Sirens in the night, somebody running away from the scene of the crime -- ambulance? police car? fire truck? What happened to bring on the screaming? No smell of smoke, no sound of a crash. Something else though, perhaps a person moaning or an animal whimpering. Dulled senses, reaching for the bedside lamp, knocking a box of tissues to the floor. Shite. The sound of somebody running through the underbrush or is it just the wind? The light carries its own weird shadows with it, not quite filling the far corner of the bedroom. My mouth is too dry to moisten my chapped lips. The closet door is ajar and something inside glints -- a blade, a belt buckle, or an eye? I had an espresso after dinner. Now I'll never be able to go back to sleep. It's tricky keeping everything straight when you're only half awake.
Some people keep a dream journal. I can't. I have too hard a time trying to distinguish between the incidents I've actually experienced and those I've merely dreamt. Often I remember the dreamt reality more vividly than the mundane. A ship going down while the party on the bridge is in full swing. An orchestra playing, just like in the movies. Or the time I was in the West Country, hiking the humped and soggy heaths of Exmoor when I came upon a group of faceless workers hacking away at the vegetation with sickles. Flushed game birds rose from their hiding places with a great clatter of wings. The sun above the field was old and dreary. A girl with lemon breath whispered in my ear, "You can do it. You can do it." When I turned to ask her what she meant, I saw a figure walking away from me, swinging a lamp giving off thick black smoke. It was a woman I used to know, I'm sure. I recognized that hair, those shoulders, that skirt. By then, the mowers too were gone and a chill wind had come up. She had tried to comfort me, but it didn't work. I was still scared.
I'm scared of poverty, even though my happiest days were when I was young and foolish and had nothing. Cooking meals on a hot plate, sleeping on the floor, keeping milk and butter in a plastic bag hung out the window so they'd stay cool. Wearing shirts from the Army Navy store that lasted for years with a little help from the sewing kit. The bunch of us, we'd mooch off each other, grab what we could when no one was looking, and go hungry every so often. Quist used to tell me it was good for the character. "Hunger'll build you up, poot. Early success'll kill you." What did he know? His economic life was a long string of failures, one after the other. But in the end he was happy, sitting on his porch, letting wind whenever he felt like it, sucking on his pipe, drinking his whiskey and milk. He had a roof over his head and a front row seat for viewing the human parade passing by.
It's one thing to be hungry at the end of the week, it's another thing to be homeless. Thank god the years when I couldn't afford a car I didn't need one to sleep in. It's different now. I've got a house and a car, but life seems more precarious, as though I could lose everything in the blink of an eye. I know I can't afford to waste a day worrying about the economics of the present, the tax collector or the loan officer at the bank, the size of my 401K or the overseas exchange rate. What am I gonna do, bury that effin gelt in a hole? There's too much to do to worry. Find good books, publish them well, develop talent, take care of relatives, bolster friends, fight the daily physical battle against inertia, gravity, decay, loss. Read and write, walk in the woods and pay attention to the natural world of which I'm part. Fight stupidity and greed and violence with knowledge, humility, and serenity. How's that for an agenda, poot? You really think you'll have time to worry about losing your shirt and getting burnt if you tackle the big stuff? No. And yet I lie awake at night marveling at how little I've accomplished, how small this life has been that I've lived thus far, constrained as I am by fear and anger and confusion.
I don't like people telling me what to do, least of all myself. You tell me what to do and I'll gum up the works. You try to sell me progress and I'll piss on your pant leg. And every time I think I've got myself quieted down enough to try the contemplative life, something intrudes -- desire, anxiety, music. I'd be a rum monk, bouncing off the monastery walls, if they ever let me in. I know myself, I could only rake stones for so long. Still, there are moments when it seems that hunting the divine fox is the noblest pursuit. Funny -- there are some illusions that I will carry with me into the grave.
My buddy Giacomo says this is a journal, these words, these sentences that come to me uncrafted. These paragraphs and blog entries out of which I wind narrative threads around my waking life. Like my heroes Emerson and Thoreau, Montaigne in his tower, Merton, others too numerous to mention. The damn espresso. It keeps me awake, but it dulls the senses. I reach for a word and it isn't there. No, I can't keep a dream journal -- I wouldn't know what to put in it. Let me shut the light and try to go back to sleep. There's only an hour and a half till daylight and the mockingbird has already begun his routine. That woman in my dream, the one walking away from me. I thought I recognized her. I believe I've seen her before. Isn't she the homeless ghost who keeps turning away from me whenever I come near?