With music through the night

THIS MORNING I WAS A CHAMPIONSHIP swimmer. A symphony violinist. Not performing/competing, actually, but enjoying the status associated with each.


I’M BEING TOLD OF THIS ORCHESTRA that performs without written music. For that matter, without rehearsal, either. Essentially, the musicians keep playing until they find the right key, and take off from there.


A LITTLE LATER, I’M OFF, driving somewhere – maybe cross country – and my unseen companion is the same one who had told me about the ensemble. As we’re talking, we become aware of some unearthly music coming from the car radio. Here we are, perhaps in Kansas when this happens. It starts out as an array of strumming and plucking – guitars, mandolins, and the like. Maybe Balkan instruments, or Indonesian, it doesn’t matter. There’s something shimmering to it, and unformed, as bowed strings enter every which way. Eventually we realize they’re trying to follow the conductor’s singing – here’s the melody, now develop it (a woman conductor; the effect is like Pauline Moon with the children’s choir at church). Suddenly, there’s an up-swell of cellos in unison as the magic takes hold.

The previous night, the jazz host played a large selection Joe Zawinul and the Weather Report, with their simultaneous solo improvisations, start to finish in each piece, which likely influenced the dream.


IN AN ARTS CIRCLE, TURNS OUT to be a rehearsal, and I’m given a part in an upcoming show. Maybe it’s my age, but I’m having trouble learning my part, especially the big solo, like a tenor, maybe. First performance, I get through it fine, lots of support from the rest of the cast, including some kids. Second performance, ditto. Third performance, though, I blank totally and finally look down to the conductor in the pit, who starts mouthing my lines. I more or less mumble my way through, like I’ve never seen or heard them before except that it suffices. (The maestro goes from being a Harry Becket English type to George Emlen.) I hunker down for the next night, step up and nail it, reveling in my high B-flat.

Could this be more a reflection of my worries as a writer than about anything musical?


AT A CONCERT OF LUSH, LATE Romantic orchestral score and then, maybe listening on the radio. At finale, applause begins slowly, weakly, and I’m perplexed, considering the level of playing and the power of the piece. But then it gains intensity, with bravos and other cheers – and three barking dogs.

Seeing-eye dogs, the radio announcer informs us, don’t bark when seeing another seeing-eye dog or hear barking.

Yes, applause, with barking dogs.

Have you ever been divorced?

IN THE KITCHEN, A GRAY DAY, she’s made some kind of decision, has the Question: “What are you going to do about it? It could be the answer of our marriage.”

Afternoon rainy and green; the soil, saturated.

Smiling at her, “I don’t know. Sounds like your problem. How do you want me to answer? It’s a no-win. Seems to me you’re full of … (One, two, three.) Besides, I have a date in an hour.”

& gave her a hug.


FOR SOME REASON, THE HOT WATER in our big bungalow was not working. We had to be somewhere in western Pennsylvania the next morning – a job, perhaps. “Oh, we can stop at the Holiday Inn on the way. Shower in one of the empty rooms.” Except we got started late, and entered a room shortly after 8. Turned out it wasn’t empty either, but was occupied by two single, very attractive young women. Hailey got her shower in; not sure about me. As I was dressing, one of the girls was taking a deep bath. The maids were circulating. I couldn’t find matching shoes, but we left anyway. At the doorway, Hailey was holding up some see-through panties, with a mischievous leer.

My, I could have steered this dream in a much richer direction, had I been more attentive … and less responsible. Turned Hailey into the procurer for my menage a trois. Oh, my.

WE’VE JUST PURCHASED an old house (this picks up on a much earlier dream, a white frame on Patterson Road) when she fills the bathtub for us, in a kind of seduction attempt … I resist, it overflows. I grab a fluffy lavender bath towel to mop up the mess before it drips through the ceiling below, … irritating those neighbors(!) As I grab the towel, I comment that it’s my current love. Still, she wants sex again “for old times’ sake.”


AS SOME TYPE OF ATTEMPTED reconciliation, we decide to take a cruise, on a parade of cruise ships that ply the Ohio River as a kind of amusement park/smorgasbord … something we’ve apparently done before and enjoyed. The fun is somehow in a ride – somehow akin to a roller coaster – that goes from ship to ship … that is, also akin to Kings Island … only this year, the big thrill is the gap between ships in which the “riders” fall to the water before being scooped up to the ship ahead. Only when I’m cast out, I manage to break my fall, float in ways resembling a parachutist, and land softly in the water. But rather than being scooped up, I remain there and am soon swimming down a street of amphibious cars and trucks. I wind up at her house and am even climbing around on the oven and sink when I realize the presence of a scholarly yogi who asks some pointed questions. Maybe I’ve been with other ashramites all along. Eventually, she arrives, miffed, with a sense of Scarface off in the background somewhere (driving away, it seems). I tell her she finally has what she’s wants, that I’m leaving for good, and I brush past her out the door. (Only later do I worry about the credit cards.)

