• RATS! Writing & Dreams & COVID-19

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 75 comments
    Aug
    1

    Discussion questions:  Have you been having strange dreams since COVID-19 came along and created all this uncertainty in our lives? Do your dreams ever lead to new writing, or even appear in your writing? What’s the most bizarre and/or vivid dream you’ve ever had? Let’s talk in the comments about the connection between dreams and writing.

     

    A WriteByNighter who wants to stay anonymous, so we’ll call her Vicki, points us toward this WebMD piece stating that 87% of Americans have reported strange dreams since the Coronavirus came along. “Dreams that exaggerate loneliness, a loss of control, stress about work, or the fear of becoming sick are recurrent ones being shared,” the article says. No surprise there. The most prominent form this takes, according to the piece, is insect attacks: “swarms of wasps, flies, and gnats … armies of roaches and wiggly worms.”

    Vicki looked into this because she’s been having some “crazy, vivid” dreams: “the last two were pure nightmare,” she says. “Twice now I’ve woken with utter dread.”

    But as writers, maybe bad dreams aren’t so bad at all? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to Robert Louis Stevenson in a dream; Frankenstein to Mary Shelley. Colson Whitehead started writing Zone One after a zombie nightmare; Stephanie Meyer began the Twilight series after a vampire nightmare.

    As Vicki writes, dreams “provide wonderful imagery and symbols and even characters and plots for future dystopian novels.”

     

    Mice and rats are my specialty. They appear so often in my dreams, sometimes featuring prominently, other times just padding around in the background. Once, I opened a kitchen drawer and a dozen rats poured out. And that… was the whole dream.

    Chapter 1 of my novel revolves around a sick rat. And rats will be a minor plot element throughout the book (if I ever write the rest of it).

    If not for the dreams, and my pursuit of an explanation for them, I imagine I’d have a much different opening chapter.

     

    My problem, which I know isn’t uncommon, is that if I don’t write down a dream immediately, there’s about a 1% chance a dream will stick with me past my first sip of coffee. And I don’t keep a notebook next to the bed, so.

    But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

    Especially now, if you’re one of those 87%.

    Are you? Have you been having strange dreams since COVID-19 came along and created all this uncertainty in our lives? Do your dreams ever lead to new writing, or even appear in your writing? What’s the most bizarre and/or vivid dream you’ve ever had? If you’re in the mood for an exercise, turn that dream into a fictional scene. Post your results below, if you’re extra brave.

     

    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesJoin our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Raymundo

    The subject of events with dream connections is a fascinating one that can go deep into the rabbit hole. My take is that world-shattering events (Titanic sinking, 9-11 event, the current CV-19 event) have repercussions that spread like ripples from a rock dropped into a pool. Because time is subjective, these repercussions affect our past as well as our future and often surface in dreams, many of them seemingly precognitive. I was deeply affected by the 9-11 event, though that didn’t prompt dreams. The CV-19 event, however, has. Not dreams related to the “pandemic,” but a greater occurrence of very… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    I’m not sure I can say I have ‘dreams’ unless the twilight sleep where my mind makes up stories, some of which I’ve taken and made into books rae dreams. Because these are vivid, technicolor video like things, I do remember them and the feeling of the person I was in the episode. Frequently they will repeat. This flu has nothing to do with these episodes of imagery since I’ve had them for as long as I can remember. What’s fun is when you watch a movie and your mind takes it off on another tangent and changes it into… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    It was a version of the pit and the pendulum where I was standing and looking down at this man spread eagle as the pendulum was moving. The other man said I was next…that was when I woke up…not my favorite dream. My normal nightmare is monsters in various colors with this odor that seems to go with the dream…strange. It’s the reason I don’t watch movies with monsters and zombies as they will trigger a week or more of those types of dreams.

    Barbara Mealer

    Think of the smell of something rotting in the fridge or the smell of fresh blood. That is what I get in those particular dreams

    david lemke

    I had a dream where an Earth space ship was flying down the elevator shaft shaft of massive structure on a distant planet. A novel came from that dream. I wanted to finish it but my writing coach made me write something else which turned out to be “Intrusion.” Every once in a while I’ll get a dream that makes a story. several are in my collection and one of those took second place in a writers contest. “The Cult of Devay,” the dream based si-fi is something I want to get back to and finish. There is at least… Read more »

    david lemke

    I took a novel writing class with writers digest. My instructor (I said coach because it was simpler) wanted me to write something new and said to come up with two new ideas, so I came up with a cop story featuring two characters from Cult of Devay on that planet. The other was a part time psychic who had two spirit guides and his wife was murdered. He suggested the second idea so I began writing “Above The Law” He gave me a lot of praise. I thought I was good, but than I ran across a UWM writer’s… Read more »

