I canít shake the idea these things are happening for a reason. But Iím still skeptical about supernatural explanations for inexplicable events, especially when I see them played out around me in the lives of others.
Itís easy to see how religious fanatics are spawned like tadpoles in a season of rain. Some epochs--the fifth and first centuries BC, the first millennium, the Reformation, the fin deí siecle, the late 1960s--are rife with tumultuous social and political change and paradigmatic shifts in human thought urged on by big leaps in exploration, technology, or catastrophe. The industrial revolution, the hegemony of science, modern warfare, the multimedia explosion, have overwhelmed our species like tidal waves, wrecking lives, cultures, traditions wholesale. Each era of massive change has birthed counter-trends, communal movements, conscientious objectors, resistors, visionaries. Some, Iíve studied and some Iíve lived through.
At the edge of a new millennium, surrounded by a generation of believers, channelers, healers, New Age mystics and shamans of all stripes and persuasions, Iíve managed, so far, to resist aligning myself with any single system of belief. Is my resolve waning as I wallow in middle-age angst?
The chain of events which has gripped me these past few years has nearly nudged me toward credulity. Perhaps as a refuge, Iíve begun re-reading contemporary scientific and philosophical texts, searching for possible explanations for the connectedness between consciousness and matter, between life and death, between my dreamworld and the real world.
The tomes are piled in my study--The Tao of Physics; The Soul of the Universe; The Physics and Chemistry of Life; Man, Mind, and the Universe; The Phenomenon of Man, dozens more. They spill over onto the floor, invading Hamletís territory under the coffee table. And, of course itís possible to conceive of plausible explanations, even fantastic ones. I canít hope for anything like verifiable proof. The uncanny testimony of experience is my only evidence.
The days proceed with uncertainty and ambiguity. At night though, the sky opens up, worlds collide, stars and galaxies fly by at the speed of light, my mind wanders, I am back on my grandfatherís farm, and my long-dead friend appears.
His amazing life halted abruptly. Mine has moved with an inexorable, exasperating pace. Yet, as everyone elseís, my days are numbered, my energy is limited, my time is finite, borrowed from the same cosmic account that finally expired for my heroes.
Leafing through an early Carl Sagan book--the one he did with the Russian astronomer, I.S. Shklovskii, entitled, Intelligent Life in the Universe, where he lays the groundwork for what was to become his Planetary Societyís mission--SETI, the search for extra-terrestrial life--Iím wondering if death could simply transport our energy outward, toward some star system of our true origin. And could we return, especially, those of us with extraordinary destinies, drive, desire?
Itís a gray January day. Some birds never leave these suburbs. All winter, a brash blue-jay has been visiting my window sill, picking up the fresh bread crumbs Iíve begun to deposit at regular intervals for him and his soaring buddies.
My reveries are brought back by a telephone call from Sheila.
"Hi, Art. How have you been lately?"
"Pretty good actually. Iím always glad when the holidays are gone, done, finished, kaput, over with."
"Real cheery, as always, Art. Hey, Tonyís away this weekend. Would you like to come over for dinner?"
"Sure. May I bring Mimi?"
"All right with me. Is she OK about Dawn?"
"What do you mean, exactly, Sheila?"
"Well, Iíd like to talk to you about Dawn. I got a videotape she made with Rose. I think youíd be interested in seeing it."
"Itís actually good to hear sheís still doing her work. I think Mimi can handle it. Iíve talked to her a lot about Dawn. She knows I still miss her."
"You wonít believe this tape, Art. Itís really way out. She takes on these other personalities... and just acts them out... with make-up and all."
"Isnít that Roseís thing? Whatís Dawn doing thatís original?"
"Rose interviews her. And Dawn just comes off like ten different people. Sheís really quite an actress."
"Sounds interesting. It will be heavy just seeing her face again, after all this time--even if itís just on tape."
Sheila was right. The tape is amazing. Hereís Dawn, dressed as a guy, talking about his girlfriend whoís a stripper. Then in the next scene, Dawn appears as a peroxide blond with a hot body and a full beard! Rose is off-camera and just asks her leading questions about her life--or the lives of these characters sheís playing.
The whole thing seems something like a room-by-room tour of a bizarre mental ward. The characters appear one at a time and tell their stories--an aging dominatrix, a construction worker who moonlights as a male exotic dancer, a straight-ahead corporate career woman who talks about her sexual shenanigans as a one-night-a-week prostitute, a gay guy who canít get it up, a psychic healer ranting about the millennium. And somewhere under all the make-up, all the different voices, all the mixed-up identities, itís Dawn. We were transfixed for the entire hour-and-a-half performance.
