Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dream Theater: We Move to New York City

Photo Olivier Zahm
After spending our entire adult lives in Chicago, we decided to leave it all behind and move to New York City. 

Or you did. I went along with it, because what other choice did I have? 

We sold the house, we sold everything, and found ourselves in a shabby studio apartment. We had no privacy, no room to move, no space to write. Nothing but an old double bed and a sink at the foot of it and a cramped and dirty bathroom. 

I knew--or at least I hoped--that we'd eventually be able to find and afford something bigger, but for now we were stuck. Still, I missed our home in Chicago. Every day I wondered why you'd wanted to do this, and why I agreed to it. 

Of course, M_____ lived in our apartment building, too, and she was just as mean-spirited and dramatic as ever. One afternoon she invited me over, and because I had no job and nothing to do and nowhere else to go, I reluctantly agreed. 

Her apartment was enormous, with high ceilings and the kind of ornate woodwork you just don't see any more. It was so much larger than ours it was difficult to believe they could exist together in the same building. 

M_____ was nice at first. She always is. But soon enough her claws and fangs came out. She made snide comments and belittled me, you, us, laughing as she did. 

She'd planned an afternoon out, a trip to a casino outside the city that turned out to be a rough truck-stop type of place where I didn't feel safe. 

M_____ disappeared. I wandered around, trying to find my way out of there and finally did, stepping into a cloudy day. I didn't know how I was going to get back to the city, and the closest thing I had to a home. 

But at least I was in the country, for now. At least I had some space and time to myself, and I decided to stay there for a while. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dream Theater: JLo Before She Was JLo

Someone had discovered Jennifer Lopez's earliest known appearance, as a dancer in a music video, back when she was still very young. 

This was an important enough event that screenings had been scheduled, all across the country. I found myself at one, joining a crowd that had come to see one of America's biggest stars, long before she'd started to shine. 

I found a seat, in a large theater filled to capacity. The lights dimmed, and the music video began to play. 

At first it was just a jumble of sound motion on a street in LA. I didn't know the song, had never heard of the singer. I'd certainly never seen the video before. And there were so many dancers, all moving so fast, it was impossible to pick out Jennifer from among them.

Then, for just a few brief seconds, she appeared, filling the left side of the screen and then disappearing as she performed a turn. Those of us who recognized her gasped. Some applauded, thrilled to have spotted her. 

The video stopped, and reversed. Jennifer Lopez spun in the opposite direction, returning into that sea of dancers. Then, frame by frame, she emerged once again. 

Even in still frames, she was moving so fast that she was only a blurred figure among many. But gradually she drew closer, turning slowly. With each frame she came into sharper focus until finally, there she was, captured in front of us.

The video lingered on this single frame. She was so young. So unlike the Jennifer Lopez we know today. Hollywood had changed her so much, was continuing to change her still.

She was heavier, to begin with. The familiar angles of her face were hidden beneath a layer of softness dotted with acne. Her nose was large and broad. A roll of fat filled the space between her cropped t-shirt and the waist of her too-tight jeans.

Seeing Jennifer Lopez this way, so young, so imperfect, so unlike the polished image we all knew, it seemed almost obscene. The video ended, the audience left the theater, our curiosity satisfied, our illusions shattered.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Dream Theater: My Entry in The Next Big Thing Contest

Photo from NewJerseyStage.com
I've entered something called The Next Big Thing Contest. My entry is a story that, strangely enough, includes me, another man, and two women. 

We're traveling through the Middle East, in a country that's not entirely friendly to Americans. One night we're at a party being held in an abandoned grocery store, and are forced to leave when the police arrive. They've come because someone has complained that men and women have been seen dancing together.

We hop in a cab, but I immediately get a bad feeling about our driver. Sure enough, it turns out that he's part of the opposition, and he has a plan to take us to a farm far outside the city where several of his cohorts are waiting. 

Before we can leave the city limits, though, our cab is attacked by a group of rioters in the street. Someone throws one of those old-fashioned fire extinguishers--the big silver kind--at us. It barely misses the other guy, and all four of us crouch down in the cab, trying to hide ourselves as much as possible.

We don't get out at our hotel--that would just tip everyone off as to where we're staying. So instead we get out several blocks away and sneak back to the hotel, dodging crowds, fires and gun fights. 

We hide in our room until morning, while violence continues erupting just outside our window. When morning comes, we'll begin what we all know will be a long journey to safety.

Then I'm in New York City, for the Next Big Thing Awards. The ceremony is taking place in a museum, which is having an exhibition of famous discotheques throughout history. Several of them have been recreated, right down to the restrooms, which we're encouraged to use. I find myself in one based on ancient Roman baths, and I urinate into an elaborate fountain.

I comment that Chicago should have one of these, so that people would know they'd had a good time when they visited. 

A fabulous drag queen nearby overhears my comment and finds it hysterical. "Good morning, bitch!" she says. I reply, "See you tomorrow!"