Somehow, this picks up on an earlier dream – perhaps repeated – of an amusement park somehow like a zoo but filled with food stands. (Lobster in the Rough, expanded? The Deerfield Fair?) There, I also eventually find myself outside the fence, but also somehow freed.

At any rate, this was disturbing enough to wake me at 7 a.m.

Why her? I am feeling somewhat adrift these days. And financially inadequate, looking at plumbing and other household projects as well as the charter school’s shortfall and a desire for a vacation.

Can you ever anticipate where you’ll wander in a dream?

 WE’RE ON A TOUR BUS, coming down along the Northwest coast. The scenery is gorgeous, with the blazing orange light of late afternoon among swirling clouds. We cross a long bridge into America – the Columbia, I first think, though I can see little below or beyond – we come to a kind of Sturbridge Village of the Far West sort, debark briefly. I look up to see in the parting clouds a chevron of mountain peaks. I identify them, with Baker and Shuskin and the baby in front, but the clouds close over before you can view them, though you try.

Only days before, I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d want to travel.


SEVERAL TIMES IN THE NIGHT, I encountered Abraham Lincoln’s Best Friend. Maybe not completely, but at least close to it, probably from his New Salem days. A storekeeper of some sort, maybe a printer with the shop “out back,” at least the action appeared to be in the other room. He greeted me / us across a rough plank counter, had some Blacks working behind him. With impassioned, watery eyes kept trying to tell me / us about a meeting or gathering for later that night, but carefully, not to be overheard by spies. The general plight, fear in the air.


I’M OUT DRIVING ON SOME CURVING rural roads I once knew. Take a turn to the left. Somehow, I wind up returning to the Ashram for a visit. From the circle, Swami addresses me by my street name, obviously a rebuke, and then asks, “What are you doing here? Why did you come?” Obviously, there will be no satisfactory answer. I wind up leaving.

Since it’s a vacation, I stay overnight elsewhere. Find there’s a public evening performance on the street. It’s an Ashram presentation from the Mahabharata; Swami, seeing me, is quite upset, shoots darts. I get the picture, and leave – realize as I’m going she’s still entangled.

So you think it’s only money?

I’M DRAGGED TO AN INVESTMENT seminar in a rambling, modern one-story home. Maybe we’d received an invitation addressed to someone else. At any rate, went. Midway through the presentation, I realized the numbers didn’t add up and left but tripped on my way out. [Now in a different room, with sun: trying to gather up my goods spilled from my purple bag.] The pastor’s wife shows up, indicates she’s not happy with his participation in this scheme. The pastor, strangely resembling the black-belt master, appears and tries to argue me out of my reluctance to invest – turns on me, “How did you find out about this?” My last remaining items are under the head of a sleeping baby – a sick baby. I go to get a pillow so I can retrieve my remaining items. When I return, my bag has been stolen.

Don’t trust a pastor with investment schemes.


WE’RE OFF SOMEWHERE THAT vaguely resembles the historic manor overlooking the river one town over – there’s some development but the landscape’s mostly open with green fields. While strolling alone, I notice a dark Victorian house with Japanese touches and tell myself to bring my daughter back to see it herself. Then, as I approach a crossroads, I see an even more elaborate version, this one with a Queen Ann with a Buddha face occupying half of the second story, its mouth opening out on to a side porch. It’s a truly stunning residence. And then my daughter drives the blue Prius down the crossroad. I wave to her to look the other way, at the house, but she waves in return only at me and heads off to another destination. We’ll rendezvous later.

Another dream intervenes (now forgotten) but the next thing I remember is entering the cellar, which contains an upright stone monument of some note. John and Sarah Dawson are already there. She tells me his family knew the owners of the house and he once wrote a poem in honor of the stone, which he now recites. Not bad for a physicist, I think.

Somehow, we become locked in the cellar, along with another couple. There’s a door to the outside, but when we follow, it leads to hurricane fencing and concertina wire. We’re trapped?

Not quite. John knows some secret to get through, and it leads us to an outdoor dining room, one with white walls and black iron gates – the iron topped by a wiggle of white paint to indicate they were Catholic.

John explains the owners were Germans who lived most of their lives in Japan before retiring to this site, presumably with their children and grandchildren.


SOMEBODY’S EXPRESSING APPROVAL of my shoes, maybe even adding them to a Ten Best list. “But they’re cheap,” I counter, “I bought them at the Kittery outlets years ago.”
“Doesn’t matter,” comes the reply. “Look at that hand stitching and the fact they’re comfy.”

With or without a camel caravan

TRAVELING WITH A LINGUIST, somewhere in Eastern Europe … perhaps the Balkans … or perhaps even parts of Asia, such as Kurdistan. At any rate, he was explaining the addition of syllables to a place name to indicate our destination as we headed toward the train station or a marketplace or the like. We were in crowded towns, of dark brown shades, all the same.

