Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sleeping Dogs

“When rats rest, their brains simulate journeys to a desired future such as a tasty treat,” says a report on new research funded by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society.

By monitoring brain activity in rats, first as the animals viewed food behind a glass partition, then while resting in a separate chamber, and finally as they had access to the treat, the researchers suggest that during the rest period the rats simulated walking to and from food that they had been unable to reach. The study, published in the open access journal eLife, started me thinking about what dreams a dog may have.

I look at Buddy, totally relaxed, eyes closed, breathing slowly, evenly. He sleeps at my feet when I am churning out words or just thinking about words to churn. He is in his private world. Then he moves.

Dogs sleep quickly and quietly and easily. But sometimes, as I watch ours, I see them moving, running, paws moving horizontally at a speed that, were they upright, would take them from one end of the house or deck or yard to the other in fleeting seconds. But they sleep. They dream. Then they wake up. And I wonder: do they know the difference?

Early humans must have experienced the same phenomenon we observe in our dogs, must have slept, had dreams, awakened to a new day, unable to explain to themselves what was reality and what was not. Do dogs, when waking from a dream, expect that at sometime they will re-enter that other world, find the rabbit or the chipmunk or bird they lost in the dream world? Did early humans find it difficult to know which was the real world, and did they think that each new morning was a new life, as was each dream? I think about those things as I look at Buddy running in his dream. Does what passes for a smile mean he caught the object of his chase, or does he smile because it is the chase that drives him on, and he knows that when that other life returns, he will find that the chase goes on?

Dreams can seem so real. We know, when we awaken, that it was “only a dream,” but what if it was not? What if the “reality” is the dream? What if all of this, the life we have, is but the figment of someone else’s imagination? There’s a story in that, to be sure, but how can it end?

What I’m doing here (if “here” is real) is part of the writing process. I take an idea, separate it from what is real, add back some truth and some maybes, and a story is born. Not all survive to adulthood, as it were, but enough do to keep the process alive and interesting to me; interesting enough to keep doing it over and over. When the partition between awake and asleep, between dream and reality is removed, then the combination of what I know and what I think I know, what is and what is “perhaps,” becomes the reality of fiction.

It is what wakes me up every day.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

In a Word

“Still writing,”  a friend will ask? “Another book coming out soon?” “What’s it about?” In my own list of FAQs, those are among the top. And yes, I am still writing.

I write because it’s what I’ve been doing for more of my life than anything else. Well, that’s not exactly true. Talking came before writing, just like it did for everyone. But in terms of occupation, writing is what I’ve been doing since I was in my late teens, and continue to do every day.

My simple definition of writing is that I put words on paper or on a screen that take a thought (or an incident or an act) from an initial observation straight on through (well, sometimes in a bit more  convoluted line) to a conclusion. It may be an essay or a chapter in a story, or something I’m thinking about writing in one form or another. I keep pen and notepad handy wherever I am, to jot down any of the things that may lead to something larger or more developed than a passing thought.

Occasionally I feel that the effort to write is just that: an effort. I am distracted by other things, by responsibilities I have taken on or had thrust upon me; things involving family or friends or the wider world of my community or even the larger world in which I live. And I wonder if I should stop.

I can’t, though. Somewhere deep in me perhaps, there is a fear: if I stop writing, I will stop being, become one of those who sit passively and let the world come to them, let life pass them by. But not I. Writing allows me to feel my life still beating in me. What would I do if I didn’t write? There are only so many things I can do that challenge me physically, few that challenge me mentally, and of them all, the physical and mental aspects of writing are the most rewarding.

I like to see words I don’t expect find their way onto the screen or paper in front of me. Seeing a thought go from lightbulb to illumination: that’s what writing is for me. Seeing it in front of me is more than a mechanical act. It serves as the carrot does for the horse: to drive me on, forward, waking my senses and offering new life to the idea of being alive.

I write, therefore I am.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Good Morning Sun

Phenomenal! When Buddy and I left the house this morning to hike up the ridge I had put on a light sweater . . . and I was warm! For the first time this season, the air was actually soft and temperate soon after sunrise. Oh, there have been a few warm days, hitting 80 or so by mid-afternoon, but the early mornings have carried a bit of chilled air leftover from the nighttime. I was almost uncomfortable by the time we reached the turn-around to head for home and breakfast.

One of the pleasures of living so far from any urban center is that the light and shade change according to the position of the sun, not the availability of electricity. On a crisp winter night, or after a warm summer’s day, one can step just beyond the circle of light and then look up. Here the sky is never black, but illuminated by the billions of stars and planets we can see. If you have never been excited by the night sky it must be because you have never lived with the heavens so close, and so visible. Here there are nights when you feel you can touch the stars.

I like standing outside in the dark, looking at the beyond. But I like the sunrise even more.

For me, stepping outside, even on the coldest morning, when the sun has yet to show itself, still rising behind the eastern mountain, brings a sense of well-being, a certain knowledge that there is a day ahead to be lived and experienced. I sense in the response of Buddy (and Teddy when he joins us), acknowledgment that we have survived the night, the darkness that perhaps led our most distant ancestors to search for their version of the origin of life, and to begin each new day as an opportunity to start life over.

Dawn brings a sense of renewal with each new day. The rising sun tells me that there is time yet to correct the errors of the day before, to finish what was left undone when sleep overtook me, to experience as yet uncharted aspects of life. We all understand, to some degree, that there are limits to life; not everything we want will come to us, nor will all we need to accomplish be done. There are limits, constraints of time and space, ability and capacity, yet the sun rises, and with it, possibilities.

As I walk up the ridge, or circle the fields below, I savor the scent of grass and leaves and blossoms; feel the dew that reminds me of the transition from dark to light, from night to day, from yesterday’s concerns to today’s solutions. I love that time of day more than any other: the refreshing of life with the promise of another opportunity to make the most of the time and the light. The walk I take, the path I follow, leads me to embrace the new day, the fresh sun, happy that I am here to welcome it, sure that there is a new day to live.

Good morning, sun!