FOR EVERY ACTION…

If the occurrence with Jacob shows the importance of performing to an audience, and the creative writing class episode illustrates that real emotions are the foundations of that bond between storyteller and audience, then the exercise in the acting class takes this one step further.  It demonstrates that what pulls an audience into a piece is their identification with someone in that piece who is reacting with real emotion to the subject—for that audience and along with that audience.    In his book, You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard, Bert Decker quotes research about a “first brain”–located in our brainstem and limbic system.  This first brain processes survival information, prior to its being channeled to the left and right parts of our “new brain. In simple terms the first brain, which we share with all other mammals, tells us, “Yes, you can trust what this person is saying.”  or “No, something is wrong, you are in danger.”  And how does it work?  The first brain judges on the “naturalness,” the “appropriateness” of the reaction of the person who is talking.  In other words, our subject can be fictional, but the emotions we as writers feel about that subject must be real.  An audience is fine-tuned to this. They will allow themselves to be drawn into your writing only if they trust that the feelings you are expressing are genuine. This is the basis of the writing exercise you were working on in the last chapter.               

Did you ever wonder why sports figures, movie stars and politicians earn so much money…or, more precisely, why we pay them so much money.  They are our stand-ins.  They experience for us.  Some of that might seem glamorous, but much of it must be emotionally draining and ultimately destructive–we are paying others to be our surrogates.  For the price of a ticket we in the audience can have all kinds of larger than life experiences (vicariously) without risking any of our own comfort and security.                   

I remember as a kid of ten or twelve, spilling out of a movie matinee with a group of other boys that age, role-playing.  You can still see this phenomenon today.  In my time the stars were John Wayne or Marlon Brando, even Fred Astaire. But, it wasn’t, “Look at me I’m John Wayne,” it was, “I’m John Wayne…and I’ve been shot,” staggering down the sidewalk, bumping into trashcans.  Or, “I’m Marlon Brando, being betrayed by my brother—`I could have been a contender!'”  Or Fred Astaire, getting the wink from Ginger Rogers and dancing down the alley, up the side of buildings.  As a group of little, impressionable boys, we were intuitively imitating an artistic experience that had impressed us strongly.  And all of us were doing it at the same time, which now seems funny.               

Acting, is reaction.  WRITING, is REACTION.  But, I don’t mean anything passive.  For example, here’s a simple action:               

“I hold out a soup bone to my dog.”    

Now let me put in reaction:              

Example 3

“I wonder if he will come when I call (I’m reacting to an anticipation of what will happen).  He has been shivering in the corner under the desk since I gave him a flea bath two hours ago (he’s reacting to the flea bath).   I call his name (simple action). His nose peaks out from under the typewriter side of the desk, eyes bulging, one brow raised (his reaction to my calling him).  I hold out a soup bone (simple action).  He pants, licks his chops, and hunches toward me (his reaction)                   

Most creative writing books advise us to create action as if it were happening right on the paper. In this simple example, only two of the six sentences do this.  The substance is in what is revealed about my dog and me through our reactions.  That is the meat of the story.  And this became my first principle for good writing:      

Principle #1–DISCOVER: A piece of writing begins as a series of reactions unfolding on paper.  Begin anywhere.  The subject seeks an outlet.  Writing is flat or stops when we choose not to respond to the real subject.  Trust the process     

When I formulated this principle I happened to be reading Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons.  I picked a page at random and marked an “A” for action and a “R” for reaction in the margins across from each paragraph.  For every “A” there were four to five “R’s.”                

