wait to wake up. Do not stretch. Do not crawl out of bed—LEAP—do not pass GO, do not go to the bathroom—do not grab breakfast—go to your station as quickly as you can while still half asleep.
This takes practice. You might have to do it for a week or more before you get conditioned into stumbling to that writing station without realizing it. You might forget a time or to—hit the bathroom—wait too long in bed—wake up too much. Don’t worry. Go through the motion anyway. Program yourself.
Once at your station, WRITE. Scribble or type as fast as you can. No thinking. Leave your editing brain off. You are literally on a race, seeing how long you can outrun your waking mind. You might get a sentence or two. You might get a paragraph. Eventually you will stop. You will be awake. You will really-really-really need to pee. The exercise is over.
So why are we doing this?
We are trying to access your sleeping mind. That sucker is powerful. It is bigger than the rest of you. It is a glowing, cosmic, comic book MacGuffin, and you are a super villain excavating the forbidden tomb of your skull, and once you get a hold of that thing, you are going to work some nefarious hullabaloo!
I’m starting the exercise up again because my inner-editor has gotten too pushy during first drafts. I need to let that go and let spontaneous things happen on the early draft page.
Save those scribblings—in a file or in that notebook. Come back to them a week later, months later—it’s like looking at something a stranger wrote. A lot of them won’t make sense. That’s ok. The idea is to be in better touch with your sleeping mind. You may find the occasional gem, a story idea or weird turn of phrase or metaphor you might not have otherwise achieved.
Keep practicing. You’ll get more conditioned. You’ll get to that computer while closer and closer to sleep, and curiouser and curiouser things will come tumbling out.
Here are some examples of mine. I’ve only edited for spelling and punctuation (which tend to fly out the door during this).
Organizing old files, I came across a vivid nightmare I had during my first month in Norway. It flung me out of bed and, half asleep, not looking at the screen, I typed it out as fast as I could, as much as I could, before it left my head. I do not normally have nightmares, beyond some good natured zombie slaying. Eleven months later, it reads like something a stranger wrote…
I wake up. Nightmare. Played out like a fully illustrated horror story. Maybe a slight detour through Hell, but it never says so straight out.
You start out on a lonely stretch of road. Snow. Fields. A few trees. Car breaks down. You walk. Barbed wire. Desolate. Farmhouse (or something) ahead.
You walk along the road. You stray away from the road.
There is a family. Maybe two families. Maybe a vacationing family and some friends. Their car is broken down. Snow. It’s cold. Very cold. Dangerous cold. Everyone’s getting to that dangerous place — lie down and sleep forever. For some reason, they’ve given up on knocking on the doors of the building (it’s a farmhouse, or something, a set of buildings that appear boarded up and abandoned).
There is no more warmth in the car.
The adults dig out the snow outside, a little ridge of shelter, and start putting the children there for safety, packing them in like little bags in a freezer. But the white powder falls over their faces. Everyone is about ready to sleep. Why have they given up? Maybe it was a car accident and everyone is disoriented. Maybe there is some frozen blood.
At the last second, a ray of light. Someone from in the building opens it up. Not the people that live there. No one lives there. No one is from there.
But lots of other people seem stuck here too. It’s some kind of abandoned, shutdown vacation resort.
Lots of people. Lots of stories on how they got here. Yet you don’t recall seeing any other broke- down cars.
Lots of stories. Lots of paths that lead here.
No clocks. But you feel there is some kind of countdown you don’t want to be on the other side of. But you’re curious.
People mill about, weathering the storm in the warmth inside. Food and booze have been found. Lots of stories…
Janet has gotten to know Hank. She likes his wit. She mentions getting drinks and he reluctantly says he’s an alcoholic. Says he’d feel weird, feel like some dirty failure if he went and made a drink for himself. Janet thinks that, given the circumstances, he deserves a little libation and suggests that she get one, and that he take a sip from her’s…that way he’s not some pathetic failure grasping at discovered booze, but maybe…a well to do gentleman at an upscale party, taking a drink from a fine woman.
She asks him what she’ll be having.
