I’m on a sinking ship. What’s left of it barely remains above water, and I’m clinging to a deck or maybe a crow’s nest. I’m prone on my belly, watching the water rise up to engulf me. Below me, a group of survivors gathers on a lifeboat more kayak than raft. Some people I recognize. Others I do not. The dream shifts.

To tend a dream, a rock, or a story you must embody it fully. You step into the image as an actor or observer because dreams are living. I’m not just talking about lucid dreaming, which can be a type of individual dream therapy or a way to study the collective unconscious. If images are the language of the heart as a percieving organ, then dreams are speaking to us. Our unconscious is speaking to our conscious selves — the part we recognize as our waking selves.

Depth psychology is rooted in the Jungian tradition and as psychologist and dream tender, Stephen Aizenstat, explains, “The field of Depth Psychology focuses on bringing conscious reflection to psychic
processes, attending particularly to the unconscious. ‘Depth’ refers to an imagined direction—down, behind, underneath. As a method of inquiry, its primary access to the psychic depths is the dream.” Mythology, stories, poetry, and literary art are other ways to plumb the depths.

Thus, we treat the images as a living container. If you’ve ever had the experience as a writer of a story/poem/character/setting coming to you and compelling you to work with it, you understand that what has come to you has a life outside of your waking awareness. The story becomes a living container for you to tend it. It’s the interaction between your conscious and unconscious. Once you become aware of tending stories and dreams, synchronicity happens and you receive containers to work through the unexpected — circumstances or reccommended edits.

I think as literary artists we inately understand our stories have life and that’s why we resist edits. Some of us even resist sharing our work. We fear that if we edit the original image — the raw literary art — we will kill it. If dream tending has taught me anything, the only way we kill a dream, story, or poem is to refuse to work with it as a living thing. We make a snapshot, something flat we then try to extract meaning from. Yet, meaning making comes from letting the image become a container.

But a container for what? Ah, let’s return to the dream.

I’m on an island after the ship has sunk. It’s a broad and flat expanse with abandoned factory buildings. Orderly concrete buildings squat among the nature of this place, this way-stop. Once, perhaps, it was a destination. But no longer. I walk along the outside of chain-link fencing. Vegetation grows over what was left. I pause beside a playground. I’m on the outside looking through the fence at rusted swings and slides.Vines envelop the top of an old-fashioned merry-go-round. I say out loud — “Children once played here.” And it makes me feel sad. The Dream shifts and I’m inside a factory building, going through an exiting process. We must exit the way others who once worked here left — through the front door, leaving a pouch of sorts in a glass cabinet. The Dream shifts again and I’m walking into a contemporary school building with bosses who are talking. I follow behind and notice a two-tone gold and white pickup truck, like a late ’60s or early ’70s model. The hood is up and a tiny conifer healthy and vibrant sits where one would expect a battery. From the otherside of the truck, a dream version of a loved one steps out so I get the instant message. Someone has my back and I continue to follow the bosses into the school.

I can understand some of the containers, especially when I noticed my friend had the vintage tree-powered truck. I can pull that image any time I need support or want to connect to that person. To me, its a beautiful image to contain the positivity of friendship. As a whole, this is what I’d call a complex dream. Maybe I will engage with containers in my imagination for story-writing. The opening image of going down on a sinking ship was so real I felt I experienced it enough to write a short story about surviving a shipwreck. You see? The images live and we can expand them in our imaginations or use them to contain emotions we need to process. Like surviving a sinking ship as a metaphor to real life. The next night I had another Dream, less complex than the first.

The Dream title comes to me first, “Bedrooms for Profs.” Naming dreams is a way to engage with the focus or message of a dream. It’s also a technique to save your place if you need to wake up and pee in the middle of the night. As such, I’m skilled at Dream naming; lots of practice. I’ll also point out that the Dream will insist you use the words you hear even if it’s weird or simplistic, like, “My Pants” or “Tom Hanks on a C-130.” Once you dial into the title, the images become easier to recall. I enter “Bedroms for Profs.”

The walls are white without any adornment and there’s a sense of many bedrooms clustered together like nun cells. Everything is tidy and high windows let in the sunlight. Everyone here has a bed, a place to rest. A Dream version of a colleague comes in and I hand him a gift which turns out to be a slim textbook. When he opens it, I see lots of print and handwriting in turquoise ink, the color my favorite prof used and I now use. I’m curious and want to read the writing but he’s pleased with thebook and settles on a bed to read it.

