|Lord Vacant on the Boulevard of Naked Angels|
Extracts from the Dream Diary of Michael Swanwick
"Lord Vacant on the Boulevard of Naked Angels" is a compilation of extracts from my dream diaries. Prior to this, it's only been published once, in the Readercon 13 program book, back when I was guest of honor. That same book contains my teenage son Sean's profile of me, beginning, "Take my Dad - please!" which quite overshadowed "Lord Vacant." If anybody out there has any extra copies of the program book, incidentally, I'm willing to swap hardcovers of my latest novel, one for one, for them.
Dreams are like weather. They are no more independent of each other than today's sunshine is independent of yesterday's rain. They occur in patterns lasting days, weeks, even months. A season of lively, entertaining dreams will be followed by one in which they are uniformly drab and tedious. Nightmares cluster like storm clouds. Possibly, dreams do not exist in isolation but rather as vivid windows of perception into an oceanic Something in which our waking lives are embedded.
So I conclude, anyway, from the experience of keeping a dream diary.
I began the diary in December, 1993. I was curious exactly what was going on while I slept. Earlier, I had recorded and published a series of dream-writings which most people took for accounts of my dreams. They were not - they were exact transcriptions of prose I had written in my dreams. Those writing dreams were rare events, and writing them down more or less cured me of them. But the experience also made me want to examine my more commonplace dreams more closely, particularly on the level of form.
I put a notebook by my bed. Mornings, I jotted down whatever I remembered of my dreams, however fragmentary. For more than two years I recorded without once reading what I'd previously written down. This turned out to be a wise move. Reading the diary, when I finally did, satisfied my curiosity completely. I have made few entries since.
What have I learned?
Other than a few trivial and specific observations, such as the fact that I have a recurrent dream City with a stable geography (and a labyrinthine firetrap of a used book store, which I have visited several times), my chief discovery is that dreams are more akin to the process of writing, and more involved with the deep nature of words, than I would ever have suspected.
We tend to think of dreams, when we think of them at all, as being rather like movies or a perfected virtual reality in which the sleeper wanders through primarily visual landscapes. And so they are - sometimes. But, as I discovered, they can also be experienced in prose or poetry, in abstract thought or synoptic narration, or even as comic strips. In one instance, the dream was in cartoon format, with animated lap-dissolve between panels.
Dreams employ a full range of techniques, taken from a variety of artistic forms: first and third person storylines, distancing, jump-cuts, and slow fades. Sometimes the dream itself was a movie I was watching, other times a work of prose. Once I was a character in a story I was writing. There were dreams-within-dreams, switches of tense and person, and at least one effect specific to the medium which any writer would sell his soul for - bursts of strong emotion arising from no determinable source. These techniques were employed within a narrative capable of smoothly shifting from one formal mode to another.
In their effect, dreams have the emotive power of art. And I would argue that the art they most closely resemble is literature.
Yet though they resemble literature, dreams never quite achieve that happy state. The sleeping mind provides beauty without context, incidents without meaning, jokes without punch-lines. Sometimes a dream can come so close to being a successful story that the waking mind can, with enormous effort, turn it into something publishable. Yet without that conscious intervention, they are nothing more than so many found objects, evocative but ultimately empty. They will never be completely satisfying as art until technology gives us some means of consciously shaping them.
The most fluidly adaptable and least constrained artistic form in existence is the novel. Dreams, however, once tamed, have the potential to render the novel obsolete. The technology required is so simple, in fact, that it's almost possible today to imagine what it would take: a player-recorder, a means of entering into and altering a recorded dream, and a few editing tools. None of which is half so unlikely as television was two hundred years ago.
Almost certainly the needed machinery will come along too late for me to ever get to use it. But how I'd love to get my hands on it! The potential locked within dreams is as great as that of all other media combined. Orson Wells once said that a sound stage was the best train set a boy ever had. The direct conscious manipulation of recorded dreams would be ten times better.
What follows is a series of excerpts from my recorded dreams, chosen chiefly for their entertainment value. They should, as Bret Harte put it, give you some rough idea of what I'm getting at.
(A) A man haunted by model trains - or possibly real trains in HO gauge - running through his house. He sets traps for them, but they are slyer and more evasive than one might expect. He pours himself another drink (in fact, that's the first sentence: [name] poured himself another drink) ... If he weren't drunk, he'd be crazy.