I was listening to Harry’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles on books on tape.  The same held true as with Breathing Lessons, only more so.  It reminded me of improvisational theater, in which the actor calls to the audience from the stage saying, “Give me a character type.”  “Drunk,” somebody replies, “nobleman,” someone else yells.  “How about a drunk who thinks he’s a nobleman?” responds the actor.  And, with this possibility we have the start of this classic book.  A clergyman tells a farmer, who is not overly industrious, that the farmer may be related to nobility.  The farmer’sreaction to this information is to quit work, to tell his wife and to go off to celebrate–that’s Chapter One.  He’s too hung over to take his produce to the market the next day and the next chapter consists of the reactions of his daughter, Tess, to doing the errand.  She worries about what might happen (and in the process reveals her innocent character to us).  What does happen is that the horse dies (simple act) and now Tess’s reaction intensifies because she feels responsible for the economic future of her family.  In improvisational theater the actors at this point might again turn to the audience and ask for topical themes.  And, if they did, it’s as if someone in the audience called out, “sexual harassment,” because the next few chapters are Tess’s reactions to the harassment she suffers on the job she has been forced to take.                 

There is a great scene later in the book in which farm hands are eating their lunch on the side of a hill and socializing together…all except Tess, that is, who is nursing her illegitimate baby.  Where did this baby come from?  Hardy, like Shakespeare, has the most significant things happen “off stage.”  We get them second hand, through the reactions of characters.  The strange thing is that if they were presented in view they probably wouldn’t seem as real as what we supply through the theater of our imagination.  Months or years later there’s even the illusion that the author did actually present these actions to us directly.  How do the great masters create the impossible–making action take place before our eyes on paper? Often they don’t, they get us to do it for them in our imagination instead.              

 There are some intriguing implications in viewing writing as reaction.  Think of it as similar to what happens in a psychoanalyst’s office.  If the client is listless or bored, the psychotherapist will probe to discover a subject that elicits a response.  This subject may be beneath the surface, but there always is such a subject.  Your job as a writer is less about wordsmithing, than it is finding a subject to which you react strongly. Here is a second implication.  It doesn’t really matter if the patient in the psychoanalyst’s office is being strictly factual or not.  Let’s say I’m the patient talking to a therapist and I think to myself: I’m really tired of this process, I’m bored talking about my problems and I’m just not going to do it anymore.  The therapist might ask me to simply tell about my day, instead.  “Well,” I begin, “I overslept this morning, and the traffic was bad going to work.  I knew I was going to be late.  I thought to myself: If I’m late again for my job, I’m going to be in a lot of trouble.  That’s the kind of place where I work, they care more about people being on time than the quality of what people do.  They don’t value me for what I am…” Through the intensity of this reaction I’m revealing what is important to me.                 

The same is true if a patient makes something up.  A fictional account of the day would yield the same emotional content, and perhaps even be easier to analyze because the creative choices made in fabricating the events would be more focused. Whether a writer makes something up or chooses to begin the series of reactions somewhere in the middle, the subject emerges.  Rather than a writer starting with a subject, the subject surfaces naturally through the process of writing. 

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A SIMPLE SECRET

I mentioned earlier that I had wanted to understand how some actors could draw an audience into their performance while other actors couldn’t—no matter how well they knew their lines and stage blocking, or how much emotion they expressed. I not only went to movies and plays, but acted in productions, wrote one act plays, and even directed a series of training videos for a large corporation. 

To be honest, these experiences didn’t give me a clue with respect to what I was after. Then three seemingly unrelated incidents led me to an answer.  An answer, not only to what makes acting work, but also an answer to what makes writing work.    The first incident happened when I was producing a radio commercial in which a friend of mine had one of the three roles.  I was discussing the music “bed” with a sound engineer when Jacob, who was on the other side of the room, began talking.  I turned to respond to him, then stopped.  He was rehearsing his part, he wasn’t addressing me.  The surprising thing was that the script to which I was about to respond was one I had written.  It was then that I realized he had a power the other performers lacked (they too were reviewing their lines out loud) and that this power wasn’t dependent on the meaning of what was spoken. Jacob had studied acting here and in Europe, yet he was at a loss as to explain his secret.           

A second incident happened in a creative writing course.  It was the first evening of class and no one knew anyone else.  Usually I would have each person in the circle introduce himself or herself in turn.  People might say why they had taken the class or tell about their writing interests.  This night I had a mischievous impulse.  I thought: How often are we thrown into a group where no one knows anything at all about the other person?  Here’s an opportunity to try an experiment.               

