I am sitting here absolutely blasted from the last few weeks. Too much work, a whole lot of social activity, plus that day job. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for actual tax preparers. Or maybe they take six months off or whatever, and that makes it worth it somehow? Anyway, ugh. Capitalism is the worst.
I’ve been back in my own place in Portland for two months now, and in most ways it feels like I never left. Same bus, same walk home, same favorite restaurants, same favorite people, same Powell’s. Plus new people and new foods and a better apartment and new ideas.
I’m working on a new project I’m not ready to share yet, but I’m excited to do it (which means it’s the right thing!) and cranky I’ve been too busy to do much in the last week or two. Though I managed to acquire a domain for the website and write a mission statement and brainstorm some delivery channels, so I guess I did get some shit done? I’m hoping to make some progress this weekend but I am TIRED. And I have some basic housekeeping to do – I have enough sugar for exactly one more cup of tea, I’m pretty sure all the forks are dirty, and the recycling is overflowing its container. Right now, I’m enjoying my second cup of tea and reading Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (which is great so far).
I hope all of you are finding time to rest and be inspired this fine February morning.
I was re-reading The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker, and the character, Lissie, talks about her mother starting to have dreams for the first time (or at least to remember them) when her physical health improved. So here I am writing about my dreams. Because if I’m not waking up remembering a dream, then things are not going well. When the dreams come, some part of me is relieved and affirmed and joyful.
I have dreams that contain glimpses of the future, and I have dreams of impossible things and places – though not impossible people, I just realized. They are almost always full of the real people in my life (and famous people I adore like James Hetfield and Neil Gaiman).
I was writing all my dreams down for awhile, after talking with a friend about his dream journal and lucid dreaming. And while I love that I have those notes to look back on, feeling obligated to write the dreams down made them less joyful somehow, so I stopped. I do sometimes feel like I need to write about a particular dream, but if they need to be remembered, then I will remember them. And lucid dreaming – which seems awesome – was wrong for me. My dreams are messages I’m receiving, that I want to receive, and controlling them would mean not receiving what was sent.
And the dreams often feel ‘sent,’ not imagined or created by me or my sub-conscious or what have you. And I’m not sure I’ve ever articulated it as such, but my dreams are a big part of my spiritual understanding of the world. They are why I can’t give that presence any name that I’ve heard in the world. I say Goddess or Cosmos or Universe… but it’s really the DreamWriter I believe in.
I occasionally navigate my life by my dreams, though not in a “I dreamed about the beach, so I need to go to the beach” sort of way. The meaning lies underneath the story and I would be hard-pressed to explain how they mean anything at all based on the plot/summary/theme. I was practically haunted by a dream (the details of which I have no memory of now) for almost two days until a co-worker said he was driving to Oregon when we got laid off in a few days… and suddenly I was supposed to ask if I could go with him. So I did, and I got a virtually free trip to visit my best friend.
Mostly I get non-narrative stories that amaze and delight or amaze and require introspection. I finally forgave my shitty friend because the dreams would not leave me alone.
Sometimes I dream a clear, tiny sliver of the future –though until that future becomes the present, I have no idea. I dreamed about a particular moment in a particular room I’d never seen before, and in the dream I knew that the house belonged to Jerry, who was my boss at that time – and married to a dear friend. When I had the dream, they were planning to move to Colorado, and I was planning to move to Montana. But three or four years later, they had bought the place in my dream and I was living in their spare room.
I’ve had dozens of these in my life. The moments themselves are super-boring and virtually meaningless, (I’m walking to the copy room at work, I’m standing outside the bathroom at home) but a huge part of my belief system is that when I intersect with one of my dream-memories, I am on the right path in my life. So whenever they show up, I’m a bit knocked out and overjoyed.
In the last 4-5 years, they’ve become more frequent and less intense. And I really miss that intensity – partly because it helps me be certain I’m not imagining them. But I can only guess that following the right path diligently has made them less necessary. Which is… good? But I miss that bolt from the blue.
That day in the shower when I realized I could never have a real job again – clearly not accurate in sentiment, but concrete in world-view – was maybe the first ‘bolt’ that wasn’t an actual dream fragment remembered but a fully awake message from the DreamWeaver that shot through my whole being – brain and body and whatever else there is to me. And after that it was so simple to figure out what I wanted to do, because if it didn’t resonate with that joy it couldn’t be the right choice.
But this idea that people who are unhealthy or lost to themselves never remember their dreams is so interesting to me. It’s so good. It seems so ripe for storytelling. So profound for life-building. We all know how sleep deprivation can fuck with your cognitive skills, this is only a tiny step farther on that path. It doesn’t even have to be spiritual. The presence of dream memories as an indication of being well-rested doesn’t really seem all that fanciful.
