Dreamed 1988/1/1 by Chris Wayan
I'm reading Lyall Watson's Gifts of Unknown Things, an account of a small Indonesian island whose best ritual dancer, a twelve-year-old girl he calls Tiamat, starts to show healing abilities. In fact, she works miracles--but the local culture is Muslim, and unlike the nearby Philippines, there's no role for shamans and folk healers, especially not girls. The village mullah persecutes her relentlessly. Watson describes their showdown with reluctant admiration for the mullah, who plucks out his own eye to top her miracles and drive her out. Watson sees this as a brave sacrifice for community stability--or something.
I come away from the book sickened by the contrast between her healing and his violent intolerance. Only slowly do I realize Watson describes Tia's ostracism as inevitable because he knows her abilities give EVERYONE the creeps--him too. He can't really identify with her. I was foolishly reading the whole story with excitement and a warm feeling: "Oh! Someone like ME! I'd like to meet her. But is she too far above me? I'm neurotic, I've sabotaged my abilities. She's so direct, she'd be a great teacher for me. And she loves to dance, too!" Meanwhile Watson is assuming we readers share the villagers' unease. When Tia revives a dead man, she goes beyond what humans can accept.
I accept it.
In fact the spookiness went over my head completely. Magic cheers me up. Why fear and hate that?
Maybe I can't criticize. There are things I fear and hate the way you non-magic people seem to fear and hate us. Things like bigots who rip out eyeballs. Naively, I assume everyone else has magical abilities too, especially the power to ill-wish, so malicious fanatics like this mullah terrify me: I assume there's little limit to their power to hurt. And I hate righteous leaders willing to hurt or kill us Tiamats "to protect the community"--their community. Rules not people. If the village mullah's willing to pluck out his eye, and cast out Tiamat, he's willing to "destroy the village in order to save it."
Oh the hell with it. I'll never meet Tia anyway. Too bad.
It's embarrassingly Freudian, I guess, but... that mullah makes me think of my dad.
See, last month, my sister Miriel said "I think our dad is quietly, subtly alcoholic. He never drinks heavily, but he does drink steadily, every day after work, to "unwind." He uses it to escape. And he pushes alcohol at me every time I see him. He knows I don't drink and yet he keeps pushing."
I felt skeptical, thought she was exaggerating the effect of his drinking. He's certainly an addict, seeking escape and comfort... but his main drugs are TV, books, any passive entertainment that distracts him from unpleasant emotions. Or actions. Alcohol's well down the list.
So I asked what my dreams thought. And...
It was vivid confirmation, and unexpected. I really thought Miriel was exaggerating. Wrong. I've been trained not to see! My dad's an alcoholic; his alcoholism has fallout; and the impact on me is threefold: my head (headaches and confusion), my solar plexus (exhaustion, stomach aches) and my pelvis (painful sex).
I'm on a terrace part way up a huge tower. I must reach the top, where I'll be free. But the Greek god Apollo stands on a balcony high above me, tossing empty wine bottles down at me. One hits my head, stunning me. Once I can't dodge, I'm an easier target. A bottle lands in my solar plexus, knocks the breath out of me. A third smashes into my pelvis and cracks my pubic bone.
He's not tossing them hard--but his carelessness (or is it casual malice?) gains momentum as it falls--by the time the bottles hit, they're near killing speed.
I force myself to my feet. It's that or die. Standing, staggering, I'm a smaller target. I slog on up the steps. Not the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but 1200! Still, I'm most of the way up. Just a few hundred steps to go! Though to reach the top, I'll have to pass him somehow. Will he let me by, or will I have to fight?
One good thing, perhaps the only good thing: the closer I get, the less his bottles hurt. He can't throw with much force, drunk as he is. It's my own distance down the steps that makes their impact deadly.
And the healing process isn't twelve steps but hundreds. Still, though it seems endless, and his blows may actually hit me more often as I near him, their force to hurt me is growing less--I'm less vulnerable.
