Writer Steven Pressfield offering more brutally practical advice to aspiring writers and other creative types, as part of his ongoing “Move Your Ass” series.
Tag Archives: dreams
“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.”
Why can’t I move? I just can’t move! It’s like I’m glued to this bed. With the VCR playing. VCR? And a porn video. Really? At this time of…what time is it?
I have no idea what’s going on. Why am can’t I move? What stupid video is playing? On a VCR?! I didn’t know I had a TV in my bedroom. Why the fuck can’t I move?!
And – oh, what the hell! There’s a naked man standing over there! Who the – ?! Who is he?! Who are you?! Standing here in my bedroom! Butt-ass naked! What the – ?!
At some other time, that would be a fantasy come to life. O the start of some cheesy porn film. Speaking of porn…what the hell is going on here?!
I can’t believe this!
I can’t move!
I’m stuck here in my own bed! What the fuck is that all about?! Why can’t I move?!
That’s utterly terrifying.
You’re in your own bed – and you can’t fucking move!
What else could go wrong?
I have enough shit in my life.
I can’t move!
In my own bed!
Great. I’m thirsty, while laying down, and I can’t get up. What else can go wrong?
It’s hot in here.
Thirsty and warm.
And stuck in my own bed.
A porn movie playing – on a VCR.
Naked man standing against the wall.
He’s not even looking at me. Come on, dude! You’re in my bedroom – sans clothes – and you don’t have the decency to look at me?!
I can’t move!
Why can’t I move?
What is going on here?
I’m struggling…squirming…practically bouncing up and down in my own bed.
Trying to get up.
What’s going on?
Why do I feel paralyzed?
In my own bed.
What an awful feeling.
How is there a TV in my bedroom?
I didn’t move a TV in my bedroom.
With a VCR player.
Okay…finally. I can move.
What the – ?
Okay, I can move.
What was that all about?
Okay…fully awake now.
My head is hurting.
Okay…what was that all about?
Why did I have that…dream?
That’s what it was…right?
I don’t know.
I can’t tell.
What was that all about?
Why couldn’t I move?
A porn film!
On a VCR!
I don’t have a TV in my bedroom!
What was that?!
Why did that happen?
Why couldn’t I even move?
In my own bed!
What was that all about?
Who was that man?
And why is he still here in my bedroom?
Lying on the floor!
“Our politics are our deepest form of expression: they mirror our past experiences and reflect our dreams and aspirations for the future.”
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie
Here we are! It’s 2020 – the start of a new year and a new decade. Forty years ago I was excited about the prospect of witnessing and understanding the birth of a new decade. I had just turned 16 and couldn’t remember 1970. But this was different. A whole new decade! As my parents and I often did, we staged a New Year’s party in 1979; inviting family, friends and neighbors. I had taken the time to cut up strips of multi-colored paper into literally thousands of squares, which I then tossed into the air from a large brown paper bag at the stroke of midnight.
I was considerably more excited ten years later, as we welcomed the 1990s, which – even now – remains the best decade of my life. I was a young adult by then, working for a major bank in Dallas; a small personal accomplishment that made me feel I was finally a part of society and not some frustrated observer on the outside looking into a seemingly untouchable world. During that time I began making concerted attempts to become a published writer and even contemplated returning to college. These latter two dreams each wouldn’t materialize for more than another decade later.
The turn of the century – and the millennium – was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever experienced. Like the dawn of the 1990s, it remains a high point of my life. Twenty years ago the world looked more hopeful and inviting. I wasn’t nearly as excited about the 2010s. Things had grown kind of awkward for me by then. But it’s come and gone.
So alas, we are at the threshold of the third decade of the 21st century. Every New Year’s bears the excitement of a renewal; a chance to alter our priorities and improve our stations in life. Yet, it’s different with the start of a new decade. Since the early 1900s, societal changes have occurred rapidly. For millennia, time periods were designated by century; now they’re often designated by decade. Each ten-year interval boasts its own cultural shifts; fashion and music trends; and political dynamics. As our life expectancy increases, so does our concept of time.
