Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Does Your Writer Self Need Right Now?

For me it’s sleep. I never seem to get enough of it. Or when I do, I dream too much, waking up feeling like I've been assaulted by endless action movies. A few meetings back, my writer’s group took on the challenge of freewriting from the prompt “sleep falls" without really knowing where it would lead. For me the word "sleep" was prompt enough to start writing.

The following passage is what appeared on the page after thirty minutes. Just like when I read it aloud at our meeting, this is the unedited raw version and uses the word “all” an awful lot. This in itself is interesting to me. I find word repetition is often a good indicator of some other important theme we want to write and think about. But that’s a topic for another day and as the great writing coach, Emily Hanlon, said to me once when I was asked to read aloud in one of her workshops and I couldn’t stop qualifying: “Shut up and read!”

Sleep falls like a kid glove, brushing across the children’s faces. Put to bed by their nannies, their amahs, they sleep like the abandoned battlefield dead, arms sprawled, faces averted, small hands loosely holding toys and the corners of favorite blankets. Their dreams are innocent: “I was being chased by a gorilla.” “I forgot to bring my homework to school.” “I was at a birthday party.” They sleep from a distance and they sleep alone. The music and voices of grand parties, their parents’ affairs, the shouting after the fourth gin and tonic, the children hear none of it and all of it. Sometimes they move; eyelids twitching as moonlight falls across their hair, their feet, their discarded toys. All is waiting for when they wake up and say, “I had the strangest dream.” But it wasn’t just any dream. It was the stuff of day and nightmare, the hidden voice and message that will follow them subtly, invisibly through all the days of their adult lives. “I had the strangest dream.”

I have never fallen asleep where I fell. All of my life I have had to know where I am. I have to have the same night time rituals: washing my face, brushing my teeth, my hair, setting out the morning’s work, thinking of what I will wear to work, locking doors, turning out the lights, waiting for sleep to fall upon me. I don’t sleep easily or well. I think of too many things, things undone, unfinished, not even started. I see myself as a partial insomniac; I crave sleep like others crave wealth or fame. Yet I keep myself from napping (too restless, too guilty, too busy). I dream too much, volumes and shelves of stories, reels of film, all meaningless. For awhile I tried recording my dreams. The amount of detail bored me.

When I was small I had a bed I pretended was a boat. I would steer it through the confusion and troubled waters of my early childhood. Later I inherited my parents’ old double bed and I would sleep lost in the wide middle of forbidden territory, the sheets pulled to my chin, the streetlights invading my first series of peculiar dreams I can remember to this day. Once I dreamed of going to a house in the forest. Jars of dried herbs and strange potions lined the walls. And I knew whoever owned the small house was planning to kill me. I woke in terror and the images have never left me.

Dreams are the place we can never truly share. “You have to have been there,” is the best we can do. I never liked the idea of death being a kind of sleep. Imagine all those dreams crowding in for eternity and no real way to make them stop. My mother would not let me say the prayer, “If I should die before I wake.” I wanted to die before I waked. It sounded exciting and easy, easier than navigating my way through a world I found incomprehensible at seven. It was similar to when I would stand against the mirror for hours, willing myself to fall through the glass, imagining for brief minutes at a time that I had actually accomplished my goal of stepping into a warped reality that no matter how backward had to be better than the one I lived. That is how I envisioned a sleep-like death. Anything was better than being made to survive an unwanted life.

Now I do my best to appreciate both life and sleep, though not without question. Every few days or months or maybe even minutes I wonder what it’s all for and I’ll never be satisfied with “God’s plan,” or it’s solely to make other people happy. Sometimes I imagine I will be walking down the street, a busy street, a bustling sunny happy street and I’ll simply be struck by the end of my life and will fall like a glove to the pavement: gently, suddenly, magnificently and that will be that. I try to keep my papers in good order so my survivors are not too befuddled by pages and pages of the type of things I’m writing here. I want to sleep, I want to work, the wanting both exhausts and exhilarates me. Perhaps it is as the philosophers say: Life is but a dream; and maybe the thing I long for is to finally wake up, to rise from my bed like Jesus commanded, rise and walk and never look back; to forget everything and most especially sleep—

Tip of the day: Write about the thing your writer self needs most. It could be sleep, it could be time, it could be someone to read your writing with a smile and a warm heart. Whatever it is, freewrite about it for at least thirty minutes, maybe an hour. And then go get some sleep; you deserve it.

No comments: