Sunday, January 11, 2009

From The Fleece Of An Iron Sheep

I'm a little obsessed. Just a little. Ever since fellow Fun-A-Day blog-o-phile Stevie Steven Esteban Tadeo Lance Kelly (nee "Patrick") hipped me to the sites Strange Maps and Very Small Array, I've had my designs on delving into my own franchise of niche cartography. I managed to go back in time and make a map documenting gentrification street art in a neighborhood with a disputed moniker, somewhere in the wilds of the northeastern U.S. And then today I started mapping the 31 Dreamers (a cartogram that I haven't been able to figure out how to post just yet) so that we could see where exactly our dreams were coming in from. There's one from Texas, one from the Pacific Northwest, one from Japan, and then a whole mess from the northeastern U.S. and neighboring Quebec. Some statisticians might analyze this data and exclaim to those living outside of this concentrated dream region, "Come on people! Wake up! What are you, sleeping?" But at 31 Dreamers, we worry that the contrary is true and instead advise you,  dear reader, in the most soothing of tones:  "Please, get some rest. And if you remember your dreams, send them our way."

In 1968, science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick asked the world, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" The query was the title of a book, best known as the basis for the film Blade Runner. The backstory of today's dream pushes P.K. Dick's question a bit further (as does, in typical Kwang-tse/John Cage fashion, the cover image of a Japanese edition of the book pictured left: "Do electric sheep dream of androids?") Too bad someone already wrote three sequels to Dick's original book and boringly named them Blade Runner 2, Blade Runner 3 and (drum roll please) Blade Runner 4. Maybe we can insert the dream-of-the-day somewhere in the mix like those animated side-dish movies they made to supplement The Matrix and Star Wars sagas. It'll have to wait till when the 31 Dreamers swell to 31 Million Dreamers. Then we can make a pitch to Time-Warner.

Today's dream was dreamt in a cabin at the dawn of the New Year near Gualala, California (finally—some California dreamin!) Its dreamer is someone whose full name is so fabulous I gotta break ranks and use both first and last: Kestrel Plump, come on down! You're the next contestant on 31 Dreamers! Kestrel's dream:
I’m walking around some co-op house in my neighborhood. All these people I know are there, including my roommate Graeme. The house is amazing and sort of looks like the Mütter Museum of Medical Oddities in Philadelphia. There's a big staircase and a balcony with a wooden railing. We’re all there to see some kind of art show. The rooms are all filled with bizarre and incredible art.

At some point I go into a basement and I start messing around with steel wool, trying to make or fix something. I hold a piece of the steel wool in my mouth. It starts to fill up my mouth, almost like I’m winding a bobbin that I’m holding in my mouth. My mouth is getting full—soon the steel wool will cut me, but I tell myself that I have to finish whatever it is I’m doing and press on until my mouth is completely packed. The steel wool cuts into the roof of my mouth, cuts into my cheeks, starts to go down my throat. I am scared, but I calm myself and tell myself that I can pull it all out and I’ll be okay. I pull it out in clumps. It’s so tightly packed that it rips like a cotton ball being ripped in half when I try and pull it out.

I wander around the house, looking for a bathroom or someone to help me. There are people about, but they don't help me and obviously I can’t ask for help with my mouth so full. No one really even sees me, they just move past me. I keep pulling on the steel wool. It’s stuck into the roof of my mouth, but if I pull hard enough it comes out. It feels so good to dislodge it form my flesh, and it leaves cuts that don't bleed. I begin to worry if there is any of that weird blue soap stuff that is on Brillo Pads in my mouth, because, I think to myself, that could make me really sick. I find a little bit of it on some of the steel wool from the very back of my throat, but not very much.

The left side of my mouth is free of the wool now, but it hurts. The right side is still full. I find Chris, my partner, washing dishes. I show him my mouth. He acknowledges it, but keeps washing the dishes. I stand next to him and keep pulling the wool out, pulling out a piece that is very far back that has bits of lung and blood vessels and other tissue on it. It looks like algae that grows on rocks in the ocean. I show it to Chris. He absentmindedly says it is gross, then gets really upset, saying that a shard of the wool flew into his eye while I was pulling it out. He is really mad and leaves. I wake up.

I lay there in bed, realizing it was a dream. I run my tongue over my mouth in relief. I thought, in the dream, that my mouth would hurt for the rest of my life. But it won't. I am mildly comforted by this thought, but still disturbed by the dream and it's implications. I fall back asleep.

Kestrel, I'm less disturbed by the implications in this dream than I am by the canker sores that suddenly sprang to life in my own mouth while I was reading it. (This happen to anyone else? Leave me a comment and let me know.) The loose network of cooperative houses that annexed certain neighborhoods around the U.S. in the 1970s have gone through many phases and some remain a bustling bastion of counter-culture today. What goes on in your dream doesn't really seem that out of the ordinary for what really happens in the day-to-day in such places. Pay a visit to certain urban localities (and some rural ones too) and you'll find ad-hoc collectives who are always having art shows in grandiose Victorian group houses replete with a majestic balestrade here, a mahogany-rimmed veranda there, and enough oddball junk cluttering the whole damn place to give Philadelphia's Mütter and Mummers' museums a run for their under-funded money (though I don't think the punk palaces can a hold a candle to Philly's Masonic Temple—that jawn is or-nate!) I personally have been to the art show in your dream several times (our own beloved Fun-A-Day began in just such a place) and yeah, it was awesome with everyone there having had made something totally unique and beautifully strange.

But amongst all of the lavish wonder of innovative art, one may feel overwhelmed and even question one's own worth. "What am I doing? How am I contributing?" A person may need to get to the bottom of things . . . or hide from the other people around them . . . or go where all the useful junk and loud musical equipment and power tools are kept. Whatever the specifics, we rally ourselves to the basement where all of items of a utilitarian bent have been conglomerated into one abrasive fibrous mass. You know what I'm talking about: those fine, metallic hairs, shorn and spun from the fleecy coat of an iron sheep (pictured at the very top of this entry). Yes, I am of course referring to that substance of substances known to humans as steel wool.

Some little-known facts about steel wool, not found anywhere on the internet until now: Steel wool's texture, density and coarseness may vary. Sometimes it is found in thicker, looser, more wiry fibres that form a sort of mesh ball. These are usually from the fleece of a wooly steel mountain goat, the product of many generations of billies and nannies whose diet has consisted primarily of tin [sic—they're actually mostly steel] cans. These animals' digestive tracts have become so developed that they can actually absorb the steel and convert it directly into steel wool. The finer, denser steel wool "pad" is derived from the iron alpaca, and the "weird blue soap stuff" (mentioned in the dream) is, in fact, the lanolin secreted from this animal. Purveyors of this product assure us that this "blue stuff" is perfectly harmless, though some have a sensitivity to it.

Okay Kestrel, enough sheep shit. Whether or not this is a credible creation myth for steel wool, the question remains: why the fuck are you putting that crap in your mouth? There are echoes of the timeless threat that we allegedly heard when we were wee kiddies: "Say that again and I'm gonna wash your mouth out with..." With what? Most commercial soap is made from cow fat (cloaked on the label by its chemical compound name "sodium tallowate") unfit only for vegans and Hindus—hardly a punishment for any beef-eating American girl. Something stronger is called for, but bleach or ammonia or Drain-O or sulphuric acid might lead to your parents/teachers/nuns/whosoevers having a handful of lawsuits to play out. Nope, it has to be the steel wool, only this time you're doing it to your own offending maw—not in self-punishment for something that you actually said, but for fear of something that you might say. You're censoring yourself, spinning this wool of steel into a massive ball of dense, entangled yarn, like a mouthful of mega-mineral-fortified cotton candy that—oops!—won't melt in your mouth. And as you indulge in this act of self-silencing mental censorship, you simultaneously regret it. But the damage is done—you are injured and unable to speak as you once had.

Realizing that you're in dire oral straits, you turn to your peers, friends, neighbors, housemates for help. But they don't bloody fathom, or care about, or even recognize the problem. These others are so wrapped up in their own quagmire of self-absorption that you turn to the one person with whom you are closest: your partner. But he's too distracted by his own work to take you seriously. And when you show him the gorey bits he finds your internal complexities too icky and disturbing to even truly look at you. It isn't until your problems interfere with his own comfort that he pays attention. But instead of helping he throws a hissy fit and stamps off. I mean, how dare you flick your own innards in his blessed eyes? And mixed with the blasted fur a metal llama no less? The nerve of some people!

Kestrel, I might be as abrasive as the steel wool of your dreams here, but your story raises some issues that deserve a little consideration and confrontation. So I'll ask: Whatever did you say—or not say—that made you decide to scour your words and debilitate your ability to speak? Are the ears of your peers so sensitive to the ideas that might spurt from your lips that you feel that your oral cavity must be scraped clean to such a degree that you become both injured and silenced in the process? What kind of cult . . . er . . . "community" are you part of exactly that would allow this to happen? And who is this "partner" of yours anyway? Do you two run a law firm? A detective agency? A line-dancing studio? Whatever the arrangement,do you find the relationship to be truly equal? Or is he fixated on the dishpan-handed challenges implicit in domesticity while you are literally spilling your guts out? 

Kestrel, everything that happens to you in your dream is an invitation to do the opposite. Try taking some individual space that affords you the room to be independent. Spend time with people who really see you and listen to you rather than dis and de-prioritize you. And, most of all, open your mouth and let the words flow freely from it. Don't be afraid to create and agitate. You can leave the steel wool where it belongs: on the coat of an iron sheep.

2 comments:

nano nodes said...

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Morgão Papelão said...

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