Yearly Archives: 2009

Dreaming Up Success in 2010

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Just like dressing for success puts our best foot forward, dreaming for success can help us achieve our biggest goals this year.

Last year I shared 10 great tips for having big winter dreams. But more important than having big dreams is knowing how to work with all the dreams we have. Here’s how to make every dream count, no matter how small.

  1. Remember your dreams and write them down. Even if you only remember a word or name, color or feeling, write it down. Dream recall increases the more we practice it.
  2. Go for what makes you happy in dreams. Some traditions insist that to be happy in waking life you must pursue pleasure in your dreams. Being successful in 2010 means being bold, so start by doing what you want in dreams even if it’s something you would never do in waking life. It’s just a dream–go for it!
  3. Don’t run from conflict in your dreams. This may take some practice, but you’ve got all year, right? If there’s a dragon chasing you at night, coach yourself to turn and face it. Likewise with intruders, thieves, and other scoundrels. You will soon find it easier to overcome obstacles of all kinds during the day. Seriously, it works!
  4. Keep tabs on your health. If you are sick or injured in a dream, don’t freak out, but do heed the warning. Dreams usually work on the symbolic level, but sometimes they have direct, concrete advice for us. Always check out a health concern in a dream, it could be the best move you ever make.
  5. Pay attention when things go bad. Notice what happens just before a good dream starts becoming an anxiety-ridden nightmare. Do you hesitate out of fear? Is there a misunderstanding that sets things off the rails? Are you listening to someone with the wrong information? Figure out what the glitch is, and start overcoming it in waking life.
  6. Look for dream allies and treat them well. Dreams are full of unforeseen turns of fortune, if we know what to look for. Just as in fairy tales, if someone offers you something in a dream be gracious and thank them. It may look strange, but looks can be deceiving, and we never want to turn down what could be a golden opportunity.
  7. Always go for the highest good. If you have a choice of two actions to take in a dream, and one of them benefits you alone whereas the other benefits you and several others, take the second choice. Start now to shift those self-centered patterns in the dream world, and you may find that others are more willing to help you achieve your goals on waking as well.

We all have to sleep and dream, no matter how desperate, ambitious, or energetic we are. The good news is, our dreaming minds are perfectly capable of helping us with our waking goals–when we act in accordance with our values and stick with it in spite of the setbacks that inevitably occur. In a year where money is scarce and every advantage counts, who can afford to discount their dreams?

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

How To Stir a Pot

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One summer in the beginning of the Aughts, I spent an amazing week in Somerset with Donald Engstrom and Sharon Jackson. That is to say, the weather was amazing, the countryside amazing too, the company was fabulous, and the spot we were staying in was perfectly lovely. Our job, on the other hand, was thankless, arduous, and at times grueling.

We were teaching at Avalon Witchcamp, the first year that the camp did not have any of its regular teachers there. It was an experiment in “introducing new talent” and “altering the camp dynamics,” which surely would benefit the entire community in the long run. We were, in effect, substitute teachers while the camp was in its adolescent rebellion stage.

Having spent years working as a substitute teacher I had a premonition that it would be a tough gig, but didn’t want to believe it beforehand. After a day and a half, though, I instinctively moved into damage control mode with Donald and Sharon: Stick together. Be sympathetic to everyone, but don’t promise anything. Project confidence, and do what you do best.

We each had our strengths, but Donald had one technique that seemed to always—at least momentarily—quiet the discontented and bring the camp into some kind of altered state together. I watched him, transfixed, until I figured out what he was doing. Anyone who has seen Donald in ritual will know exactly what I mean when I call it “Stirring the Pot.” Here’s how it’s done:

First, be stocky, Swedish, and Lutheran. Have a low, gravelly voice and enjoy humming. When it is your turn to guide the energy, step into the circle and keep your gaze on the fire.

Before taking another step, extend your arm toward the center of the circle, fingers pointed slightly down to the flames like dowsing rods. Start a little hum, as low as possible, and as you do this begin to slowly swirl your fingers in a circular motion, still pointing down toward the center of the fire.

