Dreams are tufts of cloud in the blue-black yonder. One second you almost have them, the next you have tumbled a thousand metres through space into another wooly concoction. Is the truth so insubstantial? She was small and grubby and freckled. If all little girls are meant to be cute, she was the one god forgot. She stood in my way with fierce determination, pulled me down, and said in a tiny voice “I love you.” Then she kissed me lightly on the lips.
We seemed to be in the hallway of some kind of apartment building. There was a sense that her mother had drifted in with another lackadaisical one-night-stand, and that for no particular reason I was the only person around who looked like a reasonable human being. No I don’t know what it all means. Only that a very few dreams have a long aftertaste.
There was a childhood dream, still vivid, of standing exposed in a field as huge gunships from an evil planet hovered overhead, and later being transmutated to a distant star of perpetual warfare where on the battlements at night I kept asking plaintively “how the hell did I wind up here?”. There was the very odd dream of swallowing a large green frog who was somehow the linguist, Ray Cattell, and a kind of incarnation of indigestible reams of generative grammar which stood between me and professional “freedom”. And there was the ruffled grey bird sitting a sewerage outlet pipe of a windy isolated beach, and which also touched me on the lips with its beak … just after I had applied for a position at the University of South Africa. Somewhere there was also a dream of an cool, unruffled woman, in grey too, who came at a critical moment, with an amazing bond of power and love between us. It was immediately clear that a piece of Fate’s great plan had finally fallen into its proper place.
In an odd way, I’m doing all right at Batman College at the moment. The money is good, $41,000, plus $4000 from Collingwood night work. The natives have more or less accepted me against all my natural antisocial tendencies. One senses that it is a fleeting interlude, which spites the instincts of a querulous Lady Luck, who never tires of putting trip wires across the path. The contract is for three months at a time, which means forever walking on eggshells.
Listening to unemployed grown men in a technical college giving class talks on “car detailing” — how to wash a car — pretending to prepare them for a bright new future, does leaves me wondering about the games our civilization plays. Just to keep complacency at bay, my Greenwich U. Masters degree finally materialized after eight months of clerical to-ing and fro-ing, with a transcript containing so many errors that it is unusable; (let’s hope it doesn’t take another eight months to sort that out).
Suddenly, a plethora of possible job openings has appeared, lottery tickets fluttering in the wind and sure to be whipped out of reach by a sudden gust if I am foolish enough to reach for them. There is a permanent tutorship in linguistics at the University of Auckland. The salary would represent a loss of $10,000, offset by the reality that the university working year is only about seven months. HCE in Abu Dhabi has asked if I’m interested in registering for an August 1995 appointment; there are even jobs in Kuwait. Victoria University has a couple of ESL lecturing positions in Spencer St, Melbourne. Finally, an Internet notice from Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan is offering two year appointments in a small liberal arts college.
How much fidelity should one feel on a three month appointment? Was that small freckled girl the orphan child of Coburg? Like those reluctant unemployed men I pretend to teach, I have a weakness and a need. The weakness is a stubborn certainty that there is something that I can be good at, better than anyone else anywhere. Such vanity. It can’t be coaxing profane, crushed young men towards literacy in an automotive college. Others can do that with more tenderness. It can’t be inventing clever rules for phonological variation. Others of greater intelligence and more trivial judgement will always surpass me in the mechanics of linguistic analysis.
Once, briefly, I thought it might be on the wings of prose. Then I saw libraries and bookshops awash with literature, and realized that what had been the the most sublime achievement of human culture half a millennium ago was now, at best, grist for a half hour television special. Besides, my acquaintance with the human spirit has been too shallow to float a good story.
So I wash in and out with the tide, scarcely touching this vocation or that, learning one language or one skill for a week, and then another. Always searching, as life ebbs away. I thumb through the yellow pages, asking myself whether I could be a travel agent or a civil engineer or a computer programmer. That tale is a common one, written on so many faces one passes in the street.
Perhaps the need is for a confidant, a peer or someone wiser. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. From the very beginnings of childhood there has never been another mind to whom I could seriously turn for a second opinion, let alone a mentor. Often enough I offer advice. That is a teacher’s part. Yet no person has mastered my story, and few with the wit to grasp its whole have the compassion to explore its resolution. Sometimes ordinary kind, people make an ordinary, kind comment. But where it counts, any confidence ventured has too often been betrayed. The hand proffered is so often searching for advantage or power. Occasionally women have tried to reinvent me in terms of their own fantasy, sad funny little roles that I’ve had to kill off before they got out of hand. Blessed are those with the knack of friendship, and the luck to keep it.