I was awakened at 4:30 this morning by a dream of a salmon grabbing my lure. My rod tip went down in a series of violent tugs, and suddenly I was awake. The dreamed grab changed my heart the way a real grab does, and I had no chance of getting back to sleep. I rolled out of bed, got dressed and headed downstairs to my office, and here I am now, facing a blank screen. For the past week I’ve been anxious about this essay I’m supposed to write, and I have no idea what to write about.
When I was in grad school and taught freshman composition, one suggested way to get a class started was to have the students spend ten minutes writing whatever came into their heads (even if what they wrote was that they had nothing to say). I’m so desperate to get my essay underway I give it a try. My dream is still fresh, so I add a couple sentences about how I was awakened. This is how the exercise works; it unlocks the mind, gets words moving.
The dream didn’t come out of nowhere. Yesterday was my last day of the spring salmon season, and I lost a ten-pounder near the boat. The heartbreakers are the fish you almost get. You know, the ones that got away. Still, without the essay assignment I wouldn’t have had the dream; it was an anxiety dream about homework. I’m writing about it now because writing anything is better than writing nothing. Maybe an inspired notion will get caught in the flow of typed words and find its way onto the page.
I’m usually up between four and five in the morning (though seldom startled awake to get here). I do my best creative work between then and a little before eight, when my wife, Marianne, comes downstairs and we have breakfast and read the paper. Then she heads off to work, and I return to my office and hit the keys again. Except that I don’t quite return to my office. Whatever inspiration I had during the early morning will be gone. The rest of my writing day will be spent revising rough drafts.
I look at the clock and see that I have two hours of creative time left. Inspiration continues to elude me.
I think back to that fish dream. The way it startled me out of my sleep is the way salmon actually hit. They appear out of stillness—sometimes hours of stillness—sometimes after I’ve given up hope of having any action. I love being on the water and often continue to fish after I feel sure I won’t get one that day. As I’ve described it to friends: There’s nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing . . . then everything.
On other days, of course, it’s just nothing. On such days it can feel as if the river has no fish. This morning my mind feels that empty. I have to stick with it, but I’m beginning to despair. I have to continue trolling my empty mind hoping for a grab.
But I continue to write because I love writing. Even when I have nothing to say. But I never have nothing to say; I just haven’t found a way to say it. It’s interesting how my dreamed fish this morning hit like an inspiration, and now I’m wondering if it may actually be an inspiration. I’m starting to see how it could ease the same anxiety that spawned it in the first place. This is how it happens, how it sneaks up on me. The dreamed fish is becoming more real than yesterday’s lost fish. I decide to pursue it.
Kevin Desinger graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop before moving to Portland and writing for the Willamette Week, The Oregonian and a number of regional publications. The Descent of Man (Unbridled Books, May 2011) is his first novel. His favorite bookstore in the Northwest is Wallace Books in Southeast Portland.