Dreams are some of the best movies

A GRAY DAY IN A GRAY DOWNTOWN where I’m apparently accepting a new job or making a big sale, establishing a relationship with a new client, a major newspaper. There are perks, including coupons or trade-outs for dining at fancy restaurants, where I’m encouraged to venture.

That afternoon, in one, the owner leads me to a happy alcove and introduces me to Colin Powell and his wife, both in matching Hawaiian shirts. Insisting I join them at their table for martinis, they then herald another couple, greeting them warmly. When the drinks arrive, we clink glasses merrily – so skillfully, in fact, we look out to see ourselves receiving a standing ovation. The retired general and secretary of state ars quite sociable and at ease, very warm and effusive. We don’t discuss politics.

In this episode, my name’s Luther.

 

WE’RE UNDER STADIUM BLEACHERS, assisting with a college graduation.

The girls walk two-by-two from the dark interior out across a bridge over a stream into the stands where they’ll sit. Only half wear white gowns (with mortar boards) – the rest, red shorts, yellow skirts, white patterned blouses, etc.

As for the boys, where presumable I am?

Somebody helps a girl in wheelchair to the bridge. I accompany a blind, partly blonde girl who carries a cane but can see enough to smile at me as she enters more sunlight.

Still under the stadium, I’m handed a paperclip set of credit card slips – my name hadn’t come out on some of the carbon copies after all – some of the others, just faintly.

So this is the reason I’m not graduating? Many of these charges had nothing to do with the college.

Coffee (ground?) war, the GIRL, her older brothers, and mother are graduating.

The soft package.

THE DOOR WON’T CLOSE RIGHT and he keeps opening it to wipe me out of business.

They finally blow it open in wind and spitting rain.

Kit’s a black-and-white coffee bag with a picture of me with a gorilla on the label urban grocery.

First see her in a movie or auditorium a row or two behind me and ask her to help me with this snake like a boa, and she does, admitting later she normally would have been afraid or inhibited and thus not spoken to a stranger.

 

WE’RE STAYING IN A MOTEL and look out. There’s a moose. No antlers yet. Leafy, forested. But also somehow urban, and somebody has to do something. Summon help. “That’s all right,” I say. Looking right, toward a swing set, when a fire truck comes into sight – emergency workers – but they crash into the swing set, can’t clear it. (I could see the collision coming.) When the truck hits, it’s no fire engine after all, but garbage. A Dumpster goes careening across and spills. A man – cowboy? – leaps from the truck cab, maybe, and lunges for the moose. Leaps through the back legs, grabs the front left – with a whoop and a holler from this truck companions. Pulls the moose over. It falls on top of him!

“Why, he’s OK,” I say to my companion.

They’re not always jointly rooted in the past and present

This sequence, from my time in the Pacific Northwest, remains eerily prescient.

 

DRIVING THROUGH ALLEGHENY FORESTS “out east,” I come into a small city. At an oblique Y intersection, I veer to the right and am struck by a large three-story apartment building with stately columns and porches on the front. Not that different, really, from one on Far Hills Avenue in my past. While this intersection initially seemed like the downtown, it’s only a prelude for a real downtown a mile or so further on.

After moving back, to eastern Ohio, I went driving one day into Pennsylvania and came into Warren via a route that eerily matched the dream. The sense of déjà vu was overwhelming.

 

I’M THE GROOM IN a Quaker wedding. The event moves outdoors, under an impressive beech tree and golden pools of sunlight. In the background is a large, old house of an unfamiliar style, part of a sedate farm. The bride’s off a bit, the center of attention, somewhat blurred but with distinctive flaxen hair stretching well-beyond her waist. I’m deliriously happy – so much so, I awakened with the cry (at least in my sleep), “But I can’t be doing this! I’m already happily married!”

Later, after my first wife had left, I was traveling from North Carolina to Philadelphia and, crossing through Delaware, came upon my first three-story federal-style house that I was aware of. A few months later, I became engaged to a woman fitting the one in the dream. She was Quaker.

