It’s amazing how quickly the brain adjusts to intentions when it comes to remembering dreams, as if something deep within us wants us to pay attention to them, and it only needs a little encouragement to make them want to be remembered when we awake.

A Funny Thing Happened …

I love writing dream sequences in my stories. The rules of reality are (for the most part) suspended, but you get to have the fun of making a pretense of them for the sake of creating a story within your character’s mind. A story that tells them something about themselves they need to know to advance the plot in their waking life.

I love this idea so much that it makes me jealous… because I typically don’t remember my dreams. Not a whit. The alarm goes off and, oh, there. Nope, gone.

There are exceptions: Yesterday morning, I was having one of those dreams you sometimes get when things are so intriguing (or sexy) that you don’t want to open your eyes for fear of it ending too soon. Your body is waking up, you realize you’re dreaming, but somehow this doesn’t end it. So the dream actually becomes more lucid, and you want to see it through.

Ever have those? I hope so, because otherwise I’m going to sound silly.

In those situations when you’re already partially awake anyway, it’s not hard to hold onto the memory of them for a little bit once you do open your eyes.

And if by chance you decide to write them down… watch what happens the next morning! It’s pretty amazing.

Why a Dream Journal

From my experience, it seems to be the sheer act of recording a dream that opens the floodgates of remembering more dreams. From memory to hand to paper, this conscious processing of subconscious information seems to be a signal our mind was hoping for, encouraging the process.

Write down a dream and the following day the next dream will be waiting for you, too, just itching to be scribbled in a fat pink journal. It is as if our dreams want to be looked at in the light of day.

I remember when I was living in Hawaii for a year and my girlfriend at the time encouraged not only remembering and recording our dreams, but would help me find the symbols within them and see what they were saying about my internal life, the one that influences how I’m dealing with the world. So I started writing down the ones I could remember when I woke.

Just the action of recording a dream on paper immediately signaled my brain to hold onto them. For my entire time in Hawaii, my dream journal was filled with almost daily entries, some several pages long, with detail that was normally lost to me within seconds of waking.

And then one day it stopped. It was my own fault. My dreams once more became that thing “I didn’t have anymore,” but I knew I just wasn’t remembering them.

This morning, when my phone woke me (I feel sorry for the alarm clock industry with phone apps these days), my dream was right there waiting for me to jot it down. Any day prior to yesterday, the alarm would have sent it flying into the wind of forgetfulness.

I think it is the journal itself, or the promise of it, that spurs our brains to give us this gift.

What We May be Missing

When my Hawaii relationship ended and I moved back to the mainland, alone, my dream journal went silent. Just one of a handful of things I lost motivation for after finding myself once more in my own company.

But I think it was to my detriment that I didn’t keep my dream journaling going. I was missing out on some prime meta-data; some wonderful life stuff I could use to advance the plot of my own real-life story.

Time alone is the perfect time to explore our inner selves, to find what went wrong, and to see what we should have learned from it.

It is pretty common wisdom that regardless of who we blame for the situation, the plight of any relationship is shared equally. And I should have been taking the time to see what my part in the ending of it was–and the beginning. Perhaps only then will I figure out why I keep attracting people who are ultimately wrong for me, despite how right they seem for a time.

Our dreams come from the smartest part of us: our subconscious (the part that doesn’t forget anything, just ask a hypnotist), busy in there figuring us all out.

Perhaps we should grab a journal and listen to it.

choosing a direction from too many options

Where I realize that working on too many things at once makes it hard to finish any one of them.

So, there I was, blithely flirting with YouTube addiction, looking up videos about storyboarding for my Batteries project (the one with the piranha), when YouTube’s silly autoplay-some-random-video thing started playing this video without warning, titled “The drawing advice that changed my life,” (by Struthless).

Since I’d been feeling a bit stymied by life of late, I was a little curious about life changing stuffs…

Turns out, it’s a vlog by an Australian artist who felt like he was being super creative, but felt “scattered” and not going anywhere despite being creatively active. He had all these ideas and projects, but not much forward motion.

Meanwhile, the guy he was working for and his wife were making a name for themselves making sculptures of a dog and a rabbit in different social situations. The same dog and rabbit each time, sometimes larger than humans, doing something mundane, like drinking coffee together.

You should get the story from the source (at the link above), but the gist of the video for me was … really quite immense. The moment he said the word “scattered,” I realized he was describing exactly how I’d been describing myself for a while, regarding my own creativity: Super busy on lots of things, but apparently not moving much.

