An Archetale in the Assembling Terrania Cycle.
No one knows who came up with the adage, “No good deed goes unpunished.” It’s a common enough event in human life that many have been struck by a similar thought.
No good dream goes unpunished either. I learned this, dangerously, in San Diego.
The dream in this case was a kind of embassy for human beings to talk to creatures dwelling in the realm of imagination. Yes, it is a realm: the Dreamvale, as Firiel the wizard called it. She should know. She lives there.
We think we dream up fantasy beings, places, events, and thereby bring them into being. But what if they pre-exist us and only seem to be our inventions? That’s the dreamvaler challenge to those of us inhabiting the Coaguum, the realm of materiality. The chicken thinks she lays the egg, but the egg uses the chicken to be born.
Furthermore, what happens in the Dreamvale also happens in our world. Here, World War I; there, the War of the Ring, or any other war of fiction or fantasy you can think of. But if beings in both realms can talk to each other more freely, the pressure of collective unconsciousness that drives war diminishes, again in both realms.
“We need a kind of embassy,” said hairy-footed, crimson-cloaked Firiel to me and to Diane, my partner in crime, during a nighttime visit to the land of dreams. We talk to Firiel a lot in our sleep. When I first met her there I thought her a Renaissance Faire refugee. I had a lot to learn, much of it from her.
The embassy idea is simple. Find a group of visionaries who love to work with the imagination. They need to be open to the possibility that what they envision has a life of its own. Yes, they could be artists, dancers, poets, and novelists, the classic cohort; but anyone who loves a good story will do.
Ask them to think up a key character they like in their story of choice. The Wife of Bath. Willy Wonka. Smaug the dragon. Scheherazade the storyteller. King T’Challa of Wakanda. Whomever.
Ask them to hold the fantasy of this character having an autonomous life. Not just as a figment or complex within the human mind, but on its own, and potentially an immortal life. (Two such imaginal beings named Philemon and Salome tried to tell C. G. Jung, “We are real and not images,” but he demoted them to psychic fragments anyway.)
Now, connect with other fans of the same image across a worldwide network of fellow Dreamers. In groups facilitated by trained coordinators (not leaders), you greet one another, exchange impressions and reflections, and then brainstorm the question: What are some methods for making contact with this imaginal figure? For developing the conversation?
Meanwhile, Firiel and other Dreamvalers work together on their side to reach out and to listen, as we do. Between the realms, many creative bridges rise: here, storytelling and art, dream and fantasy, play and movement. There, scrying pool and seeing stone, glowing wand and talking griffin. All creative effort on both sides solidifying the scaffolding that binds the worlds together.
We’ve just begun to note the results. Instead of destroyed planets or dragon-incinerated cities in the Dreamvale, for instance, milder plot twists, with echoes shadowed forth in our Coaguum: a quickly extinguished brushfire, a shooting star….
Yet long ago, Ursula Le Guin observed that some of us are afraid of dragons, and of fantasy and imagination too. Some years back, fearful people who believed in only what they could measure forged a marriage made in hell with other fearful people fundamentalistically inclined. This dark group became SMOKE: Suppressive Materialism and Obtrusive Knowability Enforcement, an arm of government not unlike the similarly defunct U.S. Department of Homeland Security of oppressive times gone by.
I’ve never liked bullies. My first encounter with SMOKE agents was while ferrying fleeing gods out of the reach of materialist jailers. My second involved a disagreement with SMOKE’s director, in whose bedroom I placed some special if intrusive equipment. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these scribbles. I am happy to claim a minor role in having helped SMOKE blow away. But in its absence, some of the fires responsible for it remained lit.
The ideological arsonists behind one such fire heard about our nonprofit Dreamvale Exchange and decided that they feared Dreamers. I had drawn on the acclaim surrounding my maneuvers against the director of SMOKE to contact funders and raise money for the project. This may have been my first honest business dealing in…a while. Reporters noticed. In a country long starved of fancy and image, the project made good copy.
One day a crowd gathered outside our DE office in San Diego. Into funky, colorful North Park these scared and angry mobsters carried flashing blinkpaint signs crying out against our “contamination” of fine citizens like themselves. “Dreamigrants take our jobs!” they shouted. “Go back to the Dreamvale!”
When they pressed themselves against our office building we called the police, but they never showed. We were on our own.
“How about if you go out there and beat them up?” I asked Diane. We sat at a conference table drinking coffee. A wall screen displayed yelling, red-faced marchers. “There are only fifty or so.”
She snorted. “We’re going to need to talk to our Dreamers soon,” she noted, and I nodded. About twenty were on the premises meeting each other in person and using our networking equipment. They couldn’t hear the shouts outside, but they knew the haters were there, having come from elsewhere to harass us.
