On a (Cloudy) Day, You Can See Forever

There are places in the state of Vermont, high meadows, where, if you stand in them and look out over the land, you feel as though you’re on top of the world.  In winter, thick, crusty snow crunches underfoot; the air, cold and sharp, feels like it will draw blood when you inhale; and your breath rises with the wind before vanishing like smoke.

wintermeadow

 

In summer, tall grasses sway in the breeze, the distant hillsides are a palette of green, and, if the sky is clear, you feel like you can see beyond the asteroid belt, out into the far corners of the galaxy.

vermontmeadow

 

Sometimes in those moments, ideas come, whole, complete–like a lightning strike out of the blue.  It is as exhilarating as it is rare.  One moment, there is nothing.  In the next, you carry with you an idea that screams and kicks and demands release.  When this happens, I rush to my PC, open that new Word document, or WordPress Edit form (!), and let the sentences come . . .

ideas

 

But other times, most of the time, ideas do not arrive as gift-wrapped wholes.  Usually there is but a peek, a whisper, a shooting star that speeds across the canvas of the sky so fast, you barely have a chance to see it.  I can’t even count how many times I have experienced this–a germ of an idea, tantalizing, but far from workable.

shootingstar

 

In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King pens that he doesn’t believe stories come from within us.  Rather, he says, they are “found things, like fossils in the ground . . . relics, part of an undiscovered preexisting world.”  I agree.  I have always believed that ideas discover us, not the other way around, and how they discover us, and how much of themselves they share–is often out of our hands.

onwriting

 

One night, as the 1980s gasped their last, dying breath and while I was still in high school, I had a dream–a dream so vivid, it stayed with me for decades.  I dreamed of a girl, six, perhaps seven years old, with an airy, translucent quality to her.  She stood outside, beyond my bedroom window, the light of the streetlamp passing through her–as if she were only partly there.  As if she were a ghost.  She beckoned for me to come outside, her eyes, even from a distance, appearing so blue that I felt if I looked into them long enough, hard enough, I would see where the universe ended, and began.  There was a visceral feel of threat about her.  Who was she?  What was she?  And what did she want?

ghostunderlight

 

And then, I woke up.  The bedsheets were kicked away, crumpled in a heap at my feet.  I looked out the window, wondering if she would still be there.  She wasn’t.  Slowly, my breathing returned to normal, and I wrote down the aspects of the dream that stood out to me.  Even back then, decades ago, I knew I had an idea I needed to write about.

messybed

 

The thing was–I didn’t know how to incorporate this “ghost girl” into a story.  Should she be the protagonist?  Or the villain?  Should it be a twelve-page short story, or an epic novel?  A few days later, I attempted to write a short story about her, but it fizzled by the third page.  I had a scenario, a scene.  But I didn’t have a story.  If there was a story to be told here, it was still hidden from view, shyly concealing itself behind a thick, gray mass of clouds.  Several times, I tried to force it, inserting the scene into existing story lines–just to see if it would fit.  It never did.  As frustrating as it was, I realized I would have to remain patient.  The story would bloom and take shape only when, and if, it was ready.

throwawayideas

 

The wait lasted nearly twenty years, and then, on a late August night eight years into the twenty-first century, I dreamed of the “ghost girl” again.  But this time, upon waking, the mists and clouds had cleared, and I was able to see the story.  I took a deep breath, amazed, as I always am, at the capricious whims of the creative process.

capricious

 

And then I got to work on the first draft of The Eye-Dancers.

**************

Just the other day, I had another scene strike me, another partial image, the rest of the story obscured, half-hidden in the shadows, tucked away behind a rocky, impenetrable promontory.  Will it ever materialize into something whole?  Time will tell.

promontory

 

But for now, I return to that high Vermont meadow.  The sky is sealed behind a sea of clouds, gray, thick like lead.

grayclouds

 

But the clouds will disperse, eventually, the lead will melt away, drip by drip, revealing the blue beyond.  And somewhere in that expanse, the entire story lives.  I just need to watch, and wait, and hope that it will fall to me, the words and images tumbling down like pieces of the sky.

cloudsdisperse

 

And maybe that’s the most exhilarating thing of all.  Knowing that somewhere up there, high above the clouds, a new creation awaits, something with your name on it, for you to tell and share with the world.

The possibilities are as endless as the sky itself, and limited only by the scope of our imagination.

milkyway

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

45 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ptero9
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 20:04:25

    “In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King pens that he doesn’t believe stories come from within us. Rather, he says, they are “found things, like fossils in the ground . . . relics, part of an undiscovered preexisting world.”

    Love this image of digging the earth, going downward into the ground of being.

    Thanks for sharing the story before the story with us!

    Reply

  2. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 20:38:56

    Wonderful post – your imagery, thoughts, process – very clear. And thank you for the Stephen King reminder. ‘d better go grab my pick-ax before it rusts…

    Reply

  3. Elaine Jeremiah
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 21:43:57

    I love this Michael. You write so poetically and what you say rings true. You can’t always rush things with writing. Sometimes you just have to wait until the time is right and everything falls into place. I’ve got loads of unfinished stories just waiting to be told. Who knows which of them if any I’ll finish.

