The Dreamer

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

― Henry Beston

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I have been dreaming a lot. Soupy dreams in which I’m trying to get from one place to another and no matter how hard I try, I’m moving in slow motion. Hallways change their trajectories, staircase elongate and become windy and unpredictable. People I hardly know, or haven’t seen in years, ask me questions, and though I tell them I’m trying to get somewhere, I stop to talk.

Winter is upon us and trudging through snow and slippery slush feels like one of those dreams. The dark descends in slow motion, turning day into night, the world marches past Christmas trees and merchandise. A swirl of words implores us to buy things we don’t need, while our hands are jammed deeply into coat pockets, hoping to keep warm and balanced. We are part of the amorphous excitement, while trying to maintaining our individuality.

My dog and I spent this frosty Sunday morning watching dog rescue videos. My favorite was one where a big white dog is rescued from a trash heap and pulled to safety and warmth. Tired, weary, and full of mange, she sleeps for three full days in the comfort of a warm and loving home. And then the rescuers introduce her to a little dog who is afraid of everything. And the big dog wakes from her post-traumatic stupor and plays with the little one. They become friends. I made my dog watch it twice and I cried both times. Sadie was a little more reserved. She doesn’t trust big dogs.

After the dog rescue videos we tripped further down the black hole of the internet onto a lecture about Dolphin intelligence. A researcher and her fearless crew are learning a dolphin dialect and bridging a gap between dolphin and human language. They’re doing this by playing dolphin games and assigning themselves dolphin names, a series of squeaks and squawks. And the dolphins, appreciative of the effort, are patiently waiting for the human to catch up to them and learn a thing or two.

The internet is really good for two things – watching people have sex, if you’re into that sort of thing, and watching animals play. As a culture, we’re mesmerized by watching animals we have no connection to enjoy each other, or a piece of string, water dripping from a faucet, romping in the grass. With wistful abandon, we throw ourselves into the imagined lives of animals who exude a childlike exuberance as they negotiate their animal natures in a human world. We envy them, their drive to play, their innocence. Their abandon. Their capacity to love with a sense of entitlement, but without expectation.

I closed the computer, dove into my sweater, wrapped the scarf around my neck three times, zipped the coat, and hobbled into the bitter cold, reviewing several strategies for keeping a long day light-hearted.

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On the train, eyes closed, I had a stark realization.

These studies on animal intelligence have a huge flaw. The people running them measure other species intelligence against human standards. Meanwhile, psychologists and human behaviorist can’t agree on what human intelligence is. What arbitrary items do we place on the list? Emotional intelligence? Spatial intelligence? Social intelligence? Spiritual intelligence? Book smart, physically fit, clever conversationalist?

In a way, this puzzle solving and theorizing is really a complex game, one in which the rules are always changing.

Which then made me realize that much of life is a game. Humans play. All our lives. It’s natural. People who are not able to play, either due to unfortunate circumstance or self-imposed self-hatred and fear are tragic figures because they’re cut off from a primal need to engage in the world. To laugh. To be fully human.

We might pretend, those of us lucky enough to have the luxury of play, that we’re not playing in our self-programmed rat race. We shove happiness to the side of our plates, like a dessert we’ll only look at since we’re on a diet. Something to enjoy when the laundry’s done, the money’s made, the rent is paid. It’s not a priority, not a worthy goal, and in some cases, in the richest countries in the world, not even a consideration. But we still play. Even if we pretend we’re not. And even angry, bitter people laugh.

Card games, board games, mind games, video games, basketball, softball, volleyball, flirting, dating, dreaming, puzzles, crosswords, wordplay, pinball, badminton, pumpkin carving, mud-wrestling, painting, sculpting, driving, flying, skiing, dancing, ice skating, people watching, guitar strumming, singing, cooking, gambling, gossiping, pontificating, posturing, pretending…

What a bunch of lonely hominids caught in an endless cycle of extended adolescence. Looking for a good time, a connection, someone to understand our own personal language. Playing games whether we mean to or not.

The train pulled up to 59th street and my thoughts turned back towards the Christmas crowds, work, and slippery sidewalks.

There was one other thing that caught my attention Sunday morning. It was an article about some physicists who are proving, to themselves anyway, that the universe and everything in it is a hologram.

If this is so, we are all part of someone or something else’s dream.

The implications are astounding. Which is why I waited to think about it after work, while I was sitting behind a martini, provided, in some small way, by The Dreamer who is IMG_5608dreaming me.

I was much appreciative of the martini and everything else. I like the dream I’m living for the most part. The dream martini slowed my brain just enough and made my tongue thick. It felt really nice going down.

My new theory, based on their theory, is that if we all throw some muscle into it, we can influence The Dreamer’s dream. It might feel like a slog, like a stress dream where you can’t seem to get where you’re going, but I bet, bit by bit, we can turn the dream into a beautiful masterpiece.

Maybe we can plant seeds that cause ripples in the Dreamer’s dream. Like those rare times in our own dreams when we realize we’re dreaming and can turn the dream around. Maybe instead of praying to The Dreamer, we should pray for The Dreamer. Maybe The Dreamer’s just like us. All of us.

Anyway, sitting at the bar, my friend and I pretended to speak the same language, but what we were really doing was making similar sounds. I offered The Dreamer two bold, albeit slightly tipsy, suggestions while I was eating an olive.

I whispered them so my friend wouldn’t hear. I made a suggestion about the small role I play in the dream how it could unfold. The other suggestion I made was for all beings in The Dreamer’s dream, including you.

And then I lifted my glass and without spilling a drop, I toasted The Dreamer and the dream.

My friend thought I was nuts, but lifted his glass, too.

Dogs will love and dolphins will play. Maybe one day humans will lighten up and figure out that there’s nothing to control because nothing’s really there.

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