The next morning I tended my Dream and still felt the curiosity of what the notes read. At noon, I received three urgent emails in succession, all of them about a mandatory staff, faculty, and student meeting. My initial reaction was annoyance because Thursdays are my one day I don’t have to leave the house (which means I don’t have to shower or get out of my sweatpants). As I shower, I wonder at the urgency of the meeting. Did Finlandia University sell the Jutila Center? Will the sale of the building disrupt classes? Several of our buildings went on the market last semester. Did a private donation come through? Was our new President leaving? We are all aware of the financial concerns, which is why I’m only teaching one class this semester. With trepidation, I gather along with my University in an assembly so full, there’s no place left to sit.

I stand at the back of the assembly as the President of Finlandia wastes no time in telling us all that as of an early morning meeting with our Board of Trustees, they voted to close our school. Finlandia will not be accepting any fall enrollment. People will be laid off. Some immediately. Classes are to be canceled the next day to start Spring Break early. We are to check our emails later the night to find out if we are “essential” or not. I sag against the wall. The ship is sinking.

And I know what it feels like to sink. I know what it feels like to look upon empty factory buildings. I know what it will be like to exit like everyone else gathered here. There will be a transparent process.

Here’s where the containers of living Dreams aid us. The image of a sinking ship is scary from my Dream perspective but I know we will survive. I can put my fear and uncertainty in this container. The image is working with me in the waking world. What comes next is even more shocking — as of immediately, all coaches were laid off and Spring Sports canceled. The emotional response rippled throughout the assembly. Disbelief. Anger. Despair.

The abandoned playground. A place where children once played. Sadness, nostalgia, concern. A cocktail of emotions I couldn’t explain had a container. More bad news, and more. Fellow staff finding out they won’t have a paycheck after Friday or health care after the month. I wonder if my students will return after Spring Break. One winds her way past me, crying. A softball student athlete. I reach for her and we hug. I tell her it’s been a privilege to teach her. One student becomes my container for how privileged I’ve bee to teach them all.

It’s not been an easy Spring Break. I graded midterms and the celebration of all students getting deserved As because they understood I was asking them to think from their own perspective on our book, “Our Missing Hearts.” They got it. They all got it. And yet, would they return? I sent them three emails to encourage and offer to support their processing. I didn’t hear back from any and I worried. So I sat with that image of an abandoned playground until I accepted that they will find another. It doesn’t mean they won’t play again. I accepted they’ll be okay even if I don’t see any of them again. I’d be okay. There was a tidy bedroom for me to find rest and encouraging notes to read, too.

I’m not saying my Dreams were preminitions. But their containers prepared me to process what happened. The images continue to live and be useful.

Today, to my great relief, students showed up to class. I wanted to cry with joy! I wouldn’t have blamed them if they hadn’t. However, they demonstrated a growth mindset. Some said this was going to be their last semester playing sports anyhow and the closure made them realize that education was their priority. Another said he felt he was better suited for a trade school and spent the break finding one that excited him for his future. Another explained that a group of teammates got together and decided that if they didn’t come back, they wouldn’t continue with school and that wasn’t what they wanted. Another told me where my missing students were and assured me they were coming back because they had all taken an epic road trip to visit schools and talk to other coaches.

Not one of them quit. They even spoke about their concern for others. One said, “Miss Charli, I was watching you at the announcement. I saw your face and knew this was real.” He explained that when the news reporter interviewed him (local news has been all over this story — it’s had a huge devastating impact on our small community) he expressed his concern for the Yoopers, for his profs, for me. It was an amazing moment to share concerns among a class thinking about each other. We decided we are all going to be okay. They now know of my plan to start an online writing school. Some even said they’d sign up for a class. We agreed to finish our semester writing, tending dreams (yes, they budding dream tenders, some of them lucid dream, too), and practicing analysis of images through documentaries and film.

In the following video, the first two interviewed, Crenston and Zadeen, I’m proud to say are excellent students in my ENG I class, the last class I will teach at Finlandia University.

For more news, go to our website: Finlandia University, News Video, or UP Reporting.

March 13, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a place where children once played. It can be a field, a playground, or any place that attracted children to play. But now it is empty. Abandoned. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by March 18, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.


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