[This was a dream I was consciously shaping into a story, going back and replaying a scene in variant when it wasn't working. Waking, I realized whose stories this reminded me of, and constructed the opening sentence: Mattheson poured himself another drink.]
(B) I awoke, heart racing, from a hideous sleep with no memory of what I had dreamed of doing, but only the awful guilt of having done so.
I was in a small play called How's Your Health? Two men sitting on chairs on an otherwise empty stage, reading fragments of conversation from bundles of slips of paper. I was the older. We went in turn, trading cliches, each appropriate to our ages. I recall the younger at some point making fun of me by reading off sixties slang phrases: Out of sight. What a bummer. The pressure's on for another hit. Spare change, man? There was a third character who had to run on stage briefly, and some confusion over who would play the part.
Just before the second performance, I found the play had been rewritten, and the slips of paper randomized, without the color coding to tell who read what. I didn't have even the old version memorized.
Somebody said there was a script on stage. So there I went and there it was. As I picked it up, I saw the auditorium was packed with an audience of hundreds. The stage was thronged with people, stagehands and the like, busy at last-minute chores.
I looked at the audience and grinned around my cigarette. If I had one small talent, it was this: I was perfectly comfortable before an audience. I never got stage fright.
"This is an antique," (s)he said of the dildo. "It has known three Chinese empresses."
(A) (dream fragment, from the conclusion:) "But 'twas a most proper execution. We observed all the ceremonies, and said all the prayers."
(B) the dream bureaucracy
When they opened the spacecraft, it reeked of sperm.
A black locomotive encased in glacial ice.
(A) I had a visit from the Language Angel (bearded, stern, and patriarchal) who gave me a refresher talk on exactly what was bad language. After the obvious, the blackboard filled up with overlapping phrases such as "scum-sucking Republican road kill."
(B) I went to the ocean for an author photo: barefooted, wearing a trench coat, striding through the water. Anyone who doesn't understand the appeal of this shot, the photographer said, is totally ignorant of the real and suicidal meaning of pop songs about love and rain.
After a preliminary dream of viewing films of attempted assassinations of one man (in one, a large number of locomotives, both antique and built by hobbyists, were released in an enormous room and the man fled while they crashed into one another), I dreamed I was the protagonist of an Ian MacLeod story. I was an airline pilot and was somehow talked into riding the wing (not at all winglike in the dream but sculptural, in ways like a saddle, and could be leaned against and hugged) to an airport at slow speeds to prove it could be done. Unhappily the co-pilot chose the plane's usual destination and since I could not tell him to simply choose the closest airport, the trip took six hours.
On arrival, I saw a wall of rectangular gray stones with words engraved on some, something like the following:
The typographical trickery I thought typical of MacLeod [waking, it seems more typical of me], the degeneration of words obviously two conversations overlapping. The airline manager was angry at my stunt and didn't understand why I'd done it.
[dreamed I was at a bank of controls. Jack Dann had the twin; and the computer had a limited but balky intelligence that could only be overcome by producing something demonstrably good. I came up with this:]
[All in the manner of a Laurie Anderson sprechsong with appropriate musical accompaniment]
[another fragment from "Laurie Anderson in Concert":]
"Gazillions," Dan Rather said solemnly, citing the number of calls and overnight letters the network had gotten about a breaking story of an attempt to frame an Olympic athlete, then went on to cite a poem of which the preceding was a fragment (and better phrased at that), and concluded by saying that poetry was the ultimate judge of language and the final word on how good a job he'd done on a new story.
Marianne was so struck by the simile of two books she quoted it twice. Otherwise I'd've never have remembered it on waking.
Followed a wealthy and certain woman along a shopping street. She saw posters offering FAST and INSTANT resolution of psychological problems and at their direction went down a set of stairs to an expensive office - the whole set-up was transparently a scam, though she didn't realize it.
A receptionist directed her into the next room, which was filled with famous military and historical figures from throughout history. They were all complaining bout how badly they were treated by their wives, subordinates, etc.
The psychiatrist ushered all into the next room. She gave a short speech about how many problems were caused by the mother, and the individual clinging to the hurt thus caused. Then she directed everyone to assume the stork stance: arms up and out to the side, like wings, stand on one foot, extend the other leg out and back, and lean the torso forward.