Let the hum build into something barely audible, then into a song containing actual syllables. It doesn’t matter what the syllables are exactly, but they should sound like a cross between a Native American raven chant, a Saami joik, and a middle-aged guy puttering in his garden.

Continue this stirring and singing until you have the crowd in the palm of your hand, so to speak. You’ll eventually want to say something, if only to snap people out of their trance. Take your time, and enjoy being able to talk without challenge. Cap off the ritual with warm beverages indoors, and stories told in a salacious tone. Rest easy, get up in the morning, and do it again.

Getting Ready…

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We’re all about holidays in this house: Solstice, birthdays, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, and Hangover (New Year’s) Day. It’s all good, and all cause to light the house with shiny, colorful things.

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Yesterday we headed to Deborah Oak’s place in San Francisco to celebrate the Solstice with old friends and great food. John Sulak was there, still knee-deep in his book about the Zells and about to swear off Pagans for good (present company excluded, of course). The lovely Robin Dolan gave us all a Victorian fashion lesson by wearing a gorgeous red satin corset over…a black cotton turtleneck. What Would Dickens Do?

Thorn and Jonathan were there too, and from them I got an update on the brouhaha at the Parliament of World Religions. Naturally, I am shocked and appalled. But also strangely comforted that (a) we care enough to go to these things, (b) we keep building bridges and talking with other traditions, and (c) we keep talking to each other.

Meeting up with former circle brothers and sisters gave a special glow to the evening, and I came home this afternoon warm, happy, and sated. Meanwhile, Jojo and her friend decorated the tree in our absence, and the house is now ready for the next festive event in a jam-packed week: Jojo’s 17th birthday on Wednesday!

And on it goes. Another season of cold and warmth, squalls and firelight. Tomorrow morning I am being interviewed on someone else’s radio show: “Questing—Where Is the Path?” on KWMR, 90.5 Pt. Reyes Station, 89.9 Bolinas, and streaming on the web here. I am sure we will talk about dreams, but probably also about paths and quests. Those, it seems, are never-ending.

The other night I had a dream about returning home from a teaching trip, and deciding to take the last leg of the journey up the coast by bicycle. Cycling through the verdant green hills under dark storm clouds, I glanced to my right and saw an amazing scene: there was the City in the distance, its white and gray skyline clearly etched against the broad snow-capped hills of the East Bay. Geographically it was ridiculous, but that little glimpse through the clouds was so stunning that everyone on the road pulled over to gawk, get out their cameras, and take in the breathtaking scene.

As I was ready to go, two other former circle sisters came to greet me with big hugs and encouragement, and I mounted my bicycle again, still dry in spite of the rain, and headed home.

I take this dream to be a good sign for the year to come. May it be so. May all our dreams bear full fruit, and may the bridges we have built be strong enough to bear the traffic of many years of commerce, conversation, and communion. Blessed Solstice, everyone.

Evolutionary Dreaming

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Back in August I commented in my review of Robert Moss’s new book that,

People are people…

The dirty little secret of the human potential movement is that even if we all develop to our fullest potential, our society will still not be perfect.”

Much to my surprise, I did not get a lot of blowback from that statement. Maybe people didn’t read the review that closely, or perhaps the human potential movement has lost some of its lustre—though I find that hard to believe, with our country’s obsession with self-improvement (and accompanying disregard for the real suffering of others) seemingly as dominant as ever.

In The Secret History of Dreaming, Moss details the way dreams have guided people and shaped history, and the book itself is a tremendously inspiring read. But in promoting a greater engagement with our dreaming minds, he also implies that if we do so everything will be better. Of course, the “secret future of dreaming” is outside the scope of an in-depth book on dream history, but that is what I immediately wanted to hear more about.

At the time, I thought the lack of controversy surrounding my review meant that I could set that subject aside for a while, but instead the opposite has occurred. I am increasingly curious about Sandor Ferenczi’s idea that “dreams are the workshop of evolution.” Great advances and cognitive leaps are being dreamed up by people all the time, but isn’t it premature (or at best wishful thinking) to call that process evolution?

Are we really evolving into anything new? Or is it just people, all the way down?

