Posts Tagged ‘Dreams’

Three Bananas

Monday, October 30th, 2017

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did diptych by Max Greenstreet (click on image to make larger)

The laboratory of Luigi Idano and Tamara Whozat. Various experiments underway. Luigi, male, hirsute, portly, prone to sweating. Tamara, female, burgundy hair, pleasingly curvaceous, only sweats in saunas, left eyebrow tastefully pierced with shard of amethyst.

Luigi: I know it’s a small sample size, but…

Tamara: Miniscule.

Luigi: Granted. But the implications are staggering.

Tamara: Hyperbole.

Luigi: Granted. Promising?

Tamara: Three nights, Luigi. Three times. You call this science?

Luigi: I never called it science. I called it a possible breakthrough of epic life-changing potentiality and I want to put out an all-points bulletin post haste trumpeting our discovery to the entire world.

Tamara: All points bulletin? What era do you think we’re living in?

Luigi: Well…then a tweet thing or a face thing.

Tamara: How can you be so out of synch with the way people communicate now?

Luigi: Out of synch? I happen to like all-point bulletins; they point in every direction. I like landline phone connections. I like letters arriving in my post office box. Envelopes with stamps on them. Pieces of paper with writing on them inside the envelopes.

Tamara: Fine. But why not wait until you try your little experiment a few more times? Why tell the world something that might not be true?

Luigi: Because I feel certain it is true. And besides, what could it hurt? We’re talking about bananas here. Who could object to bananas?

Tamara: I know several people who do not like bananas unless cooked in banana bread.

Luigi: How sad.

Tamara: Yes, but the point is…bananas may be too specific.

Luigi: Then food? What if I said food?

Tamara: Not specific enough. Food might include chocolate, and that would be antithetical to your hypothesis, assuming your hypothesis is the one I assume you have.

Luigi: But I must do something. This discovery could make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people, and in the lives of those who sleep with those people. Oh please let me put out an all-points bulletin and a tweet thing and a face thing. Please?

Tamara: I’m sorry, Luigi. I can’t be a party to this.

Luigi: Who said anything about a party?

Tamara: I thought you’d appreciate the archaic-ness of that expression.

Luigi: I do, actually. Okay, I’ll go it alone.

Tamara: You understand it’s not that I don’t want your discovery to be true. I do. But I don’t want another fiasco befalling our enterprise like that whole gluten-free-diets-raise-your-IQ thing we suffered through last year.

Luigi: Well, going gluten-free certainly raised my IQ.

Tamara: There you go again. Extrapolating from insufficient data.

Luigi: Does this mean I can’t use our official laboratory stationery for the all-points bulletin?

Tamara: That’s what it means. Your findings do not come from the Laboratory of Luigi Idano and Tamara Whozat. This is your own wholly unfounded personal unscientific conjecture based on three nights and three bananas. For all we know the ripeness of the bananas may be a major factor, as might your desire for the bananas to be effective. The positive result you attained could be nothing more than a placebo effect, and you know how rigorously we study placebo effects in all our experiments.

Luigi: What if I characterized my results as anecdotal?

Tamara: Yes, do that. But not on lab stationery.

Luigi goes to his desk and writes the following letter.

To Whom It May Concern

For many years now I have had trouble sleeping at night. That is, I rarely have trouble falling asleep, but after a couple hours of slumber I will wake and not be able to go back to sleep. I have tried various herbal sleep aids, sleeping pills prescribed by doctors, hypnosis, psychotherapy, and myriad other cures for what ails me with no good results.

When I recently mentioned my difficulty to my acupressurist, she responded by asking, “Did you know it actually takes energy to sleep?”

I said I did not actually know this, but having slept with people who snore such that they sound as if they are wielding a chainsaw for eight hours without stopping, I can see how sleeping requires energy.

My acupressurist then said she had another client who also used to wake every night and was not able to go back to sleep; and this client, upon learning that sleeping requires energy, decided to keep a banana beside her bed so when she woke in the night and could not go back to sleep, she would eat the banana to give her energy, but not the kind of energy that kept her awake, rather an energy that helped her sleep. And verily it came to pass that eating a banana in the middle of the night worked wonders for her—the wonders of adequate sleep.

So these last three nights I had a banana at the ready beside my bed, and when I woke in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep, I ate the banana and fell back asleep. The first night, I had a dream about putting the wrong address on a package. The second night, I dreamt my funky childhood home turned into a palace. The third night I dreamt I was lost in a fog-enshrouded city. I was dressed as a clown with a tiny top hat and enormous shoes.

Who knows what my dreams mean, but I sure as shootin’ know what falling asleep means; it means I will have a banana by my bedside again tonight and tomorrow night and the night after.

Luigi shows the letter to Tamara.

Tamara: Good for you, Luigi. Send your message forth. Tell the world.

Luigi: I will. And would you post my message on your tweeting face thing?

Tamara: No.

Luigi: Fine. But take a moment to consider a person, possibly a good friend of yours, someone you really like, having trouble sleeping and reading my anecdotal evidence on your face tweet thing and gaining a new lease on life. Think about that, Tamara.

