Instant Replay

I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and we were listening to the baseball game on the radio. It was a hot July afternoon in the city, and we were sitting on the back stoop in the narrow alleyway that ran behind the apartment building. My friend started going on about how the instant replay feature had ruined half the fun of listening to these games. In the old days, he said, a close call would lead to disputes of passion and imagination, marvels of improvisation. Now they just waited for the replay to settle everything.

He said that his old uncle was a master at this peculiar craft.  He would set up the whole play and go through it beat by beat.  My friend proceeded to demonstrate. He stepped up to an imaginary home plate and swung away. He cracked a fly ball into the outfield and barreled down the first base line. Then he was the outfielder, scrambling for the ball at the fence and then whipping it to the shortstop. And there he was the runner again, headed for second, and now the shortstop, and again the runner, and then back again.

“Safe,” he pronounced quietly, showing that the shortstop never touched the bag, that he had missed it by just the slightest inch, indisputable proof informed by physics, stats, and simple geometry. The play was over. The pantomime had stopped. The spell was broken. It was just a back alley again on a sweltering day. My friend nodded his head and tossed the nonexistent ball to me, and as a matter or reflex, I reached out to catch it in my nonexistent glove.

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22 thoughts on “Instant Replay

  1. I've no comment on your dream content, baseball being alien to my experience. But on a more general theme, I've often been incredulous at the intricate detail of your dreams, and the complete landscape you evoke, both in terms of the environmental one and the familial or interpersonal relationships. Many's the time I've thought they are short stories set in a dream frame; your insistence on their being actual dreams part of the poetic licence that literature beams upon without saying “falsehood”.

    But this morning, having awoken early, gone back to sleep and reawoken later than normal, i had a similarly intricate dream, whose content i shall spare you and myself, it would require hours to turn it into a piece like yours, if i even could.

    Thing is, and this is a guess, the dream may have occurred in a very short time between sleep and wake: seconds possibly. The details were slight, but I believe, from past experience, that the process of waking up and thus returning to rational thought has the effect of clothing a small incident which might be bizarre on its own with its own back story, as to how it occurred.

    So in my story (just the context!) I was living in a very big property, with extensive grounds, like one of the smaller stately homes in England, and had offered accommodation for the night to a young man who had missed the last bus or train, or had been overtaken by nightfall while hitching a ride on the main road not far away. He seemed a decent young fellow so the next day I said he need not be in a hurry to go but could not stay another night. this was to placate K who was staying there with me, and who would be certain to object.

    But (this was the main part of the dream) a woman crossed the lawn to speak to me, pointing out that we ourselves were guests, & didn't have the right to invite anyone else.

    There was a lot more to the story, but even out of what I've narrated above, I sense that a lot of it was instantly concocted from rationalization whilst waking up, to explain the part that was actually dreamed in sleep. And though I can still remember the whole thing, I cannot remember which part was original dream and which was rationalisation. But the whole thing could have been further elaborated on the spot, with a cast of characters (I've left most of them out) and turned into a screenplay.

    So all this is to ask you the question, do you agree with the kind of mechanism I've described? Does it accord with the way you see it?

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  2. I'm sure there's at least something to what you're saying. Freud suggested a similar notion, an idea that there are certain ready made narratives floating about in our minds that we bring to bear on the dream content in the moments upon waking. He based this speculation on an elaborate dream that someone had of being tried and imprisoned and sentenced to execution during the French Revolution. The dream ended with the guillotine coming down and the dreamer awoke to find that the headboard had fallen on his neck, suggesting that this lengthy dream was nothing but the work of a few seconds when the headboard hos his neck and woke him.

    Of course It's possible that all our dreams our conjectured up after the fact, when we try to remember then or when their memory is forcefully imposed on us. Dreams leave no corroborating physical evidence to prove otherwise.

    All I know is how the process of trying to remember dreams feels to me. I feel like I randomly casting my lines about in a chaotic pond of imaginary free associations. And there is that unmistakable feeling of recognition when I get a bite, a feel of “Ah, it's all coming back to me now!”

    So the only counter question that could be asked, I guess, would be: Why would those imaginary pieces strike that note when so many others just float on by?