An Essential Study

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Phillip Zarrilli’s new book may have a title that only a theater critic could love, but the body of his work deserves to be known and practiced by a much wider audience—and in terms of this blog’s readership, I am referring to anybody involved in the expressive or healing arts, ministry, ceremony, or public speaking.

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Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach After Stanislavski is about the core of all effective expression: aligning will, mind, and subtle physical energies so that they meld seamlessly with our actions. Zarrilli has made a lifelong study of how breath, awareness, focus and movement conjoin to create believable performance, but his inquiry goes deeper than that: he is after a level of performance and presence where “the body becomes all eyes,” and one is “standing still yet not standing still.” (Disclosure: Phillip is also a cool family friend.)

His is much more an Eastern sensibility than a Western one, and Zarrilli bases his training method in large part on an intensive study of the South Indian martial art kalarippayattu, a practice that requires power and precision along with expanded attention and awareness. To the physical forms of kalarippayattu, Phillip has added breathwork and movement based on yoga and taiqiquan to create “a complementary set of psychophysical disciplines that begins and ends each day of training with a series of simple, breath-control exercises.”

The core of the book is a close and careful explanation of the exercises Phillip uses in his trainings, starting with the breath and then moving into different modes of embodied experience. The exercises and concepts used in the book are amplified to great effect by the accompanying DVD-ROM, which is very well done and adds extended video and audio clips that demonstrate what his hands-on work looks like in training and performance.

Pagan religions are all about embodiment—the immanence of the Divine in nature and in ourselves, the omnipresence of the spirits and the ancestors, Gods and Goddesses. With such a multi-layered world view, it always surprises me how very little we know about actual embodiment, let alone practice it in our rituals, celebrations, even in private meditations.

To some extent this lack is being remedied by better training, but without in-depth models of what is possible and how to get there, we won’t progress very far. This book is an excellent manual for explaining just that. It is better suited to group than individual study, because these embodied states are extremely subtle and we need reliable external feedback to train them into our bodies. But anyone who is serious about improving their ritual skills should either consult this book, or work with someone who has.

Better yet, Phillip Zarrilli travels all over the place from his studio in West Wales, training people in his system of embodied performance. He is a wonderful resource, and very approachable. The enterprising group that hires him for a period of intensive or ongoing work would find that their time and money were well-spent. And the result would benefit far more than just themselves.

So Many Blogs, So Little Time

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I have never been a blogger that can whip out short, frequent posts on the day’s most Googled topic, in the race to drive traffic to my site. Instead, I am one of many bloggers who write thoughtful pieces about the things that interest me, in hopes that those who are similarly interested will continue reading what I write because it’s good, not because it’s trendy.

Writing blog posts has meant adjusting my writing style to one that is more compact, because in this format a shorter rhythmic flow works better than essay writing. People (myself included) just don’t stay glued to a digital page for as long as it takes to read a long, expository piece.

Last Fall, by a mixture of luck and moxie, I landed a spot as blogger for the Huffington Post. That has caused me to tighten and focus my writing even more, to match the pace of the site and get more people to read my (still on the long side) posts.

I like the challenge. And while I mostly write about dreams, my raison d’être, I have had lots of fun with my last two Huffington posts, “How To Survive a Divorce” and “The Three Most Important Words In Any Relationship.” I will most likely keep experimenting with this style, the “truth-humor spritzer” as I like to call it, in my writing there.

For now, Blog o’ Gnosis and HuffPo are my two main blogging platforms. The third, at annehill.org, is where I upload podcasts from my weekly radio show, and cross-post dream-related articles from my other blogs.

For now, I can keep them all straight, and post once or twice a month to each blog. I have no plans to discontinue any of them, though I may cross-post more in the future. I have several fascinating books to review here in the next few weeks, and several interesting people to interview on the radio show as well. And the irreverent humor part of my brain is always churning up more ideas that are perfect for HuffPo.

For now, this is a workable model. However, I hope to be writing for money sometime very soon, in which case things may shift rather rapidly. If so, this would be good news. And you will hear about it here first, or possibly on my Twitter feed, or maybe in a cryptic Facebook status update.