    Reply

  4. evelyneholingue
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 22:41:42

    Thank you, Michael for sharing this private creative moment with us. I agree with the idea of being attentive to our dreams and flashes of inspiration, as fugitive as they can be. Some of them can definitely lead to a manuscript and a book. On the other hand, I don’t agree 100% with the idea (developped by S.King) that ideas find us. How could we explain that many books are written all the time on the same topic? I think that the same ideas float all around the people who live in the same period of time. The same concerns, emotions, and dreams inhabit us and we write about them. In our own unique voice.

    Reply

  5. teagan geneviene
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 23:56:49

    A dream so compelling it stuck with you all that time — and eventually became a wonderful story.

    I’ve had a couple of ideas that hung on like that, as if they were determined to make me find their proper form, and they did.
    Can’t wait to see what this new idea becomes for you. 🙂

    Reply

  6. Kavita Joshi
    Feb 14, 2014 @ 00:10:15

    awe so many beautiful pics..thanks for sharing these with us dear

    Reply

  7. jjspina
    Feb 14, 2014 @ 00:34:08

    So eloquent, Mike! You are correct about ideas coming from somewhere deep inside ourselves. They come out unexpectedly and we must put them down or lose them forever.

    Recently I wrote a children’s story for my granddaughter but saved another file over it by mistake. I was devastated that it was lost forever. I had to rewrite it from my sporadic memory! It came out differently but I was happy that I could recall most of it.
    Thanks for sharing all your amazing posts!

    Reply

  8. fashionassist
    Feb 14, 2014 @ 00:59:08

    Another wonderful and inspiring post Mike, and the last line, well crafted and skillfully written lingers…
    a new inspirational quote has now been pinned to the memo board of my mind…
    “Possibilities are as endless as the sky itself, and limited only by the scope of our imagination.” ~Michael S Fedison

    Reply

  9. Sam Han
    Feb 14, 2014 @ 02:09:10

    Happy Valentine’s Day Michael 😀

    Reply

  10. Shelley
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 02:47:54

    I am not sure what impresses me more, the fact that you can remember a dream from 20 years ago, or that you wrote a book using that dream. Well done!

    Reply

  11. Sherri
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 12:48:25

    That is very interesting that ideas find us rather than the other way round. I definitely agree 🙂

    Reply

  12. Fashion Mayann
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 14:20:41

    How interesting to read about your creative process ! Patience is definitely the greatest virtue !

    Reply

  13. Laurel Leigh
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 18:45:26

    Very inspirational post. I love that you waited for the dream to return and that it did.

    Reply

  14. Trackback: Three Ingredients – 13: Pigeon, Microwave, Prune | Teagan's Books
  15. wannabephotographer87
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 17:32:48

    I always enjoy your posts 🙂 thank you for sharing!

    Reply

  16. reocochran
    Feb 18, 2014 @ 00:37:29

    This story about the ghost girl never ceases to amaze me. I never thought that stories found us, usually think we needed to search for them. I am glad you shared this in such a way that it captures my imagination and sends it searching for my dreams. Take care, Robin

    Reply

  17. FreeRangeCow
    Feb 18, 2014 @ 15:16:00

    I struggle, often, with the “I am not unique” syndrome. Sigh. It’s been an excuse to keep me from finishing any fleshed-out book. I need to get over that!

    Reply

  18. Emma Sarah Tennant
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 13:16:42

    What a great post, thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  19. Diana Taylor
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 21:38:14

    I am currently recording my dreams and turning them into short stories and songs.
    Totally inspired thanks.

    Reply

  20. stockdalewolfe
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 16:41:04

    This is really interesting to read as I am half way into your book. It is amazing that you had the same dream years later and you gave birth to your book, “The Eye-Dancers”. And interesting to read what Stephen King writes. I believe we are mere channels for ideas in the Universe, or in religious terms, from God within. We carry the Universe within so more or less the same diff just according to one’s beliefs. You write so clearly, with such clarity. And how great to be in VT, one of my favorite places on earth! I can’t believe I missed this post but glad to be reading it now.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 10, 2014 @ 18:23:22

      Thanks, Ellen! I must be honest, though, and admit I am not loving Vermont at the moment–very tired of winter, and it’s been a long one with more snow on the way! Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

      • stockdalewolfe
        Mar 10, 2014 @ 21:17:05

        Well, I am in New York City and though it is going to be 50 something tomorrow and has been warmish for the past 3 days, we, too, are expecting more snow. Too much snow I’d say. And I hope our little barn upstate is okay buried under 4 feet of snow we hear. Guess you have more than that. Still in all, I would take VT. Especially in summer. As a child we went to Greensboro where my Great Poppa had a house. But he died long ago and that was the end of VT. I loved it there. On a lake so clear and clean you could drink the water and catch fish for breakfast and have a fire on summer mornings. A long walk to the mail box and a teeny town.

  21. insearchofitall
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 00:35:39

    I’m a bit late reading but had this feeling that Ghost Girl is waiting to tell you more. I find that sometimes I just need a bit of a nap and the whole story unfolds. Get them when I’m dropping off at night more than when I wake. Coffee is all I can think of when I wake. I haven’t read Stephen King’s book on writing because I can’t read Stephen King. 🙂 I’m a coward. Now, your writing, I can read all day. Keep it up.

    Reply

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