Putting on the pressure

As a writer, I’m constantly grappling with an overwhelming urge to stop embarrassing myself by thinking I’m a real writer. I think a lot of writers do. We face a reality where pretty much every idea for a story that can possibly be written, has been written, rewritten, plagiarised, reworked, revamped, reorganised and renamed at least a few hundred times. How can I possibly come up with something new and fresh? How can I possibly create something more desirable than what is available already?

The funny thing is. Books come and books go. It’s just like music. Some music stays popular for a long time, some doesn’t. Even the really good songs generally have a shelf life when it comes to the market at large. That doesn’t stop Madonna and Miley Cyrus from making tonnes of money every year (even despite what we read and hear about them…heck maybe it’s because of what we read and hear about them).

What it really comes down to is this: If your dream is to write and you don’t ever put words to paper (…or an electronic document…um), you’ll never get to test yourself out there in the world. And what other test is there?

So, what I need is something that gets me to put aside all of my excuses…my doubts…my crippling fear and get going. That’s why I try to do NaNoWriMo every year. That’s why I subject myself to the humiliation of participating in competitions that don’t even cater to my genre. That’s why I’m taking on the My 500 Words challenge.

Without motivation, nothing will happen. If people are checking whether I’m doing what I set out to do, the sheer need not to disappoint anyone will drive me. I’m just that kind of person.

 

Aside: Ha ha ha ha haaaa! 295 words already done for the day. *beatific grin*

Also: A hat tip to Linzé Brandon for sharing Jeff Goins‘s challenge.

Dreams – Battling the gods

I dreamt a lot of stays-with-you dreams when I was in high school. One that has come back to me time and time again (as a memory, I never dreamt it again), was one I had when I was 17. It was a very vivid dream.

My parents and I were part of a large site-seeing group visiting a fantastically large cave. As we were going in, I remember getting a flash birds-eye view of the mountain peak rising above a lush green forest (funny how some dreams are kind of like movies, huh?).

As we gathered close to listen to our guide, I felt an ominous presence. It was something that touched my mind from deep within the mountain. The more I concentrated on it, the more I came to realise that I was not imagining it. A dark and powerful being was watching us, waiting for some kind of opportunity.

I tried to alert my parents, but they didn’t understand what I was on about. It was then that a sudden avalanche closed off the mouth of the cave. We were stuck in there…right where this presence – that I had by now decided was a god – could do what he pleased.

My awareness shifted out of my body and I moved through the stone body of the mountain. Not too far away from the cavern where our tourist group was huddled in the dark, I saw a woman descending a long and narrow set of stairs. She wore a beautiful full skirt with a ceremonial tabard over her cheesecloth shirt. Golden bangles glinted on her wrists and ankles. Her dark hair wafting behind her in a delicate arrangement of copper jewelry and curls was mesmerising, her dramatically outlined eyes alluring.

As I watched her in fascination, I became aware that I too possessed some sort of power and with this the ability to help the group of people trapped in the cave. Sadly, I had absolutely no idea how to use it. I hadn’t been trained, I had no guidance – I had no idea what to do or how to go about it.

The priestess was still going down and down and down. The air was becoming very hot, though I could not feel it. I saw her skin go red and then start blistering. The fact that she didn’t turn around and retreat caught me by surprise. But then I saw the look of zealous ecstasy on her face. The very fact that the air was burning her was a sign of her faith being rewarded.

In increasing horror, I watched her clothes and hair charring to ash. Her skin bubbled and flaked and wafted up in the heat. I could hardly believe she was still alive.

At the very bottom of the stairs there was a bright orange and yellow pool of magma, hissing and bubbling with primal heat. The priestess’s face split and tore as she grinned and clambered over the rail. She didn’t even scream as the molten earth claimed her. (This part still sets my skin crawling today.)

As she disappeared in a gout of steam and flame, I felt the ancient evil god’s power increasing to overwhelming proportions. His malevolent glee made a cold weight settle into my body. The last thing I saw before my presence returned to my body was the magma inexorably rising up the stairwell.

I knew it was my responsibility to save the tour group. I had to get them out. I had to stop the volcano from erupting. I tried reaching for my power, but I simply didn’t understand how and no one else would be able to help me. The feeling of hopelessness was crippling.

