I dreamed that the leaves refused to turn in Worthington, Massachusetts.
I dreamed that the leaves refused to turn in Worthington, Massachusetts.
This shark toilet is so grotesque that I feel obligated to balance the horror with a little spirituality.
If you’re obsessed with sharks like I am, you might have wondered why they manifest in your dreams, plague your waking thoughts and perhaps even haunt your toilet.
Check out this fascinating discussion about shark symbolism.
It may inspire you to start a new religion.
On Tuesday afternoon, walking to the parking garage after work I passed a perpetually trash-strewn patch of plants and stopped to free a Macy’s bag impaled on a thorny branch. Grumbling with fatigue, heat and misanthropy, I snatched the bag and tossed it in a trash can, not feeling quite self-righteous enough to recycle.
In the trash barrel, I noticed a tiny card from a children’s game. Delighted, I snatched this vintage treasure from the bland refuse that surrounded it. The illustration showed a fisherman hauling a net of blurry colored trash from the edge of an unseen sea. I found the title vaguely obscene: Salty Junk. I couldn’t imagine where the hell this old sod had come from. All I thought of was a haunting story I’d read in the New York Times about the debris field left by the Malaysian plane that crashed in the Ukriane, how the writer reconstructed passenger stories through objects: Bali guidebooks, passports and a scattered deck of children’s playing cards.
I tried to engineer a reverse synchronicity in my mind to make the discovery feel inevitable. Hadn’t I just been thinking of how I’d make all of these entries into a book? Hadn’t I just been thinking, how much I’d actually enjoyed cleaning the little piles of dead balloons and tar balls off the beach, especially when my friends came with me? Could the universe, my throbbing narcissism insisted, maybe be acknowledging me for my own modest harvests of salty junk?
My love for piles of free and abandoned things aside, I don’t know why this little card had the force of revelation to me. I dug through the can, but found no other tiny red cards among the Subway wrappers and coffee cups.
The Wednesday walk to my car was similarly uneventful. But today, past the trash can where the concrete sidewalk curves up the hill, I found another tiny red card face down on the ground. I turned it over as if awaiting a revelation from the Tarot. There she was: Wacky Witch like some emissary from childhood classrooms dressed up for the New England fall, the green faced dime-store hag with cat, owl and cauldron, her leering face somewhere between a comic strip and a tribal mask. I scanned the brush for more cards, but found nothing. To what scattered and abandoned game these old icons belong I will never know. But I sensed their odd, intermittent path was something I was meant to follow.
Writers aren’t allowed to say things like “words fail,” but I am still struggling to find the language to describe this face. I cannot form a coherent sentence about this image by Andrew Fox of a white shark breaking the surface in pursuit of an albatross. My brain sputters out weird fragments: “bloody clown laugh,” or “sad dream lipstick jaw.” The otherworldly quality of this animal makes me rethink my place in the universe. Maybe that explains my enduring feeling, beyond the wonder and horror, of deep gratitude towards them.
When the subconscious offers so much free material, it seems a shame to waste it. But not all dreams make the creative cut and become poems….
My mother asked where would you be if you could be anywhere?
I felt foolish. I couldn’t conjure a specific place.
I could only think: Water.
My brother was Frankenstein.
The victim had been found floating, his body contorted into some sort of obscene, folded position like a yogi.
The man and the woman claimed to be actors. They visited me at my bedside, in a room with a peaked roof and a large window.
“We’re playing Jason and Medea,” the woman explained.
“But what attracted you to the Greeks?” I asked.
“Well, they’re just so weird,” she said, and began to talk about historic personages and gods as they were interchangeable.
“The Gods weren’t always so weird,” she said.
Each time I stopped to think about what she’d said, I’d look out the window where water was always rising. No lawn, no grassy border, no bank separated my house from the water that filled the windowpanes. The water looked wild, full of lines and patterns that formed and disappeared into one another. Instead of feeling scared, I felt comforted as if somehow I was rising and dissolving too.
Revisiting the work of Joseph Campbell, I came across this passage from his book “The Way of the Animal Powers”:
“The animal envoys of the Unseen Power no longer serve, as in primeval times, to teach and guide mankind. Bears, lions, elephants, ibexes and gazelles are in cages in our zoos. Man is no longer the newcomer in the world of unexplored plains and forests, and our immediate neighbors are not wild beasts but other human beings, contending for goods and space on a planet that is whirling without end around the fireball of a star. Neither in body nor in mind do we inhabit the world of those hunting races of the Paleolithic millennia, to whose lives and life ways we nevertheless owe the very forms of our bodies and structures of our minds. Memories of their animal envoys must sleep, somehow, within us; for they wake a little and stir when we venture into wilderness. They wake in terror to thunder. And again they wake, with a sense of recognition, when we enter any one of those great painted caves. Whatever the inward darkness may have been to which the shamans of those caves descended in their trances, the same must lie within ourselves, nightly visited in sleep.”