Tamara: No. Now can we get back to work on our will-flax-seeds-in-your-cookie-batter-make you-happier experiment? Our control placebo group of ravenous stevedores will be here in twenty minutes.

Luigi: Roger that. As soon as I send off my banana news to the far corners of the earth I will pop the non-flax-seeded cookies in the oven.

Tamara: Good. And I’ll make the coffee.

Stuff of Dreams

Monday, August 28th, 2017

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totality diptych by Max Greenstreet

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” Shakespeare

There’s an old vaudeville routine in which a guy goes to a doctor, painfully lifts his arm above his head and says, “Doc, every time I do this, it hurts like crazy.” The doctor looks at the guy and says, “Don’t do that.”

I recently had a run of lousy nights of sleep. When I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I am not a happy camper the next day—an afternoon nap my only hope of regaining equipoise. While searching for reasons why I was sleeping poorly after a spate of nights when I slept like a well-exercised child with a clear conscience, I realized I’d been reading national news within a few hours of going to bed.

To which the vaudeville doctor said, “Don’t do that.”

So I stopped reading or viewing any news for a few days and thereafter limited my intake to a little news in the morning; and thereafter having a good night’s sleep became much less problematic.

“Delusions of grandeur make me feel a lot better about myself.” Lily Tomlin

For most of the days of my life for the last forty-five years I’ve been writing a novel or play or screenplay or collection of stories. I write these longer works sequentially, not simultaneously. I’ve tried to write multiple works of fiction simultaneously a few times in my life, and my muse is never pleased. However, she does not mind sorties into non-fiction while I’m creating my larger fictive works. I theorize that my fiction writing employs neural pathways distinct from those used for writing non-fiction; thus the two processes do not collide.

My dreams, on the other hand, seem to share neural pathways with my fiction writing, and if I drift off to sleep thinking about the novel I’m writing, my dreams will compose scenes, often nonsensical, to fit, sort of, the fiction I’m working on. These dream/fiction hybrids can disturb my sleep much as nightmares will, so I try to leave my work at the office, so to speak, when I lay me down to sleep, though I’m not always successful at keeping my characters and plot twists at bay.

“In my dream, I am your customer, and the customer is always right.” Laurie Anderson

Over the course of my adult life, I’ve remembered dozens of dreams in which I am giving a piano concert for an enormous audience, or I am about to give such a concert. In some of these dreams, I enter the concert hall, see the piano I am supposed to perform on, and various obstacles and detours keep me from ever reaching the piano. In other dreams, I make it to the stage, sit down at the piano, and find keys missing or the piano is terribly out-of-tune or the piano is full of vines or cats or naked women, and is therefore unplayable. Or I begin to play and the keyboard disintegrates.

However, in two of my piano dreams, the pianos remained intact and I played gorgeous danceable music, my fingers incapable of making mistakes, every note just right—and the crowd went wild.

“Sleep is the best meditation.” Dalai Lama

The brain/body/mind consortium is highly suggestible. I often forget to remember this. But when I do remember how suggestible my system is, and I take a few minutes before falling asleep to suggest to my brain/body/mind that I will sleep wonderfully well and wake rested and full of energy, I very often do.

“When an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate.” Carl Jung

I’ve always liked this pronouncement of Jung’s, which I take to mean that our unconscious patterns of behavior shape our waking lives as much or more than the conscious choices we make. From what I’ve read by and about Jung, I think he might also have said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it will express itself in our dreams, and we can interpret those dreams to help us uncover and perhaps overcome some of those unconscious patterns of behavior that are interfering with our happiness.”

Joseph Campbell frequently recounted the story of Jung undergoing psychoanalysis and reaching a profound impasse that stymied him for several months until he had an epiphany about the most blissful activity of his childhood: building little stone houses and villages. So he “followed his bliss”, bought some land on the shores of Lake Zürich, and built a stone house. While building this house, he had a series of dreams, the interpretations of which helped him overcome the impasse in his psychoanalysis.

“One does not dream; one is dreamed. We undergo the dream, we are the objects.” Carl Jung

Marcia and I both had bizarre dreams last night. Marcia’s dream involved going on a quest to find beer for the many uninvited guests crowding into the living room of our house that was not our house. She eventually made it all the way from Mendocino to India and forgot about trying to find beer.

My dream starred two darling children and their young mother who were trying to teach me their language, which seemed to be a mixture of Spanish and Arabic. I was sitting facing a large blackboard on which the children took turns writing words they wanted me to learn. One of the words was arastó. The children gleefully shouted arastó, but wouldn’t tell me what it meant.

Then a handsome young man entered the room and said his name was Abababus. He warned me to never forget the second ba when saying his name. I woke from this dream and could not go back to sleep until I got up and wrote down Abababus, lest I forget the second ba.

What caused these dreams? Marcia theorizes my spaghetti sauce—turmeric, cumin, garlic, various unusual heirloom tomatoes, red wine, olive oil—may have been the author of our dreams.

