Young @ Heart – Don’t Wait for the DVD

There are some films that you need to see in theaters, and Young @ Heart is one of them.  I’m not the kind of guy who cries, but if I wore mascara my face would have been a mess during this great feel good movie.  I’m curious if this show has any impact on those are are currently young of body, but I think any middle-aged person will find this story of the oldest rock-and-roll cover band to be uplifting and inspire great reflection about dealing with getting old themselves.

This is a little story about a chorus of old people who don’t give up no matter what, even when two of their own die in one week, and their little revue gets an emotional jet assisted take-off by being seen on the big screen in the dark theater.  I never admired wrinkly-old-people more, because this tribe of oldsters rocked out and kicked my ass when it comes to living and gumption.  At Rotten Tomatoes its rated 87%, and I’ve got to figure that other 13% of reviewers are Dead @ Heart.

Sure these old farts would get the boot from Simon and the American Idol tribunal, but songs like Coldplay’s “Fix You” was totally owned by a really fat old guy with an oxygen breather in tow.  On the big screen, the lyrics of these songs were totally showcased in a way that made them sound far more meaningful than when sung as anthems to the young.  “Road to Nowhere” by the The Talking Heads and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones took on whole new meanings.

I’m listening to Coldplay sing “Fix You” right now and it just doesn’t have the impact it did in the movie.  But I now admire the lyrics all the more.  I’m reminded of another movie about music I saw a few weeks ago, Once, and how the songs just don’t translate with the same impact off the screen without being able to see the tortured faces who were singing words that matched their expressions.

I can imagine some viewers thinking that all of this is camp, or stupid oldster tricks, but I found the ancient ones hard core for getting up and doing things I’ve been too scared to do all my life.  Janis and I sat up close and I think seeing these little people on the big screen magnified the issues of standing every day with Mr. Death in the room.

I think Young @ Heart had major impact with me because I’ve been around a lot of dying people in recent years, and I can read much more into the scenes than the film maker really worked to show.  The more you know about pain, suffering, deteriorating bodies and death, the more real this movie becomes.  Unless you have some inkling of what it takes to make such an effort late in life, then you’ll not truly get this film.  It might be fun and a lot of laughs but you’ll miss the Sigmund Freud lessons.

It’s one thing to rock in your teens, that’s fucking easy man, it’s a whole other thing to rock out when you’re in your eighties and nineties.  I think I’ll go play Mr. Young’s “Hey, Hey, My My (Into the Black).”  I’ve got to keep remembering those lessons.

[Here are a handful of YouTube clips to give you an idea, but they don't work like being at the theater.]

Jim

Imperfect Memories

As anyone who regularly reads my posts knows, I have an obsession about memories.  This post is about remembering a NPR radio show about remembering.  It’s even more complicated than that, because it’s about finding that radio show from This American Life for a second time.  My friend Connell called me up a few weeks ago and started telling me about a show he heard on NPR – but after a little bit I interrupted, “Hey, I heard that show years ago and I tell people about it all the time!”

Connell told me where to find the show but I promptly forgot after getting off the phone.  Now three weeks later I remembered and called him back and he patched up my leaking memory.  It didn’t take long to go through the back shows and find “Ich…bin…ein…Mophead” by Alex Blumberg, from 03-07-08.  It took a little Googling around and I found the episode where I first heard the show on 03-23-01.   The Internet is such a wonderful auxiliary memory – still imperfect, but retains data much better than my old noggin.

I highly recommend that you take the time to go listen to this show – use the 2008 link because it’s the second story in the lineup, and the first story is great too, about a seventh grade girl going back to the fifth grade and realizing how much she has forgotten and wisely noting how much she will forget in the future.

Our memories are so imperfect, so untrustworthy, but so loved and trusted.  Alex Blumberg’s story is about being nine and having a memorable babysitter.  Twenty years later he talks to his mom and sister about her and finally decides he wants to talk to the babysitter herself.  After a lot of amateur detective work he hires a professional private eye and he finds Susan, his old babysitter, and they have a three hour phone conversation reconciling memories.

I tell people about this story all the time, so it was fun to hear it again, especially since I was able to learn how much I had remembered correctly, and how much I had forgotten.  Our minds are like sieves – we just can’t hold memory details worth a damn.  The moral of this story I got right – that different people remember things differently, and even when we remember something significant to our lives, other people won’t remember that significance.  The story is also about reconnecting with long lost friends, and I think that’s something we’d all like to do.