I’m approaching this decade with more caution, however. As I tend to do, I maintain a safe distance and analyze the universe around me and wonder what more can be done to improve not just my life, but everyone’s lives.
These last two decades have seen an explosion of technological and cultural advances, both here in the United States and across the globe. But, in many ways, things haven’t changed much. I’ve focused my concern on how dismal our political and economic well-being have become. The pathetic presidency of George W. Bush and the ever-increasing disorientation of the Donald Trump administration have set us back on many levels. Unlike 20 years ago we now have the greatest wealth gap in over a century. The first decade of the present century should have been an extraordinary time of progressive social and technological advancement. Yes, everyone seemingly has a cell phone and a personal computer. But so many promising visions of the future were lost to Middle East conflicts and an extreme level of corporate deregulation. The “Great Recession” squashed hope for many people across the nation. While many of my fellow Americans wonder if Bitcoin will make a resounding return to the financial sphere or what latest cell phone apps will be available in the coming months, I’m contemplating the grander picture.
In the 19th century, the U.S. built the world’s first transcontinental railroad system and helped create telephones and electric lighting. At the start of the 20th century, we sent men into the air and then constructed the world’s largest highway system. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation; wanting us “to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things; not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And, we did just that! Just seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.
The 1960s and 70s saw the birth of various civil rights movements: women, non-Whites, and gays and lesbians. That forced America to live up to its promise to be a land of equality and prosperity. We finally began seeing the fruits of those movements in the 1990s.
Yet here stands the U.S. – still mired in Middle East conflicts and dealing with an economy that, on the surface, looks extraordinary. But those of us struggling with medical bills and increasingly high costs of basic living aren’t exactly thrilled that the U.S. stock market is functioning wonderfully for large corporations that don’t often pay their taxes and feel they have the unquestionable right to contaminate the environment in the name of profit.
Although I’m an introvert, I remain optimistic and would like to see society achieve some grand accomplishment over the next 10 years.
Infrastructure – As of 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a grade of D+ for infrastructure. That’s an overall assessment of everything from bridges to railroads. To say they’re falling apart is dismissively juvenile. A grade is just a letter, but the implications are dire. In 2007, a section of Interstate 35 through Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. But, nearly 13 years later, the U.S. is still spending more on military intervention in the perpetually-chaotic Middle East than making serious efforts to rebuild, or even refurbish, highways like I35. The ASCE estimates the nation will need up to 4.5 trillion USD to repair or rebuild much of our infrastructure by 2025. It’s one critical issue on which elected officials of all political stripes might agree. Instead, we have a president who wants to spend even more money to build a wall along the nation’s southern border with México. I can’t even contemplate how much that would cost. Knowing the U.S. federal government, though, it would be much more than initial estimates. Still, as I move around my own local area, I notice roads that have been under construction since the start of the last decade!
Subterranean Power and Telecommunication Lines – In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria rolled over Puerto Rico as a borderline category 5 storm. With an estimated cost of 94 billion USD, it stands as one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history. And Maria didn’t even reach the American mainland. As with most such calamities, residents in the impact zones lived without power, which includes clean water. Like Andrew did to Florida in 1992, and Katrina to the Gulf Coast in 2005, Maria destroyed a substantial number of power and telecommunication lines across Puerto Rico. Our government’s response? USD 5 billion in aid and a president tossing paper towels into a raucous crowd.
Tropical storm systems aren’t our only nemesis. Currently, the U.S. is dealing with yet another round of powerful winter weather, with strong winds flipping vehicles and blizzard conditions hampering travel. It’s not uncommon for massive weather phenomena to impact more than 100 million people. Last October the Dallas, Texas area experienced a rash of tornado outbreaks. But that’s just in one city in one state. Other areas across the country have been struck by these meteorological vortexes. And, of course, power and telecommunication lines are among the casualties.
