Where in your head are your dreams kept?

I sleep weird, so I glommed right onto this article about what parts of the brain are involved in dreaming. It’s really quite cool, go have a look, I’ll wait!

I think it’s interesting that the language region also takes a nap during dreaming, since dreams are filled with moods, sensations and imagery that defy description even after I’m awake–to my eternal consternation. It would be brilliant if we could communicate with some kind of short-hand vocabulary for all the colors and textures of those most-palpable moods and atmospheres in dreams. This is something I’ve always felt was sorely missing from human experience.

Ok, so this is what’s wrong with me in particular

I always wondered what misfiring mechanism enabled me to dream while awake–literally. In the morning, more often than not, my conscious brain wakes up but the dream I was in continues unabated, undisturbed, playing out of its own volition.

Though the moment is ripe for lucid dreaming–stepping in and gently steering–that still isn’t really what it is.

And there are similarities with hypnopompic hallucinations, in that all three sleep conditions fail to continue at the same time. Sleep is generally defined and characterized by 1) being unconscious, 2) succumbing to muscular paralysis, and 3) the intermittent presence of dreams. Sleepwalkers, obviously, lose the second, while those suffering from terrifying hypnopompic hallucinations begin to wake up while still feeling residual paralysis and dreaming other sensation such as a presence–here’s where alien abduction stories get started.

Not an alien abduction story

But my experiences aren’t frightening. I’m fully conscious and able to move, though lying still helps the dream reach its natural resolution.

Given the information from this article I can only deduce that, while my prefrontal cortex is able to assert itself as normal upon awakening, there is still some unusually strong brain system perpetuating the dream state–not the amygdala? There’s little fear happening. The limbic system? If it is, then my cortex is allowing itself to be commandeered by the lesser system, for the experience is genuinely like sleeping dreams: sophisticated, though without language at the moment they’re occurring; atmospheric, a largely passive self, “dreamlike”.

I was already accustomed to something quite similar

I now wonder if my temporal lobe seizures aren’t responsible for conditioning me to experience and maintain the dream even with a conscious mind at play. I’ve called my TLE hallucinations or fugues “being in two places at the same time”–it’s utterly miserable only when my conscious mind, the one engaged with reality, tries to or has to fight the waking dream. Perhaps getting used to my particular seizure disorder is why I don’t panic and destroy the dream mechanism as soon as I awake.

Or maybe I really am experiencing a TLE seizure that begins just before I wake up? If I am, I just have to point out: my seizures are just like dreaming!

But I just don’t know. Disclaimer time: I’m not a medical expert and nothing I write is to be in any way construed as technical enough for self-diagnosis. But this is my experience.

The ancients would have labeled me a mystical saint or a shaman–if I were clever or lucky enough not to be labeled a lunatic or a witch–and would have believed I had a hotline to the divine. Scientists today would point out that the temporal lobe is the seat of religious sensation, and hallucinations there are just that: not divine trances, just a neurological mistake.

I believe somewhere in-between. We all have temporal lobes and the capacity to imagine and even feel a higher abstraction, a divinity. To what evolutionary end? That’s for each of us to decide.

 

Seriously, what have you decided? Have you ever given much thought to how your brain chemistry creates your philosophy of existence? Or do you just have some really cool and bizarre dream experiences to share? I’d love to hear either!

Can you read cursive? Think again! –Resource

(Illustration) Shakespeare wrote in early modern English. Readers of medieval manuscripts have the secondary task of learning what can amount to a different language.

For those of us who are wholly obsessed with the history of writing, with the smell of paper and how to cut a fine quill pen, and for whom an illuminated medieval manuscript is the culmination of human achievement, here’s an article showing great online resources for paleography: reading the handwriting of generations past.

As a medievalist, I studied this stuff in grad school. But my interest began long before that. I’ve even made the arcane ideographic Messenger Script calligraphy central to the story of my novel, so I stumbled on this nice reference while doing some research.

It’s sad to think–if the teaching of cursive has indeed gone the way of sheepskin vellum–that the literacy of future generations will only be as flexible as the number of fonts in their version of Windows.