This month I was also asked to join Facebook by my friend Dario that I met while at Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2002.  I did join and also got connected with other people from the workshop, as well as getting people I haven’t talk to in years asking me to be friends again.  I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to do on Facebook – a technology up to now I considered for young people, but it is neat.  Facebook found three people from my high school class of 1969 at Miami-Killian.  Sadly, I remembered none of these people.  Even more sadly, I could have known them and have forgotten.

We meet so many people in our lives, and many of them we think about from time to time.  There’s a reason we forget people, so I’m not sure if maintaining acquaintances through Facebook is good or not.  But like Alex Blumberg I would like to track some people down and ask them their view of past memories.  Even in his piece about Susan he realized that Susan worried she had affected him badly in some way and was hesitant to recall old memories.

I remember my babysitter from when I was nine years old.  I don’t remember her name.  I don’t remember what she looks like.  I have only sketchy memories of what she did while taking care of me and my sister.  She sometimes dumped us on her parents, and mostly she spent her time with us hanging out with her boyfriend.  The last time I saw her was when she ran out of our house bawling hysterically and jumping into her two-seat sports car to zoom home.  She had been wailing because I had punched her in the face.

I suppose I should get a private detective and find her and apologize, maybe even see if I had inflicted any permanent psychological memories on her.  She probably even gave up her career in babysitting because of me.  However, I still feel justified in my action.  She had kept my sister, who was seven, and I, out all day at the beach in Hollywood Florida while she spent time with her young beau.  We were burned to a crisp, cranky, and hungry, and it was time for The Flintstones.  Our fight was over The Flintstones.  She wanted us to come back over to her house and hang out with her and her boyfriend, I wanted to see the cartoon.  When I dug in my heels, she leaned over and put her screaming face a little to close to mine, just close enough for a good poke in the kisser.  She should have known better to get to close to a wild brat.

If I was going to call someone from my lost memories I think it would be Charlotte Travis my 12th grade English teacher.  I owe her a big thanks.  Every week she’d tell me about a classic novel that I would go to the library, check out and read for the next week.  Then we’d talk about it on Fridays after class.  She got me to read books other than science fiction.  Miss Travis treated us kids as adults and gave us a lot of good advice.  She was the kind of teacher that all teachers should be – inspirational.

If Facebook was a perfect technology and I could see listings of all my classmates from first grade to twelfth with the teachers – how many would I really want to talk with?  And what would I say?  I don’t know, but it would be cool tech.  It would help if Facebook collected photos to prompt our memories.  Here’s a good idea for that company to really get some some attention.  Borrow, buy or steal all the high school annuals and grade school photos and put them online.  Everyone with any kind of large group shot should register their photos with Facebook and ask viewers to help attach names to faces.

Another thing Facebook could do is to allow more school networks, including options for all classes back to Kindergarten.  Not everyone lived in one place and graduated together with their childhood friends in the 12th grade.  For every academic year you should be able to register up to three schools.  I say three because I went to three first grades and three seventh grades.  If anyone went to more schools in one year they should put in their own request.  Then allow people to attach class photos to those years and schools.

Another good idea for Facebook is allow people to register neighborhood streets and years, and encourage people to register photos of them too.  I’d love to see photos from Maine Avenue at Homestead Air Force Base for 1962 and 1963 and Air Base Elementary for 1961/62 and 1962/63 academic years.  Hurricane Andrew blew away Maine Avenue, and all that is there left of my cherished neighborhood is a mown field and decaying asphalt.  (At least, that’s how it looked the last time I saw it.)

Our memories are imperfect.  They are fleeting.  We baby boomers are getting old – so chances of finding people who can collaborate and corroborate memories are disappearing.  Most people can’t afford detectives, so Facebook may be a wonderful tool.  Then again, maybe we like living with our faulty memories.  Maybe they are good enough.

Jim

Back to the Future

I’ve enjoyed a lot of embedded film clips on the blogs I read so I thought I’d experiment and try to embed a clip here, unfortunately I learned through trial and error and the FAQ page at WordPress that Flash videos are a no-no.  That’s too bad.  If you want to watch the film I’m about to discuss go here:

Watch The Video

The clip is from Hula.com a new video site I’m checking out and the show is 30 Days from FX, one I’ve never heard of before.  But I was attracted to the episode entitled “Off the Grid,” where the show producers took two city slickers from the Bronx down to Missouri to live on a Eco-Green Commune.  Talk about back to the future because I’ve stayed at a couple communes and remember the Mother Earth News hippie subculture of trying to live self-sufficient on five acres.

