Writing 101, Day 15: Take a cue from your readers
Have you ever felt awake, but in a dream?
“Awake, but in a dream.”
These familiar words conjure up a surreal mental atmosphere. It’s a phrase alive with imaginative possibilities. I try to grab on to something, anything, but the ideas are slippery. I’m in no frame of mind to grab on to anything. I think it would be easier to write about the times I’ve felt in a dream, but awake, and realize that the waking nightmares of my youth might well lie at the intersection of these two states, but who wants to revive nightmares? Best let those sleeping dogs lie.
Instead, I’ll share a fascinating true story from my family’s collection of strange experiences. This particular “awake, but in a dream” incident is the inspiration for my yet-unreleased novel, “Nothing,” which is based on the elastic nature of time.
When my aunt was a young girl, she had to share the rather unfortunate chore of taking out the chamber pots (chimmy/chimmies) early in the morning, before the rest of the household awoke. On one fateful morning, she rolled out of bed at the crack of dawn, dutifully collected her chimmy and walked outside into the misty morning air with the intention of taking it to the pit latrine and disposing of its contents as quickly as possible.
However, she stopped dead in her tracks, overwhelmed by a feeling that could only hit you when you’re wide awake in a dream. She felt transported. She felt dazed and confused. She felt everything a person could feel in her situation, leading up to panic, disbelief and sheer terror. You see, she was standing in her backyard, and she knew it was her backyard. The topography was the same. Some of the trees were the same. Nothing else was the same.
Time had changed.
She was in her yard, but there were (people that looked like) slaves running about the place. (We’re descended from Spanish settlers in the West Indies). She watched as a full domestic scene from some era long past played out in front of her. She could hear their conversations and see children and women doing their usual morning routines, but they ignored her like she wasn’t there.
Her fingers went numb and she lost her tight grip on the chimmy. It hit the ground with a loud clang and spilled its contents all over the place. That loud clang ended the experience for her. At the sound, the entire scene disappeared. She was in her regular backyard once again, but she wasn’t going to make that trip to the pit latrine that morning after all. I should imagine they had enough trouble reviving her so she didn’t get scolded that morning.
That story has lived on in my family, passed down by oral tradition by all of one generation it took to get to me. It struck a chord.
I’ve done some research and it seems other people have had similar experiences. What that was, I really don’t know, but I like to think of it as a glitch in time. And maybe, just maybe, a waking nightmare.