The Writing Project
When professors talk about writing, they usually mean scholarly efforts, such as refereed articles or textbooks. I do that, too, but for me, writing plays a larger role.
My first writing for an audience was a monthly column of poltical jackassery for M-Pressions. Later, I was named National Publications Officer for American Mensa. In that role, I met excellent writers who taught me that there was a lot more to the craft than I had imagined.
I learned that people had different motives for writing — but all were rooted in a sense of urgency. Sharks have to swim; writers have to write. Once infected with that urgency, I, too, had to write.
During the pandemic, a friend asked if I still wrote. It was as if she had asked me if I still breathed. The problem is, without an audience, your writing muscles atrophy. You never make that final edit, the one that separates good writing from OK writing, and — trust me — the world doesn’t need any more OK writers. I decided to make those final edits and promptly “RAF,” and “Dreamweaver” (see below), were published in the Mensa Bulletin. My book of poetry, 53 Poems from Calibania, would make an excellent Christmas or Hanukkah gift...but I digress.
I am ever thankful to my friend Donald Kaul, who taught me when to write; Professor Richard Freed, who taught me how to write; Anne Lamott, who taught me why to write, and Tom Wolfe, who taught me not to write.
For God does speak — now one way, now another — though no one perceives it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, He may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword.
— Job 33:14-18
The dead of night was consumed by darkness and sealed with silence. One might have doubted the existence of light or sound or even claimed them to be ephemeral evocations of racial memory when, suddenly, the battle began. Instantly, it was impossible to believe darkness or silence could possibly have existed or ever would again.
The sky was illuminated by a thousand hovering tracers, as shells rained on their position. His comrades’ faces were contorted, their screams adding to the cacophony of death. Rifle shots were no longer individually distinguishable, like individual drumbeats hidden in the cadence of a marching band.
When he tried to say the Lord’s Prayer, he went blank, unable to recall the words he had repeated since childhood. It wouldn’t matter. He knew that God was very, very far from this place.
He looked to his left, from where his father had beckoned moments before. Had he been killed? Had his father left him behind? It had happened before.
He closed his eyes and when they reopened, they saw nothing, for death had extinguished light from the universe.
He wanted to reload his weapon, but his arms were strangely paralyzed. He wanted to fly away from this aceldama, but he couldn’t remember how. He lay behind a fallen tree, maimed and impotent, when he sensed the presence of the enemy.
He lunged blindly, and he grabbed his attacker’s neck, and he choked it with all his might, and the enemy would not die but writhed in his grasp. And then it was black and silent, except for his own panting and the pounding of his heart. The enemy lineescaped and vanished in the ambient light of Kevin’s living room.
Kevin’s eyes blinked spasmodically, as he tried to get his bearings. Something in the corner of his eye receded from his recliner. It was black and empty, and he thought he recognized it from his dream.
“Who are you?” he whispered, gasping for breath. “What are you?”
He tried to wipe the sweat from his forehead, but his arms were paralyzed again. The shadowy wight hovered in the corner. It had no features, at least none that were distinguishable, as it seemed to absorb, not reflect, the dim light in the room.
“What are you?” he repeated, with fear in his voice.
A form coalesced from the shadow.
“I am Mars, the Bringer of War,” it said. “I am your dreamweaver.”
“Mars . . ..” Kevin repeated.
“. . . the Bringer of War,” the dreamweaver said, finishing his thought.
“What the hell?”
“We’ve met — that is, you’re familiar with my work,” said the dreamweaver. “I weave dreams, specifically, dreams of war, pulled from your mind’s recesses, which I mold into stories. I have done this since you were a child, when your father was in the service. Remember?”
Kevin thought of his dad’s service picture, and the time he was six and stood on the couch looking out the living room window, watching the taillights of his dad’s car disappear. Of stories of Vietnam. Of the triangular folded flag. Of the nightmares that followed, and how his mother had comforted him, “Honey, it’s only a dream.”
“I gave you your first dreams of war,” said the shadow, with a hint of pride.
“Do you come every night?” Kevin asked.
“Oh, no. I mean, I came a lot when your father went to war,” the dreamweaver said. “Good times,” he said wistfully.
“That was not a good time,” snapped Kevin. “That was hell.”
“When you dream about war, would you expect anything less?”
Kevin shivered, and feeling returned to his arms. “Well, it worked. I was so afraid of my dreams that I didn’t want to go to sleep.”
“A touch of oneirophobia, eh?”
“En-eye-row . . .?”
“Oneirophobia,” the dreamweaver said, “the fear of dreaming.” He continued, “Anyway, it wasn’t just me, of course. Over the years, you have relied on Bacchus, Mercury, Aphrodite — I can’t blame you there — and Neptune the Mystic, and . . .”
“Wait . . . so Roman gods create our dreams?”
“Create? It’s more accurate to say that dreamweavers weave together elements of your personality, emotions, thoughts, and memories. We take what you give us, and let them duke it out.
“As for Roman, Greek, Scandinavian, African, native American gods, and so on — mankind created them to make sense of it all. We do what we do, and you gave us names. And personality. Lots of personality.
“Remember dreaming about flying? That’s lineDædalus, for you.” The dreamweaver cocked his head. “Indeed, you thought of him tonight, but he wasn’t available. I was.
“Do remember dreaming of going to class, only to find there’s a major exam, for which you are unprepared? Aergia, goddess of sloth.
“Unfulfilled dreams, recurring night after night? Sisyphus.
“Dream of falling? Icarus. He’s good,” the dreamweaver reflected. “A little flaky, sometimes . . .”
“Wait — how many dreamweavers are there?”
