READING LIES DREAMING
It has been nearly a year since I began recording my dreams. Initially, my intention was to illuminate the influence the memory of Keith Haring continued to exert on my psyche. I was also becoming more aware that my relationships with my family still littered my mental landscape. Long after the mushroom farm--the material legacy of my grandfather, Francesco DeSantis--was irretrievably dislodged from my life, it remained firm and fortress-like in my dreams. I was imprisoned by memory, diminished by loss. I sought the key to this confusion in the solitude of sleep.
The continent of dreams is a boundless world. Just beyond the murky borderline, mind and meat unhinge. We wander there at the threshold for most of our lives. Stepping through that midnight place disorients. Our childhood fears reside there. Secret needs are rampant. With work, the passage toward light and freedom can occur. Clarified by consciousness, the endless mazes, corridors of confusion, and black rooms can be illuminated. We can learn to fly and travel through space and time.
During my waking hours I continued making art--constructing an alternative cosmos in which to project my consciousness. Misery, self-pity, fear contaminated my being but were absent from my created universe.
I obsessively built models of personal and universal transformation but I had not made a world I could actually inhabit. I knew the pristine miniature simulacrum of my experience was imperfect. It was esthetic, symbolic, virtual but unreal. My art was not my life.
The dream I shared with Keith was that our collaboration would be magical, transformative, apocalyptic. We believed we could alter human consciousness.
Forged during dozens of day-long dialogs, our work was a conspiratorial conjunction of opposites. He staged his art in the world; I secreted mine in a room. His vehicle was publicity; mine, privacy. We were perfecting image and text, the experience of which would change the world.
His life was running out. He assumed enough time remained to finish what we had begun. It was not to be. When he told me he knew he would die as his friends were dying, he said he was counting on living at least four more years. Four months later he was dead.
Looking back, I see I could not bring myself to make the demands on him we agreed were necessary. He insisted I “pester” him continually to make time for our work. Even when I did, he would dutifully postpone appointments, pitchmen, salesmen, marketing reps, ad agents, art directors, gallery people, patrons, projects, proposals, charities, benefits, campaigns, and causes. I resisted pressuring him very much, as it made me feel utterly cruel to do so. I’m not cut out to be anyone’s taskmaster. The wheels were greased. I let them slide. There is no excuse. He just died too soon.
I believed death had defeated him and life had defeated me. He bought the farm. I lost it. He gave up the ghost. I just gave up.
Now I see his death and my life are still linked. Since his last day on earth, I have pursued him through a succession of dreamworlds. I am convinced the moment is near in which we will meet again.
Dreams are destiny. Becoming conscious of dreaming involves a set of procedures which regularizes the randomness of the time I spend sleeping. Instead of brief opportunities to reflect upon rare insights, I can now access a continuum of information from all levels of my consciousness. I had no idea what I was missing.
My dreams are a Jacob’s ladder leading me toward an elevated source of inner light, a scaffold scaling the symbolic fortress which had imprisoned my mind.
Admission to eternal realms is costly however. Available energies are limited. During this period of intensive investigation, I write exhaustively in the diary of my dreams but until now, I have not made an entry in this journal, nor published a single word.
My relationship with Dawn has deepened. It has also become somewhat stressful. Our mutual dreamwork is pleasurable and rewarding. It is also complex and difficult. We have discovered things about each other we had never imagined existed within or between us. She is still my lover. She is also my guide.
Dawn assists me in this nocturnal vision quest. Initially, we agreed to grant each other total privacy over our dreams. She indicated she intended to respect the boundaries I set for my own dreamwork, as I had done for her. Dawn is always free to share her recollections with me, which she often does. But I assume there is much she has not divulged. That’s fine with me. I know how wild we are when we are asleep.
The first task was to intend or “incubate” dreaming. That is, to institute a ritual of self-suggestion so that I could, by force of will, control the content of dream experiences. To aid this effort, I made my nightstand into a dream altar. Symbolic objects, a Native-American “dream catcher”, Australian aboriginal art, Mayan pottery, a Buddhist mandala, photos of Keith, and a few of my grandfather’s farming tools accompany my notebook, pen, and flashlight.
Dawn also suggested a series of daily meditations--reflections and investigations of the consensual “real world” we all take for granted as the basis for our belief in objectivity, materiality, and causality. Simply repeating questions, such as, “Is this a dream?” during the course of my daily routine prepared my mind to spontaneously attempt similar speculation in my dreams. Not surprisingly, attending to attention while awake increases attentiveness in dreaming.
