Friday, April 27, 2012

Perchance to Write, Perchance to Dream

There is one thing I won’t allow in my bedroom.
No wait. Two things.
OK. Three.

But let’s go back to that first one.

A Dream Catcher.

They’re not allowed. None for me.

You know. Those netlike Native-American wall hangings made of string and feathers, designed so that the “good” dreams flow through and the “bad” dreams get tangled up, sparing you from nightmares.

Fuck that.

As a writer, (and a horror writer) I find every dream is important, and the more my writing comes from “the place where I dream” the better that writing is.

For years I have kept a dream journal next to my bed, and when I remember a dream I write it down. The longer I’ve done this the more I tend to remember, and the more details come to me. Here are a few random samples:

There is a wooden tray made of 2x4s where Stephen King’s forgotten ideas go. I marvel at this, peering at this weird, luscious tray filled with dark thoughts. As I watch, the first story morsel I see is this: Undead Benji. A gray-brown schnauzer mix mutt has been hit by a car. The dog’s face is scraped open down to his skull; his body is missing chunks, leaving exposed red spots of muscle and blood, as if hungry sharks had fed on him. And yet he walks a silent and empty daytime house, wagging his partial tail, waiting for his two boy masters to come home from school.

I step outside the party and see an old woman walking her pet lioness. The woman looks like a confused baby vulture. She wears a fuzzy coat of light violet-gray material that reminds me of feathers. Her stare is vacant and perhaps a bit evil. The lioness looks every bit as old as the woman—but more alert and intelligent. It stalks on its chain outside the circle of party guests, looking for a partier to drag down.

Arnold Schwarzenegger gives me his autograph using a black permanent marker on the only thing I have handy—a steel, medieval helmet. When I look at his signature, he has instead drawn a very elaborate drawing of what looks to be a robed were-fox carrying a scimitar and a jeweled staff. Instead of his name he has written underneath the illustration, “THEY ARE DOWN THERE.”

I meet a well-dressed man who I realize is an angel. As I watch wings unfurl from his shoulders, fragile, copper-colored and weightless, like foil from French chocolates. A flaming halo whooshes alight atop his head, made of blue-yellow flames. “You are like me,” he says, “you just didn’t know it until now.”

This is just a smattering sample of the random firings of my nighttime brain. Looking back over my dream journals it is interesting for me to see the things I have dreamt about (celebrities, child hood places, bad jobs, long dead loved ones, ninjas, dwarfs, a river full of dead hippos) and the strange way that these things are combined. It’s nothing my conscious mind would come up with—and that’s why, as a writer, I value them. Writing them down, I believe helps put me in touch with the magic that is in dreaming—and the magic I’d love to capture in my fiction writing in general.

In the book, From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler, (I just read it recently) the author asserts that to get at the “white hot center” of your writing, you need to tap into the more emotional part of your subconscious, and almost go into a trance-like state—instead of thinking about what you are doing and therefore fully ignoring the analytical voice in your head (that will result in crap writing).

To get at this more emotional, dream-like writing (and I’m overly summarizing the book here) Butler recommends things like always writing daily, getting up early to write when the connection to your subconscious is strongest, and if possible writing in the same time and place (and maybe even with a different writing tool than you do for your other non-creative writing). So for instance, if you write on your computer, always use a different font or screen color for your creative work. These things are all ways to get into that dreamy, writing “zone.”

I also have some recurring dreams. My favorite one is about a big, beautiful mansion in the country that my wife and I own. Sometimes it is on a scenic mountain, sometimes it is next to a placid lake. I don’t visit it in my dreamlife for months at a time, but when I go back to this mansion of dreams, its there waiting, ready to be swept out and unlocked, and each time I discover some cool new room or secret area that had been hidden like a library or an observatory. One time there were aquariums set in the walls, each filled with albino sting rays hovering about.


I have a cheesy dream interpretation book on my bed stand, but as near as I can tell, almost anything you might dream about (per this book) is “bad luck in business.”

One guy I thought had dream interpretations nailed was Dr. Charles McPhee (you might have heard him on late night radio years ago). Unfortunately he passed away in 2011. Here is his link to his site:
and one of his books, Ask the Dream Doctor

And just because I can my favorite song about dreams (even featuring Louis Armstrong):

So what do you dream about? And how can you bring more dreaming into your writing?


Jon said...

Last night I dreamed the wife and I were staying in a super-fancy hotel/mall. It may have been somewhere tropical. I had a Hawaiian shirt and white pants on, so... y'know...

Anyway, it had faux-wood paneling and was orange and white and plastic-y with big windows and plastic plants. It kind of looked like a work-place cafeteria. It was three stories tall and we were staying on the 2nd floor, which was, of course, waaaay better than staying on the first floor, but no where near as good as staying on the third.

Well, I decided I was going to scam us a third floor room, maybe even a "suite". My plan was to go down to the first floor and say to the front desk that we had a third floor room and then they would give me the key. It was a great plan, except for one flaw: What if they're all booked up there? So first I needed to make sure there were rooms open.

So, I went up to the third floor. The elevator needed an electronic key to go to the third floor, but I fooled it by tapping the sensor with my key really quickly and I went up tot the third floor. The doors opened and...

There were naked ladies up there!

And they were big-time naked ladies too. Big hair. Big boobs. Stripper hot. Just standing around in the halls and chatting. Some of them had towels. And there was a guy up there too. He was dressed in a tracksuit and was talking very excitedly on his cell phone and I knew right away: (gasp!) A russian! Which meant: (gasp!) These ladies are prostitutes!

So, I stayed on the elevator and went back downstairs to the second floor, because there were Russian prostitues on the third floor.

Then I woke up.

I don't know if I'll use it in a story...

Qlaudie said...

OMG Jon you're even funnier when unconscious.
Mark - thank you for the Louis Armstrong. (bows)
And as for me? I once dreamed that Jodie Foster was chasing me around the U of MN 'mall,' smashing glass bottles of blue windex at my feet. This can't, however, top my friend Jon's (other Jon) dream of being on a boat, and being chased. By Death. And Death...was Dick Van Patten.
Viva la sub conscience!