23 January 2003
I didn't need this, y'know?
I was stressing already about things I really can't go into here. I didn't need to start having recurring nightmares about people mistreating my dog. It's painful enough to have nice dreams about my dog and then wake up and know that she's gone, but bad dreams are even worse. I could have used a good night's sleep; might have helped me feel better. But no; instead, this.
A couple of people have talked in their journals lately about how they don't mind nightmares so much any more, they just make them into story fodder. The ones who come to mind right now are Neil Gaiman and Jenn. And I don't know what Jenn's epic nightmares are like, but Gaiman was talking about vomiting worms and knife-wielding corpses and identity-swapping with a demon (but not, as far as I could tell, soul-swapping the fire-demon; rest easy). And I thought, that's not a nightmare. That's an action-movie dream. I can't say for sure, but I think very few of us actually fear identity-swapping with a demon. It has that story-edge of fascination to it, even though it's not very pleasant.
If you can breathe, "Wow, cool!" when you wake up, it's not a nightmare.
Nightmares, in my book, are the ones that you can't make into stories, not because they're not big enough, but because they're just too personally awful. They're the ones where you're still crying when you wake up and scrabbling around for any kind of hold on reality that lets you know that those vivid things you've seen them doing to someone you love are not real.
I guess that part is entirely personal: it's very rare that something I would classify as a nightmare involves something bad happening to only me. I used to have some of those, but even the basic repeating nightmare plots have usually expanded to involve damage to someone I love, even in the bishop dreams. (I have dreams of a bishop beating on people with a censer and other lovely things. Yes, I do have an anti-clerical streak a mile wide, why do you ask?) And usually it's someone I love who's smaller than me, or in some way needing my protection (in my own mind, if not in theirs -- there are very few people, I think, who conceive of me as a protector; I think this is just as well). I can deal with just about anything my subconscious throws at me personally, but when it starts messing with my dog, or my Onie, or whoever, then I just fall apart.
I've heard people trying to tell me that I'll get great stuff if I can just use those images, that emotion and that visceral sense, in my fiction. Nuh-uh. Many of my protagonists are pretty protective of people in their lives, it's true, but that doesn't mean I should have bad things happen to their dogs. Let it be the humans or something. Let it be the threat of bad things. Just don't actually torture their dogs or their old widowed aunties or anything like that.
Sure, it might be more vivid. But I don't want to make anybody else feel what I feel when I have that kind of dreams. Especially not vividly. I think that's an experience that you can live without happily, if you've done so thus far. It's not a feeling we need more of in this world. And that's a question we have to ask ourselves when we're pushing our own boundaries: is this a boundary that'll be good when it's pushed? Will this result in better stories? Or is it just gratuitous boundary-stretching? Did I have that barrier in place for a reason?
Lois McMaster Bujold said in an essay once that she does the Miles Vorkosigan plots by asking, "What's the worst thing that could happen to this character here?" and then doing it. But I don't think that's true. I think she could come up with much, much more elaborately horrific things to have happening to Miles and his loved ones in any book. There are all kinds of recurring characters who have not been raped, eviscerated, murdered slowly before Miles' helpless eyes. It could always be worse. And the books wouldn't be any better if it was.
That doesn't mean nicer is always better, and it doesn't mean that there are no reasons to show really unpleasant things in fiction. But vividness, by itself, is not a good reason, and personal therapy is also not a good reason.
We had a decent night last night, before I had that nightmare. Mark got home a little late, but he's home today. Timprov and I were singing songs around here, James Taylor songs mostly, a little bit of Buddy Holly, also "Big Yellow Taxi." Because we love that song, and Timprov can hit the notes Joni Mitchell was always a little shaky on (well, with a different starting point, but still). And also because Timprov does a kickass Elvis singing "Big Yellow Taxi" and makes me laugh and laugh.
Why is it so much easier for people to sound more or less like Elvis than more or less like James Taylor? It always turns out "less" with James Taylor. Is it the twanginess? What is it? And why does my brain perversely demand to hear "Carolina in My Mind" when we have two albums full of James Taylor songs and that isn't on either of them? Oh why? Why couldn't it be satisfied with "Machine-Gun Kelly" or something?
Ah well. At least Timprov convinced me to just try out the bottom of my range and see if I can sing along with James Taylor on the same octave, and I can. I was complaining about tenors singing too low for me to sing with on the same octave and too high for me to sing comfortably with for a long time, and he said, "That's not too low for you. Here, try it." And it actually worked. I underestimate the bottom end of my range, I think, because I was much younger when I was doing a lot of formal singing, and while my voice didn't do the cracky thing some boys' do, it definitely became more alto when I was a teenager.
And the bottom of my range is much, much more comfortable than the top.
Aaaaanyway. I also finished The Shadow in the North and did a bunch of edits and wrote some new stuff and started Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan. I have to say I'm less than thrilled with it so far, but I'm persevering, because it seems like the sort of book that might get cooler halfway through. I guess I'll find out.
They found a four-winged dinosaur skeleton in China, though. That's pretty cool. I can get excited about that. And Thomas is back! Well, Thomas is back-ish, at least, which could be worse. (For example, he could be not back at all.) So there are good things. There are. It just takes me awhile to get to them, when I wake up from nightmares.
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