Monday, October 03, 2011


"Phantasy, or imagination, which some call estimative, or cogitative ... is an inner sense which doth more fully examine the species perceived by common sense, of things present or absent, and keeps them longer, recalling them to mind again, or making new of his own. In time of sleep this faculty is free, and many times conceive strange, stupend, absurd shapes, as in sick men we commonly observe. His organ is the middle cell of the brain; his objects all the species communicated to him by the common sense, by comparison of which he feigns infinite other unto himself. In melancholy men this faculty is most powerful and strong, and often hurts, producing many monstrous and prodigious things, especially if it be stirred up by some terrible object, presented to it from common sense or memory. In poets and painters imagination forcibly works, as appears by their several fictions, antics, images: as Ovid's house of sleep, Psyche's palace in Apuleius, &c. In men it is subject and governed by reason, or at least should be; but in brutes it hath no superior, and is ratio brutorum, all the reason they have."

-- Robert Burton "The Anatomy of Melancholy"

"Many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese -- toasted, mostly."
-- (Ben Gunn) R.L. Stevenson "Treasure Island"


For nearly a year, I have been taking a combination of medications that is intended to thin my blood, lower its pressure and keep my arteries open. At the same time, I have had to reduce my caffeine intake (a terrible sacrifice for someone who thinks that four portions of espresso is barely enough to lift the eyelids) and give up the stimulant medications that control my ADD and keep me productive.

The blood pressure medication is, I believe, to blame for my lassitude and lack of energy. It is bad enough to have one's work require a sedentary life without a drug draining what little remains of my vim. Combined with my stimulant fast, this has resulted in a singularly unproductive, uncommunicative, and unusually unfriendly year.

The most unusual effect has been that of the blood thinners. The labels warn of the potential for disturbed sleep and vivid dreams, but I was not expecting the clarity and memorability of them. As Joel 2:28 would have it, I am an old man who "shall dream dreams" leaving the visions to my juniors. The dreams I have are so startling and so different from any that I have had before that at times I wonder just what is happening to my mind.

I have had dreams all my life; predictable, simple dreams, easily interpreted and understood. I call them the "frustration dreams". 

I am on a Navy ship doing an errand and it is time for me to leave. I know where I'm going and I have plenty of time to get off before the ship sails. Suddenly I realize that I have taken a wrong turn. I am lost. I don't see this as a problem, I know how to read the numbers on the bulkheads, and I have a sense of how the ship is laid out. I take another turn and the ship has changed. It is now a cross between a cruise ship and a mall. There are escalators and ladders. In essence I am in a "maze of twisty passages all alike". When I finally find my way out I find myself on the bow of the ship. It has left port and I am stuck on it. As I stand there, the ocean transforms into a lake, then a river, which narrows until the ship runs aground.

This is only one scenario. There are many, but the form is always the same. The sense of desperate confusion and being out of control wakes me up and leaves me rattled for the early part of the day.

These new dreams are different, more vivid, more real. I drop into someone else's head as a first-person observer of a story or a life in progress, knowing the back story, recognizing venues, friends, and situations that are common to me in this new persona, as fantastic as they might seem in my "real" life. These dreams are durable, easy to remember. I wake from them suddenly, sometimes sure that I have awoken but other times not, and with some of them, if I let myself drift back to sleep, I take up the story shortly after I left off. The dream seems to have continued its progress in my absence. They are not unpleasant, many are amusing and quite cinematic and there is often a sense of loss when I wake up. 

I have a consistent physical reaction too. When I wake I invariably have a dry mouth. I mean bone dry as if my salivary glands had completely stopped. Unless I keep a glass of water next to the bed, it takes a minute or two of working my tongue and jaw muscles to start them going again.  

This was last night's dream. 

I enter the dream as if opening my eyes from a blink. It is a pleasant spring day and I am waiting, sitting on a stoop of a building that I know I do not live in, watching the door of a building across the street. I'm in tan chinos, a blue button down shirt and white sneakers. The street is lined with three and four story brownstone walk ups and there is little traffic and few parked cars. A few large trees provide puddles of shade up and down the street. The stoop that I sit on is near the corner where this street crosses a similar one. The cross-street has a number of storefronts on it but this street does not. It looks a bit like the area in Boston where Marlborough Street crosses Mass. Ave. 

I am waiting for something to happen. Charlie, my friend and colleague is sitting, cross-legged, under a tree near the door that I'm watching. He's in his forties but has made himself look older. He's wearing a ratty t-shirt, blue jeans with frayed cuffs. He's playing a harmonica and a dirty paper coffee cup is set up between his dirty bare feet. He's playing a wheezy, inept "Red River Valley" when he seems to hear something. He plays a quick blues lick, and tucks the harmonica into his pocket. 

The door bursts open, bounces against the high concrete side of the stoop and partially closes again. A man looks out to check the street, his face red and contorted under closely cropped blonde hair. He doesn't notice me and seems to discount Charlie. The face pulls back into shadow then the man backs out of the door shouldering it fully open. I can see the collar of a white shirt rising above the collar of his gray suit. His shoes are very shiny and black. 

He has his right arm around the neck of an attractive woman with dark curly hair. She's wearing a thin floral print dress. In the man's left hand is a small black automatic. A bald man in a brown suit, pale yellow shirt and bright blue tie steps out behind them. He uses his left hand to slam the door shut behind him. His right arm hangs by his side seemingly to minimize the visibility of the revolver he holds. His expression is calm but grim as he nods to the first man who wrenches the woman around to face the steps and starts forcing her down them.

Her face is purpling from the pressure on her neck. She reaches back and grabs at the bright red of his necktie, but gets hold of the white shirt collar and yanks. He grunts and his sleeve bulges as he tightens his grip on her neck until she lets go. They reach the bottom and the second man starts backing carefully down the steps watching the door.

