O is for Oneirology

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When I lay down to take a little nap before dinner, I still hadn’t yet decided what to write for today’s “O” post.

I slept for about an hour and a half, seemingly all of which was consumed with dreams.  Weird ones.

I rarely remember my dreams, so I immediately jotted down a few keywords and brief phrases so I wouldn’t forget (my short-term memory not being in even the same solar system as my long-term memory), and then I sat down and fleshed out everything I could remember.  Here’s the gist:

I was at a family reunion, but I didn’t know who most of the people were.  My cousin Susan was there, and my cousin Nancy and tons of other people I did know, but I also knew that even the ones I didn’t know were all family too.  I also didn’t recognize the house, which was huge and very opulent and dark.  I was in a big room furnished with several caskets and cribs, and it was hard to tell which was which.  They were all upholstered in maroon and looked very comfortable.

Two women I didn’t know were standing in a corner near a big roll-top desk, and one of them  was holding a tiny baby—a newborn in a yellow sleep-and-play suit.  I asked if I could hold him, and the woman said (not unkindly), “It’s a her, and no, it’s not a baby, it’s my mother.”  She explained that the “baby” had some kind of degenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s, except it didn’t just affect her mind, but her whole body.  That was why she was so tiny.

The baby’s head was deformed—huge in the back, tiny in the front—and she had only one eye; the other was just a blank, overgrown socket.  She also looked terribly  jaundiced.  I asked the woman if her mother (the baby) knew who she (the daughter) was—if the “baby” knew who anyone was—and she said, “no, there’s no recognition—I just tend to her needs.”

Something in the dream shifted, and I knew the reason I was there was that Tom and I were visiting someone .  My kids were all there, and we were all going to go to the beach—and I really wanted to go to the beach—but somehow I fell asleep, and when I woke up, nobody was around.  They had gone without me and I was all alone in this room full of caskets and cribs.

I found myself wandering around the house looking for someone.  Anyone.

In one room, I found someone on a bed, all covered up, crying.  I reached out a hand to try to comfort the person on the bed, and it turned out to be my mom.  She was dressed up for the family party in a black, blue, and white patterned blouse that she really did used to have, and we held hands and I asked what happened.  She said she and Dee (my aunt, her younger sister and best friend who in real life predeceased her by five years) had gotten into a terrible argument.

I didn’t question that Dee might have been alive at this party, even though I hadn’t seen her.  My mom covered herself back up and I left the room.

Then I was in a hallway, and as I passed by another open door, I saw that my mom was crying on the couch in that room.  I thought she had switched rooms because she wanted to be alone, so I kept walking—but then I passed another door and she was in that one, too, still crying, but this time I heard her say, “Dee, Dee,” and I realized that Dee was dead and my mom knew she was dead.

Then Tom was there again, back from the beach, and I was wearing two hats—a cloth bucket hat, yellow on the inside and white on the outside, with a straw wide-brimmed cowboy-type hat over it—and Tom wanted to wear one of them and I couldn’t decide which one to give him.  I took off the straw hat, since it was on top, but it was a struggle to separate them, and then I was left wearing only the bucket hat.  I was very uncomfortable (because a bucket hat really isn’t “me”) and it was also blinding (because it had no visor) and I didn’t like giving up the other hat.  I remember wondering why it was so suddenly bright, because the house had been so dark.  Where was I now?

And then I woke up.

One of my first thoughts upon waking up—aside from “whoa, that was weird”—was that I still didn’t have an “O” post, and I wondered if there might possibly be something about this dream that might be appropriate.

Of course.  Yes.  It was all about a family reunion at which I didn’t know most of the family members.  Sounds a lot like genealogy, right?  And after all, genealogy is the inspiration for my WIP, even though it’s fiction.

But nothing in the dream starts with O.  Nothing about dream analysis starts with O.

Or does it?  I started googling.

And you already know the answer:  The study of dreams is called Oneirology.

Talk about luck!

Do you remember your dreams?  Do they ever provide fodder for your writing?

 

WIP: Who’d a Thunk It?

