the Million-Year Sentence
Dreamed 1972/5/27 by Chris Wayan
I'm 17 years old and shooting a six-minute film. It's going slowly--it's claymation. Bend the plasticine figures a little, shoot another frame; bend and shoot... a minute of film can take all day.
The film is called "Oedipus and the Sphinx." In the myth their riddle-game is deadly, but in this film, done in claymation, Oedipus anticipates the riddle, and the sphinx laughs at him. "I was only going to ask if you're free tonight." They go to a mythical-creature party. Drunk dryads, sexy centauress and mermaid... Bacchus shows up. Then a messenger arrives with a scroll inviting Oedipus to be king. He turns down the job to stay with the Sphinx. As he does, the title reappears, and the letters from OEDIPUS and SPHINX fly up and scramble, settle into a new name: PHOENIX. He transforms into a great crested bird with rainbow feathers and lives with the Sphinx. They seem happy.
Watch TV before bed--a version of "The Stranger" by Camus. They don't seem happy.
I'm driving a bed on a freeway, up and down the San Francisco hills. I know it's a dream--about dreaming! I muse, "What should I dream, now?" As long as I know, I have a choice. I drive on up the road a few miles to the Nevada desert, where a side-road makes a loop down through a valley and back. On the corner is a woman from my poetry class. She tells me "Follow the valley road."
I do. Low stone walls on both sides. Come to a schoolyard--baseball diamond, trees, grass, the high ridge of a dune over it all. I park and watch a baseball game. Strange. The balls are a foot wide like balloons, and fly off in strange directions. There is a gusty wind, but it's not just that--the balls are flying independent of the wind, too! Are the kids here telekinetic, or are the balls levitating, are they alive?
My Christian friend Jeff Carter hikes over the dune, comes down and complains to me about Existentialism's gloom. But I'm no more Existentialist than I am Christian. Why can't he go gripe to Camus?
Around us, at the dune-foot, a crowd gathers: not humans, but mythical creatures, centaurs and sphinxes and phoenixes and dryads. The models for my claymation actors! But not clay--real, alive! Here in this valley, even heads of wheat crawl like bugs on damp earth floors of huts--even a drop brings the desert to life.
As a test or ordeal, I must become one of these nature-spirits myself. Have to give up machines and the cult of objects... for one million years. A long sentence!
But I accept it. The creatures will be with me.
So we climb the dune, and from the top, surrounded by myths, I watch the world spin through all those eons. Civilization's soon gone: in the future, all that's allowed humanity seems to be a few people swinging in the jungle. But we hear the sound of a flute--one futurian has a round instrument with holes, like a big ocarina. You can play chords on it! He demonstrates for us myths. I try to understand its harmonies.
Oh. It's a skull.
We mythical creatures circle the skull-ocarina in a weightless dark, trying to understand it in totality, studying the holes and markings, blue, white, brown...
Oh. We're orbiting Earth.
And the holes in the world, the holes that make it a skull... those are what make earth-music possible.
34 YEARS LATER
This all seems to have come true--it summed up my future life.
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