Meanwhile, what is up with the time changing so damn late in the year? I am against it, and hope that no one is thinking of creating a New Religious Movement based on the “Fall Back/Spring Forward” cycle. Can you imagine the desperate entreaties to the Gods that would be happening right about now?

The Limits of Awareness

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Monday I stood up a friend for brunch. I didn’t mean to, and I certainly didn’t plan on it. I had been looking forward to it just a couple days before, had the meeting written in my book, and the book was with me as I did errands beforehand. Yet so complete was my forgetting that I didn’t even realize what had happened until hours later when I was back home working.

All that would have been bad enough, but the whole reason for our meeting yesterday was to make up for one a few weeks earlier, which I had also completely forgotten about. The first time it happened, I felt bad and was very apologetic. Monday’s incident left me feeling positively disoriented.

What was wrong with me, standing up the same person twice in a row? That had simply never happened to me before. I mean, if I don’t want to see somebody I don’t make plans to begin with. And when I do make plans I show up, getting there on time if not early. What’s more, when I forget something or someone I almost always feel an intuitive knock at my door, and following that can usually get back on track right away.

So what was going on here with my friend? Did I have an unconscious block against meeting her? Was there something about our plans that was out of kilter with the universe or something? Was I (shudder) losing my marbles? For the rest of my disoriented day I pondered the options.

Both attempts at meeting were marked by one important detail: shortly beforehand I had to cope with new twists and turns in a couple very stressful situations that are ongoing. When these incidents come up they have to be dealt with immediately, and they have the effect of contracting my energy field and putting me into crisis mode. But that is not news to me. What is news, and what Monday’s fiasco made me aware of, is how deep that pattern goes, and how it blocks not only my intuition but also my ability to do new things.

For someone who spends a lot of time fishing in the deep unconscious to see what morsels I can catch through dreams and synchronicity, this raises the question of whether awareness has a catch-and-release policy I didn’t know about. Must random details from our waking lives be sacrificed to the void occasionally in order for us to extract other types of information?

Being a fan of irony, this idea is appealing to me in spite of the embarrassment it causes. But since that day I have noticed that I am not the only one walking around with a pinched, worried look and a contracted energy field. It occurs to me that this is bigger than my personal dilemma, and that perhaps we all need a little tonic for our jangled nerves.

Fortunately it is October and the season is changing visibly, with the sun setting earlier and Samhain moving closer every day. This gives us a great opportunity to slow down our pace and move slowly into ritual time. Over the next few days, I intend to spend much more time in my garden, pruning back the dried flower stalks and tidying things up for the winter. Just smelling the lavender and sage as I prune is a balm to my spirit. And maybe if I do a really nice job on the rosemary bush, it will give me a much-needed memory boost. Rosemary is for remembrance after all, or had you forgetten that?

How Time Flies

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What a banner weekend—a heady mix of the new moon, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, and Autumn Equinox. The air has that piercing clarity of autumn too, with the touch of morning chill that makes the apples and pears so crisp and flavorful. My little apple tree is still too much of a fledgling to bring forth a harvest, but a next door neighbor has two neglected pear trees that are overhanging our backyard with the most succulent-looking fruit that is just about ready. Even not being a huge pear fan, I am practically salivating watching those plump, golden pears ripen slowly in the autumn sun.

This weekend was also an anniversary of sorts—the anniversary of the end of a relationship. I told my dream group the other day that it had been four years since I’d left my marriage and moved to the coast, and they were all aghast. Had it really been four years? To them it seemed like a year or two at the most. Yet having lived through every day of that transition myself, I could assure them that yes, it really had been that long.

But things do have a miraculous way of starting over. Once we declare something dead, and give it time to pass away, something new really does rise up to take its place. When my ex and I bought this property several years ago, one of the first things we did was plant some fruit trees in the back corner of the lot. We hooked these young pioneers up to the drip system, didn’t bother protecting them, and left them to fend for themselves. After about a week the deer found them and quickly made a nice meal out of every single thing we planted. Our trees were decimated, and we abandoned the project in favor of more practical things.

