THE ILL-FORMED TALE
Dreamed 1981/4/7 by Chris Wayan
One night I had four linked dreams. Each was a stage in a Quest: a peril to be passed. Jung would be proud, except for one little problem that spoils everything. And if this dream-story's little problem does what I hope, it'll spoil your taste for most good fiction. But don't worry; you'll like certain bad stories more. Maybe you'll even live them.
Before we get started, here's a map of the Quest, a bird's-eye view. It's how I started--as a dreambird. So follow me.
You're a sea-bird, gray and white, on a sunny day, hovering in a stiff wind over a sea like old wrinkled jeans, with worn linty little spots fraying white all around. That huge green wedge looming up over the southern horizon is the Isle of Dreams. It's an ancient shield volcano, like Hawaii--see the cliffs where lava flows stopped? They ring the peak--the isle's a conical stack of plateaus, with cliffs and falls all round. The jungle hides most paths and structures on the Island, so there's no point in scouting them out. Besides, you'll be down there questing soon; best you don't see too much. Let's head for that cape to the west--a low lava tongue. Follow it north. It's the only road to the Mainland. Ahead and to the left now, on the horizon--see, at the end of the cape, the chain of arched bridges of deep gray stone, humping along over the reefs, like brainwaves in sleep stage 3. Miles of bridges, thin as a thread in the great Sleep Sea. Vulnerable to storms, and arches often fall, all contact broken until a new one can be raised and the cornerstone set. It's an engineering marvel, to build such a continental link of simple instinctive stone. The Rem Road.
Of course, as its population is largely Jungian, things on the Isle of Dreams today often come in fours. I didn't know it, but my own attempt to climb the mountain had four stages. And here they are. But I warn you, they don't form a proper story. An improper story, yes. You'll see.
MY FOUR PERILS
THE FIRST PERIL: TRUST
I'm atop a desert mesa, in the fortress of Masada. Here was the last stand of ancient Israel, heroic, doomed--and fanatic. Masada was stormed by the Romans two thousand years ago; it can't be here around me, standing, manned. Unless I've gone even further back than that... Here I am. Here it is.
Before me, on a chest-high wooden beam, hangs a gong. It's my job to bang it. I give it my best, but I know my blow is only a ritual pre-bang for our visitor, a renowned gongmaster. The whole garrison is assembled on the parapets and stairs, waiting for me to get out of the way, so they can see his technique.
Now I'm in his body, his mind. I stand in a special pit, assume the position, and from overhead bring my striker down BONG! My unique style, for anyone with any sense knows you hit a gong from the side. I never do.
The crowd cheers. The gong has been struck. It is time. The Commander signals. There's a chugging noise and the gong swings in a crazy arc and my sunken stall jerks under me and begins to move! The gong and I are on a small mining train, winding through cheering lines of soldiers on the stone battlements of the fortress... to a dark mouth down. Jung's Mine. The cars are sucked into shadow. Color fades. I recognize this gray dusk: it's not ancient Israel, it's Guernica! The Spanish civil war! Miner's lamps are the only light. Nameless men ride in the cars before and behind me. They read papers by lamplight... like the newspapers in Guernica. I fear these fellow travelers on the Jung Train. I think they are assassins.
I gather all my courage up and ask. "I have a lot of trouble with paranoia, so don't be offended... but... do you have some quarrel with me?" They are amazed. "What gave you the idea we'd want to pick a fight with you?"
At least I recognized my paranoia, and tested it. Maybe the first two steps toward a cure. Two steps on a long path.
Down, down, the train glides on. Timbers shore up the low uneasy roof. We're beyond all light now, isolated.
Someone asks "Are we far enough down?"
"I think so" says a man before me.
They all pull out their knives and turn to me. Long bare blades shining. In terror, I leap out of the train, twist madly and slam down running, back up the grade. The trained killers skim by me, blurred yellow comets with claws, still descending. They slash at me from the rumbling cars but they're too surprised, they're already past. In a second I'm running up the track alone, though surely they'll soon be off the train and after me. I don't turn to look. I run, eyes fixed on the dark ahead, I run up and up with a merciless rhythm no matter how tired I get, for in the dark the one thing I can be sure of is that the rails and the ties are at fixed distances, and I can run blind, if I never change the beat.
And my fatigue becomes pain, and the black becomes gray, and the mouth of the underworld opens, and I come forth into the doomed fort under the desert sky, and I run across it to the edge, and on into endless air...