Only a minute and a half through a ten minute video, I realized I was dividing my time between so many projects I loved, I wasn’t getting any of them done.

So, mind already blown by this dude talking on a porch, I’m continuing to watch the video for …

The Advice

He had been whining to his boss/friend that he’d been so creative and busy with so many things, but without the success his friend had, and his friend comes back so eloquently:

All you’re doing is laying a single brick in a million different houses and expecting that one day it will magically become a mansion.

In other words, “scattered”. Like me.

The solution given to him by his more successful friend?

Just draw the same thing over and over for a year.

So the guy picked a thing, in this case a scavenging local bird he empathized with. He would draw this bird over and over … until it bored him. So, sticking with the plan, he decided to keep drawing the same bird, but in different situations, with different messages or jokes.

Before he knew it, he had created a theme, a niche, a character in an ongoing social story. Bricks in the same house. Again, I suggest you get the full story from him, because he tells his story better than I am, and he goes into a lot of the why and how of it.


What it meant to me, as a writer (a kind of artist, I think), is that I was in the same boat and needed a similar solution, which came a little later on, while journaling (personal whining to my future self) about this thing I just realized I was doing to myself.

(I’m hoping I’m not alone in this or I’m going to feel silly talking about it…)

The Plot

This is going to sound odd (as if anything I write here doesn’t), but it hit me that I need to make the same decisions with my life that I make while creating my characters‘ lives.

What I mean is, asking myself this question, repeatedly:

What decisions from the myriad of possibilities available will move the plot along?

My Real Life’s plot, for my own personal story. Because, whether we’ve thought about it or not, when we’re old and not long for this world, we tend to look back and see that our life is a story, too!

It doesn’t matter if we’re writers, we’re still writing our own story. And when we get to the end, do we want that story to be about a whole lot of . . . nothing?

The Decision

So, just like with Struthless in his video, it’s down to Decisions:

To decide on a direction means realizing I cannot go in all the directions I want to, chasing all the passions I’ve held onto, simultaneously. Shy of creating my own multiverse, expecting that I can plot my way in all these directions and think I’ll reach one destination is thoroughly unrealistic.

And ultimately doomed. And my subconscious knows this. I’m sure that’s where that feeling of being lost, scattered, hopeless, or unprolific is coming from.

I’m only just realizing this is the feeling of a plot line pausing at a crossroads, with several roads branching off into their own directions. One for each passion I’ve wanted to follow. I get the feeling that crossroad has been there for a long time, maybe since childhood.

And I recognize this feeling from my writing, too! It’s the feeling of indecision while plotting, knowing that if I can’t decide right now I can’t continue writing this story. I’ll have to put it down and try to put the passion and excitement I have for it on hold. This is frustrating. I don’t want to lose that energy and momentum!

The thing is, Real Life works the same: the longer I put off deciding which road to take, I’m taking none of them. Just like with my characters, I’m going nowhere, despite how hard I’m working, because that work is split between too many things.

Meanwhile, while I sit at the stop sign with my motor idling, time is dribbling past like water running into a storm drain. And as I watch, one or two of the many roads before me fade and pop out of existence, perhaps even a favorite one, out of lost interest, or lost opportunity, or out of sheer frustration or hopelessness.

And if I sit here long enough, letting enough time dribble down the drain, all of the roads before me will eventually do the same thing. Damn, my characters didn’t have this problem, did they? Well, yes. They did, actually. Those were the stories I eventually moved into my Inactive folder, with sadness, because I knew there was little hope of opening them again.

Is that what I want for my real life story?

Do I want my story ending without much action, without a hero, or a climax? That’s barely a story at all. No one, not even (insert deity of your choice) would want to write that story for us. What is the point of being born if we waste it on a non-story like that?

No. Despite how far down the road I’ve driven, it seems to me Now is the perfect time to decide on the plot of my own story. To decide on the ending so I can figure out in which direction to go to get there. And then choosing the dream or passion that will propel me there.

Just like a writer must do for their characters.

The Passions

Making a decision on a direction means choosing only one Life Passion that will take me there. It seems that life–fictional or otherwise–has physics, too, including forces and momentum. Each passion pulls the story in different direction, just like the passions of my fictional characters.

It won’t be easy. I’ve carried some of those passions around for a lifetime, like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language; or traveling the world; or programming the next great computer application, like a fluffier, nicer version of Skynet…

Sacrificing a big fat bunch of my life’s passions, along with the physical debris that goes along with some of them, will probably make me cry–perhaps from relief! All I know is that this RL character needs less weight on her head, and a clearer direction to steer.