The same happens after floods, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes. Humans can never control Earth’s natural elements. Every time we’ve tried, those elements remind us who holds the true power. Still, we can lessen the severity of unruly weather by burying as many of our power and telecommunication lines underground as possible. It’s nothing new. People have been pushing this concept for years. And there are the usual detractors. Although a number of power and telecommunication lines have already been interred, opponents claim they’re not always more reliable than overhead lines. While overhead lines experience more outages, subterranean lines are generally more difficult to access and repair when problems with them do arise. Another obstacle, of course, is funding. There are greater costs associated with the installation of subterranean lines. The costs would have to be passed down to consumers somehow. But, I feel it’s all worth the financial burden. Ultimately, it costs people more to go without power – both in actual money and lives lost. The expenses incurred with the initial installations and ongoing maintenance will more than pay for themselves in the ensuing years.
Space – Since humans first looked up to the sky and began studying the stars, we’ve wondered what it would be like to fly and visit another celestial body. Now, we’ve taken flight and ventured onto the moon. The next logical step would be Mars. Plenty of people – from Elon Musk to Mars One – are making a concerted effort to get there. In the 1970s, the U.S. became the first nation to reach Mars with the Viking I and II voyages. We’ve done it again recently with the Curiosity mission. The U.S. space program was good for the country and the world, as it spurred a number of technological developments; mainly with telecommunications, but also with engineering and robotics.
Sadly, if the U.S. wants to send humans to the moon now, we couldn’t do it. We’ve let that go. Again, it’s the war factor – more money spent on Middle East conflicts than on things that really matter. But I would like to see the U.S. rejuvenate its space program and begin establishing a lunar colony; thus making interplanetary travel materialize from the pages of science fiction into reality. And, of course, we should make a concerted effort to send a craft with humans to Mars by the end of this decade. There’s more technology in a single Smart Phone than there was in all of the Apollo 11 lunar module. We can make this happen.
Thousands of years ago humans thought Earth was the only place in the universe that harbored any semblance of life. We’re starting to realize that’s not true. We exist on this third rock from the sun, but I’m certain we have never been alone. And, even if we are (by some odd fluke of nature), what’s to say we can’t venture outward and make our world more hospitable? If we rise above our own political and social distractions, we’ll understand we can do better than this. We have to do better. I can’t imagine us living in a world of such chaos and uneasiness. Throughout this next decade, we have to move forward. Time will. We have to follow it.
Photo by Josh Sorenson.
“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty believe in them and try to follow where they lead.”
An incubus is a malevolent male spirit who has sex with a woman, while she’s either asleep or unconscious. A succubus is a malevolent female spirit who does the same with men. Over the years I’ve been…um…shall we say touched by both types of spirits. Therefore, I guess you could say I’ve been bused from one end to the other!
Image: Drath Gloria
Among my father’s favorite memories were the times he played baseball as a kid in his East Dallas neighborhood. Growing up in those environs more than six decades, with scores of other Hispanic families, ago gave him a sense of community and freedom. He had plenty of others, he once told me: holding me for the first time; buying this suburban Dallas home; working in the yard; and playing with our dogs.
“I keep reliving those moments over and over,” he said, following another late night talk. “If I could go through them again, I would.”
Most of my own best memories occurred in the 1990s – the best decade of my life so far. And one of the greatest was my 1991 trip to Ixtapa, México – a small hamlet on the nation’s Pacific Coast, northwest of Acapulco and far from the touristy ruckus of Cancun and Cozumel. That was the furthest away I’d ever been from home at the time and only the third time I’d been outside of the U.S. My first two international trips also were to México; college spring break jaunts that were hazy and less relaxing.
Ixtapa was incredibly soothing and quiet. It was the first time I’d ever seen the Pacific Ocean, or any ocean for that matter. The closest I’d come to an ocean was the Gulf of México. On my first night, the pounding of the waves along the shoreline echoed deep into my mind and lulled me to sleep. While I savored the beach and the warm weather, my parents feared for my life; that I’d be kidnapped by local hoodlums. That had crossed my mind, too, but I was enjoying the simple sights too much to worry.
