I’ve talked before on this blog about how important “What if?” and other hypothetical questions are to me and my creative process. And really, the imagining that I do in responding to those kinds of questions is one of the best parts of being a storyteller. I have a lot of fun with it.
When I was trying to come up with a post for this week, I kept procrastinating on my usual “talk about my process” style of post, I realize now, because I (and probably you, dear reader) needed a bit of a change. I’m a creative writer, for goodness’ sake: where was the creativity in the blog? So, with that in mind, I started to ponder fun “What if?” questions that I could ask myself and answer.
The only problem with that is that I would be both the interviewer and the interviewee. Hardly unbiased. I needed someone else to ask the questions. Rather than soliciting help from my Facebook friends or Twitter followers, I went to my long-time pal Google to find a list. In my search, I came up with an even better idea:
What if I, as an adult, responded to writing prompts intended for kids?
I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the prompts that get suggested for children would work for adults as well. Sure, each age group would bring something different to the table, and some are sillier than others, but this list has some great questions: I had to limit myself to five. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to any journals I wrote as a kid, and I doubt that I would have responded to similar prompts anyway: while it would be fun to compare my childhood and adult responses, it’s just not possible.
Without further ado, enjoy my musings.
Describe a real or made-up dream or nightmare.
A few years back, I had a dream that, in itself, was fairly unremarkable. The setting was my college campus, which for whatever reason had barracks on it that looked as though they belonged in a science fiction story. I suspect that aliens or alien technology were involved, because the plot involved me and a close cismale (that detail becomes important) friend of mine switching bodies/minds. This sounds like a lot of hijinks could have ensued or that it could have been frightening, but it was quite tame: we were both mature about this development once we got over the initial shock, and the remainder of the dream involved us calmly discussing how we would handle the situation until we could figure out how to reverse whatever had happened, which is pretty consistent with both of our personalities in waking life. I’ve since forgotten a lot of the plot-related particulars, but the overall idea and many details that I remember are quite clear because it was the single most vivid dream I’ve had in recent memory. The nightmare, if you will, began after I woke up.
Supposedly a way to trigger a lucid dream, or at least to realize that you’re asleep, is to look in a mirror. The theory goes that the brain doesn’t know what the body it inhabits looks like without a mirror, and any reflections will either be absent or distorted. I suspect what part of my problem was that, because the dream version of me was in a body I knew very well by sight, that the mirrors in the dream worked exactly as they were supposed to—which is to say that I saw a reflection that confirmed my experience being someone else. Whatever the case was, I woke up in a literal cold sweat despite it not being a particularly troubling dream. Before I had time to think “Man, that was intense,” I rolled over and started groping my upper body to check which secondary sex characteristics were present—I distinctly recall searching for evidence of facial hair stubble and/or an Adam’s apple in particular. Everything seemed normal, but I still jumped out of bed and put on my glasses so that I could visually confirm who I was in a real-world mirror. I was so rattled by the experience that I needed to periodically check to make sure that I was me for the rest of that day.
And that, readers, is how I finally learned to appreciate the true power of the human brain. Mine managed to convince me for nearly 18 hours that I had become a totally different person. I’m fascinated that the brain can produce experiences like that and can even appreciate them after the fact, but I don’t care so much for the disorientation and paranoia immediately afterward.
Which character from a book would you most like to meet and why?
I’ve loved characters of all stripes. I have no problems doing that. Very rarely have I ever wanted to pull one out of a book and interact with them, though. If I want to interact with a character, it’s because I want to travel into their world and experience it with them. Sure, I like these characters as people, but I’m also in love with the world that they inhabit and see the two as being so closely tied that one would be incomplete without the other. At the same time, I very rarely get the feeling that I actually miss a character enough to want my time with them to continue: for the bulk of the stories that I read, while they were fun, I’m ok with saying goodbye at the end.
I touched on this briefly back in my post about romance as a genre, but if culture shock was no object I would happily pluck Jane Eyre from her novel and have a girls’ night with her. Reading her novel was like being with a good friend that thinks along the same lines that I do—it’s been months since I put the book down, but I miss her. I don’t know if she would think the same thing about me, but if we met in real life I could pick up exactly where I left off with her. We would catch up, eat and read our way around Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then go back home afterward having had a great time. She would be a phenomenal, thoughtful conversationalist, and I’m sure that I would derive a lot of inspiration and encouragement from her stories and her life.
What would you do if 300 mice had just gotten out of their cages in a pet shop where you worked?
Before I answer this question, I need to make a few assumptions about the exact scenario:
- I’m a cashier or stock person, not the manager or supervisor.
