Dreams of climate change

Dreams are a notoriously boring tale to receive.

Dreams and Stories by Gojagaaji [nausheen javed] is licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0

So we’re told.

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything inherently boring about dreams. (I mean look at that drawing above. Dreams can stir up wonder for our muses.)

I’ve always argued it’s more in HOW you tell dreams rather than the dream itself. I mean, think about it. So often when we are bored by a dream-story, it is because some breathless storyteller has related EVERY last detail they can remember about the dream. Would this same person do this to you while telling you a tale from their office day–sharing every moment of their morning until the main crux of the story happened? Not likely. In their excitement, in their extreme feelings of profundity, they’ve forgotten good storytelling manners.

To care about a dream, the listener has to be along for the story ride itself, which means having some story arcs or plot points or SOMETHING INTERESTING beyond just strange details … concepts that often get left behind as someone breathlessly recounts that “awesome” dream they had last night.

Annoyingly, this belief that dreams are inherently boring has gotten translated into staple writing advice: Dreams are considered a turnoff in “serious” literature. Too often in white literary circles, the idea of telling a dream correctly is to not tell it at all. I heard this old adage a few times in my own MFA program, but I knew enough to ignore it. [I like to think I wasn’t as susceptible/gullible to this advice because by the time I had enrolled in my MFA program, I’d already read far too many books that had incredible dream sequences (and literary ones, whatever you take that to mean).]

Unfortunately, you also see a lot of newly successful writers lay down this rule on Twitter feeds with fans clicking hearts and a few disgruntleds getting blocked.

But I’ve read dream sequences that left me breathless. Stunned. Deeply moved. And I’ve read dream sequences that were ridiculous, narcissistic, and down right boring. I’ve always thought the advice shouldn’t be DON’T. But DO–with extreme caution. Dreams are hard to pull off.

All of this brings me back to my dream last night. I know. So narcissistic. But stay with me a moment.

Simply put: I dreamt of great arctic floods, a snowy landscape soaked in biblical rains–and houses built to transform into boats. I dreamt I was trying to escape, packing a few precious belongings when the owner of the house tugged on my arm and said stop. He pulled a great lever and the house, land-locked and lumbering, became a boat. A marvelous boat. As we escaped down a dirt road, the waves licked at our stern, and I looked back, Lot’s wife, knowing I would not succumb.

Okay. Done. Did I do it right? Maybe not. I make no claim to greatness in my writing. I can tell you I left out a lot of details, including one horrific one about a white cat. Details that were interesting to me, but not really relevant to this post.

Anyway, I woke up thinking about that image of the land-locked house that transforms into a boat and thought:

Are we, as a species, dreaming of our collective destruction? With a pandemic, with encroaching weather changes, with fires and heat waves and floods? What is the state of our collective dreams? What would Jung have said? Can we reach each other through our dreams? Can we rescue one another in time?

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

Have a book recommendation for great dreams? Let me know!

Four book recommendations with dreams:

Territory of Light by Yūko Tsushima
Reading the book is like reading a painting. The story is about a mother and daughter living in a small apartment with rooftop access. They are trying to move on after the woman’s husband leaves them. The plot is light, and the story moves like a series of vignettes, but it was oh so satisfying.

Matrix by Lauren Groff
Lots of dreamy visions/mystic type revelations. The language creates a great deal of psychic distance, but if you love reading about strong women in historical times, you’ll like this book. I was fascinated.

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami
You could probably pick just about any Murakami book for this category, but I think IQ84 was particularly dependent on dreams for plotting. An utterly engrossing read.

Book Cover of Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Dreams play a vital role in this plot and BONUS: it’s about climate change. Though in this story world, the earth has mysteriously frozen over. Good survivalist stories that take place on a Northern Reserve in Canada.

Burning through Burnout

I have a stellar case of burnout.

As in: I’m full with a burning desire to …. what? Supernova? Become a neutron mass? What is burnout?

I’m not even sure.

That’s the thing about burnout. It’s a difficult (and weird) feeling to define. Merriam-Webster’s gives us: “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” But it’s not just a case of needing more rest. I can get plenty of sleep and still feel this strange ennui that leaves me unmotivated and blah. In fact, I would say purposely NOT doing anything makes me feel even worse. So what gives?

While searching for solutions to my burnout, I listened to part of a BBC video: How to Avoid Emotional Burnout. But I cut it off when the host started talking about taking twenty minutes each day to listen to yourself. Uh, I don’t know about you, but I have spent far too much time listening to myself these past two years. I’m NOT here for it. Not any longer.