"Just got up to go to the bathroom, baby. I’m coming back to bed."
First Saturday in December, 5:00 a.m., Dawn is sitting up in bed, finishing an entry in her dreambook.
“I just had a dream about Keith, Art. It was just a flash. But I’m remembering more as I write it down.”
Two doves just outside the window are starting their sunrise coos. I can hear the waterfall splashing in the pond. I want a few more hours of sleep but Dawn’s newfound interest in the Keith project is giving me a boost. I sit up to let her see I care.
"It was a scene from childhood, in Punxsutawney. I was walking to school. I had to pass under a railroad bridge. This part was just like it used to be. My parents were always warning us not to walk under the bridge. They said, when a train passed overhead, chunks of coal would slide off the hoppers."
"In the dream, I got caught in the middle--under the bridge. I started to run back toward my house but I worried I’d be late for school, so I turned around and ran the other way. The train was coming from that direction, so I turned again. I was really in a panic."
"Then I turned to run and Keith was standing there. He said not to worry, he would protect me. He lifted his hand like he was holding an invisible umbrella. He looked like Charlie Chaplin--without the mustache. The train passed over and chunks of coal bounced off thin air, right where the umbrella would have been."
She puts down her pen and notebook, but she stays where she is, sitting up in bed at 5:00 a.m. I guess, correctly, that she still wants to talk.
"So now I’m dreaming about him too. All this talk about Keith must be sinking in. Do you think dreams are real, Art?"
"It depends on how you define what’s real, I guess."
"I mean, do you think they connect with anything real? Or do you think they’re just images inside your head?" By the way she asks the question, I can tell she wants to believe.
"Well, look at it this way... everything you experience in the ‘real world,’ what you see and hear, pleasure and pain...it’s all inside your head. And your feelings and thoughts, fantasies, and fears, and your dreams are there too. So who knows what connects and what doesn’t? How can anybody know... for sure?"
"But this thing with Keith and your grandfather’s farm, why are you taking it so seriously if you don’t believe it’s real?"
"I never said I don’t believe it’s real. I’m just not sure I believe anything is real."
"So you’re saying we don’t have any way of knowing... ?"
"That’s what I think. It’s the Buddha’s insight really. The whole universe, everything, is an illusion. There’s an ultimate reality beyond the veil... but that’s an illusion too."
I can see this kind of thinking doesn’t satisfy Dawn at all.
"So what’s the point then, Art? If nothing is real, then nothing matters, right? Is that what you think? Is that what Keith believed?"
"I know we thought exactly the same thing. That was clear to both of us. It was the putting it into words that was hard."
"And so that’s what the project was about?"
"Yeah. It started with his pictures and my words, then they started to influence each other and it became something else. So now I have a half-finished manuscript just sitting here, while his pictures are all over the world."
"But you’re still alive... think of it that way."
"Right, whatever, I guess. I’m going back to sleep."
"And Keith is somewhere wanting you to continue. I just know it."
"Maybe. Maybe not. G’nite Dawn."
"It’s already morning."
"Uh, good morning then."
"I love you, Art."
"I love you too, baby."
Drifting off to sleep, I hold on to the intention of preserving awareness until I perceive some indistinct mountainous imagery. I slip in and out of consciousness, focusing on a mist shrouded Appalachian landscape, then losing it again. In between I am aware of drifting between sleeping and waking. I feel I am returning to a state somewhere between the two without completely waking up....
My eyes are closed. It seems easy to maintain this state of mind. I can explore it consciously. The misty green mountains appear and disappear through a uniform grey fog. My awareness slips in and out a bit behind the visual imagery. As the mountains come into view, I forget, for a moment, where I am--in bed, with my eyes closed--but that recognition does eventually occur. Becoming aware of the dream nature of the mountains seems to cause them to recede into the mist.
From within this intermediate state, I decide to try visualizing my hands. I make a mental gesture which feels like bringing my hands before my eyes. What I see is startling and strange.
Into my field of view jump two little five-pointed cactus-like forms--thin purple branching things, topped by small reddish balls. Surrounding these odd shapes, bright pink, orange, and red pulse in brilliant flashes, displacing the overall gray of my visual field. When I remove my hands, the gray returns.
I feel a sensation of excitement. I consider my situation to make sure I am perceiving things exactly as they are occurring. The mountain scenery returns. I think of Keith’s ashes, scattered to the wind in a ceremony that took place in the Pennsylvania hills.
