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Jean Arp's Octopus

Dreamed 2001/2/26 by Wayan
For cartoonist Emil Ferris

THAT DAY

Overwork. I'm transcribing old journals--late 1984 when I worked at Stanford. Find the manuscript of Two Bishop Applicants, a wild dream of witches dueling over a job in the Stanford church... weird, since yesterday I read the published version for the first time in years.

Evening: watch anime. Vision of Escaflowne. Powerful! I like that Merle the shy little catgirl comes into her own--points out Hitomi's in no position to give advice, waffling between Van and Allen, basically avoids thinking about her sexual feelings, hides from herself as much as from others. "If it's nebulous, maybe it won't cause any harm".

I do that.

But the strongest moment for me is the ghost of Hitomi's grandma, telling her "Your tarot readings don't SEE the future, they CHOOSE the future. And you've been choosing from fear and anxiety. You've selected disasters for your friends! You MUST trust the world, and people, to manifest good things... if you keep living in your fears, they WILL MANIFEST." Uncomfortable message for me--though I do live in less fear than I did, I still struggle with a pessimist inside who DOES limit what I can get, do, even be. Florence Shinn argued this in The Game of Life--prayers are answered, and that's dangerous! Many of our expectations are grim, limited, even painful. We manifest stuff we don't want.

A friend comes by and talks about freedom experienced moment to moment... same damn thing.

THAT NIGHT

I'm on a library terrace in a dream city, holding a book too valuable to be allowed out of the building--but I'm amazed it's in my hands at all. It's surrealist Jean Arp's sketchbook, an 11x14" spiral-bound pad of pencil work, from 1989. I'm also amazed at that date; I thought he died decades earlier, like most of the Surrealists. To live a century or so he must have done something right.

I open it to find a picture of a complex indoor space with halls running off into deep perspective; but the entrances to the corridors also form a boxy, rhythmic composition that looks at first glance like a comics page, where each choice in the maze is a panel--a moment of time! Arp created a sense of surreal depth by using texture--from crosshatching to soft felt-pens to very hard dotted shading.

Figures scattered in an Escheresque hall. A page from surrealist Jean Arp's notebook--as I dreamt it. Sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.
Pattern marked in red on an Escheresque sketch (though it was by Jean Arp) I saw in my dream.

But behind the textures and the depth, something nags me. I keep looking till it pops out: four crucial points (junctions or visual snags) are in the same relative positions in EACH panel. They're variations on a structural theme! The four points form an irregular trapezoid--no symmetry or symbolism I can see--just arbitrary anchors. But the SAME anchors, hidden beneath the fantastic complexity of a master surrealist. That repetition-with-variation is what makes the drawing hypnotic to me.

I feel envious--this is merely an unnamed sketch in Arp's book, and it's beyond me. I'm just not a great artist. Can feel it here--the difference.

I carry the journal up to a sunny terrace with a view. Others from my art class are here... I sit on the wide parapet and explore the paper sack that was catalogued with the book. It's Jean Arp's LUNCH! From 1989. Just the leftovers, of course, but whoever saved the journal thought we might be interested to know what food he liked too. Octopus tentacle. Dream sketch by Wayan.

Sushi! Pickled ginger, wasabi, and... an octopus tentacle.

Without thinking about it, I pop the octo in my mouth and start chewing. It tastes fine, after twelve years! Rubbery, but aren't they always? Only after I've chewed it soft and am about to swallow do I really face what I've done--eaten part of a historic library item! Blush like Hitomi when she blurts out to Allen that she likes him, and when Merle points out her dithering between Allen & Van...

Suddenly I panic. Stale sushi is dangerous! And this is TWELVE YEARS stale! Ugh.

I want to spit it out, but I'm embarrassed to with my classmates there on the terrace. And, strangely, my body is saying it's safe, still fresh, impossibly, despite the years.

Transubstantiation! It's an octopian Communion wafer to the Church of Surrealism.

I wake with my mouth still full--my fear keeps me from quite swallowing Surrealism, but my embarrassment and body-sense both won't spit it out either!

I just can't digest Arp. Or spit him out.

NOTES IN THE MORNING
Girl stares at eye-moon in night sky; sketch purportedly by Jean Arp that I saw in a dream. Click to enlarge




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