As the scene unfolded, we agreed to part, planning to reunite, which left me to wander on my own for a while. Of course, I became confused but not panicked. At one point, I actually saw him and another – maybe even an old girlfriend of mine – walking a street below me, though I was unable to catch up.

Somehow, I became part of a wedding party reception. An old girlfriend, in fact, maybe even the same one I’d glimpsed earlier, though we were now quite distant memories of one another. Still, when our paths crossed in the crowd, we acknowledged each other’s presence, yet I’m not sure either of us wished the other well. Still, I was dragged off to festivities at a long bar with seats all around, like the Tiki bar at Lobster on the Rough, only larger. It was late afternoon or early evening – dark, that is, with twinkle lights – a Renoir kind of scene. I was told to order dinner, but getting a menu was another matter. All of the menu-like brochures said nothing of the food, as far as well could tell, much less the prices. As I hesitated, I told the waiter to go on, I’d catch up to him. Finally, it came down between a steak at $60 and lobster, also $60. I ordered the lobster. I went over to the waiter, whispered my decision to him, and was told, “Wait,” and soon a lobster on a platter was handed to me, right there. I was also told, by my neighbors at the bar, to go ahead and begin eating while the food was still hot, so I was one of the first to do so. It was a large lobster, over two pounds, served with a kind of chili on the claws. (We’d had a bean soup earlier that evening, reminding me of chili.) The father of the bride was picking up the tab, probably $8,000 for the event. (My first lover’s daddy? Maybe because I’d come across his obit again earlier in the week.) Even so, I was aware that I was one of two or three “poor boys” admitted to this affair.

The next morning, perhaps, on a lawn overlooking a lake, I was told by another participant how much he enjoyed my presence, that I was one of the few people who could carry on a conversation, who had something to say, who had really done things. So that’s why I’d been admitted.


TRYING TO CONSOLE a deeply depressed Prince Charles. (Well, in some ways he was more like Mick Jagger. But when a dream imposes an identity, we stick to it. Besides, we were both much younger than we are now.) Considering the circumstances, we were getting along quite well. He even asked for a long hug before running off to jump on the mattress, like a trampoline, and then a set of sofas as the scene morphed into a hotel lobby as others, including the girl, drifted into the setting.

It started off when a woman I was involved with (a contra dancer?) who worked in his household or some other organization of his wondered if I would ask him, when he arrived, what he thought of her. Well, he and I hadn’t been introduced, so I was reluctant but now see that as an American, for me that wasn’t the problem.

Since he was essentially alone, I was able to strike up a conversation, however awkwardly it began. He did indeed recognize her name (Kate, never mind, not his daughter-in-law but more like Kate Moss) and rattled off a list of statistics and the like – nothing of an emotional nature, but still thoroughly informed.

A while later, I asked if he was a reader, and he assured me he was. I was beginning to tell him of Nicholson Baker’s work when we were interrupted.

These events leave me feeling confirmed as an author

Being invited to speak about my book, either as a solo outing or as part of a panel, is something quite new to me.

It’s distinctly different from being the featured poet at a café reading or even having a chapbook in hand for sale.

Since Quaking Dover is a factual history, the narrative ties into much more definable readerships than my novels have. I’m even able to present PowerPoint slideshows of people and places appearing in the story, and then be surprised afterward to meet descendants the families or the current residents of houses I’ve touched on.

Having a presentation be recorded and made available on YouTube, as happened through the Whittier Birthplace Museum in Massachusetts, is personally thrilling.

My previous YouTube appearance was private, for a selected audience, largely a sequence of appropriate Scripture and related images. It even had an original, emotionally moving musical score from a talented collaborator.

My face wasn’t visible there, by the way. Yes, the invisible writer as witness.

Alas, it’s gone and I do wish I had a copy.

Remember, writing is a solitary activity. Rarely do we get feedback from our finished efforts. Are we writers simply navel-gazing or do we somehow reach others, especially one on one? Have we actually been wasting our time?

In blogging, I’ll assume you, too, are a writer and know what this means.

Humbly yours, all the more.

What’s off with Microsoft’s log-in algorithm?

You know, the changing photo that keeps appearing when you log in. The calculations have no idea, really, of what I like or don’t. My sensibilities are far more complicated than its simple “mountains” or “seashores” calculus.

In one photo, for instance, a single bright-colored backpack at the bottom of the scene threw off the entire wilderness message. It looked like trash. That sort of thing. I didn’t like the particular photo for that reason, but I loved the bigger landscape.

It’s like living with a painting and one day you finally observe something that becomes a flaw. You loved it up to that point. And then?

It’s a binary switch rather than a scale of one-to-ten.

For now, I’m finding some comfort in that, sensing they still aren’t outsmarting me.