This show has a lot of good information in it, but it also gives a totally wrong impression.  To change our lives to fight global warming we don’t all need to move to the country and crap in a bucket.  This show was very positive, but I worry about the subtle implications.  Modern people hate the hippie lifestyle and culture.  Back in 1972 when I had hair, and it was long and I looked and acted the hippie part, I hated my visit to the country commune like the one in this show.

The people were great and sincere but I just couldn’t stomach working so hard to live the simple lifestyle.  Before the real experience I loved reading Mother Earth News and contemplating how to be self-sufficient off the grid.  This isn’t a new idea because these memories of mine are over  forty years old.  But we also know such movements have always come and gone.  Just think about Henry David Thoreau living in the woods and inspiring generations, and he was far from the first man to think up the idea.  The urge to return to nature is as old as cities.

Like I said, this show has a lot of useful information in it.  At the beginning the visitors to the commune where told we’d need over twelve Earths to sustain everyone living on the planet at their current consumption levels.  At the end of the show, they were told we’d need just 1.3 Earths if everyone lived like the people at the commune.  That’s an amazing bit of data because it means billions live on this planet in living conditions worse than those hippies and that’s pretty damn scary.

To successfully combat global warming we will need to alter our lifestyles but not so drastically.  I think this may be why so many people do not want to face up to the global warming problem – they’re afraid they’ll have to live like the hippies in this show.  I think we can transform society and still live in the suburbs and drive to work.  Does it matter if the power in your outlets come from fossil fuels or renewable energy sources?

Imagine if we could build enough solar energy plants and other sources of clean energy, and if we switched to driving electric cars or other vehicles with clean fuel, would our lives be that much different?  We’ll also need to waste a whole lot less, but is that a real big deal either?  I think the most drastic change might be the end of the beef industry, which is incredibly energy wasteful.  But like this show shows, there are ways to raise cattle naturally too.

We all want to get back to the future where living is science fictional and far out.  There are probably damn few people who want to live like humans did in the past, close to nature, working as hard as animals, living without convenience.  However, that’s exactly how we will live if civilization collapses.  If you’re afraid of living like a hippie, change and modernize for a clean energy future.

By the way, this was a fun show and I liked how the couple changed and adapted.  They didn’t wimp out.  I was impressed, especially with the girl.

Jim

 

Dinosaur Dreams

Last night I had another dinosaur dream.  I dreamed I was with two people that time traveled to the past and lived in a large compound.  In this dream I was my making my first jump to the past and was being shown around by the others.  The opening scene I shifted from now to then and sat with two other people at a table outside.  Behind these two I saw a T. Rex approaching and then watched the monster rushed up, opened its mouth to consume one of my companions, and was surprised when it bit down on an invisible barrier.  The other two had completely ignored Mr. T.  Then the scene shifted to teenagers sneaking out of the back of the compound to where there were no barriers.  The tension in the dream increased as I woke up.

Coming out of REM sleep into consciousness I was amazed at the clarity of the dream, and it’s movie like structure.  It had been so vivid and fluid as if my dream projector had upgraded to high definition.  In recent years I’ve been noticing that my dreams are more story like, as if my many MFA writing classes helped my mind at an unconscious level.

I’ve been dreaming about dinosaurs since I was four years old, which is odd because I don’t remember learning about dinosaurs until I went to grade school.  We had television back in 1955-56, so I probably saw something that struck a chord with my dream programming and it implanted a subroutine that pops up every year or two.  I still remember that first dinosaur dream, although it’s very vague.  In this dream people were slaves to dinosaurs and we worked in a pit cleaning up dinosaur shit.  What would Freud do with that?

Dinosaur dreams are scary dreams, although after childhood they quit being nightmares and just turned into action adventures with lots of thrills.  The plot of these dreams basically deal with running and avoiding being eaten, which could be a metaphor for lots of things.  I’ve been thinking about global warming again, so maybe last night’s T. Rex stood in for it. 

A common story is being in a house or large building and having the dinosaurs trying to reach in through the windows to get me and others King Kong style.  The theme is always big versus little, and I really identified with William Tenn’s classic 1968 novel, Of Monsters and Men, where giant aliens have invaded Earth and humans live like mice.  I’ve even had some alien dreams like that.

