Archive for the 'Journal Entry' Category

Night Terror

Posted in Dreams, Impressions, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on December 21st, 2012 by Angel Villanueva

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I am browsing through peculiar, delightful, bizarre little wonders at an antique toy store housed in a remodeled Victorian building. It is the far end of daylight; no lights have been turned on inside even though it is evident the bluish atmosphere we’re immersed in will soon become the dark of night.

I am surprised to discover how heavy and strangely delicate children’s toys once were. Porcelain, fabric, metal, wood, and paint are the elements that, crafted together by deft hands in a multitude of ways, gave rise to this Cambrian explosion of whimsical forms. Most often the objects I examine resemble life in some measure, but, more than I would expect, they depart disturbingly far from it.

Nearby, a little girl is kneeling on the floor. She is drawing with a sort of carbon stump, something like a burnt piece of branch, on rough cuts of what looks like parchment paper. She seems to be alone. Where is her mother? I wonder… The little girl sings a song, gently, almost inaudibly. It’s a performance for herself. How curious. I think I recognize the tune. I walk over closer to hear her better…

A chill goes up my spine. I do recognize this. It has been many years since I was a student of the dark arts, I’ve forgotten a lot, but any of us would remember this. She sings the ancient curse, the powerful one, the one meant to unleash a monster from the abyss prisons into the physical realm… Where did she hear THIS? How did she learn it? I find myself numbed as she keeps singing the horrible words in her gentle, musical voice. The contrast of sound and content is shocking, and it all gets worse when I notice what she is drawing.

Whether by chance, or from some inexplicable recollection, she is drawing a sequence of hermetic symbols I last saw in the rarest, most secret, most deeply forbidden arcane book. She draws the four figures, methodically, fluidly, one after the other, and before I can say anything, she is done. It’s a somewhat crude, but perfectly clear rendition of the four cryptograms that, drawn in the right order, in the presence of the right audible tune, will call forth an unstoppable, famished agent of the cruelest death. Still singing the curse, she dips her little finished creation in a shallow pan of liquid glue, and sticks it onto a larger piece of green construction paper. Humming now, she gets up and pins the drawing on a corkboard filled with them. It looks almost like a Christmas card. The drawings surrounding them are all of a far more innocent nature. They’re genuinely a child’s drawings; flowers, animals, butterflies, but this… Wait, Where is she?

She’s vanished. I walk up to the board to have a closer look at her drawing. In this incantation, the first figure would correspond to the demon that will be awakened. Here it is a female figure with a triangle on her head. If I remember correctly… that creature eats people. I feel a wave of fear run through me. This is the real deal. Regardless of how, the curse has been cast, the demon will come, and it will come here. I exhale deeply… Heaven help me. I pull the drawing from the wall. It is still wet with glue and very delicate. There’s only one thing to do: I should take it with me, unearth my long hidden copy of the forbidden book and find out how to undo this. I know there is a way but I can’t remember what it is, all I know is that I have very little time and that I will need the drawing. I look around; there is a blow dryer on a nearby shelf, and, miraculously, it is plugged to the wall. I grab it, turn it on, and aim it at the drawing to dry it. It is working at first, but the paper suddenly bursts into flame. The glue was flammable! I let go at the onset of searing heat on my fingers and watch helplessly as the entire little art piece turns to ash on its way down to the floor. It all happens in a second. What now?

Maybe burning the drawing undoes the curse. Yes. I think that’s it. It’s been destroyed! I begin to feel some relief.

Outside, screams approach.

From around the corner, four people come running: two men, a woman, and a young girl. They stampede in and through the store, yelling at me when they see me: “Run! RUN!! There’s a monster, it’s killing people!! It ate Paula!! IT ATE HER AND THEN THREW HER UP!!” They are horrified out of their minds. I follow in a rush, there’s no time to think. We trek through musty wooden hallways, pounding on locked doors, we don’t know where to go. “We should get in one of the walk-in fridges!” says one of the men. It’s as a good an idea as any, we take off running again. The building is much larger than I expected, it evidently used to be a hotel at some point, now dilapidated and abandoned. We’re looking for the old restaurant, which should have a walk-in fridge, but we somehow come to the end of one wing, and there’s no exit, and nowhere to hide. Some of the wooden planks on the wall have broken and we can see outside. The woman takes a look and screams… “IT’S ON THE OTHER SIDE!”

Then I hear it, and I experience the deepest flood of terror in my life.

It’s not a roar, or a moan, or a scream… It’s a sound I have never heard before; a plaintive, angry, deeply powerful rumble declaring war on human life. It is inhuman, evil, unstoppable. I realize there is no hope, it will get us. It’s what it’s here for.

