Friday, May 24, 2013

Pharmaceutical Dreaming

A few weeks ago, I had a bout of bronchitis, which ended up triggering my asthma. That meant coughing, lots of big, loud coughing spasms. I mean, coughing that rattles the windows in my house and those of my neighbors. (I have been known to break ribs from coughing before.) Antibiotics had the bronchitis under control quickly, but the asthma—and the coughing—was another matter. Consequently, I’m still inhaling and nebulizing as I try to shake the last of it, and in order to sleep at night without hacking my lungs out, I’m taking codeine cough medicine.

This means weird dreams. That phrase seems redundant. Dreams are, by nature, non-rational, of course. But these drugged dreams are something else. Much more vivid and bizarre. The dead walk and talk again in my dreams right now. My children, the youngest of whom is about to turn thirty, are babes in arms and toddlers again in these dreams, even as I’m still a child myself, a sibling to my own kids. Every morning I wake in wonder at the strange, technicolor movies I’ve just experienced.

Since I’m a writer, I write them down in my journal. Each morning I sit with my cup of tea and record another outlandish dream—a house suddenly filled with feral cats and I can’t figure out how they’re getting in or how to keep them out, a strange conference at an unknown university where I’m responsible for one of the programs when hundreds of ninjas attack, a ballroom dancing scene where I’m Ginger Rogers in chiffon and stilettos and only my unknown partner’s hand keeps me from floating off to join all the other people living on big multicolored clouds.

Last night, I had a dream in which an editor from Random House visited me in Kansas City to tell me that Random House had published a book in my Skeet Bannion series written by someone else, the first of many, and had sold it for a television series, leaving me protesting that they couldn’t do that since Random House is not my publisher and crying to my agent and my actual editor at my actual publisher, “What can we do? They’re stealing my books!”

I’m a writer, so you’d think some of these dreams would spark stories or books. I have had the germs of stories and books come to me in my dreams before, but not in medicated dreams like these. I know from sad experience that none of these will offer me anything more than a moment’s entertainment and wonder. I suppose that, if I wrote literary short fiction in the surreal school of writing, I might find them useful, but for someone who writes mystery novels and thrillers that must make sense to the average reader, these dreams are a waste of my unconscious’s creative skills.

What they do for me as a writer, however, is remind me that I have at my disposal an incredibly creative partner in that very unconscious. I simply have to find ways to guide its creativity and to ground it in the details of reality. That inventive part of my mind works constantly coming up with all kinds of stories, good, bad, bizarre, and humdrum. It’s up to me to harness and channel all that imaginative energy. Still, it would be nice if it could just toss up a nice, usable, Academy-Award-worthy story now and then.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my nightly excursion into the world of flying cars and dogs and Nazi storm troopers chasing me at a writers conference and other exciting adventures.


  1. Chemotherapy for cancer had the side effects of visual hallucination and delusional thinking. Although I knew it was due to the medication, it was distressing to say the least.

  2. I'll bet those were really wild, Warren! Glad they're over for you. It seems such a shame that they're so crazy we can't really use them in our fiction, doesn't it?

  3. I started having vivid dreams about twelve years ago. Around two years after they started, I read in the pharmacist's handout that "vivid dreams" are among the most common side effects of one of my blood pressure meds. As long as they are not horrific I don't mind the free entertainment!

  4. DebRo, what a positive spin to put on it! Free entertainment. Leave it to you to come up with the lemonade from lemons, right? xoxoxo


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