After it was over, we both looked at Mimi. She was in tears.
"Itís just that I thought I wouldnít like her, because of how she hurt you," she says. "But I canít help it. It was really powerful. And I like her a lot."
I reach out for Mimiís hand. Sheila gets up from her chair, strokes Mimiís hair and speaks softly to her.
"I know how you must feel, Mimi. When Art mentioned you were coming over, I wondered how you would react to the tape."
'Iím not just feeling sorry for myself, or feeling jealous of the hold she still has on Art. Instead I find myself relating to the pain and sadness and all the craziness in her characters."
"Mimiís been through a few cuckooís nests of her own, Sheila."
"We all have--especially Dawn. I donít think she could have done this before... before her breakdown."
"I guess thatís the scary part," I say. "Like her diagnosis of schizophrenia. It was just a mental image I had of her trying to cope with the different parts of herself. Then, I just imagined her getting stressed out, psychotic. I made it up in my head, because she wouldnít see me. Now, to see this tape is way over the top for me. Itís like sheís putting herself out there in a really naked way."
"On the one hand, Itís because we know her. On the other, itís a separate thing--a performance," says Sheila.
"But it seems so real--like sheís not just playing all those parts. Itís more like acting out her own shattered identity," adds Mimi.
We spent the rest of the evening engaged in talk about Dawn. Mimiís reaction was something of a surprise. She seemed more than willing to participate in the talk even though she had only second-hand knowledge of Dawn. But after seeing the tape, we all felt different about Dawn. It was like discovering this new multi-dimensional personality who was speaking for all of us, for all the separate selves we inhabit during the course of our so called Ďnormalí waking lives.
I had the insight that this "shattered self" she was exhibiting was dreamlike. Each character in our dreams is, after all, a separate identity created by the one who is doing the dreaming.
In the car, on the way home, we continued the conversation.
"Art, do you still love Dawn?"
"Obviously you donít stop loving someone unless you start to hate them or in some way resolve the relationship. I still have strong feelings for her, I guess."
"Iím glad youíre being honest with me. Maybe itís not exactly what I want to hear. But I know Iíd rather deal with whatís true."
I drove silently through a gathering snowstorm. The wind blew little icy bits across the highway while the black sky threw billowing clouds before the full moon. When we arrived home, I broke the silence that had descended upon us toward the end of our drive.
"Do you accept that I can love you both at the same time?"
"Iím here with you now, so I guess that means I accept it."
"Itís hard to believe I deserve your love at this point," I said. "Like, I was looking forward to talking about us at dinner, instead, we spent the whole night talking about Dawn."
"Well," she said. "the nightís not over yet."
It wasnít over, either. Not until dawn.
The next day, Mimi was still here. After dinner, I signed on to American Line. After an hour or so, we came across the elusive KHaring! He was participating in a public forum on art and technology.
>>Online Host: Welcome. You are in Art and Technology
>>SmartBomb: LETíS JUST DESTROY THE PLANET
>>DrPsych: What makes you think youíd survive that?
>>NetLady6: Itís just the same old same old...
>>Online Host: LookitMe has entered the room
>>SmartBomb: IíD BE WILLIN TO GO DOWN W IT!!!
>>KHaring: ... circular thinking
>>Vamp0219: in cyberspace you can be what you want
>>Online Host: ArtLong has entered the room
>>KHaring: In dreams itís not what you want, itís what you are...
>>Vamp0219: Hey, Art!
>>Online Host: KHaring has left the room
"We lost him, Art! See if you can message him."
>>Private Message From: ArtLong To: KHaring
>> You left the forum when it was just getting interesting...
Then, to our surprise, a message came back!
>>Private Message From: KHaring To: ArtLong
>> I left because it was going nowhere. Do I know you?
>> ArtLong: Iím not sure...I knew a Keith Haring once...
But you couldnít be him...<<
>> KHaring: Keith Haring is dead. Everyone knows that.
When I tried to send my response:
>> Is your real name ĎKHaring?
...I received this message:
>>KHaring is no longer signed on
"Damn! he's playing with me."
"Donít be so paranoid. He doesnít know you from Adam. Why should he stay on with you?"
"Because I want him to, Damnit!"
That night, I was alone again. I dreamed of the farm. I dreamed of Keith. I knew I was dreaming....
I was with Dawn. We were sleeping in my apartment at the, mushroom farm. It was in total disarray, like it was the day I left it. My kids, Adam and Gabe were out on the front porch, watching the Perseid meteor shower that comes back each year, around Adamís birthday, August 10.