I’ve had burnout before in life. (I think most people have, given our modern work schedules.) The most memorable case was while I was teaching in NYC and attending grad school. I would feel this horrible wrenching in my chest each day getting up for another day of work and school. It was a miserable slog to work and then classes (each at different ends of the city), and I had absolutely bonkers amounts of work to do, and yet: I was bored. Really, truly bored. I had burnout.

But things are not so easy to pin down right now.

I have plenty of things I’m interested in doing. Tons of goals and projects lined up for the summer. Things I’m truly excited to start. And yet …

Maybe it’s just the weather.

Just Another Beautiful April Day

April in the Northland is always more of an ephemeral dream than reality, so expectations are generally low. But it’s been pretty lousy outside lately, even by up-north standards. People think cabin fever is an issue in December or January even, but try April when the winds are still blistering and you can’t go for a walk without long underwear, mittens, and a heavy coat.

Okay. It isn’t just the weather. I mean obviously, right? Maybe the cure is simply allowing myself to do things that are NOT necessary to function.

Like this blog. I felt an itch to write for an audience of exactly one. Me. I’m the only solid reader of this thing, and that’s all right.

Perhaps burnout means I need to find a way to do more NON essential things. Things that aren’t very important to me.

I would say more, but I’m starting to feel tired of this too.

Swann’s Way–my way

I’ve decided to finally read Proust.

It feels like a momentous thing, though, in reality, it’s not much of a thing at all. It’s a book. Just a humble book. No lives will be harmed in the reading of this version, aka the Lydia Davis translation. (At least no lives that I know of. Apologies if there’s some weird cosmic law out there in the universe that mandates the death of another being for every copy read. This is a strange thought, I know, but stranger thoughts have been written.)

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis

I’m pretty sure I’m only noting this read because of the way countless authors talk about their own experiences while reading Proust. (I mean, whole books have been written about these types of experiences, but, really, I don’t expect much at all. I’ll read it, and I’ll either enjoy it or I won’t. But at least I will have finally done so.)

I’ve long wanted to, and long have I put it off—it never seemed like the right time. One gets the feeling we should be reading this book in a rather leisurely but studious fashion. But life doesn’t often allow for those types of drifting days. And maybe it never will again. No time like the present.

So, yes, I’m reading Proust. I’ll send myself a bouquet of flowers 🌸 💐 🌼 , a box of Madelines, or maybe a bottle of wine 🍷 when I’m done.

Or maybe I’ll finally take that long long awaited trip to Paris.

This is just to say …

Running sneaker with an untied shoelace.

I am going for a run this afternoon.

A jog is probably a better term …

A huffy little sprint?

No, sprint is too optimistic. I plan to huff and puff.

I will bravely don my (too tight) leggings and winter hat and mittens (it’s still cold here in northern Wisconsin) and, oh, a shirt and a jacket, because nudity is frowned upon, and I will see what this middle-aged body can do after 12 months of life during a pandemic, 12 months riddled with anxiety and stress and depression and unemployment and reading and writing and contributing and working and cooking and laughing and …

It’s just a run, okay? Best not to put too much pressure on it.

A Stillness of Space

When I left Albuquerque just before the state-wide lockdown, the leaves were about to pop on the cottonwoods and I’d just seen my first dandelion. Nearly every day, I walked my neighborhood, investigating what was newly sprouting. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I tell you this: I adore Albuquerque springs. When the wisteria blooms, and the hummingbirds thrum, and the cacti shoot up brilliant red and purple flowers, THEN it is spring, glorious spring.

Ahem.

ice melt
Ice melting in the junipers

The decision to leave Albuquerque came fast. Rumors a lockdown was about to happen were all over social media and, while rumors are rumors, I had a gut feeling it was coming. It made sense. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has struck me as being on top of things since this outbreak started. It’s likely she’s helped prevent a lot of infections with her quick actions. Unfortunately, no (wo)man, and certainly no state, is an island during a worldwide pandemic, and infection numbers are still rising there, like everywhere else.

So why was I leaving?

IMG_0531
Brave irises

I knew I couldn’t spend the lockdown in ABQ alone. I was already having issues with anxiety and I knew isolation would be a problem. I also knew I’d have more needed resources (i.e. family, food) in Superior, my hometown. So away I went, mourning the spring I wouldn’t see and nervous as all hell to be traveling during Covid-19.