Bochy Dreams

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

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(This short story appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2014)

Bruce Bochy, a pleasant slow moving man, is the longtime manager of the San Francisco Giants. A former catcher known for his gruffness rather than the poetry of his speech, Bruce seems much older than his fifty-nine years—his gray hair turning white and his reactions to exciting moments during games oddly delayed, as if he requires a few extra moments to come back into his body before responding to a great catch or a home run or a game-winning strikeout.

Though many pundits and fans find Bruce dull and often a batter too late in removing exhausted pitchers, he has won two World Series and been continuously employed as a major league manager for nineteen seasons. Because his after-game press conferences are invariably wooden and uninformative, few people are aware of Bruce’s two great talents: he is a master at instilling confidence in men who lack confidence, and his dreams frequently provide him with information he uses during games.

Only Bruce knows of this latter talent, for he has never revealed his baseball dreams to anyone, not even his beloved wife of thirty-five years or his best friend Dave Righetti, the Giants’ pitching coach.

The first time Bruce used dream information to make a managerial decision came during his second month as a major league manager when he stunned San Diego Padres fans and players by pinch-hitting for Andy Ashby who had thrown seven dominant shutout innings, exhibited no signs of tiring, and had a one-to-nothing lead over the slumping Phillies. At the post game press conference, Bruce explained, “I took Andy out because his pitch count was high, the bullpen has been real good lately, and I wanted to get that run in from second.”

What Bruce did not share with the public was that the night before the game in question, he dreamt that Phil Plantier, pinch-hitting for the aforementioned Ashby, beat out a slow grounder and set the table for Brad Ausmus to follow with a three-run blast, which is exactly what transpired in the actual game.

Bruce was no fool and knew better than to reveal the source of his inspiration to a society wholly unprepared for such nonsense. Indeed, Bruce ignored his dream visions for many years because he didn’t believe such metaphysical hoo ha could possibly prove true, and he probably would have continued to ignore his dreams had not curiosity gotten the better of him.

Today, nineteen years after that fateful game against Philadelphia, Bruce routinely uses dream data to help him make decisions in much the same way he uses baseball statistics. His dreams by no means guarantee victory, but they do suggest possible strategies and substitutions Bruce might not otherwise consider. Thus he now trusts his dreams in much the same way he trusts his sense of when a pitcher is tiring or when a player needs a good talking to.

But the greatest value of Bruce’s dreams is not so much strategic as emotional, for his relationships with his players in his dreams are much richer and more complicated and enjoyable than his relationships with those same players in real life, and these dreamtime relationships greatly amplify Bruce’s fondness and respect for his players when he is awake.

Brandon Crawford, the Giants acrobatic shortstop, once said of Bruce, “It’s hard to explain, but I feel like he really knows me. Not just how I play, but who I am. You know what I mean? I know that sounds quasi-mystical, but that’s how I feel sometimes, like he knows me better than I know myself.”

In last night’s dream, Bruce inserted Juan Perez, recently up from Triple A, into a game as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning, and Perez proceeded to foul off several pitches before hitting an inside-the-park home run. What makes this dream especially interesting to Bruce is that he hasn’t given Perez many chances to pinch-hit because he prefers to use him as a pinch-runner late in games. And though the dream does not necessarily presage Perez hitting a home run, or even getting a chance to bat in today’s game, Bruce knows the dream is telling him something important, so he will definitely keep the dream data about Perez in mind as the game unfolds.

Hensley Filemon Acasio “Bam Bam” Meulens, the Giants graceful multi-lingual batting coach, a former outfielder from Curacao who often appears in Bruce’s dreams wearing a tuxedo, leans into Bruce’s office and croons, “Buenos, Bruce. Good batting practice for Blanco and Pence today. They’re both seeing the ball much better now since they had those hypnotherapy sessions, and Crawford’s bat speed is finally picking up now that he’s attending aerobic yoga classes.”

“How about Perez?” asks Bruce, recalling Perez’s dreamtime smash into triples alley—Perez a blur rounding the bases.

“He needs to get into a game,” says Hensley, doing an impromptu cha cha. “He’s struggling with self-doubt from lack of playing time and the existential stress of going back and forth from the minors to the majors. His swing looks good. Level. Smooth. Quick hands. But he’s definitely getting a little sour sitting on the bench.”

“Might let him pinch-hit today,” says Bruce, smiling at Hensley’s dance. “Give him a start tomorrow.”

“Superb,” says Hensley, miming the swing of a bat. “Feels right, Bruce. He’ll be so happy.”

Bruce laughs drily. “Yeah, might let Perez pinch-hit today and start him tomorrow.”

“Love to see that kid run,” says Hensley, dancing away. “Kid can fly.”

And four hours later Perez does, indeed, fly around the bases, his inside-the-park home run the game winner.

When asked by reporters after the game about his decision to use Perez as the pinch hitter instead of Ishikawa who is hitting better than .350 in pinch-hit situations, Bruce shrugs and says, “We liked what we saw from Juan during batting practice and he’s been needing playing time, so…just a hunch.”

Tapestry

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Tapestry

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“In individuals, insanity is rare: but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Friedrich Nietzsche

My brother sent me an email with a link to a page at Amazon where one can purchase, for just three hundred dollars, a Parrot Drone Quadricopter. This drone weighs four pounds and is twenty-three inches by twenty-three inches small and is equipped with a video camera. The drone can be controlled using an iPhone, iPad, and android devices. The four-prop drone records and shares video while flying. There were three hundred reviews by people who have purchased this particular drone, but I did not read any of the reviews because I feared one or more of them would include complaints about the limited bomb-carrying capacity of the drone.