When everyone was in position, she told them to release their hatred. First one, then then several, then all the others did. One by one the feet came down. They were cured! Happily, they left.
Only Adolf Hitler stayed, arms out and leg up, for further treatment.
coyenne: 'beautifully encoded with words'
Dreamed in an animation style that had the three-dimensionality and arbitrary movement of claymation but the crisp colors of cartoons: A couple in a shanty-house. The woman stuffs newspaper in the top of a pot-bellied stove. The man walks past her on the wall, then back to the ground, both arguing. When she moves away, the newspaper rises out of the stove in the form of a newspaper cow. The man shoves it down and lights it. When the woman wants him to put on the lid, he snaps, "It's not as if the fire were crawling on the floor." Cut to a blue-skinned man in overalls, crawling on the floor. "I'm crawling on the floor," he says. Back to the man who says to the woman, "Okay, I see it. Now that you've literalized my perfectly harmless metaphor for me-"
Lord Vacant in the Library of Extinctions
Even the war doesn't entertain us.
(A) Steamships slip silently through the streets of the city.
(B) I was returning home to my mother's after some absence. I ran through the snow, barefoot and happy and came in through the unlocked back door. As I was locking up, my father heard the noise and came to greet me. "Give me a hug," he said, and I did. I was taller than he and he was alive and himself again, restored to his old state.
I dreamed I set my tie free. It flew, briefly.
The first notes of the saxophone were so natural that it took five
blasts before the mind registered them as music. It was the sound
of the city, a noise like God's own buses moving through the streets.
Auntie Fern was a wonderful cook, and made us soup even though she had no pots. She cooked it in huge amounts inside a big old cannon she owned, and when it was done, pulled the lanyard. Luckily, we lived across town from her - we'd stand outside in our raincoats, holding up bowls.
(A) My dear young man, one does not/Beg a blurb from Doddsworth-Blott!
-opening of a limerick spoken extempore by an extravagantly theatrical character
(B) By sheerest chance, I was present at the assassination of Forrest Gump.
Was a hero-and-artist, one of three more-than-normal individuals who were invading Hell (whose caverns were in the moon) in hopes of setting things right. Having been created by the moon goddess, I had a special affinity for her and she found me immediately and had me walk with her. She had the seeming of an old woman and she was totally mad. That was why we were come - to make her and the caverns of Hell sane, if it could be done.
One day the pride simply turned on him.
They were in the back room of a fuel-oil supply company, punishing one of the younger wives, when it happened. Perhaps some chance word of his set them off. They were always most sensitive when the blood of one of their own was in the air.
One instant he was lying by the wall, smiling sleepily, and the next he was on the floor with all dozen wives fighting to get at him.
His skin was as tough as old leather. That was what saved him. It bought him time to think while their savage blows showered against him and first one wife and then another tried to tear him open.
As a rule he had only one advantage over them, the power to chandar, the ability to tap all his resources at once, to put on a burst of blazing speed. But he would have only five or ten minutes before he would dry himself bloodless, and then he would need to eat again and then he would need to sleep.
While they attacked and he (futilely) resisted, his mind searched out his needs: a human building with mortals within, several of them, which he could reach and enter quickly, within which he could drain the mortals of life, and where their absence would not be noticed for at least ten hours. It had to be one, too, that the pride would not locate, and this was difficult for they were as intelligent as he, when they chose to be.
He chose his target and triggered chandar. With a roar he was out from under his wives, flinging them away, one-armed, smashing down the door, and away: down the street, into Manhattan.
[The above started as a dream of a video game with movie sequences.]
I discovered that by lying on my stomach and giving a push, I could glide frictionless down the center of city streets as fast as a bicycle. It was great fun. A few kicks provided all the needed power.
The dream went on for hours. I saw no reason for it to change.
In a future of enormous possibilities the mind and form can be remade as willed. A man and his wife in human form carry their true selves in the form of graphite or ruby marbles. I consult with them and program a colony of ants kept for this purpose to disassemble the marbles atom by atom and rebuild them. But there are doubts that surface while it is being done whether (a) the mind is perfectly independent or (b) controlling code has been written in by a hostile government. We run experiments to determine the truth which come down on the side of free will - but do they yield the results we see - or am I programmed to misread the results? The truth cannot be determined.
