Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Borges, again

I go back again and again, to Jorge Luis Borges and his jewel-like stories, essays and poems. So many glinting facets in such elegant, miniature creations! So much effortless mastery of literature and philosophy, such love of English poetry, so many tigers.

 El tiempo es un río que me arrebata, pero yo soy el río; es un tigre que me destroza, pero yo soy el tigre; es un fuego que me consume, pero yo soy el fuego. El mundo, desgraciadamente, es real; yo, desgraciadamente, soy Borges.

"Time is a river that sweeps me away, but I am the river; it is a tiger that destroys me, but I am the tiger; It is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges."

At the start of Borges' story "Ragnarök" there is this excellent counsel for those who must deal with sleep monsters:

"The images in dreams, wrote Coleridge, figure forth the impressions that our intellect would call causes; we do not feel horror because we are haunted by a sphinx, we dream a sphinx in order to explain the horror that we feel."

He is fascinated with the theme of the double, and blames this on his love of R.L.Stevenson). A couple of his stories of the double made an especially strong impression on me because I came to them just after re-reading Gérard de Nerval’s Aurélia where – in his descent into madness – he thinks that his dark double is getting married to the woman he loves, though she is already dead.

In one Borges story (“Borges and I”), he feels empty and abandoned, while watching a second self write his stories and claim his fame. In another (“August 25, 1983”), as a man already 70, he walks from a station to a hotel at night to find he has already checked in, to room 19, a number with great significance. The clerk recognizes him with difficulty. 

He goes up to the room and finds his older self, now blind and 84, staring up at the ceiling, with an empty bottle nearby. His older self tells him he has come here to die – he says to commit suicide – and tells Borges things he will do before he arrives at the same situation. When Borges denies that this is what his future holds, his older self insists that things will proceed as he says, but that when the younger Borges reaches this point, he will remember the encounter, if at all, only as a faded dream.

Watercolor by Gisela Robinson. 


Thursday, September 22, 2022

Putting a Stopper in the Dream Door

Do your dreams fly away like fireflies escaping from a jar, as you leave the fields of dreaming? Here's a game I invented for catching lost dreams.

Picture a door to your dream world.

When you return from a dream excursion, you step through this door, back into your body in the bed.

Often, as you come back, you have dreams fluttering around you. Perhaps you have some of them in your pocket or what you think of as a safe container. I picture a glass jar like the ones I used as a boy to catch fireflies on summer nights.

But a strange thing happens. As soon as you step through the door, back into an ordinary space, your dreams take flight. They won’t stay in your pockets. The container won’t hold them. They swirl away through that door, which closes so fast you can’t prevent them leaving. Now the door is sealed tighter than a bank vault and you can’t find a way to open it.

Try this: as you return from your dreams, imagine that the door to the dream world stays open for a while, because there is a door stopper. I picture this stopper as a black dog. He’s alive, of course, though he may remain very still while his role is to keep the door from closing. Gradually he will let the door close. Close it must, so your waking life is not so full of dream creatures that you can’t tell where you are any more and end up on the couch of the mad-doctors.

But you have enough time now to catch some of those escaping dreams. You are permitted to go back through that ever-so-slowly closing door, go in a little ways, and grab what you can.

When I did this in an initial experiment, I was surprised to see that a flight of steps began at the threshold. As I climbed the steps, I found myself in a pleasant wooded setting, with dreams gathered on the branches or flitting about.

I invited them to play with me, and some consented to accompany back to the ordinary side of everything, which gets less ordinary in their company.

I brought back three dreams that had flown off before, one of them quite spicy.

I noticed that the black dog I had stationed at the door to hold it ajar was now bigger and even more noble: a guardian, not merely a stopper.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Cartesian makes friends with his dreams


I dreamed that I was struggling to explain something important in my faulty French. I woke, checked online, and read a message (in French) from a friend in France. He was trying to help a man who was struggling to understand what he describes as "an absurd experience for a Cartesian spirit like mine."

The "absurd experience" was a dream in which the skeptic met his departed father. His father was eating breakfast, wearing a beautiful blue shirt. In ordinary life, the man did not believe such an encounter was possible. In the dream, he rushed to his father, gave him a big hug, and was deeply moved.