 “There are only two dangers for a writer: success and failure, and you have to be able to survive both.” Edward Albee

A friend sent me an email suggesting I read something by a fantastically successful American novelist I had never heard of. I was not surprised I had never heard of this writer, as I read almost no fiction by living American writers. Why? Because nearly every time I give one of these writers a try, I am more than disappointed, I am horrified. I suffer from the knowledge of proper grammar and syntax, and when an author reveals in the first paragraph or first page of his or her novel or short story that he or she knows little about grammar and syntax, I find it impossible to proceed.

But when a friend emphatically recommends a writer, I will at least give that writer a look-see. Alas, this latest fantastically successful writer failed the grammar/syntax test before I was three sentences into his multi-award winning novel, and seeing that these failures continued regularly thereafter and were clearly not the fruit of an intentional stylistic choice, I gave up and went back to working on my own fantastically unsuccessful, but grammatically sound work.

“Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head; this world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid.” Bob Dylan

A young professional football player named Aaron Hernandez has recently been arrested and charged with murder. The owner of the team he played for, the New England Patriots, assembled a group of reporters to announce that Hernandez had duped them by pretending for two years to be hardworking and polite while also proving to be a fantastic football player. Now it appears Hernandez was a gun-toting, drug and alcohol-using criminal who may have killed even more people than the one person he is accused of killing.

The owner of the New England Patriots was outraged that Hernandez was not the person that he, the owner, thought Hernandez was. Indeed, many people involved in professional football, a sport that celebrates violence and encourages players to try to severely injure each other, also expressed outrage that this young man, who grew up in an ultra-violent society listening to ultra-violent rap music and playing ultra-violent video games and watching ultra-violent movies that glorify gangsters and guns and senseless killing, might prove to be criminally violent.

“The two biggest sellers in any bookstore are the cookbooks and the diet books. The cookbooks tell you how to prepare the food and the diet books tell you how not to eat any of it.” Andy Rooney

Recent news suggests that the vast book-selling conglomerate Barnes & Noble may soon go out of business. In my youth there were only independent bookstores. Then the era of chain stores dawned and chain bookstores such as B. Dalton and Crown Books popped up everywhere and put many independent bookstores out of business. Then along came chains of giant bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders and they put the chains of smaller bookstores out of business and put many more independent bookstores out of business. Then along came the interweb and Amazon and the advent of e-books, and Borders was wiped out and now Barnes & Noble is collapsing, which should portend a few good years for the remaining independent bookstores patronized by a shrinking number of people who are still willing to pay full price for books and have not yet converted to e-readers.

In the course of this swiftly evolving bookstore landscape, the personal computer became as ubiquitous as television, cell phones took over the world, and the proper use of grammar and syntax became a dying art, not quite yet entirely dead, but nearly so. And the amazing thing (amazing to me) about the pervasive misuse of our beautiful language in most of the books published in America today is that very few people are aware that anything is amiss with the writing they read.

Several people have responded to my lamenting the demise of good writing with eerily similar proclamations along the lines of, “I don’t care how good the writing is so long as I like the story.” This strikes me as deeply ridiculous, as ridiculous as saying, “I don’t care if there’s any water in the river, so long as I can catch some fish.”

“The one thing the public dislike is novelty.” Oscar Wilde

On July 9, 2013, NBC news reported: “New research shows the more pollution, the higher the health risks.”

That startling news brings to mind those feature articles that appear in Lifestyle and Home & Garden sections of Sunday newspapers everywhere and have been appearing in those sections every few months since the 1960’s, articles about an amazing new phenomenon called organic gardening. These articles invariably feature smiling people who have been gardening in this revolutionary new way for at least a year or so and just love the results. These radical gardeners don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers yet somehow still manage to grow vegetables and fruits that taste wonderful.

I wonder why it is that organic gardening is forever being characterized in the mainstream media as something new. I find this to be one of the great mysteries of my lifetime, every bit as mysterious as the constant rediscovery that walking is good for us.

“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” William Shakespeare

When I was a young man, I read an obituary that had such a profound impact on me that I can still see the entire layout of the obituary in my mind’s eye. The large black and white photograph accompanying the long article was of a slender man with a long white beard sitting at a table and writing with a pen on a large piece of parchment. This man (I can’t remember his name) was famous for three things. The first thing he was famous for was that he had been one of several dozen people involved in a renowned (now forgotten) research project concerned with the relationship between human health and walking. The second thing he was famous for was the invention of a simplified English alphabet (now forgotten) that he believed would usher in an era of universal literacy that would in turn lead to universal prosperity. And the third thing he was famous for was that he lived until he was a hundred and seven and was mentally and physically fit as a fiddle until the last day of his life.