Normally in my dreams when people-size bad things try to get me I kill them in horribly ways, but not in dinosaur dreams.  I suppose they represent things too big to kill.  It sure would be thrilling to whip out a RPG and send a grenade into Mr. Rex’s big mouth and watch it’s head explode into bits.  Evidently my inner computer figures global warming can’t be solved that way.

I wonder, do other people have dinosaur dreams.  I’ve never met anyone who told me about one, nor have I read a book that mentions them.  Even though they are a bit scary I enjoy my occasional dino rerun.

Jim

Information Overload

    I often think about that movie Short Circuit with the little robot named Number Five who kept shouting, “More input, more input.” That’s how I feel about life. I wish I could process information as fast as Number Five.

    This morning I cleaned off several chaotic stacks of mail from my desk. I have hundreds of unread magazines – and for some insane reason I responded positively to several ads to subscribe to even more magazines. I also have hundreds of unread books waiting patiently on my bookshelves to get my undivided attention, as well as dozens of audio books in my iTunes library waiting to be heard.

    Each magazine represents at least a couple hours of good reading, each book wants from six to sixty hours of my time. My DVR is 94% full with many hours of great high definition video waiting for me to watch. My NetFlix DVDs just sit around, and my CDs and LPs wait quietly for years at a time to get played. In other words, I’m backlogged by thousands of hours, maybe even tens of thousands of hours. If I could only read like Number Five – as fast as pages could flip.

    So what should I do? Obviously, to stop buying books and magazines is one good solution I keep telling myself. That’s easier said than done. I’m like a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter. Whenever I see a great looking book, I buy it thinking I’ll get to it someday during my dwindling days on Earth. (I just tried to go and tear up three subscription renewal letters sitting in front of me, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.)

    What I would like, assuming I could achieve some theoretically self-control that’s never surfaced in my fifty-years of living, would be to own only one book at a time. I’d go down to the bookstore every time I finished a book and enjoy shopping for my next read. It would be fun to carefully select just the right volume to purchase; one I’d dedicate myself to for the next week or so. Ditto for magazines – instead of stacks of them around the house, I’d only have one that I’d cart from room to room until I finished. Then it would be kosher to buy another. For movies and music I’d use Netflix and Rhapsody. My house certainly would be less cluttered.

    I can really picture this. It would be “just in time information” like industries that use just in time parts for manufacturing – no warehousing of information. What I need to make this fancy daydream come true is the ultimate Ebook reader. To go with the device I’d need a service like Netflix for books and magazines. The key is to be able to get any book or magazine I wanted when I want it. Since books go out of print, and magazines are as ephemeral as whims, the impulse is to buy them to save for when I’m in just the right mood.

    The web is a great metaphor for what I need. When I want to know something I go to Google and type in a query. I don’t need to store up answers. I just need to ask when I have a question. With an Ebook I could call up a book to read when I’m in a mood for that particular book. That’s how Rhapsody music service works. I think of a song I want to hear and type in the name and play it. If I had such a company that would provide my reading material, my life would be so much more organized.

    Ignoring the theoretical future of online possibilities, is there a practical solution? Could I do all my reading on the web and replace my magazine habit? Many magazines offer all or part of their content online. I almost bought an issue of Astronomy Magazine last night because I wanted to read the article, “How Large Will Telescopes Get?” I just checked. It’s not online. I also thought about buying the latest New Yorker for the short story, “1966.” It’s not online either. However, “Gone: Mass Extinction and the Hazards of Earth’s Vanishing Biodiversity,” in the latest issue of Mother Jones that I was eyeing is online. I have two envelopes with offers near my keyboard. Both Newsweek and PC Magazine promise me a year of their product for $20 – good buys since they are weekly and twice-monthly publications. However, both of these mags provide a lot of content online.

    I could easily make a web page linking all my favorite magazines to a quick-to-scan system that would allow me to regularly browse their content. A distinct advantage of reading magazine articles on the web is I can send emails to my friends pointing out great reads. I should give this idea a try.

    Another idea is to just go to the library and read magazines there. Let professionals manage the stacks and subscriptions. I used to work in a periodicals department at a library and we had lots of regular readers. I volunteered for Friday nights and got to know a regular crowd. However, reading on the throne in the smallest room at home is kind of important to me. Reading Discover magazine first thing in the morning is devotional, in its own way.

