PANDEMIC DREAM NOTES * DISAPPOINTED BY DREAM DICTIONARY * WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN vs WHAT IS * A MODEST READING LIST * A MODEST MOVIE LIST * THOUGHTS ON THE STREAMING MOVIE EXPERIENCE * SHOWING UP
Several weeks into the pandemic, I’d wake up exhausted with mild headaches. I’d been grinding my teeth. After getting a night guard, I began dreaming again. In them, I returned to alternative nine to five jobs — In one, I shuffled three blank sheets of paper on a desk behind the lounge chair in the living room of the house where I grew up. Another dream, another office–this one of dark red mahogany walls and posts where I found myself needing to urinate onto a desk next to a dude in a cubicle who picked up his phone to report me. Do you dare attempt a hurried pee in a dream? My commutes to and from work involved expressways built like rollercoasters; ridiculously high inclines and slopes. I rode in concrete boxes, not cars, that had no steering wheels or brakes.
In many of these dreams I’m wandering around alone, though people I know are cast in a variety of roles around me.
In my last dream, I’m working in some huge convention center atop a hill overlooking the city. The center is a short but wide building, several blocks long. At one point, I leave the building for the parking lot and attempt to call a ride. There’s a street before me heading uphill. As I stand in the parking lot looking at the crest of the street, I see boiling curlicues of water. It was as if an unseen glacier thawed and bled out. As the street fills quick with muddied water I rush back inside, realizing there’s no way out of here. Once back inside the building, I stand at a window with coworkers and watch the street fill in a raging flash flood. A pyroclastic flow of debris rushing at impossible speeds; the wave bloated with automobiles, telephone poles, train cars. My coworkers watched as for some awful parade, their heads snapping up and down the length of the street. I saw how the wave blasted over the edge of the hill, uprooting trees while plummeting downhill.
Disappointed to be stuck, I go back outside and walk down to another room. From behind me, a door swings open and I see a cart being pushed my by former boss. Consciously, I know this man is dead; but its a pleasant surprise seeing him here, and working. I walk with him a moment and follow him as he pushed the cart into a cavernous garage of metal and concrete. I don’t remember anything on the cart, but this is work. I stand across the room and watch as he stands on a shoe box sized riser and begins flipping switches on the small control panel on the wall.
He slips, somehow. Falls forward and hits his head against the wall, producing a loud, hollow thump. The impact flings his torso backward as in some wild Martha Graham choreography and he knocks the back of his skull just as hard. I rush over to him and he snores, asleep. My hand on his chest. My fingers gently along his temple. No blood, but I still worried — even while reminding myself the man is dead and has been for years.
None of the omens from that dream were positive, as I looked up the imagery next morning. Laying in bed, I flipped through dream dictionaries and smirked like I just lost a game round. Personally, it felt like a clearance of everything I knew or relied upon, even transportation, was washed away in the flash flood and made worthless. My empathy for the man I knew loosened as I realized he’s already gone. There’s no one to call or contact and absolutely nowhere to go. What was life now?
I could have written ten novels by now. But I need people to fill me, the electricity of life charges the motor of creativity. My motor idled until it stalled into boredom. With infection numbers dropping and more immunization happening, there is a foreseeable end to all this. And I’m doing well, truth told. I woke this morning at 6 and took a walk. The sun was more than an hour away and the streets were as silent. There were roosters paging the sun. But some street corners were like a vacuum where even gravity felt unreliable. I walked until I sweat and returned home to make tea and read. I have things to look forward to– a socially distant brunch with the sole elder I’ve been in touch with during the pandemic, some readings before April– National Poetry Month. Keeping myself entertained while in solitary for a year has been alright.
When not writing, I’m reading: These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card is a stunner; a gorgeously well told yarn involving family, secrets and lies, ghosts and exorcisms. The book was passed to me by a friend who recently kidnapped me for an outing, through which I could barely relax since she spent the whole afternoon treating me like a possible contagion. I was outdoors, but still felt like I was in a ziplock bag. I wanted to be there, then immediately wanted it over.
