“Can’t and Won’t” Stop Going to Book Stores

My favorite thing to do (within reason) is browse in bookstores.  I like looking, seeing the books, watching people, watching what other people are reading/buying/looking at.  I found myself in a bookstore recently (would find myself there daily, if I had my druthers).  Was grabbed by the cover of Lydia Davis’s collection of short stories Can’t and Won’t.

I say short stories, and they say short stories, but many of these were more like short paragraphs.  This book seems to fall in that new genre-less genre we’ve talked about before, not subscribing to any previous standards or parameters.  There is a stream of consciousness vibe to much of it.  It is very short, some of it very, very short, almost flash fiction some of it, which I worry is a sign of widespread literary attention deficit disorder.  If it’s too long, and doesn’t have flashy, sexy pictures, people quickly lose interest and go flipping through their smart phones.

One thing that really caught my attention from her collection was that certain of the entries were followed by the word “dream” in italics.  Indicating that the entry was a dream, either that the author had had or a friend had had and was relating.  Some of them were fascinating (I love dreams!) and exhibited very true to dream qualities.

I carry around a notebook, and decided to try the exercise to describe a dream I had recently experienced.  Here it is, in all its unedited glory:

The phone is ringing.  I was asleep.  It’s morning I can tell, somehow, but still dark out.  “Where are you, man?” the distant but familiar phone voice asks.  “You have to be there,” he continues, when he receives no further answer.  “Where?” I finally ask, sleepily.  “Class, man.  You said you’d go.”  I look at my bedside digital clock.  7:30 a.m.  I realize I can’t shower, and this upsets me.  Will have to go in what I’m wearing, and still I’ll be late.  I feel anxious and stressed, both in the dream and in sleeping person.  “Okay,” I sigh, hanging up the phone with a loud clang.  Remember how phones used to clang?  Life used to be so much more noisy, less fluid.  Though late, I stop to ponder this phenomenon.  This antiquated phone whose presence feels very natural.  Simple.  Simpler.  The symbolic embodiment of simpler, if louder, times.  I rush out the door.  At the time, in the dream, it felt urgently important.


 Eh?  Is there an idea in this?  A book?  Would I be robbing Ms. Davis of her idea?  Most importantly is this “dream” concept copyrightable?  Sufficiently original to prevent its stealing?

People have been writing about dreams for ages.  What else, really, is there to write about?  I will proceed, and welcome the “cease and desist” correspondence.  Leave it to her lawyers to tell me what’s what.

I tried another, which I will here include.  Will continue to do so periodically, barring litigation:

I’m taken into custody, not by the law, but by the lawless.  Vaguely I understand it to be some drug/criminal organization.  I am bound by a pair of light blue plastic handcuffs that only go over my thumbs.  “Thumb cuffs,” if there is such a thing.  It’s a dream, so of course there is.  They are not fastened securely, these thumb cuffs, and are in fact loose enough that I can get out of them easily.  Somehow I know this will prove vital.  The place where I am being held is a warehouse of sorts, but there is dirt instead of floor, and straw.  Lots of straw.  The air is hot and dry.  Dust billows.  We (there are several others, though no one I recognize) are kept on a series of wooden tiers, attached to the wall like multi-storied bunk beds.  There is no smell, though.  It does not stink, nor am I uncomfortable sitting for extended periods of time in awkward positions, with no padding.  The absence of both smell and pain strike me as strange (am I the only one who, while dreaming, seems constantly and urgently set on determining whether I am dreaming?  We don’t do this in life, do we?  Urgently question whether, based on our surroundings and circumstances, we are really awake; really alive?  Or do we?  Should we?).  There is something vaguely foreign about our captors.  I gather they are not speaking English, perhaps instead Spanish, though I understand a great deal more in the dream than I would if I were awake and they were in fact speaking Spanish, though I do know/understand some.


I like it.  It’s a fun exercise, and good writing prompt.  Others please try and share.  Or don’t.

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