Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Joy of Talking Nonsense

I thought I was completely over my dogearing phase, but when I read p. 242 of the David McDuff translation of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment two nights ago I just couldn't resist. I started reading the book a few weeks ago, prompted largely by the many worshipful references it got in James Wood's excellent How Fiction Works. That, and the fact that I'd never read any Dostoyevsky and felt I was overdue.

Anyway, the book had been kinda slow going the first couple hundred pages, with the notable exception of the visceral description of the titular "crime" (which I will not spoil for those of you who haven't read the book yet). It has really been picking up of late, and it suddenly exploded incandescently (for me) during this monologue by Razumikhin. To set the stage a bit, Razumikhin (a friend of the protag Raskolnikov) had been drinking "a terrible quantity of vodka" until he was called into service to escort the recently arrived mother and sister of Raskolnikov to their lodgings. In his foggy state, he becomes instantly smitten with the beautiful women and starts passionately running off at the mouth...

'What do you suppose?' Razumikhin shouted, raising his voice even louder. 'Do you suppose I'm going on like this because they talk nonsense? Rubbish! I like it when they talk nonsense! Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over other organisms. It's by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I'm human. Not one single truth has ever been arrived at without people first having talked a dozen reams of nonsense, even ten dozen reams of it, and that's an honourable thing in its own way; well, but we can't even talk nonsense with our own brains! Talk nonsense to me, by all means, but do it with your own brain, and I shall love you for it. To talk nonsense in one's own way is almost better than to talk a truth that's someone else's; in the first instance you behave like a human being, while in the second you are merely being a parrot! The truth won't go away, but life can be knocked on the head and done in. I can think of some examples. Well, and what's our position now? We're all of us, every one of us without exception, when it comes to the fields of learning, development, thought, invention, ideals, ambition, liberalism, reason, experience, and every, every, every other field you can think of, in the very lowest preparatory form of the gymnasium! We've got accustomed to making do with other people's intelligence – we're soaked in it! It's true, isn't it? Isn't what I'm saying true?' cried Razumikhin, trembling all over and squeezing the hands of both ladies. 'Isn't it?'

Methinks it is.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Shift in the Dream Landscape

In the last couple of weeks, something unusual has been happening in my dreams. I've been in control, and they've been remarkably anxiety free. Two of the major dream paradigms of my lifetime have been, essentially, turned on their heads.

The first is the horror movie dream. Since I was in junior high (and maybe even earlier), I've been haunted by the dream where a killer (usually Michael Myers from HALLOWEEN) stands silently in my room while I lie motionless in my bed. I know that if I make even the slightest motion, the killer will know I'm there and stab me to death. These static dreams go on for what feels like hours in my sleep, and I often wake up feeling exhausted by the strain of balancing absolute stillness with petrifying fear.

I haven't had this one as often in my 30s, but I felt a strong connection to it the other night when I dreamt I was producing a horror movie out of a cavernous office space with my old colleagues from Civilian Pictures. I felt absolutely in control and excited about finally producing my own feature. The film, which we were shooting in black and white, was a modern interpretation of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, and we'd assembled the creepiest looking army of blonde children. They were milling about the set, smiling when off camera and the embodiment of evil when the cameras were rolling (incidentally, feel free to analyze what making this particular movie in my dream has to say about my childless status- I have).

When I woke up I felt empowered and refreshed- now I was calling the shots on the horror in my life.

Who's in control now?

The second major recurring dream theme has been plaguing me steadily through my 20s and 30s. The details of this one change more often that the killer dream, but the essentials are that I've been skipping a college class all semester long, and now I have to return for a big test and face the music. A common wrinkle is that I haven't been to the class in so long that I've forgotten where it's held and/or I've forgotten where the building it's in is located on campus. I ransack my room looking for the list of classes I'm enrolled in that was issued at the beginning of the semester, but I can never find it. I basically wander around the UNC campus (which always looks pristinely beautiful) gnashing my teeth, beating myself up about waiting so long to address the issue and thinking "How did I think I would get away with not going to class all semester!" (Incidentally, I was a big believer in the "if you go to every class, you don't have to study nearly as hard" school of thought, so this dream pattern isn't even really related to any real-life experience that I'm conscious of.)

I wake up feeling exhausted and depressed by these dreams too, and always deeply disappointed in myself (which as you know is one of the least pleasant emotional states).

Last week I had a dream that turned this one upside-down too. I don't recall the details that well, but the gist of it was that I was now on the faculty at UNC. I sat up at the front of the class, serene and confident, and watched the young clueless students file into my class and then hang on my every word.