Finally, the deadly glowing magma started creeping into the cavern. The air filled with screams of pain and fear. I had failed.

Dreams – Scenic views

I have a recurring dream (with some variations here and there) that I have been dreaming for almost 20 years. I am hiking in the mountains with either friends or family. The trail takes us along a narrow trail next to a steep drop to a river far down below (the river is always to my right). The mountainside looks like a National Geographic photo and the skies are clear. The path becomes more and more treacherous, but we keep going.

At one stage, the path is so narrow that I am forced to hug the cliff wall and edge ahead slowly and carefully. In some dreams I start falling, but since I know I can fly in dreams, I usually just slow my descent to a crawl and land safely below. If I fall, the dream diverts to other topics here. If I manage to keep on the trail, we keep hiking and eventually reach a steep climb that takes us higher up into the mountains.

We clamber over the black rock exposed here and, eventually, the trail leads to a massive cliff face. The river falls (always to my right) at least 300 metres to a deep pool. To get to the other side of the waterfall, there is a swing that is hooked over a protruding rock nearby. The edge is slippery here, but I can’t remember falling even once.

Despite having a crippling fear of heights, I get onto the swing and take the dizzying dive to the other side. If I land beyond the pool, I stand in hip-high grass and I look back to where the swing is, once again, hooked on the rock by the end of the trail. Other times I simply fall into the pool and swim to the edge.

In variations, I’m in a boat on the river. I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt as far as the waterfal in those dreams.

Dreams – No, seriously, Hell is in the mall

Two or three years after the dream about the little girl opening the gates of hell, I dreamt another mall/hell dream.

A few friends and I are walking in the same mall as last time, and we notice people our age slipping into service exits. After witnessing several more people doing this, we investigate. The service exit we enter leads down into a large, shadowy cavern below the mall. There is graffiti on the walls and all kinds of, what my mind apparently designates as, underground shops (shops with party gear, tattoo parlours, nite clubs and a sprinkling of shops selling items that would appeal to alternative culturally inclined individuals).

There is an air of mystery and the forbidden. The further we walk into the seemingly endless darkness, the darker and more dangerous the themes become. Here and there we start seeing strangely changed people. Some have angular features and elongated limbs. I see a few that appear to have no white in their eyes. Soon, I feel uncomfortable but also fascinated by this place. Eventually we leave.

We return another night to explore this dangerously attractive underground party. Again we head deeper into the cavern. We explore further than we did before. Besides the people with the strange features, we also see creatures that look less human and more like demons.  At first, we glance nervously at these creatures, but slowly we start feeling more dangerous ourselves. There is an intoxicating euphoria in the air and I realise that I care less and less about things that would have scared me before…and that I actually like the danger.

Rather like that feeling of guilt you may have after eating a family member’s carefully stashed birthday chocolate, the nagging feeling that I’m falling prey to evil’s seductive lure pops into my head. Just the kind of insidious and practically irresistible kind of lure that can convince good people to let go of their good values. And there goes my irrepressible sense of responsibility. I realise that I will carry an eternal sense of guilt if I stay here and succumb. And with that, I  also suddenly realise that I have inadvertently entered one of the upper levels of hell because of my incessant need to prove that I’m not an innocent goody two shoes. (Fail, yes? lol)

At this point I wake up.

Dreams – Hell is in the mall

When I was somewhere between fifteen and seventeen, I had a lot of dreams about responsibility. This one was admittedly after playing Diablo I for probably every weekend for two months.

I’m walking around in Menlyn Park (before it was rebuilt) with my mother when I notice a strangely blank hallway. Its walls are grey and there are no shop windows. I walk around the corner to peer down the hall when I see a small girl sitting next to an unfinished section of the hallway. There is a construction sign to ward off curious shoppers and the hallway terminates in construction site with exposed bricks, wires and scaffolding.

I walk over to the girl to ask her where her parents are when I notice what she’s doing. She’s scratching occult runes into the powdery cement of the unpainted wall. My blood runs cold and I pick her up. After some frantic searching, I find her mother and feel relief flooding me.