THE 2ND PERIL: MEETING LIFE WITH A FIST
I'm by a bay, watching the water ripple, the fine sparkle and detail. A well-run harbor, no oil-film, see? Notice the over-all wavepattern, it tells you where the harbormouth is. The dark patches are gusts of wind. And see how the tide is flowing in, under all the surface noise? A speedboat zooms by, adding another layer of complexity with its angular wake. You can read a lot in the water if you look, even if you're not an experienced sailor.
I guess I am; sailing and dockwork was my trade. And boxing. You may have heard of me, if you're an old-time fan. Used to be a champ in the thirties and forties. Popeye's the name.
Well, I'm still strong, but I got tired of meeting life with a fist. I'm trying to think things out nowadays. Been writing about what I've seen and done on the seas. The Goon, the Jeep, the Sea-Hag, the Pool of Never-Die...
I'm climbing up the ramp leading out toward the small-boat marina floating in the harbor. There's a double door of chainlink fence, and around the sides, more fence, to keep thieves from roaming the slips. It's a collar, like the cones we put on cables and ropes, to keep rats from running up them onto ships. Human rats, here. Mostly just kids who want to have beer parties on other people's boats and leave all the crap there, but you get some real thieves too.
Do I have my key? I'm carrying a heavy old manual typewriter out to the boat, it takes both hands. I struggle to reach my pocket--
I look down, and I'm shocked to see stained cement not water below me as
I totter, a long slow fatal drop. Peeling old yellow danger lines.
A guy comes up behind me, wants to pass. "Can you hold the door open for me?" I ask.
"Sure, if I can get by."
He tries to squeeze around, and throws me more off balance. "Maybe if you lift that leg--I know! Hunch your shoulders and lean to the right..." Cheerful bastard, for a jinx out to kill me. Damn near shoves me off again, and him too.
He can't get by me. Finally I drop the typewriter to the plank at my feet, and climb onto the fence-collar around the gate. I'm barefoot, and I lace my toes and fingers into the jagged chainlinks, steady myself, and swing around til my toes can grab the back side of the fence. My hands are killing me. I pull myself round and climb in toward the walkway until I reach it with both feet, let go, and squat exhausted on the planks. I pull the latch and open the double doors. As I do, I look down again, at the terrible drop, and see that I was wrong again; from this side, it's clearly only a few feet! All that fear for nothing!
Or is that only nothing looking back, on this side of the gate? What would have happened if I'd fallen from that side?
Whatever the truth is, I feel like a fool. What the hell kind of Peril is this?
THE 3RD PERIL: THE LONG VIGIL
I must hold a night's vigil in the woods. I am to find the Enchantress from the Stars. She is a local Goddess, but elusive, I'm told, unless one lures her out with fine singing. For she's camouflaged: she wears the form of a fair woman, but pelted as a wild beast: one with the wood and fallen leaves. No one in the village would tell me plainly if she takes other forms, worse forms, but I heard tales on the highroad, even counties away, dark bloody tales I'll not repeat.
Her Peril is plain and clear, though. All agree on that. I must sing to her, and keep on singing day and night until she is satisfied of my undivided concentration on her. That is the vigil.
Those who fail are never seen again.
She steps out from behind a tree before I've sung a note, and all my plans dissolve. I break into a smile and bespeak her as if we're old friends, theeing before we've even truly met! I feel warm and fearless. And though I speak, not sing, she does not slay me. She too acts like she's found a lost friend, reaching out, brushing my hands in delight. I long to stroke her. Like a cat of the East... such fine long fur.
Her speech has a curious color, of no land I've ever heard tell, and I know now that she is truly from the stars--some student or scholar of music perhaps, loving song and far tales, cast away on our barbaric earth. For as a bard, I have met such high-spirited girls at times, in wealthy and lettered families, who, were they men, would be bards or players, too enthralled by dance and song and old tales to resign themselves to the hearth or to claw like men for a high place in this harsh world. As I have met her lesser kin, so I recognize in her the signs of gentility behind her great whiteless beast-eyes, and I know her people too are refined, lovers of lore, not power. And of course this sheltered scholar, stranded among such brutes as we are, must become a goddess for her own protection, using no doubt the shards of the same lost art that let her sail the stars, as a half-drowned seaman will cow the warriors of an ignorant isle, with his bit of mirror or burning-glass.
And so I proffer my own poor shards... I ask "What is your favorite song? I would be glad to sing, if you wish it... Indeed, perhaps I should sing one at least, for the sake of your repute. I'd not be the ruin of your notoriety. How DID you keep their mouths shut, those who failed?"
She laughs, tilts her head thinking. "A song? I love your music, but any song wears thin when sung all night by a lad with a dirk who fears he must use it come dawn. Though you've guessed I never killed a one of those poor yodeling yokels. I do but promise them life, for silence--about me, that is. 'Twould be cruel to ask a vow of true silence, not of a lad with song in's veins."
