Writing In My Sleep

Bennington College

Where to begin writing. I awakened with the feeling of having dreamt this writing problem all night long. When I rose at a quarter past six, the driving refrain of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal lyrics looped in my inner ear, “Annie are you okay, are you okay Annie.”

In my dream, I began, “He died, finally. Finally. He died.”

On Friday, my first attempt at a twenty page manuscript was discussed — “workshopped” —  as part of Bennington’s graduate writing seminar. Someone asked for confirmation that my father had died. You see, I had begun my story in the middle, at the point when I had reached the limits of multi-tasking and decided to retire to care for my father. In the manuscript, I never came right out and said he died, though I had implied it.

Yes, he died. On January 12, 2013.

They tell you, in writing seminars, to begin with the end in mind. To write with a sense of the feeling that drives your compulsion to write. To understand the fundamental question you are trying to answer. Note the singular: “question.”

Why do I write? Am I really writing about my father, or about me? Why did I decide to devote seven years to caring for my father? During those seven years, how did my relationship with my father change? How did I change? What does it mean to be a father, to have a father, to lose a father? What does it mean to be a daughter? What have I lost by no longer being a daughter? Why did Dad become nicer? Would I have cared for my mother in the way I cared for Dad? Why did I take notes when my mother and father were dying?

My notebook is full of self-interrogation.

When I awakened, I had that feeling that if I went straight to my computer to write, it would be there: the perfect beginning. I had formulated the first paragraph in my sleep. And it had worked.

A half hour later, the sentences have floated apart, smoky tendrils I cannot grasp and put back where they belong.

So I’ll begin, doing the hard work of following images back to elusive memories that await me. And I’ll begin again. Somewhere.



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