Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Where there's a Goddess there's a way


This is my catch phrase from my last dream of last night. In the dream:

I am on a road that becomes impassable, thanks to erosion and then construction that has left a gaping L-shaped hole (actually more like the Greek letter lambda)  through which I can see water below. Now fully lucid, I consider my options. I can fly over the obstruction, as I have done in dreams before. But that does not feel right.
    Whatever is going on here needs to be sorted out on the ground - or on the water. Different dream lands have different physics and requirements. It seems I am stopped on a bridge. Why not call up a boat to take me where I want to go? 

    Now I hear a tremendous feminine voice, saying, I will open the road from Halicarnassus to Sinope. 
   I sit up in bed with the words vibrating in my mind I am certain I have heard the words of a goddess, delivered by a priestess of her oracle. I am thrilled with excitement.
    Of course my dream has set me yet another research assignment, starting at the birth city of Herodotus, whose Histories were already in my current reading because of a dream from a few days ago, extending to a Black Sea port associated with the quest of the Golden Fleece. No doubt I will be called again into the realm of the Great Goddess of Anatolia....

Image: The Cyblele fountain in Madrid. Though it's at the other end of the Mediterranean, and was sculpted in the 18th century, this is one of my favorite images of the Great Goddess of Anatolia, Matar Kubileya to the Phrygians, Kumbaba to the Hittites, Kybele to the Greeks (syncretized with Artemis at Ephesus), Magna Mater or Cybele to the Romans, and often, quite simply, the Mountain Mother or Mother of the Gods.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Driving a Car with Brique Affinée.

I am driving fast on curving roads at night. This car is controlled by a white oval knob on top of the dashboard. I find it easiest to operate when I work it with a piece of French cheese. This is a very particular cheese, a creamy gourmand delight called brique affinée. It's shaped like a thin brick, and I use the edge on the knob, pressing hard when I want to work the brakes. 

Feelings: Amused. 

Reality: I usually eat brique affinée when I teach in southern France, where my wonderful translator introduced me to it. Made in very traditional style by Vieux Pané, it is nonetheless a fairly recent arrival on the immense French cheeseboard.

Intention: My intention for dreams last night was simple: "I want to have some fun in my dreams and then have more fun talking about them and creating from them." This tasty scene, one of many, seems to be a direct response. Not quite as much fun as other dreams from last night, of a new kitten tickling the back of my neck, and of swimming in the warm turquoise waters or a lagoon at a mermaid beach. However, I am always happy to talk about cheese!

Action: I shall certainly want to eat some brique affinée when I lead my dream teacher training near Montpellier in October.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Audience with the Rememberer

A woman traveler describes her experiences in an extraordinary land, to the astonishment of people who know this country only from a book. They learn from her that the land of legends is real. She learns from their book what the anomalous events and conditions she has experienced may mean.

This was the 50 word report of a dream, as I recorded it on waking on the morning of March 23, 2003. The legacy of the dream was a sense of wonder, and a keen desire to know more. However, the details were flown, and I had no time to try to journey back inside the dream, because I was catching an early plane and needed to get dressed, finish packing, and rush to the airport.
     A good friend named Carol had agreed to assist me in leading a workshop, and we were booked on the same flight to Chicago, en route to places West. After we had claimed our seats and survived the automated safety briefing, I told Carol what I remembered from my dream. "What do you want to know?" she asked, following our regular dream-sharing process. "I want to know more about everything. I want to know all about the land of legends."
     Gently, Carol started a line of questioning that brought the dream alive in my mind. As I responded, I started taking frantic notes. Soon they had filled a dozen pages of my journal, and were already more than notes. They were becoming the first draft of a story. When I got to my hotel, I typed it up.
    It recounts the adventure of a young woman named Constantina. On her way to her sister's baby shower, she slips into another reality, into a strange country known to her people only through "a book compiled by an itinerant schoolmaster who was charged with sacrilege and forced to flee into exile. It is a land that is hard to describe, because it has more angles.” 

