Beggars in Spain
Dreamed 94/12/10 by Chris Wayan
My parents want to see my new art show--two dozen dream paintings. I'm uneasy--it feels like stripteasing at a family reunion! But they're insistent, so over the ridge we go, to Just Desserts, a cafe in the Marina district of San Francisco.
I try to look at the show objectively, and find I like it. In my studio, the work often looks dense, even cramped, but spread out and hung neatly in a cafe, its intensity and substance show better.
I'm startled how old white sober and conservative the cafe patrons are. Another world than my San Francisco, all starving artists and musicians. Do they overlook mine, as I've missed theirs?
My mom the painter says "I like these a lot. The silk banners are more your natural colors--I always suspected your computer prints limited your palette."
My dad reads all the dreams and laughs and laughs.
Now I'm glad they talked me into it. I don't have to be ashamed of my art.
At home, Alder and Sean and Julie want to play Hearts, and draft me. I don't recall the rules. They show me; reluctantly, I play. Years ago I got terribly frustrated trying to learn Hearts--I just couldn't. This time, I watch my mood more than the cards. Monitor my words--ration the number of "I don't get this" protests I'll allow myself. Play experimentally: pretend it's three separate games, for the queen of spades and the jack of diamonds and the heart suit. Can't yet see any link, balance, coordinate. So I play idly, as the whim takes me. Deliberately play to lose tricks and keep initiative away from me, let others sweat the decisions. Not only reduces my scores, but my stress! It works--I stay near zero, never get the queen. I swear to win the jack just once before I quit. It's promptly dealt to me over and over, but I'm unable to bring it in...
In the last game, I bluff Sean into playing the ace. Forced to give up the lead when (at last) I want it, I'm sure I've lost the jack. Hold onto it hopelessly, unwilling to give it up. Until it's my last card.
Alder plays her final card: a low diamond. I play the jack to win the game--literally the last card of the evening.
I got exactly what I asked for.
So why do I ask for so little?
Before bed, I read Nancy Kress's "Beggars in Spain." Explores the same questions as Bloom's "Closing of the American Mind", but in science fiction. What will this society look like if the split between an educated minority and bread-and-circus masses deepens to a permanent gulf? Leisha and the other Sleepless (genetically engineered, long-lived, intelligent, full of energy, but never sleeping or dreaming) blandly accepting their privileges, already exist: I saw them at Stanford. So do the complacent Livers (the obsolete, unimproved model of human being). What do geniuses owe ordinary people? What do the privileged and productive--for whatever reason--owe the unprivileged and unproductive? What if YOU become genuinely unproductive in a high-tech world? What if the productive hate you? What if you hate THEM? What do you owe people you hate?
My own pathological sense that I owe everyone, that I must hide and play stupid, all grew from how I was envied and persecuted as a child prodigy--exactly the socially created and defined inequality that Kress analyzes. She shows various reactions to inequality of privilege, of intelligence, of self-esteem. Alice's resentment and her compensatory mysticism, Leisha's dreamless rationality and generous idealism, Drew's fierce search for a purpose, and Jennifer's siege mentality--all are responses I've not just seen, but lived.
I read to the end. It's 4 AM. A hundred years subjective time. Don't even feel tired--reading about people like me. The end of the book, with its emphasis on dreaming and art and respect for the "unproductive" as talents lying fallow, inspires me to dream again. Feel like I put it off while hanging the art show.
Time to get back in the water.
I dream I'm talking a bit anxiously to a girl about a stretch of white water we have to swim or raft across. We both have experience, but the rapids look rough. It's not a river though: a narrow sea-arm. There are others here in the Marina district. Little shops line one, along the former path of Union Street. I can walk on the water in many spots. It's very clear and warm. Not earthly water; we're on the far side of the world, halfway thru our circumnavigation, and everything here is magical.
The store is elf-owned, like many in this neighborhood. They also built the local transit system, a net of tunnels thru the sea, invisible, because they're made of water, but a different kind of water--breathable, fast-flowing currents.
Now I'm the captain of the sailing ship circling the world. Now that we're crossing the Antipodes, I must rotate jobs among the crew. Which sailor will I make Dogsbody? It's an entry-level officer's job with great potential. One bright sailor expects the promotion--Jack Diamond. He's a Sleepless, genetically modified so he's always alert, always studying, always improving himself. But Queenie, the mysterious black woman with the wild hat, also wants it, and feels she deserves it. They don't trust her as much, because she's an outsider, but they know she's even smarter, though her mind is strange.
I pause, then announce "My decision will surprise you..." I intend to have them share the job and BOTH get officer training, a win-win judgment I'm quite proud of. Just call me King Solomon.
Except... both candidates jump to the conclusion the other one got the job, and storm off, deeply hurt.
Seeking a win-win answer, I've created a lose-lose!
NOTES IN THE MORNING
As if I didn't know the answer!
Insecurity. The gifted's curse. No, legacy. Thanks, America! Our social structure divides the gifted--thinkers and feelers, scientists and artists. So we mistrust the Other--even inside us.
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