“Oh, many, many. I never counted, but there are enough to do the Dreammaker’s work.”
He resumed, “Where was I? Oh, remember dreaming about showing up to work naked? Aphrodi . . . ..”
“No — wait! — go back,” Kevin interrupted. “What is this Dreammaker you mentioned?”
“That’s probably easier for you to answer. What would you have the Dreammaker be? Zeus? God? Zarathustra? Santa Claus? Mankind has created so many surreal images of the wind that sends us forth. It gives Jungian analysts something to do. The Dreammaker determines the purpose of the dreams that we, then, weave for you.
“Some dreams heal. Some are warnings. Jacob dreamed of angels ascending a ladder to heaven. Pharaoh dreamed of skinny cows eating fat cows. Belshazzar, Daniel, and Nebuchadnezzar — that kind of thing. People tend to remember warnings, even if they ignore them — especially if they ignore them.
“Whatever the purpose, some dreams evaporate quickly upon waking, while others leave an indelible mark. Some have deep meaning. Some are just brain candy.
“My favorites are the ones that offer insights. Mary Shelly received Frankenstein in a dream. Niels Bohr was shown the structure of the atom. Einstein literally dreamed up relativity. Paul McCartney, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mozart, Martin Luther King, Gary Wright — they all put dreams into form. The list is so long. Kubla Kahn, DNA, the sewing machine, the periodic table, the scientific method — all cooked up by dreamweavers from ingredients dreamers had laying around. When we get it right, they awake with dreams that are indistinguishable from memories.”
“My dream seemed so real.”
“Thank-you. I do good work. Too good, maybe. This dream woke you, and then you tried to kill me.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean . . .”
“Oh, you meant to, all right. You couldn’t have done it. But you did mean to. You startled me, so I paralyzed your arms. When I relaxed, you lunged at me.”
“But you’re not real . . .”
“Not real?! Tell me, are memories real? Is love real? Are visions real? Are dreams real? Are prayers real? Of course, I’m real! Why would you question that which you have clearly experienced so many times?”
“But how can I know this isn’t a dream?”
“You can’t. I mean, the Dreammaker could have sent Morpheus to have you dream you were dreaming. That could be an interesting ouroboros, don’t you think?
“Anyway, it’s not easy. People need good REM sleep for us to do our job. But people drink, they take drugs, they bang themselves on the head until they’re delirious . . . sometimes they have great dreams, but usually their prefrontal cortex is just a mess.
“Then you have your sleep apnea cases. Very frustrating. You put good dreams together, and they wake up. You weave again, and they wake up. You start again and they . . . I mean, after a while, you wonder if it’s worth it.
“Then there’s the frontal alpha asymmetry crowd — give me a break . . ,” said the dreamweaver, rolling his eyes.
His voice trailed off, and he paused to regroup.
Kevin looked troubled. “I’ve heard that you’ll die if dream of your own death.”
“Really?! Now, how does that make any sense?!” The dreamweaver was incredulous. “People always say they want to die in their sleep. They’re idiots. Trust me, you can dream about dying all you want, but you won’t die, except by coincidence. Still, you don’t want to die in a dream — any dream. Disturbing. Very . . .”
The dreamweaver shook his head.
Kevin broke the silence. “I dream of my son.”
Kevin thought of his son’s birth, how he learned to ride a bike, playing catch with him, his high school prom, and . . . the knock on the door from the police. Always the same nightmare, again and again.
“A recurring dream — I’ve had it many times,” Kevin said.
“Well, of course you have. I should know.
“You dream what you want, not what you think you want. You think you don’t, but you do. People wish you ‛sweet dreams,’ but you want something else. People resurrect the past in dreams, thinking they want closure, but what they really want is a different outcome. It’s frustrating for us, but, in the end, you dream the dreams you deserve.”
“They say that dreams foretell the future.”
The dreamweaver chuckled and shook his head. “OK, this is how it works: the future is the shadow of the present. It may be indistinct, but, I mean, if you get on the train to Philadelphia, it’s not like you’re going to end up in Des Moines. We look at the road you’re on and remove the shades from the windows. Suddenly, you see what’s coming, and — voilà! — your dream has predicted the future.
“You’re better off dreaming of beautiful women and to hell with the future . . .
“. . . which reminds me — it’s time to make war, not love. I suggest you go upstairs and go to bed.” The dreamweaver paused and then smiled. “Oh, and don’t disturb your wife.”
“Your wife . . . uh . . . Hercules is weaving her dream tonight. She’ll . . . uh . . . she’ll probably wake up a little tired. No, I definitely wouldn’t disturb her.” He smiled slyly.
“Now, I must go — and you must forget. Sweet dreams, soldier. Exit light,” and he was gone.
Kevin looked at the clock. It was 3:00 a.m., and he was suddenly very sleepy. He went upstairs, contemplating what he had seen. He crawled into bed next to his wife, closed his eyes, and awoke with a start. His alarm said 7:00 o’clock.
His wife was looking into the mirror, checking her make-up.
“Oh, wow, last night I had the strangest dream,” he said.
He paused. “It was so vivid, but . . . well . . . you know . . . I can’t . . .” He shook his head. “I can’t remember what it was about.”
“Maybe it will come back to you. I had a pretty amazing dream, myself.”
“What was it about?”
She looked up, without turning. She smiled. “Oh, nothing, really.”
* * *
© 2021 Wayne Thomas Spies
*Note: “Dreamweaver” first appeared in the August 2021 Mensa Journal, Chip Taulbee, editor. Please do not reproduce this without my written permission.
By the way, if you are looking for something to read this weekend, here are some of my recommendations:
Recommendations from Wayne’s library