She mixes the drink. She brings it back. He takes it, deftly, from behind her and says thanks. She sips the spare she prepared for herself. She thinks she is about two drinks away from sleeping with Hank.
Lots of people here. Lots of stories.
Lots of paths that lead here. There are no clocks but there is a countdown.
There are pleasure sounds, in the night, in the building.
There are also what might be construed as muffled screams. Struggle…but not much. Lots of stories here. Lots of paths.
Somehow, no matter where each begins, it ends bad. It comes down in waves. In synchronized patterns. The countdown is done.
Flashes of images. Smiles. Blood. Hair. Leaking fluid from an eye. Whispers. Chewing. Ragged nails, dark and dripping in the moonlight. Hair mostly covering mad eyes and you pray you don’t see them fully.
You walk the grounds outside the building. Not very cold, not much snow now. Is that strange?
Winding paths. Other, smaller structures around the main building. Tool sheds and utility buildings.
Lots of paths and fields and a few trees and groves and, in the distance, the abandoned road. Stories out here too. People taking walks. You walk behind someone.
They seem to be taking an odd course. Maybe had too much to drink.
There are other stories here, and they’ve all turned bad on the vine.
There is a couple sitting on a stump. Their faces are sewn together. Maybe they scream or maybe they moan — hard to tell in the muffle.
A mother peels the last of the skin off her sun’s skull and says, “There, was that so bad?”
A little girl rides her daddy’s shoulders. She gnaws at the ragged hole in his hard skull, crams in little fingers and tears out another glistening chunk from inside and chews it like cotton candy. “No this way, daddy!” she says, imperiously pointing. He grunts something, not quite able to form the words and he lurches in that direction, and he has vacant, idiot eyes.
All the stories turned bad.
You don’t want to see them.
But you are curious, and you have so many questions.
You overtake the man you’ve been walking behind. You know you shouldn’t. You don’t want to see. But you do. His ocular cavities are empty, blood-streaming down his face. On his thumbs and fingers, the gore and jelly tell the story.
You walk on.
Where do all these people come from?
A car drives in random directions, tires spinning, fish-tailing, sliding about the fields. It is well away from the road.
You catch images inside. Horrible. Each hammers the heart.
Bad things in each glimpse — glimpses of gore and mutilation and messy stitches and cuts and body parts and complete abomination.
The kids don’t say, “Are we there yet?”. They stopped screaming some time ago. The father’s foot and arms are all that seem to work still. His eyes failed him a while back. The eyes from his family, sewn or stuck to various places on his body don’t seem to help either. The children are sewn together in one lump, for more economy of space.
The car keeps spinning and roaring along the fields. No telling when it will stop.
Other bad stories. Where did these people come from? You feel you ought to know.
Time passes. Skip to the end.
You walk along the side of the building. You’ve made it through the madhouse. By now there is no real snow and only a little chill. You walk along a path that winds away from the building and its complex and the perpetual stories of the people you are pretty sure will never leave. You try not to fall into those pitfalls — to ignore the siren call of personal oblivions.
You walk along a path better than that. It winds away.
You walk with a woman, good looking, raven hair, large eyes full of sensible wisdom, in sensible boots for hiking the terrain. She has an inquisitive smirk you like.
The path winds away from the abandoned complex and then, in the distance, you can see the road. And for a while, the path parallels the road. You look ahead, and see the path eventually winds away, into some grove of skeleton trees and hills and off into a distance you cannot see.
“You could walk with me for a while,” says the woman. “This leads to more. You can find out more.”
Could you? Better than the sad stories behind you, and proud in your superiority, you could find out more. You are so curious. Maybe there are answers on that path. Maybe all the secrets, all the answers, all the why’s to the surreal stories and souls behind you, explicit answers about the abandoned tourist complex. So curious…curious…curiosity…
“There’s just one thing…” says the raven-haired woman.
You feel the moment coming. You’ve been duped. Your stomach drops and you feel the horrid reveal coming. Just in time. You don’t whip your head away in any obvious manner (that would break some kind of rule you dare not break), you just look forward and off to the right a little, because you’re still curious, still able to see out of the periphery of your left vision, able to see all the cuts and gashes in her face, the wounds that no longer bleed, the angry fish hooks…and other things you can’t quite make out.
