The Dao of Dennis the Menace
Dreamed 1986/4/17 by Chris Wayan
1: MAGENTA SQUID
I'm looking at a roadmap of the solar system. I'm planning a vacation in the outer system. But how far out among the gas giants do I want to go? Lonely highways out there; it's a long way between gas stations.
But I never get to decide. My road trip is called off. You see, Jupiter has an eccentric moon, in a cometary orbit, which turns out to be a huge, disguised spaceship. The Jovians who built it are screaming-pink squid. They build (or find) some kind of dimensional bridge between Jupiter and Earth, and spill over in a squiggly squid-horde. There were prophecies about the squid invasion, but of course no one listened. I think it was the color. Shocking pink armies just aren't serious, right?
They invade Earth! Not just our oceans--they can run around on land, in our feeble gravity. Jupiter's powerful field really beefed them up. California gets most of them, as usual with immigrants. And they just ruin our gardens, like the snails from France before them. Molluscs! I don't mean to be racist, but...
I wake up from this stupid dream and sigh in relief that our garden isn't being eaten by yet another pest.
Then my closet door bursts open and out leap three magenta squid, two meters tall, waving ray guns, and glaring with their huge slit eyes, dark-adapted for that dim Jovian light. They hiss furiously "Why do you kill and devour our Terran kin? Why should we not slay YOU?"
I flee the squid conquistadors.
I hide from the pink squid deep in an Oregon forest. Gentle hills and glades--certainly not the Cascades or Coast Range. No landmarks, and soon I'm lost. A long trek, and then the path widens and comes out on the shore of a large lake, full of low, brushy islands, covered with huts.
Oh. Not islands. Huge log rafts! They're linked, effectively bridging the lake--but will the locals let me cross? No. When they see me, they pole warily away from shore, as if I'm a threat. They aren't human people, but giant disembodied deer heads--no, wait, they have tiny bodies, trailing like afterthoughts. The Deerhead People.
The deer, too, tell me to stop eating meat. Because I need a lot of protein, I try to strike a compromise deal allowing dairy, eggs, and sea creatures that don't have centralized brains, like clams, mussels and scallops. But they say no. Even being a vegetarian isn't good enough, they say. "What about bugs on your lettuce?"
"Now wait a minute! What CAN I eat? YOU eat lettuce, bugs and all."
But they're inflexible--if I don't give up food entirely, they refuse to let me cross their lake. I hike disappointed along its winding shore.
I reach a big rambling farmhouse. The residents, human this time, let me stay the night, and relax in their Olympic pool. But I feel paranoid about the Squid Prophecies. If they find out who I am, will they blame me for the invasion, think I'm the personification of Evil, and crucify me? There are clues to the prophecies in the house. Even if I'm not Evil Incarnate, he's probably around, looking for clues himself. I almost want to meet him! Might help me, might kill me, but I'm so sick of running I don't care which anymore.
Someone in the swimming pool bites my toes! Is this a dead end, is my quest doomed? Or is it justice? I bit aquatic things, so now they bite me back...
But things get better. Several people, each of a different species, join my journey. My sister Miriel is one.
We enter a forest of shared trees--their roots interlink to form a vast living organism. Is it intelligent too? A huge purple Jovian squid follows us into the forest alone. For once, it's good we're chased by a squid. Now one of every intelligent species on Earth is wandering in this dark wood. Wow, half Dante, half Canterbury Tales! How allegorical can we get?
4: THE GODDESS SHOWS THE WAY
As long as we're holy pilgrims now, I pray for a better situation than being nibbled to death by giant squid.
And my wish is granted! A Goddess shows me the way. Well, at first she tries to discourage me, but I insist. She leads us past a dorm waiting for all of us, but the area's flood-damaged, and might flood again. I feel neutral, and she downright disapproves, so we push on. The path winds through redwoods now, into a valley; the mountains are still far ahead.
Next we meet an old woman, a Mystic Crone, who tells me "Your familiar, Silky... she's Evil!" But then she badmouths another woman too, and we run into Silky herself, and she's a beautiful young girl in this dream: charming, sexy, and warm.
Defeated, the old woman gives up character assassination, and takes up jogging.
5: THE TAO OF DENNIS
And so the Goddess leads me to a mentor, an ancient sage who can teach me the Tao. The sage she picks for me is... Dennis the Menace. He's about six. He's always about six.
Dennis lives in a strange place full of books, and platforms covered with rocks, where you're supposed to rest. Lumpy but, well, lumpy.
The Goddess tells Dennis and me to balance our time between hiking, resting, eating, reading, socializing, and so on. Not that Dennis needs to be told, really. He's famously distractable: this is his strength! Letting your attention jump around, following your active point, is what builds health. His mantra goes "Notice and do, notice and do." For about five minutes.
I must live with Dennis the Menace till I've learned how to be distractable, irresponsible, and healthy. Three words, in my case, for the same thing.
A WAKING NOTE (no really, I'm SURE I'm awake this time!)
I'm usually vegetarian but hadn't had much protein for days, so when I was offered some leftover lobster, I ate it. Eating leftovers is just sensible--it kills no one. But the dream's full of guilt about it, even though it mocks the guilt for going too far! The rules I proposed to the Deerheads are what I normally live by. If harvesting a food involves hurting or killing a creature with a brain, I don't. But anything stricter is unreasonable.
The dream had some fun with the guilt--once it'd tipped me off by letting the Deerheads go too far, the dream went all out: toe-nibblers, antichrists, prophetic crones, animas, goddesses, blah blah blah... A splendid way to teach skepticism toward LAFWAMs (Looming Archetypal Figures With Authoritative Messages).
But I do believe the last message, the last mentor... Dennis the Menace. Childish distractability is the path for me!
I'll follow it diligently--for at least five minutes.
Twelve years after I had this dream, I read The Merro Tree by Kate Waitman, a novel about artists in a future galactic society. Early in the book, I'm startled to meet a grumpy, hot-tempered alien squid! True, it turns out conquest's not her thing; she turns out to be just a frustrated costume designer. But still... So I read more closely, and found I recognized our hero's mentor, too--a sage who (due to a unique accident) has become, physically and mentally, a near-immortal child. He's small, brilliant, distractable, troublemaking, and happy. Dennis the Menace incarnate! An eternal Dennis the Menace...
I am not making this up.
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