The Creature Dreams

Gary Larsen, The Far Side. (Did you hear he’s back and creating fresh content?) I’ve missed Mr. Larsen.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Welcome to This is the default location for this site, but you might also want to look *over there on the right* for stuff that’s more sport-centric (“It’s All About Sports!”) or for longer essays (“On Second Thought”). For example, I recently posted THIS DEEP DIVE on a super-amazing aspect of The Whole Baha’i Thing


[5-minute read]

I don’t think of myself as an anxious person, particularly, but performance-anxiety dreams are my bedbugs. My bride still dreams, decades later, of being on stage in full costume but without an idea of what the choreography is. For me, it takes the form, occasionally, of long-gone athletic worries (suddenly I can’t judge a fly ball and there it goes, over my head!) or whistle-blowing tensions (wait, these kids have no clue and where are the basketballs anyway? Hold it, there are no baskets in this gym?!). Most often, though, after three decades in the classroom, it’s Teaching Anxiety that troubles my sleep.

Every August they’d kick into top gear, without fail. Even after retirement – or during interludes when I wrote for a living – I knew September was coming not so much from cooling nights and red-tinged trees as from at-school-sans-pants, can’t-find-my-classroom midnight adventures. Classic symptoms. After a week or so of starting-the-year nightmares — I can’t say they were terrifying, but my sub-conscious was clearly hard at work already — I’d head for my classroom on Day One wondering, “Can I still do this? You’re only as good as your last lesson, buddy, and it’s not like you’re gettin’ younger!” And two minutes in I’d know, without fail, “You were made for this. Let’s GO!

Now, a few years into retirement, the Teacher Dreams are still with me, but they’re changing. They started at about the same time of year, but there’s been no First Day of School to dismiss them, and it’s no longer the start of school that get me so much as the dread of an Ending. I loved teaching, but although I long for more of those dynamic interactions, those performances, I don’t miss the professional duties or their daily grind at all, especially with the added load teachers carry due to Covid. But I’ve been on a steady diet of dreams like this: I’m teaching, my usual assortment of high school English courses, and it seems they’ve been going along well except that I don’t think I’ve showed up for that grade 10 writing class in a month and it dawns on me that marks are due next week! and I don’t have a single grade recorded for any of these kids and I’m not totally clear on all their names and how the hell am I going to do report cards when I haven’t given even one quiz or essay?

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One Morning

In the fourth quarter of the ebb and rush of sleep, he dreamed of hardwood and eager faces and stories of how it’s done. It was an outdoor court with crowds of people looking in and down and around. They were silent. He and they got to watch the man in the middle, who could train those eager faces to know how to get to their hopes. Mainly, it was by listening to him. They did. Too much talking, the dreamer observed, though he was entranced by the words. Before long, he was saying them himself, and loved how the eager faces were looking at him now.

Sometimes he got them into furious, coordinated motion, but they returned inexorably to waiting, to expectation, to muted urgency and frozen delight. He knew the possibilities were endless. He felt that this time, with these eager young men, the outcome would be different — lofty, victorious, filling, splendid, and true. It was all there in their faces.

When he awakened, his mind turned seamlessly to planning. How to convert that dreamy enthusiasm into skill and the making of Great? How does that talk translate into glistening skin, fiercely danced choreography, lunges beyond their best, into gauzy ambition made muscular? He wanted practice. He imagined it as blazingly competitive, yet the deepest of collaborations. Talk would become creative repetition. Routines would build comfort in extremity. Everyone would know exactly what he was doing and why, yet would be thrilled by undreamt-of, eye-widening results. This is how it feels. I can still help this happen.

Lying in bed, he was years removed from places and chances to channel that mighty and frantic motion. There were no eager faces anywhere but in his dreams, but for untellable moments, it didn’t matter. He was there, in a bright-eyed, ever-hopeful zone. Lists and diagrams and imploring words begot grassroots heroism and physical grace and the full spending of shared powers. He didn’t want to leave, and then it was gone.

He might be a fool. He must be a coach.

Two Questions. Two Footnotes. (And a half-sheepish postscript.)

 2:58 a.m.

What am I reading from, or whose is the voice I hear, when I wake in the darkness and, in the super-lucid moments before so-called full consciousness (so dim is it, so ponderous after the clarity of leaving-sleep), but still vividly in my racing memory, I hear an over-voice reciting1yes, and there was music to it, multimedia aspects, like an ultra-magazine from some attention-deficit future – and the voice and the repeating crescendo of the music2 spoke of things the movies have taught us, such as how we cherish the idea of retraining ourselves, remaking ourselves, perhaps learned from the example of American army training videos, or the joy of (what was it?) making curving paraffin candles dripping with arcing light, yes, like the ones in that Tom Cruise movie where his daughter (Kelly McGillis, in an uncredited role) [waking mind: waitaminute!  Whothehell has heard of Kelly McGillis in alltheseyears? but in the dream this fact is wonder full] is, blue-eyed, something, there was dripping light, SOMETHING, the connection is breaking up, the voice stutters and sparks but I can still (almost) recall it: I ask again, what is this text? Whose is this voice?

Does anyone read to you like this in your half-light moments, words spooling out as if revealed?

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Dreaming the Compost Dream

I’m finally writing about compost, but don’t leave me on that account. I think about this subject fairly obsessively, and while it’s become a suburban constant in Canadian cities — trucks for curbside pickup, pretty green bins on wheels — it’s not even on the radar in China. So let’s talk about compost. Don’t you love dialogue about rotting fruit and decaying leaves? I do.

It’s one of my oldest and clearest links, I realized recently, with a long-departed father who was always present while I grew up, but in a fairly vague and fogbound way. For some reason, maybe just because we weren’t that far removed from farmers in our rural community, we had a compost heap in the backyard 50 years before most people did.

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John Wooden, In My Dreams

The “Indiana Rubber Band Man” died, aged 99, no longer bounding up from his relentless defending of Hoosier hardwood floors. But this was back in June. He still bounces furiously into my hoop crazy mind, though all recent images and tributes to him call him venerable, gentle, wise, even saintly. I think he was. But I also think he was a burning man with the wit and the training not to blow himself up, to take that rage for perfection and goodness and actually do good with it.

I have been a basketball coach, and I have meant to write about him for months. Then, last night, Johnny Wooden came into my dreams for the first time I can remember, though his example and his words are in heavy rotation in my mental play-by-playlist. If you get anywhere near sports, you probably heard: Legendary Coach Dies; He Was the Best Coach Ever, and a Better Man; We Shall Not See His Like Again. And so on.

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