“The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.”—Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (via sunrec)
“But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”—
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.
I’ve started jotting down my dreams and thought I’d compile them into a series of posts. They’re not stories - not in the logical beggining-middle-end kind of way. Honestly, I’m not sure what they are but Freud would certainly have a field day. So here’s Dream 1:
I stand in a sea of frogs, millions deep, miles long. Their low-groan cacophony envelopes me. I begin to sink into them as they squirm out from under my feet. Just inches from going under, the croaking roar ebbs as the billion-fold frogs retreat through time: frogs to tadpoles, tadpoles to eggs. I find a vile of something in my hand. Poison, or a drug, maybe. I uncork it and pour it onto the eggs. Under my hand, they desiccate, finally turning to black paste that holds my weight. With the poison, I build a rotted path through the eggs and begin to walk.
Sinkholes open around me, eggs collapsing down to the abyssal plain miles below. The voids quickly fill with wallowing lava. Within the lava, massive slugs writhe in ecstatic fervor. I begin to run as the gaping maws of lava and life infest the egg sea.
Finally, I reach the shore. Before me, mountains spring up. I begin to climb. As I do, twining, coral-like spires rise around me, sequoia-tall. I move faster to keep from their web. Up and up.
I reach a massive cave. It wriggles before me, edges quivering in reaction to my presence. I enter. Behind, the cave grinds shut.
Black crushes in on me. And silence. I inch forward, hands outstretched. Then light. Dim at first. I burst into a vast room. A man (naked and lose limbed) stands at its center. His face has burrowed in on itself, pocks of bone gleaming through. He is old beyond old. And he is me.
Terror grips me. I plead with him to come with me. He refuses. I can’t let him stay. Not here. Not like this.
“Useless,” he mutters. It’s my voice, but husked and pitted with age.
I grab him by the arms but he will not come. Waves of panic slam into me. He claws at me, hits me, but he is old and tired. I let him pummel me until he has lost all strength. He crumples to the floor, skin and bone. Mostly bone. I grab his hands and drag him from the room. We re-enter the darkness - so thick it takes on weight. I strain and pull, the man fighting me, gasping out pleas I don’t heed. Can’t.
Finally, we reach the cave’s mouth. Don’t turn to face it. I know I mustn’t. Instead I back against the cracked lips and push. The man whimpers. I press harder, legs straining. I feel some give. Then, release.
We spill out into light - but no ground. The mountains, the coral, the lava - all gone.
Only air greets our escape and we plummet faster and faster, forever accelerating through roaring sky. The earth appears - nearing - impact. It swallows me and I continue to fall. The dirt grinds me down, ripping skin from bone. Pain decimates any sanity I’ve got left. The man is gone. No. That’s not right. I have become the man.
After an eternity, I land in a room. Tight and dank gray. It is my prison cell - one with no no key because there is no door - no exit at all. I stay. Forever? I don’t know. It’s hard to cut the vast swath of time into pieces. Into the time, I speak a mantra: “This is my cell.” Over and over. Sometimes a shriek, sometimes a whisper.
Time trickles past and with it, a realization begins to take hold. This is my cell. I’m am not its prisoner. I am its creator.
The room grows whiter and wider. Finally, it bleaches into pure void.
I break into a run, faster and faster through the nothing. Lost in action, I don’t notice my pursuer, not until a crossbow bolt slams into my back. With the pain, time wrenches down. I watch the arrowhead burst from my chest, drenched in gore. Rage fills me. I rip the bolt free, my own viscera tugged with it.
I whip around to confront my attacker. She does not match my fury. Instead, she gazes at me - a study in calm contrition. She wears the garb of an amazon, but there is a familiarity to her. I know her, and I don’t.
Looking at her, reality warps. I know suddenly that I am dreaming and lost in a world of my creation - my own painting that drew me down.
Knowing this, I rise up. Out of my canvas world - up into the body I know, lying in bed. Next to me lies my wife - whom I know, and I don’t.
I sit up, trying to lock back into reality. A night light spills soft orange light into the room. When did we get a nightlight? It illuminates a picture, hazy at first, then details begin to condense. It reveals a sea of frogs. A falling man. Poison and pain. Running. On my wall, the painting rebuilds itself.
It locks me. I can’t turn away. An itch to return becomes fire. I rise from my bed and put a finger to the painting. As I do, it extends into a third dimension. I pull my hand back and take the painting off the wall. I touch the wall - normal. I flip the painting over; it’s black, smooth and flat. Only a signature mars the surface. It might be my own.
I sit back on the bed, painting on my lap, riding sleep’s edge. My wife, whom I know and I don’t, throws a hand onto my thigh, hooking me to this world. But the hook slips. My head falls back, imprisoned within the pillow. Eyes close. I can’t stop them.
I taste vinegar. Poison. A drug, maybe.
The tang of it rips me from sleep. My eyes snap open, my mouth all cotton and bile.
I stand in a sea of frogs, millions deep, miles long. Their low-groan cacophony envelopes me…
Listed in no particular order. I forced myself to choose only one story per writer (very difficult in some cases). There is a lot of amazing short fiction out there, but these are stories—of various styles—that have stuck with me over the years and have taught me what a story can be. I’m sure…