Jay Lake: Writer

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[dreams|culture] My chemo-addled mind on pop culture

Weird have been my dreams of late. Ah medication and stress, those twinned servants of the entelechy of dreams.

Last night I didn’t just get a few postcards from my subconscious. I got a whole truckload 70mm CinemaScope reels shot on expired TechniColor film stock, complete with house posters and lobby standees. (Hmm, when I die, maybe I should continue going to conventions as a standee. Anyone want to take on carrying me around?)

At any rate, I enjoyed an hour long series of linked dream vignettes that was rather like watching Heavy Metalimdb ] by way of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle. Sturm und drang, world-ending battles, dead peasants everywhere, myself in various guises, genders and ethnic modalities struggling to save the world over and over again, and mostly losing. All the way through, I always knew that I had lost or was going to lose. People implored me to stop.

On the plus side, my late uncle-by-marriage Big Jay McMinnis made an appearance as a Cherokee centaur. That would be Big Jay as I knew him in the early seventies, loose, wild and free, before he divorced my aunt and that bitter, judgmental form of churchiness ate his brain. The younger Big Jay would have approved. The later Big Jay would have been appalled. (And no, I was not named for him, my aunt did not even meet him until some years after I was born.)

So yeah, pop culture filter through the chemo-addled brain. Another funny bit popped up yesterday as well. Many years ago, I was a happy member of the Slug Tribe writing group in Austin, Texas. We met two Tuesdays a month in a community center conveniently located not far from my then-house. The room next door to ours was occupied by a Latin dance class. They would begin dancing to Santana’s version of “Oye Como Va”, and stop after the first few bars while (presumably) the teacher fussed at people. I have forever associated the opening of that song with delivering and receiving writing critique.

Funny, the things that come back to you.

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[dreams] Walking into ignominy, and fish cookies

Long, complicated dream about my own impending death last night. In the manner of dreams, I have lost much of it already after waking, but the last bit remains.

I was preparing to leave this world, but for some reason I was dressed in motorcycle armor, and my death was a quest from which I would not return. I was wandering around trying to say good-bye to people I cared about, having just escaped some now-lost-to-memory threat earlier in the dream, when I realized that @jackwilliambell was following me with a pistol in his hand.

Confronting Jack, I told him to either go ahead and shoot me, or help me out. He decided to help me.

We were trying to get into the campus of a high school endowed by the late Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s. I had a bag of fish-shaped cookies I wanted to give to someone, anyone, I knew to pass on as my farewell offering to my circle of friends. But Jack and I couldn’t find our way to the front gates. Eventually we climbed some fences before trying to blend in with the student population.

I finally found @MartiMcKenna wandering around campus with some large, hunky young dude she was totally in to. I could barely get her to pay attention to me, but I finally got here to accept my fish cookies. Which her hunky dude promptly started eating.

Somewhere in there I woke up.

As usual, I don’t have much problem deconstructing my dreams. I went to boarding school when I was a kid. Dave Thomas supported adoption causes, and [info]the_child is adopted. Marti and Jack are both beloved friends of long standing associated with the writing community. I am in fact dying. Not so sure about the motorcycle armor or the fish cookies, come to think of it, other than some obvious Christian imagery around Communion, which seems remarkably egotistic, even for me in the privacy of my own dreams.

But weird and sad and amusing all at the same time. As with much of the rest of my life.

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[dreams|cancer] Doing good in the world, at least in my sleep

Last night I dreamt that I still had terminal cancer, and was being treated at NIH. In my dream, I’d dedicated the last of my energies to speaking and activism on the cause of spaying and neutering household pets.

Um. Wait, what?

Usually I don’t have a lot of trouble grokking the postcards from my subconscious that arrive in the form of dreams. Experiencing a lot of bafflement over this one.

I mean, I’ve always been a responsible pet owner, when I’ve had pets. I’m a big believer in spaying and neutering and animal health. However, that’s never been a top ten issue for me. If I were going to embark on a path of activism in real life at this stage of things, it would be all about disability processes and healthcare access.

So, yeah?

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[personal|dreams] Die Traumdeutung

It’s 13 degrees outside, with a windchill below zero, and snowing merrily. Supposed to accumulate two to four inches today here in Omaha. Luckily I am flying tomorrow, which is supposed to be clear and calm, though still colder than Dorgau’s hindmost paps.

Low-key day today after yesterday’s roaming about the wilds of southwestern Iowa. I think we’re catching a movie this afternoon, and an early dinner. Another friend may pop by the hotel to visit a little while this evening, weather and schedule permitting.

Last night I had, as usual, complex dreams. The part where my house was flooding to the window sashes in clear, warm water wasn’t hard to understand. My bladder has a sharp voice in my nighttime wanderings. The part where Zachary Quinto leapt out of a wrecked VW bus to attack me with a badminton racquet was a little harder to interpret, but I went with it. After fighting Mr. Quinto off, of course.

