sleepingLast week I had a dream that I was looking after a needy six-year-old who smoked.

At a new age bar, I made her wait in the lobby while I went inside to find a famous social worker who could give me some tips.

She wanted to play with the toys in a chest but they were forbidden.

Sit down and look at these magazines, I told her, while I went in, with Mowat acting restless and pulling on his short leash.

People gave me sideways glances and complained about their allergies.

I know what the dream means. At Sage Hill, I also dreamed about a kid, although I was trying to convince that one to wait in a dog crate while I figured out where she needed to be by again finding the experts.

Catch the theme?

Childhood. Control. Don’t play! Wait in this cage. Read these boring magazines.

When I talked about that dream in Saskatchewan, Jan Zwicky asked me over breakfast what I thought it meant. I shrugged. Something about motherhood, I said.

We were in the midst of the retreat at that point, and I had completed a full draft of my new poetry collection. It was a thing: we’d had wine to celebrate.

When I dream about children, it’s usually about my work, she told me.

Looking at it that way, I totally get last week’s dream.

My new novel, bound by a tyranny of plot, when it needs to run a bit wild. Smoke a few cigarettes. Be reckless. Rebel. Play.

And then there’s the search for an expert opinion… Am I doing this right? A question that takes a long time to go away.

And since the dog goes for major knee surgery in less than a week (which will result in us giving him an hour of rehab exercises every day for three months), how could he not be there?

These days, as I slowly reassess my novel by putting all 388 pages of it into past tense in order to read the thing through in a way that makes sense, I’m reclining into the pleasures of short stories and poetry.

Short pieces that can be luxuriously finished in a day and then worked and reworked over the course of a few more before being put away for awhile to settle.

I remember during the years of writing Swarm, when I’d gone away from it for awhile or when it was frustrating me, how I”d always ask myself the same question: Is it alive?

Is there a pulse?

As long as the thing’s still breathing, that’s what counts.

This one is.

The kid gazes at me with needy, questioning eyes. Help me live, it says, needing care, and it’s getting that care. Slowly, sentence by sentence, detail by detail, until the world opens up past the bar lobby, the constraint of the cage.