Trying to make sense of what happened, the dreamer exclaimed, "We need to be taught how to make friends with our dreams."

That is my loose translation. What he actually wrote, in French, was: "On devrait nous apprendre, quelque part, à apprivoiser nos rêves."

"Apprivoiser" is a very interesting word. It is often translated as "to tame" or "make gentle". Its most famous use is in the beloved story of The Little Prince, who learns from the fox that in order to find the secret of life he must "tame" the fox in the sense of making friends with something wild.

My friend in France thought that I might be able to help the man who had dreamed of his dead father. I could hardly refuse this appeal to help after seeing the word "apprivoiser", You see, I wrote a book called The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. It explains why contact with the deceased is neither weird nor even unusual, since they are alive somewhere else. They call on us and we visit them, especially in dreams. We discover that healing and forgiveness are always available, across the apparent barrier of death.

When foreign rights to The Dreamer's Book of the Dead were sold, my French publishers came up with this title for the translation: Apprivoiser la mort par le rêve.

I wrote to the Cartesian who had the "absurd" experience of a loving encounter with his father on the Other Side:

"I have seen it so many times: a man encounters his deceased father in a dream. He discovers that to die in this world is to live in another world. This transforms his understanding of what it means to dream, to live and to die."

I wrote this in my faulty French, My dream had rehearsed me for this minutes before.

How do you get to know that dreams are real experiences? Run a tingle test. Truth comes with goosebumps, Then let synchronicity give you a wink or a nod, as in "apprivoiser". Test, check, verify. Then: practice, practice, practice.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Have a Close Encounter with Death, Wake Up in a Different Life


I reread Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.  It's an engaging sci fantasy yarn about a future American police state. The protagonist, TV celebrity and alpha “Six”, Jason Taverner, is hurled out of his privileged life by a familiar plot ruse that works: he has a close brush with death and finds himself in a different reality.

 The device is used beautifully in The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You and in the BBC Wales series Life on Mars. In Kin, the protagonist wakes up in another world where he regains his humanity and sense of life’s purpose before being sent back to the reality he came from, where he has bills to pay. 

In Life on Mars, a cop is thrown back to 1973 while his body lies in a coma after a near-fatal accident. He has an identity here, close to the one he has in the present. He is again a police inspector, with transfer papers that say he was reassigned from “Hyde”. In 1973 he was (and is) four years old, and catches a glimpse of his child self. He gets engaged in cleaning up a corrupt police department and introducing methods for collecting and handling evidence that no one has heard about. From time to time – through a voice on TV or a phone call no one else can hear - he learns about his situation in the present. Will he die in 1973 as well as the present if they turn off the respirator?

 In Flow My Tears the close call is delivered by an otherwise unexplained monster from a B horror, a “cluster sponge” with fifty feeding tubes flung at him by a psychotic girlfriend. He kills the thing with whisky, but some of the feeding tubes stay in. When he comes round, he’s not in hospital but in a cheap hotel in a bad part of L.A., minus all the I.D. that makes life possible in this reality. The people he knows – agent, lawyer, official mistress – are all in this reality but they don’t know him and when he manages to check, there is no record of his birth.

The scifi elements are charmingly creaky, like old space cowboy flicks without special effects. No cell phones or internet here. When Taverner wants to phone, he drops gold dollar coins in a public phone booth. (Where do you find public phone booths these days?)

Have a close brush with death and come back to a different world. For some of us, it's not fiction. I was pronounced clinically dead under a surgeon's scalpel during an emergency appendectomy in a Melbourne hospital when I was nine years old. In the minutes I showed no vital signs, I seemed to live a whole lifetime in another world. When I came back, my "prime ' reality seemed very strange. I wrote that story in The Boy Who Died and Came Back. Philip K. Dick was no stranger to such things. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Acts of Creation


To be creative is to bring something new, and valuable, into our lives and our world. You don’t have to be an Einstein or a Shakespeare to be creative. You need to play the best game you can, in whatever field is calling you, and come up with some new moves, and play so hard you don’t think of your game as just work (and may never want to retire from it).