I've been mulling that dream over for two weeks now. My dad's example taught ME to avoid everything hard or painful.
Just before bed, thoughts shuttling back and forth from Tiamat and the mullah to my dad tossing bottles at me... I decide to ask my dreams "So now what? What's the next step up the tower? Where do I go from here?"
I'm in a skyscraper, one of many created by this whimsical godlike enemy of ours. We're a mix of humans and centaurs and satyrs and other peoples, stuck high up in this complex of towers. Our enemy can whisk us into other spacetimes if he wants to. Some of us fear that he can do this because we're all just characters he invented. Are we just programs in a computer game?
It's no fun, fearing you're fictional.
He catches us all on the rooftop. Despite ourselves, we start to cringe--and he grins in pure pleasure. At last I yell "OVER THE EDGE!" and we jump off the roof. A vast drop beneath us...
I levitate. Some of the others have wings, others must use their wills as I am. We swing under the edge of the roof, not far down, and wedge ourselves like bats in the niches between the steel and concrete support columns. He can see us, of course... if he bothers to look. He usually doesn't pursue--he just wants to be rid of us.
We wait. It was brave, giving up the heights, leaving the structure. But did jumping off WORK?
And reality changes.
Suddenly, we're on a starship. We're angular stumpy critters who metamorphose to become adults. I'm listening to the Captain, who's old and beginning to fade into the other world, as we will when our time comes. At times my identity merges with his.
He complains "Why do you keep me around? I'm fading! Let me go! I want to join the others!"
All my instincts are to defer to my elder, but this is a crisis. "Because you're one of the few Adults left on this ship! All the young ones believe in this new movement--they don't want to transform, they won't become Adult! And they refuse to wear the stripy socks of adulthood, either. They're wearing SOLID COLOR SOCKS!"
The Captain's no help--he just quotes our sacred epic, the Kalevala--"Bluer socks bring higher powers." Very useful. I'll have to figure this out myself.
I start by going to the department store counter where socks are exchanged. Almost everyone there is choosing solid color socks. It's true. With stripy socks, the power is limited, channeled, but with whole sock one bright color... kids don't change into bony-plated adults. Instead you stretch into a new body form, a grown-up version of the adolescent form. One lies on the counter, an example for others to see. She wears a patterned bark skirt or loincloth, and has beautiful caramel skin, like a lanky buttered human girl at the beach. But she's masked--still fears persecution by the pro-metamorphosis faction, I guess.
Still, I recognize her. It's Tiamat!
I want to become alive, not armored.
Armor loses to Amor.
I won't become an Adult either. We'll run the ship in this new, flexible, human form, and make love, and wear the very bluest magic socks.
"Bluestocking" in 20th Century American slang meant a prude, but I'm pretty sure my dream was thinking of the Kalevala, the Finnish national myth-cycle, in which blue stockings are a sign of shamanic magic.
The stumpy creatures, and their rebellion against metamorphosis, echo a book by Madeleine L'Engle in which organelles in a boy's lung-cells are tempted by the Devil not to mature into their rooted adult form, making the boy short of breath. His sister has to go down into his cells and argue the case for maturation, even though it means losing their freedom of movement. Their debate had Christian overtones--submit, grow up, lose the world to gain your soul.
But my dream turns the idea on its head--argues that rebellion against sacrifice-obsessed, eye-for-an-eye religions, even if it seems like an adolescent refusal to mature, is justified--rebellious teens are better than the rigid adults the Old Way (and the Old World) cranks out. Healers like Tia, versus... hurters. Funny how we never use that word. We divide them up into factions, by their reasons and methods. But when you get down to it, why distinguish between a drunk dropping bottles on his kids, and a mullah who persecutes a child for healing the sick? They're both hurters.
You may know some. They get great press. Such wonderful justifications! But just ask yourself inside--you'll know.
Healer or hurter? Whatever color their socks.
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