     She meets the Rememberer, a prince of the city with a forked beard, half white and half black. Their audience takes place in a pool shaped like a figure 8 or lemniscate symbol of infinity. The Rememberer is submerged below the waist. He communicates through a tablet composed of lines and waves of some electric force. It crackles like a toaster or an old bar radiator about to explode. The flashes conform to an unknown but coherent alphabet of signs. 
     When she returns home, there is a great public gathering where people ply her with questions. 
They ask her for her feelings about the strange man. She tells them, “I felt his indifference, the indifference of one who has seen the birth and death of suns and has outlived everything he ever loved. What I mostly noticed was his smell. It was the smell of attar of roses, cut with turmeric. And his eyes. His eyes are bottomless wells.”
     And so on, and on. When I was finished typing, I had 4,000 words, raw and strange, organized by dream logic and poetic resemblance. 

This was a quite magical experience of dream retrieval. So much can come back to us, from the other side of the wall between the worlds, when we allow it to come. The process can be greatly assisted by a caring friend who knows how to tease us to bring back more. It truly prospers when we don't interrupt ourselves by asking, Am I making this up?
    All of this came back to me when I lunched with my friend Carol and recollected in conversation how she had helped me to bring through this story. Alas, I had left my story 
unfinished. I had meant to go back to the draft, after that trip, and see what it wanted to become. I did go back, in a break in my travels, and developed my journal notes into something closer to a publishable story. But I could not find that version when I was choosing and polishing some of my stories for my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming. Maybe it was time to complete it. 
    I went looking for the draft and found the journal version I have excerpted here, but not the more elaborate second draft. It seemed that the second draft had never made it to my electronic data base. I did find the drawing I made, which I titled "The Audience with the Rememberer".
    Then another friend recounted a dream that, while scary, had given her the gift of a terrific scene and a marvelously wicked villain for a novel she is writing. 
I felt an acute desire to get back to completing one of my own dream-driven stories. Yes, I could work from my journal entries with that raw first draft. But I would really like to resurrect the second draft and remember where I had taken the tale, or where the tale had taken me. Surely I had hard copy somewhere in my house.
    With some trepidation, I confronted the hundred documents boxes (no kidding) in a storeroom in my basement, many of them allowed to languish for years. Where to begin? On a whim, I pulled out a box that had unrelated materials on top. Brushing these aside, I found, in the second folder below, a typed draft of "The Rememberer". This gave me a little shiver of recognition; the shelf elves were in friendly mood.
    My second draft is the length of a novella, but (as I said) unfinished, containing many mysteries, not all of the kind that can ever be figured out by the reasoning mind. Yes, I remember: I have a significant dream-directed writing assignment to fulfill.

"Audience with the Rememberer" (c) Robert Moss

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My dream boat is good for a pleasure cruise

I am on board a motor yacht. It is beautifully appointed, with gleaming brass and wood panels. It can sleep twenty passengers, or more, in great comfort.
     The plan is to sail across the seas of the world, to Goa and other places along the Malabar coast. But I am starting to think that this plan is too ambitious. The boat is old, and its equipment has not been properly maintained. I fear it could spring some leaks, and I suspect that the control instruments are not reliable. In the wheelhouse, I inspect three knobs or buttons that are vital to navigation. One seems to be loose. I can picture it falling off.
    I say firmly that I am not willing to risk taking this tub to the other side of the world. However, it is surely still good for a pleasure cruise. I am willing to take it out for the day, on a jaunt around the bay. I look out with delight over sparkling blue waters.
    I am confident that even if we break down or spring a leak, we can get safely back to shore. Anchors away!

Feelings: I woke from this dream this morning feeling jolly and breezy.
Reality: The luxury boat reminds me of a private yacht in which I was fortunate enough to take a cruise, as an invited guest, from Rhodes along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey many years ago. I have not (yet) been to Goa or the Malabar coast, but I love spicy food and this region produces the spiciest food in the Indian subcontinent. Of course I notice that the state of the boat - classy but aging and in need of some maintenance - may also be an analog for the state of my body!
Intention: I had set an intention before sleep: I would like impetus for fresh writing.
Linking dream to intention: I think my dream producers gave me an elegant advisory on how to approach new creative writing in this period of my life: as a little pleasure cruise, or a succession of them. No need to go round the world on an immense agenda (though I might always get to Goa through a series of pleasure jaunts).