- This is a very, very large business (300 isn’t a small number, and even at the larger pet stores I go to there aren’t usually more than, say, five to eight mice in a cage).
- This mass escape happened during business hours in the store itself (as opposed to a back room).
- These are fancy mice bred and sold to be pets rather than live feeders and their safe return is therefore extremely important.
- It is not my fault that this happened, but my employment status is nevertheless dependent on how I handle the situation, and I have a vested interest in remaining on the payroll.
- This task will take up most if not all of my entire workday, and whatever my typical responsibilities are will be put on hold until the mice are recovered.
My first order of business? Panic. Once that’s done, though, I’d close all non-essential potential escape routes and implement whatever standard operating procedure is in place for escaped animals. If there wasn’t a formal work instruction, my next move would be to find a (benevolent, hopefully) supervisor and explain the situation. Depending on how or if that meeting goes, I’d find the closest employees who didn’t look like they were doing anything pressing and enlist their help.
I wouldn’t have any kind of problem working with the mice themselves because I’ve handled small animals before and these would likely be used to human contact, but finding most of them would be a colossal pain. To that end, I’d check any mouse-friendly places, likely near the floor, corners, the rodent section (which likely has all kinds of inviting bedding), and the dry food aisles (in the hopes that a handful of them were hungry). I might even put food in these places to lure some of the mice back out of hiding. I’d pay attention to the dogs that people brought into the store, especially the smaller or younger ones, in the hopes that they’ll pick up on rodent activity that I, as a human, would be unable to.
Getting all 300 mice back might not be possible, but my hope would be that I can at least recover enough of them to keep my job.
What would you do if you woke up one morning to find yourself invisible?
Well, that’s not ideal by any stretch of the word, but I suppose I could work with it. For the sake of the prompt, I’ll assume that whatever happened to render me invisible happened while my husband was at work, otherwise I would have woken up as a result of his attempts to locate me. I’m also going to assume that I don’t know what could have happened—I’m not one to go out of my way to insult strangers, let alone ones that look sufficiently mysterious and/or magical, so even if I did screw something up big-time, I wouldn’t know what exactly it was.
So I wake up, and upon waking up on my own, I discover that I’m invisible. I’d check to make sure that, even though I’m invisible, I’m not insubstantial, which I could confirm just by checking how the blankets behave when I try move them. I’d see if I was visible in mirrors, in case there was a very specific fluke with my eyes or brain, and whether or not clothing and anything else on my person disappeared like I did. I would probably have tried washing my face, taking a shower, or otherwise grooming to see if my condition was something that could be “washed off.”
By this point, I’d probably be fairly certain it wasn’t a dream, and I’d check to make sure that I wasn’t pulling a “Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense” by searching for some evidence that I’d died and wasn’t aware of it. If my cat still reacts to me as though I’m visible, I would probably cuddle with her while deciding what to do. If I decide to suck it up and tell someone about what’s happened, I’d probably contact my husband (just to keep him apprised of the situation) and a local friend or two to seek their counsel—but I’d probably ask them to come over rather than take my word for it over the phone to avoid either or both of us getting hospitalized for a condition other than “spontaneous human imperceptibility.”
Once all of this is done, I’m not sure what I would do next. I would probably have that friend get me to downtown Ann Arbor, honestly, because if there’s anyone in the world that would know anything about people suddenly turning invisible, they would be in downtown Ann Arbor.
Write about an experience in a hospital.
I’m very familiar with hospitals. I’ve spent a lot of time in them as a result of some ongoing health issues. Rather than recount my experiences again, I’m instead going to share a poem I wrote for a creative writing class in college. For some context, it was inspired by my experience waking up after my cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) when I was 15, which would have been roughly five years before I wrote the piece.
i remember trying to cry
and now here i am
stiff itchy gown
tacky tape and stitches
feels like keeping my guts in
limp limbs, can’t
trapped in body
pains dull at first
but growing leftover scalpel stab
my stomach is killing me
a white apron
attached to scrubs
attached to a person
we got it out. everything went fine.
she’s going to be fine.
a cup with purple slush
artificial grape sticky sweet
i don’t want it, i said
we can’t release you if you don’t, she said
you have to keep food down.
but my stomach hurts, i said
we have to be sure, she said
i just want to go home
And that’s why I write prose and not poetry.
I had a blast with these. I haven’t decided if I’ll make a series of posts like this one, but it’s definitely something I’d consider doing again if you guys are fans. Or, if you have your own questions that you’d like to ask me, fire away however you wish: the comments section, my contact form, or my various social media profiles are all readily available.