“I’ve kept a diary, writing in it virtually every day, since 1976; beginning on November 30, 2012, I started keeping instead a series of ‘Trance Notebooks,’ as a way to transform my journal into a higher pitch of ceremony, an occasion for intensified, unmoored consciousness. Now I’m distilling the results into a sequence of assemblages….”
I love Wayne Koestenbaum, and I love the idea of transforming the records one has kept of one’s life into something larger, stranger, full of new possibilities, a way to lead multiple existences.
I have piles and piles of journals I have kept since 1980, and I want to do something inventive with them. I had an idea that I would pick a representative sentence or two from each year and then throw all the journals away. I don’t think I have summoned the courage to do this yet, although I like the idea of only a few words like gossamer threads connecting me to the blurred past.
This morning, I began sorting through this random pile of thrift store ledgers, Barnes & Noble blank books, etc.
The volumes in which I recorded my dreams are even more difficult to part with than the books that contain transcriptions of my waking life.
Here’s a shark dream from 1999:
Walking down a crowded private beach in Malibu with a guy I didn’t really know, I spotted a dead whale in the shallow water.
Though the size of a sperm whale, the flesh was black and white like an Orca.
I pointed and announced the obvious.
“Oh, look! A beached whale.”
We waded out into the shallows to take a closer look. Up close, we discovered that although the body of the whale was real, the insides had been hollowed out and converted into a research station.
“Why doesn’t it smell?” I asked.
My friend ran his hand over the whale. “It appears to be covered in some kind of shellac.”
The whale rocked a little. “A great white is feeding on the underside,” he said.
No sooner had he made this observation, than the great white shark rose from the shallows and turned into a man.
At that moment in the dream, I recalled another dream I’d had in high school in which a dolphin sped from the open sea into the tidal break where he turned into a gorgeous Greek God type—sleek and chiseled.
However, this shark-man was no Adonis, but a grinning, buck-toothed flower child with long hair, a headband with a daisy stuck in it, and a frock over his pants—basically a hippie from central casting.
We became friends.
I wondered if his sudden transformation was a kind of omen, if it meant that other sharks might come.
Sometimes sitting next to him in the research station inside the whale’s body, I’d notice from the corner of my eye that his head had turned back into a shark’s head with grinning, crooked teeth.
Eventually, my companion and I had to leave the beach, return to our inland lives, and my hippie changeling slipped back into the water and returned to his shark form as my dolphin-man had done so many years ago.
But my nameless companion and I never forgot the shark-man. In the company of friends, in the post-dinner warmth of a kitchen, as one of us dried the dishes the other might tell the story. There was always laughter, always disbelief, but we’d quietly assert the reality of what we’d seen.
“No,” we’d say. “He was real. Right out of the water. A shark, then a man, then a shark again.”
There is probably an ancient story somewhere that explains the pull of original form, the inability of the animal spirit to stay in the human body for a prolonged period of time. And that’s why I love dreaming. We get to participate in stories beyond the bounds of our memory, stories that are somehow also our birthright, our very nature. We know them without understanding them. We filter myths through weird pop culture images.
Is it any wonder during this prolonged drought of dreams, that I feel somehow less human, less animal, less alive?
Waiting for the Dead
Once the fortune-teller shut the black curtain
wound the ticking clock and set the alarm,
assuring no revelation
spilled past the allotted hour.
He held my right wrist and traced
two broadly divergent lines on the edges of my palm.
“You have the ability to transgress boundaries
and enter the world of the dead.”
This I already knew.
The paths inscribed in the body
mirror those I walk in the wooded past—
trails marked with faded red ribbons
blurred by rotting and growing.
I pass the serenity of beaver ponds,
the crude warnings nailed to trees,
the collapsed wedding altar.
But where are the dead?
Should I watch for them
or feel them
rise and fall in every step?
I hear that the dead often appear
just beyond the borders.
So I follow the cold stone walls
up and down the leaf-strewn hills.
Once I dreamed that they wait for us
at places of transition—the parting of two roads
or the benches of lonely depots.
I remain alert when traveling alone.
They’re attracted to still, late hours
and fragments of their bright voices can be heard
in moments of our greatest joy.
But most often the dead enter through sorrow
that old forgotten gate, past the whorled trees
in a forest of undeciphered lines,
of startled clearings and ever-widening paths.
(I wrote this poem to explore the idea of having a “gift” whatever that might be, and the inescapable burdens that come with it.)
Don’t know the provenance of this nightmarish painting, but I like the colors. It seems that these pickled specimens have come alive in their floating jars, seeking escape and revenge. As much as I want to get lost in the weird, dream-like imagery, I can’t stop thinking about how buying shark pups in jars (like purchasing shark jaws or teeth) encourages the slaughter of these already beleaguered fish. Maybe that’s what these angry little babies have come back to tell us. (Thanks, Helen!)
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