I don’t remember much about his simplified alphabet except that he had eliminated the use of most vowels, which struck me as a bad idea since I loved vowels, a love that continues to this day. I do, however, remember the details of the research project he was involved in that evaluated the effect of walking on human health. According to the obituary, when this man was in his sixties, he was in such poor health that his doctors declared he would soon be dead. He was obese, his heart was failing, he was anemic, pre-diabetic, his liver was shot, on and on. It was at this point in his life that he got involved in the research project with several dozen other elderly people who had also been declared hopelessly ill by the medical establishment.

The project required that these people take long walks every day, and by long walks I mean walks of ten and fifteen and sometimes twenty miles, with only occasional days off from walking. According to this obituary, nearly all the people in the study not only got completely well—theretofore incurable diseases and ailments literally disappeared from these people—but they all lived well into their nineties and beyond.

“There are seven different souls in each person: the mineral soul, the vegetable soul, the animal soul, the human soul, the angelic soul, the secret soul, and the soul of the secret of secrets.” Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak

Last night I dreamt I was helping Aaron Hernandez clear away branches hanging down into a small meadow where Aaron was going to be acting as a psychotherapist for people coming to him for help. We worked in silence, I doing the pruning and Aaron dragging away the branches. I felt peaceful and optimistic, and I had no doubt that Aaron would be a great help to the people who came to see him. Strangely, the more branches I pruned, the more branches there were to prune, yet I felt confident that we would soon get the branches cleared away and Aaron would be able to proceed with his work.

Three Musketeers

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(First published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2011)

“Oh, the women, the women!” cried the old soldier. “I know them by their romantic imagination. Everything that savors of mystery charms them.” Alexandre Dumas

Last Thursday evening, as I was about to go to bed, I had a moment of panic because I had nothing to read. Yes, there are millions of books; and hundreds of new volumes flood the world every day; but I was hungry for a particular literary food I’ve cultivated a taste for over a lifetime, nothing else will do, and I wasn’t sure I had anything of the kind in the house I hadn’t too recently read. Alas, I am allergic to science fiction, murder mysteries (save for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes), fantasy, horror, mainstream fiction, exposés of the depredations of the oligarchic octopus, and odes to the coming collapse, thus new prose is, for the most part, of no use to me.

Stumbling into my cluttered office, I espied a volume recently procured from Daedalus Books, that goodly purveyor of publishers’ overstocks—a happily inexpensive Dover edition of the 167-year-old The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I had attempted to read the book as a teenager and found the language too rich for my fledgling taste buds. I had seen a movie based loosely on the book (there have been more than twenty movies made from the novel) and I have always liked myths in which a group of characters compose a collective being, each character a distinct aspect of the whole—Robin Hood, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck; Groucho, Harpo, and Chico; D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. And so with hope in my heart, I lugged the ample paperback to bed, settled in for my customary bout of reading before sleep, and was relieved to find the first two chapters of The Three Musketeers exactly the food I craved.

“The intrigue grows tangled.” Alexandre Dumas

Three months before I began to read The Three Musketeers, I was inspired by various twists of fate to begin a series of large and colorful drawings (large for me, small for Picasso), 20 x 16 inches. I have been making pen and ink sketches since I was a child, but it was only two years ago at the age of fifty-nine that I went public for the first time with my artwork by introducing each chapter of my novel Under the Table Books with a pen and ink drawing. When these illustrations were mentioned favorably in reviews, I was emboldened to create seven zany black and white birthday cards (you can color them or not) that failed to cause a commercial ripple, much less a splash. Thereafter I contented myself with using the myriad scans of my drawings to decorate the instant stationery that computers and laser printers make possible.

What do my drawings have to do with The Three Musketeers?

“My heart is that of a musketeer; I feel it, Monsieur, and that impels me on.” Alexandre Dumas

Nine months ago I was invited to submit a short story to the Consumnes River Journal, a literary magazine of Consumnes Community College near Sacramento. I sent the editors a provocative story I was sure they would publish, but they disappointed my hopes. However, they were enamored of a drawing I included with the story, and to this drawing they dedicated an entire glossy page of their journal. Then about two months ago, shortly after the publication of the journal, I was contacted by a curator of an annual art show in Sacramento, a show of visual art created by writers, and this curator asked if I would like to present a few of my drawings in the next such show.

As it happened, the day I received the curator’s communiqué, I had just completed a series of three (large for me, small for Picasso) pieces I hoped to enter in a juried show at the Mendocino Art Center. However, I failed to have these beauties framed in time (they are still not framed) for the day of judgment, and so I will never know if I would have won a place in that show or not. Nevertheless, my sketching juices were flowing nicely when I received this invitation from Sacramento, and so there ensued a flurry of pen and ink inventions resulting in the birth of a family of colorful characters named Mr. and Mrs. Magician and their children Mystery, Mischief, and Merlin.

“D’Artagnan was amazed to note by what fragile and unknown threads the destinies of nations and the lives of men are suspended.” Alexandre Dumas

The central hero (sometimes anti-hero) of The Three Musketeers is a daring young man named D’Artagnan. Whenever Dumas found himself at a cul-de-sac in the plot, he arranged for D’Artagnan to accidentally stumble upon an important someone or something to get the action moving again. These recurring “accidentals” are among my least favorite things about the novel, along with much of the final third of the mighty tome, though when I learned Dumas wrote the novel in serial form (The Three Musketeers was first published in a French magazine over the course of several months in 1844) I was more forgiving of these implausible plot twists, having myself authored a serial work of fiction for a Sacramento weekly in the 1980’s.