Action phrase (also my action plan): My writing life is a pleasure cruise.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bookish clues to creative life

In Manhattan, I enter a rare bookshop. It’s an unusual step; I know such places are likely to be blindingly expensive. On a large table, I see a book devoted to Yeats. It seems to be a handsome version of a scrapbook or album, with many pictures and excerpts, including sections of manuscript, on each of the heavy stock, creamy pages. I doubt that it has new content, but I’m attracted by its beauty. I look at the penciled price. $610. Too rich for my blood.
    A store assistant leans over and says, “It was last sold for $210.” I’m surprised he would confess to the huge markup. Then he says, “I could let you have it for $150.”
    “We get large consignments, usually from estates, and we have to keep the stock moving. Otherwise we have to let books go, and they just revert to paper.”
     I agree that I’ll buy the Yeats album for $150. I notice that there seems to be a second copy underneath.
    “Hold it for me for now.”
    “Are you looking for something else?”
    “Aubrey de Sélincourt.” I name the writer without hesitation.
    The store assistant makes a quick search and returns with a book with a yellow dust jacket without illustrations. It looks like an old scholarly edition. I glance at the list of contents. Each part of the book has a title involving a Greek word; part 3 or 4 is titled KTISIS, or KTHISIAS. The work seems rather rarefied, philosophy or theology. I’m not sure it’s what I want.
     I explain to the store assistant that I am interested in de Sélincourt as a writer who managed to enter the heart of the Ottoman empire, at its foundation.

Feelings: I woke from this dream this morning curious, intrigued
Reality check: I was in Manhattan yesterday. I know rare bookshops of this type in the city, and usually give them a wide berth. I love Yeats, and write in depth about our relationship in The Dreamer's Book of the Dead and The Boy Who Died and Came Back. I would probably buy a Yeats album like that, at the reduced price.
     I know Aubrey de Sélincourt as the translator of Herodotus, whose Histories describe the sweep of peoples across Anatolia, later the heartland of the Ottoman empire. I see that de Sélincourt wrote two dozen books. The son of the owner of the Swan & Edgar department store, he was an Oxford classics scholar, an athlete and yachtsman. He was an officer at Gallipoli, later a pilot for the Royal Air Force, shot down by the crack German aviator Voss and held as a POW for the last part of World War I.
    A little research suggests that ktisis means creation in the sense of founding from nothing, from Homer to the New Testament.
    I have read a little about Ottoman dreams, and have taught Active Dreaming in Turkey.
    As for books that "revert to paper" unless acquired - ah, well, I think of all my unfinished or abandoned drafts of books and stories from several decades, including a novella involving Yeats.

My intention last night was for insight into defining my present creative life purpose…

Action: Look again at de Sélincourt’s translation of Herodotus, and at his book The World of Herodotus. Venture in to one of those rare bookshops in Manhattan on a future visit. Accept the assignment of life creation. Stick my head back inside the dream, if I can, and bring back more of the book with the difficult Greek terms.

Bumper sticker: My creative purpose involves books of rare quality.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the dentist's chair to a pink sand beach