I took a lot of precautions on my trip home: I packed all my own food; I used a Clorox wipe each time I got gas–on the pump and on my hands; and I slept in my car instead of a hotel. (I’d always considered my Camry roomy until I had to sleep in the backseat. Oof. My LEGS were dying to stretch out. I want a van before the next pandemic rolls around.) Normally, I’d never sleep in my car while traveling. Too dangerous. But I never felt unsafe. There were plenty of other cars and trucks and loads of semis at the travel center I chose off a toll road in Kansas. It was a misty night, but not gloomy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I felt connected to the others parked there that night, but perhaps there was solidarity in the proximity. There were certainly moments of stillness that felt uplifting despite everything on this strange night in an even stranger month.

While getting gas the next day, I got sneered at for using the wipes. A lot of people, especially in the red states I traveled through, still weren’t taking the virus seriously. (Though at a station in Logan, New Mexico, a handwritten sign telling customers to use gloves and wash hands afterwards was at all the pumps.) But what did I care if someone laughed? I had no desire to get infected or potentially pass around the virus. Since returning home, I’ve quarantined myself and will remain that way for the time being. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has given the “safer at home” order. That means, well, stay at home if you can. And I can. For now.

IMG_0511
A windful of time

Which brings me back to here. To now. In northern Wisconsin, where spring is more of an idea–a wistful hope perhaps–rather than a subtle and then bountiful blooming like it is in Albuquerque. Snow storms are no stranger to Aprils here. And they happen in May and June. Our four seasons are: winter, winter-lite, mosquito-summer, and sometimes, oh sometimes, a drawn-out fall. Blessings.

When I did finally venture outdoors, I had to look hard for signs of spring. But seek and you shall find: A few green sprigs of grass, a weed or two under the fall debris I cleared, a brave patch of irises poking up, and a few knuckles of peonies just visible in the topsoil. It’s not a lot, and shortly after I took these pictures we had another inch or two of snow.

But soon enough there will be more. Each new plant, each new sign of spring, an offering from that space of stillness we all carry inside. I suspect a lot of us will be needing that space, turning to it in little captured moments.

A bud. A song. Look, there, a windful of time.

 

 

Writing prompts from the end of the world

Some awesome writers have been offering prompts for fellow quarantined writers in these unprecedented times. I found this one on Twitter today:Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 5.48.41 PM

I didn’t end up following it exactly, but when I saw it, I figured I’d give it a shot. I mean, why not.

I haven’t been reading or writing for almost two MONTHS. For good reason though. (I was sick and couldn’t read.) And, now? Well, I’ve been having a bit of trouble concentrating. The Coronavirus pandemic has my attention, along with my financial situation and health and …. We’ll leave that alone.

Since this virus may last for months, we need time away from the chaos. Time to regenerate. To breathe. To create.

Writing prompts seem like a good idea.

Kathy Fish, who is probably one of the greatest flash fiction writers alive (and also the kindest) has been offering prompts. (Checkout her Twitter.) Aimee Bender started today, but I’m sure there are many many more. If you see some, let me know.

Stay safe, people. Good health to all.

 

My response, for kicks.

Surprisingly, the anxiety–the acute needless fear of the future, the brain looping, looping, looping, on, always on, that endless tract of worst-case scenarios, that jailer for your mind–is what saved her.

From walking outside into the bright blue. From meeting that woman with the shy smile. From touching that door handle with the smear of post-nasal drip.

No, she was too tired to leave her house that day, made half-crazed by the need for sleep.

She imagined vapors in the streets, particles, dirty, clinging to the skin. The fingernails. The shoes.

To shoes? She eyes them, quietly lying at the door like innocent pups. Eager for use. No worries about wear. No idea of the contagions underneath.

Is it on shoes? Is it in the air? Her neighbors, she has noticed, have gone dark. Blinds drawn. Did they take off for …

Where? The mountains. The Mexico borders. Dreamscapes. Cabins. Second homes. The rich, always the rich, causing the problem, then leaving it to others to fix. Servants to buy their food, their lives.

Shocking how little we have that matters. Medications to keep us moving. Medications to love and endure. But stop. No need. I will send love. To you. You that woman with the shy smile. To the old man breathing his last. The athlete on a ventilator. And to the woman at the bus stop who hugged herself because there was no one else.

 

 

On purpose at the end of a (previous) year

Editor’s note:
I wrote this a month ago but didn’t post.