“…you’d have to stay with me forever.”
You don’t want to know the secrets. You don’t want to go down that curve. You realize curiosity is a trap too. Curiosity is a path.
You don’t run. You don’t even abruptly change course. You do not want to offend. You do not want to draw any attention to yourself. You do not even speak or respond to the question. You slowly curve away from the path — the step-crunch of the field — and slowly curve away from the woman and her path and you never look back, only straight ahead, as quietly and as invisible as you can.
You crunch across the field and back to the road. You walk along the road again. You stay to the road. You may have a while to walk.
Being away from everything is like being dead.
Not in a morbid or melodramatic light…just in the sense of being inaccessible and not accessing.
I had this vivid dream, years ago—I was dead. The afterlife was just my parents home. Only for the dead, like me, the ceilings were exceptionally high—small cathedral high, with a sort of inner balcony running a square around the house. And I (and occasional other wayward spirits), existed solely (souly?) in that square.
I walked around the square.
And existence was looking down—gigantically down—at my family and friends, doing day to day stuff. I am close. But I cannot interact. Cannot quite see it at their level or angle either, just looked down through my square.
And every stupid, little thing has the kind nostalgia that makes it hard to remain standing. They’d brew some coffee, and I’d be like, “Ye Gods! They’re brewing coffee. I used to brew coffee with them like that. I used to drink it out on the deck, with them, like that.”
And this went on. I occasionally took a break to comment on something with a random, wandering spirit, share a few jokes, make a few new Plutonian acquaintances—because I can be a funny-self-depreciating-charming bastard when I’m not stuck in my head—and it’s a few laughs between spooks. But they move on and by the time I turn my head again, for another comment, it’s a different face, or none at all and just me on my little inner balcony.
It was an emotionally engaging dream, that stretched through quite a bit of dreamtime, and was, oddly, very realistic. I really thought I was dead.
But I woke up.
Breakfast probably tasted very good that morning.
Well. Let’s be honest. It was lunch.
It wasn’t a horrifying dream. It was just funny, sad, and nostalgic at turns. There are some BNL songs that feel like that dream.
Anyway, where was I…
I’m away from everything and everyone. And I find myself getting little glimpses of what all my family and friends are doing…but not from the ground angle, and not really interacting. Emails and posts and Skype video—I’m looking down through my little square and saying, “Ye Gods! I used to have coffee with them like that.” Occasionally, at work, I turn away and make a comment or a joke with one of the new faces. And I wave the severed hand I keep at my desk. And I explain that, no, not all Americans have severed hands lying around (just us patriotic ones).
I’m gone. But I haven’t been forgotten (always flattering). And occasionally, my loved ones perform these odd seance rituals involving click-clacking on lettered keys, and they conjure a little, ethereal image of me or sometimes just my disembodied voice or just cryptic textual messages manifesting on the Ouija board computer screens.
The inverse perspective is a sort of post-apocalyptic plotline where I’m the only one left alive, contacting the dead with my own rituals (only in my inner movie, I don’t fuck up Richard Matheson’s book).
And then… My God! Are you having coffee?
So I thought of that dream (on the off chance that I wasn’t laying the parallels on thick). Again, I’m not invoking a death comparison for a sense of macabre angst…but more for the Weirdness of the experience. It’s been Weird.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this.
Maybe it’s the hour your eyes crack open in suffocating black, just the digital countdown glow of nine-to-five doom, just tick-tock gremlins and accumulated adult fears in the head with no stimulants or white noise to tune them out.
Or maybe you find it easier to conjure ethereal hopes out of the harsh light of day, easier to challenge Reality (the big-big R) past the witching hour, easier to nurture dreams in the gentle dark.
Which is good, because I need to dream big, because…I just weighed myself on the scale. Yeeeeeeesh! I have a LONG way to go. A lot of physical realities to crack. Many pounds to drop by September. But, this whole project is about dreams and aiming high, and, luckily, audacity is easier for me after midnight.