A complicated dream set in my City, involving being late for work in a new location, a search for extremely expensive cigars and (of course) trying to get a bus to go where I wanted and finding the schedules baffling. At one point, when I went to look at a building, parts of whose facade moved in fascinating ways, I saw Isaac Asimov with a baton, happily leading a small orchestra or large band, obviously a celebrity stand-in. Then he went to join Ellen Kushner and Frank Sinatra at a small table. They were all laughing and gay.
[I wanted to join them, but decided it would be selfish of me to dilute their happy moment. (remembered)]
I stood by the shores where the great river of Conscience flows into a bight of the Agen Sea, wishing James Joyce could be here to stare into the infinite milky distance, contemplating the Inlet of Agen Bight.
Marianne and I had suits or devices that allowed us to breathe underwater. We went to see a museum in the shallows - all the displays were in building-sized glass cases that could be viewed from boats. These were made by the original alien race of this planet and included items as small as needles and as large as battleships. Some cases could be easily entered underwater, including one containing many coral-encrusted artifacts, some of which were displayed with a Viking's red silk shirt. When I mentioned this to Marianne, she joked, "It can't be there, where I can reach the shirt. Otherwise, I'd be wearing it!"
Later I broke through the surface of a harbor. It was winter-ice cold. The air was cold and invigorating in my lungs and for a minute I didn't know what I was breathing. I made a long, low bellowing noise then, like some great Arctic mammalian horn.
Grand Guignol as series of compulsive flashes of someone receiving messages from Elsewhere, maybe under alien control: jumbled images, with a moment of sudden clarity when she realizes she is holding a slice of human pie. She is repulsed by the thing, before its very nature forces her to bring it toward her mouth, and then she is lost in fortuitous imagery again.
A toy of the gods committing unspeakable acts to her own horror, never quite coherent enough to get out of it. ("Too strong for me.") Lost in a frequency nobody else gets. Grooving to "Alien Music." Hooked into "Alien Radio."
Of the Boulevard of Naked Angels I know only that it is named after the eponymous statues, that it has seen better days, and that it is now known for its brothels and streetwalkers.
-from a set of notes, most rather dry, on the geography of my City
I was a woman possessed by/become a shamanistic power, the spirit of fire, burning, on a balcony forever. I danced to a group of horrified and understanding woman who stood on the other side of a glass window facing upon the balcony, a message of burning, changing, enduring.
In a clean-cut '50s future I found that if I shook hands with a householder on the way out, the house would recognize trace DNA on my hand, and I could then reverse the slidewalk, stroll in, and rob the place.
Friendly aliens who like to have humans living inside them because they're gregarious and enjoy the company.
Two boys, adventuring, take a boat far North to a near-deserted island. There they encounter a small movie company. Which includes Frankenstein's monster, of such mad lust that he is kept caged. The director is shooting The Tempest, and the monster is to play Caliban. The monster is first seen (the camera angles made clear this dream was a movie) polishing a bit of wire with his fingers, trying to fashion a pick.
Dreamt I woke from Elizabethan dreams and it was night, dark. My wife asked me to turn on the light. I tried but the bulb was apparently burned out. I got up, tried a light switch - nothing.
"The power's out," I said, and went outside to see if it was just the house or the entire grid.
I heard something and flicked on my large flashlight. A barrage of sudden flashing multicolored lights and sirenlike noises drove me inside again.
I turned off all the switches I'd turned on and went to bed. "It's aliens," I said. "We'll go to sleep, be experimented upon, and forget everything in the morning." I was resigned and bitter.
"Weasels wease. That's all there is to it."
Went to a small funeral. Prince Charles was there, in town for a theater piece in which he was appearing--a three-man World War Two submarine drama. (I talked with a friend who argued it hardly mattered to anyone how good the other two actors were; his picture was on page one of the Daily News in the honor boxes outside.) I [several words indeciperable] my raincoat, I left. I could have sat with Charles, but chose instead my father's pew. I could see some ladies in it were scandalized by me. Sitting there, I studied my father's face. He was heavier and grimmer than I remembered. I wished Marianne were there so I could show her what I meant when I said that in rest he had a phlegmatic look.
In the dream my mother was dead and Dad was a widower.
"Do? Well, I suppose I'll do something about it. I'm still the finest wizard in Vienna, after all."