 

AHA! I FIND MENTION in my journals of climbing a fire tire in Allegheny National Forest and coming out into Warren, Pa., noting, “how weird! the town seems to have three downtowns (no suburban malls) and one comes to an intersection … just like a dream I had (but I didn’t meet the ‘Quaker girl.’)”

In the decades since, I relocated to a locale where such houses are common and then in a Quaker service married a woman who easily fits the dream, though her hair is less flaxen.

And you wished me sweet dreams?

IN AN ARTSY VILLAGE overlooking the Ohio River, with a sprite who morphs into my sister. We view a very funny improv, not at all physically like Jackie Kennedy but the mannerisms are on target. Leaving, we encounter snakes all over the street, frogs, a boa constrictor hanging from a tree over the road. Carnival music. Our car hits a horse, and its head hangs down over the windshield. The boa’s mouth is by my window, which is open. I keep yelling, “Close the window! Close the window!”

The horse turns out to be white inflated plastic. A white horse with red rouge cheeks and green lips. A green button on the harness above the eyes. When we see that, we laugh, realizing the whole thing was artificial, a prank.

We venture off to see the rest of the film, which is playing just two more days.

While we’re still reaching way back

MY BALD-HEADED, VERY-STRAIGHT boss and I were smoking dope together. He was smiling. Just like Eisenhower.

I DREAMED IN A FOREIGN language. Espanol, never French, on occasion.

MARY WAS SURROUNDED by death asleep next to Sara, who was driving a hearse to pick up hitchhikers. Mary, bless her, was running from the Devil, who wouldn’t harm Sara because she’s Jewish.

AN EQUESTRIAN BESIDE ME was riding a horse. Flashing a fantastic double-edged golden sword, she vindictively slayed three standing enemies, one at a time with a clean sweep, splitting them symmetrically, as if with a razor. They fell away. The first time was funny and unexpected. The next two, a warning that awakened me.

As an introduction, here’s a suite of dreams from long ago

MY BUDDY’S IN A TEN-GALLON HAT and riding an elevator at his old high school in Brooklyn as we go to watch his honey in a swim meet. We get out at the top floor and there’s a river, where all the girls but one are swimming upstream. He hops in, swims downstream to a rock with a girl sunning on it. She starts screaming, and the other girls turn to come to her rescue. He watches as his pistol sinks in the water. He swims through the rapids to his horse only to find the other girls already there, holding rifles.

 

WE’RE IN A VICTORIAN-ERA ghetto at night. She wants to go to church. We go in amid a semicircle of people and sit down with friends. I take a break, get up, step outside to meet a city transit bus, kiss a girl, go back in to sit next to him, shamefaced a bit. My chair, a folding metal chair, is sideways, out of kilter. She whispers, “Don’t move.” That’s when I realize there’s a dead body beneath me and a man in the balcony with a rifle pointed at me. The preacher in the pulpit is silent.

 

I’M TRAVELING WITH a seven-year-old blonde cousin through a suburb. She speaks fluent French. I don’t. Everybody but me speaks French. She is my translator as we journey.

Carefully unroll this scroll of dreams, please

I HAVE NO IDEA OF HOW you dream or what fills your nocturnal flights, but I’m curious. Are there commonalities or do our subconscious thoughts run in much different directions?

My assumption is that there’s nothing more personal than the encounters that flit through our heads in our sleep. They visit us, unbidden and unencumbered and then entrance us before typically vanishing with little more than a trace, if that. Maybe they’ve elevated our heart rate in the process or left us in a cold sweat.

No doubt inspired by Jack Kerouac’s Book of Dreams but also some references to spiritual practices that urged paying close attention to the overnight phenomenon, I began recording what I could back in the early ‘70s and have continued the practice, however sporadically, through the decades since.

Through the coming year, I’ll be revisiting that ledger and posting bits in installments here at the Barn. Maybe that will even prompt you to share some of your memories and related insights.

