Saturday, October 18, 2008
The cat scratching at the door just now woke me from a wonderful dream. I was traveling to a large commemorative reunion on the subject of folk music, and the destination was somehow Indiana University, home of a world famous ethnomusicology program.
At the end of the dream I was at a large public ceremony, crossing a packed auditorium to a long grassy hill – an architectural innovation involving a building both indoors and out. (Come to think of it, a bit like the wonderful Bruce Springsteen Seeger Session concert at Verizon Center.) I warmly greeted two older women I hadn't seen for some time. One was a newly bereaved widow; we hugged and she said something about how she'd long been looking forward to this event. (Now I have no idea who she was, but I was so glad to see this old friend in the dream.)
Before this I was on a bus (– isn't it interesting how in recollecting dreams, you often have to run them backwards?) where a man was giving a little front-of-the-vehicle slide show, about postcards that had once been created in Bloomington using silhouettes of people connected in some way to the world of folk music. This all was history now, an effort long in the past, but part of the day's Salute to Folk Music. (Here is a link to the work of artist Kara Walker, famous for her silhouettes, and her visual exploration of history as collusion of fact and fiction.)
A man sitting in front of me turned around and announced quietly but proudly that he'd sent 50,000 of these postcards to people over the years. 50,ooo! I thought. That's a lot of postcards! I wonder if he sends other kinds of postcards, too – or just these? Such loyalty to the postcard program – that's impressive!
Another guy across the aisle nodded his head and said he'd done much the same thing. I thought to myself – surely those two must have sent each other quite a few postcards then? How many people in the world care that much about folk music? This is a pretty select community, right? But they didn't seem to know each other. The two men shook hands, exchanged names, and shared their mutual enthusiasm for the postcard project.
I thought to myself: That's how it is in the arts – a few people keep the flames burning, through irrational but dedicated passion. 50,000 postcards! Sent by one guy! And then another guy! Just think of what that must have done to spread the word about folk music! The slide show ended to quiet, contented applause for the folk card silhouette effort issuing from Bloomington, Indiana.
So here comes my plug for dreams: they are a gift of story and unanticipated adventure. I could never have dreamed any of this up in my waking life, but there it was – a rich, exciting (and yes, mystifying) experience, inviting me to consider the riddles of my life. What does any of it "mean"? Does that matter? Or is this just an invitation to pay attention to the ways we make meaning up?
Who knew I cared so much about folk music, for example, or that so many others did too? I'll have to think about that. Was this a dream installed by the local Bloomington Entertainment & Arts District (BEAD) effort, with its focus on the value of the arts to our community? And just how are we going to define "folk" after all? (My son always pronounces this word with an audible 'l', just to bug me.)
So...a little gift delivered from the detritus of daily life, amid the pure potentiality of the universe. That last image is from www.peoplelikeus.org, the wonderful website of artist Vicki Bennett. I think it's a picture of me as a child, listening to my beloved Pete Seeger We Shall Overcome album!