Horses of Different Colors
Like many writers, I get some of my best ideas from that pool of creativity – the one we swim in right before we fall asleep. Dreamzoning is a term from Robert Olen Butler’s book, “From Where We Dream,” and it was recently the subject of a blog by K. M. Weiland. She calls it daydreaming on steroids—“a purposeful, focused daydreaming. It’s intense. It’s fun. And if you’re a writer, it’s the mother lode of all story ideas.”
My dreamzoning is rarely done purposefully, but it’s a motherlode, for sure. The other night I dreamed a sci-fi/fantasy story that opened with a team of first contact space voyagers landing on a planet of fields of grain and clear, blue skies, where the alien lifeform looked like horses, in different colors. I won’t give any spoiler alerts, but I had to turn the light on and write it down—it was that good. A lot of the story line centered around the acceptance of someone recognizable, yet totally different. How do you convey respect (hoping it’s reciprocated) when you have no idea what’s going on behind those beautiful, calm, almost hypnotic (blue) eyes? At Kristin Berkery’s ilovehorses.net I found the look I was going for:
The dreamzoned story got me thinking about what the world needs now in a pandemic world slipping into chaos. No, it’s not “love, sweet love”—that seems a bit much to hope for with all the looting, killing, and massive fraud. I was thinking more along the lines of mutual respect. The only catch is it has to be mutual to work. Okay, there are two catches. The second one is—who goes first?
Look at the horse again. You can see it in his eyes. He’s wary. Calm, but alert to possible danger, waiting to see what you’re going to do. If he were an alien species, and he reared up on his hind legs, neighed in protest, and tried to stomp your face in, your response might be different—you’d have no choice but to try and defend yourself. Phasers on stun. Beam me up, Scotty.
But, what if you were also a horse, just one of a different color? And you knew the future of an entire race might depend on how you acted, or reacted, in that moment? Would you nod in acknowledgment of your commonality, with mutual respect, and wait? Or would you be so insecure and ripped apart with fear and ungrounded hatred that you’d start a war for no apparent reason and tear into a perfect stranger or burn down his barn? Don’t expect others to wait until you’ve earned their respect —there’s no way you can do that in under two seconds, or even in a lifetime. Respect should come first. You’re the same species. Maybe the other person has some hidden agenda or emotional baggage that precludes you both from moving forward. Maybe you’ll both be surprised by the common ground you find. If possible, wait calmly to see if the offer of mutual respect is received and reciprocated. If not, and you see the stomping of hooves and the flaring of nostrils, move on. Anger feeds on anger. Only a soft blanket of mutual respect can snuff it out. But it has to be mutual to work. If you go in, feeding off some imagined offense, you’re going to get bitten or stomped on. Maybe rubbed off the side of the barn.
I’ve dreamzoned for years—I just didn’t know there was a name for it. Thank you, Butler and Weiland, for naming the process. As for purposefully dreamzoning, I’ve heard it works. Try thinking of a problem you’re having with one of your characters or with your plot. Put it on the back burner right before you nod off. Chances are pretty good you’ll wake up the next morning with an answer! Or, if you’re a chance-taker, feel free to enter that particular zone (think “twilight”) just to see what happens. Either way, sweet dreams.
Thanks for walking through the corridor with me.