-softly spoken last words of a dream about information economies
(in a space capsule carved out of the bedrock)
A British naval captain complaining to his wife of the richness of a dish served to him. "Eight meatballs, covered with sauce! The cook called it Incident in Burundi. Damned tasteless, considering the news last week of what happened to those four missionaries."
His wife does not ask for explanations.
To confirm Elvis's involvement in a project for skeptics I wished to recruit, I had five handwriting experts analyze a page of his script, blind. The first said: "This is godlike handwriting. It might be God. He's definitely an evil genius, whoever he is. May I guess? Could it be . . . the Wizard of Oz?"
Dreamed I'd killed my mother in an argument and was about to go to jail for three months. I must've had mitigating factors but could not remember them, only remembered remembering them earlier. When I went to turn myself in I had no shoes and it was 9:30 a.m. and I was due in at noon. So I went walking about aimlessly in the city in my stocking feet.
I cut off an ear for my art. Almost made it both, but decided I still wanted to be able to hear. Worried what to tell Marianne and looked at the ear. Long hairs were growing from its tip. I almost trimmed them. But I had to accept that I had no authority over the ear any more.
Alarmed, distraught, I came into a hospital room. The woman there smiled in a friendly way. I said I didn't know why I'd come and she held up the most recent of a stack of cards she was writing and addressing, one to everybody on Leverington Avenue. It was a standard Hallmark card with a message something like, "Since you left, there's been a gap in my life ..." with the word gap circled and a note saying "Is this you?"
"Yes!" I said. "That's it, I'm missing half a day. Where was I? What happened to me?"
1. I accompanied him to Hell every now and then. I don't know how he'd earned his status there but they always treated him like a king.
2. I noticed in her story she used the word redaktylos to mean a human genetic engineering event. The word was an imitation of R.A. Lafferty's, a play on rhododaktylos, and could be translated not literally but by implication as "red-handed," for he thought such incursions a crime against God and humanity.
I could not tell if she were using the word knowingly and ironically, or if she simply thought it was the commonly accepted term.
Dreamed Beetle Bailey spent a hitch in Viet Nam. The government never found his body.
Scientists were studying a computer simulation of God, trying to determine whether He was a dangerous threat to humanity Who would have to be destroyed or not. The programmer who'd created the simulation kept it under control with an automatic function which, whenever the total amount of skin within simulated humanity which was destroyed by violence exceeded that destroyed by normal chafing and abrasion, diminished the simulation to a fraction of its previous powers.
Largest mall in Europe - huge, a world in itself. One day everyone wakes up to find it is controlled by Chthulian monsters. Elephants with multiple trunks who wear blue business suits and laugh scornfully. The normal is taken away and replaced with the bizarre. It is, everyone agrees, all very well done.
The death of Daffy Duck. A closely detailed documentary look at the cartoon star's last night, his carefully planned, arranged, and executed suicide, and its aftermath the next morning. Along with the script of his last (and serious) movie, in which he starred as a war pilot.
Smashed down from orbit, we were slammed to the floor of David Letterman's stage in mid-show, crisped and flattened. Letterman solicitously helped us up, commenting to one that he looked "distressingly like a severed ear."
First I dreamt a long and very strange Worldcon where everyone was very kind to me. ... Then I replayed the dream as a paranoid fantasy set in a similar situation ... in which everyone was to some degree or other in the control, willing or not, of a cultish and vindictive religion. The climax came when the hero was telling someone he doubted L. Ron Hubbard's early stories of having been in so desperate straits somewhere that he'd eaten a fish caught in a sewer "despite its being contaminated with fecal matter." Suddenly, they seized control of his mind. "How can we kill Dr. So-and-so?" He demonstrated on his own body where the leather armor wasn't. (How he'd learned this was a major prior plot point.) "And the girl?"
He leered: "The leather armor doesn't quite come down to her waist. It stops an inch above her panties. You can just take an axe and-"
Cut to a later place; he takes off his shirt in front of an older, heavy black woman. Perhaps she's his doctor. We see - and he doesn't - a freshly tattooed necklace across his chest with he words "VICTIM OF AN INSANE RELIGIOUS CULT."
She sees it and her face changes.
In an earlier dream I was briefly back in college. My old dorm was extraordinarily crowded and co-ed. Some students made a point of not wrapping themselves in towels on their way back from the showers. They stood in the halls, male and female, naked, in whatever conversations they'd been caught in. I was in a long conversation about what things they couldn't eat or ingest - they were a very health-conscious group.