The cool thing is, I’ve noticed something about those endings when I’m writing a story:

  • Oftentimes the ending I was aiming for turns out to be a miss, and the ending I get is a lot better, because my characters bring something unexpected to the table.
  • Sometimes it’s not as good.
  • But in either case, I still have a story in the end.

It seems to me real people deserve one just as much as my characters do.

Where we poke fun at one fine fallacy that keeps us from enjoying our full potential, because we don’t know any better.

“I can’t … “

You can put just about anything after those two words… I can’t draw. I can’t swim. I can’t write. I can’t fly. I can’t drive a manual stick shift. I can’t roller skate. I can’t juggle wombats.

I don’t know when we first pick up that phrase, but I imagine for most of us it was pretty early on. And those things we learn early on are hard to shake, too. Like shyness, or comic books, or an aversion to broccoli.

I remember as early as kindergarten, there was already that peer pressure to compare our creative work with the work of others. We look over and notice the next kid’s finger-painting has a nuance ours can barely aspire to. And that little girl can stack blocks in a more collinear fashion than seems natural.

The embarrassment at such a young age, when adults expect so much of us, like remembering the order of words, or this staying vertical on two too tiny feets thing. It’s simply so much easier to sit down, stick our lip out, and give up on the whole idea to save ourselves further embarrassment.

“I can’t,” we say. I wonder who taught us those words?

Well meaning (or clueless) teachers or parents might tut-tut and simply agree with us, offering thoroughly unhelpful comforts, like “I guess your sister got all the talent for that in the family,” or “you’ll never make a living doing that anyway,” or “I’ll never get that paint off the cat.”

Actually, I think I heard the middle one later on, regarding something I could do… never mind.

Perhaps we gave it a really good try, but the right mentor wasn’t handy at that moment to ease us over the one tiny bump to “I can”. Perhaps we were on our way there, but some jealous person decided to insult our efforts at a sensitive moment. Perhaps we simply lost our patience.

And “I can’t” was ready.

My Can’t

I know, I’ve been there. In fact, to illustrate my point, I thought I’d publicly pick on a person who has claimed her whole life that she can’t draw.

“All my people look like stick figures,” she’d say, completely ignoring the popularity of XKCD, or the guy who trained Matt Murdock. No, wait…

I won’t name any names here, but– Okay, it’s me! Are you satisfied?! And I can’t draw! [pause for Non-drawers Anonymous greeting] “I’m a writer,” I say. “I don’t need to draw stuff” [sits down dejectedly.]

Then one day I write this cute short animated script about a boy and his dog, and some strange piranha, and a girl in a box… It’s a kind of an apocalyptic love story. You know the kind.

It had workshopped really well and I was getting excited to see it made into a PIXAR-like short… when I realized I don’t know how to make that process happen. I don’t know any animators, and we’ve already established I can’t draw.

My palette is a keyboard; my canvas a text editor.

Still, if I could somehow get someone interested, I thought naively, the cute story wouldn’t go to waste.

So I went looking for ways to get the project some attention. Actually, I’m still looking. But along the way, I fell across The Storyboard. I was intrigued by the rough sketches, used by the best directors and animators to plan a movie or an animated film.

I noticed that most of them looked all scribbly and stuff … so, perhaps even I could … no. Well, maybe.

Wanna See Something Pathetic?

(I knew you would. Sadists.)

So I tried my hand at this thing. I bought a sketchbook at the Dollar Store for a buck, because that’s how much I thought this venture would be worth. I drew a horizontal line halving all 50 pages of it in ink. And then I got to scribbling.

As predicted, I ended up with round-headed stick figures on squirrely bits of scenery (I’m okay doing buildings and stuff), like this one:

I know, right? Ugh~!

Oh, the derision and laughter I endured. (I can be pretty awful, to myself.)

But then I thought, I’ve gone this far, I should “stick” it out … (hehe). In the end, it would take just about all 50 pages (100 panels) to cover the entire story.

And Then Something Happened

Let me back up ten panels…

One day, around panel #90 or so, I began to notice something weird happening: Somewhere along the way my characters’ heads stopped being Charlie-Brown-round. They started looking human, with expressions and stuff.

I flipped back and realized, against all odds, I had drawn the same thing so often–badly–that my fingers had slowly rebelled, and through muscle memory or some other magical hokum, they began to draw things more better. More real. More cute. More like the way I saw it in my head:

Okay, not phenomenally better, I admit. But enough to make me realize I needed to go back and re-draw all of the round-heads to match the later ones. Once I got over the shock.