Charlie has disappeared, but I know where he is. We've done this kind of thing before. I move to the dark blue car parked under the tree near me and lean against the trunk. Neither of the men notice me. They seem to be looking everywhere but where I am, which is as it should be. 

The first man drags the woman across the street to the car. He pulls on the passenger door handle twice before he realized it's locked. A momentary confusion flickers across his face. He's right, he left it unlocked, but I took care of that for him. He tucks the gun in his belt and reaches into his pocket for his keys. I look through the back of his head and see a kaleidoscope of colors. There is one in particular that I'm looking for, a blob of cyan with red veining, the pleasure center. He jumps slightly as I reach through the back of his skull, touch the spot and send an overload. All the tension in his body instantly evaporates. His arm drops from the woman's neck and she leaps away turning to face him. 

I know what she is seeing. He has a goofy happy expression on his face, probably starting to drool slightly, and over his shoulder she sees me. I smile slightly and raise my hands to let her know that I am not a threat. Across the street the other man is standing by a utility pole starting to raise his gun in our direction, when Charlie peels himself off the wood and touches the shoulder of the brown suit. The man's gun clatters to the ground as he floats up. He seems paralyzed as a gust of wind catches him and in a swirl of updraft he drifts into the power lines and explodes into flame and fragments like a small Hindenburg.

I pull the gun from the unresisting fingers of the man by the car. I can see and smell the effects of my intrusion in his brain. A dark stain spreads across the front of his trousers, and it is not urine. Charlie comes to help me I open the door of the vehicle and we help him collapse inside as the woman stands watching us. We close the door. His eyes are glazed. I have given him unendurable pleasure, indefinitely prolonged and it will eventually kill him. Charlie pulls a cell phone from his pocket, and looks at me. 

"Should I bother the cops about this?" he asks. I shake my head.

"No, it's nothing they could turn off."

Charlie and I walk on either side of the woman as we cross the street to her door. We let her precede us she opens the door and waves us in, but immediately turns and runs to the back of the house. We follow through a living room full of overstuffed chairs, glass fronted cabinets, bookshelves, and small tables, some of the furniture is overturned and broken. We find her in the kitchen struggling with the knots binding an older couple to two back to back wooden chairs. I walk over and reach down flattening my finger to the width of a few atoms and slice through the ropes.

I step back and let Charlie and the young woman get the couple to their feet. 

"Would you like some coffee?" asks the woman we rescued.

Charlie and I nod. 

"Go clean up," the older woman tells her, "I'll make it." She shoos us out of the kitchen.

The younger woman goes upstairs. The old man, Charlie, and I straighten the living room. We right the chairs, straighten the rugs, and sweep up shattered pieces of porcelain and glass. I find a chair with a loose leg and crouch to fix it when I hear footsteps and smell coffee. I continue to work. Then I smell something damp with the light perfume of soap. I look up and the young woman is standing by me. She smells like the shower she has just taken. I am very aware that she is wearing a thin white cotton robe and little else. 

I stand up and she puts her arms around me, hugging me tightly. I hug her back amending my awareness, she is wearing nothing else. She lets go and steps back, then settles onto the arm of a chair. The older couple are already seated and Charlie is standing near the mantle of the fireplace. 

"How did you do that," she says, smiling at me warmly.

I look over at Charlie and nod to him as she follows my glance. He turns sideways and disappears.

"It has to do with dimension," I say, and take a backward step to the wall near me at the same time wondering why I am showing off. I grin at how her eyes widen as I flatten myself against it, like a poster against a billboard. But then I feel a tug from behind and I seem to re-expand into the wall instead of the comfortable living room where my friend and partner, an older couple and a warm and attractive woman are waiting.

Instead there is darkness, and a flicker of light. I realize that a car has just driven by. My mouth is dry. I feel a tug back in the other direction and I know that I can go back, but I reach over and wrap my fist in my wife's t-shirt. Even in her sleep she jerks away from my touch but I hold on, knowing that the three dimensionality of the knot will anchor me in reality and prevent my return to the dream. I work my tongue, feeling the saliva start. Now I am fully awake. I sit up.

And then ... too late ... I feel an overwhelming sense of loss.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Falstaff ...

S'blood, I am as melancholy as a gib cat or a lug'd bear.

Starting again

What a poor performance on my part. There is all this space to fill up on the server farms and I just haven't been doing my part.

I could claim, rightfully that my life has been overfull of late, but that's not really an excuse. I am old enough, if not wise enough, to be able to take the vagaries of existence in stride and still be able to take quill in hand and set it to paper.

This is not the only project that has lain fallow and I am horrified at my lack of productivity on all sides. The materials for two half-written historical biographies are stacked, forlorn and dusty on the bookshelf behind my left shoulder. The notes for three novels are neatly labelled in expansion file envelopes. My in-basket overflows with unanswered correspondence and the miscellaneous scraps of paper that constitute my "day book".

It is not just the mental pursuits that have drifted out of control. Tomatoes lie rotting in my garden. The basil has blossomed, overgrown, and toppled leaving the rhubarb in domination of the small plot. My list of things to do has grown to the point that I can no longer bear to even think of looking at it.

Perhaps the onset of Autumn and the colder weather, the prospect of being able to take fewer medications and the institution of a new and simpler diet will help to change my mood. As regards diet, it is interesting that Burton, in cataloging those foods that the classical writers believed would cause one to be melancholic, seems  to suggest that in order to avoid the black humor one must perforce become a Breatharian, an airy fancy that I would find unpalatable.

I seem to have persuaded myself into a working mood. It's time to push the keyboard back for a while and take up my pen.