People ask me where I get my story ideas. Like everyone else, I answer, seeing something, hearing something, being somewhere. To be honest, though, my best ideas come at that brief, predawn moment between sleep and consciousness. I like to call it Twilight Zoning, a cooler name for Stage 5 or REM sleep.
“REM sleep , or rapid eye movement (also known as paradoxical sleep), accounts for 20–25% of total sleep time in most human adults. The criteria for REM sleep include rapid eye movements as well as a rapid low-voltage EEG. During REM sleep, EEG patterns returns to higher frequency saw-tooth waves. Most memorable dreaming occurs in this stage. At least in mammals, a descending muscular atonia is seen. Such paralysis may be necessary to protect organisms from self-damage through physically acting out scenes from the often-vivid dreams that occur during this stage.” (Source: Wikipedia)
I’m not sure that muscular atonia thing works on my dog. He has a tendency to thrash about on the floor, as if chasing the neighbor’s cat. An entire science surrounds the controversy of sleep walking, or the walk of living zombies.
It seems, however, there may be more to Twilight Zoning than meets the eye. A recent Time magazine article by Jeffery Kluger, The Spark of Invention, which as the title implies, wondered how great inventors got their ideas. Kluger thinks Edison defined the “very notion of inventiveness made flesh.”
“[Thomas] Edison was not above the occasional catnap—provided it was not devoted solely to sleep. Like most people, he noticed that insights and brainstorms often occur at the edges of sleep—when the border guard of the prefrontal cortex is going off duty and the more bohemian precincts like the occipital lobe, where imagery is processed, are free to play. But those insights can be fleeting, lost forever if the sleep that allowed them to exist in the first place overtakes you before you can wake up and write them down. So Edison would nap sitting up in a chair, with his arms draped over the sides and a steel ball in each hand. On the floor on either side of the chair was a metal pan. If he fell too deeply asleep, the balls would fall with a clatter, awakening him in time for him to rescue any useful thought before it flashed back into the cognitive vapor.”
I’m not comparing myself to Thomas Edison and I’m not very inventive when it comes to … inventing, but I believe “cognitive vapor” can take many forms. For Edison, it was the birth center for many of his incredible 1,093 patents. For me, that cognitive vapor is a nursery of seeds that flower to potential stories.
Not everyone can remember their dreams, much less interpret the quiet insanity of a mind traipsing in wacko land just before the alarm goes off. I’m guessing the vaporous residue of a good dream quickly dissipates when the brain has to kick-start to awake mode. As for me, cognitive dream vapors are not completely erased like a blackboard in order to make room for the day’s lessons; its chalky outline lingers like a superimposed ghost. Sometimes, the images are so compelling, I write them down.
Sure would be a lot easier if we could use this little gadget created by early Native Americans. Called a Dreamcatcher, popularized by the Stephen King story, legend claims it will filter out all bad dreams and allow only good thoughts to enter our mind when we sleep. Once the sun rises, all bad dreams just disappear. Ah, but there’s the rub. A good story line isn’t all good. Need a few nightmares to keep the blood flowing.
About the only advice I can give for those who wish to sift for inspiration from the cognitive vapors of Twilight Zoning, don’t be in such a rush to rejoin the real world upon awakening. Let your conscious mind dwell in the fog a few moments, see what jewels sparkle in the mist of craziness swirling in your head. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get a guided tour from the guy who farmed the Twilight Zone on a regular basis.
How about you? Can you pluck stories and ideas from the fertile fields of Twilight Zoning?