The Ixtapa excursion allowed me to live out a few of my dreams: lounging along the waterline for hours; roaming through a quiet Mexican town, wallowing in the community without boisterous intruders or Americanized visages; stuffing myself with as much food in the all-you-can-eat buffets; and, of course, consuming plenty of alcohol.
Sitting in the sand, wearing a skimpy Speedo, and letting sea water roll around me remains one of the best therapies I’ve ever had. I thought, if some giant tsunami accosted the beach and sucked me into the Pacific depths, I probably wouldn’t mind. Another fantasy didn’t develop until the moment I stepped onto the beach, beneath a cloudy sky. I didn’t get to experience it, which is probably a good thing. It might have killed me.
A tall islet laden with tropical vegetation languished innocuously offshore – perhaps a mile at the most. I thought it beckoned me, and after a couple of days, I dared to attempt a brief excursion to its narrow shores. I tried swimming out to it, but quickly realized the allure was strictly my own cogitation. And I wisely returned to shore.
I returned home looking like I’d been attacked by some animal rights activists, which startled family, friends and coworkers. I couldn’t praise Ixtapa highly enough. I loved it then and I love it now. I hope I can visit again. If not now, then maybe in another life – if there is such a thing.
I’m not thinking of reincarnation, but rather, a life beyond this one. The post-Earth kind of life. Out there. Wherever it is.
I’ve never been so arrogant as to say I know exactly what will happen to me after I die. I’m certainly not a self-righteous evangelical Christian or “72 virgins at the end of the hallway” maniac. But, for the bulk of my life, I’ve wondered what happens to us when we cross over to that “Other Side.” What do people do? How do they navigate time and space? Why do they not visit us back here more often, especially when we call out their names in prayer?
I don’t know. But I’ve begun to ponder a simple possibility – why would they come back here? For any reason. As much as they love us. Why return to Earth? They’ve served their time in this life. So, what awaits them – all of us – on that “Other Side”?
All of those happy moments they experienced. The people who have gone before us are, perhaps, reliving the best times of their lives. They’re once again experiencing those events that gave them the most pleasure and made them feel the happiest. I don’t suppose this would include the times they might have hurt other people for pleasure – whether it was accidental or deliberate. Certainly not deliberate! I imagine others who shared those grand moments slide in and out of the reoccurrences. A sort of crossing time and space.
Therefore, my father is reliving the days he played baseball in his youth; when he first met my mother; holding me shortly after I’d been born; caressing my dog, Wolfgang, just a few years ago. He absolutely loved that little four-legged monster! Petting him was one of the simplest – yet best – pleasures my father had.
All of those things made him feel good. Why in the hell would he come back here to help me with Earthly troubles? Why would anyone want to give up reliving those special times to deal with plumbing problems and credit card debt? They’ve already dealt with that shit!
I can’t imagine my father trading in the joy of having his own lawn for a day of listening to me moan about lower back pain! Who in their right mind would want to make that kind of trade off?!
That’s why we don’t see our dearly departed that much. And it’s why tampering with séances and Ouija boards is dangerous. Disturbing the dead may be the subject of many bad jokes. But I think it’s wrong. It’s also kind of pointless. Imagine you’re undergoing a full body massage and a relative interrupts to tell you they got into a road rage incident. Wouldn’t you be pissed and want to startle the crap out of them, as they got ready for bed?
What’s it really like on that “Other Side”? How is it living out there? Again, I don’t know. And I’m really not eager to find out anytime soon! I have more stories I want to publish. I want to adopt another dog. So, I’ll continue paying my Earth-bound dues. And one day I hope to lounge in that Ixtapa surf for hours – not concerned with anything.
A friend of mine, Preston*, has recently taken to poetry writing, or more specifically to haiku writing. Haiku (or hokku) is a Japanese verse form of poetry that follows a very strict composition of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Not popular in Western cultures until about the early 1900s, haiku are often accompanied by an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a particular moment in time. Their brevity is occasionally an introduction to a longer poem or a story, but its central purpose is to focus the reader’s attention on that one single moment that struck the poet’s mind as critical or somehow significant; a moment where everything came into focus; where the complexities of life were abruptly reduced to what is – and what is not – essential.
