Monday, June 23, 2008

Don't Forget Your Dreams

There are some dreams that are destined to remain as just dreams. There are other dreams that are destined to not remain as mere dreams, but to become part of the fabric of what we call reality. We know these realized dreams for what they are not, rather than for what they are, since they have lost their dream-like quality, and are now part of our ordinary reality – that part of our consciousness that we take for granted, that we might occasionally ruminate over or despise for its dreary ordinariness.

We all have examples in our lives when things that were hoped for and seemingly out of reach were eventually revealed and found to be fulfilled, only for us to be left with a sense of disappointment, as if the resolution of the once-desired thing has not brought with it the degree of satisfaction that we had anticipated when the dream was yet to be realized. It could have been a book, a toy, an electronic gadget, a friend, a lover. It matters not what it was, but that it has imparted to it the intangible substance of our dreams and desires.

This intangible essence of dreams that comes to inhabit otherwise inert objects and concepts we may recognize as the thing that writers, dreamers and philosophers for ages have called ‘magic’, a word that is less than entirely successful in describing the essence of that which is, by definition, indescribable. This word ‘magic’ is also less than adequate because of other, irrelevant, connotations with the field of the black arts and showmanship. So we will stick to calling this thing the essence of dreams.

Here we find it necessary to make a Rumsfeldian-like statement: that there are dreams we know; there are dreams we don’t know; there are dreams we know we don’t know; and there are dreams we don’t know we don’t know. Some of these dreams rest on our sleeves as obvious as the sun is in the sky, that we carry around with us as we would a favorite article of clothing, something that has come to be a part of our very personality. To give these dreams up by seeing them fulfilled would be the equivalent of giving up a part of one’s self. These are the sorts of dreams that are the most difficult for us to see realized, for we have come to rely upon the intangible nature of their disappointment as an artifact of our very personality.

The answer to these burdensome dreams is to come to the place of fully understanding where they come from, what they really mean to us, and what about their being realized that threatens our self. This is the process of letting the dream die, allowing it to die; permitting one’s self the liberty of being released from its hold.

Sometimes things come into our lives that we don’t see until later, sometimes much later, as being like a dream realized, except that the dream was unknown prior to its appearing, fully mature, into our lives. These are the sort of dreams that we didn’t known we didn’t know. Like the blossoming of a special friendship or relationship, fully mature, when it seemed least likely, and mostly unwanted, that then becomes a thing of extraordinary beauty and satisfaction.

I am reminded of the H.P. Lovecraft novella “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, in which a man, the dreamer, desires so deeply to revisit a long-lost dream-city, Kadath, that he embarks upon a dream-quest, by spending more and more of his time in sleep. These sorts of dreams, the stuff of REM sleep, we so often discard as either random neural noise, or post-Freudian symbolism working itself out like a tape loop, being played over and over in constant repetition and gradual evolution.

I wonder, however, how much of our REM dreams relate to that other kind of dream that we come to know as fond hopefulness, an expectation of some specific thing in the future. We may dream of living by the beach, or running our own business, or becoming a chef. Where did these ideas come from? Is it possible that they originated in that alternate reality within which we find ourselves spending nearly a third of our lives; yet somehow we succeed in completely erasing their memory and relevance from our wakeful state? Here is a valid argument to support the idea that to achieve total consciousness and awareness, aside from whatever else may be required, one must be aware of, during the waking state, the status of one’s dreamlife.

Many people find, as they begin to monitor their dreamlife for those patterns of rationality so important to one’s waking state, that one’s dreams have a repetitive nature to them, or that there are a series of overlapping patterns where one dream will blend into another, their period of overlap becoming eventually the seed for an entirely new sort of dream that then repeats, night after night, yet not always with the clock-like precision and regularity of diurnal time. These dreams start out making little or no sense, yet eventually become their own reality through no other reason than their repetition, and our post-waking rumination upon their meaning.

Speaking and writing about dreams is intrinsically confusing, for they seem to relate both to the past and the future. Our REM-state dreams seem to be related to, or seeded from, thoughts, experiences and other inputs from the past; yet when we speak of dreams in the sense of hopeful expectation we are obviously speaking of the future.

So, which is it: past or future? Yes. It is both, and it is neither. Being strictly literal, dreams are intangible, imaginary and cannot be dissected, weighed or analyzed in the sense that one can study the structure of a complex molecule, for instance. Dreams lack the nature of self-evidence. They only become tangible – ‘real’ – when the thing dreamt of has come to pass, has awakened, now resides in some corporeal body of evidence, at which time the dream has ceased to be. Dreams only become real when they die, which may be why the dream-state was so revered as a portal to the other side, the after-life.

Dreams also seem to demand that they be shared with others. Like many aspects of our internal life, they take on some body of solidity when spoken about aloud to others, as if our speaking is an act of creation, bringing into being the things that are not, that were not, like a silent act of faith.

Being a dreamer can be both good and bad. “He’s just a dreamer,” someone may declare, imposing some valuation upon what, to him or her, seems to be a time-wasting activity of no consequence. Yet we can also see and hear Dr. King’s resonating statement “I have a dream.” It should puzzle us, contort our conventions of mental order, to consider that dreams can simultaneously be the things we despise the most and the things we absolutely, most desperately, need the most.