Then the lot filled up with construction debris from our various remodeling projects, and soon the whole place was all choked over with weeds and berry vines as well. When I moved in to stay four years ago, cleaning up the back lot was the least of my worries. I managed to haul away the household toxics and have the tallest weeds cut down to suit the fire department, but that was the extent of it.

LoqMcB

Now my sweet new boyfriend wants to plant a garden back there, and has taken the unprecedented step of actually cleaning out all the construction and yard debris. It took a while, but once the crap was hauled away and the entire place mowed to within an inch of its life, we got a big surprise.

There, newly uncovered and looking quite sturdy, was a lovely McBeth Loquat tree that had survived the massacre, with its nursery tags still attached. It had simply bided its time after being so badly treated by us and the deer, and grew back slowly under the cover of the tall weeds. Now that its drip connection is fixed and the deer have been ousted, I take great pleasure in greeting it every time I go back there to watch the garden progress.

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And that in a nutshell is how to survive a divorce. Hunker down, do what you need to do to survive, but never forget to unfurl your leaves at the least little bit of sunshine or rain. Life is too sweet, and too precious, to deprive yourself of a minute of it. And in time, you may surprise yourself by blossoming more than you ever thought possible.

Sit Down and Be Counted!

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One of the most interesting studies to come out in the past decade is Voices from the Pagan Census. The book is based on surveys that were circulated from 1993 to 1995, by hand and via magazines and newsletters, but also through the new communications tool called the “internet.” I remember coming across several copies, though the one I ultimately filled out came from an online bulletin board service.

Voices from the Pagan Census

From the several thousand responses they received, Helen Berger and her associates were able to compile the most complete picture to date of the beliefs and practices of Wiccans, Pagans, Goddess worshipers, Druids, Shamans, and Unitarian Universalist Pagans. The results are quite interesting, as they reveal varying attitudes towards family, marriage, the environment, psychic phenomena, education, life after death, and many other core issues.

Now that over a decade has passed since the original survey, many changes have occurred in our eclectic little corner of the universe. So Helen and crew updated the survey, and are now asking people to participate online, here. The new survey asks many of the original questions so the results can be compared, but it also includes questions about internet usage and other new, relevant topics. It also asks about other spiritual traditions that have been influential aside from the original six, so those of us who don’t consider ourselves strictly one thing or another now have a lot more latitude to describe our spiritual orientation.

The survey is comprehensive; open-ended questions such as “which books have been important to you” took a while to answer. But the more complex and descriptive the answers, the more we will all benefit from the final picture that emerges. All told it took me about 15-20 minutes to complete the survey.

So if you are an information geek like me, or mildly curious, or if you just want to humor the rest of us, hie thee down to the Pagan Census Revisited, have a cup of tea, and share a little bit of who you are and have been.

The Historicity of Dreaming

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That dreams have been influential in many pivotal episodes in history is accepted as fact in some circles; in other circles it is considered nonsense. Yet for anyone bothering to dig into the archives, it becomes indisputable that many important figures over time and across disciplines have been guided by their nighttime dreams—and have changed the course of history in the process.

Secret History of DreamingIf you have ever wondered where to find a worthy compendium of these stories, with footnotes and resources for further investigation, look no further than Robert Moss’s new book The Secret History of Dreaming. Not only is this a fascinating book of historical treasures, it is also a great read. Moss is a consummate storyteller, and once you’ve read his version of Joan of Arc as a tree seer, you will soon want to hurry forward and learn more about the incredibly detailed, accurate dreams that guided Harriet Tubman on her rescue missions.

From then it is just a short hop to Mark Twain’s prophetic dreams and visions, which informed his comedy but gave his life a tragic cast. Physicist Wolfgang Pauli’s wild dreams, featured by Jung in his book Psychology and Alchemy, bleed into the waking life synchronicities of this eccentric genius. And then there are Winston Churchill’s time machines, and the young 15th century noblewoman Lucrecia de León, the “dream spy” of Madrid.