Somehow, through practice or patience, I had taken my first humble step towards The Impossible: I felt I was drawing!

So, I’m currently redrawing a lot of panels for consistency, noticing my background settings had improved, too. I’m still not sure where to find an interested animator who wants to bag a cute apocalyptic short–with piranha–for their demo reel, but at least I’ll be prepared if I ever fall in a pond with them (the animator, not the piranha–I hope).

There’s a moral to this story somewhere . . . Oh, yeah:

If you think you can’t do something, something you feel you might actually enjoy doing? Try it. Try a bunch of times. Maybe 100. Be easy on yourself, use cheap materials, be messy (fuck perfection), do small things–a lot. Just do it for fun.

Eventually you will see: You are awesome at whatever you practice. Practice doesn’t really make perfect, practice makes it happen.

And I believe in you! ^_^


P.S., if you’re an animator and curious? I’m planning on sharing the storyboards as an exclusive on my Patreon page soon. And/or the script. I’m still figuring out what people want to see there. ^_^

I thought I’d take a break from the serious writing stuff and share something I wrote nearly a year ago (2/1/2020) about delight, and crying. The good kind.

Background: OPB*, “The Show of Delights”

So, I’m getting ready to get out of my car at Starbucks, but I can’t seem to stop listening to the radio. It’s OPB, airing a This American Life segment about Delight. It is oddly delightful, beginning with the story of a poet who wrote a book about deliberately finding delight in his life every day for a year and what he learned about that.

Turns out, it had a lot to do with curiosity and being open to finding new things that bring delight. It’s also about embracing your inner child, who sees everything as new–not the jaded way we adults look at things. Like when a kid runs in telling all the adults in the room that there’s a rainbow outside–a fairly common occurrence–and everyone runs outside and “shares a gasp” with each other.

There’s another act where a daughter tells the story of her aging mother who decides one day she has just so much time left, so she’s going to dedicate it to finding delights. This adventure annoys her daughter, who has to help her out doing “whatever she wants,” involving a lot of spontaneity that her daughter seems too adult to put up with. Then one day, while interviewing her mom about this thing she’s doing, the daughter finally “gets it” and seems transformed.

This is followed by another segment following a girl who works at a zoo, at night, putting the animals to bed. I won’t go into everything that happens there, but it’s my favorite part. She sounds so young and (dare I say) cute. The narrator following her on her rounds does also. But that’s not the reason I can’t get out of my car on a cold night, despite coffee and warmth nearby urging me to vacate my rapidly chilling car on a January night.

Instead, I was enthralled by this girl who has what seems to me to be a dream job, where she’s finding delight in caring for all of these animals who frankly could be in a better place (nature), but it’s her job to make them happy anyway. And it’s obvious that the animals appreciate her for it.

For some reason, by the end of this segment, tears are running down my face and I’m truly moved… but I’m honestly not sure why. Perhaps it’s the happy young voices and my inner child wishing I could have gone into a more fun career when I was younger. Perhaps I’m suffering an onset of hypothermia.

Whatever the explanation, I suddenly get the feeling that when I cry this way it means something. Something important.

What’s Happy Crying For

Okay, so I’m finally indoors ordering my coffee at the counter, all the while distracted thinking about happy crying and what it means … To me; perhaps to everyone. If only we knew. When we cry like that, quietly, delightedly, movedly**… doesn’t it feel like a reward of some kind? A gift from life?

When things feel so unexplainably, primally good, could this be something evolution built in a long time ago to say, “Yes. This.”

At this moment, I want this to be true so much that I force myself to sit down and write this note you’re now reading, because I know from experience that when you have these feelings, once you stray away from them, they fade. Like a dream, leaving a vague notion of Epiphanies Lost.

When I don’t write things down I spend the rest of the day feeling sad about losing something I don’t remember. I can almost hear the Universe in those moments, in the background softly murmur, “Okay, maybe next time.”

But it’s a sad murmur, because I think if there’s this complex thing called life, there must actually be a wonderful purpose to it, because we Keep Doing It for so long, all of us Animals of Earth. And the Universe is sincerely trying to tell us this, or our own DNA, or whatever it is that gives us that little nudge in our hearts when we do something right. Like crying at the good bits of life.

Or perhaps it’s some giant metaphysical machine churning away, like the mice in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Who knows how stuff really works.

