I first went to Madison, Wisconsin because I met a stranger on the wrong seat on the wrong plane. I was en route to Boise, Idaho that day. I missed my connection at O'Hare airport and was put on another plane with an entirely different itinerary. When I took my seat, people on board started swapping seats. An attractive, mature woman took the place of the man who had been sitting next to me. By this stage my antennae were twitching because when our plans get screwed up, the Trickster comes into play.
My new rowmate turned out to be a fellow-writer, who wrote popular romances under a pseudonym. She noticed that I was carrying a copy of my just-published book, Conscious Dreaming. I surrendered it and she was soon engrossed.
Having lost my conversation partner to my own book, I glanced up at the screen to see what in-flight movie was playing. I saw a silly dog with fake antlers dressed up for some holiday photo shoot. I held my breath because in the previous night's dreams, I had seen a silly dog with fake antlers. In my dream, the dog ran out on the road and was killed. He was magically revived by a bizarre character who did not conform to any social norms. As the in-flight movie continued to play, I realized that I had previewed the whole thing in my dream. The silly dog was killed on screen, and was magically revived by a bizarre character who happened to be the Archangel Michael, as portrayed by Jon Travolta in the movie of that name.
My rowmate was now talking to me again. She was very excited by the suggestions in my book about how to approach writing as a state of conscious dreaming, and all the creative games I suggested for writers to play. "Would you be willing to teach in Madison, Wisconsin?" she asked. I said I might come if people asked me nicely. She told me that Madison was her home town and that she had connections at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She volunteered to try to get me invited as a keynote presenter at next year's summer Writers Institute at UW-Madison.
She delivered. The following summer, I went to Madison for the first time. Madison is a great city, full of creative people and original thinkers and bike riders. It is also deep in Cheesehead territory. The writers took me out to dinner at a fine Italian restaurant. The server who brought our drinks asked, "Would you like some cheese with that?" Why, sure. He returned with a one-pound brick of Wisconsin cheddar that he plunked in the center of the table. A pound of cheese between four people, before the appetizers. While I marveled at this, the server returned to ask, "Would you like some cheese curds with that?"
I enjoyed teaching for the Writers Institute. Confronted with 300 people, some of whom were nursing blocks bigger than the biggest cheese in the state (over 5,000 pounds), I had the whole group chant three words, over and over. "Wind-water-breath". A translation of the Pueblo Indian word for creativity.
At breakfast in the below-ground restaurant in the college motel, I stepped into an alternate universe. I was surrounded by sports pennants, photos of football teams and football stars, and other sports memorabilia. I was gripped by creeping dread that through some quantum slippage I was now in a parallel reality where people who were not dedicated to American football would be hunted down and put in a corrective facility.
I was mulling this when the elderly man at the next table raised his eyes above his newspapers. He studied me for a moment, then said very slowly, "Would you like the sports page?"
Sometimes it's hard not to notice that forces behind the curtain walls of our ordinary perception are at play in coincidence and chance encounters. As for my flying book, well, that could be the work of shelf elves. Yet again, there are flying books, the kind that need to be placed in a bird cage or laid under heavy weights on a table to stop them flapping about of their own accord.
I know that Conscious Dreaming is one of those books. Besides the bookstore incidents, I have heard dozens of reports of how the figures on the cover have come winging into people's dreams before they were aware of the book in ordinary reality. A copy of the first printing is at my left hand. I am going to put a fat, heavy scholarly tome on top of it before I walk the dog, just to make sure it does not go off on its own.
I'll be in Madison again in April 2014, launching my new book The Boy Who Died and Came Back at Unity Church on Friday April 4 and leading a 2-day adventure in Celtic dreaming at a dream location in rolling horse country just outside town on April 5-6. Details here.