"How are you today?" asks the dental assistant.
    "Fine," I respond. "Except that I'm on my way to a dentist's chair. Anyone who tells you only that they're fine on the way to an appointment with a drill is giving you less than a full response."
    I am going to see a new dentist, for the first stage of replacing a crown. I've been alerted that this will be a marathon session, at least 90 minutes. I adjust my body to the seat, taking in the decor of the room. Models in my line of sight demonstrate the progression of periodontal disease. The walls are empty, stark white, except for medicine cabinets. Nothing to inspire cheerful thoughts or stir the imagination, except maybe through sensory deprivation.
    The new dentist arrives. He announces, "First, I'm going to numb you up."
    "No you're not," I correct him. "I don't need anesthetics of any kind for this." I explain that over decades I have undergone multiple root canals, crown replacements and even oral surgery to extract the shards of a shattered tooth without numbing.
    "How do you do that?"
    "I let my mind carry me to another place."
    He's willing to trust me. He just says that if things get too much I should raise my left hand.
    The drilling begins, and goes on and on.
     I'm only distantly aware of it, because I am on a pink sand beach, enjoying the hard spray coming off the breakers. I run back and forth into the sea. Then I slip along the coast to bathe at leisure in the warm waters of a protected cove, worthy of a boyhood story of pirates, or a romantic tryst with a mermaid.
     I am distracted from this pleasant idyll only when dust from the drilling, or water from the jets being squirted intermittently into my mouth, threaten to go down my throat.
     Ninety minutes was a good estimate. It takes all of that for the whole procedure.
     The dentist asks me to say more about how I can get through this stuff without being numbed.
    "While you were working on my teeth," I tell him, "I was on a pink sand beach in Bermuda."
     He says, "When I was in dental school they told us that we can teach patients to put their mind somewhere else, by telling them to feel sand between the toes, stuff like that. I guess I'll have to remember that when you come in, I'll need to make that pink sand."
     "It's okay. I'm already there." I add, "I'd just like you to put some good pictures on the walls - of beaches, or lakes in the woods - so people who need outside stimuli can start taking themselves into those scenes, instead of the progress of gum disease."

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cashew juju

Here's a tiny tale of synchronicity from today.
    Late last night I watched the film version of Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimananda Ngosi Adichie's marvelous and moving novel of the ordeals of a family and a people in the Biafran war. I had a book-lover's unease as I fired up my DVD player. Could the movie be even half as good as the novel? Actually, the film is first-rate, but I missed some pivotal scenes and character exploration, and some of the actors looked nothing like the characters who came alive in my mind as I journeyed in the world of the book.
    I was prompted to start reading Purple Hibiscus, Adichie's previous novel. In chapter one, I followed a deepening family drama, told in the voice of an Igbo girl. It led to the Sunday lunch table where her father, a businessman who owns a bottling company, is planning to bring a new beverage to market: cashew juice.
    His wife tells him, "They brought the cashew juice this afternoon. It tastes good. I'm sure it will sell."

    The father instructs the help, "Bring two bottles of the drink they brought from the factory."
    For a couple of pages, we follow what could be a taste test for cashew juice except that no one really knows what to say because the primary taste in their mouths is the ashes and vinegar of a family quarrel. "Just like white wine," says Mama, but in fact cashew juice tastes nothing like wine. The son, Jaja, in trouble for failing to go to church that day, says nothing at all. Kambili, the teen narrator, thinks it tastes like water and looks like urine, but doesn't dare to say these things.

     I stopped reading after this scene, though eager for more, because it was quite late and I had errands to run in the morning.
     In mid-morning, while waiting for my cats to complete their check-up at the vet, I glanced over the New York Times headlines online. Nothing good from Iraq or Gaza or Ukraine. Then I scrolled down to this headline: 

Cashew Juice, the Apple of Pepsi's Eye

With rising fascination, I reviewed a long report by Stephanie Strom on how Pepsi is contemplating a huge marketing and distribution campaign, under the Tropicana brand, to make cashew juice a beverage of choice across India and then bring it into Western markets as a premium drink. "Pepsi is betting that the tangy, sweet juice from cashew apples can be the next coconut water or açaí juice."    Cashew juice is produced from cashew "apples" - the red or yellow fruits that are usually thrown away after the nuts are removed. So, the basic ingredient could hardly be cheaper, though there is the slight problem of milking and treating the juice before it ferments, which it does very fast. You can't have alcohol in a Tropicana bottle.
    What are the odds on reading a chapter in a 2003 novel about taste testing cashew juice as a new item in the Nigeria of the 1960s - and then reading a few hours later that a major corporation, right now, is mounting a campaign to make cashew juice a world drink?
    Nothing big is going on here, in terms of a personal message. It's not one of those cases of meaningful coincidence when you feel the world has shaken your hand or slapped you in the face. This nutty little story just brings the sweet and poetic sense that everything is connected and that, truly, life rhymes.

Anacardium occidentale from Koehler's Medicinal-Plants (1887)