the m john harrison blog

Category: dreams

the real dream

I dreamed of being in love with an airline pilot. I was younger than I am now. She was tall and full of life. Her father, a short man who had flown jet fighters in the Falklands, came out against the affair. He hated me because I was only a passenger and I had been late on to the plane. My papers weren’t fully in order, which caused one hold up; after which there was something to do with pills, which caused another. I had hurt my left hand climbing. Trying to be cheerful with everyone, I said: “These gritstone abrasions are always slow to heal.” But really, the thumb and part of the hand were missing and the exposed flesh had gone an odd colour. Inside the various cracks and fissures of the wound, so that they looked as if they were interleaved with strips of raw bacon, were strange creamy looking blobs of something. I didn’t want to acknowledge this but in the end I had to look. They were small, slim, white crocuses, growing in tight clusters in my hand. When I woke up it was snowing again.

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dream

I was living in a house I didn’t know in a city I didn’t know. The people who lived there were young. They were cheerful, although their faces had a certain toughness, a certain wariness. The house had a lot of rooms. I left objects of mine, including my personal identification and a laptop with new work on it, in various of them. While I was anxious about this I wasn’t worried. I kept track of my things by rehearsing their positions in each room. I visited every room regularly to check that everything remained in its place. Everything was fine until I began to notice that the house was badly built. Living spaces had been constructed out of what had clearly been a condemned building. Then I began to forget where my things were. As I went from room to room looking for them, the house revealed itself as even more badly built. Some of the rooms had collapsing floors. Ceilings and walls seemed solid but were made of draped tarpaulin. The stairs moved under you. First I forgot where my belongings were. Then I realised that I was beginning to forget the layout of the building too. I wasn’t sure which rooms I had visited and which I hadn’t. The structure was increasingly unstable. Lath and rafters showed through. The rooms trembled and wallowed as I moved. My panic increased. I had lost all my objects. I had lost all sense of where I was. I had lost all my identifiers. I didn’t recognise anyone in the house. When I looked out of a window I realised that I had forgotten what country the city was in. I went out there and began to wander about. At first I was absolutely certain where the house was.

I don’t know what happened to the bear

I dreamed I was running away from a bear down some institutional corridor. It was a big bear, like a grizzly, light brown, but not grungy or used-looking the way a real bear would be, with drool etc. The layout was this: to begin with, the bear was outside in the car park, the other side of the main doors. But I knew it would get in. Before that happened I had to run up a short flight of stairs & close another set of doors behind me; then run down the corridor, closing doors at intervals behind me. Each time I opened & closed one set of doors, I knew that the bear had reached & opened the previous set. Then I had to run up another short flight of stairs and climb an old-fashioned indoor climbing wall. Just before the top, the wall flared radically & the holds got progressively hard to use. You were quite high up by then. This dream’s anxieties were based on repetition: every time I got near the top of the wall, I found myself back at the outer doors. I had to do that seven times. I had to run up the short stairs, open & slam the door; run down the corridor, opening & slamming all the doors; run up the stairs at the end; & climb the wall. To start with, it was fun. It was easy. The bear was slow & puzzled & not in any way used-looking. The wall was, to be honest, a piece of piss. But each repetition took it out of me, & the wall seemed harder. Even so, I was ok on it. In fact each time I did it, I found a new, interesting solution to the overhang: until the seventh time. The seventh time I realised that I’d chosen a complex, unreversible sequence of smooth, sloping holds; that as the overhang pushed me out it was also inevitably pushing me off the holds; and that though I wasn’t sure this solution would work, my strength was running out. I was committed. I had to put most of my body weight on the final, oblique sloper & make a long, awkward reach for the top, which was in itself sloping. I don’t know what happened to the bear. By then the bear wasn’t the issue.

how we can know it

All journeys are enchanted.

It isn’t so much that the landscape distracts you, as that something about the motion of the train — something about the very idea of constant, rushing, forward movement — makes you restless and slow to settle to anything. You read a few pages of a book and look out at some swans on a canal. A newspaper opened suddenly just down the carriage sounds like rain spattering on the window. Another chapter and you make your way down to the buffet or the lavatory. Between each event a rev- erie pours itself, as seamless as golden syrup, as smooth as the motion of the train. You wonder what the weather will be like in Leeds or Newcastle, turn to the Independent to find out, read: “The world economy is likely to remain subdued.”

