Livin’ the Dream: Writing as Dissociative Disorder

La Liseuse (Jeune Fille lisant un Livre), 1876...

La Liseuse (Jeune Fille lisant un Livre), 1876. canvas, 45x37 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writers have the advantage of working alone. Wherever we physically do the writing, our real “office” is in our thoughts. Then when we reduce power to the part of the brain responsible for nagging self-doubt, the intimidating editor, the gaps in our finances, and the holes in our roofs, something remarkable happens. We disappear into our stories.

Recording what we see, we return with a travelogue of the people we’ve met there in that waking dream. It is one of the most beautiful and useful forms of the dissociative state. But god forbid if we don’t write what we see and hear.

Then we wouldn’t be writers – we would just be creepy people who zone out for hours on end.

We’ve all had those moments of being somewhere else, figuratively. I’ll call it a waking dream. We are transported. It can happen when we’re writing, when we’re reading, when we’re watching a movie or a play. More challenging, perhaps, is when we are struggling to remain outwardly aware for critiquing purposes.

Imagine you’re in line at the Louvre in Paris. You want  to cram all the great works of art into a few hours. There, even when we plainly can see first-hand powerful paintings and sculptures with fabulous transportative powers, the loud, pushy people around us, the echoes of tour groups from all over the world, the guidebook in our grasp, and our own tight schedules can inhibit our ability to drift away into a Renoir or Vermeer.

Sometimes when I’m walking, contemplating my day or sussing out a story, I may have covered two miles or more and not remembered the physical world. My active thinking requires extra juice. The brain’s various processing centers borrow “the juice” from the outward awareness, but only just enough. Any more and I may find myself lost or splayed on the hood of a speeding texter.

But then, other times, I notice something. Something real, and it’s happening right in front of me. The melting snow creating a small lake in the cemetery and only a single monument rises from the slate water. Cigarettes and empty beer bottles on the sidewalk and a half-eaten chili dog from a gas station, details from a night of small-minded debauchery. The skyline of downtown as I stand on the steps of the Capitol building, about to plunge into its skirts, haunting local coffee shops. And pennies, some tarnished, some heads down. I notice them, and I put them in my pocket, scheming what I will do once I collect ninety-nine more.