I trust and admire Preston greatly. I wrote about him nearly 6 years ago in “One Good Friend.” He’s truly one of those rare individuals who is focused and level-headed. For us writers, focus is always a challenge, while level-headedness is sometimes elusive.
Time is a bandit
Reducing our hopes and dreams
To mere memories
Within the same week a few months ago my parents had nightmares about their former jobs. It’s unsettling because they’ve both been retired for a while. My mother worked in the insurance business for nearly 51 years before retiring in 2003 at age 70. My father worked for two different printing shops; starting when he was 17. He got laid off in 1994 from the last one. They’re old school; in their day, you went to work for a company and stayed there for decades. Thus, I’ve had some trouble explaining my career as a freelance technical writer to them. They each worked roughly the same number of years I’ve now been alive.
But why, after all these years, they have occasional bad dreams about work is beyond my comprehension. I suppose they gave so much of their time and energy to those places that it’s dug an emotional trench in their respective souls like a gunshot wound.
I’ve only had three dreams about work. The first occurred in the late 1980s, when I worked for a retail store. I was being harassed by a manager who already had a nasty reputation. Strangely, though, (and what dream isn’t strange?) my parents were at the store with me. They knew I’d been having a tough time with that asshole of a manager and had come to help me out. When he shouted at them, I lost my temper and screamed at him. My own yelling woke me up. Not long afterwards, that manager was transferred to another store. I guess someone in the company’s echelons of power heard me yelling.
The other two dreams came within months of losing my job at an engineering firm in the fall of 2010. I had been so stressed out there in the last few months it was almost a relief to get laid off. It even cost me a back tooth. Just a few weeks earlier I had begun experiencing pain on the left side of my mouth. I didn’t know what to think when I realized that tooth was loose. Neither did my dentist. But, by the time I visited him, I knew my job was the crux of the agony.
“You have two choices,” he told me. “I can pull it or try to do a root canal.”
“Pull the bitch,” I calmly told him, thinking of my then-supervisor and then-manager. As he wrangled it from my jaw, I tried to think of ways to make it look like that supervisor and that manager had freak accidents. At work. On the same day. With no one else around.
Stress does that to a person – especially work-related stress. It makes them physically ill and emotionally drained. At various times during my eleven years working for a large bank, I felt the impact of job-induced stress. Back aches and short bursts of rage were the most common for me. Back then, though, I was able to fight it off because of my strict exercise regimen: pushups and crunch sit-ups in the morning; weight-lifting; jogging; and taekwondo. In one martial arts session, I almost beat the crap out of a close friend. We were fully padded up, so neither of us felt much. But he told me afterwards that I literally scared him. I apologized, but he just laughed. I explained to him what was happening to me at the bank, and he understood. Still, at that moment, I felt angry enough to send Chuck Norris screaming from the room. Despite my tenure at the bank and all the crap I endured, I never once dreamed of the place.
So, it’s still a mystery why I let my eight-year stint at the engineering company affect me in the nocturnal hours.
In the first dream, I was at corporate headquarters in Southern California with my former project manager, Dagwood*, who had hired me in 2002. He was a quirky character who’d joined the company right out of college. But I liked him and stood up for him, whenever I felt another associate was disrespecting him. In the dream, the building sat right along the coastline, separated from the water only by a strip of sand and a road. Dagwood had been there many times, but this was my first visit. And everyone was on edge. A major quake had pummeled the seabed a few miles offshore, and local officials anticipated an equally massive tsunami. The coastal areas had already been evacuated, and building management had informed us they were monitoring the situation closely. When the first wave approached, they’d sound the alarms, and everyone on the lower levels would flee upwards, which in real tsunami reactions, is known as vertical evacuation.