But for me, that dream life –and it almost always feels like an actual life being lived elsewhere/ when – is proof/ evidence/ corroboration of the existence of a spiritual being/ place/ dimension.
I’ve met one other person who glimpses the future in their dreams. I have friends who believe that they can visit real places in their dreams (astral projection). And I also have plenty of friends who believe that their dreams are meaningless.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. Much like I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t read voraciously. Any class that required writing – Reading, English, any humanities class – I did well in. I can structure an argument, I can write a story, I used to think my poems were deep and meaningful (those junior high school poems, ouch!). I was taking a class in how retirement IRAs work and I joked that my earnings would be royalties from my books. I got a bachelor’s degree in English and swore I’d write the defining thesis of the 21st century. I’ve written book reviews for (very little) money. I’ve edited several (self-published) books. I’ve written some short stories and 12,000 words on a middle-grade novel I haven’t finished. I write (very irregularly) on this blog.
So when I quit my job and ran away, one of the things I meant to do was get on that whole writing thing. I’d have all that free time – I’d totally finish that novel, write up all those cool ideas for feminist magazines and pop-culture websites. At a minimum, I’d make hardly any money generating crappy content for the endless machine that is the internet. I bought a Writers Almanac and planned to pitch and write stories for various outlets until someone accepted one.
Maybe y’all didn’t notice, but… none of that happened. I wrote almost nothing on the novel. I wrote in my journal a lot, and a few blog posts, but not much else. I applied and tested for a few writing/editing jobs and got none of them. I didn’t pitch a single essay to a single website.
I have a million reasons/ excuses for why that is – some more valid than others – but ultimately I just… didn’t.
So the real question is: Do I want to write, or do I just want to think of myself as a writer?
Well, I really can’t stand the idea that my whole life I’ve basically been a fraud, pretending to be someone who would be a writer “if only I had the time.” So I guess I better get on that shit.
After being called on my bullshit excuses by my best friend (whose job it is to do that for me), I’ve decided that what I have to do – if I want to make this fantasy of writing a reality – is hack my writing process. I follow dozens of writers and editors on Twitter and they are constantly talking about the processes that work for them, with lots of options for me to choose from. So the next step is PUTTING SOME OF THOSE IN PLACE! Trying them out, see what works. Recognize the excuses for what they are and not allowing them to stand unchallenged. My biggest (mental, self-imposed) hurdles are as follows.
Problem 1: I am lazy. Please don’t try to tell me I’m not. Y’all have no idea how much free time I spend doing stupid shit – in addition to all the free time I spend doing good things like reading and crocheting and stuff. I.AM. LAZY. Not up for discussion.
Rule to Solve Problem 1: Stare that bitch right in the face. Stop accepting my own lame excuses. Let my friends hold me accountable. I’m usually opposed to people hassling me about stuff, but I’m putting this out there for all of you (if you’re interested). Go ahead and ask me if I’ve done any writing lately. I’m officially committing to writing frequently and regularly, and I may need help sticking to it.
Problem 2: Focusing the brain on writing. Writing requires that I harness most/ all of the simultaneous trains of thought in my head to focus on this one thing with a minimum of tangents. I don’t know if everyone else’s brain works like this, but there are at least four things happening in my head every minute I’m awake. This is why I insist on listening to music while at work, because it keeps one of them happy. Chatting with people while working is also good, so two tracks are occupied and work is likely to go well. In order for the serious writing to happen – and for me to stick to it – I can’t be distracted by looking up that book I wanted to reference, or thinking about how I first heard this song on vacation, or getting angry at the current state of the world.
Rule to Solve Problem 2: I made a playlist with mostly instrumentals and songs in languages I do not speak. Turn off the internet if I’m using my laptop. Make notes on research TO BE DONE LATER. Put phone out of reach with all social media notifications turned off. Stay off Twitter until after the writing is done.
Problem 3: I get lots of ideas (those fucking trains never stop running, people) but don’t do anything with them.
Rule to Solve Problem 3: WRITE THEM DOWN IMMEDIATELY. The kernel of a new idea is tough to hold onto, even if you aren’t past 40 and losing the sharpness of your memory. They won’t all be winners, but I’ll never know if I can’t remember any of them. Jot down those ideas when they come. Develop them – soon – instead of just thinking about them while watching TV.
