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Dream Fragment

2009 May 17
by Fred Skolnik

dscn2018A Nazi youth corps has broken through our lines and captured our flags, including the French flag and the German and Italian flags we had previously captured. We flee south with the remaining flags. In a previous episode Hitler had been trying to kill us personally but our elevator got stuck between floors, leaving him shouting hysterically just above us and pounding helplessly on the locked door. As we flee south we run into the young King Hussein moving north. He had previously been allied with the Nazis but is now allied with us. Farther south we meet up with Queen Farah. We promise her to look after the king and also to bring Condoleezza Rice in safely. Just as I say this she arrives and there is much relief. I continue south and am told by Ehud, my commanding officer, that I am being put in charge of Camp Qui Vive because my mom and dad will be staying there for the weekend. I am to relieve Gen. Darnell Worthington, the first black general in the U.S. Army. I arrive by jeep and spot him right away. He is to be my deputy now. I ask him to brief me. He starts talking very fast and I wonder if I should be writing everything down and even search my pockets for a pencil. I tell him that I am really not qualified to take charge of the camp. He puts me in the hands of Col. Babcock, his chief of staff. At this point I wake up, wondering immediately if I can use any of this material. It is as I am considering this that I decide to call the general Darnell Worthington, thinking of Denzel Washington, whom I saw in the news talking about the screen writers strike, though in the dream the general is white. There is no Col. Babcock in the dream. I put him there because Babcock strikes me as a nice name for a colonel and once I have the name I need the character. Because I have made up these names in the margin of the dream, so to speak, just as I wake, I consider them an integral part of the dream.

The dream is so vivid that I go downstairs to write it down. It is 5:30 a.m. As I am transcribing it I decide to call Hussein’s wife Farah, though I know that this is the name of the Shah’s wife. Or perhaps this was already her name in the dream. I can’t be sure anymore. In any case I am thinking of Farrah Fawcett. I call the camp Qui Vive after Jeb Stuart’s camp in winter ’61. The elevator comes from my old building in the Bronx. I don’t know what Hussein is doing in the dream. He looks very young and has his familiar mustache, though slightly thinner than in later years, and is probably wearing his red checkered keffiyeh. Condoleezza Rice is in the area talking to Olmert and Abu Mazen. Ehud is Ehud Barak. The road south is the road from French Hill to Ramot in Jerusalem, which actually runs along an east-west axis. I call it south because this seems a more appropriate direction for a retreat.

Dreams are a wonderful mystery. I rarely analyze them. I prefer to record them and leave the mystery intact. The dream transpires in an imaginary dimension of the world that can only be entered in sleep. If you attempt to resurrect this world in a waking state it loses its magic. If you imagine yourself acting in such a resurrected world you find that you have passed into the realm of fantasy, which has its own attractions but, paradoxically, none of the reality of the dream, for a dream, like a hallucination, is real on its own terms while a fantasy is merely willed. In a dream the world is given, and though we inhabit it as constructs of our own minds we act in it as we might act in the real world. Of course, when we are in a dream world we do not know that we are dreaming and there is nothing about this world to suggest that it is not real until we are awake. Were we not to awaken we might dwell there permanently, albeit on somewhat different terms, under a different kind of harmony, and live a life no less satisfactory, and perhaps more interesting, than our own.

Within the dream world everything proceeds with a certain logic and our minds operate along familiar lines: we think and feel just as we often do in the waking state – we reflect, we have insights, we engage in introspection, we are aware of belonging to ourselves, and we believe that we are freely exercising our wills when we are in fact being borne along. In this last sense, and again paradoxically, the dream is very much like life. In the real world too we are borne along, not by the forces that actuate our dreams but by the forces that rule our lives, though many would say they are identical. Say then that life is like a dream, not in its transience but in the way in which we are locked into ourselves and compelled to be what we are. In life we are the prisoners of ourselves just as we are the prisoners of our dreams.

The illusion of freedom lies at the heart of the human experience. We live with it as comfortably as the blind live without light. It is our condition. We know no other and are not equipped to know another. Consciousness does not make fine distinctions. It embraces the whole and calls everything within its sphere the self. It is in a sense coterminous with the self, inseparable from the self, and yet not the self, just as a mirror image is not the thing it reflects. When the mind has a thought consciousness is conscious of it and simultaneously throws it back on the mind as a datum of consciousness. Consciousness and the data of consciousness are coterminous too, so that when the mind conspires with itself to create an illusion, consciousness is deceived as well. The mind works behind a veil. It throws out thoughts from a dark place that come back to it in the purest light. If an image is tarnished it averts its eyes.

The mind protects us from ourselves. It stands guard over us in our waking hours just as it does in our sleep. It will not let us perceive ourselves as we are. It hides us from ourselves so well that we think that what we are is what we see. When we are moved to think a thought, want an orange or a woman, or perform for company we think we are free, for these urges, and even counterurges, are experienced as unmediated expressions of a will. In fact they only express habits of thought and social reflexes, all the unseen connections of the unconscious mind, and the imperatives of our nature. The will is the loudest voice. It reflects the balance of things behind the veil.

In the dream we slip behind the veil. Here too the world is given, but in the dream the world is my representation and as I enter it I am drawn further and further into myself. This is the final frontier. At each turn in the road a world vaster than all the universe opens itself to me. I am there. I think. I feel. Do I dare to step across the line and lose myself in the country of the dream? Do I dare to be free?

The road to Ramot, mirrored in my dream, is the road to such a country. What was going on there? Who were these people? What was this world of unexplored possibilities, opening doors I’d never imagined? And a war being fought and the enemy approaching and Denzel and Babcock and myself sorting out the chain of command and Queen Farah perhaps inviting me to tea and nothing holding true anymore. I see the camp now. It is full of activity, vehicles and men in constant motion. It must be winter because the ground is muddy. What will I find there? What lies beyond? It feels a little like my life.

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