The mountainous scenery slowly dissolves into a second dream sequence. At a particular point in its unfolding, I realize I have dreamed the same scene many times before....
I am attending a party in a storage warehouse. The stark white vault is clean, brightly illuminated and filled with fine wooden furniture. Silvery-blue blankets are draped over some pieces. There is a blue steel ladder standing beside a huge empty white wall. The large, high-ceilinged space extends beyond my vision in all directions.
A typical downtown New York art crowd is in attendance. I am expecting Keith to arrive momentarily. As I stand in the middle of the space, a line of stylishly dressed young men passes by. The leader of this group moves in front of me, bends down, reaches out... and I register a sharp pain on the tip of my penis... as if I have caught it with my fly! The young man smiles and the line moves on.
I notice an attractive woman who looks familiar but I can not discern exactly who she is. We make our way toward a large chest of drawers. It is the only item in the place which seems to be in use. Its drawers are partially open and filled to overflowing with sheer underclothing of various colors.
I stand with my back to the dresser and face my dark-haired female companion. Feeling casual about talking with her, I hoist myself up to sit upon the bureau. During this series of maneuvers, I recall having had the same conversation with the same woman in the same situation at some time in the past. It soon dawns on me. This is a dream and I have experienced it often!
The conversation we have been having all this time has been about my dreaming, about my awareness of the dream state, and my attempts to control it. For some reason this situation causes me to feel high anxiety. I jump down from my perch and start looking for the door. The line of young men passes by again. I know what is about to happen and flinch in anticipation of the pain I know I will feel.
I attempt to communicate my displeasure to the leader, non-verbally it seems, as I can not speak. He bends down and a jolt of pain registers in the same sensitive spot. As the line passes, I make a move toward the door, which I can see at the edge of my vision. It is a large warehouse loading door, big enough to unload a tractor-trailer truck. No matter how I try, I cannot propel myself toward it.
I communicate wordlessly to my lady friend that I am distressed, I want to leave, but I cannot accomplish it. I notice my father standing near the doorway. He asks me why I am here and not at the farm. I tell him telepathically I came here to see Keith but he is not here. I indicate my intention to leave by gazing at the door.
The line of men passes again. And again I register the pain. This pattern of events continues until I can no longer contain my anxiety, which is compounded by the fact that I know I am caught up in a dream from which I cannot escape.
Stuck like this between realities, I see my surroundings as unattainable, exotic, beyond my grasp. I feel trapped within myself and bound between worlds. My father standing at their juncture, is displeased with me and saddened by my incapacities.
Suddenly, I am beyond the door, looking back into the radiant space. This place is a murky mirror-opposite of the place I just left. In here, the walls are dank gray castle-like blocks, dripping moisture. The atmosphere is gaseous, noxious. I’m surrounded by a thick cloud of mist. The fine oak furnishing of the other room is replaced by row after row of splintery pilings, stacked floor to ceiling with brown earth. The musty odor of fungus permeates the place and I realize that I am back at the farm and that I am trapped here. The knowledge of my dreaming is no solace as I gaze longingly through the open portal into the silvery-white room.
Beyond the impenetrable barrier between the place I am in and the place from which I came, I can discern a slight but graceful youth, wholly unclothed, ascending the ladder with paint and brush. The throng in the far room is silent as they await the first few strokes. Ballet-like, his movements are a brilliant choreography of unfolding revelation. Broad swipes of his hand end abruptly at unanticipated junctures of line and form. It is as if an invisible diagram anticipates his every movement. What began as so many disconnected reticulations of empty space takes shape in an instant of perceptual recognition.
A meaningless cipher assumes humanoid form. A giant man-thing emerges from a dizzying semaphore of dots, dashes, squiggles, straight and curving lines. The mysterious being emerges from the network of energetic marks, born whole, all at once. It seems as if it always existed there invisibly, white-on-white, waiting for the artist to coax it into sheer visibility--the act of drawing being a drawing out of what was always eternal, pre-existent, alive.
He descends the ladder. The room is empty. My father is gone--no line of stylish men, no handsome young lady, no fans, no groupies, no patrons, friends, hangers-on. There is only the naked and lovely young artist. He approaches the invisible barrier between us with his arms outstretched.
Each step I take toward him becomes a step away. With the irrefutable illogic of the night, my forward progress is reversed--automatically, as if by natural law. I am unable to speak, unable to control my motion. I know only that he is saddened by my retreat.
It is 5:15 a.m. Dawn sleeps silently beside me. I reach for my notebook and my pen.