To clarify yesterday’s post, I should confess right now that this backward dreaming started after 9/11 and was at first a VERY BAD reaction, though better than the immediate one.
The immediate one was truly weird. Normally as I’m falling asleep, I tell myself stories. These are usually in the world of my stories. This is going to sound very weird, but I check in on how Kyrie and Tom are doing, or look into Eden, or… They’re plotless little snippets that sort of go nowhere, though some of it later finds its way as an incident into the novels – like Tom’s obsession with the new fryer. In a way that “daydreaming” about other people/places is the source of my writing, I think, insofar as it can be said to have a source.
You see, I was a very sickly child. How sickly? Well, I think I attended about three months of most of my elementary school grades, because the rest of the time I was sick in bed. This lasted from as far back as I can remember till about age 13. It wasn’t anything major – well except TB, but other than that – normally, but just whatever childhood ailments were going around amped up to eleven by the fact I had chronic asthma (fortunately it went away at puberty and – knock on wood — hasn’t come back) massive eczema, and a generally depleted immune system due to being born very premature.
There is only so much you can lay in bed – my room (actually for half of that time, my parents’ room. Dad worked out of town during the week until I was seven, so during the week I slept in their room so mom could keep a closer eye on my breathing, etc. On the weekend, I slept with my cousin, at grandma’s next door.) until I was 7 didn’t even have a window. Other kids weren’t allowed to come visit, because much of what I had was at least possibly contagious. I could read – sort of – but mom believed it was bad for me to strain my eyesight while I had a fever. So I was often left to build vast lego cities and invent stories about the people living in them. From that to daydreaming about these people as I was falling asleep was a small step, and the habit sort of stuck.
HOWEVER after 9/11, and no, I can’t explain WHY except that it was a weird shock to the system, those dreams shut down. Just slammed shut. For the worlds that share ours, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I couldn’t go into those worlds, without finding them dealing with 9/11. So I started having these weird day dreams where I was someone else altogether different. I don’t know how to explain it. My … consciousness was mine, but it belonged to someone completely different, someone younger, with a different background, for whom 9/11 didn’t matter as much. These were never very coherent. It was more going out somewhere, having dinner with friends, snatches and scenes.
From there on, and because I was worried about what came next (yes, I’ve been worried for many years) I started daydreaming backwards – projecting myself into the past “What if Dan and I had got married at eighteen.” The only way to overcome the obstacles which kept us from getting married then (mostly being strongly young and stupid. The stoopid was strong in the two of us) was to imagine a “by his bootstraps” scenario – from the Heinlein short story in which the man who has come to a dead end sends his mind back in time to his younger self…. And changes everything. Of course, I ain’t going anywhere without Dan, so it meant two minds back… but… you know…
Those dreams were I think somewhat pathological. Not really, because I didn’t allow them to take over, but a retreat from reality that was necessary at the time to… heal? I think.
But then I realized I was bringing things back from those dreams. Okay, the first was absolutely trivial. These are pie-in-the-sky alternate timelines, of course, and if I were doing that, then for instance, I decided we’d live in Denver – near the museum – by now. And that brought about a stray thought of “but busy street” and I was thinking the house would have half curtains – enough to let the light in, but not to let anyone look in. This is when the lightbulb went on, since in our current house we’d sacrificed light for privacy. I found the curtains I’d imagined as a solution – and they were affordable too… and voila. I ported the dream into the present.
There are other things too. If I could go back, I’d absolutely tell my younger self to stop ignoring art. Start taking classes now, and working on that at the same time as writing because… multiple streams of income. And then of course I thought “But why can’t I do it now? Okay, I’m older, but I come from a long lived family… so why not?”
And now to the extent those day dreams exist, (and except for being sick, I haven’t been shell shocked enough to indulge in them MUCH) they are sort of porting devices. I’ll envision my perfect life now if we’d done this or that… and then I think “but wait a minute. We could do/have/be that now.” Most of the time it’s not even anything that demands a lot of money, it’s just “how we spend our time/what we do.”
Then there is that corollary, too “What would I tell my younger self?” Most of it is stupid stuff: Work harder. Don’t get discouraged. Persevere. Those months of black depression because you think you’ll never get anywhere? Forget them. Things get better. And enjoy your husband, you utter idiot, instead of worrying all the time about how he is working too much, or…
But you know, part of that advice is UNUSABLE. I mean, there were reasons I didn’t work harder. Partly time. And the months of black depression thing is just as applicable now.
And then that turned into “what would I do differently now?” “What would I do if myself from twenty years in the future came back and said…”
The advice would be the same: worker harder. Diversify. Enjoy the guys, while all four of you still live together. Prepare for a future where things are different.
But that daydream is what has led me to take the plunge with indie with everything but Baen. Because life is too short to have nervous breakdowns about the other companies. And hey, I haven’t had the time to WRITE for indie right now, but I can bring shorts out, right?
It’s what has led me to actually come out of the political closet. It’s what has led me to somehow find the time to work around the edges – even when I run out of spoons and everything stops, it has given me the courage to go on in these very bewildering times. To make it “not scary” to be unagented. To make it “okay” to go indie even if it involves a loss of “prestige”, to strategize on how to survive a possible crash.
That’s the power of the dream. That it allows me to turn the same look I turn on the past when I think “How do I optimize this?” towards the future, towards now. Sometimes your circumstances are so familiar you don’t see what’s right in front of your eyes, or how it could be made better. Going away in your mind for a while brings you back with fresher eyes.
And you know, working hard, persevering and not getting discouraged seem to work in just about any circumstances and at any age. As is diversifying and being creative.
If you dream, dream with your eyes open – dream knowing it’s a day dream, dream of the best and prepare for the worst. But let the times never be so bad you can’t dream at all.