If I could harness my subconscious to do my will . . . plus problems with writing from imagination vs experience

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you’re not sure if it was real the next day? I get that once in a while. Last night I had another.

I had taken a summer job working in an office, doing some kind of bookkeeping, and several of my colleagues were there — mostly women, though, including friends of mine named Kam, Colette, Kim, Monica, and maybe Golda. I wasn’t happy about the job, but I needed the money. My daughter was hanging around and I could see that my boss disapproved, so I had to send her home. In addition to feeling badly about that, there was a big meeting and the managers announced that everyone was expected to participate in some kind of super-high-efficiency diet involving seeds, alfalfa, kale, and other nutritious but gross-tasting foods. We weren’t allowed to bring anything processed or fatty or sugary to work for lunch or snack breaks.

I was really pissed off at this point. I refused to play along, declining to accept the starter-pack that was being given out and throwing the stink-eye at the smelly tea that Kam was trying to drink down, and I knew I was in trouble. Thankfully, I was sent out on a professional call, so I determined to bring back some real food to save my friends’ tastebuds.

Right before I left, one of the other employees — a petite blonde — tried to give me a ring that kept turning to a gummy in my hand. She looked at me desperately, and I realized that if I concentrated, the ring would keep its form. Once that happened, I knew that what was really going on was some kind of trap, prison, or spell: each of my employees was really a fairy-tale heroine, locked away from their own worlds in this sterile office and forced to eat crappy raw grains and seaweed. It would be my job to help them remember who they were and break free. (At this point, I realized that I was combining Parks and Recreation with Once Upon a Time, but I wanted to help my friends, so I kept it going.)

So I left the office with its maze of partitions and cubicles and meeting rooms and drove down a block of closely-constructed townhouses. There was a railway crossing and I was having a hard time stopping the car. I hit the brakes, and I’m right on the line, so I start to reverse. A school bus (empty) pulls around me and tried to get over the tracks but got hit by the oncoming train. I was thankful that we hadn’t been smucked, but then I see in my rearview mirror that a police officer is waving me over, having video-taped the whole event.

After getting a ticket, I went back to the office and went in preparing to do battle. To my surprise, everyone was eating pizza. Real pizza! So I looked closely at the boss, and there was a glint in her eye, something that suggested manipulation . . .

And then I woke up. I really wanted to go back in and continue the story, see if I could free Snow White, etc. from the web of lies and deception, but I’ll never find out how it ended. See, I can’t just pick up a dream the next night from where it left off. I can think about it as I’m relaxing into sleep, but then my subconscious will just take over and do whatever it wants. Most annoying are the times when I’m walking along endless highways, or the thing where I realize I’m driving a car from the passenger seat or backseat and I have to try to slide into the proper part of the vehicle.

Tomorrow night, the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge starts. I have some registrations but I have the feeling that a few students might join up at the last minute. I’ve never done something like this before, so it’s going to be a learning experience, hopefully with a steep curve. And lots of coffee. We’re not staying up all night, but still, I’m going to need it, I think. Then Saturday will be the all-day part, with rehearsal and whatnot — definitely going to be a coffee day. I feel like I should be more stressed about it than I am presently, but it’s going to hit me tomorrow with full force anyway.

I’ve also promised some struggling students in my grade 11 english class that I’ll write them a story involving snowmobiles, because that’s what their main interest is and it may help them connect to reading. The only trouble is that I don’t do snowmobiling: my experience is limited to three incidents:

— I was around 9 or 10 and taken for a brief ride on the back of a parental friend’s snow machine. It was loud and stinky.

— My brother tried to take our dad’s new-to-him snowmobile for a quick run around the yard (without permission) and got it stuck in the deep snow where the yard sloped. My friend Karen and I had to help him get it out before Dad came home. I think we did it — I have no recollection of any yelling or other upset from that night.

— I went ice fishing two or three years ago, as part of a staff social event, and got to ride in a sledge pulled by a snowmobile. It was, again, loud and stinky.

So I’ve told my students that they’re going to have to help me with the story. I mentioned this idea to my vice-principal, that I’d write a story and have the students decide where it will go or what the details are, and he didn’t seem overly thrilled with the concept. His thought was that we need to give the students “more agency” and encourage them to do these things on their own. That’s all fine and dandy, I agree with that very much, but when you’re working with kids who get antsy after being surrounded by four walls for half an hour, who aren’t into writing or reading beyond the absolute necessity, why not work together on something creative so they can get the feel of it? It’s still part of that “gradual release of responsibility” concept. And one student in particular, B, is excited that I’m going to write something for him, that he will get a say in but not have to tackle on his own.