Knees of a Natural Man: The Selected Poetry by Henry Dumas, a nearly lost but essential poet from The Black Arts Movement, earning respect from Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Eugene Redmond and more. Dumas was killed by police in 1968, the year I was born, and has been personally suggested to me off and on through my poetry life. To finally sit with his collected work! He’s a sharp, compact writer with sensibility of Chinese or Indian sages but through a Black, socio-political filter.
The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott is a collection of stories similar to what I tried to write more than 20 years ago and couldn’t. I will never be as sharp or perceptive (or, respectfully, as insane) as Scott who has created a beautifully realized city with a long history with a deep mythology and unforgettable characters.
The Complete Works of Pat Parker is a poetry collection recommended to me by a poet here in the Bay Area, Avotcja, who knew Parker personally. By chance I caught video of Parker reading with Audre Lorde and was as taken by her voice moreso than Lorde’s. Parker is clear and coldblooded and often very funny.
“If They Move…Kill Em: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah” by David Weddle which I’m reading as I’m writing this after recently re-watching The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah’s 1969’s revisionist western masterclass in violence. Peckinpah was true visionary in using slow motion editing for action scenes. Modern directors like Zack Snyder owes his estate some money for biting his style without maintaining or understanding any of its visceral power. Is half Justice League’s 4 hour running time in slow motion?
Its been more than a year since I’ve stepped inside a movie theater. I’ve seen many good flicks during the pandemic — Mank, Judas and The Black Messiah, Small Axe: Lovers Rock, (any of Small Axe films, actually), One Night In Miami, Da 5 Bloods, as well the aforementioned Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which I didn’t hate — but streaming films in my living room does reduce a percentage of their magic. I have distinct, visceral memories of films I saw in theaters and came away from those experiences moved, transformed somehow. Touched. But I remember the theaters and feelings I had leaving them. Its a challenge now to have feelings and hold particular joy with cinema laid at my feet– made easy on my laptop, phone or just magically on tv where I can lay in bed or take bong hits or finish dinner. No one gets touched by a movie any longer unless they’re Netflix an Chillin’ with someone.
I did start Coming 2 America only to abandon it midway, excited at first by the eye candy of its reunited cast, only to fall bored with its shiny but empty package. A comedy doesn’t have to be a good movie, only funny. With few of the jokes landing for me, there was no reason or investment to get to the end credits and I clicked it off with a shrug, happier with cast interviews promoting the film than sitting with the film itself. Leslie Jones and Wesley Snipes were superb additions, but but but… I was the only one to please and I wasn’t laughing. Eddie Murphy is a genius under extensive body makeup and a fully sketched character. But his Akeem, stuck playing straight man in a castle full of comedians and being so house-shoe comfortable in his castle, feels like a dead weight. A host strolling from one mediocre set piece to another. Arsenio Hall should be in his own series or something, but his energy is spilled liquor in C2A’s listless family reunion. Louis Anderson in a dashiki is cute, but after 33 years, what if he ran McDowells or appeared on the news as President of The United States? Despite seeing the first film in theaters and loving it, I wasn’t the target audience for the sequel.
Movies I enjoyed more over the year are hard to recall. I thoroughly enjoyed One Night In Miami but am having a hard time getting myself to rewatch it. I didn’t want One Night to be enough. I watched Judas and the Black Messiah three times but it will still be a different memory and experience over making a trip across town to see it. David Fincher’s Mank would have thrilled me on the silver screen. Many theatrically run movies have left me stunned while streamed movies compete with my regular living room distractions. First Cow was a fine movie that took me two days to watch. I’m sure if I had access to a theater, it would have made my personal top ten for the year.
I’m sighing as I type this, exhausted. I’ve been meaning to write and post but have struggled with motivation. Some days its hard to show up to my phone, or show up to my notebook when its just in my kitchen. How does one show up when every day is the same and every moment is now? I’m anxious, goose-fleshed with doubt, exhausted of my own company. I want to throw out my towels, bedding and bed. I would pay money for a hug. But I’m here and alright and still writing and I sleep pretty well now, grateful for whatever dreams do come.