Several times later in the dream I talked about this episode to illustrate how things had changed: "Man, in my day we stood around fully clothed, talking about how these cigarettes were going to kill us."
"Just because Jesus pushed Mary around, doesn't make him King Frog."
A small group of children living in contemporary Sleeping Beauty country were systematically going around to all the sites associated with her and asking questions about the Prince. In format, it was a standard child-detectives story, with adults indulgently answering the questions, thinking them no more than childish curiosity.
In one typical stop they visit a church which has a rummage shop and Sleeping Beauty shrine. The place of the Sleeping Beauty is taken by a teddy bear. It's elaborate for a church second-hand shop, third-rate as an attraction. An elderly lady sells souvenirs. She's probably a volunteer. Yes, she knew the Prince. There was always something a little off about him, something dark in his past. No; she didn't know what it was.
The children make notes. It's all coming together. They're saving the Castle itself for last.
(At one point they talk to a man who explains that African-Americans aren't into the Sleeping Beauty story. "You won't find many brothers there," he says. "It's a white thing. We just don't get it.")
It was a prison for men. Not many women dared go there in person. But they visited it in virtual, lurking unseen, great numbers of them.
Their unfelt presence was a constant and destabilizing tension.
Long, complicated and fluid dreams with shifting premises. They were all entertaining to be in as they unfolded.
The last of the three was experienced in the first person initially and then shifted to third person; for at least one scene it was experienced simultaneously as both. This was followed by a conversation with another person and his/her dog on choice of colors for the walls I/he was painting. By now, the dream had become a novel which I was reading. In the novel, the sun shone down (probably through a window; the locale was a comfortable den or living room) upon the conversation, a friendly, aloof, listening presence.
The remainder of the chapter was taken up by two stories. One was thought but not told by the character who owned the dog. Followed by a story the Sun would have told in response. It was a recollected story - all the sun's stories are old and often-told - and as it unfolded I was filled with admiration for the structure of the novel (I presume I was not the author): So many books attempt this rambling, fluid, shifting style, I thought, and they hardly ever work. Here it works; the central issue/plot of the book (whatever it was) is always present in the reader's mind. One never suspects the narrative has lost its way.
This led me to re-compose a note to one to my Clarion students: To tell her the two things she must do are to continue her romance and seduction of the written word and to study simplicity of plot. Then I wrote: "You must put your head down and run full-tilt into that stone cliff. Then you must pick yourself up, shake yourself off, and do it again. I have no way of knowing how long this will take. But you must hope it is not really a cliff but a wall, and that it will crumble before you give up."
Cannibalism, human cheese appreciation classes for schoolchildren, and astronauts-in-training skinny-dipping in liquid oxygen - a night of strong and not always pleasant imagery.
Of the thousand aspects of the short story, the single most important damn thing is this: it must end.
Odd, Laffertyesque dream about a lonely shoe salesman. He has a girlfriend - it doesn't work out. It never works out. That's the nature of a lonely shoe salesman joke.
I take him and several kids (but I've forgotten the kids' subplot) to a parallel world or some other dimension. He's gently dissolved there. I come back and give his pick-up truck to his girlfriend, who's not terribly upset about the whole thing. "There's always something incomplete about my creations," I tell her. I give her the small mold I used to make him as well. "From now on," I say, "I'll only make up traveling salesmen and farmer's daughter jokes. You won't be hearing any lonely shoe salesman jokes anymore."
"I'll believe that when I hear it," she says.
But she doesn't.
Same night, different joke:
A stock horror film with media techniques, flashy fast-cuts and so on. About people who have the power to translate themselves into virtual experience. A perverse couple were screwing across multiple realities ... lots of scratchy places, white noise, commercial snippets, when the guy says leeringly, "Violence is cool." ... She's not happy. ... It turns into a rape. ... Her screams overlaid with a graffixed NO! and Nooooooo! ... Intercut into a kind of standard horror movie. A brutalized woman sprouts hunting knives from each finger - close-cut fanning shots - threatens, menaces, plunges a knife to the hilt in the guy's chest. "This is why he was so horrible earlier," I explained to Sean. "So it would justify this long, almost endless blood-bath." But then, realizing that Sean was there, I forced myself to realize it was a dream (which I had not, a moment before) and wake up. To spare him it.