What I want you to do,” I said to the group,” has three different elements.  Part A is to tell the class something about yourself.  Part B is for you to describe an interesting person.  And, Part C is to talk about an incident that happened to you.  Here’s the catch: two of these three elements should be factual, one should be made up.”      People felt like they do at a gathering when the host traps them into a party game.  But, no one thought they had a choice, so I continued.               

“After we’ve completed this, we’ll focus our attention on each person in-turn and ask the rest of the class to say what they remember from what that individual said…what was memorable.  Then, we’ll guess what was true and what was not true.”                 

It was wonderful.  People told fascinating stories and painted vivid portraits. I knew enough to go first and start with the made-up part, before I had revealed anything about myself or people had become familiar with my natural manner.  I talked about hitting a deer with a truck one dark night (which is not unusual here in Wisconsin).  It had happened to my fiancee who had described it to me and to neighbors in great detail.  I repeated the story exactly, except that I said it happened to me. Another man described his favorite camping spot.  A woman told about an enjoyable trip to Scotland, and another traveler described her unexpected meeting with a cousin while she and her husband were on a cruise.  We were all good storytellers.               

Then we discussed what we had heard, and an amazing thing happened.  The class members were involved in this exercise by now and didn’t want to bother with what might or might not be memorable. They wanted to judge the factual from the fictional.  And here is what was surprising.  To the person, we guessed what was untrue.  The man’s camping spot, for example, was not one location, but a synthesis of many different locations.  The woman had gone on a cruise with her husband and did have a cousin whom she met unexpectedly, but not on the cruise.  It was incredible.  It made an honest person of me on the spot!  The trouble was that this was a short story class, and it was clear no one wanted to talk about the details of presentations, no matter how “memorable,” unless they were factual.  Did that mean you could only write about what you had personally experienced?  I hoped not, but at the time I was at a loss as how else to interpret this.              

In the weeks that followed class discussion would return to the exercise to try and find its meaning.  It was a year later, from the third incident, that I came to understand that the lack of credibility came, not from what was said, but from something that was missing in each of these made-up accounts.              

 This third experience occurred in an acting class I was taking one summer with my daughter.  Let me describe the dynamics of the situation.  Two people were called to the front of the class and sat facing each other.  Both were to read from a printed sheet of dialogue the instructor gave them.  The subject of the script didn’t matter much.  It was reasons casting directors gave aspiring actors about why the actors didn’t get parts they were auditioning for and the types of answers actors gave casting directors in reply.                   

The instruction was for one person to portray the casting director and the other person the aspiring actor.  Each could only read the exact words on the paper; feelings had to be expressed through tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions and pauses.  We were all “up” for this; we knew how to project anger, pity, arrogance, sarcasm—after all this was an acting class. But, the challenge of the exercise was that each person playing the part of the actor had to first acknowledge the feelings the other person playing the casting director was expressing.  And, the way someone did this was to first listen and observe, then imitate that feeling in one’s own manner of verbal expression and body language.  If the casting director was abrupt in rejecting an actor in the first couple of sentences, the actor had to be abrupt and dismissive when reciting the lines in response. Once the person playing the actor had done this, then that person could change the tone by expressing some new feeling.   But first the man or woman playing the actor had to replicate the attitude being expressed by the person playing the casting director.   It was hard.  The normal inclination (especially in front of a group) is to be thinking of what you are going to say, not to be observing and interpreting the mood of the speaker.               

As observers we would wonder why our classmates were so bad–until we were called to take one or the other of the roles.  We were comfortable delivering lines; we were not practiced in receiving and responding to them.  For me in the audience—and for others in the class I talked with later–what got us involved as we watched this exercise were not actions of the principle character, but those of the person responding to that character.  The secondary character drew us into the scene through his or her reactions.  We were identifying with this “surrogate” because we were analyzing the situation along with him or her, trying to figure out for ourselves what was being expressed by the casting director, and how we (if we were the one in front of the group) might respond to it.                 