    Now all of these solutions ignore actual content. Another way to manage information overload is to pick subjects I want to study and then ignore all the rest. Take the Iraq War. There must be millions of people worrying over that topic. I’m sure they don’t need me. I am fascinated by the One Laptop Per Child concept and how greedy industrial giants are spoiling Nicholas Negroponte’s dream machine for poor kids of the world. Going on an information diet, I could make a web site that tracked all the subjects I was really interested in and felt I had time to track. I have noticed that the people who get the most done in life are those who focus narrowly on their goals.

    A radical solution to information overload is to become a Zen monk, you know, be here now, one with the moment kind of guy, and all that rot. It does have its appeals. But I’m afraid I’ll end up like by tabby cat – content but ill informed. I could apply that Zen focus to a goal, like writing a book. Then when I stick my head into the maelstrom of data I’d only stare at the bits that would be useful to my writing project. I have to admire writers that pick a big topic, like the life of Einstein or the Jamestown colony and focus on it for years, finally producing a summation of that study.

    Well, I have several ideas to think about. I can become systematic at gathering more information, or I can become focused and narrow the selection of information I try to handle. I have come to this conclusion before. I have written this essay to myself many times in the last forty years, always coming to the same conclusion – I always decide my life should be project based and focused. However, once I clear my thoughts with writing this essay I always go back to hummingbird mode and flit from fact to fact, mindlessly gorging on information.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

    Libraries used to be repositories of knowledge. Writers wanted their books bought by libraries so they could be preserved for all time. Times have changed and their labors of love are being lost. Quite often when I buy a used book on Amazon.com I get an ex-library edition back in the mail. I recently bought Stories of Your Life and Othersby Ted Chiang, an exceedingly fine collection of science fiction/fantasy writing. Its previous owner was the Palm Springs Library in California. It’s easy to spot how many ex-library books I own because their call number labels stand out along the rows of books in my bookshelves. To me this is a literary tragedy.

    Libraries have made a paradigm shift from storehouses of culture to panderers of popular taste. Librarians use computers to track usage and if a book hasn’t been checked out for a certain period of time, neglected volumes are pulled from the collection and made to walk the plank, thus falling into the sea of oblivion. Libraries were meant to preserve books and copyright laws were meant to protect authors, but I’m not sure if that’s not more love’s labour’s lost.

    While libraries dash to digitize crumbling ancient books modern books are disappearing too. With strict copyright laws books are “protected” for the lifetime of the author plus seventy years. There are millions of books published and most are never reprinted or even make back the advance paid to their authors. The last time I saw anything on this subject; it took on average, selling 2,500 copies of a hardback novel to break even for a publisher. That’s not a huge print run. Like giant sea turtles laying piles of eggs, few ever hatch and live to find homes in the sea.

    I collect books by Lady Dorothy Mills, a writer of travel and fantasy adventure books from the 1920s and early 1930s. Her fifteen books have almost disappeared from the Earth, with just a handful for sale at any given time. Her books are still within copyright, so they can’t be reprinted on the web. Lady Dorothy Mills is a forgotten writer. It’s doubtful she gets many new readers – I feel I’m one of her last fans. If her labors of love where still on library shelves or reprinted as e-books on the web, Lady Mills might have a few more fans.

    Copyright laws exist to help writers make money, but most writers labor for love. It’s like Las Vegas, a few gamblers make a killing, some win a little, and most leave the glittering casinos with empty pockets. Copyright laws should be changed to help the writers who don’t make money. I’d suggest that any book that hasn’t been reprinted for ten years be allowed to be republished free on the web. However, if the book is ever used for profit the same lengthy copyright laws should still apply. There’s always a chance that if enough people in the digital world rediscover a book it will help resurrect interest in a novel for the people in the analog world.

    Books are owned by the writers, but they belong to their readers. Fans are what keep books alive. Once a book comes into existence it deserves every chance to live. Sure the writers deserve every dime they can get, but a book deserves every reader it can find. I’m reminded of Bob Dylan and bootleg albums. Dylan and his publishers may want to protect his catalog and reputation, but as a Dylan fan I feel it’s my right to be able to listen to any song he recorded during 1964-1966. I love Blonde on Blonde, and have bought it many times in many forms, but I love those songs so much I feel it’s my right to hear any version of them that still exists. Once an artist creates a work of art, fans have the right to explore and experience that work to the nth dimension. Artists have the right to sell access, but if they don’t offer such access for sale, it should be wide open to free access. The reality of the web reflects that and I think copyright laws should too.