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dream Theater: A California Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo by Crosby Doe
One of California's last great Frank Lloyd Wright homes was being transferred from the family who'd owned it their entire lives into the hands of conservators who would take care of it going forward.

I'd become friends with the family: a father and mother, now old; a son and daughter, now grown. I was spending my days and nights with them at the house, going through all the furnishings and housewares, everything they'd accumulated over the course of their lives, right down to the decades-old cocktail dresses and suits and ties in the closets, helping them decide what would stay and what would go.

I'd never been inside a home so elegant or complex, so filled with small passages and hidden spaces. Every day it seemed that I discovered something new. It was easy to get lost in it. I could understand why it was so difficult for them to leave.

These were our final days in the house and I was free to take almost anything I wanted. Everything in it was original, though not all of it was in good shape.

On one of our last afternoons together we sat in a sun-filled room, laughing about the things they'd hung on to all those years. Who would want their children's old cribs, upholstered in vinyl? The wooden bench of no importance with its chipped paint? All those overgrown houseplants? There was still so much to do but no more time to think about it.

We grew quiet and somehow all came to the same wordless decision: We'd leave the house as-is, the windows open, the doors unlocked, and allow nature to take its course.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dream Theater: Front Row At the Big Meeting

I'm sitting in the front row at one of those big company meetings. The kind where they announce departmental reorganizations and promotions like they're the results of a months-long contest we've all been competing in.

Our new president stands directly in front of me. She has a short haircut, and wears a sweater vest and tie. This seems like an odd choice, but she makes it work. It looks good on her.

She addresses the crowd in that jokey, clubby tone of voice that's supposed to put us all at ease but also makes it clear exactly who's in and who's out and what's what.

I look up at her as she speaks, and I know I better keep the proper expression on my face at all times. An expression that says this is exciting news. That I'm completely on board with our new leadership team and eager to work with them. That I have no thoughts about what's happening other than complete and total agreement.

Some people have left their old positions, even though they still work for the company. They've been moved to another building, like old office furniture sent into storage.

In their place, a number of new executives have joined the company. Our new president announces their names. As they stand up from their seats and wave I see that they're all wearing sweater vests and ties, too.

That's when I look down and realize that I'm not wearing a sweater vest and tie.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dream Theater: The Strange City

Image copyright 2016 Marvel
I was walking in the downtown section of a strange city, lost in a maze of unfamiliar streets. They seemed to only be a block or two long, and most of them led to dead ends.

Night was falling, and as I tried to figure my way out I kept finding myself at the mouth of dark alleys. Each time I asked myself, Do I dare go down that way? Something dangerous is surely waiting for me.

Somehow I found my way to a platform that I could climb up, in order to get a better sense of my surroundings. Below me, on the other side, was a park, with many people in it. I tried shouting down to them, to let them know I was lost and needed help. But they were too far away and couldn't hear me. There was no way of getting to them unless I jumped, and the distance between where I was and the ground was enough that I knew it was likely to hurt me.

I kept shouting and waving, hoping someone down there would see me. But it was dark, and I was too far away.

Introducing "Dream Theater"

Friends, I'm going to try something new here.

I don't need to tell you that the past year or so has been rough for a lot of us. As a result, many of my posts--at least, the few posts I've made--have been politically oriented.

At the time, this seemed appropriate. Politics were (and still are) pretty scary. But human beings can get used to a lot of things. What was shocking in 2017 has become commonplace in 2018.

Plus, I'm tired of politics. On the news, all over my Facebook feed, and in practically every conversation I find myself. That's just too much.

That doesn't mean I don't want to see us marching in the streets to protest corruption, injustice and the sorry state of our world. Or not voting. I especially don't want to see anyone throwing their hands in the air and saying their vote doesn't matter. It does.

But I need something new and different. And maybe you do, too.

So here's my idea: I'm going to start posting my dreams.

Now I know a lot of people say there's nothing more boring than listening to someone else's dream. I get that. That's why I'm going to do everything I can to make sure mine are interesting and tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. I've been writing them down for over two years now, and I think I've gotten pretty good at that.

I'm also doing this because I believe there are powerful creative forces lurking in our subconscious, and if a writer (like me, and maybe you) starts listening to them, a sort of virtuous circle begins to turn. The subconscious realizes you're paying attention, and rewards you with even more stuff dredged up from the brainy depths. (For more on this concept, see 8 Writing Tips from Jeff VanderMeer, specifically numbers 2 and 3.)

Dreams have provided me with potent images, interesting story ideas and helpful answers to writing problems. They've also given me opportunities to practice taking the little bits and pieces of what's inside my head and translating them into words that others might want to read. That's good experience for any writer in my book.

I hope they might do the same for you--or even inspire you to start paying more attention to your own personal midnight movies.

So that's the plan. I'll still do the occasional movie review or bit on an interesting/weird news story, and maybe even a politically oriented post or two.

But dreams. Yeah. A lot more of those. And a lot more often, too.