Remember when you were a student and you had dreams of showing up to class with no pants or being unable to answer any of the questions on the final exam? Let me reassure you that teachers experience exactly the same thing from the other side. Several times I had dreams of showing up to class without a lesson plan, or being unable to find the room where I was supposed to teach on the first day, or some such. These are the standard frets of your unconscious when something is expected of you in daily life.
Last night I had the first such dream in a writerly framework: I dreamed that I kept receiving e-mails from various editors asking me to rewrite and change stuff in my forthcoming novel that wasn’t good enough. It was in a much different tone than the dreams I used to have about writing, which were usually about heartrending failure, and sometimes spectacular success–that is when they weren’t some kind of hallucinatory peyote-type experience. This dream was normal, low-level performance anxiety. I woke up slightly irritated and vaguely amused: this must mean I am officially a professional novelist now.
Still, even when fiction writing becomes one of those daily things that is expected of you, it can never be quite tame. At least not for me. I would say teaching is kind of like having a kitty cat in your apartment: it is sweet, and you love it, and you have to maintain it and feed it. Sometimes if you really piss it off it might scratch you or leave a turd inside your shoe. But, barring some spectacular freak accident, it will remain unable to kill you. Writing, on the other hand, is like having a much, much larger animal in your apartment. You don’t know quite what that animal is because you can only see it in flashes out of the corner of your eye. You think it sleeps in the closet under the stairs because you’ve found matted hair and the gutted carcasses of whatever it eats in there, but you’ve never been able to surprise the beast itself in its lair. Sometimes you will glimpse a pair of yellow eyes beholding you with millennial patience, the graceful slither of a tail disappearing around a corner. You will hear a hiss under your bed, a low rumble behind a wall. A moist jungle smell, sweet and perhaps decaying. You live with the knowledge that this animal can festoon the carpet with your innards whenever it feels like, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like. Maybe it likes the scent of you; maybe it likes to listen to your heartbeat while you sleep. All things considered you rather like it too: when it’s gone you rather miss the thrill of its presence.