The Crumbs of Unremembered Dream

bed is for sleeping

Every night you see the future in your dreams. When an unexpected tsunami crashes into inhabited shores and kills tens of thousands of people, it first crashes over you. When a woman is hurled from a 10th story window by a jilted lover, your sleeping mind feels her bones break before she does.

Every night bullets penetrate your skull and mash your grey matter into sludge. You cry out as stillborn babies are pulled from your womb. It’s not all misery. Sometimes your years of those of lost love reunited. But you always see something.

This is all a surprise to you. You remember none of these dreams in your waking hours. You don’t remember them because we take them from you. We take them with our teeth.

Sometimes you glimpse us in the darkness. A shape skittering past the edge of your bed. Sometimes you see scratches on the floor that weren’t there before. We are careful, but we are not perfect. And we come every single night, to tear roughly at your synapses and lap at your cerebro-spinal fluid in case a droplet of dream has leaked through. We wouldn’t want to miss any.

Sometimes you see us during the day. We follow you. We watch you, in case you fall asleep while you are out in the world and dream your dangerous, delicious dreams. But sometimes you see us. We are careful ,but we are not perfect.

You see us in our disguises. Someone stares at you for too long across the aisle in a crowded grocery store. A stranger smiles too broadly when they glance you, and although you do not know them you know the smile is meant for you. Of course you do. You have seen it before. So many times.

Everyone dreams, and we sample of them in turn. But you are different. You are special. You are our favorite. And you are dangerous.

You are searching for something out there. When you burst through the membrane of time and swim in the future’s jellied waters, it is not simply because you can. You are on a desperate, frenzied search for that which you lack. We have tasted your longing too many times not to be certain of this, though we do not know what it is. Once you find it, you will pull it inside of you. You will merge with this unknown something and spin fibers of thread around yourself. Then, in time, you will hatch. We do not know what you will become, but this must not occur. It will be terrible.

We consume dreams because that is what the world has birthed us to do. That is what we are. That is our lust. That is our hunger. But you have given us a greater purpose. When first we sampled you, we returned to you night after night because you are the most succulent dreamflesh we have ever tasted. Mashing the tissues of your imaginings into mush and then sucking it out is sublime beyond reckoning.

That is why we returned to you at the beginning. But then we learned. Now we return because you are deadly, and you must not become what you seek to become. But if this embryo within you died tomorrow, if we found it and swallowed it whole like a snake with a wriggling mouse, it would change nothing. Will would still return and feast upon you. Always.

The world cannot know about us. But they should thank us. We have fed upon them for so long. We have devoured so many of their foetal dreams before they could blossom, while they were still legless and struggling for life. But you are far more dangerous than we are. They should fall to their knees and thank us for what we do to you. Everyone should thank us. Except you.

Because we are not gentle with you. We are not precise. How could we be? Your taste is a temptation we can barely resist. It takes all of our willpower every single not not to consume all of you, to hollow you out and leave nothing. But then it would be over.

But we take too much. How can we resist? We never stop were we should. We always take an extra helping, an extra sliver of your brain, from your memories, from your faculties. You have noticed, though you did not understand. When you are sure you have left your keys in one spot but they are not there. When you remember a face but not a name, even though you heard it just a moment ago. The way you are degrading, piece by piece. You have noticed, but you lie to yourself. You tell yourself it is not so.

We tell you all of this because we can. Right now, as you listen to our thousands of hungry, whispered screams say these word, you are so terrified you can barely breathe. But you won’t remember. We will take those memories from you. You will not remember the look of our eyes, tiny slices in the darkness. The feeling of our thousands of fingers burrowing into the pores of your skin. The deep discomfort that washes over your nerves when we plunge our mouthparts into your brain, like your legs are dipped in melted pig fat. The utterly, absolute helplessness.

We do not normally have this level of precision. But we have come to know you very, very well. We need you to know us, even if you do not believe. We have devoured more of you than is left inside of you. In a way, we are one. So we tell you this, and thus we take our small measure of delight.

One day we will go too far. We will take too much. You will wake up a wasted wreck of yourself. It may be soon. We will try to prevent this, but you grow more delicious with time. You are flavored by the pungent spice of decay as parts of your mind begin to rot, like a mold-vein cheese. So our resistance weakens, and our hunger grows.