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When my kids were small, we lived in a constant state of clutter. Most moms can probably understand this. Not pigsty clutter, just three-little-kids-and-not-enough-time clutter. I was a full-time student, and to be honest, raising three little boys really is like nailing Jello to a tree. But over time, I came up with a couple of fabulous fixes for the perpetual problem of trying to keep the house clean.

One of them was Job Jar. I confess, the idea wasn’t my own—I found it in my beloved Mother’s Almanac (by Marguerite Kelly and Elia Parsons, 1975), which was, and in my opinion continues to be, the most useful parenting book in the history of publishing, though it’s unfortunately now out of print. The concept is simple: On Saturday morning (or whenever you feel like it), you make a list of all the household chores that need to be done. Write each job on a separate little slip of paper, fold them up, and put them in a jar (or fishbowl, hat, cereal bowl, whatever’s handy). Starting with the youngest family member, have each participant choose one slip at a time until the bowl is empty. Nobody can open their slips until they’ve all been handed out. After the hilarity dies down (“OMG, Tyler’s gonna mop the floor? He’s THREE!”), each person does whatever jobs are on the slips s/he has chosen.

Oh yes, that’s for real. I will never forget the time Tyler got to mop the floor.

There was something about Job Jar that made my kids almost enjoy it. It made work into a game.

It also resulted in quality family time instead of trauma and threats, and it taught the kids to do all kinds of things, and it lessened my own burden. I saw no reason why boys shouldn’t know how to do laundry, dust, vacuum, mop, wash dishes, clean grout, wash windows, scour sinks. All of it.

Of course I had to accept that not all of the jobs would be done perfectly. Most of them weren’t done perfectly, in fact. Expectations of perfection went out the window. But the time Tyler got to mop the floor, though it wasn’t perfect, he was pleased with himself, and it got done again the following week.

And the house always wound up cleaner than it started.

You are wondering, no doubt, what all of this has to do with writing. This is WIP Day, after all.

Here it is: I’ve mentioned before that I have Real Issues with Butt-in-Chair Syndrome. My WIP is a composite novel, aka a short story cycle. It’s comprised of eighteen stories, each told from a different protagonist’s point of view. Several stories are finished (or as finished as they’re going to get until I have a complete first draft); a couple are complete but in need of major revisions; several are started but stuck; and a few aren’t even started, though I do know the plot basics.

When I sit down to write, however good my intentions might be, I often don’t know where to begin or which story to work on. I often go back to my default (research is my default—one can never know too much) while I wait for inspiration to strike.

Waiting for inspiration to strike is a profoundly unprofessional way to write, I’m told. But on Saturday it stuck in a very unexpected way.

I remembered Job Jar.

And I thought, Well, why not?

First, I made a list of the characters whose stories are stuck or aren’t written yet. (I didn’t include those that are in any way complete.) I wrote each name on a separate slip of paper and folded them up, and then, lacking a jar, I put them in a Tupperware container. Then I asked my husband to pick one, so I couldn’t cheat.

Of course he asked what I was doing.

I explained my plan to him: I would set a timer for ten minutes, and focusing on that character’s story, I would write until the timer went off. No prep, no planning, no research. Just writing. Ten minutes at a time. Butt In Chair.

I thought it sounded great. But he saw a snag.

“You’re not going to like the one I pick,” he said. “You’ll just put it back and tell me to pick a different one.”

I promised I wouldn’t.

So he reached in and pulled one out.

The one he picked was one of the “stuck” stories. And he was right—I was tempted to tell him to pick again. But I’d made a promise, so I sat down and opened the file on my laptop, read it through, and started fiddling.

And forgot all about the timer. It never even made it out of the kitchen.

Which is just as well, because far from spending only ten minutes on it, I wound up writing into the wee hours of that night. And it was writing I was happy with. By the time I went to bed, the story had taken a direction I hadn’t expected, and it now has a purpose beyond what I had originally planned for it.

It’s still not done, but it’s no longer stuck—I know where it’s going, even if I don’t know yet exactly where it will end up. And I can’t wait to get back to it.

So yeah, Job Jar. Who’d a thunk it?

What do you do when you’re suffering from Butt-in-Chair Syndrome? Any ideas to share?

Evelyne Holingue

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