I need to get going on this project. I’ve set the goal, a high-interest, medium-vocabulary read about snowmobiling, with a word count of 20,000 – 30,000, at least. The problem now for me is the plot. I talked it up with some of my lunchtime crew yesterday, gathering some ideas. I could do a story about a poker run — never done that — or getting lost or stuck on the trails, or breaking through the ice (have heard a firsthand experience from a friend). I have a vague idea about having to win the poker run in order to gain the cash prize that will allow the protagonist to achieve something important, like money for a sibling’s class trip to Toronto or something else that kids up here would recognize as having value. But beyond that . . . I’m at a complete loss. My head is blank. I can have these freaky dreams about crap from TV shows and stuff, yet I can’t put together a simple plot about a kid with a snowmobile?

I keep coming up with concepts, and that’s as far as I get. And they all feel so cheesy:

  • A kid who has built his own snow machine from scrap parts and discarded pieces in a junkyard races against kids with brand-new, top-of-the-line Skidoos, with the prize being a next-year model. Your typical underdog story, in which he learns the value of hard work, appreciating what he has, blah blah blah . . . (not feeling it, can you tell?)
  • A teenager who has witnessed a crime and escapes into the woods on his snowmobile, only to realize he’s being followed by the criminals. His only recourse to get away is to use the maze of the trails, but night is falling / blizzard comes up / warm weather has weakened the ice on the lake, so his dilemma worsens . . . (maybe this one, I could get excited with this)
  • When a girl takes her boyfriend (who’s just moved up from a southern town/city and has little experience with the snow/cold) for a run and their machine goes through the ice, she has to give him a crash course in winter survival as they trek back to the closest house / store for help . . . (after all, it’s not just for boys, right?)

Maybe I’ll just throw these suggestions at my students and see which one they like the most. Take it from there.

And I should probably get someone to take me snowmobiling at some point, so I have that experience for the writing.


I need a memory stick for my brain.

I had this great dream last night that was half of a nightmare. It involved an old Victorian or Edwardian house, with stained and polished mahogany floors, stairs, and banister, and an investigation into paranormal activity. We’d leave a room, and the furniture would move on its own — at one point, shifting as violently as lawn chairs on the deck of a cruise ship in heavy seas.

It was fairly frightening, until I remembered that I was dreaming and I had some control over whether the ghosts were hostile or in need of help.

And then after I’d left that house, I walked up the path to another building that seemed familiar. It was a duplex, and as it turned out (in the dream), one in which I’d lived before but didn’t remember having lived there. It was as though my experience of living in this split-level with a big round window by the front door had been erased and was being reformed in my memory as I toured the dwelling. And I realized that the adjoining residence was also haunted. I wanted to explore more but suddenly my husband was pointing out that we had overslept by nearly 30 minutes and I had to get moving . . .

I think there is something to the idea that the dream world is as real as the one we wake up to after our sleep. Sometimes I picture the world I go into as a map, especially considering that I tend to find myself in the same locations, though in a generally random way: Long, winding highways along which I am either driving (until I realize I am trying to steer and brake while sitting in the back seat or passenger side), riding a bike, or walking; the second-floor apartment my hubby and I lived in during university; rural farm areas connected to a house in Honeywood, Ontario where I lived when I was 13; certain streets in Orillia, Peterborough, Toronto, and places I’ve never been or that don’t exist, like archipelagoes with volcanoes, razor-edged mountains, train stations linked to canal-lined streets next to waterfalls and grottoes. It’s always so frustrating to leave these places, and the characters who inhabit them — as frustrating as my own self changing character within the dream. The Incredible Morphing Human.

There was a great Wim Wenders movie I watched once with William Hurt and Solveig Dommartin, called Until the End of the World (1991). It was a fascinating futuristic / apocalyptic yarn about a woman — Claire — who accidentally gets involved with a man who has invented a way for the blind to see. The apparatus is very much like the Oculus Rift, actually. At the same time that she is on this journey, a weapons satellite goes rogue and various populations of the earth are on the move, evacuating cities in the hopes of surviving its impact (should it hit near this place or that). So this couple end up seeking shelter in a cave in the Australian outback, and they discover that the apparatus he’s invented not only records images for the blind to be able to see — it also records dreams. And they learn that being able to record and watch your own dreams becomes addictive. Claire in particular gets hooked on the need to watch her dreams, studying the images that her subconscious mind produces and trying to determine what they mean. To me, that is very relatable. Imagine if we could record what our heads come up with while we rest, in perfect detail. 

I envy artists who are able to render their dreams in the colour and shape with which they were formed. Pictures speak more eloquently than words, especially if the images are fragmented after we’ve awakened. I’m left with a scattering of ideas of that damned haunted house, pictures that may solidify themselves right when I’m about to fall asleep again.