    Brigitte

    Hi David, Funny you mention dreams and the connection to our writing. Although, it might be hard for me to remember some of my dreams, many of them have been rather peaceful as of late. I was reunited with my last boyfriend,after receiving a birthday message from him a few months ago. And ever since then, my dreams have been rather peaceful and that is making my writing sort of peaceful and more calm too. I am no longer writing about death and pain and sadness but instead I am just writing about the regular every day stuff and feel… Read more »

    Susan

    one scary, one pretty. First: Just a few days ago I had a dream that I’m sure was pandemic-induced, but I thought it would make a good plot for a murder mystery about a serial killer. That’s not something I would write, though.  I was in my childhood home, with all my sibs, Mom and Dad. Something was very wrong outside. The sky was hard and grey. The air was stagnant. There was a persistent buzzing. Men in suits walked up our driveway and said we all had to go to the basement. In the basement it was dark, and I opened what I thought was… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I love your Flower o’clock dream and story idea, especially the way in which the language we use shapes our reality. That alternate blooming and fading makes a striking, dynamic image.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Unfurling toward the sun, a little brown at the petal tips.

    Susan

    You know, thank you, Elissa, because I just realized that I can find a place for that imagery right in the current story I’m writing, which is about an ancient heroine who lives in the Nation of Imagi.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Sounds wonderful and intriguing! Good luck to you and to her.

    Susan

    well, except I had the flower dream a while ago. Yes, Dahmer, it was shocking that something so horrible was going on right under our noses. I once spent the night in the apartment of a friend who lived in the same building he lived in. I don’t know if it was the same time he lived there because I wasn’t sure at the time how long he had lived there, but that creeped me out quite a bit. Also something unrelated but very awful happened to my friend when she lived there. Maybe it was evil I think they… Read more »

    Susan

    I think it only works if your dad knows Kevin Bacon.

    Susan

    No, that would be okay. Then you would be within six degrees of separation from yourself.

    Susan

    well, I didn’t sleep much. My friend was in a scary situation, and I was trying to help. It was a creepy building Enough of that.

    Susan

    Wait, once a week? Really? I think about how awful that time was, and it must have been really tough on you at that age. I was working at a law office at the time, and we talked about it every day, including how could he possibly be defended and that helped me to have people to talk to about it. Did your family talk about it?

    Susan

    Fourteen is too young to have to deal with that.

    Susan

    Yes, I agree.

    Susan

    P.S. I remember reading once that an idea that eventually became e=mc squared first came to Einstein in a dream.

    Susan

    okay

    Susan

    I will ignore the comment, except…some memory I am having, very vaguely, and I’ll have to look it up, that had something to do with someone having a dream about rats and telling it to Jung… but I was just curious, are your rats scary, or is the story like “Ben, the two of us need look no more?” I’ll get back to you on the Jung thing.

    Susan

    Something insidious? Yeah, probably Dahmer. Or Bob Eucker’s hair in the 70’s.

    Susan

    Did you know that 2020 is the Year of the Rat? I just happened to find that out as I was shopping for postage stamps online and Year of the Rat was one of their designs. Rats in Chinese zodiac symbolize wealth and success…first thing that came up on Google. But there you go.

    Sid Kemp

    David, do you feel kinship with Winston Smith, the protagonist of Orwell’s 1984? Rats were his greatest fear, and that fear, his downfall. I hope we don’t end up like him. With years of chronic illness, I have dream themes that tell me how I’m doing in my struggle towards health. For me, insects represent microorganisms, at times. Perhaps others are going with this approach. Fever and infected sores go well as demon attacks, both in dreams and in novels. One of my dream themes, being trapped in a building or a city, is evolving into something very beautiful. If… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    First on 1984. Fantastic read, especially right now. Orwell foresaw the whole notion of politics by false narrative. And, good news, the rats, while central, occupy only a few pages of the novel. For many years, it was either my high school or one dorm from my college. But the interiors did grow over time. Dreams varied from exploration to escape. The city was almost always Philadelphia where I grew up, but with new highways and routes. Later, my whole Oberlin College campus showed up, sometimes with spectacular extensions. But it took over 30 years for me to accept, in… Read more »

    KevinW

    You’ve never read 1984!?!?!?!?
    To Room 101 with you, 4069 Smith, W….

    Elissa Malcohn

    Your rat motif makes me wonder if you’ve read Camus’s The Plague.  I’ve had a few COVID-19-inspired dreams, but they haven’t been particularly anxiety-producing. The most recent occurred a week ago. My dream contained multiple masks in different bright colors, supposedly to protect against COVID-19, but they looked more like cheap nylon sleep masks to be worn only over the eyes. They were spread throughout a house that resembled but was not the house in which I had grown up. The dream’s other character was a man who had come to make some kind of repair. He carried small electronic components, but was frustrated because… Read more »

    Susan

    The frustrated repairman, what do you think he was trying to fix? And your French teacher dream is fascinating. Gives me some vague ideas….By lucid dream do you mean dreams in which you know you’re dreaming? I used to dream quite frequently that people from my past or sometimes strangers and once, oddly, Nelson Mandela, were waiting for me at the end of a block, but I never got there to talk to them. I thought it would make a good Twilight Zone-ish story to be transported to a different reality, awake, and then realize you were walking around in… Read more »