I’ve always been fascinated by the more extreme elements of the natural world and recall being fascinated with the prospect of witnessing a tsunami up close. But I was also frightened, since I’d never been through something like that. Dagwood had, though; a similar incident had occurred a few years earlier, he told me, before I started with the company. A massive seaquake had struck, and a tsunami was expected. But it was almost a false alarm; the tsunami waves turned out to be merely inches. This time, however, officials anticipated a real disaster.
“Don’t worry,” Dagwood reassured me. “Just stay with me, and you’ll be alright. When those alarms go off, we’ll just head upstairs.”
Cool, I thought. I felt better.
Then, as I labored over my laptop, seated right beside a window overlooking the beachfront, the alarms went off. I heard a loud thundering sound and looked out the window to see the first monstrous wall of water rushing towards us. I panicked, as I leapt to my feet and began looking for Dagwood. He was nowhere. Some people started screaming in fear, as others headed towards the stairwell. Where was Dagwood? I kept asking. He’s supposed to be here. Good God! Did he just abandon me?
I ran from one office to another, searching for him, thinking surely he wouldn’t be so cruel towards me. Several other people were also scrambling around; consumed more with hysteria. But I still couldn’t find Dagwood. Finally, I just stopped and, as the sound of the encroaching tsunami drowned out every other noise, I turned to the ceiling and said, “Fuck him.”
I proceeded towards a stairwell, and – amazingly – everyone else stopped screaming and followed me up the stairs. We all made it safely and could only watch as the water rumbled over the sand and the road, before tearing into the building’s ground floor.
But I kept asking myself that question over and over: where was Dagwood? He was nowhere to be found. What had been trepidation just moments earlier turned to anger. He really did abandon me.
I woke up.
In the second dream, I was back in downtown Dallas, at the government agency where I’d worked most of the time I was with the company. We had an important meeting; one where we’d learn our fate under the new contract. I simply couldn’t be late. As the meeting time approached, I was trying desperately to finish a critical task. I finally tore myself from my computer and headed towards a nearby meeting room. No one was there. I darted to another conference room. It, too, was empty. Where is everyone? Where is this damn meeting being held? I can’t be late!
I began scampering about the building; running into every conference room I could find. They were either empty or occupied by someone else. But, by then, I’d realized something even more disconcerting: I was stark naked. At some point, my clothes had come off. That usually happens only to porn stars and politicians, not to technical writers. And not in a government building! No one seemed to care, though, and I was only slightly bothered by it. I was more concerned with finding out where that damn meeting was being held. I finally gave up and sauntered into the break room. I dropped into a chair, still butt-naked, and resigned myself to an uncertain fate.
I woke up.
Both dreams are rife with symbolism. I know what they mean to me, but you can make your own inferences. Yet, once I recovered from that second dream, I vowed never to dream about work again. It wasn’t worth the aggravation. No job is. After years of dealing with bully bosses, hostile coworkers, office gossip, impossible deadlines and paltry raises, I want to occupy my mind with something far more significant and meaningful than a fucking job.
And it’s worked. I haven’t dreamed about the engineering company again. I told my parents they need to let go of their old jobs. “That was years ago,” I said. Those places shouldn’t hold such a strong grip on their minds.
We spend so much of our lives at work, or doing something work-related, and we don’t always get something positive after expending all that time and energy. People, especially men, have often defined themselves by what type of career they had. Blue collar, white collar, no collar. Whatever they did to make a living is who they were. One of the first questions people ask when they meet someone for the first time is, “What do you do?” And, of course, they don’t really mean, ‘What do you do in your spare time?’ Or, ‘What do you do every third Saturday of the month?’ They mean, ‘How do you make yourself a valuable part of your community?’
But I know people are generally worth more than the way they earn money. I define myself as a writer; always have and always will. So I proudly tell people I’m a technical writer. That’s how I currently earn my living. Eventually, I hope to make a living from my creative writing. Regardless, I know for damn sure that slaving over a hot keyboard is not all that I am. And whatever type of job or career you have, dear readers, should not be all who you are. We’re worth a hell of a lot more than that.
And, next time I’m on the west coast, I may see a real live tsunami, but I won’t be thinking of Dagwood.