"Then I'll sing when I like, and you sing when you like, and we'll stop when we get bored!" I laugh.
I've met the Enchantress from the Stars, slayer of those whose attention falters, and I love her, and she loves me. Is the vigil broken and failed? No, no; I mistook, we all mistook, whose vigil it was. Hers.
Her long vigil is past. Auditions are over. Wherever she goes, be it the Heavens or the place behind our eyes, I go too.
THE 4TH PERIL: GREEN-EYED LADY
Not I but my heroic twin must face the final Peril. It too involves a goddess--a foul goddess. Her name is Jealousy. Honest though, I'll give her that. She says it right up front, "I am a jealous God." You know the type. But sexier than old Yahweh--if you like big breasts, big hair, big heart, big nails (big nail-file too, in a truly divine handbag), big drama.
Oh, and big fear.
To survive this jealous god, you must be blind to others. You must walk through the village, arm around the Goddess, who clings and rubs and leans into you till steam comes out of your ears and other chimneys. And your eyes are piously staring up in the trees. Don't look before you step! For wherever you look, her eyes follow, and a single thoughtless flick of the eye across a female chancing by, fair, ugly, young, old, married, maiden, straight, gay... means death for her--and you. You get to die knowing you've killed some stranger with a look. You're a basilisk, your gaze is death.
For Jealousy is mad.
He goes a little mad himself. Mad in love with her.
And she with him.
It had to happen sometime, I guess.
No question of jealousy now; his adoration's too obvious. And jealousy needs doubt. By not getting what she requires, she's freed from the cage of being an archetype--being her job. Instead she becomes herself.
As soon as the Quest is over, they will live together, and happily, and easily, ever after.
We've faced the four Perils, though some were perhaps a bit less Perilous than expected. So here on the mountaintop, out of the jungle at last, I face the Goddess, who once was called Jealousy, and ask her for the Reward.
"Well!" asks Ex-Jealousy. "Did you slay the Dragon?"
"Yes," I say, and realize I did; though I hadn't thought of it so! No blood was shed, yet facing these perils has conquered my dragon: the dragon of wanting to be strong and brave. Paranoia, refusing to face the depths, running away, climbing round, feeling stupid, failing vigils, and falling in love with monsters... all these seemed to work just as well as courage and strength.
"Well," says the Goddess, "Jung might complain you did it all backwards, but facts are facts, and I know who you love and I know who I love, so I say you've won the Treasure. Welcome to the mountaintop!" And here we are, my twin and I, on the peak of the Isle of Dreams. Holding hands with two monsters, the Fearsome Beast and the Jealous God. At the end of a new path.
How'll we mark it on the map--the Anticlimactic Path?
So. Initiation quests, like allergy shots, strengthen by degrees. Stress mounts, up to some heroic orgasm. A very male form! But this dream-journey was backwards. The early, basic lessons of life--learning trust and mistrust, avoiding bad trainers, passing class barriers, learning to think instead of fight, expressing what you know--these early perils, from peers, authorities, everyday betrayals from your own shadows, these were humiliating, treacherous, murderous. But the deep work--on gender, identity, creativity, the soul--confronting the most terrifying aspects of deity--these were easy, love at first sight--all their rage dissolved, or was a myth all along. This anti-Jungian progression was right for me, and not just in the dream. I don't claim it's for everyone--other anti-climactic patterns are possible. You may live one.
Cowardly heroes, villains who fade away, and unexpected joy, are subjects perhaps fit for women and children (in romance novels and fairytales, respectively) but not for "serious" (male) literature, except as an appetizer. Conflict, violence, heroism--the, uh, meat of life! But my dream, the dream of an herbivore scared and scarred by early violence, seeks to heal from violent intensity, not create it.
When I discovered this forgotten dream in my journal eleven years after living it, I felt a weird glee that nothing got resolved except by happiness, that everything was just wrong for a story. I knew right away I wanted to type it up and see if I could annoy someone.
I want to move you: move you to frustration that all the elements of a "real" story were there, without the unconscious form that the heroic majority has stuffed us into like a whalebone corset. The well-crafted tale is a hard external shell binding life's squashy tissue. Like Masada, like any prophet's fortress on a cliff. And the Ill-Formed Tale, like ill-formed lives, like this lopsided spiral in to ridiculous joy, is a structure too. A path around the precipice... not up to the patriarch's castle, but to the wood of the Lady of Dreams.
Ill-formed lives have unexpected joy.
May you too find this joy; easy and unearned. You other exiles from the stars.
That blessing ends my little sermon.
And the sermon ends the story. Because that's unfashionable too.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
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