A dream featuring a grinning man and a prison made from ribbons was cut short by my 5:30am alarm this morning. Rather than scuttle out of bed to brush my teeth, I palmed my cellphone and began writing. It started off as just a few haphazard notes, but new ideas mixed with half-remembered details from my nightmare to produce a workable action sequence for a novel.
Like any social media zombie, I went to go post about my experience for digital applause but stumbled when selecting hashtags. I looked up ‘#NightmareInspiration’, ‘#NightmareMotivation’, and ‘#NightmareDrive’ to link my experience to others, but the best I found was ‘#NightmareFuel’, so I gave that one a gander.
‘#NightmareFuel’, I guessed, would be a catchall. After all, you can witness something menacing and that can fuel your nightmares, or a nightmare can fuel you. Nightmares could, for example, compel your creativity, or motivate you to act when you mightn’t otherwise. But every post I found leveraged only the first.
That seems telling.
My life for the last four years could reasonably be summarized as a complete, ****ing nightmare. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, in 2019 I was among the world’s most prominent spider biologists, traveling around the globe to intercept tropical cyclones, on purpose, to investigate how our eight-legged friends fared. Basically, I wanted to see what kinds of spiders prevailed in the aftermath of natural disasters. Little did I realize that I would experience personal disaster in short order. Yes, I appreciate the irony that chasing spiders and intercepting cyclones are the fodder of nightmares for many.
In late 2019 and early 2020 a story broke that several dozen of my nearly 200 scientific articles contained data anomalies that many argued were manipulations. A conclusion was reached by the scientific community in, say, two weeks. I saw every element of my professional identity and most of my social circle burned. Folks who I did and do still love danced all over my professional grave, exhumed my corpse, decorated themselves with my entrails, popped bottles of champagne, and writhing around suggestively on Twitter. On the one hand, that’s a strange thing to watch. On the other hand, that’s kinda Twitter’s shtick. Twitter is called X now, and I hope that’s a fair summary of its future role in society. Let journalists be journalists.
Anyhow, a comorbid personal narrative to the spider fiasco was an ailing mother-son relationship, with a mother’s health in decline. At the pinnacle of my career’s destruction, my mother suffocated to death from medically acquired pneumonia. I watched and provided her the best reassurances and redirections I could manage. The question of how I would ever move forward from Twitter’s blaze was among the last things that ever plagued her.
See what I mean?… a complete, ****ing nightmare. Maybe a self-deserved one, but that’s another matter.
At the height of this perfect storm, I would’ve loved to have curled up, consumed black manhattans, and binge-watched absolutely everything on Netflix. Fortunately, I’m one of nature’s most frenetic and neurotic creatures, so turning inward wasn’t in the cards for me.
Instead, I got real strategic-like. I opened Excel and took a genuine inventory of my skills and assets. I listed skills ranging from public speaking to sensual arts, and assets ranging from actuarial estimates of my years left on Earth and account balances. I categorized each item as ‘intact”, ‘damaged but repairable’, or ‘irretrievably damaged’.
I appreciate that sort of intentionality isn’t always instinctual. But when your house is on fire, I think panic is more likely to get you killed than anything else. When imperiled, try to slow your thinking. Not everything is lost, I promise you. There is almost always a path forward, provided you remain attentive. For me, my love of writing and storytelling proved key.
Since 2020, I’ve spent around five thousand hours writing and editing a series of dark fantasy novels. The first, The Amber Menhir, debuts October 3rd. My scandalous and damaged life has proven instrumental in garnering my books attention, for which I am thankful. A wise friend once said that loss would end up revealing strange opportunities for me. Twas true.
So, what do you do when the world doubts the veracity of your every word? Seems damning, I freely admit. Unless, of course, what you construct next is premised on the very idea that it isn’t true. It’s false. It’s fantasy. At least, to the letter… but then I always loved Animal Farm. Especially the cat.
At some point or another, most of us will find ourselves emersed in a living nightmare. If you’re obnoxiously lucky, then your nightmares might forever remain the nocturnal sort. I think every sort of nightmare can be bridled. Just remember to pull yourself back from the precipice, try to see yourself for what you are, and what’re you’re capable of. If you can do that, then any nightmare can become a tool.
Just ask nature… a forest burnt is but a blank canvas, and one recently fertilized too.