And, in fact, we do frequently stumble upon and over things that propel the plots of our lives, so in that sense D’Artagnan embodies the Sufi mystic who goes forth with an open heart and open mind to discover what the universe has to offer. As Paladin’s business card said Have Gun, Will Travel, so D’Artagnan’s card might have read Have Sword, Will Duel, and my card might say Have Pen, Will Make Large (for me, not for Picasso) Drawings.

Speaking of propelling the plot…lacking a studio I have commandeered the dining table for purposes of making my larger-than-usual drawings, and Marcia, my wife and boon companion these last five years, is now privy to my works-in-progress. To my great relief, she likes my drawings and even makes cogent suggestions about color choices and composition, all of which I strictly obey. (Not)

One recent evening Sandy Cosca came over and Marcia said to me, “Show Sandy your drawings,” which I did.

Sandy chuckled at the drawings (because they are funny) and asked, “Are these illustrations for a story?”

And though I heard myself say, “No,” I wondered if they were illustrations for a story. How long a story? A novella? A novel? A serial?

Two days later, Marion Crombie, freshly returned from England, viewed the drawings, smiled brightly, and asked, “Do these go with a story?”

So at last we come back to that fateful evening I alluded to in the first sentence of this article, when I, in a D’Artagnan-like moment of desperation, stumbled into my office, found The Three Musketeers, and began to feed upon that tale. Having gobbled the first two chapters, I fell asleep and had a vivid dream in which the Magician family came to life and revealed themselves to be a complicated and compelling collective being, each character a distinct aspect of a fantabulous whole. The dream, clearly, was the beginning of a story: Mr. and Mrs. Magician and their children Merlin, Mystery, and Mischief, though what the story is about and how long it turns out to be remain to be seen.

I have only written the first two chapters, and so far the tale seems less about dueling with the forces of evil ala D’Artagnan, and more about parents and children and their struggles to separate and individuate and ultimately come together again to take meaningful action against the larger forces of greed and avarice. The Magicians, though not great swordsmen or the darlings of wealthy queens and kings and cardinals, seem to be social activists of a most unusual kind, and they seem to pose the question: how will we, you and I, give aid to our friends and our communities in the face of the terrible and growing inequities engendered by a ruling class of narcissistic psychopaths hell bent on turning back the clock to feudal times when the likes of D’Artagnan and his fellow musketeers served a tiny minority of wealthy people whose pathological selfishness kept all but the luckiest few enslaved by poverty and fear?

You can view Todd’s zany birthday cards (and soon his Magician family drawings) at UnderTheTableBooks.com

Carma

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser: April 2010)

Yesterday a tree fell on our car. Fortunately no one was in the car when the wind snapped the top third off the pine tree and a thousand pounds of soon-to-be firewood fell twenty feet though the crystalline springtime air and smashed the roof, the windshield, and the hood of our dearly beloved cello-toting 1996 Toyota Corolla wagon.

We had just gone for a brief spin in our old pickup truck, eschewing the wagon because she was low on gas, and I had just said to Marcia regarding the formidable westerly winds, “This is a trees-falling-on-power-lines kind of day if I’ve ever seen one.” Upon our return from the spin, there was Zephyr (so named in a fit of poesy when I bought her five years ago) half-buried under the glossy needles and sappy timber of the former upper reaches of a quasi-stunted pine doing his best to survive in that nutrient-stingy soil known hereabouts as Pygmy. The bottom two-thirds of the still-living tree loomed over the wreckage; the scene only lacking a raven perched on the stub cawing, “Nevermore.”

We were in shock. When we got married two plus years ago we not only exchanged rings, we exchanged cars. I needed a pickup for pruning jobs and toting manure, Marcia needed a zippy little car for the aforementioned cello toting and friend toting in all sorts of weather. Now Zephyr was totaled. Marcia immediately called AAA and within the hour we were on our way to Fort Bragg to pick up her rental car so the cello toting could continue unabated. Say what you will about the decline and fall of the American Empire, if one has comprehensive auto insurance, the system will seamlessly keep you rolling along. Now if only health insurance would work so seamlessly when trees, as it were, fall on your health.

What does it mean when a tree falls on your car? Well, the most mundane interpretation is that a tree falling on your car means that a tree has fallen on your car. But why did that particular tree fall on that particular car at that particular moment in our lives? Is this a sign? An omen? A message? Was this an act of divine intervention or an attack by the forces of evil? We will almost certainly never know. However, when things like this happen to me, I like to interpret them as I would interpret a dream. What for? Fun, of course.

I’ve read numerous books about dreams and dreaming, countless articles both scientific and fanciful, and I’ve even taken a dream interpretation class, which is the only class of any sort I’ve taken since dropping out of college forty-some years ago. My father was a Freudian psychoanalyst and cursorily introduced me to dream interpretation when I was twelve by giving me a copy of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, a tome I found to be largely useless for my adolescent purposes. But what really got me interested in dreams and dream research was/were beagles.