We run back in a mad panic through the building, all the way to the other side, we find a door, and run outside across a grassy field. At the far end of the field there is a dirt road and beyond, the village. Maybe if we make it to town, maybe if we can be among other people we’ll be safer…

A car appears from the left, speeding across the road ahead of us, leaving a trail of dust behind it. It cuts us off right as we’re approaching the roadside, and stops. A man is driving it. A woman is in the passenger seat, and she gets out immediately. She wears a soiled white dress, and she’s covered in… vomit, from head to toe. She is wearing a conical white hat.

“IT’S HER!!” screams one of the men.

She looks like a normal person under her layer of gastric refuse, except… she has no eyes. She’s not exactly a monster; she’s monstrous. Fear is her weapon, and we’re awash with it. I’m frozen in place, trembling, helpless… She’s looking at all of us. My eyes are tearing up, I’m not sure I can stand up much longer, but I manage to muster a fleeting, inquisitive thought: Who is the man driving the car?

“She’s deciding who to eat next…” says the man next to me in a quivering voice.

She walks over to the woman in our group, who is now crying hysterically, sobbing, shaking, unable to move or walk away. The demon opens her mouth into jaws of inexplicable size and bites the woman’s head off in a single horrific motion. The crunching sound of the breaking neck is sickening. As the demon swallows the head whole, the woman’s body falls on hands and knees before us… and she begins to scream through her severed trachea, as blood gushes out from her arteries… The scream is the most shrill, blood-curdling, horrifying sound, and I’m looking at that opening drenched in a cascade of blood, emitting an inhuman, unbearably loud sound, as if all the accumulated horror of the world had found an outlet through this woman’s truncated neck. Blood blood blood scream scream SCREAM SCREAM…

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Sitting up in bed, in the dark, I draw great gulps of air, as if I had emerged from underwater just in the nick of time to stay alive. I am drenched in sweat, shaking, my heart a runaway horse in my chest. I press my shaking hands over my face, muffling a whimper, then have to breathe again. Breathe, breathe…

Everything frightens me: the walls, the dim reflections on the mirrored closet, the thought of what could be under the bed. I take several more deep breaths, and try to calm myself down. It was only a dream, a nightmare. You’re ok. Everything is ok. It takes me a while to collect myself, and when a semblance of calm begins to arrive, two silent tears run down my face. But I don’t want to cry about this. I am not a child. I clear my throat and shake my head, trying to collect myself further. I remove my sweat-drenched shirt and fall back into the mattress, trying to find a comfortable position in which to rest for a moment. Glancing over at my clock I see that it’s almost 4 AM.

Deep breaths… I’m not sleeping anymore tonight. That’s a given.

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Over the years, I’ve experienced many vivid, intense dreams that I’m able to recollect in their entirety. A good number of those have been nightmares. Ugly, end of the world nightmares. I keep a dream journal because I am convinced there is much to be learned about ourselves from the narratives we assemble in our minds while unconscious,  and because, in my case at least, these other-wordly experiences can often be awareness-raising.

In the wake of our most recent senseless tragedy, I’ve read and taken part in online discussions examining the nature of empathy. Are we truly moved when something terrible happens to a complete stranger, and if so, to what extent? Parts of the nebulous answer I’ve been able to compile for myself have to do with how the tragedy is presented to us, which determines the extent to which we’re able to see ourselves in it. Another aspect has to do with an anthropological paradox: the greater the number of affected people the less like an individual story it seems to the human mind, so the disconnection is greater—which does not mean we can’t experience moral outrage and be moved to action, only that the personal emotional connection is more tenuous. We can find many great examples over decades of photojournalism in which a single emotional image was the catalyst for altruistic action by others.

In his ambitious and powerful book The God Delusion, Dr. Richard Dawkins argues that suffering is unnecessary and should be entirely avoided if possible. While I greatly admire Dawkins’ work as a science educator and advocate for secular thinking, this is one point on which I strongly disagree with him. Suffering, of any sort, is painful and should be mitigated of course. But I am highly suspicious of the idea of abolishing suffering altogether as a principle.* Our species is one that, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, is able to but does not learn from the experiences of others. A key ingredient of what we call empathy is our ability to understand suffering, and for many of us, suffering can only be understood as an experience. For me, for this one individual typing these words right now, it was the tragic circumstance of my early years and a great many beatings by life that have raised my awareness—perhaps I’m a brute in that sense. But I am able to understand pain and horror for that reason. For a great many—if not most—of us, to suffer is to learn.

The dream described in this entry was real to me. It was horrible. I had no idea I was dreaming until I woke up. Before that, it was truly happening. I was there.


Angel Villanueva
From the Dream Journal
December 21st, 2012

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*It should be duly noted that this proposal is at best utopian. For the vast majority of us, the structure of human life is such that we’ll experience duress at some point or another.

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Urban Cosmonaut

Posted in Impressions, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on August 18th, 2012 by Angel Villanueva

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The Sun is a giant rupture in the sky through which blinding waves of cosmic fire cascade into our world. Searing radiation drenches all, bouncing off things, scorching everything it touches. