You know, I don't think people realize this, but we all work in our dreams. Take me. During my day job I'm a storyteller, but while I sleep I drive a taxi, ferrying people from one dream scene to another.
It's a very interesting job. I've met some of the strangest people and I've gotten into some of the most fascinating conversations. You just wouldn't believe the things that people will tell you while they're dreaming.
Well, one deep midnight I was driving around, looking for a fare, and I got to wondering about how I'd gotten this job in the first place. And how peculiar it was that I could remember being awake while I was in my taxi, but I could never remember driving the taxi while I was awake. It was sort of like being able to see out to the shore from underwater, but not being able to see what was inside the water from above the waves.
Well, I was so busy thinking about this that I didn't even notice when someone jumped into my taxicab. Until I heard a woman's voice from the back seat cry out, "Follow that dream!"
"Yes, Ma'am," I said, and stepped on it. Now I have to admit that I was acting very professional, but all the while I was thinking, "this woman sure looks familiar."
Of course looks in dreams can be so misleading. Most people look like a big ball of white light. At least until their dreams start. Then they become that mad, flickering mixture of self perception and self deception.
But there was something about this woman.
Well, another thing about being asleep is that most people can feel when you're thinking about them. And this woman was no exception. She rapped smartly on the glass divider and said, "Stop thinking about me and drive faster. It's about to start! My dreams are confusing enough without me walking in after they've already started." She seemed so uptight that I thought she was going to Wake Up. Oh, I just hate when that happens in my taxi. I lose the fare.
But suddenly she pointed out the window and said, "There it is. My dream."
Now, while you're outside them, most dreams look like an even bigger ball of white light. But the funny thing here is that everyone can recognize their own dreams. So I just aimed my taxi in the direction that she was pointing and said, "Brace yourself, Ma'am. We're going in."
And then I hit the brakes. Because when you are entering a dream, motion becomes transformation.
So at about 15 Rapid Eye Miles per second my taxicab transformed into a table and two chairs. And then my dashboard became a dessert menu. We were in a dream about a restaurant.
For an apprehensive moment I could not locate my fare box. But then I saw that it had transformed into the dinner check. I was pleased to note that every few minutes another 75 cents appeared on the tab. "Good," I thought, "the meter's still running."
I turned to the woman. "You can relax, Ma'am," I said. "It's just your basic, low grade, food anxiety dream."
But the woman kept squinting nervously at something directly behind me. Perhaps the waiter, ready to take our dessert order. So I turned around to look, and that's when I saw the strangest sight. Half of the people in the restaurant had left their seats and were lined up in front of a stage, nervously clutching guitars.
"I knew it!" moaned the woman. "Another Folk Music open mic dream! Oh, when will my torment end!"
"Why, of course," I thought to myself. "Things are never what they first seem in dreams." This restaurant was really a coffeehouse, and this woman was obviously a folk musician having an anxiety dream about getting up on stage in front of a group of strangers. Actually, It's not an easy thing to do. In fact, it's amazing how lonely you can feel up there. Especially when you're just starting out.
I felt this sudden need to reassure her.
"Relax," I said. "How bad could you be?"
Well, the M.C. began calling names. And one by one the nervous performers stepped up onto the stage, pulled out their hearts, and threw them out to the audience.
Sometimes the audience caught them.
But sometimes the audience did not. And then the hearts would hit the floor with a rather unpleasant squishy sound. After a few acts like that, an old guy would come out with a scraper and a push broom.
The woman began looking very uptight.
"He's going to call my name next," she wailed. "What should I do?"
"Start dreaming that you can play like Richard Thompson," I suggested.
"But I don't even play guitar," she said. "I'm a storyteller."
"You are! Well, that's an amazing coincidence," I began.
But just then the M.C. pointed to our table. And the spotlight that hit the woman's face was so bright that I could almost feel some of it spilling onto me.
"Folks," said the M.C., in a slightly snide voice, "We're gonna have something different now. Not better, different. Won't you please welcome a storytell --"
But before he could complete the word, the word that described what I did in the waking world, a waiter hopped onto the stage and whispered something in his ear.
When the M.C. started to grin, even I began to feel uptight.
"Folks," he said. There's been a slight change in our open mic line up tonight. One of our acts has to leave early so we're gonna put them on before the storyteller. Won't you please welcome...back together for the first time in almost 30 years...The Beatles!"
*Pop.* We were back in my taxicab, speeding away from a big ball of white light.
"Hey," I said, "What did you do that for? It wasn't over."
"Are you kidding?" said the woman. "Listen, when you have to follow the Beatles, it's over! Trust me, I have this dream all the time. First they bring out the Beatles, and then they bring out the Monkees. It just keeps getting worse and worse."
Suddenly I understood what I was dealing with.
"Tell me something," I said. "How does this dream usually end?"
"Uh, I don't know," said the woman. "I've never actually stuck around for the whole thing."
"Ah-hah!" I thought. "No wonder she keeps having this dream. Unfinished dreams become worse than nightmares. They become night weeds, popping up again and again to haunt you.
I didn't really know this woman but suddenly I thought, "I'd really like to help her. She seems so trapped."
"Listen," I said, "you have got to go back and finish that dream."
She shook her head 3 times. "No, no, no," she said, looking scared, "I can't. I don't have it in me."
Well, I could tell from her negative attitude that she was about to Wake Up. I just hate when that happens. I mean, I don't want to sound biased or anything, but I just can't stand people who are awake. They're so unreceptive. Only when people are dreaming are they like newborn infants, experiencing the world for the first time. And accepting everything they see, no matter how weird, how wild, or how true.
"Listen," I said. "You may not think that you have it in you, but I know that I have it in me. I'll go back with you. I'll even get on stage with you so you don't have to be up there alone."
The woman stopped looking scared. "You Will?" she said.
"Yes, Ma'am," I said. "It is my job. It is what I do. So, when you're ready, name your dream. And together we will follow it."
"Ok," she said. And taking a deep breath she looked behind us, straight at the big ball of white light, and said, "Storyteller."
In the way of dreams, our taxicab shivered, and transformed into a stage. The M.C. was waiting.
"You're on," he said.
"You can do it," I said.
And so the woman reached inside herself, pulled out her heart, and threw her heart into the audience.
"You know," she said, "I don't think they're going to catch it."
"Why not?" I said.
"Because," she said, "they don't have any hands."
I looked out at the audience. Sure enough, everyone in the room had stumps growing at the end of their wrists.
"Hmmmm," I said, as her heart raced towards the floor. "Not a very supportive audience. This might be a good time to stop depending on what other people think of you."
"Hmmmmm," said the woman. And just before her heart hit the floor, she turned it into a boomerang. It missed the floor by an inch and, like an angel recovering grace, it turned in the air and went zinging back to her.
Every wrist in the room sprouted a hand that grabbed and missed. And the only hand that she would let catch her heart was her own.
*Pop.* I was alone in my taxi.
Well, that figured. Dreams always end just when they're getting good, and then it's on to the next fare. You know, I don't think people realize just how hard we all work in our dreams. Like, take me. Every night I climb into my taxicab and then all night long I drive people through what they really need to see.
Although it's funny, 'cause now that I think about it, the only people who ever get into my taxicab are storytellers.