“By the way, what are ‘dreamigrants’?”
“Their word for the conspiracy notion that Dreamvalers possess the bodies of their human Dreamers and order them to take jobs away from everybody else,” I explained.
“Never let facts get in the way of a good delusion, that’s what I always say,” she said.
“We may need to hire a security force.”
Diane was not tall, but even when she was seated her green eyes commanded attention, especially when she was earnest.
“Harry, I’ve been thinking a lot about nonviolence, warriorship, and social change. Reading a lot about it too now that it’s allowed.” SMOKE had banned any literature placed on its List of Prohibited Readings. Those jailed for reading too much were still getting out.
“Whom are you reading?”
“Te Whiti, Kano Jigoro Shihan, Ueshiba Morihei, Tolstoy, John Clifford, Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr …”
“What prompted this?”
“For one, your hatred of guns. Also, my martial arts background. And now, all this civil unrest.”
“It does get one thinking…”
“Do you recall the debate between Polemarchus and Socrates in Plato’s Republic?”
“It has been a while.”
“Polemarchus argues that it is just to support one’s friends and harm one’s enemies. He’s for expedience. Socrates replies by asking: What if our friends do evil? Acknowledging this point, Polemarchus shifts his belief as summarized by Socrates: It is just to do good to our friends when they are good and harm to our enemies when they are evil.
“Socrates then drops the hammer by asking, ‘But ought the just to injure anyone at all?’”
I nodded. “It’s coming back.” And I thought: You just never know about people until you get to know them. I had first met a Diane who winked at me across a hotel counter. Then she saved my life, risking her own as well. Now she was quoting Plato. She knew no limits.
“My training,” she went on, “included aikido, an art created to defend yourself while protecting your opponents. But you can use aikido to hurt people, even kill them, as unscrupulous actors have modeled in violent films. The same with judo. Almost all martial arts advertise themselves for defense, and ethical practitioners keep firmly to that ideal. Most are peaceful. But too many aren’t.
“So I got to wondering what a martial art would look like that couldn’t be used for attack. And what a practitioner of that art might be like, and stand for. A practitioner that refused to injure anyone at all.”
“I love this idea. Are you taking students?”
She smiled. “I have to work it out first. I’m thinking of calling it Irenite, after Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace. She held a cornucopia of abundance, a scepter for authority, and a torch for lighting the way. Sometimes young Pluto sat on her arm in place of the horn of plenty. –And maybe we can resurrect the Code of Chivalry and de-genderize and modernize it.”
“Didn’t there used to be an idea about a peaceful warrior?”
“It’s an archetypal idea. Mine is somewhat different, though, because inner peace isn’t a necessary preliminary…”
A hugely amplified voice boomed out, “Dreamers, come out! We demand to talk to you.” It repeated, annoyingly.
Diane and I looked at each other.
“Tactically, it would make better defensive sense to stay in, whether the police come or not.” I felt foolish for saying it. She knew a lot more about defense tactics than I did.
“I think we should go out and talk to them, and record it.”
I was staring at the back of her coppery head before I realized it. I got up and followed her out.
Frightened Dreamers peered out of offices as we passed. Their fright made my heart ache. “Somebody record this,” I said, feeling anger rise to the occasion. “We’re going out to meet them.”
Some San Diegan days are hot and bright, others cool and cloudy. This was the latter, with blurred shadows between the cars, office buildings, shops, and diners. In a white sweater and jeans, Diane faced a street-filling crowd of sign-bearing protesters of varying ages: say, twenties up to late fifties. Some wore second-hand khaki garb and combat boots. The signs contained ridiculous spelling errors with occasional Freudian slips.
I walked toward her and stopped when a door opened behind me. Some of our Dreamers had ventured out, two of them recording on their wrist phones.
“What do you want?” she called back, positioning herself between the marchers and the Dreamers.
About fifteen feet beyond her, a thickset white man of average height spoke from the front edge of the crowd:
“We are here to make a citizen’s arrest of the Dreamers. They are breaking the laws against publicly fantasizing.” For a rabble-rouser his voice seemed somewhat high-pitched. I saw why the bullhorn.
“Those laws went out of effect,” I replied loudly, “when SMOKE disbanded.”
The man shook his head. “The laws are still on the books.”
“Nobody takes them seriously anymore,” I said.
“WE do! And we mean to enforce them.” Heads nodded behind him.
“What harm,” Diane asked him, “are our people actually doing?”
“They are letting imaginal immigrants contaminate our country.”
