A Year in Dreams (Excerpt)
[Literarily, journals are problematic. Unless you’re an astronaut, a war reporter, or an arctic explorer (and sometimes even then), there are profound limitations on the narrative merit of real life. But what about surreal life? The following is an excerpt from a collection of my dreams, recorded over the course of a year.]
The first thing is that it’s grey, sloping woods, like in every Russian war movie from the past century – a tangle of thin, gnarled grey trees stretching from grey upward into lighter grey.
The second thing is that everyone is blind.
There’s a room where people go, in ones and twos, to tell one another secrets. To pray. Whatever. It’s a few degrees cooler in this room. I’m not sure whether people take the sacredness of this room seriously, but the fact that almost no one’s ever here, even in the crushing heat, is a good indication. There’s a dartboard along one of the far walls, which seems silly. To get to this room, you cross from a wooden platform via zipline, which is really just a chunky metal chain stretching upward into oblivion, swinging downward like a very unsafe version of a Discovery Zone rope swing. Or you can just stretch and scramble your way upward onto the far platform, but this is frowned upon. The room is long, and very dark, which I suppose doesn’t matter. There’s an off-white box of a vintage PC centered against one wall, near the entrance – one of various instances of obsolesced technology as ignored decor. As I pass it, I think: This is what I’m doing here. We have to write all of this down.
This is where I go to tell Stacy I’m not blind.
“You already know what I’m going to tell you,” I say.
“Say it,” she says.
Stacy has suspected for some time. My not being blind anymore. First when I noticed one of her tattoos. Second, when she was throwing things at me to see if I could see and I sort of forgot she was doing it and dodged a little bit, something sharp probably. Third, when I was getting my own tattoo, and lodged a minor complaint, ostensibly based on having felt the error, but of course Stacy knew that was bullshit.
I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t blind, so I started practicing what people call one’s “beggar face.” It just means looking blind. Stacy doesn’t seem to care, but still, I don’t want anyone here to know that I can see. I haven’t been here long enough to know whether or not they kill their gods.
Purportedly, there are two other people who have sight. I haven’t met them yet. Or maybe I have, and they just have better beggar face than I do.
Road Trip/Mayflower/The Squirrels
Thomas Middleditch and I are going to repeat this vaguely coastal road trip as many times as it takes. Which is at least three.
Each time it's only slightly different, like a historical glitch, circling back on itself in fits of interruption and resumption.
And one last thing that bears noting: the squirrels in this world (Tom explains) are malicious. They're essentially what the birds are to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Later, we will hang glide over the Mayflower, the historical site where it famously crashed off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. After all, Tom remarks, there’s no safer place from squirrels than a hang glider.
Cornfield Cult Film Festival
I sit in the low-topped muscle car, just sweating, for what feels like forever. I am feeling things out, pretending to be her daughter, at this weird, cult-film-inspired festival in the middle of nowhere that appears to 100% share a guest list with the nearest comic-con.
Why her daughter? Am I that much younger looking? No; this is swiftly confirmed by the fact that people start mistaking me for her almost instantly. Is it because I’m embarrassed? Because knowing so little about a full blood sister is head-cockingly weird, whereas being a daughter implies distance, estrangement, adoption, switched babies at birth… any number of good reasons to not have known this person who shares my genes almost exactly? Yes, that’s the one.
I finally do extricate myself from that suffocating little car, picking my way across the defunct cornfield to one of a slew of concrete warehouse buildings, gutted and shelled for this momentous occasion. Inside, throngs of people who parked on the field are milling about – discussing, theorizing, arguing, reliving – this horrible little movie whose tangential excitement should have died down, culturally, about one week after it came out.
Some plaid-clad showrunner arrives and sticks me in a pair of enormous, clunky platform shoes with treaded soles, and I don’t question why (this is not necessarily weirder than other things happening concurrently). The reason becomes clear when I am led out to a slab of wet concrete in the field, evidently to execute some impoverished version of the Mann’s Chinese Theater nonsense. I am flanked by others in weird shoes, apparently from the film, who eye me with a mixture of excitement and suspicion.
The only person who leaves me alone at this thing, who doesn’t buy for a moment that that I am ¡her!, is a gal who turns out to actually be her daughter. She is round and frank and ingenuous, a sharp crop of black hair framing her pale face. She looks exactly like her. Well, like half of her.
The reason this girl (my niece/a stranger) chats me up but never supposes that I am her is because she knows that her mother is dead.
Well, of course she’s dead. I should have known that.
Speeding down the side of a forested mountain, I should be questioning the safety of my companions, but mostly I'm kicking myself for not doing heroin before.