December 2019
At the end of this year, since Vinny died, I can say there have been days I cried piteously, days I cried embarrassingly, days that I cried quietly, or days where I barely cried at all. But I cannot say I’ve had more than one or two days without tears. I’ve cried because I’ve missed him. I’ve cried because his death got tangled up in emotions about people in my life who are no longer around. And I’ve cried because the very last moments of his euthanasia did not go well (something I hid in other posts, other comments). When I say that this haunts me, I mean that it really fucking haunts me, in the terrible way only hauntings from beloveds can; in the night, in the shower, in the waking hours before dawn, I see him again, I see what happened, and there I am in the horror of that moment.

And well. I don’t wish to think on it any more.

At the end of this year, I feel like I’ve come up to the edge of something hard and precipitant. I can touch its hollow back, hear its long, low echo as I knock about the panels. It charges the room with electricity, and my hair, long enough, stands blown back. But I cannot for the life of me see this hard-edged thing. There has been a change. Yes. And I know my life is at a crossroads. But where do I go? To the north? To the sea? Do I try for a house? A new job? Do I write when I feel it gets me nowhere?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

So I take a walk. I contemplate. I think on matters of impermanence, of repeating moments. The walks in the fall leaves crunching, as they were when I was a kid on my way home from school. We are here for such a brief blip of time. Be happy, I tell myself. BE HAPPY. Is there no other answer for what one should be?

There must be. For I feel this line of thinking leads to a sort of quasi-Dorian Gray, forever pursuing my most debased emotions in the search for pleasure–a soul’s secrets etched on an old passport photo now hidden under my bucket of change.

Well, then purpose.

At the end of this year, I search for purpose. Let’s try that. Let’s go forward into the hollow echo with that.

Logline, longlines.

Been trying my hand at a logline for my book, Wonder Gone Missing. I’ve been using “Save the Cat! WRITES A NOVEL” as a guide. I have to say, if you have a long twisty plot in your own book, Save the Cat! can really save your keester.

I’ve been working with their recommendations this afternoon. It’s too much to explain ALL of them and probably a copyright issue as well, but the author recommends starting your logline with: “On the verge of …” So that’s what I did. Then I tried to fit it in a tweet.

Well, guess what? #MissionAccomplished.

Except: I can’t fit in #logline, which seems sorta essential for someone to see it some day. Like it in a pitmad competition or something along those lines.

Oh, well. I’ll keep working it. I must say I find my book a little on the ugly side when it’s down to one sentence, but here it is:

LOGLINE:

On the verge of losing her sanity after her brother’s suicide, a grieving sister becomes entangled in a cult; when she discovers her brother had a child with a cult member before his death, she must examine her family’s own cult history to escape with his daughter—and her life.

UPDATE: I can fit this all into one tweet:

On the verge of losing her sanity after her brother’s suicide, a grieving sister becomes entangled in a cult; when she discovers her brother had a child before his death, she must reexamine her family’s own cult history to escape with his daughter and her life. #logline

UPDATE 2.2: I found some that started with “when.” Was fun to play around. Better? Worse?

When a grieving sister takes a job at the New Mexico Library of Wonder, little does she know she’s about to entangle herself in a cult. When she discovers her brother had a child in the cult, she must reexamine her family’s past to escape with his daughter and her life. #pitmad

Are you working on a logline? What did you find helpful?

Pet Cemetery

Photo on 2-28-17 at 4.14 PM #4Sunday was a hard day. I was cleaning out my old apartment–something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time–but instead of feeling a sense of joy and new impending adventure, I was mourning my wonderful cat, Vincent.

He died about two weeks ago. So I’m leaving the last place he was alive before I’ve had a chance to fully process his loss. And while I loved all my pets, Vinny was the one who felt like a part of my sense of self. Lynn and Vin, a friend used to say. How could it not be?

I know I did everything I could for him. And I know I did more than most people do for their pets. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not here. And he’s not coming back.

We had a good last three days. He was feeling better from intravenous fluids. The night he got back from his last hospital visit, I slept on the floor next to him and he put his head on my heart and he stayed that way, cuddled into my side, for most of the night.

I was hoping to have another week or two with him. But the next day he started sneezing, then coughing. By nightfall, it was clear he was having difficulty breathing. During end-stage kidney disease, you can have too much fluid in your lungs and drown. I knew I had to make the call.