Monkeys Swinging Through Trees and Your Ability to Parse this Sentence

Fun Language Factoid

Some of my favorite ideas about the brain and language are posited in Robert Ornstein’s book The Evolution of Consciousness: the Origins of the Way We Think. His fascinating theories about the evolution of the human brain are back-engineered from its amazing structural advantages today (e.g., we walk upright in part because it’s air conditioning for the fast-growing human brain. Oh, and humans have bigger butts than most mammals in order for them to walk upright.)

Check it out

The brain region primates developed to coordinate the complex sequences of movements needed to swing through trees is the very part later co-opted for language. The hominid brain expanded rapidly for other skills long before language developed, but when language did become necessary, it was possible because that part of the primate brain was ready and waiting to adapt to the similar task.

Reading this very sentence requires an ability to use rhythm and to suspend understanding until the completion of a task. Our ability to anticipate then assimilate input is what allows us to construct complex grammar.

I wonder if it works on a smaller scale. Is my lifelong love of languages enhanced because I spent most of first and second grade recess on the monkey bars?

One Discovery Can Change All of History

This is a really nice example of how a single discovery or breakthrough can change all of history. Of course, the iconoclasts who love the existing history books have to be flexible and allow it to happen! Cracking the Rosetta Stone: BIG, big deal.  Dead Sea Scrolls: not as earth-shattering as you might think. Go figure.

We’ve had the Voynich manuscript in our hot little hands for centuries, yet because no one had cracked the code, we haven’t known exactly what it was we had. Now because of computers, that may all finally change. As was noted in Star Trek: the Next Generation, “As far as we know, it might just be a recipe for biscuits” (The Chase).

But it will be fun to finally find out.

 

Waiting for the Eagles

Dear God, this has to stop. I didn’t know people could react this way; I’ve never known such a great loss before. I didn’t know I could so awkwardly push aside the thought of someone I claim to love, and a month later I’m still in high escape mode.

Before and after work at the coffee shop; now my novel is in the hands of beta readers and I’m committed to furiously reading and critiquing at least four other stories. Guilt-ridden that my cat is so lonely. I’m too old to run from my feelings by blasting music in the car. I’m too aware to keep being such a coward.

“Best Big Brother Ever”

Because Michael deserves me thinking about him, not forgetting how much I need him, how much I need to know I’ll see his wry smile again. He deserves better than being brushed out of the way by words on a screen until all I have left of him are the mere glimpses that bubble to the surface inevitably in the course of any given day.

It seems I’d rather turn myself into whatever-this-is, I’d rather feel guilt than the pain of grief and losing my brother. Because it still doesn’t feel real. How do you go from the point where he’s alive and part of your life to the point where he isn’t and you’re used to that? No, I’ll never get used to that! I refuse to.

It seems I have a long way to go.

One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor

Because no one ever simply walks into Mordor. You trip and fall, painfully you slide over broken rock and turn aside into the beckoning arms of forgetfulness, frozen in time.

And you never come back from Mordor whole–isn’t that what I’m running from? You have the scar from a Morgul blade, you can see the Thestrals, you can see Both Sides Now.

If I remember him, he’s a memory

Why on earth do people always die at the END of stories? How does that help me? How am I supposed to know what the scene looks like after he’s gone? How do I write the rest of this stupid story that just won’t stop playing out?

Michael doesn’t deserve to be a memory avoided; I don’t even yet know how to make him a memory at all. Not JUST a memory; he’s so much more. But if I remember him, he’s a memory. Certainly if I memorialize him, then I can’t deny that now he exists only as a memory.

The Seven Stages of Falling Off a Cliff

And if I sublimate what he means to me in a work of fiction, have I buried him once and for all? If I imagine myself one day explaining, Oh, yes, that’s how my brother inspired me. This is what he taught me. This is why I wrote this story. There I go–trying to paint a future without him when I can’t even see-feel-touch the present without him.

It’s so much easier to talk about myself, how hard I work and what I think about and what I avoid like a coward. Look how busy I am, look how well I’m carrying on.

Don’t look at the lost little girl, heartsick, waiting for her wandering brother to come home and make it all better. Because he always came back home. Just when I needed him. I just need to wait a little longer. I’m told that the eagles are coming.