A long segment in an unfamiliar part of my City - its Northwest segment, run-down and crowded with warehouses, but with many hundreds of art studios catering to the tourist trade.
There is a girl who has become nearly immaterial and floats helpless about the city in a kind of dirigible because she has fallen in love with the wind. But because the wind loves her back, she is ultimately saved, gently crashed against a skyscraper, mooring ropes tangling with the flag lines, and able to climb in through a window.
The IURH(D) or Independent Union of Responsible Heroines (working within the medium of Dreams) is not so much a union as an advisory body, working to ensure that the characterization and motivations of dream heroines are accurately researched and clearly established, and that the scenarios in which they are portrayed are consistent with the principles of good dreamt-fiction.
A fragment: A lion with a grinning, near-human face, stalks a woman through an apartment. His body is all muscle and power. Earlier the woman was entirely human, but now she has been transformed into a beast like him. In some way this was his doing.
The lion woman pads through the cluttered room, terrified, her glasses in her mouth. They are held in her lips by one ear-piece. He moves silently after her, smirking, making no menacing moves.
She drops the glasses on the rug and makes several complex attempts to put the glasses on, but since she has no hands, it is extremely difficult. The manticore helps her to a degree, pushing the glasses back toward her with a paw, when she would otherwise lose them. Then, when she has worked the eyepieces completely open, lenses face-down on the rug, and is about to dip her head into them, he moves forward and steps on them. Crushing them.
In a frenzy of terror the woman, squinting, thrusts her face almost into his. "Who are you?" she cries. Then: "Who are you?" she screams.
He has never stopped grinning.
Now his not-human face swells to fill her vision. She can hear his smirking, insinuating grin. "I am the fire elemental..." he begins portentously.
This was not so terrifying as it might have been, for in my dream I was watching it on TV. Other things were going on. I suddenly realized it was after 11:00 p.m. and I should have picked up Sean, who was staying with friends, long ago. It suddenly struck me that in real life, terror was nothing at all like what was portrayed by the movie, but more like what I was experiencing now. I got to my feet. I reached for the phone. I forgot the show.
On my way to a parade I was distracted by a yard sale and conversation with the woman running it. Among other things I bought were several P.G. Wodehouse paperbacks I had never before heard of. One was entitled BITS AND PIECES and subtitled Short Fictions and Unfinished Fragments. The pieces were all extremely short, most between one page and three. I can recall a fragment of prose from one:
Two young artists in blue jumpsuits put on an installation in the Carnegie called "The Pornographic Bed." The bed itself was enormous, a four-poster with thick pink hangings. Inside, it was all satin comforters, silk sheets, big fluffy pillows. Outside, it was roped off with velvet museum ropes. Between the ropes and the bed a TV monitor hooked up to a VCR on a low table faced the museum-goers. It showed a live image of the empty inside of the bed - grainy security-camera black-and-white.
The two shared a video-camera. They would approach museum visitors, one filming and the other talking, and ask if they'd like to go into the pornographic bed with either of the two and be videotaped for art. "We're very cooperative," they'd say frankly. "There's not much we're not willing to do."
The patrons were not approached indiscriminately - that wasn't the point - but chosen because they'd make an interesting contribution to the art.
When someone said yes, they'd all three go inside the pornographic bed, turning off the security camera and switching on the VCR as they did so. It played prior tapes made in the bed (bright, lushly-colored) until they emerged again, rumpled and flushed and fully dressed, and switched back to the video camera.
A guard stood nearby at such times to make sure nobody tried to go beyond the rope and peek.
The rejections - "No, no," laughing, "I really couldn't" - which began with the museum director, were spliced together every night into a single tape that ran continuously on a monitor in another part of the museum, not labeled.
"Are you bisexual?" one patron asked, when approached.
No," they said, "we're artists."
After two or three days, word got out and people began showing up specifically hoping for sex. But the artists - anticipating this - had already concluded the live portion of the installation, and the visitors, waiting patiently or not for them to emerge from the pornographic bed, saw only a continuous series of tapes.
I don't know what played the first time a patron went into the pornographic bed - maybe a tape of the two artists together. But since the piece was so much about knowability, I suspect that unless you were there to see the first patron go in, there was no way to find out.
© 2001 by Michael Swanwick; first appeared
in Readercon 13 program book,