Looking up from these words to a landscape of hedges and ponds, copses and little embankments, the Ephebe sees with amazement a strange vehicle bounding along beside the railway line.

In a long, complex frame of metal tubing, suspended on four tractor wheels, are cradled: an engine wrapped round with copper pipes and sheaves of old electrical wiring; clusters of what seem to be household butane gas bottles; and, well to the rear, the padded seat of some old-fashioned military jet, into which is strapped a man. Gouts of earth and water spray up from its enormous wheels. From time to time this whole machine seems to be consumed by a kind of radiant discharge, through which its driver or pilot can be seen helplessly or furiously waving his arms.

Is he a prisoner of his vehicle? Or does he prefer to drive on the edge of disaster like this? He is a wasted old man. When it can be seen, his face runs the gamut of expression, wild with fear one moment, laughing with excitement the next. His long gray hair blows back in the slipstream. His lips contort. He has fastened himself into a tight brown leather suit along the arms and legs of which run clusters of Neoprene tubing. Out of these at intervals erupt thick colored fluids, which splatter over his chest or into his eyes. Though he blinks furiously, he suffers the indignity without harm: but wherever the machine is touched it blackens and smokes briefly, and lightning writhes along its chassis members.

One huge wheel flies off suddenly into the air. The old man claps his hands to his face. At that moment the train enters a tunnel, and the Ephebe can see only himself, reflected in the window.

If the appearance of the machine has filled him with astonishment, its disappearance leaves him with a curious mixture of elation and anger he can neither understand nor resolve. By the time he is able to unclench his hands and wipe his forehead, the train has left the tunnel for open plowland across which spills a tranquil evening light. Wrestling desper- ately with one another, the old man and his machine have passed back into the dimension from which they came, where they leap and bucket and belly their way forever through rural England, scattering clods of earth, steam, small bushes and dead animals. But in the palm of the Ephebe’s hand remains a small, intricately machined metal item, melted at one end to slag.

This he brings home with him. For months it remains warm to the touch, as if it had only lately been thrown out of the hearth of the heart.

–from “The Horse of Iron & How We Can Know It & Be Changed By It Forever”, 1988.

argument from experience

Recent turns in my life, not directly related, make this, from 2009, seem worth repeating–

I went to one of the infamous Dylan concerts–Leicester de Montfort Hall, I think–as a raw, betrayed, left wing folkie, ready to heckle as soon as that sell-out reneged on his roots, denied his past & picked up an electric guitar. My girlfriend of the time, too. Two funny, smooth, unmarked, optimistic little faces turned up at the stage ready to defend our values, ready to defend our hero against his own bad decisions. By the end of the accoustic half of the show, I couldn’t bear my own anxiety & had dissociated as a defence.

Then a minute into the first electric song, I was electrified too, & so was she. Everyone around us got up & boo’d; but we got up and cheered & danced & kissed each other’s amazed faces. It was Love Minus Zero No Limit & it went through me like a crack in a mirror, & if I played it now–what? 40-odd years later?–& they have been odd years–I would just cry & cry & cry.

So, actually: fuck “Play some old!” Play some old is just very bad advice, which comes from chipmunks & children already afraid of time. Go on! Go where your work takes you, & don’t be forced into yesterday’s postures–already looking strained & meaningless–by an audience scared to move along with you.

Original post, June 6 2009, here.

Dogs left barking in houses and gardens and outside shops. The “moonlight collectors” on the roofs. An exchange which goes: “I’m your double.” “But you don’t look anything like me.” “So that’s how you see it, is it?”

end of a dream

We ran through the rooms, looking for a way back to the staircase. I found a way–an empty corridor in a different kind of place, quite old but much more upscale–then I was out in a street on my own. I was still agitated and excited and I wondered what would happen next time we met. Then I found an old chair in the street. It was quite small and still looked good, but when I picked it up I saw that parts of it were missing, and when I put it down (on a bench near a phone box) it fell to pieces.