Dream (?)

One of the few rewards of being a terrible sleeper is that I dream a lot. Twenty years ago I was even featured in Janet Sonenberg’s book Dreamwork for Actors, but mostly I experience hours of wandering NYC or some tropical paradise and can’t find a way to the subway/airport. Every once in a while, though, something breaks that mold.

A few weeks ago I met Robin Williams. He showed up in the middle of the night in my unconscious and lectured me. Not Good Will Hunting Robin Williams or Dead Poets’ Robin Williams but dead, ghost-ish Robin Williams. I have realized in the weeks that followed that it was recently his seventieth birthday (and soon, the anniversary of his death) from which I can infer that a Twitter comment may have stuck in my craw. Day residue, we can call it, or not.

The crux was this, paraphrased or reconstituted, or whatever.

“Most people,” said Robin. “Live life looking over their shoulder. They’re constantly turning back, watching for Death sneaking up on them. Don’t do that.”

“Run toward Death. It’s where you’re headed anyway. Don’t try to avoid it, live in fear of it, cower and shuffle away from it. Accept it and sprint whatever distance you get.” Do it consciously, he seemed to be saying, as hard and as fast and as intentionally as you can. Do not live recklessly, do not hasten the end, but don’t let fear ruin the race.

Other stuff happened. I think Michael Douglas showed up and gave a rendition of his Greed is Good speech from Wall Street. By that time Robin was gone back whence he came.

I awoke with that idea seared into my brain: Run toward Death.

There are generally two interpretations. The scientific side that accepts this as a projective narrative on neuronal impulses firing in some yet-to-be-fully-understood manner, or that my sleeping brain channelled wisdom from beyond the grave.

This time, I don’t know that it matters. From wherever the direction originated, it seems I have some running to do.

On Flying

This passage still lingers in my dreams and the recesses of my mind:

There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt.

That is, it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It’s no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won’t. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prize your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people’s failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinty, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration. Bob and float, float and bob. Ignore all consideration of your own weight simply let yourself waft higher. Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of “Good God, you can’t possibly be flying!” It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

Waft higher and higher. Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.

Brilliant, Mr. Adams.