Within moments I am an old pro. Toggling back and forth between the two types, ingeniously labeled “brown sugar” and “white sugar,” it becomes clear that we are smuggling this shit. The police arrive, and everyone debates in hushed caws what to do.
But the answer is obvious: more heroin.
Near the border, a small, bespectacled man makes his way past hot, unruly clusters of people. He is going to the office to meet his partner. Although they could not look more physically dissimilar (the man’s partner is heavy, towering, untucked, shaped as though poured into the warped jug of his button-down shirt), they each look 100% their part. They are obit writers, a task they approach with the wry dedication befitting their profession. Through a clerical error – an intentional one, coming definitely from someone and somewhere – the small man learns that his own mother is dead. That she has been dead for three months.
As tornadoes dance in the distance, like so many snakes being charmed, the sky beneath them slurs from a rich peach to a drained antique yellow. This is the color of greyish gold that makes everything around it look greener, and there is plenty of green. For miles around, there is nothing and no one, only my friend and I as we look from newly planted tree to newly planted tree, some roadside project, for the fattest trunk or the deepest roots, something we can hug in a crisis. I am poised to make a very funny tree hugging joke, but she’s busy tugging at thick strands of grass. Thinking? Hard to say. She’s an idiot, but I’m still going to save her life if I can.
The other part of this is that we’re rehearsing a play. Today is our first rehearsal, and it’s a pro bono gig in a ramshackle little cabin, about fourteen meters from where we’re standing now. Totally senseless, no pay, and it’s the middle of nowhere, but we all love the author. You can get people to do just about anything if they love the author.
A spiral of stone-black clouds whirs overhead and moves on. We decide to head into the cabin, to check on the boys and to see if they have a basement.
Inside, the mood is best described as picnic-like, and the director is keen on rehearsing lines. The stage manager is tossing me my lines, handwritten, one at a time on ripped fragments of notebook paper. The director, lying on his side, propped on one elbow, looking like an embarrassing antique doll, questions my lack of commitment to the production. I assure him of it.
Once the director has stormed off or supernaturally vanished (who cares which), I wander to the porch and look out over this great idyllic nowhere paradise. The danger seems to have retreated, reduced to an overdramatic wind with harmless tendrils of tornadoes in the deep background. My friend suggests “running lines” but really taking cover in the closet – which she assures me is the safest place during a storm (it is not) – to make out with the boys. She’s making sense, and anyway, she likes the one I’m not crazy about, so I figure what the hell.
As we head back inside, someone announces that the storm has so completely cleared, the danger so completely passed, that there is no need to take shelter in the closet at all. Everyone is laidback and bored, passively resentful but accepting of having their time so elaborately wasted. I am quietly angry. No one is making out.
I bitterly gather my scraps of lines from the wood floor and listlessly put them in order. This tornado was a total fucking wash.
Apartment Hunting/Tree of Life
Looking from the windows to the north and south, there’s nothing but interstate wasteland, grey on grey, billboards for hundred-year-old products. But to the east and west, the windows reveal an exotic playground of green and tangled trees. Returning with the landlord to the courtyard of the apartment complex, apparently located along I-95, south of some dystopian future New York, there grows a giant, gnarled tree. Low-hanging elements that can’t quite be called fruit dip low and at odd angles. It looks as though it would be fun to climb, but you find yourself wondering: would the tree like to be climbed? I try to choose between the superior view of the second floor and the convenience of the first, for when the baby comes.
Some time later and for no reason, we cut the tree open, and inside is a gnarled wilderness of cerulean blue and vivid green, a little liquid civilization. People talk about the sensation of peaceful, maddening irrelevance beneath a star-filled sky, the individual against the universe. But they have it backward. Staring into the colorful veins of this tree, descending into some better, smaller universe, how much closer it must be to the perfection of the atom.
Capture the Flag
There’s a kind of dead that’s almost dead, but not quite. That’s the kind of dead I am when the boys come running up the hill, playing some soon-to-be-abandoned variation of Capture the Flag.
They are covering me, a noble investment in my modesty, but in covering me, they are burying me.
We go “shoe shopping,” my new friend and I, which means filching the shoes from beneath the racks on the upper level of this nightclub in Paris. Why so many people have chosen to take their shoes off is beyond me.
I select a pair of seafoam green ankle booties, calfskin etched with delicate flowers. “You don’t know if it’s calfskin,” my friend says.
At dawn, I walk through the gardens with a small, glorified paper dixie cup of beer. We go into the museum, but there is nothing to see, except for a beautiful, subservient academic type standing watch. She doesn’t give me any trouble about the beer.
There are so many things I’ve forgotten, still knocking around just beneath the skin.
The water. The ocean or something.