Let me go back to my friend in the recording studio.  Jacob came from a theater background.  I now think, he wanted to rehearse to an audience, not to a blank wall as the others were doing.  He chose me as that audience.  And how did he get my participation?  The same way a good salesperson gets a prospect’s attention–by mimicking the prospect’s body language, imitating the prospect’s tone of voice or mood…basically saying, through attitude, I want it.                 

The members of my creative writing class knew the facts of the stories they were telling.  No problem there.  What they didn’t know was their reaction to the incidents because the incidents had not happened to them this way. They were unable to fake it. They unconsciously communicated a lack of real emotional response, and that deficiency undermined their credibility with us, their audience.  The key was not in what was said or done, but in their lacking the appropriate reaction to it. What ties Jacob’s performance and the creative writing class introductions and this acting exercise together?  The simple secret of acting and writing success.

A SURPRISE ENCOUNTER

Let’s do this exercise together now.  Don’t skip ahead or say you’ll decide whether to do it after you’ve read the instructions, but get several sheets of paper and a ball-point pen and follow the directions as I give them to you.  We learn by doing, not just by “understanding.”  A prerequisite of writing is to tell your internal, critical editor–the left side of your brain–to back off, give your imagination room.  Relinquish “control” to the directions of the exercise.  Don’t think about writing, or about being original, meaningful or clever…just write.  

Instructions—Guided Reaction Exercise (Part A)    Recall a serious incident of a personal nature that has happened to you and imagine it has just taken place.  (Examples: you’re coming from the funeral of a close friend or your child has been caught shoplifting, your brother or sister tells you they’re getting a divorce, you’ve been turned down for a promotion you were counting on or you’ve just been fired.  This should be something that changes your perspective on the world, affects the way you think, talk and act, at least for a while).    

1.  In this writing exercise you are to communicate the feeling of that incident without directly saying what the incident is.  Take twenty seconds before you begin and identify something similar to the examples in its impact on your life.  Now try to once again feel the emotion you did at that time this happened.   This is what you are to write directly about.  On paper describe your actions as, alone, you enter a library, grocery store, bank, airport, restaurant or other public place.  Have a specific, real location in mind.  Tell what you see.  What details do you notice feeling this particularly strong emotion?  For example, if I’m in a restaurant and in a good mood I might notice a family having breakfast and enjoy watching the kids throwing food on the floor.  However, if I’m feeling depressed I’d probably see the stains on the menu or be impatient that the wait-people are talking together in the corner instead of taking my order. In your location, what do you notice?  How do the people who work there react to you?  In a minute I want you to act this out on paper.  First, feel the emotion that you have identified and think about the location you’re going to describe. Second, read the two examples below.  Third, write for fifteen minutes.  Then, stop.    

Example 1:  I walk through the automatic doors into Woodman’s produce department. The carts are stuck together, and I pull again and again trying to get one free of the long silver line.  I just want the damn shopping done. I notice a cart a few feet away, unstuck, alone.  I grab it and head for the lettuce. The usual clatter of store sounds seems muted.  The glare of florescent lights reflects off of mountains of oranges and piles of green and red apples.  The lettuce is brown around the edges.  Wilted.  The cart wheel sticks as I try to turn left toward the carrots.                            Mary                           

There’s a definite mood here.  We don’t know what caused it but we do sense this is a person who is not enjoying doing her shopping on this day.    

Example 2: I walk down to Trio for some breakfast.  I grab a Chicago Tribune from the kiosk outside. I am trying to go through the motions of a normal Sunday.  At the counter I turn my cup over to signal for coffee and think of the half-coffee/half-milk I used to drink as a child. I look around the diner.  There are only couples–two, sedate, maroon-haired punks; a pair of animated, purple-haired grandmas.  I focus on an older couple sipping their coffee.  They’re touching hands and talking.  I realize how lucky they are…and hope they do, too.    Mary Nelll Murphy   

Here is a single person in a world of couples.  But why does she feel this so strongly on this particular day?  We don’t know.  Now, check your watch and write “un-critically” for fifteen minutes.  Go on to the next paragraph only when you’re done.  

