What Dreams May Come
I am tired today because I watched a television show last night that involved too many people being stabbed and tortured. And so, as always happens to me, I spent the night dreaming of stabbings and torture and then awoke in the middle of the night, my brain darting from one faceless anxiety to the next, until I reminded myself no one that I knew was planning to stab and torture me, and I fell back asleep.
I went through a period in my late teens where I would dream often of my own impending execution. It so happened that these dreams coincided with the realization that I was not in fact immortal. This was sobering at the time, and seemed worthy of many stories and poems, but I have since decided that as a writer you are better served, at least during your writing, if you can hold a dispassionate view of death.
I thought of this again the other day as I was trying to come up with an appropriate curse to lay on one my characters. As I considered my choices, I realized that death, as a narrative threat, was not nearly as compelling as a character living their life knowing, say, that they would never love another.
We are often taught to believe that death is the worst thing that could happen to us, and so logically, to our characters as well. But all stories are told because the characters in them are seeking to change and to learn. Death, opaque as it may be, is a change. With it, the character is released from whatever evils they had committed, whatever lies they had believed.
Far worse is a life without growth. This is the jail we all fear. When I tossed about in my bed, I wasn’t actually afraid of being tortured and killed. Instead, I was staring down that timeless fear that all I am is a sack of meat that must be kept fed and clothed until the clock runs out. That is the promise of the slave driver’s whip—that you can be driven from here to there by the needs of your body, not the yearning of your soul.