“The Dreamvalers are vastly enriching our knowledge and culture. Have you ever actually spoken to one?”
“They are using up all our economic resources.”
“The Dreamvale Exchange is a nonprofit. What resources do you mean?”
“They are bringing terrorist ideas with them.”
“They are responsible for all the jobs we are losing.”
“Which jobs would those be?”
The leader of the mob threw down his red-flashing “Dream Killer” sign, dropped the bullhorn, and rushed toward Diane.
Rather than retreat, she turned to present her right side, crouching slightly while raising her cupped hands to guard her face. My heart pounded.
The bully moved in, left side in front, swinging a left hook at her head. As she ducked, he came up with a right uppercut that bounced off her left elbow. He grimaced. His kick hit air. She waited, neither advancing nor retreating.
A puzzled look crossed his face. The harassers and Dreamers watched intently, silently.
This time he charged in with a left lead feint to Diane’s face. His strong straight right whipped past her left ear as she slipped the blow. As fast as he punched, her head moved from side to side, refusing to be a target. Again, she shuffled just out of range and waited.
Enraged, he rushed in to tackle her, but she pivoted on her right foot as he passed and spun away.
“Why won’t you stand and fight?!” he called out.
“I won’t hurt you or let you hurt anyone else,” she replied, circling away from his rear hand. She glanced at the crowd.
“I’m sorry you’re scared and losing work,” she told them while keeping her eyes on their spokesman, “but the Dreamers aren’t responsible. You should find out who really is.”
She could easily have ended the fight. I had seen her in action in the gym. Her new commitment to non-harm was a much riskier and more difficult tactic than, say, a fast kick to the throat.
The contest went on, with him attacking and her slipping, ducking, blocking, parrying, and sidestepping. The knuckles of his left hand bled after striking a guarding elbow. At one point he actually caught her around the waist and tried to slam her against a nearby car. She brought her feet up just before the impact, pushed off, and somersaulted out of his grasp. He stumbled, fell briefly, and got up again.
My ears caught a murmur in the ranks. “Come on,” someone called out. “Finish this so we can arrest them.” But their champion was getting winded. Diane was not only faster but fitter.
I began to see the real power of her approach. Letting her attacker beat her might have broadcast an injustice, but it would also have fired the malicious blood in him and everyone on his side. They might also have held her in contempt, a weakling too scared to defend herself. Bullies tend not to get the point of purely passive resistance.
Instead, their mood of hot scorn melted into slow admiration as she demonstrated two intentions normally considered incompatible: the skill of a fearless fighter and the refusal to hurt an opponent.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a second man moving forward. He was lean and quick, and I saw a blade in his hand.
“Diane!” I called out, but she had seen him. She whipped off her light sweater and wound it around her left arm, holding it close to her body like a vertical shield.
The new assailant gripped the knife by the haft with the point forward, edge down. He moved it in small semicircles as he closed with her. He meant business. I remembered his sort from the work camps, and how most of the other men kept clear.
She blocked two jabs, but a sudden slash stained her left cheek red. She danced back, not letting the two attackers get on opposite sides of her.
I found myself sprinting toward them with no clear idea of what I would do when I got close. As I ran, Diane blocked another knife jab and ducked under a swing from the other attacker.
A forearm block sent the knife spinning into the street. Its owner ran after it.
As though all impelled by the same instinct, onlookers from both sides dashed forward and crowded around the three combatants. That put an end to the fight. I looked for the knife but it had vanished.
With one mind, most of the harassers turned then and walked quietly away, some looking back at Diane as a Dreamer doctor sat her down and began examining her cheek. A few of the crowd stayed to talk to some of the Dreamers.
I tensed to see the first attacker walking toward Diane. He wiped sweat from his face and looked sadly down at her, breathing deeply.
“I’m sorry,” he growled, “for attacking you.” Then he too left the field.
I crouched next to her.
“That,” I told her, “was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen anybody do.”
She flushed and looked away.
“You were just talking about all this. See what happens when you invoke Plato.”
“Next time I’ll pick Mother Goose.”
“I predict converts.”
“What visionaries would you expect from a bunch like that?”
“You know what? Everybody is a Dreamer. Some of us just do it more consciously than others.”
“True, and sometimes we reject what we are about to fall deeply in love with.”
“You’ll have a scar to remember this by, looks like.”
“I’m sure it won’t be the last. I think I just found my calling.”
“Isn’t Acheron kind of a grim name?” Diane asked as she came aboard. A stray harbor breeze played with her cupric bob. This day had decided to be hot and bright, so the mid-afternoon winds were welcome.
I handed her an opened bottle of Mythos. We sat down near the rail facing the city skyline.