I make no pretense of knowing precisely what meaning, if any, many of these have, by the way, but I’ve long felt that make for some great yet private movies. As for their frequently surreal nature? Sometimes it’s even entertaining.

~*~

A FEW YEARS AGO, I wondered whether in a Judeo-Christian tradition this would seem occult. The Biblical perspectives did open my eyes – to my surprise, in a mostly positive awareness:

  • Genesis 20: God speaks to Abilelech the king about Sara. Interestingly, this is the first dream in Scripture, and it’s a revelation to a Gentile!
  • Genesis 28: Jacob dreams of the ladder. Yes, up into the ether and back to earth, which can also be seen as the essence of a dream.
  • Genesis 31: Jacob tells of his dream of the goats and of how an angel of God speaks to him in the dream. So he hears voices in his dreams. Do you?
  • Genesis 37: Joseph proclaims his dreams, and his brothers react negatively.
  • Genesis 40-42: Joseph interprets dreams in Egypt.
  • Numbers 12: God rebukes Aaron and Miriam, telling them that when it comes to a prophet, “I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.”
  • Deuteronomy 13: A testing about false prophets claiming dreams and to put the false dreamer to death. Watch what you say, then.
  • Judges 7: During the night (i.e., a dream or trance) “the Lord said to Gideon” and then Gideon hears someone else tell of a dream that yet another interprets as victory ahead and Gideon praises God.
  • 1 Samuel 28: The Lord does not answer Saul, even by dreams.
  • 1 Kings 3: The Lord appears to Solomon at night in a dream.
  • Job 7: Job to God, “even you frighten me with dreams.”
  • Job 20: False advice, “Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found.”
  • Job 33: Elihu’s false advice arising “in a dream, in a vision of the night.”
  • Psalm 73:20: Sweeping away enemies like a dream.
  • Psalm 126:1: “We were like men who dreamed … our tongues were filled with songs of joy.”
  • Ecclesiastes 5:3: “As a dream comes when there are many cares.”
  • Isaiah 29: “When a hungry man dreams that he is eating, but he awakens, and his hunger remains … as a thirsty man dreams that he is drinking.”
  • Jeremiah 23, regarding false prophets claiming dreams: “I am against prophets who steal from one another words that are supposedly from me!”
  • Jeremiah 27: “So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon.’”
  • Jeremiah 29: “Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them [the false prophets] to have.”
  • Daniel 1-2: “And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds,” introducing Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
  • Daniel 4: Nebuchadnezzar’s interpreted.
  • Daniel 7: Daniel’s dream of four beasts.
  • Joel 2:28: “Your old men will dream dreams.”
  • Zechariah 10:2: About “false dreams.”
  • Matthew 1: An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream.
  • Matthew 2: The three wise men were “warned of God in a dream.”
  • Matthew 27:19: Pilate’s wife has a disturbing dream and warns against judging Jesus.
  • Acts 2:17: “And your old men shall dream dreams.”
  • Jude 8: “Filthy dreamers defile the flesh.”

In these texts, the “dreams and visions” often come directly from God, even to Gentiles. Other times, they come by way of angels.

~*~

THAT SAID, I OFFER the series largely unedited, allowing its flashes and visions to speak for themselves. I have, however, changed some of the names and places to maintain a degree of separation from real-life people and locations, not that in a dreamscape the person I associate with the action actually resembled the one in the vision. I have no idea what prompted many of them, although there are times I’ll include a real-life context in my record.

Dreams are a world of their own. Agreed?

A twist in that dream of being discovered

Which part of my work would I most want “discovered”? Note, I didn’t say which part of me. How telling!

Apart from my journaling itself, it’s always hard for me to imagine writing that’s not intended for circulation, either among a small select circle or else a wide public. Anything else could be left as notes to myself. So I’m always surprised to hear otherwise, yet apparently there are many who practice the art purely for their own private pleasure.

On the other hand, I’ve also worked so hard, so long, to be invisible. To be among those sharply objective observers. The dispassionate yogi – even though ultimately, as I’m finding, passion is what counts, in life and in art. Read the Psalms, if you must, for divine confirmation.