Perhaps they’re merely biological, of no metaphysical or spiritual significance. My dog dreamt. She would lie on her side, fast asleep, her legs kicking as if in a joyous chase, little yelps and other guttural noises emanating. Baptist preachers would tell us that animals, having no eternal soul, couldn’t understand the things of the spirit. That dogs don’t go to heaven. Yet they dream, as we do. So, perhaps dreams are just biological, neurological oddities; see page 256 of your textbook for more information, thank you. One could also argue that poetry, therefore, is merely biological, neurological, that one cannot find the weight of the human spirit.

Einstein told us that mass – weight – is what limits us to the finite boundaries of this physical universe. Things that possess mass are bound to the time & space continuum, to the eroding laws of thermodynamics and celestial mechanics.

But dreams, they have no mass, they weigh nothing; therefore they are not bounded by the same laws that our sagging, aging and decaying bodies and world are bound to. Dreams are aethereal, ephemeral, not of this world. They are a portal, a doorway.

Don’t forget your dreams. Don’t forget to dream. Don’t forget.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Frothing Holes and Carriage Returns

It has come to my attention that the problem seems to be that my Barista machine lacks a frothing hole. I know. I thought the same thing when I first heard that term. Frothing hole. Sounds dirty, like ‘glory hole’, or some other pseudo-sexual reference. Actually, like anyone who truly relishes a good cup of espresso, having just the right consistency of dense, creamy foam is tantamount to a junkie’s fresh needle.

Let us backtrack. It is the 1980s, and I have purchased a little electric espresso machine, along with a set of little black espresso cups and saucers. They look like the kind little girls would use in their playhouse tea party. I didn’t know it then – for years, really, – that espresso machines weren’t supposed to blast hot steam through the cup of finely ground coffee, just hot water. That must explain why my coffee tasted burnt. And forget frothed milk. Let us just say that we made do with black, burnt espresso with lots of sugar.

Fast forward to just a few years ago, when I broke down and decided to spend the money on a ‘real’ espresso machine, a Starbucks Barista. I know, I know. Corporate coffee. I’ve heard it all before. The famous brand with the mermaid logo isn’t my favorite coffee shop; I have several local shops that fill that description nicely, thank you. I am reminded of a nine-month business assignment I spent in the Portland, Oregon area, and heard the moniker ‘corporate coffee’ espoused repeatedly in reference to Starbucks. What’s funny is these same critics, when challenged with ‘okay, what’s your favorite coffee shop,’ would indicate Seattle’s Best. Or Pete’s. Um, they’re corporations, too, right? In fact, it could be argued that anyone who claims a corporate chain coffee shop to be his or her favorite has never taken the time to discover the magic of a locally owned espresso house. It would be like taking out-of-town company to Denny’s for dinner. Oh, wait, that sounds like my family. Never mind.

But I still didn’t get the hang of frothing mild on the new Barista machine; I would just microwave milk, dump it into the espresso and claim ‘I don’t like lots of foam anyway.’ Then, about a month ago, we made a Sunday morning visit to a community arts outreach program called ‘The Filling Station,’ a former gas station on the original alignment of old Route 66, in Albuquerque’s Hispanic south valley, where there is found a Sunday morning music and poetry concert called ‘The Church of Beethoven.’ It was there that I tasted a really genuine cup of espresso, technically a machiatto, with a dollop of frothed milk mixed with espresso. The closest thing I had tasted was in Rome, Italy, back in the late 1990s. So, armed with a fresh reminder of my Roman coffee experience, I decided that I needed to master the art of frothing milk. Naturally, I looked at that most useful of information resources, the Internet, where I found a helpful tutorial on frothing milk.

The key, I found out, was not the fat content of the milk. I had been repeatedly told that low fat milk makes a better froth, but now I’ve found out that, although low fat milk froths easier, it doesn’t taste better. The hearty froth of whole milk foam is decidedly more satisfying. No, the secret I’ve learned is that the milk, and frothing pitcher, must be cold. The colder the better. That, plus you’ve got to work at it. It’s an art form, a skill that’s developed through practice.

As I sit down to type up this note (yes, you read correctly: type, as in Royal Mercury manual portable typewriter; there’s also my Underwood Universal manual, but I digress.) As I write this, I am drinking a delicious cup of espresso with rich, dense, finely frothed foam, the kind I would expect to find at The Church of Beethoven, served by The Espresso Artists. And I made this myself, frothed milk and all. As this pitcher of rich, dense foam – the kind that pours right out of the pitcher, not like a wimpy layer of suds floating on thin milk, that needs to be spooned out – rested in my left hand, ready to be poured into my china espresso cup, I realized that it’s only a short step along the learning curve to being able to pour out the frothed milk in decorative, artistic patterns – leafs, hearts, swirls – like a ‘real’ Barista.

I know. This is not revolutionary news, the fact that another person has discovered how to froth foam on a Barista machine. I must be, oh, the ten millionth, maybe twenty millionth, person this year. But it’s a personal victory of sorts. I know. Pathetic.

Back to the frothing hole. You see, all the ‘real’ espresso machines are supposed to have one on the end of the steaming wand. Its purpose is to induct air into the milk, along with the hot steam, the action of which helps to create the foaming action. The problem is that my Barista machine’s wand had no frothing hole. So I figured out the correct combination of wand depth and steam volume, through trial and error and many flat cups of warm milk, and viola, great foam. Well, at least this time. It remains to be seen if I can replicate today’s success on a consistent basis.

And if I do succeed in learning the art of the Barista, I will report back here. Probably using the Underwood Universal, instead.