Behind the Black Door: Dreams and Story-writing

Last night, I dreamed I had suffered a stroke that left me unable to speak and with only limited use of my left side. Having already suffered a TIA almost a decade go, you’d think I would take the dream as a warning. I didn’t. Dreams, as we know, rarely mean what they portray.

In the dream there was this black door I had to find:

The black door was, in real life, a ramshackle cracker-version of a Bilco door that led to my basement. I called it my Game of Thrones door since it weight close to one hundred pounds after years of water damage. Anyway, the black door lies in a small scrap heap in my backyard as my house undergoes some renovation work. In the dream, however, I learned that I could make myself well again if I found the black door and passed through it.

All the makings of a story so far, right?

In my dream, the black door was “hidden in plain sight,” a bodiless voice told me. In my stroke-addled condition, I had to wander around center-city Philadelphia with the hope of discovering the black door I had removed from my house in real life.

Are you with me so far? Good.

It wasn’t easy, but I found the black door lying on a sidewalk on 12th Street near Pine. In my dream-stroke weakened condition, I was unable to lift the black door (having a sense that once I lifted the door up a portal would open in the sidewalk and I could fall into it, thus facilitating my cure).

Enter a Sandman, of sorts. A familiar face, who shall remain nameless, appeared next to me. In my dream this gave me a fright since the face belonged to someone I knew in real life, someone who, sadly, had passed a few years ago.

“I can help you,” the familiar face said, “but you have to touch my heart first.”

He opened his shirt to reveal what looked like a brick beneath bruised skin on his chest. I was unable to say anything since my dream stroke left me mute.

Before the dream ended, I shoved Mr. Dead Familiar Face aside with my good arm, gripped the handle of the black door lying on the sidewalk, and yanked on it with all my strength. The door tilted up, enough to reveal nothing but plain old sidewalk beneath it.

My dream ended as I wandered further along 12th Street, distraught over having to remain as I was—nearly crippled and completely mute. Or did it?

The black door is still in my backyard (see photo above). I don’t have the heart to lift it up. There’s no telling what doorway I might find beneath it if I do. Maybe I’ll write a story about this dream instead.

I Dare You to Finish Rewriting Me, Said the Novel

It’s important for writers to be busy. It’s more important for writers to find balance. A long time ago, I read somewhere that Thomas Mann did not attend his son’s funeral because he was writing. Whether this is true or not, this would be an example of bad balance. Another writer whose name escapes me once said: “Always be working.” I agree with that, but I have to remind myself that it’s important to participate in life.

In a weird way, it’s life that is keeping me from completing a section of a new novel or, more to the point, the pending death of a character in this tale. I’ve rewritten this section countless times since 2011. It’s a particularly hard scene because of the nature of this particular character’s lot in life and the ultimate end I have created. I wish that this character didn’t have to die, but it is an integral part of the story; likewise, the grotesque situation he’s forced into and the manner in which he’s dispatched.

Lately, in light of my current predicament, I have done my best to participate in life. This summer I am teaching at a community college. I am not loving the hot weather (though my wife seems to gain a perverse pleasure in my suffering even if she denies it). It’s the season of graduation and of course, in my big family, birthdays which means parties and get-togethers. In the midst of all this life, I just completed a short story rough draft. In between all of this, and other aspects of my life, I am rewriting my character’s death scene in the new novel ever so slowly. In fact, I haven’t quite rewritten (yet again) the moment of my character’s death. Everything…well, almost everything that leads up to this point is complete. Yet, I have slowed down the rate at which I am working the rewrite of this scene; so much so that just the other night I only wrote 250 words (this post, if you must know, is more than twice as long).

Despite that paltry word count from the other night, I understand how important it is to render this particular section as best I can. Hemingway was quoted as saying something to the effect that writers should not think about their work when they are not working. I don’t know any writer who isn’t guilty of breaking Hemingway’s rule to some degree or another, including, I suspect, Hemingway himself. I know I broke that rule the other day. I was standing in the middle of my class, discussing systems of control within our society, when it hit me: I don’t want this character in my novel to die because I am the character as much as the character is me. In effect, when (the operative word here: when) he gets killed it’s as if I am getting killed or, if not, at least some small part of me ceases to exist.

Right now, as I sit and write this, the most recent hardcopy draft of the new novel is sitting on my desk. There are notes, both in pencil and in ink, up and down the margins. The black Times New Roman font against the white page facing up taunts me; as if to say “Go ahead. I dare you to finish rewriting me.” Not to worry. I am going to see through this character’s murder soon. Then I am going set aside this manuscript for a few weeks and go live some more.