“It fitted my previous occupation. Now, though, I might have to sell this boat and buy a new one. You can help me name it.”
“Speaking of names, I’ve thought of what I want to call my students once they graduate: Irenic Chevaliers.”
“It has a lot of syllables.”
“Six. Well, then how about ‘Knights of Peace.’”
“The original meaning of ‘knight’ meant ‘service.’ And they do have to be tough.”
“Truth. –Will they ride horses, then?”
“Such a literalist.”
“Still on names, though, a question.”
“Well, on the assumption that we don’t get our names completely by accident: Your first name is Diane.”
“And my last name is Gwyned. Want my phone number?”
“I already have it. –Some say the goddess Diane, or Artemis for us Greeks, was a warrior. But that wasn’t really her style. She was more about the world of nature, animals, athletics, being introverted, hanging out in forests, supporting her female followers…”
“I think I know where you’re going. ‘Diane,’ you know, is my legal first name. My mother gave it to me as kind of an afterthought. The qualities you mentioned are part of my story, in human form anyway, except for the introversion. But it’s really my middle name that resonates most for me.”
“What is it?”
“I might tell you some day.”
I hissed with my lower lip and drank some beer.
“Well, Sir Gwyn–”
“That’s Lady Gwyn the Fierce, to you.”
“–You have been achieving the amazing and impossible ever since we met. And as a result of your recent demonstration, a number of people have signed up to be Dreamers.”
“Good. I’ve received some apologies, too.”
“It’s gratifying to think I know the first woman to invent a martial art.”
“The second, that we know of anyway.”
“Who was the first?”
“Ng Mui, who trained Yim Wing Chun in the art named after her.”
“Is there any martial art you haven’t studied?”
The laughing hoarse cry of a gull overhead. For once, I couldn’t tell if she were joking.
She sipped and, looking out toward the city across the water, asked:
“Were you worried about me? When that fight started?”
I looked at the thin bandage on her cheek.
“Scared to death. Your dedication to non-harm…I’m not sure I can go along with it completely. Oh, it’s a noble ideal—”
“Let’s try something. Close your eyes, Harry.”
I did, hearing small waves breaking against the hull. I felt her eyes upon me, wondering what she saw: ruffled black hair, olive skin, scar above my right eye….
“We work a lot with imagination at the Exchange. I want you to imagine that you have a son.”
After a while, an image came to me. I let it develop. Dark hair, stocky build, crooked grin…a laugh…
“How old is he?”
“About four. Hard to judge; I’ve never been a parent.”
“Now, I want you to imagine various stages in his life: playing with you; playing with his little friends; first day of school…”
After a moment, she went on: “Now imagine him at age thirty. Imagine that he is furious with you about something. He throws a punch at you. What do you do?”
“Now he throws one at your mother. What do you do?”
“Help pay for his funeral. Spartan mothers are unkillable.”
“I step between them.”
“Yes. Do you hit back at him at any time?”
I thought about it, felt into it. “I can’t. He’s my son.”
“He points a knife at you. Now what?”
“I try to take it away from him.”
“Do you attack him?”
“No. Even now, no.”
“Even if he injures you?”
“Open your eyes.”
I looked at her.
“Harry, all cultures harbor the principle that everyone is family. We knew that even before we learned we all evolved on this planet together. We are one flesh. A visiting extraterrestrial would see our individual and cultural differences, but the family resemblance between us would be far more obvious.
“We are not family as some pleasant ideal. We are family as an inescapable fact. So when we really know this, imagine and feel into this, if we really perceive opponents as family, how can we inflict deliberate harm on one another?”
I thought it over. “But how can we get there, those of us who can’t see this as clearly as you can?”
“Perhaps that’s another job for our Exchange. To imagine different relationships not only with the imaginal, but with each other.”
That night, I dreamed that a war had been averted in the Dreamvale. In the morning, I woke to find that overnight showers had washed the city clean.
Published and online tales emerging in the weeks following the episode in the street included Firiel befriending a dragon, a ghola of Jessica Atreides standing up to the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, and Holmes visiting the German spy Von Bork in prison.
Diane had been gone a week to see relatives in the United Kingdom when I received an e-card from her.
The projection showed Athena standing up for young Orestes, pursued and driven half mad by vengeful Erinyes of black stare and terrible visage. The image captured the moment when Athena’s strong defense persuaded the long-neglected Furies to change into the Eumenides, the Kindly Ones, henceforth to be celebrated in every home. The fair had won over the legal and the violent. “The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath…”
An inscription followed:
When we imagine together, we move forward together.
~ Diane Minerva Gwyned
Perhaps we can. Just imagine it.