I was a freshman Anthropology major at the University of California Santa Cruz in 1967, the campus just beginning to spread its concrete tentacles over the former cattle ranch and throughout the third and fourth-growth redwood groves. One of my favorite extracurricular activities was to head off into the largely unexplored woods and hope to get lost, so that in trying to find my way home I would have an adventure. This was a free and fairly safe way to experience the thrill of being lost, because going downhill from anywhere on the campus eventually brought me to a road; and I knew all the roads in that watershed.

So one sunny day I got lost in the forest, had a splendiferous daydream by a sun-dappled pool in a grotto of ferns, and at day’s end I headed downhill. I emerged from the forest in a place unknown to me and espied a cluster of a one-story buildings and a cyclone-fenced enclosure containing several dozen beagles. Curious about this remote installation, I made my way thither. The dogs saw me and charged en masse to the cyclone fence to bark at me. But their barking made no sound. I could see they were barking, but no noise was emanating from their mouths. So, yes, I thought I had gone deaf if not mad.

Totally freaked out (to use a popular expression of that era), I continued my approach and when I was within twenty feet of the pen, several of the hysterical dogs hurled themselves against the cyclone fencing, and I heard the noises their bodies made striking the fence, though nary a sound emerged from their furiously barking mouths. At which moment, a man emerged from one of the buildings, deduced I was the cause of the commotion, and said to me, “Looking for something?”

“I’m lost,” I said. “What is this place?”

“Dream research,” he explained. “We’re using the dogs to map sleep patterns, REM sleep and…”

“What’s REM sleep?”

“Rapid eye movement. Indicates dreaming.”

“What’s wrong with the dogs? Why can’t they bark?”

“We snip their vocal cords,” he said, inadvertently touching his throat. “Impossible to work with the constant din of their barking.”

“Oh,” I said, aghast at his nonchalance about taking away the dogs’ voices. “Why not use humans?”

“We’re laying the groundwork for that,” he said, somewhat condescendingly. “Establishing baselines. Things you probably wouldn’t understand.”

My reports of this canine gulag failed to incite my classmates to storm the lab and rescue the dogs, but something about that encounter and the dreamlike experience of coming upon a pack of silently barking hounds got me reading about sleep and dreams, which took me to Jung and back to Freud and eventually back to Jung, with my simultaneous readings in anthropology leading me to the Dreamtime of the Australian Aboriginals and the Bushmen of the Kalahari who believed there is a dream dreaming us.

Meanwhile, my pal Rico was en route to becoming a psychotherapist, and he, too, was fascinated with dreams and dream interpretation. It was Rico who taught me to recount my dreams out loud in the present tense, which technique invariably improved my recall of important and otherwise overlooked details of the dreams.

Eons later, I would enroll in a ten-week dream interpretation class taught by a brilliant man who was not keen on interpretations that deviated from his, so we butted heads, though I learned many things from him and appreciated the consistency and clarity of his system. And what I especially loved about his class was that we got to act out our dreams, with my fellow students and I taking parts of people and things in each other’s dreams, which enactments often exposed hidden emotions underpinning the dreams.

Then some years ago I caught the end of a radio program featuring a wonderfully articulate woman taking callers’ questions about dreams. A man called to say he wished he had a dream for her to interpret, but that he had never in his life remembered even the tiniest fragment of a dream. And the articulate woman said, “Then tell me what happened to you today and I will interpret that as a dream.”

I don’t remember much else about their interaction, but I have ever since interpreted puzzling and momentous events in my life as I would interpret dreams, from which many groovy insights have emerged. Thus I recommend the practice to you.

Here is the dream version of the tree falling on our car.

Marcia and I emerge from the house we rent and walk toward the Corolla (definition of corolla: the inner envelope of floral leaves of a flower).

“Oh,” says Marcia, “can we take the truck? The wagon’s low on gas.”

“Sure,” I say, noting the Corolla is parked in a place where we almost never park it.

So we take the truck and wend our way along a winding road through the forest, the spring day gorgeous and sunny. The next thing I know we are parking the truck on the side of the road and walking down a wooded driveway to a beautiful house set in a lovely park of old trees and verdant meadows. We pass the house and come to a vast barn-like structure, a fabulous studio on the shores of a lovely lake. In other words, paradise.

“If only this were ours,” we say and think and feel.

We get back in the truck and drive home, each of us lost in fantasies of such a paradise belonging to us. And as we arrive home, we find that a tree has crushed our car.

In short (and drawing from a variety of interpretive schemata): the car (low on gas) represents the means by which the ego navigates the outside world. The tree represents the intelligence and power of Nature. To acquire a house (self) so much larger and more magnificent than our current house (self) and to own (control our destiny) rather than rent (accede control to others) such a grand home (self) would require an entirely different way of conveying our egos in the outside world.

So the question is: do we get another wagon or a sedan? Another Toyota or a Honda? We’re thinking something around three grand.

Todd’s web site is UndertheTableBooks.com.