Just wanting to check that all is well, I return to the spot where I found her. And there she is. As if I hadn’t taken her away just moments before. She scratches the last mark into the wall and I feel my stomach dropping away. She smiles a creepy little-girl smile at me and looks horrifically satisfied with what she has done.

In that moment I know that she has opened the gates of Hell and I am the only one who knows. With that comes a sudden all-encompassing fear of God. A phrase I had never quite understood before. But, in that moment, I know that God has put the blame squarely on my shoulders and it is I that will have to venture into the depths of Hell to close the gate. Flames lick up the uneven, cavern-like walls beyond the Gate. I feel very small and weak. But I know that I am far more afraid of the wrath of God than anything I will find down there. I venture in.

That is all I remember…except for vaguely Diablo-esque fighting as I attempt to somehow gain control of the dream and it becomes me clicking away on a mouse, closing the gates of Hell by removing my consciousness from my body and doing it through a computer screen. I don’t actually successfully close those gates before I wake up.

Dreams

Something I have learned to avoid talking about in mixed company – being defined as company that includes “normal people” and “people like me” – is my oneiric adventures. If you don’t recognise the term, you probably have boring dreams compared to those of us who sometimes wonder why we bother waking up to the dreadfully uneventful and colourless world of everyday life.

Ever since I was a small child, I dreamt vivid dreams that haunted me during the day. Some dreams were exciting and beautiful, some dreams were terrifying and hideous. But one thing that I knew from early on was that my dreams were definitely not ordinary.

I think sometimes that, despite the fact that I never touched a drug more hardcore than your common cigarette or hooka (no marijuana or alcohol in there either), I most definitely know what it feels like to be high. Not only do I have a mild to moderate level of synesthesia, my dreams often look like, and sometimes even crazier than, the movie representations of acid dreams.

In some of my following posts I will share some of the dreams that have stuck with me from as early as age six.

Then, on to a related topic: I have spoken to people who have tried for years to obtain the “lucid dream” state. As far as I understand from such discussions, it is when you realise within a dream that you are, in fact, dreaming. That was something I made a project of when I was 10. After about one week, I could reliably realise I was dreaming every night. Of course, it helped a lot that I very often dreamt that I could fly. Sort of a dead give away, if you ask me.

Also, knowing that you’re dreaming makes it a lot easier to wake yourself from a nightmare – something I have done nights beyond counting. The trouble is when you fall asleep again…it is ridiculously difficult to not end up dreaming the same terrifying dream or just continue where you left off – this is something I really struggle with.

Something else that people often aspire to during this kind of awareness in a dream is to control the dream. To paraphrase what I just found on the topic of “controlling” your dream, it is when you will yourself to dream something specific. The best I’ve managed with this is to fall asleep dreaming something almost like what I wanted to dream and then having it degenerate into the crazy loops and plot holes that my dreams usually consist of. Which means, I dream the “target dream” for maybe 5% of what I can remember dreaming that night.

Otherwise, the moment I gain “control” of my dream, the other “characters” tend to put no effort into their performance. It makes for rather unsatisfactory, hollow oneiric experiences that have taught me to avoid taking “control” at all costs… The costs often pertaining to nightmares and waking up in a cold sweat.

You want an example of a dream? Well, here is about (what feels like) four hours in dream-time of a dream I had three nights ago:

I dreamt that zombies were once again making an appearance. In this dream they are these blue-skinned, black-clawed creatures (in another dream, they looked a little more like weresquids). The “disease” is spread through the usual savage biting and clawing that you see in movies, except that the zombies in my dreams are always exceptionally fast and well coordinated.

I run around in the streets, trying to get others to avoid contact with these surprisingly beautiful (in a scary way) undead. After what feels like hours, I see people becoming zombies (also a lot faster than you ever see in movies), people I had tried to warn earlier. Within five minutes, I am surrounded and they get me. You’d think the dream would end there, right?

Once I become a zombie, I feel socially obligated to savagely attack uninfected individuals and feel a deep-seated need to be better at it than any of the other zombies.

When I finally woke up, it took about three hours to shake the sheer pleasure of ripping through the flesh of my victims…with my teeth…to get over the sensation of chewing raw meat and letting the blood run out the corners of my mouth and over my skin.

 

Now, tell me again how your dream about being naked in a classroom or board meeting is weird. I dare you.