This book reads like historical fiction, and for good reason. Before he began writing exclusively about dreams and active imagination Robert Moss had a successful career as a fiction writer, most notably with The Firekeeper: A Narrative of the Eastern Frontier (newly re-issued by SUNY Press). His fiction relies heavily on actual or at least plausible events and entanglements, and he is a diligent researcher of historical setting. His writing style in The Secret History of Dreaming may strike some as more imagination than history, but it works quite well for bringing the very real power of dreaming to the attention of a wide audience.

Moss calls his particular method of fleshing out the bones of a story “dream archaeology.” It involves being able “to read all the clues from a scene in another time, enter that scene, and then bring back new discoveries that will stand up to cross-examination.” After doing a thorough study of all related historical sources and getting a feel for the details of the period and culture, the dream archaeologist uses some rather familiar tools to fill in the gaps of his knowledge:

Through the arts of conscious dream travel, active imagination, and “mutual visioning,” we can enter other times and gain firsthand knowledge of conditions there that we can then research and verify…. We can reclaim the best of ancient traditions and rituals in authentic, helpful, and timely ways.

Here lies the crux of not only Moss’s method of storytelling, but his convictions about the importance of dreaming to human evolution as well as his vision of the future of dreaming. Moss is adamant that “dreaming is a vital understory in the human odyssey,” and he makes the case quite well, citing cross-cultural examples throughout history where dreaming has been both a survival skill and an integral part of daily life.

I am in agreement with Moss that we can make much better use of our dreams today: to help us weather societal, familial and personal crises, be alerted to health issues before they become serious, and communicate with loved ones near and far, alive and dead. (To name just a few possibilities.) His previous books on dreaming lay out some useful techniques and guidelines for pursuing this kind of work, developing one’s intuition and learning how to both ask questions and receive answers from the web of energy all around us, including our dreams.

He never fully explains what he hopes to achieve through these methods of creative scrying, however. In his epilogue on “The Future History of Dreaming,” Moss gets specific about the necessary “return of the seer,” as he puts it. He outlines three basic types of seer: the receivers, the travelers, and the far-seers. Receivers are mediums and empaths, receiving information, filtering it, and passing it on. Travelers engage in out of body experiences and soul journeys. Far-seers widen their inner sight and use the instantaneous power of thought to be everywhere at once, yet never leaving the body.

But to what end? How will a world filled with psychic/shamanic adepts be fundamentally better, or even different, than the world we have today? The one thing I never hear Robert Moss admit in his almost uniformly optimistic vision is that people are people. He may have traveled back to ancient Greece and found that “from the moment a pilgrim entered an Asklepian temple, he was given constant encouragement to believe that healing was available and to abandon old mental habits and self-defeating attitudes.” But I went there too, and found that not everyone in the dream priesthood was great at what they did. And while some miraculous healings did take place, there was also a powerful social expectation that pilgrims would declare themselves healed, even if they weren’t. 

The dirty little secret of the human potential movement is that even if we all develop to our fullest potential, our society will still not be perfect. Theocracy is just an election away, as we have seen quite recently. And as important (and rare) as true dreamers and healers are, it is just as important for a healthy, just society to have people who can establish good public policy and make the trains run on time.

I personally am quite relieved that I don’t live in ancient Greece, or any number of dream-centered tribal societies. I want to live in a functioning democracy where women and men have equal rights, and I also want strong dreamers to aid and support the quality of life for all. I don’t see any clear way to get there from Robert Moss’s vision, partly because the dreamers he talks about were mostly outsiders. This may in fact be the “natural” social position for the vast majority of those who take up the call and develop their own capacity to dream. 

And so, those of us who help people pay attention to their dreams are faced with a conundrum: How do we encourage people to explore the healing, liberating, transformational power of dreaming consciousness, while at the same time remaining realistic about the limits of change? How do we strive for the best result while being unattached to outcome? And most crucially, how can dreaming support the overall social goals to which we aspire? These are questions I would love to hear Moss respond to.

Robert Moss writes with unflagging optimism and energy, spinning flax into gold as he weaves his web of stories, reassuring the reader at every turn that the future of dreaming is bright. I have had that dream too, and I believe it. Yet it doesn’t answer all my questions.