Problem 4: Editing brain and writing brain are very different. Editing is much easier, it actually benefits from all those tracks in my head. And it’s basically just reading and getting to feel like I’m smart because I can see the mistakes and fix them, so that’s two things that make me happy. But I can’t edit a blank page (that is one of those things writers and editors are always saying). So as soon as I do have something written, I’m quite happy to jump to the editing process, which derails the writing process. The idea that all writing needs to be published/ posted goes right along with this, and so I prioritize editing the words instead of making the words. But I know I can edit and post blogs, that is not a skill I need to work on or a process I need to improve.
Rule to Solve Problem 4: FOCUS ON THE WRITING. Don’t fix the typos. Ignore the editing and posting – at least for now. Of course as I write this current thing here – clearly intended to be posted on my blog – I realize I have to ignore it in order for anyone to read this. The world is full of contradictions.
Last weekend I tried all of these rules. I made a writing playlist. I stopped getting on Twitter at breakfast. I re-read books that inspired me. And I wrote more than 2000 words, made three or four notes on other ideas I wanted to explore, even dictated notes into my phone while I was out walking. It’s clear that I can do this. Whether or not anyone but my friends wants to read any of it IS NOT THE POINT OF WRITING IT. That is publishing.
I’ve been back in a place of my own for three months now. It is so nice to have a place that is mine – where the things are mine and the choices and the messes and the books are all mine. Where alone time is always an option and sleeping in a matter of course.
I wake to a view of UW and birds on my deck eating the seed/bribes I’ve put out. There’s a drawbridge nearby that blasts a foghorn when it’s going to lift – sometimes waking me, sometimes drawing me to the window to see what’s coming through. Dozens of bird species in the air and in the water, and all manner of water-craft, including the occasional float plane or floating hot tub.
I’m back at a real job – a thing I thought maybe I’d never have again. But it’s not as painful as I imagined it would be. I’m actually enjoying it – that is the most surprising part, really. I got everything I wished for – challenging work that stretches my capabilities, good compensation, good people to work with, a casual office atmosphere with a bit of flex in the schedule that allows for a slow morning, and two blocks from home.
You would think it would be hard to go back to all of this, having abandoned it for life on the road. But the truth is that it’s all too easy to fall back into the groove you’ve lived in for most of your life. It takes very little effort to live like you always did, to live like everyone around you.
You get up and do what you did yesterday, how hard is that? Wondering where you’ll be next week and how you’ll get there? That is difficult and often exhausting, even while being amazing and awesome. Who would have guessed that a regular job would be restful?!
But I’m definitely not the same person I was two years ago, in that wonderful office in Portland. And there’s no chance I’ll decide that I just want to stay here forever. A regular schedule has always been something I hated, and that hasn’t changed. Lately I’ve been changing it up by working more, not less, which is at least a new twist.
But I still yearn for turquoise oceans and tropical breezes on a daily basis. And the lack of time to travel is annoying, though the regular cash flow is a welcome change.
I’ve gotten lucky and already had visits (both intentional and ‘hey, I’m in Seattle for work, let’s do dinner’) from five people I adore, and more on the way in the next few weeks. My bank accounts are back in the black and savings starting to build again. I’m going to Alaska this June for my class reunion and other visits (hello, child of my loins).
I am sitting very still – metaphorically speaking. Day 7 in Seattle, and the stormy weather forecast has discouraged all the vague ideas I had about driving to the coast or going to visit people in Portland. And so I am sitting – with tea and a book – and looking back at the last few weeks in awe.
One week ago, I was driving from Hungry Horse to Seattle. Two weeks ago, I was on day three of driving from Cleveland to Hungry Horse. Three weeks ago, I was driving from New Hampshire to South Carolina. Four weeks ago, I was in New Hampshire. Five weeks ago, I was in New Jersey. Six weeks ago, I was driving from Cleveland to Philadelphia.
Somewhere in there, I visited New York City, a beach in Rhode Island and knocked four more states off my list. I spent time with both sisters and their families, two cousins and their families, one aunt and uncle and several great friends. I stayed in six different homes and 11 different hotels, traveling through a total of 23 states (nine of those in one day, thank you tiny New England states) and put more than 6000 miles on my car.
No wonder I’m tired. No wonder I’m excited about getting a regular job and finding an apartment of my own. Even the idea of having to get up IN THE MORNING five days a week hasn’t made me question my decision to stay in one place for a little while.
I got to take public transportation to three interviews this week – someone else did the driving! I got to shop at Fred Meyer, where they have both my favorite tea and my favorite sausage! Street buskers, gorgeous views of Elliot Bay, funky residential areas, pedestrians! I actually unpacked my suitcase!