    Susan

    I don’t remember experiencing those dreams as terrible. Each time, though, in the dream, I would stop and just look at them and wonder why they were there, and that is all I ever remember. At the time I was actually in a dream class with a Jungian Rabbi and he said those types of dreams, also dreams where someone unknown is knocking on your door, just mean that some new lesson or awareness from the unconscious is trying to make itself known to you, so he advised just being open to something new. At the time Mandela had just… Read more »

    Susan

    Yes. First of all the Rabbi was very wise and compassionate and scholarly. A lot of my dreams had Catholic imagery, and I remember how warmly he said, “So, you know our religions have common roots.” I remember the first thing he said to us I think was a quote from the Old Testament or some sacred text, to the effect that dreams are letters from God, and an uninterpreted dream is like a letter left unread. That made me pay attention. He was such a good teacher and friend that that after the class we six students of his… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    There’s certainly much in the world that needs fixing. In the dream, I didn’t have a sense that anything in the house was broken or why he’d been called, if he had been. My main frustration these days comes from the news, so I do my part in a collective attempt to fix. The masks intrigue me, too, because my dream-understanding was that they were supposed to protect against COVID-19, but their form was meant to cover the eyes, leaving nose and mouth unprotected. And they were many and cheap, but very pretty. I’d like to think they stand for one’s inner vision, to be… Read more »

    Susan

    What’s most important in interpreting a dream is what the symbols mean to the dreamer, of course, because they’re very personal symbols. Inner vision is a good one. But the association that your masks triggered in me is that they seem like the masks we’re being asked to wear by that man–cover your eyes, see no problem; it’s not there, or if it is it will go away soon. At the same time he offers no real help or protection or information. No, I never wanted to talk to my dream people about anything. They wanted to talk to me,… Read more »

    Susan

    re: collective attempts to fix, I wanted to recommend to you, Elissa, a film I just watched, which you may have seen: Robert Kennedy in the Land of Apartheid. You see him, here, arriving at the core of his true self, and it is …. a word is escaping me now, but, maybe .. not riveting, but .. maybe clarifying. anyhow The film is available for free at the website HOOPLA, you can join with a library card. After the trip RFK wrote an article in which he said “… cruelty is contagious.” and it made me think about pandemics,… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    *Sigh* Neither my local library nor the Brooklyn Public Library (where I hold a nonresident card) are Hoopla members (yet). Brooklyn used to offer Kanopy, another movie streaming service for libraries, but they dropped it a while back. I’ll look for the film, though. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Oy on the sneeze! And yep, metaphor indeed.
    I’ve got a homemade face shield that I plan to wear in addition to my mask, in situations (like getting a flu shot) where it’s impossible to social distance. Very similar to what is shown here: https://youtu.be/tDqfZcXmbOY

    Elissa Malcohn

    Not in that dream, but I’ve dreamt in French at other times, before I’d forgotten most of the language. I didn’t keep up with it after high school. We’d reached the point where we were reading Camus’s L’Etranger untranslated.

    Elissa Malcohn

    I started French in 4th grade at PS99 and finished up with fourth year French at John Dewey HS. Both had great teachers.

    frances hill

    A re-occurring dream I have, something is chasing me, I get into a building but the door doesn’t fit it’s frame. I pull at the knob trying to stretch it to fit to no avail, thus whatever was after me squeezes in and eats me.

    frances hill

    Ha, ha, Yes, I know this because a voice (from my past) says, “You should have heard her poor little bones crunch” Now I wake myself up and tell her she was mistaken.

    frances hill

    It’s a dream, I don’t know how it works, maybe like those out of body experiences!

    Hans De Léo

    An interesting subject. I can’t say I’ve been afflicted with strange dreams during the COVID “pandemic.” Most of my dreams haven’t been out of the ordinary of late. Maybe it’s because the whole thing just doesn’t bother me that much other than concern about my job. Fortunately I’m able to work remote and I was lucky enough not to be furloughed or laid off. The correlation between dreams and writing is an interesting one. It was a dream that I had several decades ago that got me into writing. I’m currently re-imagining the story around that one. Interestingly enough, I… Read more »

    Hans De Léo

    I wouldn’t say that I intentionally schedule daydreaming. However, I do schedule breaks and walks and the like, where I can let my mind wander. Much of the time that includes imagining one of my stories or an upcoming scene or making up a new character or place or whatever. It’s not that I intend to do so as much as I’m here, why don’t I think about this for a while?

    david lemke

    When I got divorced and was living at my dad’s, in the mid 90s, so long before Coronavirus, I had this very painful dream.
    It was a battle, the big gorilla was on top of me, but I knew what to do, if I had the chance. I lifted my free leg up and lifted it and twisted as hard as I could to flip him off. I banged my foot on the end of the bed. It hurt like hell and woke me up. At least I didn’t break my foot.




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