I am always dreaming of escaping down the back stairs of my childhood home. I can’t find my way out and get attacked by a massive dog sent down by my father. I punch and punch at it and yell for my father.
He sends me to school where I’m failing because I never listen. I run away from class, escaping out a twisting hallway and get stuck in a sewer that begins to flood.
I want to write like music. I want to write in a sustained sound. I want to write in a loop that goes around, on and on. I want to write with never-ending tension. I want to write like the opening of a door, the scuffle of feet, the distant sound of something coming soon.
I want to write like I dream and see my mother, looking young and sharp, in the car with me to the airport, our bags overflowing out the back, a starship flier picking us up before we even get there, continents vanishing in steam.
I want to write like it was left unsaid, like eyes see. I want to write in a burrow, like roots to rocks. I want to write words that mean something else in their unconscious self.
Brian Greene’s latest book Until the End of Time searches for meaning in our universe by connecting prevalent theories on everything from atoms and astronomy to art and angst. Most interesting of all is his analysis of why we tell stories.
What evolutionary utility could arise from following the exploits of imaginary characters facing make-believe challenges in non-existent worlds? (274) Through borrowed eyes protected by the tempered glass of story, we intimately observe an abundance of exotic worlds. And it is through these simulated episodes that our intuition expands and refines, rendering it sharper and more flexible. Through story we internalize a more nuanced sense of how to respond and why, and that intrinsic knowledge guides our future behavior. (279)
Storytelling is our most powerful means of inhabiting other minds. And as a deeply social species, the ability to momentarily move into the mind of another may have been essential in our survival and our dominance. (283) The stories provide a means for experiencing the universe from a perspective that is otherwise unattainable. (284) Through narrative we explore the range of human behavior, from societal expectations to heinous transgressions. We witness the breadth of human motivation, from lofty ambition to reprehensible brutality. (285)
None of which explains my dream of my cat Popo (who died in 1999) as an evil red-eyed monster driving an open-bed truck, wreaking death and destruction while Allen (a friend who I haven’t seen since 1987) careened off in an outboard boat, almost killing sunbathers and then vanished in pile of gravel as my father (who dies in 1989) accused me of plotting to kill my mother (who died this year) because I had a number of pictures of her on my wall when I was only trying to sleep.
We agreed to marry in Florida in a small place by the beach. She was everything for me. We had loved each other many years before, my first love, but that had been broken by betrayal and selfishness. The intervening years had only proved what we had missed. It was such an obvious thing, but she reverted to old ways, unsure and scared of coming too close again. She couldn’t go through with it, in spite of my prostrations and cajoling. And then it was back to the old ways, making stands, walking out, calling again, trying to reach across that torturous gap.
It didn’t work. There seemed to be hope and she was still there, but all conversations were through others, attempts at sex were in vain. I confessed that I saw nothing in free love. She insisted that bodies were only that. I comforted myself with games of exploding balloon Frisbee, jujubes and singing along with The Grateful Dead. And it almost worked. A beautiful young woman came to me, undressed to her wonderful glory, and I was into that.
But then she had other things to do and so I entertained a whole retinue, played the role of sage with drinks in the fridge. There were so many, and I never had time to think, even if I did, not able to get the thought of her out of my head, the wonder of what we had, like flying into an unknown land and never waking up from that.
Everyone had gathered in an old bank vault, not the vault, but an old bank with a vaulted ceiling. The safest place was in the board room but that was full and no one would open the door. I stayed along the wall and looked up at the plaster ceiling, the finery of 19th century workmanship dangling in delicate, broken segment high above. I moved corner to corner, past the huddles of people I did not know and who did not want to know me, and finally down a hallway that led to a narrow staircase and a wooden basement. I knew that it was a bad dream and I had to go down.The first door came eerily open and I was afraid. I shut it and jumped away, continuing to the next where I found more cold and dark and decided I must go back to the first and face my fears. There was nothing there. It was empty with a dirt floor room wand a draft. I didn’t question why it was under the bank. It was just there, like the witches and killers and crypts beneath my childhood home. The first rumbling was clear, like an airliner coming in too low. The next was less so. And that was it. The vaulted bank room was empty by the time I returned.