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  3. As to the charge of “falsehood”, and the question of whether I actually do dream these dreams or whether these are just vignettes that I've invented out of thin air and slapped the label “dream” on them as a convenient literary device, the subject has come up once or twice before.

    For starters, I'll swear once again that every piece here is at the very least BASED on an actual dream I've had. The amount of fussing over the details or overall elaboration on the dream's details varies from dream to dream. Most of the time all the pieces are there in the dream, and it's a matter of seeing how it comes together. Other times I'll build a whole thing out of just one or two details that I find intriguing. That's rare though.

    And there's no one standard approach. Different kinds of dreams I have to come at in different ways. For instance, I've been writing things from dreams for so long, that sometimes I anticipate and start writing the piece in my sleep in a way, and so THAT becomes part of the dream, and on those occasions the piece I write is part actual dream and partly the piece I dreamt of writing. “Of Poetry & Roaches” would be a good example of that. Again, this is rare, but it's nice when it happens. I feel like half the work is already done.

    On the other hand, to give an example of a dream just giving me a few details that I build on, I would cite the “Derailed” piece. The idea was there of a movie scene with horse galloping alongside a train and the idea of the guy getting his foot cut off, but all the texture and stuff that gave it a more solid feel (the sweltering sun, the grueling effort, the mud, the shocked look on the man's face, the other workers helping him up, the director driving up yelling, even the whole ending where they come to visit him and he winces when he hears the train) all of that I made up, fleshing it out from just the detail of the giy getting his foot cut off.

    And again, rare. Usually the dream gives me much much more to work with. “About a Dog” for instance, I woke up, the dream made a very strong impression on me and I sat right down at the computer and wrote it. “Lifetimes Ago” the same thing. Other times I have to ruminate on it until much later in the day.

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  4. So yeah, the approach varies. When I rebooted this blog, I preserved the idea of a dream journal as a nest to fall back on. I didn't want to feel like I had to try to take every dream I wrote about and make it into a fully fleshed out work of short fiction complete with characters, plot, etc. I wanted to keep the format of the dream journal so that I could play a little faster and looser with the material. But, at the same time, I usually am trying to build it up into something more than just the bare account of a dream. Sometimes it's a matter of fleshing out an idea, sometimes it's finding an idea to shape the flesh around.

    Still, I laugh when people think I'm just making it all up. I think, “Well that would certainly be a lot easier.” I think about that sometimes, just making up a dream off the top of my head. My mind usually wanders before I come up with much of anything. Still, I suppose I COULD do that, but then again, why would I? There's such a wealth of material to be had from dreams, why would I forgo that? If I'm going to write a dream journal, even if it was a fake one, why wouldn't I want to exploit my actual dreams for material? So, insofar as that logic goes, then yes, this is a real dream journal.

    I'm thinking, though, as an exercise maybe I'll try to see what kind of fake dream I can come up with and come back and leave a reply below describing my “dream.”

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  5. Okay, fake dream:

    It was early morning and I was in the parking-lot of a motel, the kind where the building kind of wraps around the parking-lot in the middle. I had gone for a walk and the sun was just coming up. There was a woman and her kids that I was driving cross country. We were staying in one of the rooms, but I couldn't remember which room it was. I started leaning against the doors to listen. I knew what cartoons that her kids usually watched in the morning and I thought if I could hear it through the door then I'd know it was the right room.

    As I came to where the building formed a corner, there was an open door to a utility room that the cleaning ladies worked out of. The room was just a narrow passage that ran to another door that was open in the back, and I could see a misty field beyond. The utility room was dark between these two open doors, and I could just make out the cleaning lady sitting in the shadows smoking. When she raised her hand, I could see the silhouette of her cigarette and her long tapering fingers and the curve of her arm against the backdrop of the open back door. She turned to look at me, and I could just make out the glint of her eye.

    I told her that I had forgotten which room I was staying in. She let out a long, indifferent puff of smoke that lingered in the air. She told me that I could take any room I liked. “It doesn't matter here,” she said. I tried to explain that there were people I was travelling with, that I had very specific obligations. She didn't care. She just shrugged and turned and looked back out at that misty open field.