But that day is not today. For now the feast continues. So go back to sleep. We will see you again.

Tomorrow night.

Worms in the Soil

Root and Soil Interaction Imaged for Dr. Daniel Hirmas visiting from the University of Kansas

(Warning: This is horror and has sexual elements.)

Sometimes I can’t read because I’m too tired. Or I drank too much coffee or too much stress during the day and my mind is full of angry weasels with sharp teeth. Sometimes I can’t read because they steal it.

It happened today. I didn’t see them again but I can feel it. They come in through my open mouth, like spiders are supposed to do when you’re sleeping. Only spiders don’t really do that. But they do. Or they come through the space between my finger and my fingertips. They’re much bigger than that space, but they’re bendy. They’re clever.

I don’t know why they like my reading so much. I think they like the way it tastes because I can hear them chewing on something with my inner ear. But they don’t eat it. I couldn’t get it back if they ate it. I always get it back. So far.

Sometimes it’s hard to chase them because of what they take. They cut out my motor control or my vision. They never take all of those. I think they’re too big. When they take my motor control I stumble around and I can’t grip anything tight, but I can still move. When they take my vision there are blurry spots. Sometimes all over and sometimes one big one, right off-center of each eye. It’s hard to chase them. They’re hard to see at the best of times. They slime out of vision as soon as I catch them with in my sight. And when I grab them they burn my skin and its memories.

When they take my reading I can’t read. You don’t need much taken out of that. Just a little missing piece of brain and you can’t follow what a character is saying. If you’ve ever read the same sentence over and over, you know what it’s like. You know what it feels like to have them take it, just the tiniest piece. The moment their wispy fingers dig in isn’t like anything else. It’s sharp and small and oily. Like you’ve eaten too much fatty foot and you can’t get the grease off of your lips, only it’s on the inside of your brain.

Sometimes they take my sex drive. Brandon gets mad at me because I make excuses. Tired, stupid excuses. But it’s not my fault. I tried to explain to him about them and how they kept coming and taking it out. His eyes grew so wide I thought they were going to crack his skull. I realized that he doesn’t like talking about them. Most people don’t. It’s one of those uncomfortable subjects to most people when I bring them up. Brandon never brings them up, either. But sometimes he has no sex drive. He just makes excuses, so that’s what I do, too. But they come for me far more often than they do for me. For anyone I know. I think they like me. I think I’m tasty.

The sex drive isn’t the worst. It’s not the worst for me and Brandon. Two weeks ago Tuesday they took my compassion. I didn’t know it was gone until we were in bed together, and I was giving him what he wanted. What he’s always begging for. Only it was too much. I knew they had taken something. They took while I lounged on the wicker chair, I think. I could hear their voices. Like tiny violins just barely out of consonance. The perfect movement away from sounding beautiful to sound truly unpleasant. The bottom of the uncanny valley of beauty.

You don’t know compassion is gone until you try to use it. Most of the time compassion is sitting in the back of your brain not doing much. But then we were in bed and I was inside him and thrusting and he was begging me to go harder and screaming and then he was begging me to stop and I didn’t want to because I didn’t care. I looked at myself not caring like it was from above, just taking what I wanted, and I realized what they had taken.

I didn’t want go after it. I had to force myself. It’s hard to care about compassion when it is missing. But I cared about Brandon yelling at me afterwards. So I found the one of them that took it and caught it and shoved it back in. Then I felt guilty. Feeling guilty is terrible. If they ever take my guilt, I’ll probably let them keep it. But they never take something I don’t want. That’s not how they work.

Recently I’ve tried starting to talk to them. The noises they make are starting to make more sense to me, and they respond when I speak. They never used to do that. Maybe I’m on to something. Maybe that’s why they like me so much better than other people.

I don’t know what I would do if they weren’t around. It hurts when they tear out parts of my brain, but sometimes there are too many thoughts in my head and I need some of them to just go. It’s like worms in the soil. They are the worms, and I’m the soil.

There are more of them then there used to be. Sometimes I feel like I’m all worm and no soil. But that’s okay. The soil is dead and meaningless without anything to grow in it. Some things are bigger than we are. No one else understands that.

I’ve always wanted to grow.

I don’t know why they find me so delicious. I’ve learned to accept this.

Whether To Laugh

Nilpferde

“I don’t think…the lipstick goes with the hippopotamus.”

