A Life in Books

The Dream Within a Dream by Lili Waters

“At times her whimsical fancy would intensify natural processes around her till they seemed a part of her own story. Rather they became a part of it; for the world is only a psychological phenomenon, and what they seemed they were.”
― Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

I have wild ideas about life. It started with books. I read the classics: the Brontes, Shelley, Blake, Hardy, Joyce, and so many others. I lived in books, and the world around me become small as the world of concept grew large and unruly. It stalked my thoughts and formed the most precise ideas about all things, regardless of their necessary definitions.

The words, themselves, became real, as real as ascetics who hold up the Good Word and look to some Heaven. The books are my first and last temple.

The words itched under my coat and shoes, and wanted me to draw fangs and hooves in the place of friends and students. Everyone seemed flat in comparison, that is, except these wild imaginings and wild places.

I could see the world as I imagined, among nightingales, persimmon trees, and the low-slung moon above the treeline. There, I was no longer in a place of one-dimensional characters, the mean dramas of humans, but in a microcosmic world of unfolding new buds and the twitch of a cricket antennae.

“..I have roots, I have roots deeper than this island. Deeper than the sea, older than the raising of the lands. I go back into the dark … I go back into the dark! Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon. Who dares ask questions of the dark? Who’ll ask the dark its name?”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, Tehanu

A life in books is an instructed one. In these books the girl survives, the moral of the story is upheld, and justice is served.

The gods of the old and new are remade, and the balance between evil and good, rectified. My life in books has prompted me to wander off into the night to seek truth and has drawn out instincts I never knew I contained.

To dream of such things is to know that it is real. To dream is to know there is another dreamer dreaming these things. Nowhere are you alone in the world that forms itself. And in this wild heart of the untamed word, I am found.

Survival Games

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Last night, on my way across the concrete sprawl of Central Phoenix, I encountered a scene straight out of some 1940s dystopic novel. The sky lit into an orange-black mass where funnels of smoke formed and people wandered around bus stops in 115 degrees, waiting for the bus… maybe just waiting. Sirens and helicopters stabbed at any kind of silence and bled into white noise. The streets were dirty. It was a mess. I watched the slow motion surrealism at the intersection in my jeep – now without air conditioning – waiting (and sweating) for the light to change and I could once again be moving through.

For someone who loves being in the stillness and retreat of nature, this scene is jarring. It occurred to me, in the cacophony and chaos, that there are very few of us who are willing and able to leave the noise and crowds for an experience to know ourselves without familiar surroundings and many distractions. Babies scream. Dogs are left in backyards to bark through day and night. Traffic hums. The heat here even seems to make some kind of sound – the exhaustion of overworked air conditioners, the muted phone conversations of people hermetically sealed in their air-conditioned sedans.

The noise is almost like a cover for a deepen truth none of us are willing to face. Could it be we have lost our innate senses? Have we stopped listening to the wind? Do we know what our skin feels like in July or how certain places contain intense magic and mystery? Do we run from intuition?

At the office, fear dominates. We fear not getting enough or getting more than we can handle. We fear getting laid off – the next best employee scooping our promotion. This fear stays tantamount to our misery. It has its own sound: in rumbling, upset guts, in whispered gossip, in our hearts constricting under high blood pressure and lethargy-borne diseases.

At home, we talk on phones at imaginary connections. When not on our phones, we blast TVs from two rooms away, play music… distract ourselves online. Then we drop into bed with the weight of insomnia and too few hours of sleep to hit the repeat button the next day.

In love, we seek the tide of desire. We escape into the flower-blood romance – the pulsating glow of sighs and cars. We sell ourselves to marriage, to encounters, to sexual fears so spoiled in their claustrophobic expressions we do not even begin to know them.

“What do you want…really,” I ask.
Inside, I turn answers of my own around some imaginary playground where children, the children I – maybe – someday – want – sing their child songs.
I turn lovers into fables. I make myths of men – their diamond promises and vampire kiss.
In the heart of Phoenix, I believe I am always leaving on one of the planes flying in and out of here.

Outside, the lights of the city blot out the star-scape. I wish for one night of darkness. I watch my neighbors walk their dogs. It is late and the desperate voices talk over dinner… hushed, wondering….

Let’s get away, I whisper.