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  6. The truth is the truth & truth is my St. Louis cardinals are the greatest team ever & we are going to kick Cincinnati's butt sooo bad this year (you are Ohio, right?). Ah, nothing like a good brawl. Hope we get into a few fist-flyers with you guys this summer.
    Awesome dream! Makes me wish spring would hurry up & get here.

    Nice fake dream, too. I especially liked the last sentence.

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  7. The funny thing is, I'm not much of a baseball fan myself, maybe not much more so than Vincent. So I don't know what prompted me to dream about it.

    But yes, Ohio. But northern Ohio. The Cleveland Indians are more the team for this area.

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  8. Baseball is the only sport I like & when I like something I just don't like it a little bit, so I'm very passionate about the game. I had a brother who was a lot like you & Vincent. Growing up he just wanted to be left alone with his thoughts. I used to feel sorry for him on Saturday evenings when my dad would make him put his books down & join in on the game. Now that he's no longer with us, my dad looks back & wishes he had appreciated him for the gentle-genius, mild-mannered soul he was.
    Anyway, doesn't matter what prompted you to dream it. All that matters is that it inspired you to write.

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  9. Your fake dream is distinguishable from the real ones. Setting aside its brevity, there is something reminiscent of one of your published short stories, but I can't think of which one. Minus the horror.

    As in the dreams, there is a disconnect from reality, but only a minor one, in the behaviour of the chambermaid, whom one would have expected to be better-trained in response to customers.

    But it's dreamlike in one significant respect, at least for me. Most of my dreams seem to involve not being able to find the person, address, parked car etc that I started from. I may dream of an entire town, with detail of its familiar backstreets and how to get from a to b, as if i'd known it all my life, but I invariably get lost because it doesn't correspond with the memories. And the memories in the dream have nothing to do with what I have known in the waking world.

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  10. Yes, unfortunately a lot of pressure is put on American males to be “into” sports, and people tend to treat you like there's something off about you or that you're less of a man if you don't like sports. I still have awkward moments when someone tries to strike up a conversation about “the game” and I have to confess that I have no idea what particular game everyone supposed to implicitly know as “the game” at that particular moment because I don't really follow any of it. Like your brother, I like to go off on my own way.

    And I like the way you describe your brother. I get a sense of him, and a sadness that he's gone. Sounds like someone I would have liked.

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  11. Yeah, I also have certain reoccurring frustrations that pop up now and then in my dreams. If some person in a dream provokes me to the point that I feel like punching them, I can never seem to land a blow with any effect. I feel like something is forcing me to pull my punches until they're just weak little ineffectual jabs. It becomes humiliating. Sometimes the other person will taunt me as their face pops back out like a rubber mask.

    Hmmm… I wonder if your dream could be connected to your wayfaring

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  12. Coincidentally I awoke at 2.30 this morning from a dream in which my old headmaster congratulated me for completing some project, unasked, which had been bothering him for some time, which has led to me getting up, making some strong tea and composing a new post, not about the dream per se, that is just a jumping-off point, but various formative threads which I can see through a lifetime, which help explain certain current compulsions.

    And somehow I feel that the discussions about dreams we've had here have encouraged the staging and subsequent remembrance of my own dreams (2 nights running), after a long period of oblivion. Thank you! & thanks to Cindy too for your comments, particularly the content of the deleted one.

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  13. Loosely going off of what Vincent said, I wish I had meaningful, intricate dreams like this. I have the brain of a writer, and the potential to unlock a myriad of wonderful stories. In my brain I can fly, and conquer a kingdom, and hell, even talk amusing baseball calls if I wanted to. But what do I dream about? “Oh, let's dream that your friend hooked up with a really disgusting obese woman and everyone laughed at him because of it.”

    Thanks for making me look like an idiot, brain.

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  14. My problem is that I have a hard time focusing my imagination. There are things I'd like to do fictionwise, but I have a hard time settling on something or finding that point of entry. I like dreams not only because of the ideas I get, but also because it's like being …. assigned work. If that makes any sense.

    It's not a question of motivation. I WANT to do it, but I sometimes can't find the way to get started, that impulse from which a fiction project gets started. Someone like George R. R. Martin, for instance. He creates this whole fictional world, thousands upon thousands of pages, but where was the thing that drove him to it? The pleasant daydream that he cultivated and developed over time? Did he started by fantasizing about that big map of Westeros while he waited in line at the bank or something?

