Book of Dreams
“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read,” says the Talmud. In the little shtetlach of Eastern Europe—in towns like Zhitomir and Radomsk where my father and mother’s families came from—travelling booksellers once plied their routes. Among the most popular items they offered for sale were dream books. In the pages of those books you could learn the meaning of any dream: the baby born with the head of a carp; the midwife dancing in the beet field; the miller’s daughter with the extra eye, your long-lost brother with shoes aflame.
In my performance “Sinai/Sinai” (created with poet John Marron) in the early 80’s, I made my own appearance as a Dreampeddlar. To the melancholy chords of a harmonium score, my peddlar entered the stage dressed in a long overcoat weighted down with his over-sized book of dreams.
An artist friend, Richard Posner, made that marvelous Dream Book, a three-ring binder with a white stork embroidered on the front and a camel from a flour sack on the back cover. Richard was a bricoleur; he used whatever was at hand to make luminous works of art. Glass was his primary medium, and his stained glass windows were in the collection of the Exploratorium in San Francisco; the Metropolitan Museum and the Victoria and Albert. An installation he created in Berlin, “Der Wider-Haken-Krauter-Garten” (The Live Not on Evil Garden) used broken glass and healing plants to create what Richard called “a work of transformation” from “waste material into living things.”
Richard died this past spring, victim of a homicide in Tucson, Arizona. When his body was first discovered by the Tucson police, it was reported as “the body of an anonymous 62 year-old man.” Later, Richard’s name was restored and his many accomplishments—numerous public art commissions, four-time Fulbright scholar– were mentioned in the press.
A few weeks ago, several of his friends gathered for a memorial in the Malibu home to commemorate his life. Richard was a difficult man with many problems, including mental health issues all exacerbated by poverty and lack of health care. He could be exasperating. He was neurotic and needy. “Sometimes Richard drove me nuts or maybe it was him reminding me that I was nuts,” wrote one friend. He was also loyal and brilliant.
My dear teacher Rabbi Singer—also Richard’s friend and teacher — wrote to me after he heard the news: “I have his nine wine bottles Menorah on the deck outside. It is just a row of nine wine bottles fused together by some plastic compound. I could never throw it away. It works. It expresses the desperate, makeshift genius of the impoverished to turn on the lights.”
This gathering of friends took a tour of Richard’s artwork from our various collections. Petra Korink, Richard’s wife from Berlin, brought several of his GWOTBOTS (Global War on Terror Robots), constructed from toys gleaned from Berlin flea markets. Richard, an intrepid wordspinner, gave them names like “Blind Leading Blind in Mad Cow Circles.” Our host, Dr. Ralph Potkin pointed out one of Richard’s glass Kitschina, what RP called “a May-December marriage of German ‘kitsch’ with Hopi Indian Kachina dolls.”) Susan Rubin talked about Rich’s Coping Saws, cast and found glass tools which Richard constructed from the detritus of a decade of stained glass and windows broken in the 1994 Northridge, Ca. earthquake. We posed for portraits in his “Bird-Brained Bicycle Helmets”
and we contemplated ethereal glass marbles with fragments of Richard’s ashes. Rabbi Don read the Kaddish and Petra read Wyslawa Szymborska’s poem, “The Heavens,” which begins:
I should have begun with this: the heavens.
A window without a frame, without curtains, without glass.
An opening with nothing beyond
but a vast opening.
I’d rooted through my basement for the occasion, and unearthed that Dream Book that Richard made me decades ago. I sat on a leather chair in Ralph’s house, my back to the Pacific and facing Richard’s friends. I reached into the transparent pockets the artist created in the book, where the storyteller could stash whistles and a mirror, a clothespin, a Jew’s harp or a pocket watch on a gold chain.
[still from my film, "The Strange Tale of Shabbatai Sevi"]
I opened the pages to reveal the dream images within: an erupting volcano; an astronaut tumbling through space; a city under siege; a white horse rearing up under his rider; a veiled woman with a birdcage balanced on her head; a shining green Star of David.