What makes a world-class creative remains mysterious. But new research in neuroscience is telling us interesting things about how the association centers of the brain work when new ideas are coming through, confirming that one characteristic of creative people is that they make connections between things that other people don’t see as connected. Nancy Andreasen, a pioneer of brain imaging at the University of Iowa, found that in episodes of high creativity, multiple association cortices of the brain are communicating back and forth with each other - not to process sensory input, but in free conversation. Wild and novel connections are made, and from these – through the brain’s character as a self-organizing system – new creation emerges.

 Educational psychologists who try to rate creativity levels speak of a “fourth-grade slump”, when adult assumptions and formal training start to block kids’ natural ability to make things up. This suggests another key to creative living; we want to stay in touch or get in touch with the spontaneous creativity of our inner child, our master imagineer. 

Something important that creative people have in common is that they develop creative habits. For choreographer Twyla Tharp, these include “subtraction” – making a conscious effort to minimize distractions and make sufficient time and space available for a new project. For creativity researcher Keith Sawyer (a psychology professor at Washington University in St Louis) good creative habits include “working smart”, creating a daily rhythm that sets the right balance between hard work and “idle time” when the best ideas often jump out.

For Columbia business professor William Duggan, creativity in business hinges on “opportunistic innovation”, the readiness to watch for unexpected opportunities and change your plans in order to cash in on them when they turn up.

Other habits of creative people: 

- They find personal ways of getting “into the zone”.

- They are risk-takers. They are willing to make mistakes, and learn from them. They look at mistakes as experiments rather than failures.

 - Creative people are “prepared for good luck”; they view coincidences as homing beacons and turn accidents into inventions.

- They make room for creation – time and private space.

- They find a creative friend. This is a person who provides helpful feedback and supports their experiments.

- They persevere. 

Creativity is not just the preserve of a lucky – or tormented – few. It’s a power we can all claim. 

And here is what, for me, is the most important key to creativity. When we take on a creative project - and its element of risk - and step out of whatever box we have been in, we draw supporting powers, especially the power that the ancients called the genius or the daimon. Most people understand this intuitively, even though we may fumble for an agreed language to describe it.

Drawing by RM


Monday, September 12, 2022

In Praise of Raven


Sun Stealer


They say you stole the sun.

This is inexact.

You hid the light in darkness

Where the light-killers could not find it

So the sun could shine brighter than before.


They say you are black

Because you are evil and unkind.

They do not say you swallowed

Your own shadow and mastered it

At the price of wearing its color.


Shivering, they call you death-knell,

Death-eater, bad omen, flying banshee

Because you feed on death that feeds on men.

You strip what rots from what remains.

You give us the purity of the bones.


Trickster, they call you.

Oh yes, you’ll do your wickedest

To ensure our way is never routine

And we are forced to improvise and transform.

You won’t let us swap our souls for a plan.


At least they don’t accuse you

Of minor crimes.

I praise and claim your gifts

Of putting on darkness to come and go safely

In the darkest places, and joking with Death.

- from Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories by Robert Moss. Published by Excelsior Editions

Photo: Raven Talking Stick from Pacific Northwest

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Lord Dunsany's Hat and the Drummer who Keeps a God Dreaming the World

In Lord Dunsany's early work of fantasy, The Gods of Pegana, an elder god with the resounding name Mana-Yood-Sushai makes the lesser gods including a drummer named Skarl. The effort of creation and the sound of the drum put the creator to sleep. Skarl sits on the mist before Mana's feet, drumming away.
"Some say that the Worlds and the Suns are but the echoes of the drumming of Skarl, and others say that they be dreams that arise in the mind of Mana because of the drumming of Skarl." Either way, when the drumming stops, the world of gods and humans will end. Skarl may grow weary, but he plays on, "for if he ceases for an instant then Mana-Yood-Sushai will start awake, and there will be worlds nor gods no more".
From these self-published tales of a fictional pantheon Dunsany went on to virtually found the fantasy genre. He was endlessly prolific and soon wildly popular, publishing some 90 books before he died from appendicitis at 79.

The Anglo-Irish aristocrat's writing habits were as strange as his stories. According to his wife Lady Beatrice, he wrote with quills he sharpened himself, while sitting on a crumpled old hat. He rarely revised anything. The first draft, often streaming directly from dreams, was usually the last. I would like to know what was going on with the hat.

Source: "The Dreams of Mana-Yood-Sushai" from The Gods of Pegana, by Lord Dunsany; illustration by Sidney H. Sime, 1905