Rout of the Rebel Angels, by William Blake

A Dog Starv'd

A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
      -- William Blake,
     "Auguries of Innocence"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don't Look Back in Anger

Interpreting dreams is a tricky business. It seems obvious that dreams have something to do with something in our minds, even if you believe that they can originate elsewhere and be transmitted to us. When we encounter in our dreams familiar faces, settings, "plot points," even whole words, phrases, and conversations -- well, the temptation to make something interpretable from it all can nearly overwhelm us.

For now, I'm not going to offer an interpretation of the dream from which I awoke this morning. But I wanted to get the details "out there," so to speak, before I forgot them. I'll set the narration off in indented text, to distinguish it from any commentary I may happen to add afterwards.

In the dream, Mrs. FLJerseyBoy and I lived in a big old rambling farmhouse in the country. (Actually, we live in a big old rambling contemporary house in the suburbs.) In the back yard, we had a big clapboard-sided garage or shed or barn, the second floor of which we were renting to a young couple and their kids.

These tenants weren't related to us, and while now I'm curious who they were, I can't remember their faces, let alone their names.

With our blessing, this young couple was planning to host a gathering of their family, reunion-style, in our back yard. Mrs. FLJB and I pitched in and mowed the (large) back lawn, edged the sidewalks and drive, and probably helped prepare the food. The meal was served on a row of those metal folding picnic tables -- the kind that look something like this:

The adults were arrayed along both sides of the row of tables. But what I remember most isn't the adults, but the kids -- not just our tenants', but the kids of their various relatives.

All these kids (about 15 or 20 of them) were little kids, probably less than 10 years old each. Squirts, in a word. They were running around the way little kids do at an outdoors family function, laughing and screaming and just having a great time. The remarkable thing, to me, was that they were all running around and screaming and having a great time... around my father.

Now, Dad died of cancer in June, 1988, at age 64. Of course, I can't help thinking of him from time to time. But I haven't dreamt of him in a loooong time. And what's especially notable about him in this morning's dream was that he was, yes, nearly 20 years older than when he died -- and that he'd either not gotten cancer, or gotten over it, because he was in good health, ruddy-cheeked and actually rather stout.

I never would have called Dad "stout" in real life. Here's how he looked in the 1940s, when he was in the service. It's pretty much how he looked when he died, almost 50 years later, except that his face was more creased, his hair gray, and his body shrunken, of course, from the illness:

But again, in this dream, he was, well, not fat exactly, but getting there. Fat, and ridiculously happy. His arms were raised up over his head, and kids were swirling all around him, and he was laughing and having a great time with them, dancing (it's the right word, though I seldom saw him dance for real) by turning in a circle. Like a maypole, almost, but without the streamers.

Some of you may remember a short film starring John Belushi, by Tom Schiller of the original Saturday Night Live crew, called "Don't Look Back in Anger." In the black-and-white film, Belushi plays the part of himself projected decades into the future, as a white-haired, shabbily dressed 90-year-old man; he's in a cemetery, visiting the graves of all his fellow SNL cast members (Ackroyd, Chase, et al.) and telling us little details about their lives. They've all (in the film) died years before Belushi himself. "Why?" he asks, and then answers, with a sly grin, "Because I'm a dancer!" The film ends with him dancing joyously on the graves of his co-stars. (Ironically, of course, Belushi was the first to die -- a long time before any of the rest of them.)

If you remember that film and remember the way it ended, that's sort of how Dad's dance looked in my dream. (The film is online, as far as I can tell, only at the NBC site, having been removed from YouTube etc. But the version omits the dance at the end, surely the result of some stupid legalistic copyright-protection decision according to which the network assumes you will be induced to pay for the whole thing, as long as you also agree to pay for everything else in the "Best of Belushi" collection.) But overlay it with the end of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," when Dreyfuss's character is boarding the Mother Ship while the little ET's swirl all around him, and you come even closer:

Beyond the dancing image, the other striking thing about the dream -- and Dad in it -- was that everyone seemed to know and take for granted that he'd gotten progressively deaf over the years, eventually to the point where he couldn't hear anything at all.

Eh, that's not so surprising in itself. (One of my sisters and I are both hearing-impaired.) What was surprising was the conversation I had about it, in the dream, with an aunt.

It seems that someone had been discussing some kind of home repair, specifically a repair involving electrical work. "Your father is so funny," Aunt T said to me. "You remember how your cat's ears used to twitch whenever somebody said her name or mentioned the word 'fish'? Your dad is the same way whenever somebody mentions electricians or says the word 'electricity' or 'electrical.' Maybe he's not so deaf after all!"

And that was pretty much where I woke up.

Now, there are some points of reference to real life here. Mrs. FLJB and I are indeed considering having some electrical work done. The other night, we were watching an "I Love Lucy" re-run in which a couple of little boys use Lucy as a maypole. And we did indeed have a cat whose ears used to twitch that way when you said her name, although not the word "fish." (She wasn't deaf, but she was notorious for pretending to ignore people as beneath her attention.) And finally, while he was never formally "an electrician," Dad did work as a maintenance mechanic for various companies and in various factories almost his whole life, and could have easily become an electrician if he'd wanted to. He knew all that stuff.

Otherwise, I don't know what the dream is saying. I can't think of any particular reason Dad would be "visiting" me now, and he didn't say anything to me in the dream anyhow. He was, in fact, pretty much oblivious to everything and everyone but the little kids. I'm not going to try to torture meaning out of it, but if I think of something I'll update this post later.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

How You Might Have Been Different...

...and why you shouldn't care. Love this poem. Love it. While it seems to be addressed to a male realtor, I don't think you have to be male or a realtor (or, for that matter, to be particularly religious, despite the title) to appreciate it.

It's from a collection called Practical Gods, and the poet's name is Carl Dennis.
The God Who Loves You

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you'd be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week --
Three fine houses sold to deserving families --
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you'd have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you're living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don't want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day's disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You'd have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you're used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You're spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven't written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you've chosen.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Pogo" Speaks

Thanks to Walt Kelly, a goodie from days gone by which is almost painfully relevant now:
Now is the time for all good men to come to.
I almost want to get this tattooed on my forehead.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Congressional Dems and Principles

Once again, the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress has the opportunity to do "a right thing." And once again, it appears to be on the brink of folding because of (perceived) political expediency (emphasis added):

Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.

Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.

As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.

Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence.
Goddamn but this torques me.

What's going on here is not that they will justifiably be called soft on terrorism. They will be called that, sure. (And their fears that it will prove politically dangerous speak volumes about the so-called Liberal Mainstream Media, eh? If it's so damn liberal then where's the danger?)

The problem is that they are willing to accept the framework of debate which the MisAdministration and its media stooges have constructed since 2001. There is no real danger of being called "soft on terrorism," you idiots, if you make a point of clarifying that this kind of shit has nothing to do with protecting us from terrorists.

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