Transformation

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

(This memoir first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2010: photo by Marcia Sloane)

I have read a great deal about dreams and dreaming, and whether you believe dreams are communications from the astral plane or meaningless imagery resulting from cerebral out gassing, they can certainly remind us of people and places and things we have successfully avoided thinking about for the longest time.

I recently dreamt of being in high school again, and of a transformative moment in my less than excellent adventure there. My dream was a fair enactment of the event from my junior year, though the dream ended differently than the so-called real event.

I was a disinterested student suffering from the sudden onset of chronic pain in my lower back that ended my official athletic career in a heartbreaking twinkling. Verbally precocious, I was enrolled in Advanced English wherein my teachers persistently failed to see the genius behind my sloppy prose. In class discussions I invariably scored points with my classmates for wit and irony and double entendre while merely annoying my sadly average instructors on whom subtly and originality were invariably lost. Or so it seemed to my arrogant teenager’s mind.

My English teacher for my third year of incarceration was a very sad woman who never relaxed. Not in our presence. Ever. I will call her Mrs. R. She trembled when she spoke, as if she feared lightning would strike her for pontificating about things she clearly knew nothing about. She was not inherently stupid, but her anxiety rendered her so. Had she not so obviously disliked me, I might have been more compassionate toward her, but she anointed me her adversary from day one, and so we frequently did battle.

The contest, of course, was unfair. Mrs. R controlled the podium, so to speak, while I had all but a few of my fellow sufferers predisposed to my point of view. And I suppose if Mrs. R had merely been a dogmatic nervous Nellie, I wouldn’t have kept up the fight as long as I did; but she had a pet named V who was the grandest thorn in my high school side. Thus when I fought Mrs. R, I also fought V.

Why was V a thorn? Because she was my least favorite sort of sycophant: a perfect parrot, and she loved Mrs. R with a passion verging on the erotic, their heads being often together as they poured over books and poems and V’s insufferable essays that Mrs. R always deemed the best of the bunch so we always had to listen to V read her putrid prose aloud. And to make matters lethal for the miserable likes of me, V was gorgeous and sultry and possessed of a honeyed voice; and she would only date really good-looking college boys.

That is the context. Here is the event recalled by the dream.

Mrs. R stands before us, her outfit annoyingly salmon. She is, as always, trembling, a false smile pasted on her lips. “I was very disappointed in your essays on the first forty pages of The Scarlet Letter. Only a few of you correctly identified the primary recurring symbolism.” She smiles adoringly at V who is posed alluringly in the front row.

“Is it possible,” I say, speaking from my desk at the back of the room and neglecting to raise my hand, “that Nate just wrote the story without any symbolism in mind?”

A ripple of chuckles rolls around the deathly fluorescent chamber. Mrs. R grimaces. “I will remind you again to raise your hand when you wish to speak. I’ll take questions after V reads her essay.”

V rises to read, her slinky garb igniting our libidinous imaginations. She is totally at ease in her body, in stark contrast to Mrs. R, this being the raison d’etre of V’s life: to demonstrate her vast superiority over all us dunderheads. “Color,” she intones, sounding very much like Dusty Springfield singing The Look of Love, “is Hawthorne’s secret weapon; red, rust, and crimson his antidotes to Puritan gray.”

I gaze in open-mouthed contempt at V, for she has essentially quoted Mrs. R verbatim, only rendered the words in gooey singsong. I am tempted to say, “I may puke,” but something stays me, for the best is yet to come.

V takes us on a fourteen-page romp through those first forty pages of The Scarlet Letter, pointing out every word that either is or can be construed to be a variant on red until I and my fellow sufferers are driven to the brink of insanity, with Mrs. R and V exchanging simpering smiles with each crimson revelation.

Now comes the denouement. Deeply moved by V’s regurgitation, Mrs. R says, “Yes, yes, yes. The Scarlet Letter is unquestionably the greatest novel ever written.”

There it is: the ultimate challenge to the likes of me. A proclamation of such incomparable wrongness and badness and inanity, that I gaze around at my friends in disbelief that none have yet cried foul. Thus it is left to me.

“You can’t be serious,” I declaim. “The greatest novel ever written? Puh-leez. Moby Dick? A Tale of Two Cities? Zorba the Greek? All Quiet On the Western Front? To name a few.”

“I will see you after class and again after school, Mr. Walton.”

Here is where dream diverges from history.

In the dream I am simply no longer in the classroom or in high school, but in a bedroom with a woman who might be V, though she is older and rounder and not even slightly concerned about the symbolism in the first forty pages of The Scarlet Letter.

“I just want to relax you, honey,” she says, slipping her arms around me.

And hearing the word relax, I do relax; and that’s the end of the dream.

What happened in so-called reality was that I had to sit in Mrs. R’s classroom for an hour after school for the next three days and watch her and V and a few other pets enacting what I came to realize was a love ritual—sharing favorite poems, working on college application essays, having a sweet, feminine, confidence-boosting time that ultimately convinced me there was no point in fighting them. We were from entirely different universes and would travel through entirely different wormholes to get wherever we got.

And there is also this. I would have forgiven them entirely for everything if only V had given me the time of day.

Todd’s web site is UndertheTableBooks.com.