That’s what she said. I didn’t know whether to laugh or not. In a movie you’d be able to tell based on the music. And the way the shot was framed. And whether Will Farrell was in it. It could be a moment of tragedy or a moment of farce.

But now, here, in life, I didn’t know whether or not to laugh.

This morning when I came downstairs she was already dressed. Sitting at the desk, where she sits when we’re ready to go out, in her glasses and her white shirt decorated with pictures of herbs—all labelled—and her black fuzzy culottes. She loves culottes. I didn’t even know what they were until I met her.

“Good morning,” I said in a slightly confused voice.

“Good morning!” she said.

“What are you doing?”

“Waiting for you.”

“Um…why are you dressed?” I asked.

“We have to go to Group Health and drop those things off, and we have to be there by noon.”

We didn’t have plans to go to Group Health. I had plans to go and drop off her urine sample to the lab, but I wasn’t going to take her. There was no need. And the noon deadline was something she had invented.

Somewhere during the night or the early morning her brain had fabricated this new version. She got up and got herself showered, which is something I usually help her with. Then she attempted to collect her own urine sample. It didn’t work, and as far as I can tell she discarded the equipment. I asked her if she had the sample, and she said she tried and gave up. Even if I had intended to take her to Group Health, the entire reason for going was now irrelevant without that sample, or even the possibility of collecting it.

I got her back in bed. She started to tell me about a flyer she saw about a restaurant. I think it meant she wanted to go out to breakfast. I told her we could go tomorrow. She talked about a number of things while I tested her blood sugar and prepared her insulin dose, but none of it made a lot of sense.

I can usually put together the scrambled puzzle of her communications because I know all the pieces. I’ve heard her stories. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years listening to how she thinks. When she starts a thought half-way through–something about a Julliard accent and South London—I can work out that she’s talking about Jeffrey Tate. But it’s getting worse. Right here, as I prepared her insulin, she said a lot of things. None of it made a lot of sense.

As she injected she started to talk about her plans for the day. She got lost in the middle.

“I don’t think…the lipstick goes with the hippopotamus.”

She is supposed to hold the insulin needle in for a count of ten. She spaces out the numbers using the word hippopotamus.

One hippopotamus.

Two hippopotamus.

During her more lucid days she sometimes had fun with it. We had fun with it.

Three ornery hippopotami.

Four hippopotami who don’t like needles.

Five increasingly frustrated hippopotami.

Six hippopotami who are getting their second wind.

Now she gets lost halfway through. This is all so new, this level of thought-scramble. It snuck up. I know she mentions the hippopotamus because of the needle. I don’t know where the lipstick comes from.

She’s been getting dressed to go out a lot lately. On days we have no plans to go out. I try to tell her that those plans were never made. That the noon deadline didn’t happen. She says it did, because she remembers it. Sometimes she realizes she is confused; sometimes she doesn’t.

That’s the way all of us think about the world. Everyone has left something somewhere only to come back and find it’s missing. You are so sure it was there and that you haven’t moved it since then. Sometimes, though, you did. You just don’t remember. We all have terrible, flawed human memories. The science is there, and it’s all solid. But we build coherent narratives and our brains tell us they are real. We all have dementia. Hers is just a little bit worse.

It doesn’t bother her. Not much. She finds it frustrating but that’s about it. We went to the doctor and she took a brain test, and he pretty much confirmed that it’s dementia. It was eye-opening for me to witness it. I knew she was confused, and I was pretty sure what the cause was. But some things you’ll never see unless you look for them. The doctor asked her to subtract seven from one hundred. She couldn’t do it.

If she was falling to pieces or wailing against the injustice it would just be tragic. I would be having a lot more trouble handling it. But she’s fine. I think she might even be a little happier than she was a few months ago. Back then she was struggling but she was aware of it. There were stressful things in her life but she knew about them. It happened so gradually that neither she nor I got it all in one blow. When things seep in you get used to them. That’s just your life, now.

So it’s hard to see it as tragic. It happens. It happens to everyone, if they live long enough. She laughs her way through a lot of it, and takes the rest in stride.

In a movie this kind of thing is sometimes played for tragedy. And sometimes for laughs. Sometimes the scatty old lady who says strange things about large semi-aquatic mammals and cosmetics is a harmless comedic figure. Sometimes she’s the ruins of a life. I’m not sure what kind of movie I’m in.