This one had an even more profound effect on me when I woke up- I could physically feel that a weight had been lifted, that a chain had been broken. Of course, it's too early to say that I won't be having either of the predecessor dreams any more, but it sure doesn't feel like it.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the catalyst for this internal transition was joining Facebook about three weeks ago. I'd fought the notion of Facebook, thinking that it would a big time-waster and filled with uncomfortable small-talky reunions with people you no longer cared about and/or actively wanted to steer clear of. I joined primarily because it's constantly referred to as an outlet or destination for marketing strategies by the people I work with, and I felt like I could no longer pretend to nod my head knowingly about it.

By connecting to dozens and dozens of people who used to occupy a lot of my headspace but have since drifted away for one reason or another, and doing it all at once, I think my unconscious was forced to assess where my own life is now. More than that, I was forced to see something that I already knew but I suppose isn't all that apparent in one's own day-to-day continuum- I've grown up. I really am 37. I really have friends who have teenage children. I really am looking down the barrel at my 20th high school reunion. And so are a lot of other people... it's happening to everybody.

Thankfully, it seems, the producers of my dream life appear to be growing up too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

State of the Nation

Yesterday Mrs. Word Player and I took a walk in the park behind our house. It was about dusk, and there was a thick haze in the air that had been hanging around since I'd referred to it as fog in the morning. The setting sun looked beautiful, the hills mysterious. The horse running circles around its trainer in the Equestrian Center next door kicked up dust of its own, adding to the sense of early evening obfuscation.

I haven't been feeling myself lately. I missed a haircut appointment before going to SF two weekends ago, one that was already overdue, and my hair is too big and curly. I feel fat. I hurt my Achilles tendon playing tennis a month ago, slipping just so on the court after a match delay caused by scattered showers. I've been walking with a limpy hitch in my step ever since, and even though I haven't been on the court since and have stopped my morning walks, it hasn't healed properly. I miss the exercise, especially during the Halloween-Thanksgiving eating season. You make so many forward strides physically by playing tennis two or three times a week for a couple years, and then it feels like you lose it all with a month away.

Work has really slowed down after a pretty terrific year. Whenever this happens, my mood invariably turns darker. I've all but shelved the book, which is what I thought I would work on during the slow "paying work" times. It's not that I lost faith in the idea, it's that I lost faith in the possibility of it ever doing anything other than sitting on my shelf next to my screenplays. At my age, I feel like I need at least a fighting chance of remuneration if I'm going to invest thousands more solitary hours into a passion project.

And so, with all this in mind, we went for a walk.

Walking the labyrinth in St. George, UT

Solvitur Ambulando. "It is solved by walking." We've found this to be as true as any saying is, and yesterday was no exception. MWP is no dummy, and could see that I had little cartoon storm clouds roiling above my head. And off we went.

Just as the election was for the previous twelve months, the economy has now become the jumping off point for practically every conversation. We talked about what the dry period meant for us in the short term, and then the long term. Was it time for me to pursue full-time, on-site employment? I've been a stay-at-home freelancer since the end of 2000, and I've dodged plenty of bullets during that stretch. Maybe now, when I'm sitting relatively pretty and have amassed a decent-sized portfolio, is a good time to jump back into the office job fray? If there were any jobs available in my field these days this may have taken longer to discuss.

But then, we asked ourselves, where will we be in ten years? Let's say that we both have continued, sustained success as freelancers until 2018: will we still be hirable when we're not quite as cute or hip and our rates are exponentially higher than our less experienced but ever more cute and young and hip competition?

Will we ever be able to buy a house when the money we've invested to save for it is shrinking rather than growing?

How could anyone in their right mind start a family right now without a sizable safety net? And what kind of world will they grow up in where only the wealthy can afford to pay for college and masked gunmen roam freely?


And then we smiled. My foot was hurting a little, but we'd walked the circumference of the park and were on the road back home. There's never been any way to know what the future holds, and there's little wisdom in making long term plans with any expectations of seeing them play out as diagrammed. Hey, we've made it this far, haven't we? Our operating history; as individuals, as a couple, as wage-earners, as creatives; projects that we will continue to at least be competitive in our field, if not somewhat successful. Right?

Even though the majority of what came out of our mouths could be labeled as pessimistic, or at least moany-groany, the simple act of walking while we were talking took a great deal of the negative power of the words away.

When life gives you lemons, take a walk. Odds are you won't feel nearly as sour afterwards.