    It’s my hunch that if writers can’t have money they might like readers for their love’s labour’s lost.

    

Guaranteed Classics – Music Just For You (To Buy)

If you searched the net you can find plenty of writers riled up over The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s The Definitive 200 list of CDs they want you to own. Since I’m a list maker myself, see The Classics of Science Fiction, I like to think about preparing a good list. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has essentially prepared a list of CDs that is based on sales from recent decades, rather than compiling a list based on artistic merit that I think most readers expected it to be. Of course, we could assume that hordes of buying fans represent good taste and the list does represent the best 200 albums any music lover should own. Maybe it’s like school where they make you read books that are good for you. The trouble is they recommend music from several musical genres that doesn’t necessarily match any single music lover’s taste.

Any list of all time great albums that leaves out Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan can’t be much of a list. (Supply your own missing album to make this paragraph more meaningful.) That’s my all-time favorite album, so I’d expect it to be on the list – it wasn’t. Do I have no taste in music? When I assembled the Classics of Science Fiction list I realized I couldn’t just tell people what I thought were the best science fiction books. I had to come up with a system that represented authority of opinion.

The Rolling Stone Greatest 500 Albums of All Time list is more to my taste, but then Blonde on Blonde was #9. Increasing the number of bests also helps to hit everyone’s favorite. However, the Rolling Stone list just feels more genuine to me. There is a lot of overlap with the R&R Hall of Fame list, especially near the top. You can spot the impact of sales on both lists by looking at the RIAA of Gold & Platinum Top 100 albums or Wikipedia’s List of Best-Selling Albums Worldwide. Studying these two lists shows how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made up their list. Every album I went “Huh!” over with great puzzlement and head scratching sold enough CDs to wallpaper Florida.

If I was going to make a list, I’d do something like what Time did for their All-Time 100 Albums. First, I would not rank albums. That should stop a lot of fights. Second, I would arrange the list going back in time, year by year, and list alphabetically what I determined through careful research were the best albums for each year. I would do what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did and put in muliple genres – but I’d add even more genres including World, Folk, Classical, and others they left out. This would be a massive job and one I’ll probably never work on, but I wish someone else would. Like the R&R HoF listers, I’d use sales figures but I’d also use critical reviews, awards, fan polls, books on music history and the test of time to figure out what albums really were the best for each year. I’m sure there are books that have done this, and maybe even web sites.

Metacritic has done something like this for the years back to 2000, but the list I want needs to go back through the 1920s, and maybe earlier to cover the entire history of pop music and the history of albums.

Now that I have Rhapsody Music, and can listen to almost any album I desire at the touch of a mouse for $9.95 a month, I’ll take these lists and explore what all the fuss is about. Hopefully, I’ll find some albums that I’ve never listened that’ll blow me away. Just because I lived through all those years since the 1950s doesn’t mean I got to hear all the best albums. And it really is exciting to discover great artists you totally missed.

Beautiful Bassett Hound and Really Big Lobster

In my dream I was outside, in a public place. There were no buildings. I saw a few trees in planters. A man stood talking to a group of people. I was one of them. We sat on rock benches and I felt I was in a class. The man talking was a teacher, a Socrates like character. I see the last page of a book. The teacher asks us about the last scene of a book. I’m only vaguely aware of the title of the book, but throughout the dream I struggle to grasp the title. Eventually my confused mind labels it The Great Gatsby. I turn to the back of the book and read the last scene.

“Hey, I don’t remember this scene, and I’ve read this book three times!” I exclaim without hearing my voice. There are only a handful of students around the teacher and we’re all quiet. The teacher pushes us for an answer again. I make a suggestion that I know is wrong and stupid as soon as I say it and the teacher gives some wise reply that shoots me down. In the dream it almost feels like I’m saying real words, or even reading real words, but really it’s only vague concepts and squiggles that look like words. Communicating in dreams is like telepathy.

I can tell there are two characters in the scene. I reread the scene again. For some reason an image of a giant lobster interrupts the dream and I flash on this idea. “One of the characters in the scene is God.” The teacher agrees and the other students start talking excitedly. I study and study the scene but can’t figure out what’s happening. Has a character died and gone to heaven and is talking to God? Or has God come down into the world to tell him something?

