How To Dream

Kage Baker was a firm believer in dreams. Not in symbolism or hidden  meanings – she took dreams pretty literally, assuming her sleeping mind had something to say to her. She listened.

She also assumed her mind meant what it said pretty directly. Rather than dreaming of snakes and realizing her unconscious was being coy about benzene rings (look up Friedrich August Kekulé), Kage would dream she was trying to catch a bus to Catalina Island – and decide it meant she needed to go there. Which she did, and which we did, and which ultimately resulted not only in years of mad fun but several major plot points in The Company series.

She would dream of eating in some cafe of the Children of the Sunand spend a weekend reproducing the dishes she had eaten (Tangerine & Scallion Sirloin, Caravan Bandit Style was one of the more notable successes.) Or she’d dream of some specific weird vista, and we would spend days driving around trying to find it – because she was sure she had  actually seen it before. About 90% of the time she was right, too. One of our favourite camping places in our 30’s and 40’s was a beach she had not seen since the age of 7 – and guided us to unerringly by landmarks decades old. Conversely, she would set scenes in places she had imagined, and then we would have to find the best possible match in real life; which is why Budu is buried in Chinatown.

Kage believed that most of the images in her dream were just static – but, like images in clouds, they could be made to mean something. Sometimes she would dream a place or a person or a thing, and file it away until she came up with the story that was the perfect setting. Joseph performing DIY surgery on his shoulder (In The Garden of Iden) was an isolated image in a nightmare; so were the icthyosaurs that crop up over and over.

What Kage longed for was to dream lucidly. She imagined it as the best video tape ever, where one could direct the plot of dreams so sleep was really useful and fulfilling. She studied it – there are books that give directions to lucid dreaming. But no matter how disciplined she was, what regimen of handy notebooks and alarms she set, she never managed to do it.

So then she studied me, because I can and do dream lucidly and had told her about it for years. For most a year, with grim determination, she would lead me through bedtime scenarios to see if my mind would adopt the plots. She’d wake me up at the first sign of REM or subvocal mutterings and demand to know what I was dreaming …I sometimes wonder uneasily now if the programs I access most frequently on this computer mind the constant interruptions.

Kage was, as ever, determined and disciplined in her research. Unfortunately, I apparently spend most of my dream time in a stoned condition; because while I can direct my dreams, the logic I use for what seems reasonable is … questionable. Realizing I am dreaming, I can sieze the plot – but I am far more likely to decide the car needs chocolate wings than to import William Shakespeare for advice on a writing project. And this makes sense at the time … even I think this is a waste of a great resource. If my dream-decisions made better sense, I would have spent a lot more time having sex with Sean Connery.

But I finally realized why Kage could not train her excellent mind to dream lucidly. It was because she already spent all her waking hours doing it.

A writer may try to plot out a story in logical steps, via graphs and flow charts and colour-coded notes (the flow chart for Iden was 22 feet long and went around two walls of the spare bedroom.) And often this works; especially for keeping lists of characters’ names straight and choreographing battles. But a great deal of what creates the story is happening deeper in the mind, and only emerges into words through the moving fingers. I think it’s why authors are so often surprised at where their story goes –  they are dreaming and have no more idea of what the dream is than anyone else. It only becomes a lucid dream when they begin to write it down …

This was cold comfort to Kage. She’d sigh and observe that – just now and again – she too would like to settle into the story and have someone else tell it. She got tired of doing all the work. She’d really have enjoyed effortlessly skimming along in one of her tales, rather than keeping the sails trimmed and the glass turned, and her tired hands on the wheel.

And if I accomplish nothing else at all with what she left me, I hope I turn out something she can enjoy. Somewhere. Somehow. In her sleep.

Tomorrow: Saturday!

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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