No, one doesn’t simply walk out of Mordor, either, do they?

walkmordor

Self-Pity and Resolve: Fighting for a Happy New Year

Real Life gets really real, the final part–I sure hope

I don’t know what I expected to find, the morning after the grayest day. It was still bitter cold but–typical Michigan, harsh just when it’s breathtakingly lovely–the sun was shining, on the snowy lake, the hills, the snow-covered trees, the newly-mounded dirt at the base of the hickory tree just inside the cemetery gate. Even though the roses were now frozen, ferns and lilies waving slightly in an arctic breeze, I thought I could still smell them in the air the way it smelled through the funeral.

I’m not at all superstitious about graves or earthly remains–and I’m still not, because apparently this morning wasn’t spiritual at all. God, give me this last minute of self-pity, here on the last day of the year, then I promise I’ll try to move on with life. I cried and cried finally–a good old-fashioned, wipe your red nose on your icy gloves kind of cry. I wasn’t crying for my parents or my sister-in-law or my little great-nephew Archie who won’t know the best uncle ever as he grows up. This was all about me. All the many ways I feel small right now.

Unattached. Lost.

The sun was shining and there were even birds singing and I did hear my snow-boots crunching on the ground, so the earth was definitely still turning, logic said it was, but I hardly felt like I was attached to it anymore. I don’t mean just light-headed or light and airy; I honestly stopped feeling like I belonged on the earth. What was I doing here? It feels like the whole world can see that I’m all alone: it feels like there’s a big sign around my neck telling the whole world I’m a lost little girl who doesn’t have a big brother. Any more. So what’s the point of me now?

Michael was there when I was born. He left home–to stay the summer with his grandparents, but when my sister was born he came back and decided to stay with me, because I cried so happily when he returned. He left home when he graduated to walk the length and breadth of the country, but he always came back. I was very sick on the couch one time he was away and woke up in the middle of the night and saw his silhouette in light from the dining room, and I was just as giddy as the toddler seeing him again. He watched over us all and waited patiently through three sisters and two nieces until finally after sixty years little Archie came along–but Michael was already sick, we just didn’t know it yet.

Avoiding pain as motivation

When we did find out his time was limited, about two months ago, I went into severe escapism mode. I bragged about learning to get up an hour early to write every single day at the coffee shop before work and most weekends. I’ve been more productive revising the novel in two months than I’ve been in two years. Only in retrospect do I see that that kind of intense focus is particularly effective for avoiding pain. When all is said and done, I know I should have spent more time with Michael. Time spent struggling not knowing what to say but spent with him all the same.

So after a frenzy of funeral preparation, now the friends and distant family have visited and gone and I woke up to the empty disbelief that it really was final. No, that’s another euphemism: I woke up no longer able to avoid the fact that it’s Too Late. So somehow I ended up back at the cemetery in the obscenely brutal cold.

Guilt motivates even more–till it paralyzes

I don’t know what I expected to find, but I told myself somewhat self-righteously I was only going there to “check things out” after the brief, frigid graveside service the day before. The big blue tent was gone now. Everyone was gone now, and it was just me and the palpable absence of my brother.

Still, it’s a pretty place, the kind of place nature-loving Michael liked to walk in; in the summer there will be squirrels and some rabbits and in the spring even the rare soft-shelled turtle up from the lake to lay eggs. They have long necks and run really fast: zip across the cemetery path, zip back to the safety of the water. I mean, I’ve been taking walks here all my life because it’s that much nicer and more peaceful than the city park next door.

Forever attached to the earth

I have five generations of family buried here–no, now it’s six. My dad went to try to buy a plot for Michael and found he inherited, like, a dozen, in the oldest family spot here by the gates, places now for me and my sisters and still some more.

Huh, I realized. I’m standing here bawling my eyes out on my own grave.

God, please let me get through this last minute of self-pity. It feels like I’m drowning in it but I know I have to crawl out. I don’t have any kids but surely the next generations need me. My cat, at least, needs me. I need to accomplish something in 2018. Even if it’s just putting my brother in the dedication of my first book.

featTR

“The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; Be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.” –Walt Whitman

…from the obituary for my brother Michael. My first best friend and hero.

The Female. . .Male? Article on Writing REAL Female Protagonists 

Gender-swapping is a useful exercise in a literature or writing class: when we picture classic male leads as women (or girls), it can help reveal society’s prejudices, and our own.

K.M. Weiland demonstrates, however, that writing effective and genuine leading ladies is a different matter completely.

Enjoy, and write all the words!

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