To go to all this trouble of being born, learning how to walk, talk, think, make friends, learn complex algebra, and become creators of whatever our own reality and hearts desire… there really must be a deeper purpose to all that.

And how else will we know which way to go with our own purpose in life than to pay attention when life rewards us, like it does when we do sex right (I mean truly, mutually right). Or make someone smile. Or cry, happily, like there’s too much loveliness inside we can’t quite contain it.

A Happy Mission

So, like that early OPB segment, about the poet who spent a year recognizing and writing about Delights, I’m having this sudden urge to spend a year (or more) keeping track of the things that make me happy cry, and seeing where that attention leads me.

Because I get the feeling that the Universe really is trying to help us find our happiness, even if it does have all of these nasty obstructions ready for us to climb over. But then without things to overcome, how will we find the joy of accomplishment?

So, Cry #1 is this: Noticing the magic of crying at stuff. Yay!


* OPB: Oregon Public Broadcasting (the local affiliate of National Public Radio).

** Yes, I am horribly guilty of inventing my own adjectives. Sue me. Or give me a cupcake! ^_^

cute puppy passenger

There’s nothing like a puppy face to make the world a better place, especially on days you really need one. For example…

Have you ever had someone unexpectedly completely ruin your day?

The sun is shining, you’re driving somewhere fun, life is good. Oh, here’s a merge up ahead… You turn on your signal to let someone know you’d appreciate a place to squeeze into the highway queue–

When some arrogant dick who looks like he eats kittens for breakfast stares at you through his window as he takes your signal as an invitation to not only cut you off, but slow down and try to drive you into the barrier ahead, staring at you through his passenger window the whole time.

The road troll. A person who goes around attempting legal hit and runs for his own amusement. Big city people know this vermin well, but we try not to think about them, because they suck.

I disappointed this one by not dying, but he won in the end: an hour later I was still upset about it. The idea of such a person, roaming the streets being inhuman to people, for fun. The sunshine had lost it’s shine, the springlike air seemed somehow grubby, my fellow humans felt less trustworthy, and I felt like I was having a Bad Day barely before the day started.

Thanks to adrenaline and broken expectations about common morality, this sort of feeling is truly hard to break out of, especially for the more sensitive of us. Other, tougher souls probably shrug it off like Portland rainwater, but I wonder if even they can feel it inside, nibbling away at their happiness.

Oddly, once you get into this funk, the day seems to follow your revised expectations, becoming a self-fulfilled prophecy. A Bad Day will be had, whether more bad stuff happens or not, while the regular stuff just takes on a bad feeling. We change our world by how we observe it, seeing the shadows instead of the light. There is the potential for good and bad in everything, and we can bring it out simply by focusing on it.

Thanks to our caveman evolution, we’re wired to see the bad things as far more important, simply to avoid getting eaten. Five yummy venison meals are great, but it only takes one hungry saber-tooth tiger to ruin that whole week of happiness. Why do you think it takes a dozen very expensive roses to say “I’m sorry”?

We don’t need this instinct as much now, but it’s wired in, so it often takes three to five good events to offset one bad one.

So, there I was coming out of a restaurant over an hour later, still in a funk. As I approached my car, an SUV was pulling into the spot next to mine, driven by an older lady. She noticed my approach and graciously held up pulling all the way in to give me access to my car. She even smiled and said hello. I smiled back and said Hi, but I was still too funked up to put much feeling into it (bad people are contagious).

But as I walked past, I looked over and saw a little black Terrier sitting in the passenger seat beside her, looking back at me with that little puppy face…

Suddenly the day kind of hiccuped: sunlight spattered everything with a twang, a breeze tousled my hair in playful slow motion, the smiling lady became a neighbor, the Earth’s bearings got a new squirt of grease. The universe very, very quietly said “boop”.

It was a while later I recalled being cut off by the dickhead, and when I did, I thought to myself “karma, do your stuff” and forgot all about him.

But I can still remember that puppy face many hours later. It was the expression of a creature who embodies innocence, whose only concern in the world is whether it was giving as much love as it could at this moment. Because a puppy can only live Right Now. That’s all that matters: Love, Right Now.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t get what I mean (I only do enough) or even agree with it. All I can say is, when you’re feeling doubt, anger, sadness, or a loss of faith … like many do these days: all you need is a puppy face.

Kittens and bunnies also work in a pinch.

If you’re curious, visit one at a shelter near you. Take one home if you see what I mean. Don’t let all that love go to waste.