Then I have an image of a beautiful bassett hound running, with its huge floppy ears flying around its head. I don’t connect any meaning and all I feel is the desire to buy a bassett hound – could this be a form of subliminal advertising? Then I return to the outdoor classroom and struggle to make something out of the last scene again. We all make suggestions but the teacher isn’t happy but I feel somewhat pleased that I discovered that the mysterious character was God. The dream fades away and I awake.

It’s fascinating to play amateur scientist and try to discover how dreams work. I think there is a mind that experiences dreams that is different from the mind of the waking me. I call it the narrator. This narrator may be a mechanism that the waking me also uses, but I see “the me” of dreams separate from “the me” who is writing this. When you are in a semi-wakeful state you can observe this narrator in action. Random images will appear and bits of meaning will pop into your mind. Dreams appear to be built on a series of still images or crude moving images that the narrator comments on. The narrator makes up meaning for the images. The dream me acts on those suggested meanings.

Take for instance the dream above. I saw a man standing and with a handful of people sitting around him. The narrator informs me without words, “a teacher and his students.” That image could have been anything. The narrator sees the last page of a book and supplies, “the teacher wants to know the meaning of the last scene in the book.” The sleeping me, that is the mechanism of self-awareness, is very dormant but I relate to one of the students. The “me” in the dream isn’t aware of the narrator – it experiences the series of images and thoughts the narrator provides as a whole story.

On rare ocassions I’ve had vivid dreams where the waking “me” is the dream “me.” However, it’s an illusion. If the waking “me” tries to guide the dream it will destroy the dream. The sleeping “me” is passive and must watch the dream like a movie. If the “waking me” tries to think and override the narrator, the dream will fall apart and I’ll awake.

I think the narrator mechanism works in waking life too. If you are at a restaurant and see a young couple sit down nearby, the narrator might tell you, “See that couple, they are on their first date. See how they act nervous…” The narrator can be very convincing, even to the point where you believe it and think what you are seeing is real. This is why cops say they saw a gun when they didn’t. The narrator can see something and tell the cop it’s a gun. The narrator can be very powerful. The narrator thinks much faster than normal self-aware thinking.

Usually dreams relate to the previous days events, but the above dream doesn’t remind me of anything that happened yesterday. I was an English major in college, so the dream does make sense to me. I’m used to trying to figure out what books mean. I’m used to the anxiety of having a professor put pressure on a class to supply an answer. The Great Gatsby is a book that is taught a lot, and last week I read an article suggesting it was the great American novel. I have no idea why the lobster and bassett hound popped into the dream, but the narrator quickly used the one image and made it fit into the story. Maybe if the bassett hound would have stayed long enough the narrator would have made up a new story for the dreamer, a new dream.

Fiction and story telling seem to be at the heart of our minds. We look out at the world and see trees and mountains. It doesn’t take long before we’re making up stories about fairies living the in the trees and gods living on the mountains. Zen masters try to break their students of this habit – to see the world as it is without the stories, but that’s a very hard habit to break. Think of the war in Iraq. Imagine all the stories created by all sides of the conflict. Just think, the Sunnis and the Shiites are killing each other over stories made up thirteen centuries ago. It’s no wonder that some people believe that even our waking real world is a dream, a nightmare.

And finally, at a meta-level, notice how I can take tiny events in my life and turn them into a narrative structure. Observe the narrator.

Heaven, Hell, and the Other Places

I died in my dreams last night. No biggie, I’ve died in my dreams several times over the years. Dying in dreamland is intense. Yesterday I was having some minor heart trouble and last night I dreamed my heart stopped. I felt myself falling. My last thought was, “Here I go” with a sense of complete acceptance, and I let go. All details around me fell away, and the final thing I was aware of was a dull gray light. Everything stopped. That’s when I woke up. It was quite a relief to wake up and be alive. I love being alive.

Dreamland is such a strange place. I’ve died before, and once came to, floating up towards heaven before waking up. My cousins and I had been riding in the back of a station wagon and we were hit by another car with a tremendous bang. Then blackness. Going to heaven was the scariest dream I ever had. I think it was my first time to die in a dream. I’ve since died a few times from endlessly falling into hell. It’s easier to die the atheist’s death where I collapse into black nothingness. It’s always a trauma to survive death and come to in again, and still be in dreamland. Sometimes the shift is to a pleasant new life but the transition is scary. Other times its overhelming and I wake up in a sweat and panic. Then there are times when I come to and I’m living again on another world or in another life. I don’t believe any of these events have real relationship with reality, but I can see how lots of wild ideas got started in the real world over the centuries.

