Neither Here Nor There (The World of the In-Between)

As I sit down to write this post, night has fallen with a warm, humid embrace on the hills of east-central Vermont.  In a few hours, I’ll lie down and go to sleep.

 

And dream.  Do you dream?  I suppose everybody does.  The real question is–do you remember your dreams?  I don’t–at least, not often.  But sometimes . . . sometimes, I do.  Especially a specific type of dream . . .

To back up for a moment–I have always been fascinated with dreams.  Science has studied them for decades, yet–do we really understand them?  Do we know why they sometimes seem so random, and other times so prescient, even supernatural?  And do we understand the makeup of our dreams, the weird, uneven settings, timelines, hops, skips, warps, mental wormholes?  And do we even know what dreams are?  Are they strictly the nighttime musings of the subconscious?  Or are they more?  A visitation from a spirit, perhaps?  A foreshadowing of a future event?  A glimpse into a parallel world?  Who’s to say?

 

Readers of The Eye-Dancers may recall that the book opens with a dream sequence (that ends up being far more than a mere dream sequence).  Mitchell Brant dreams of the “ghost girl,.”  It’s a dream I, myself, had had years earlier.  Upon waking from it, I jotted down the pertinent notes, in a state of frenzy, knowing that the details might work themselves into a story at some future point,  Thanks to Mitchell, they did.

 

Dreams can be like that–they can offer such rich detail, such raw emotion, such remarkable scenes and events that they are begging to be memorialized on the written page.  But, again, how many of our dreams do we forget?  How many nocturnal adventures do we undertake that never register in our conscious mind?

This leads me back to type of dream I alluded to at the start of this post–the kind of dream I am much more likely to recall, in vivid detail, upon waking.  I think of it as the in-between dream, a murky, shadowy state where we have one foot in our dreams and one foot in the conscious world.  A state of half-and-half, of here and there, of sleep and awakeness.

 

It is an interesting place to be . . . and it most often occurs in the predawn hours.  I am an early riser–not by choice (I am naturally a night person), but by necessity.  Generally, I am up and at ’em by 5:30 a.m. each day.  And so my in-between period occurs in the minutes directly beforehand.  True, some mornings, I am nowhere near the in-between; I am in full-on sleep mode, and am only roused by the piercing, shrieking whine of the alarm.

 

Many mornings, however, in those still, quiet hours before dawn, when the day itself is in a state of in-between, not quite night and not quite day, I am vaguely aware.  Aware that I’m half-asleep but not all the way asleep, aware that I will need to get up shortly and be productive.

But I am also, often, dreaming during this time, and, though half-awake, I have no control over the events unfurling before me in my mind’s eye, a moving, weaving tapestry that might be horrifying or weird or otherworldly (but rarely joyous or carefree).  The action proceeds on its own accord, taking me along for the ride.  Recently, I dreamed, in this half-awake, half-asleep state, that I was in an old house, upstairs, in bed, and a storm was moving in.  The house was unfamiliar–I haven’t a clue why I dreamed of it.  But suddenly, there was a flash of lightning across the street, a darkening of storm clouds, and a feeling of imminent peril.  The next moment, the lightning struck the roof above me, and the tiles from the ceiling rained down on me, as I sat bolt upright, feeling the fury of the elements.  In the dream, I felt air.  A hole in the ceiling!  A bird fluttering above, the storm, enveloping the house just moments ago, now a memory, an echo, a whisper.

 

And consider:  While I dreamed all of this, while I was held hostage by the tempests of my mind, I was aware I was dreaming it.  I lay in bed, feeling tense, nervous.  What would happen next?  It was like watching a scary movie, afraid to keep your eyes on the screen.  The best way to describe it is as an out-of-body experience–realizing that, in reality (whatever that means), I was safe in my own bed, but also lost in the dream, feeling the dream, aware of it even as it happened, with no idea where it would lead, heartbeat quickening, traveling along the pathways and avenues of the in-between.

 

Have you ever experienced that?  That murky, shadowy world where you are at once awake and at once asleep, experiencing a universe far away while also knowing that you are lying in your bed, beneath the covers, the predawn air filtering in through the window, the sounds of the nocturnal creatures rustling from the grass and the trees?

To me, it is a similar phenomenon as writing a first draft of a story when the words are flowing.  You are the author, the writer, the creator, so you’re in control, right?  Well, not really.  Think about it.  When you are writing a scene, and your characters are talking, chewing the mozzarella, advancing the plot.  Do you know, in advance, what John will say to Kathleen on the next page?  Do you know what Jay will ask Jennifer?  Maybe in a broad, general sense, you do.  (Or maybe you don’t.)  But specifically, word for word.  Where does the dialogue come from?

 

Or what about the narrative itself, the thousands upon thousands of words that compose a novel?  Sure, you may have a general outline.  You may even have a detailed one.  But if you’re going to write 80,000 words, how many of those words do you know in advance?  Precious few.  And if you were to think about all of this before starting, worry about the muse and the well of words and ideas, you may cripple yourself and deep-six the project at the outset.

Creativity is all about faith.  Trust.  Belief.  A conviction that, if you have the courage to take that first step, and write that first sentence, the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph will follow–and it will follow almost as if on its own accord, the words and dialogue and descriptions emanating from a mysterious and undefinable realm that cannot be controlled or defined.  It just is.  It exists.  And, as authors, it is our job to access it, delve into it, and get lost in it.

 

So, the next time you find yourself in bed, lost in the world of the in-between–even if in said world there’s a lightning storm overhead and your roof is about to collapse–settle in, lie back, and just appreciate the story.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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