  

2.  Now that you are warmed up, we are going to add a little more to what you have already written. The emotion you are expressing indirectly, probably arose from an incident that involved another person.  I want you to think about him or her and recount a memory of that person from a time before the incident.  Perhaps something in your description of the public place brings this memory to the forefront of your mind.  What is it?  Go into this flashback as if it were happening in the present.  Give the setting where the memory takes place, a season of the year, smells and sounds.  Describe what the person in your memory is doing and the characteristic manner in which he or she would be doing it.  Read the next example–which is a continuation of the first writer’s piece–and then write on your paper for five minutes before reading further.  (These examples, by the way, were written by people doing this exercise, just as you are doing it now.)    

Example 1 (cont.): In the meat department, mounds of plastic-wrapped red hamburger packaged for large family gatherings remind me of Al standing at his grill last summer.  He’s in his swim trunks and a T-shirt, the “Wisconsin” one he bought once when he was out here visiting. The tumbler of bourbon in his left hand is half-empty.  He’s telling me about parachuting into Italy.  He’s holding a spatula in his right hand and every once in a while he uses it to flip a burger  or mash one down.  The juice sizzles and sighs as it hits the hot coals.                                                   Mary 

Take five minutes and write your flashback.   

Writers Live Twice

That’s the allegory of the private screening room.  But let me add one observation.  Physical things within dreams exist in a different way than they do in real life, but the emotions we feel are the same real emotions we feel for actual events.  Opening ourselves to these feelings–of which we are very protective in our day-by-day activities–unblocks them.  And, the result stays with us, at least for a while. Think of a dream in which you have an argument with your husband or wife.  In the morning that person asks, “What’s wrong with you?”  You say, “Nothing, I didn’t sleep well last night.”  But, you’re angry and it takes you time to get over that anger.  In this way the feelings we experience within the private screening room stay with us outside of it.    

When we project parts of our inner self, and see them in the open-ended context of other possibilities, we free our emotions to take us where they will. Testing their limits helps us un- derstand who we are. This is not illusion. Through a release of feelings we are–at least tem-porarily–more fully ourselves.    

Writing is a way of making this happen.  The approach I advocate uses the writing process to unlock feelings and experiences, applying techniques from acting and film editing to make them more interesting to readers.  It may take a while to grasp the ramifications of this last sentence. There are other ways of getting you to the point where you want to go.  But, one thing I can assure you is that this method does get you there.  Suspend your judgment and commit yourself to it and it will work.  Once you arrive, you can think back over the journey and ponder whether there might have been a more direct route.           

You are reading this  because at some time in your life you have had some success with writing.  It might be you are earning your living as a writer now or that everyone in the office “likes to run things past you” for writing suggestions.  Perhaps you had poem published years ago or some instructor put a note on your paper in school saying, “I really enjoyed this.”   Maybe a friend tells you she likes your letters and “you should really try to get something published.”    

You are also reading this because you are not where you want to be with your writing: you’re not motivated, you’re stuck in a rut or discouraged by the quality of what you do write.  At a time of your life when you have more to say, have stronger feelings, have a greater need than ever to discover and communicate the uniqueness that is you, you are more paralyzed than ever by the act of doing this on paper or at a computer.              

When I was teaching college I discovered adults were looking for three things, no matter what type of writing course they signed up for: growth, motivation and tools.    By growth most people mean, “How do I get to the next plateau, the next step on this writing ladder?”  Have you had the experience that you feel like writing, but the subject doesn’t come?  Or have you had times when you’re so full of a subject you can hardly wait to start writing at the computer…but you don’t?  The secret of growth is to feel like writing and have a subject you need to write about, at one and the same time.        

