Ok, I confess to the charge of clickbait once again. I didn’t have a true out-of-body experience. But a weird thing did happen to me last Friday while I was writing. Let me tell you about it.
In last week’s post, I mentioned the story, eventually to become a screenplay, that I am writing. (Reviews of the eventual movie will probably call it “a funny and sensitive exploration of friendship, zombies, and clinical depression.”) Last Friday at the end of my workday, I spent half an hour working on the death scene of Sam, a beloved (if only by me, at this point) character who I knew, from the time I conceived of this story, would have to die. (Did you catch that echo of J.K. Rowling? Not that I have any illusions of being able to tell a story like she can.) I was writing from the perspective of the dying man’s best friend, Adrian, who is starting to lose it as he realizes there’s nothing he can do to save his friend. About ten minutes into the writing, I started crying myself. But after putting my hand over my mouth and taking a few deep breaths, I was able to go on writing.
The really weird thing happened a few minutes after that and continued through the end of my writing session: I forgot where I was. I didn’t feel like I was a character in the story, surrounded by zombies, but I did feel like I was on a cracked, leaf-covered rectangle of pavement next to an abandoned Dollar General on a fall afternoon. Then it got really, really weird: while I was still writing, I started going back into the dreams I’d been having the night before. I couldn’t remember the details of them, but I definitely had the feel of them. I hope you know what I mean by that because I can’t articulate it any more clearly. It was as if I fell asleep but kept writing. I know I didn’t lose consciousness because I was watching the clock the whole time. It just seemed that my story, my dreams, and my present experience all merged. When I got up to leave my office, I had a brief moment of confusion. I do mean brief; it took no more than a second for me to remember where I was and what I was about to do. But when I went outside, I felt as if it were a different day than the one before I had started writing.
There are some likely contributing factors that are very mundane. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous night, so I was tired. And maybe I had woken up in the middle of a dream. Also, when I went outside, it was raining, whereas it had been clear before—so no wonder it felt like a different day.
But I also think that I partly took on the persona of Adrian, the character whose perspective I was writing from. I had already given him a number of my characteristics: he’s fidgety, he overthinks things, he wants to be a good friend but is easily annoyed by people, and he gets angry when he doesn’t know what to do or feels like he’s lost control of a situation. So when I started writing about Sam’s death, I started crying, just like Adrian. And then, as it became increasingly clear that Sam was going to die and nothing could be done, I started taking on Adrian’s mental state: just clear enough to continue having a conversation and understand what was going on, but numb to external stimuli. And when I finished—I stopped writing at the moment of Sam’s death—I felt like something big had happened. I felt I had gone through catharsis, the emotional purging that Aristotle writes about.
After that, I went to a weight-lifting class at the gym and forgot all about what I’d been writing, at least for a while. I didn’t spend the weekend grieving Sam. Don’t worry; I am quite capable of separating fiction from reality. But I feel like I’ve joined an inner circle (which is probably pretty big, actually) of writers who have gone beyond emotional investment in their stories and had almost an altered-consciousness experience.
If you write or create any type of art, have you ever had a similar experience? How about while reading or watching a movie? Basically, I just want you to tell me I’m not a weirdo.