So I’ll be documenting this whole process of getting my soft (but cute, don’t forget cute) butt into shape. Training starts this week. I don’t have an exact system of diet and physical training worked out just yet (I’ll post those details as I work them in)—but I am starting by removing some of the worst items from my menu and a basic daily weight lifting routine and running. Once I get a bike, I’ll be able to add that into the mix.
I need to document myself with a "Before" picture and will take a proper one as soon as I have a real camera and spare set of hands to take it. All I have, this second, is my webcam and a little boredom (and making faces is still one of my favorite games).
The scale is frowning at me. But if I just…take it…and…turn it upside down…and…there!
Smiles, smiles, smiles all around.
Had a dream last night.
It was a sort of episode of The X-Files…
I’m agent Mulder.
Scully and I arrive at a suburban neighborhood that suffers from a zombie plague. We spend most of the time killing zombies and saving each other from near death.
But the hoard gets too big and endless bullets are running low—endless bullets eventually exhaust against endless undead. Dream physics. We find the lone survivor in the neighborhood, a middle-aged woman whose zombie husband keeps chasing her, and we make for a house. But her husband catches up to us and grabs the poor woman. I fire my Glock, and, luckily my aim is off and I only glance his head because he grabs his wife, rushes us into the house and reveals that he’s only been acting like a zombie so that the flesh hungry revenants would leave him alone.
Scully and I barricade the doors but we don’t think that’ll hold very long and we’re at a loss. But the still living husband seems to know what to do and he’s been grilling hamburgers (from a huge supply of ground meat…probably from a summer cookout that was never meant to be in this doomed subdivision). He also has a large supply of beers. Scully and I are skeptical of the man’s sanity.
But the first zombie breaks in and lumbers towards us and the husband calls him by name in a neighborly tone and hands him a beer and the zombie’s held tilts to the side and it stops its rampage long enough to clumsily take the beer and drink. The husband uses the pause to hand the cadaver a burger…and the zombie starts eating it along with his beer.
More zombies shamble in an the husband repeats the strange, suburban ritual and it works each time and they are all milling about the house, rotting flesh and bone shamblers, eating burgers and drinking beer and if you squinted your eyes you might think it was a normal summer cookout in the burbs—small talk melting to moans.
And I, Mulder, realized, in one of my Mulder monologues, that the cure for this particular species of undead epidemic was hospitality…the power of the HEARTH—food and drink and a call by name and a smile and community…as apposed to screaming and running (never run from the undead, that just excites their aggression). Bt this was only a temporary cure. A few of the less decayed zombies could now think clearly enough to cheerfully speak to us and let us know that though they enjoyed this quick reprieve from mindless, rabid hunger, and this little reminder of the simple pleasures of life…as soon as the food and the beer ran out, they would revert to their killer, human-eating natures.
By now, all the zombies were contained in the house and the burger meat and beers were running low. Scully and I made the husband stop grilling, the zombies didn’t seem to mind raw meat, and we made ready to escape. But how to stop the spread of undeath? The husband had a plan. We locked all the doors and, still bleeding from his head wound, the husband led the zombies (who were starting to loose it again) upstairs…sacrificing himself. We set fire to the downstairs and fled the home.
Outside, Scully says, “Oh, no!”
I see a black neighborhood dog. It’s moving fast for a zombie, but slow for a dog, erratically zig-zagging. Crap. Scully is out of bullets so I raise my gun and shoot—we have to contain the plague—and I shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot—and the blasted thing won’t go down—and I shoot—and I really hate having to shoot a poor dog and I really, REALLY hate having to shoot a poor dog a few dozen times. It finally goes down. But our collective sigh of relief dies in our throats when the black dog’s large belly starts wiggling and several puppies burst out, running full speed in different directions…
“You have got to be kidding me!” I yell.
I check my gun, wondering if I have enough bullets, if I can brutally kill the puppies, if I’m even fast enough to get them all as they scatter, if they are able to spread the plague to other towns. And the sun is up and I guess the episode is ending and I’m angry that the zombie scourge is spreading, and as I become aware of my bed and the ceiling fan and a dull need to pee, I’m madder still that I had that whole lucid dream and didn’t take the opportunity to make out with Scully.