COLUMN: "To sleep, perchance to write"

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

To sleep, perchance to write
By Aaron J. Brown

Dreams supposedly reflect your fears, inadequacies, hopes and desires. Lately I’ve been having writing dreams.

Recently, I told everyone I know that I was stepping away from blogging to focus on my fiction. A novel. The Great American Novel. I didn’t call it that, but everyone knows that’s what you mean. It’s code. Your going to shake the dust off this little town (or large metropolitan area, or vague suburban area, or vast untamed wilderness and/or prairie) and become a Writer with a big “W.” Sunday columnist for a regional daily? Yeah, that’s nice and all, but, you know. (This is also code).

The writing started with a flourish, much like the excitement that would accompany my entry into Ultimate Fighting or professional tennis. I’d buy my tights and/or rackets and, for a moment, the excitement of the situation would overshadow the reality. Oh dude, I have a job! Oh dude, I have kids! Oh dude, I have been writing pithy 600 word newspaper columns for almost a decade … maybe that is, like, entirely different than writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Maybe, indeed, I am a living cliché.

The other day I had a rare vivid dream. I have many dreams, mostly vague, sprinkled with unusual psychological cues. Too much food (dreams about food). Too many beers? (Dreams about beers … or bears, language is fluid). For me, and perhaps for most, dreams are neither predictable nor surprising.

But in this particular dream I was an observer, not a participant. The scene was a home day care. Kids ran. Kids screamed. Kids expressed frustration with the human condition. I can recall the pattern on people’s shirts, plaids and stripes, but also could feel their emotions. The day care was both a sanctuary and a prison for these children, as they brought the burdens of their home life with them. One particular boy seemed especially troubled. His dad was always late to pick him up. This affected the staff. The boy could sense the tension.

“So literary!” While I slept, my dream self was writing more (and better) than my waking self had written in months. Here I saw the vulnerability of a child juxtaposed with societal norms pertaining to child rearing. In the dream, the father arrived to pick up his son well after the predetermined time. Professionally dressed and tired, he mumbled a half-hearted apology to the staff while his son silently shuffled to his side. As the door closed, the staff muttered as they cleaned.

“This is gold!” And as I thought that, I saw the father earlier that day – without the five o’clock shadow and sagging eyes. He was a doctor, you see, and a good one. He tended to his patients, fought for them, well, like a father should fight for his son. But it wasn’t easy. Administration was holding him back, denying him the chance to save lives. The system was flawed and he grew frustrated. Topical!” I thought.

The final straw came as the doctor ate lunch. He was interrupted by a hospital lawyer, advising him not to perform a critical operation. My writer self began to realize the true possibilities of this plot: Conflict, humanity, intrigue. I watched the doctors face fall, his brow wrinkle. Suddenly, he became … so … angry. His skin … started to turn color. With his arms held out to the side, his shirt sleeves began … to tighten.

“No!” my writer/narrator/subconscious self yelled. “It couldn’t be!”

The doctor’s skin was now a deep green, his shirt burst open and his body increased notably in size. His eyes glowed. He smashed the table, threw his lunch tray and ran, presumably to perform the operation anyway – or else fight crime. And I realized the ugly truth. The reason that the doctor was always late to pick up his son was because he was the Incredible Hulk. Even in my dream, I cursed the implausible plot twist. Later, the doctor would wake up in his normal state, dazed and wearing tattered clothing. Checking his watch, he would dash to pick up his son at the day care.

Dreams can lift hope, and sometimes they can smash a good plot. Hulk Smash. The writing continues.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” won the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award.

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