Monday, April 9, 2007

Occupational Night Female Horses

Being a chancy amalgam of three separate work choices--writer, editor, teacher--I not only dream in each valence, I have nightmares in them.

This may have been a part of my waking-sleeping chemistry ever since I came to the triple fork in the road, but if so, my nightmares were as memorable as an agent's promise, and did not manifest themselves in memory until a series of conversations with another triple-hitter, Digby Wolfe, actor, writer, and teacher.

The actor's nightmare, Digby assured me, has the dreamer appearing on stage, preferably in a setting where other actors and an audience are present. It is a nice touch of the nightmare mentality that the dreamer is acutely aware of the audience, because the horrifying part of the dream is the focus on the dreamer having forgotten his lines, and now, everyone is waiting, waiting. The longer the wait, the more agonizing or nightmare-ish the nightmare.

The writer's nightmare does not necessarily require a sleeping state, although being asleep adds a kind of surreal stage direction to the venture. What next? What next? The question persists. Where do I go from here? This nightmare has the lovely bifurcation of the insistent belief that there simply is no more--the last thing to be written was, in fact, just that; the last thing. Now the tank is empty. No calling Auto Club, no visit from the Muse, not even a relative who wants to give you a real story to write about instead of all that stuff you'd been writing about.

Teachers are used to one or more students nodding off during the arc of a class, but a lovely teacher-related nightmare is when the entire class drowses out, their eyes not merely glazed over but shut, their chins tucked. I had this nightmare a number of times and was thus prepared when it came about in a graduate seminar, when all four students were well off into the alpha-wave range.

The mare of nightmare has nothing at all to do with a horse, but rather a presence, an uninvited guest who has come to perch on the dreamer's chest, causing a depressing, morbid weight.

I have asked some musicians if they had occupational nightmares and have heard a range of answers such as being tone deaf, appearing before an audience with an instrument other than one's own and with no knowledge of how to play it, as well as having one's instrument resolutely out of tune.

In jest, I asked a pizza delivery man, who responded gravely that he regularly nightmared about being lost, not finding his way in the maze of Santa Barbara neighborhoods known as The Mesa.

Tony, one of the service reps at Santa Barbara-Goleta Toyota, has had dreams of lifting the hood of an auto, only to discover that the engine is missing.

What a revealing, defining study, not only for the serious academic (and if not an oxymoron, the humorous academic) but for the, shall we say, secular writer, he or she who surfs the reefs and shoals of fiction. How splendid to know the nightmares of the doctor, the lawyer, the used car salesperson. Does the fine artist run out of canvas or oils? Does the dancer nightmare--I'm making a verb of a noun, which is Kosher in English--arthritis? Does a baseball player dream of misplacing his steroids? Does the Australian Cattle Dog or Border Collie have dreams in which cows or sheep already know where to go?

Nightmares, the dream version of the unthinkable, come to pass.

How instructive to know what nightmares press down on the chest of the President of the United States and if, indeed, the thing he sees in his sleep is us. The reverse is surely true: He is the worst nightmare of all.

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