All of us realize growth comes through a certain amount of work.  We don’t mind that as long as we have the second element, motivation.  There are two kinds of motivation.  One form of motivation is external.  It’s the reason all of us would like to be published (fame) or paid for what we write (fortune).  But, there’s another type of motivation–the insight we gain from the process of writing, itself.  This form of motivation is immediate, real, full of surprises and satisfying. It makes us look forward to the act of writing, rather than treating writing as a means to an end.  It’s what Gloria Steinem meant when she said, “Writing is the only thing that when I’m doing it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”    

Finally, what are the tools that can help us write the kind of things we, ourselves, love to read?  In business the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet are basic financial tools.  The business owner who can read these at the end of the month can assess what’s going well for his or her business and what is not and needs immediate attention.  The same kind of thing exists in athletics.  If I watch the Olympics on TV–gymnastics or ice skating, for example–I catch myself saying, “Wow that looks great, I wish I could do that!”  But when I listen to the announcer explaining the judges’ ratings I realize that this is more than something that looks difficult or is aesthetically pleasing.  There are specific standards these athletes are trying to achieve.  And the success of their performances depends upon how well they meet these criteria.    

When it comes to writing the idea of standards becomes very subjective.  One end of the spectrum believes “anything goes” as long as you feel good about it.  A self-indulgent stance that’s not particularly helpful in terms of reliable results.  The other extreme always finds something to criticize: “This is an interesting subject, but you need a more work developing it in a logical sequence.”  “Good subject and the development is better, but now your sentence structure is monotonous–you need to write long sentences and some short ones, etc.”  In this situation the student writer feels like saying, “I don’t care how many rules there are–tell me if there are 200 of them–but if I do each of these 200 correctly, will I end up with a good piece of writing?”  There aren’t 200 rules, there are six.  These are the six principles that make good writing great.  And, you can use these principles as tools to improve your writing performance (in the same way a business owner uses financial statements to improve the business’s bottom line).  The six writing principles are: 1) Discover, 2) Dramatize, 3) Involve, 4) Frame, 5) Mirror and 6) Discharge.  If you employ them well you will have an exciting piece of writing.    

How is it we are writing one way one day and can write another way the next?  How do we change?  There are two ways.  The first is to “let loose” in order to discover what we already know.  Let loose of some bad habits, to be sure, but also of some good ways of doing things that have gained us praise.  We need to put past successes, as well as past failures, behind us in order to grow.  Secondly, we change by visualizing the results we want as if they already existed.  It’s like shopping for a new car, sitting in the driver’s seat, pretending this is already yours.  That was the purpose of “The Private Screening Room.”  Visualizing is what writing is all about. 

Private Screening Room

Picture yourself in a private, movie-screening room like ones in the mansions of the old movie moguls. It’s night. You’re the only person in the room. There are two rows of dusty, red-felt seats, a silver screen to the front, and three small squares of light on the wall in back.  An unseen projectionist behind the back wall changes reels. The lights slowly dim.  Without your having arranged it, your favorite movies flash on the screen. It’s a Wonderful Life appears, followed by Citizen Kane, then perhaps Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  In this dream-like situation you don’t select the movies. They just mysteriously appear on the screen.  And, you notice something else after you’ve watched several movies. Time doesn’t matter–you don’t get tired and hungry or thirsty (even though you can’t remember the last time that you’ve sat through a double feature).  You’re very content to sit and watch one feature after the next.    

The following night the same thing happens.  You’ve come to accept the magic, but after the second film you think to yourself: These movies are even better than I remember them. They have only the parts I like.  Transition scenes and characters I didn’t care for in the original have disappeared. You switch from one movie to another at will.  The movies weave in and out. It’s like a dream that intermixes things that don’t go together in real life, but within the dream they follow a new kind of logic (at least until you wake). You’re able to transport characters from one feature into another and introduce people from your own life into the movie. You add scenes. Perhaps during the day you’re driving through an ugly area of town. That night this becomes a setting in one of your movies. “What could be more fun?” you ask. Then you discover something that is. There you are in the movie on the screen.  You’re standing in a crowd to begin with. The next thing you know you have a minor role in the background while Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson are talking. You say a few lines and, by God, you’re pretty good. These are nice dreams. Perhaps it’s all you can take for a while. But, eventually you come back.  When you do, you start where you left off. Have you ever had the experience of having a dream interrupted and you wished you could continue from the moment just before you awoke? You can do that here, in your private screening room. You are interjecting yourself into different kinds of scenes. You’re changing plots, making up new ones. To your surprise and enjoyment you’re playing greater roles.    