His last morning, he showed me his belly as best he could, looking for a little more love and comfort. And then it was done.

I wrote him an obituary (posted below) in the days leading up to his death. It feels a little silly, but Vinny wasn’t your usual cat. I wanted people to understand that. And I needed to say goodbye.

 

Photo 150

Albuquerque—This is a young Vincent, my beautiful cat-kid, (aka Vinny, Vinny van Gogh, Mister, Vinster, Small Fry, Buddy, and, most recently, Mouse). He died October 14, 2019. He was about 16. All loved pets leave an indelible mark on our lives, but, if we’re lucky, there’s that one who nestles into your heartspace with astounding ferocity. For me, that was Vincent.

Vincent came into my life while I was living in Brooklyn. He was six years old and very sick. His previous owner, a person remembered only as Evil Esther, had neglected him. I took over his care, but eventually every single tooth had to be pulled due to prior malnutrition. Once he started to recover, his lionhearted love became clear to everyone. Soon people began asking me if he was up for adoption. He wasn’t. He moved with me to Wisconsin where he lived five mostly healthy years and enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.

Vinny loved people and hated to be alone. When he moved to Albuquerque, he fought off his first of many pancreatitis bouts, surprising vets with his recovery time and time again, though his quality of life was never quite the same. Throughout it all, he befriended everyone he met. We often took walks around the apartment complex without a leash where he enjoyed saying hello to passersby. Vinny was never afraid to make a new friend. He introduced me to dozens of neighbors over the years, many I ended up knowing by name, a few quite well. He was briefly dubbed mayor of the complex until poor health forced him to resign. Some of his amazing abilities were even mentioned anonymously in an article in The Morning News: https://themorningnews.org/article/the-last-dying-cat

His favorite food was chicken lunchmeat, and he used to pace in front of the stove impatiently whenever someone was roasting a bird. When he was still young, he loved to race with me down the hall to get into bed. During his final hospitalization, the vet tech told me he had been hugging everyone who held him—as was his way. A prior vet tech used to draw hearts on his bandages and tell me, “Only for him.”

Vincent’s medical bills have been … well, you might imagine. Then imagine some more. But if a cat can be grateful, I think he was. He was loved by so many, and I would adopt him again in a heartbeat. I love you, Vinny. Please come with me in my heart wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

Procrastinating and Getting Ahead with the Query Letter

morpho1
The blue butterfly–a symbol of transformation and wonder, a key theme in my book.

I’m about a third of the way through the second draft of my novel, (which I’ve always imagined with a cover of a blue butterfly), but I’m hoping to have a solid query letter BEFORE I finish the book.  I remember how exhausted I was from the writing process after completing my very first book–and how little tolerance I had for writing the requisite queries and synopses. Maybe by completing the letter early, I’ll actually properly query the dang book, which is my third attempt at a full-length manuscript and my second novel. (I gave up after about twelve queries on my previous books for a variety of reasons best left in the sand.)

Anyway, the query letter. I feel like publishing it, though I’ll definitely get feedback before I send it out, and I suspect it will change often in the months to come. It’s an urge I’m going to honor because it feels like a victory just to be this far along in the process.

So here she be:

Dear Agent X:

I’m sending my query for WONDER GONE MISSING, a novel complete at 96,000 words. (Yes, I’ll add personal agent stuff here.)

In the desert city of Albuquerque, cult expert and underemployed philosophy professor Sandrine Novak, is haunted by her brother’s recent suicide and a spate of gruesome murders of homeless people. But when a friend and mentor, Alonso Alonso, offers her a job at the New Mexico Library of Wonder, she feels like she’s getting a second chance.

Full of strange and curious objects, the library is a dream endeavor. But then Alonso goes missing, and she learns both he and her brother were entangled in a cult devoted to the feminine divine. As she searches for her lost friend, she must reexamine all that she knows about her family’s own history in order to uncover the costly secrets both her brother and Alonso were trying to keep. Along the way, she encounters a socially awkward perfumer, a chain-smoking librarian, and a non-believing Buddhist nun.

Part detective story, part tale of a grieving sister, the story looks at the wonder and meaning of everyday life. WONDER GONE MISSING is suffused with mystery, the grim realities of modern existence, and prophetic visions of what it means to truly live without fear.

Eh?

Probably going to change some things. I need to find comps, and I’m thinking now I might want to focus on a murder that happens midway. Then again, maybe not.

I’ll keep playing with the letter. And working on the book.