That last part is odd. While I often dream about real people, either directly or in the form of a dream avatar, I quite rarely dream about people I do not actually know personally.

I’ve spent time with the folks from my prior Day Jobbe. That was good but also sobering. I went on disability there just shortly after my tenth anniversary of service. That makes the Day Jobbe my longest-tenured employment in 26 years of working professionally across three related industries, by a fairly substantial margin. A big part of my life. It was work I enjoyed, with people I (mostly) liked, in a field where, while I wasn’t exactly working for the betterment of mankind, neither was I helping make anyone’s life worse. It was also work which enabled me to have a writing career through a good work-life balance and a decent paycheck. And, later it on, it was work of a sort that allowed me to segue into the deeper phases of my illness without an abrupt economic disruption, both through disability-friendly management and workplace policies, as well as a very good benefits package that turned out to make a critical difference in my life in at least three different ways.

So a lot to reflect on here in Omaha. Plus, well, Zachary Quinto. And snow.

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[cancer|dreams] Waking dark and dreamless

These days I go to bed with a mix of Lorazepam and Trazodone. If I don’t, the Regorafenib does weird things to my sleep cycle. Essentially, I fall asleep early and sleep short, as if my body clock wants to run about 21 or 22 hours long rather than the usual 24 hours. The cocktail of the other two helps me fall asleep and stay asleep, usually four to five REM cycles, and keeps me at more or less the right point on the day/night cycle.

The downside is that Trazodone especially makes me wake up groggy. Sleeping on my own, I wake up rapidly, moving from sleep to full awareness so quickly it sometimes feels instantaneous. That always allowed me to remember my dreams quite clearly. Now, the pharmaceutical fog that swaddles my mind on waking does not so quickly burn off in the fields of morning.

I miss my dreams.

It’s a small price to pay, especially compared to so many other prices I pay as my life narrows and narrows again in the face of terminal cancer, but still another loss I regret.


Note this is not a call for advice. We’ve dialed in the medication package pretty carefully, experimenting with various dosage combinations to sort out what works best for my medical needs. What I’m taking now ensures I get enough sleep every night for my body to maintain itself and for whatever healing can take place from the cancer to do so.

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[dreams] Inching closer to death, except the inches are going by faster and faster

I have been dreaming more of loss of friends and my shrinking life. Ah, cancer.

Two nights ago, it was a long, involved narrative about [info]danjite selling all his stuff and driving away in an old Dodge Charger, never to be seen again.

Last night in my dream I was out of work, and trying to get a new job. This involved speculative selling of a custom print solution for office documentation and Advo flyers. (Trust me, that actually means something in real life.) I wound up at a small party with a new author, possibly Max Gladstone. In my dream, he’d just signed with Night Shade. (Though in real life, Max is a Tor author.) As part of Max’s contract payment, Jeremy Lassen had given him a bottle of some liquor. The bottle had been cast (or carved) into a very accurate sculpture of a man’s athletic shoe, about a size 30. The neck of the bottle was the opening at the top of the shoe, and the cap was a quarter scale lifelike rendering of the head of Lee Arenberg in his makeup as Pintel in Pirates of the Caribbeanimdb ].

Ok, brain. What? I mean, I understand the feeling of being eclipsed by other writers as I slide slowly and all-too-silently toward death. (I haven’t written a word of fiction since June, and quite possibly never will again.) I can handle the symbolism of being out of work and celebrating/being envious of others’ publishing contracts. But Lee Arenberg? Shoe liquor? What?

Sometimes I baffle myself.

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[dreams] The weird depths of my subconscious

I had a very vivid dream last night which I was my friend Jeremy Tolbert. I (he?) was living in Kansas, trying to make a career out of graphic design and Web coding. In the course of the dream, I was staying at my parents’ house, on a small bed in the living room.

I kept trying to apply for jobs at high tech companies, and being put through weird runarounds by way of some sort of post-modern interviewing technique. Random or nonsense questions, people trying to bribe me, whatnot. Also, I was desperately in love with a girl who’d married someone else while I was off in prison.

But the weirdest moment came during one of the job interviews when the interviewer handed me a page take from a Dick and Jane book. I’ve tried to recreate here what I saw in the dream:

Dick and Jane page from a dream had by Jay Lake

I read it, and thought, what a weird piece of nativist, racist garbage this is. I asked the interviewer how I was supposed to answer the question, since surprise was very much about the expectations and experience of the reader. He snapped at me to just answer the question, as if I were stupidly misunderstanding something obvious.

Unlike my dream from the night before, I have no idea what this one means. It’s not hard to parse the symbolism of much of this dream, but it’s pretty hard for me at least to parse the overall meaning, if any. Still, weird. This is the kind of thing I live with in my sleep.