I wish there was a musical cue to help me. I wish Adam Sandler would show up so I could feel comfortable laughing at the ridiculousness. So it wouldn’t seem horrible.

None of that is going to happen. So we carry on.

Bravery and the Avocado

2012-170 Best Avocado Ever

 

Picking good apples is about patience. You carefully run your eyes and your fingers over the fruit to find defects, bruises, soft spots. If you don’t find any, and the firmness is good for the variety, you are good to go.

Picking fresh fish is about knowledge. The signs are obvious if you know them, and if you don’t they are so subtle that they shrink into invisibility. Are the eyes clear? Is the flesh moist but not slimy? Does it smell like the ocean instead of a corner fish-market? Hit all of the check marks of the secret fish-code and you are good to go.

Picking an avocado, on the other hand, is about bravery. The difference between a palatable avocado and a luxuriously smooth and buttery avocado lives in the nanometer-wide space where perfect ripeness and rotting mess dance pressed so closely it would be outlawed in some countries as obscene.

My wife usually asks me to avocados for our group guacamole or homemade sushi. She usually does. She’s better at picking out every other kind of produce item. She has both the patience and the skill to inspect every item and identify the desired traits. And she’s good at picking avocados. Her avocados are always decent, and she never gets a bad one. That’s the problem.

She’s scared of getting a bad one. In order to pick avocados that will make you shut down all unnecessary senses as soon as you put them in your mouth so you can focus all of your brain power on that single moment of culinary transcendence, you need to take a risk. You need to accept that the squeeze which tells you it’s perfect is nearly identical to the squeeze that tells you it’s rotten. You need to accept that sometimes you’ll be wrong.

It’s like making caramel sauce. The flavor is so deep because it’s already started to burn. It’s like dry-aging beef. The added complexity comes from the fact that decomposition has already begun.

We think of these states—burned, decomposed—as bad things. That’s what happens when things go wrong. When you’re not paying attention. We think of these states as binary. As unilateral. Because they frighten us. “I’m a bad cook and if I don’t pay careful attention I will burn the food.” That’s what nervous cooks believe, because they are so worried about the inevitability of catastrophe that they never see the beauty among the ruins. They pay close attention to signs that things are going wrong that they miss the spark.

It’s like a near-death experience that rekindles the lust for life. Sometimes clay is perfectly fired in the flames that nearly shatter it.

“See, that would have been too squishy for me,” people say about my avocado choices. “I would have put it back.”

Sometimes I pick a bad avocado. Every time I cut an avocado whose texture whispers promises of both ripeness and rot, time slows down. I know that not only is this moment about to define my upcoming meal, I am about to be tested. Validated in my risky method, or cast aside a reckless fool. Once I selected four avocados and every one of them was rotten.

When I bite into an apple that my wife has selected I know exactly what to expect. She knows how to make sure they aren’t mealy. That they are always sweet. That’s the joy, and the mundanity. A sane life requires some measure of inevitable happiness. But not all wonder should be on the color-coordinated schedule.

A perfect avocado is, to me, far, far superior to a perfect apple. Is it because of the pleasure it brings, or because of its elusiveness? When I cut open an avocado to find bright green flesh so soft I can spread it with my finger, with no hint of brown, my face melts into a ridiculous grin. My joy is so unabashed it’s embarrassing. My self congratulation borders on narcissism. For just a few seconds, I am an unironic fanboy of my own achievement.

So I’ll keep picking avocados like I’m robbing a bank. Sometimes they’ll be terrible, and we’ll have to live without slices of avocado on our burritos. Sometimes they’ll be magic. But I’ll always know that in the moment of selection, I lived.

Eschatological Media Strategy

iPhone photography

The end of the world will be lit
not by white-hot skyfire
plunging from the heavens
or the thick orange stone blood of magma
pour out of great oozing wounds in the earth
but by the dim, sterile backlight
of a single iPhone.

This isn’t social commentary.
It’s a specific iPhone,
sitting in a factory behind reinforced fiberglass
waiting for a signal.

Then it will activate,
and kill us all
through a cloud-based social media strategy
that is as clever as it is deadly,
as the third step, in a twelve part necromantic ritual
to fuel Steve Jobs’s resurrection.