    I don't know. Maybe I'm thinking about it all wrong. I just feel like I had better access to that world of pretend as a child and that it eludes me as an adult.

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  15. That's odd, because I've read somewhere before that studies show people who have dreams like this tend to be more creative, especially with storytelling.

    Perhaps part of the problem is looking at everything so broadly? I mean, if someone came to me and said, “Write me a novel,” I can see how that would be daunting. “Write a novel” encompasses every genre, every style, every length… it's a lot to take in. As for us, we start with a genre. I want to do horror this time. That sounds like something we could do well. Okay, what kind of horror? Speculative? Suspense? Thriller? Let's do suspense.

    So already when we begin brainstorming on a story it's not a matter of “okay so what book do we write?” it's “okay, so what kind of story can we come up with for a suspenseful horror story?” Then it becomes more focused. “What new things can I offer the world of suspenseful horror?”

    I can't speak for him personally, but I don't feel like George R.R. Martin woke up one day with thoughts of Westeros on his mind and hundreds of characters just bursting to life. Sometimes you have to corner the angle you want to take before the story starts reaching out to you. Maybe, as someone who's always loved fantasy, he woke up one day with a simple question in his mind: what would happen if someone wrote a fantasy story where the good guy didn't always win?

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  16. See, that's the thing. That little germ of an idea that sets you off down the road, I have such a hard finding that. Or even, as you said, just settling on a matter of genre.

    I know somehow I make it much more complicated than it needs to be. I'm just not sure in what way.

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  17. Hasty observation: I suggest there is something in common between dreams and the best fiction: that they give expression to the unconscious mind. ABFTS suggests as much by mentioning George R. R. Martin “waking up one day” with thoughts or questions.

    Is it not the unconscious which provides “that impulse from which a fiction project gets started”? In which case you have to wait till it speaks, whether through a dream, a question or a fully-fledged idea, it doesn't matter.

    And it is after this that the hard work starts, for the images now populated in the imagination without much conscious effort in the first place have to be made coherent and converted into the chosen medium, whether words or something else.

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  18. Are your dreams always this vivid?

    I have dreams, but I can't remember ever remembering the specific temperature of a dream. You say it was hot, sweltering even. Did you actually FEEL the heat in your dream? Were you actually hot in real life and that is what inspired the feeling of heat? I ask because one time I dreamed that I caught a lizard and put him in a tank and then I stuck my feet in the tank and he started licking my toes and it tickled really badly. Then I woke up and realized that the dog was actually licking my toes, so reality stimulated my dream.

    I imagine if I was really cold, maybe I would dream about snow or being locking a freezer. I was just wondering if that was the way it worked with you. You post about baseball dreams, and I am interested in the temperature. Go figure.

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  19. Well, as discussed above, I usually take the dream as a starting point, and try to turn it into a quasi-story or narrative. I do try to give as faithful an account as possible, but sometimes it's tricky knowing exactly how to explain things.

    In the above dream, for instance, I would say that I dreamt of that KIND of day, a sweltering day in a congested city. I don't know that I physically FELT the heat — it's hard to say — it was more like the idea of that kind of day, or the memory of it. It would be like if I dreamt that I was lost in the woods, trudging through the snow on a cold winter night. The coldness may only be present as an idea, like seeing it in a movie, but it may also be an essential part of the dream's narrative, which may involve, say, desperation to find shelter or whatever.

    So the question becomes: how do you describe that? And my default answer is to fall back on the idea of telling it as a story. In the story of the dream, it was a hot July day, so I try to describe it that way (even if I might not have broken out in an actual sweat ;D )

    There have been times, on the other hand, where things have happened the way you mentioned. Sometimes with temperature. Sometimes other things. I can remember a few times when I could really vividly SMELL something in a dream, like fresh paint, or a skunk, or a mess that the dog made. Sometimes I would wake up and find that the smell was really in the air. Other times I had just completely dreamt it, drawing, I guess, on my memory of those smells.

    That was a good question. I hope I answered it.

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