For one thing, as I’m finally admitting, I’m finding how liberating and energizing the effort to candidly proclaim “I hate” x, y, or z can be. No more nice face requirement, but the full range of feeling, from noble to disgust.

Face it, there’s no visibility as a poet – and even novelists are surprisingly marginal these days.

So here it is, and there you are, doing whatever we do.

BOTH NOVELS TAKE PLACE IN THE SAME TOWN MANY YEARS APART

My newest novels are both set in the same college town, but each one focuses on a different locale within it.

Daffodil Uprising takes place largely on the campus, and even when three of the characters move off into a shabby apartment, their focus is on college. It’s an outpost in more ways than one.

What’s Left, in contrast, settles into a neighborhood between the school and the courthouse square. The town and its university aren’t even named in this account. Instead, Cassia’s family’s restaurant is the center of attention, along with their surrounding properties. This story has a strong sense of the town itself, including the river, and the family’s impact on the community.

One thing I’ll confess is that in abstracting the location, I’ve created a place that doesn’t actually exist in the state. There’s nowhere along the Ohio River that’s just an hour from Indianapolis. Consider it as something like the visual tricks Edward Hopper performed in his paintings. Things feel right, despite the realities.

Southern Indiana, with its hills and forests, really is defined in large part by its relationship to the river. I hope I’ve heightened that sense.

LETTING THE POET SPEAK FOR HIMSELF

I had long been perplexed why my modern American poetry class in the late ’60s had spent so much time on Edwin Arlington Robinson, especially since we never got up to more pressing figures like Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, or Gary Snyder.

I made a jab at this plaint in my Daffodil Sunrise novel, where our budding photographer was panicking while typing away on his take on Robinson.

More recently, when reworking that manuscript into Daffodil Uprising, I found myself running with the poet more fully.

For one thing, I had to admit he was more contemporary than I’d allowed back in college. His lines and insights are clean, prescient of new approaches, even snippy.

For another, he could be bitter, sarcastic, depressed – as were many beats and budding hippies.

Edwin Arlington Robinson. I still think he looks like a proto-hippie.

His parents themselves weren’t that far from bohemian, either. His mother couldn’t even come up with a name for him, after all, and that fell to a circle of “summer people” visiting Maine. They put names in a hat or whatever and the slip of paper that came up was Edwin. The woman was from Arlington, Massachusetts. Bingo. We have a middle name.

His eldest brother went from being a successful businessman to bankrupt and alcoholic to die in poverty with tuberculosis.

His other brother, a physician, became addicted to morphine and died of what might have been an intentional overdose.

Living the past 31 years in northern New England, I’m now familiar with the culture Robinson grew up within. Gardiner, Maine, is a few hours up the road from us. I have friends whose roots are there.

Without giving a spoiler, let me say Robinson is now an active figure in the new novel. He infuses some wonderful, if sardonic, perspectives to the younger generation, and becomes a foil for similar spirits from the Edwardian past that sway the photographer’s girlfriend, too.

Would he talk this way, though? Who knows.

By now we’re dealing with fantasy, anyway, and that’s so unlike the concrete details of his verse. Again, we’ll excuse ourselves with poetic license.

IN THE RECIPE FOR A MYSTERY NOVEL

Does a mystery novel have to revolve around a detective? Even a charming amateur? Or can it focus instead on the leading suspect?

In proposing a book with the working title, Dinner to Die For, I envisioned an anonymous restaurant critic who works for an independent television station. How to handle the visuals for each review would have posed an interesting challenge, something quite unlike the so-called Phantom Gourmet who has since become a popular staple on a New England cable news channel. He’s widely recognized on the street, for one thing.

Well, the novel never moved forward. This project was predicated on two collaborators, who eventually declined, however discretely.

Still, enough remained to slip into my newest book, Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang.

As a further twist, my biggest novel on the way is also about food and restaurants. This time, from the inside. And I promise, it won’t be a mystery.

~*~

Parallel Tracks
Parallel Tracks

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.