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[dreams] Losing my mojo

It’s no secret that I am a raging heterosexual. My Kinsey rating is so low it should probably be a negative number. These past ten years I’ve enjoyed an extremely active dating life. Even now, deep in the throes of terminal cancer, I manage to keep busy.

But I was not always like that. Through my teens and twenties and well into my thirties, I was a romantic and sexual idiot. Socially inept, mostly annoying to women. I had absolutely zero dating or sex life in high school. In college things got a little better. It wasn’t until my late thirties that I sorted myself out well enough to be attractive and interesting to the women I was attracted to and interested in. I found my mojo.

Cancer is leaching that away from me, too.

Last night I dreamt it was gone completely. I kept meeting women and trying to flirt with them, or just pass a friendly smile, and it was like I was fifteen all over again. Whatever inner light I managed to uncover ten years ago had vanished. No one was particularly cruel to me in my dream. Rather, I encountered a mixture of disinterest and distaste.

That’s unfortunately familiar territory to me, a country I inhabited for over two decades as a teen, a young adult, and into the beginnings of middle age. To go back there even in my dreams was a very bitter feeling indeed.

The dream is of course a clumsy metaphor for my sense of loss and erosion as the cancer advances and my death draws near. It’s not even a particularly accurate metaphor, as in real life I continue to get along fine with everybody, male or female. But the dream did a terrific job of capturing my mood.

All across the spectrum of my life, I am slowing, and sinking, and eroding. This I know, I don’t need postcards from my subconscious to remind me. Sleep at least should be an escape from the nightmare I’m living in, not a door into further nightmares. Sometimes I am denied even that comfort.

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[dreams|cancer] More dreaming of loss and diminishment

I had a long, complex dream last night. In the first part, I was leading a large, multi-day workshop in a hotel, perhaps in Arizona or New Mexico. It was a lot of fun, emceeing the large group, being a critiquer and teacher in the breakout groups, partying on the patio in the evenings.

Then the workshop ended, and some of us retreated to the home of one of the local participants for an evening afterparty. It was a smaller group now, and people kept drifting off. I was having trouble keeping track of my belongings. For some reason, instead of being on my computer, all my drafts were handwritten in red ink on scraps of paper or in spiral notebooks. I kept dropping and losing the notebooks. The scraps got picked up by other people and used to mop spilled drinks or feed the fire in the chimito.

Eventually I found myself out on the sidewalk in front of the house in the light of morning. My writing was down to a few shoeboxes full of scraps. The notebooks were all gone. And as I kept sorting through the shoeboxes, the scraps were vanishing. Blowing away in the wind, or simply disappearing. I was grubby by then, looking like a homeless man. The crackle of police radios echoed nearby. Soon I would be run off, and probably lose even those few last bits of writing I was clutching so desperately.

You don’t need to be Joseph interpreting dreams for Pharaoh to grok this one. I awoke with a deep sense of sadness.

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[dreams|cancer] Voyaging in the undiscovered countries of my heart

I had one of my science fiction dreams again last night. I was flying on a 747 with some other writers. Gardner Dozois was the flight attendant, and did about what you’d expect Gardner to do in that situation. His safety spiel over the p.a. system was more along the lines of “Keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times,” which is not comforting to hear aboard a pressurized aircraft.

The plane eventually landed at the World’s Tiniest Airport™, an artefact of the geography of my subsconscious rather than any particular airport in real life. I walked alone down the airstairs and into the terminal to find the departure lounge crowded with science fiction writers, artists, critics and fans. Jenn Reese, Greg van Eekhout, and Sydney Duncan, just to name a few. Plus most of the Pacific Northwest genre community. I stopped to talk to them, but they were all leaving on Gardner’s plane. I begged people to stay a while longer, or to take me with them, but the plane was full and the place was emptying out. Soon I was left behind alone.

Later I dreamt I was in China with my family. Except they had checked into one hotel and I was supposed to be in another. I went to a store to get a few groceries, and became frustrated that they did not have Mexican Coke in China. The checker turned out to have been educated in America, and fluent in English, so after the store closed we went out to watch the Communist youth groups in their midnight parades. We started making out, then she went off to do something, and I found myself stark naked on the nighttime streets with nothing to clothe myself but Communist party banners. This seemed like a bad idea.

I am dreaming of my own death, clearly. And separation from two of things which matter most to me. [info]the_child, whose heritage is Chinese; and the genre community in which I have become so deeply embedded. My sense of loss is palpable even in my day-to-day moments, and the dreams underscore a deep sense of abandonment.

That last is a tad odd, as it is I who is doing the abandoning by contracting a fatal illness. Nonetheless, this is how my dreaming mind has chosen to interpret the matter somewhere beyond the Gates of Horn. The country of my dreams is treacherous terrain, but no more so than the country of my waking life these days.

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