I frequently have vivid dreams that involve quite elaborate plots that, on occasion, stick with me after awakening. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I start thinking about the day ahead — the minute my eyes open — the wistful vapors of the dream vanish and the ideas are gone.
I also tend to get writing ideas at times when my brain is otherwise disengaged, but my body is doing something habitual. The two main times this happens are when I’m driving and when I’m showering. If it weren’t for driving and showering — in addition to me being a social pariah and being unable to work — I’d have virtually no ideas for writing.
The third time my disengaged brain offers ideas up to me is in those few minutes between when the sleep monster begins to immobilize my body and when I drift off into unconsciousness. The sheets are so nice and soft, the blanket so snug, the pillow supports my head just right . . . and then blam, an idea pops into my head. A really good idea.
For that scene that I can’t seem to finish, or to end the story I’m having trouble with. And my brain whispers to me, “Don’t worry. It’s a great idea. I’ve got this.”
Because my brain is a lying bastard. It never remembers. Never. Oh, it remembers that I had an idea, and that it solved that sticky problem I was having, and that it was a beautiful, shining idea that would set animated animals to singing and dancing around me if I could only . . . remember . . . the actual content of the idea, and not that there was an idea. Of some sort. That was good.
So I decided that I would keep a notepad next to my bed. One of those big, yellow legal pads, and a pen.
I need to back up for a moment to explain that I have this . . . medical condition called Recurrent Corneal Erosion. You can Google it if you wish, but suffice to say, it means that I have to put ointment in both eyes every night before sleeping or I have a very good chance of tearing the cornea of one or both eyes when I wake up in the morning. I’m not telling you this to squick you out or to elicit medical advice — believe me, if you can think it, it has already been thought by me or suggested by others. The ointment works great, usually about 99% of the time. About once per month or so, I’ll end up tearing a cornea and have to miss a day of work. It’s just . . . a thing that happens, and has been happening for the better part of twenty years. But my telling it serves to explain some of what is about to be related.
The ointment is thick and has the texture of petroleum jelly, and is opaque, so it impairs my vision almost completely. I can distinguish light from dark, and vague shapes. That’s about it.
I kept the notepad by the bed for quite a while. I’d wake up with a dream or an idea, and I’d write as much of it down as I could, but since I can’t actually focus my eyes on anything because of the ointment, my handwriting is . . . sub-optimal.
So I guess you could say it sort of worked. And as I got used to having the notepad next to the bed, I’d retain more dreams and ideas just long enough to jot something down before burrowing back under the covers and getting more sleep.
And then it happened.
I woke up out of a sound sleep. I had had an Idea. Not just an idea, mind you: An Idea. The best, shiniest, most magnificent Idea in the history of Ideas. It would make a fantastic story.
And it was so singular an Idea (to borrow vocabulary from H. P. Lovecraft) that a single word — as from the Oracle at Delphi — would suffice to remind me of the entirety of this beautiful, blossom-like Idea.
Squinting in the general direction of the notepad, brain clamoring for more sleep, I grabbed the pen and scribbled down this singular word that was absolutely sure to bring back the entirety of the Idea to me upon waking.
Smiling the smile of the satisfied, I put down the pen and the pad on my night table, put my head back on the pillow, and slept for several more hours, content in the knowledge that all was saved.
The alarm went off later that morning and I awoke, as usual, remembering that I had had An Idea. That it was a very, very excellent Idea, and that the story that would spring, Athena-like, wholly and beautifully formed from my mind upon seeing the word that appeared on the notepad would practically write itself because it was Just That Good.
I quickly stumbled into the bathroom and using a clean towel and warm water, cleaned the ointment out of my eyes, then hurried back into the bedroom.
I approached the table, giddy with anticipation. I could see that there was a single word on the pad, in crude, blue letters, blocky and spiky, diagonally scrawled across the yellow paper.
I picked it up.
I looked at it.
And thought, “What?”
The word that I wrote that night was this: SkullCosm
Just that. SkullCosm. Three syllables, capitalized exactly like that.
I sat heavily on the bed, wracking my brain. What could it mean? It was clearly some kind of cyberpunk thing, right? A cosm, or ‘world,’ inside a skull, or the mind.
But . . . I don’t read cyberpunk, or even much enjoy it. Much less write it.
Nothing. Not a single thing remained from that fantastic Idea I had but the single word I found scribbled in blue ink, as though written by someone not looking at the paper.
To this day, I have no clue. None. Zero. Zilch. The place in my brain which should be occupied by whatever marvelous Idea that, in a perfect world, would have been recalled in toto by the word SkullCosm has so far remained a void, filled only with the sound of a soul-crushing wind blowing through a desert of pain.
Well, that’s a little melodramatic, but you get my point.
I’ve carried the word around with me for years, now, playing around with it in my head, seeing if the shape of it fit any of the incomplete puzzles in my head. It’s never a good fit. The puzzle from which SkullCosm was left over was obviously constructed using non-Euclidean geometry.
I’ve tried on two occasions to force a story using SkullCosm as the seed word. To no avail. The non-Euclidean edges of the word are too hard to focus on clearly, and they keep causing the rest of the puzzle to warp and collapse.
In a last-ditch attempt to get some use of the word, I sent it to Len Peralta when he was doing his Monster By Mail campaign to raise money after the birth of one of their children. Just to see what an artist accustomed to drawing monsters would do with it.
I think he mistook ‘cosm’ for ‘plasm’ based on the picture I received back, shown above. But I like it, and it captures perfectly my frustration upon knowing that SkullCosm should but ultimately fails to trigger the memory of that perfect, shining story Idea that my brain cruelly forgot.
So if you ever see me mention the word SkullCosm, you’ll now know to what it refers.