On these other worlds I’ve been flying creatures, swimming creatures and tree swinging creatures. I’ve always assume my brain created these roles for me because I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. I remember one time dying and ending up in bed with an attractive matronly woman in her sixties, whom I eventually realized was God. Now that was unnerving. What would Freud have made of that? I was over fifty at the time, but I still wonder if God had any age of consent laws to deal with. She had been jolly, warm and caring and when I woke up, I was reminded of when I was a kid and how I felt about big soft grandmotherly women with ample bosoms.

I wonder how many concepts have come into the world from dreams. Reincarnation feels like an idea generated by dreamland. Did people think of talking animals before they dreamed of them? I remember a beautiful dream of being a part of a troop of monkeys, and being in love with a girl monkey. I never knew if we were Earthly monkeys, or monkey-like creatures living on another world. Did we imagine aliens living on other worlds or did our dreams paint those sense of wonder creatures in our mind. I tend to believe that all mysticism comes from dreams or hallicinations, which to me are dreams that leak out into the waking world. Primative people talk much of dreamtime.

I am reminded of a title of a book about Philip K. Dick – “What If Our World Is Their Heaven.” I’ve been to many heavens and hells, to many alien worlds, in my dreams, and I’ve never visited a world that could top our world no matter how wild my imagination got. If there is a heaven, it is this world.

Super Men and Mighty Mice

During the Ozzie and Harriet years, when I was seven and people called me Jimmy, my sister Becky and our best friends Mikey and Patty, would beg old tattered terry cloth towels from our moms and pretend to be George Reeves. We’d tie those old faded pastel rags around our necks, stretch out our arms, hands flat, fingers pointing forward, tilt our heads down and run like Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, ocassionally jumping with all our might, with the hopes of getting airborne like Superman, or at least Mighty Mouse. And when we were burnt out and our little bodies too tired to try any more, we’d go to sleep at night and have flying dreams.

My sister and I moved around a lot while growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, but wherever we lived it was kidland, either as part of a mob of kids running up and down the middle of our suburban streets, or in packs roaming the woods, or scattered in hordes over the vast plains of school playgrounds. Kidland was great. It was great because there were no adults. It was beyond fantastic because we were all fueled by our imaginations. Television rocket assisted our little minds, jazzing our kiddie dramas and kicking our dreams into orbit.

A few years down the timeline, during the black and white Beverly Hillbillies era, we could be seen in back yards playing astronauts pretending we were Alan Shepard or John Glenn with cheap white plastic helmets on our heads. After that most of my efforts to fly were in my head and inspired by the philosophy of science fiction, especially the grand master, Robert A. Heinlein. Then Jeannie and Bewitched magic charmed us and we all desperately wanted the skills of being able to twitch our noses or cross arms and nod our heads and make wishes come true with the flouish of a TV sound effect. Can anyone doubt why in the epic times of The Monkees and Star Trek and The Time Tunnel we turned in our terry cloth capes for grooving with micrograms? Later on into the 1970s, after growing up with Archie Bunker, we became disciples of Carlos Castaneda, studying the ancient wisdom of the New Age, or wishing for rides with little green guys of the third kind. And don’t forget our cousins the Jesus Freaks, Hari Krishnas and Moonies who chanted about the transformation of Earth into Heaven.

Is it too much to say that the Baby Boomers wanted transcendence? Why weren’t us boomer guys not satisfied with putting on our Brooks Brothers uniforms and marching in time to the nine to five? Why weren’t our sisters, the boomer gals, so unsatified with wearing stockings and bras and staying at home to be queens for a day every day with Donna Reid?

There is always reality. Meridith Grey cannot fly or make McDreamy disappear with a twitch of her nose, even though she has a nose that reminds me of Samatha. And are the post boomer generations any different from the boomers. Hiro is our kind of guy. During Christmas I listened to my nephew, an Iraqi vet, talk fondly of the golden age of television cartoons, waxing nostalgic with his brothers over favorite episodes of The Transformers. I kept my mouth shut and just listened, but I was thinking, no way man, The Flintsones and Jetsons were the golden age of cartoons. Yet, it didn’t go unnoticed that the next generation wanted to fly too.

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