Beckoned by my sons, we both sleepwalked out to the porch. The blazing suns of Andromeda whirled around us. Planets turned slowly, then stopped. Moons rose and set in an instant. Time itself seemed to stop. We were waiting for a train. Mirrored scenes from my life flickered on and off like strobes. Dawn flowed through space and time. Her body filled the air, the interstices between atoms. I could hear Mimi screaming, "No daddy, donít!" over and over, until her screams became a seamless staccato pulsation of flashing lights--a weft interpenetrated by Dawn--Dawn as all the women in my life, Dawn as the face of my childhood, Dawn as all the women on earth, Dawn as the hosts of heaven, the hounds of hell, Dawn as the stages of my life, Dawn in every mirror....Then a mirrored sarcophagus opened and Keith was there, standing before me, Christ-like, surrounded by blue rings that coursed up and down his unclothed body. And when I tried to speak, he held up his hand and gestured toward the rising sun...
"I am there," he said as he pointed, "And I am with you."
I stood silently amidst the flickering imagery. From the moment we walked out to the porch, I had known it was a dream, yet I was unable to utter a sound. I felt transfixed, on the verge of transformation, but stood still as stone while worlds of wonder whirled around me....
I woke up filled with a palpable sense of continuing paralysis, but with a complete recollection of my dream. I felt as if events were moving me at their own pace and that I was powerless to exert an influence upon them.
Signing on to American Line that evening, I felt a tinge of apprehension. When my mail flag signaled the presence of a message, I moved slowly toward opening the file. When the header came up, portent turned to dread.
>>E-Mail Message From: KHaring To: ArtLong
>> Subj: Nothing Dies
I checked your profile and went to your website.
I read the first two chapters of Reading Lies.
I am quite intrigued by some of the same things that interest you... art, life, death, dreams, the metaphysical dimension
Would you be willing to entertain the notion that I am, in fact, your friend, Keith?
I know this will strike you, at first, as preposterous.
I am willing to communicate if you can accept this premise. If not, I can understand why it might be unacceptable for you to do so.
I did not respond for a week. Of course, I thought about little else. Finally one night, with Mimi looking over my shoulder, I typed the inevitable response.
>>Reply From: ArtLong To: KHaring
>> Subj: Nothing Dies
What about the project, man?
I donít know exactly what I expected but the response was nothing if not appropriate.
>>Reply From: KHaring To: ArtLong
>>Subj: Nothing Dies
What about it?
P.S. As far as I can tell, it still all goes in circles...<<
"So what do you think, Mimi?"
"I think itís amazing. You should just go along with it. See what develops. What have you got to lose? I think he wants to have a dialog with you. Why not play along?"
"Yeah well, maybe I have better things to do than to play games with some psycho who gets off pretending to be someone who means a lot to me."
"What if, somehow, it really is Keith?"
"And heís using the Internet to communicate with me from beyond the grave, right? Youíve got to be kidding. It would almost be funny if I didnít have hundreds of pages and years of work tied up in making sense of all this. At least the dreams are inside of my own head... but the Internet... the system thatís open to all the kooks in the world? To tell you the truth, Mimi, this pisses me off."
"I can see that. It also must intrigue you, just a little. It does me."
"You know, youíre beginning to sound like Dawn. She humored me for months, then threw this whole thing back in my face..."
"Iím not Dawn, Art. Listen, Iíve got to get up early tomorrow. Monday morning will be here before we know it. Letís just sleep on it OK?"
Eventually... thatís just what we did. I had the exact same dream I had the night before. And I dreamed the same dream for the next three nights in a row. On the fourth day, I sent this message.
>>E-Mail Message From: ArtLong To: KHaring
>>Subj: the project
What color was your bicycle?
Whose picture was posted on your studio door?
Peace & Love,
P.S. Could we, by enlarging the circles... approach infinity?<<
The following new message appeared within seconds:
>>Reply From: KHaring To: ArtLong >>Subj: the project
2. Tim Leary
Love and Peace,
P.S. Itís not the size of the circles that matters... Itís their shape.<<
In an instant another message appeared:
>>E-Mail Message From: KHaring To: ArtLong
>> Subj: better ones
1: On our first trip together to New York, you stopped the car on Route 78, so that we could take a piss. Standing there, by a rusty barbed-wire fence, we talked about John Lennonís death.
2: When I opened the Pop Shop, you sent me $100. I sent you $500 worth of Swatch Watches, tee-shirts, and buttons.
P.S. This is the project, man.<<