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  • In the dream, I was coming home to my house, but it was not my house as it is, a typical Toronto downtown abode, semi-detached, sharing a brick wall with next door, two porches, small lawn, leafy street, sidewalk, no.

    It was a large house set on a large property, like in a spooky movie, but the feeling was not spooky, it was my house in the way in a dream things are and are not, and you are fine with that. In an upstairs window, I could see that it was my sister J. This was not a visitation from the grave dream, but now that I think about it, writing it down, it was in a way: my younger sister J. and I have rarely spoken in the last few years. You could say it was too many deaths, too little money, too many family disputes, too much shadow history, but there was something else. There were too many stories she had circulated, told out of whole cloth.

    I found people coming to me with stories about me, about my history, invented and told easily by my sister.

    Words were anything at all, I was mortified to find, to her. It was not tall tales for entertainment, but invention for...?

    I did not know, but it chewed me up inside.

    How did it come to pass that I was the writer in the family and I told the fewest stories?

    The dream the other night might have been reaching for that.

    Lately it has been, in truth, nightmares, not dreams. It has been the dark before the dawn, and the dreams of some kind of visitation from something reach their climax, their Act Two curtain about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. You open your eyes, but did you?

    In this dream, on Sunday night, I saw J. in the lit window upstairs. Then I was beside her. She had a set of keys in her hand. It was important for me to get those keys back. I needed those keys. She had them clenched in her fist. I tried to pry her fist open. No go.

    Then she put the keys in her mouth.

    I tried to unclench her jaw. She would not open it. I got her jaw and mouth open. I put my hand inside and I had my hands on the keys. But somehow they would not come out. She was trying to keep my hand in her mouth on the keys.

    Then she swallowed the keys.

    I woke up. It was bad. real bad.

    I tend to remember dreams vividly, in detail, in colour. The emotional sense I got from those key images is strong. Two days later I feel it.

    I am wondering and I am speculating that the dream had something to do with stories. That deep inside for a long time, as I worked as a journalist, telling other peoples' stories and staying out of the way of myself to tell their stories, that I had my own stories flowing along as a second river in my heart and mind.

    Then when I left full-time journalism to write fiction, it was not really my personal stories I was telling, but combo plates, collages, interpretations, using life as raw material in the service of the characters. Being too literal in fiction based on your own life I think can kill a story, but ignoring your own depths and background knowledge can too.

    For me, writing fiction, the act of sitting down and working on a story is more like preparing to act in the theatre.

    I am putting on a one-woman show, in my case, when I write fiction. I might spend all morning acting the role of a woman from the American South, and that might be my work day. But then the next day I might call upon myself to inhabit the character of a man from Amsterdam or San Diego, or someone telling about their life in a place I personally have never been. I am an actor with ink or at a screen, I warm up at the keyboard, I inhabit the lines as I write them.

    But my own personal life and the my inhabiting of my own life...I have rarely ever done that. Others came first, imaginary others, real others, and helping others to tell their stories, too. Winching it out, mentoring it out, but it chokes me up to realize that I never mentored myself.

    So, I am wondering if the clenched jaw in my sister's mouth in the dream the other night had to do with an underground feeling (and not so underground) which I have had for decades: that whoever tells the story of a family, or a place, or even of you, gets to own the tale, gets to possess you, in a way. To take possession of what you did not step forward to claim. Your own life, as you lived it, shaped by you in the telling.

    I think it is not a coincidence that I reached my Cowbird 50 story contribution mark on the weekend, and then had this dream of trying to claim or reclaim the keys. I think the keys were the keys to my own stories. And when I woke up Sunday, I wrote about doves and blood and art, and I am now feeling a forward motion.

    It is said that a red door is good luck.

    I am at the red door.

    I have the Cowbird Keys.
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