Think about this: What would it be like if you could program your dreams before you went to sleep each night?  What sort of plots would you choose?  What sort of stories?  In what sort of situations would you want to find yourself?  You might ask yourself, “What would I really enjoy?  Sex?  Romance?  Adventure?”  At first many of your dreams would be wish fulfillment. You’d begin with subjects you feel comfortable with, then after awhile you might try some you are curious about which are less safe. Occasionally you might even want to scare yourself.  Why shouldn’t you? It’s only a movie. It’s only a dream. Sometimes you appear in these dreams as yourself–as in a documentary–sometimes you appear as a fictional character in a plot that’s obviously not factual. You put people and places you know into the story, then restructure events so they come out well. Conversation is witty, relationships are poignant. Life outside of the private screening room may be lackluster, full of irrelevancies, beyond your control, but the day’s experiences provide raw material for your nighttime dreams, and this makes even mundane experiences more interesting. During the day, for example, you’re in a meeting and afterwards you think: I wish I’d have thought to say something more insightful.  Later that night in your movie you do. You are the hero. In real life you see different possibilities with every person you meet, in every situation in which you find yourself. Everywhere you go there are people, actions and places you want to incorporate into your private screening room dreams.

The dreams are effortless; one image suggests the next. You seek challenges now, dare to face unpleasant, realistic problems. Troublesome feelings and emotions are bearable, if only because you know you can pull back.  You even select traumatic situations–rejection, death, someone you love betraying you.  You feel the power of these experiences, but also take refuge in the fact that the story you’ve constructed, no matter how realistic, is something you can stop or leave. There’s always escape. I asked, what would it be like if you could program your dreams every night before going to sleep.    The fact is we do program our dreams, but we do it unconsciously. And we choose the things that we dream, whether pleasant or unpleasant, just as we choose the things that we write about.  The use of our imagination to explore possibilities adds richness to our lives. Where will this ultimately lead? One night, when everything has seemed so perfect, you suddenly have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  You know something is wrong. You’re filled with anxiety. Slowly you take your eyes from the screen. Someone else is in the room watching along with you.  Somebody you know.  It’s not your husband or a close friend, but someone you went to school with, an associate from work, or a neighbor from down the street. This is awkward; you feel embarrassed. You tone down the scene being projected.  You’re self-conscious.  Maybe It’s A Wonderful Life returns to the screen. The visitor says, “No, hold it, that was…interesting!” This person enjoys what’s there and surprisingly doesn’t seem particularly critical of it. You feel uneasy, but okay.  As you proceed you watch him or her out of the corner of your eye. But over the next few weeks you gradually work yourself back to where you were. In fact you enjoy having someone with which you can discuss these movies.  Your companion tells you how he or she relates to the subjects. And, whether or not this visitor is capable of the same power of projection you are, the visitor doesn’t seem inclined to use it. Your audience is content to sit there and watch with you.  This person might even make some suggestions, which you incorporate into these movies, but perhaps you don’t. This is your vision after all. You’re no longer embarrassed.    

The next time you look around, there are other people in the audience. Some are your friends and some are relatives.  There are people who know you intimately, and some you don’t know at all. Once again you go through the process of holding back, saying, “Do I dare?  What will they think?”  But, your audience isn’t negative; it’s impressed.  People see the stories as part you, but also as something that’s different from you–something to which they too can relate.  They find meaning significant to their lives.  Rather than analyze your personal reasons behind what you’re creating, they’re lost in their own dreams that your stories suggest .How does it end? It’s hard for you to imagine life without this private screening room. It fuels your imagination, expands your realm of possibilities, lets your unconscious express itself. You still don’t understand why others are interested. Perhaps they think they’re incapable creating like this, themselves. You could tell them otherwise, but it’s fun to leave them in awe. And, nice to have them along. You are their guide. There may be things that you can do for them.  Your vision, your ideas include subjects you feel they would like to confront, but can’t.  You are giving them something and giving yourself even more.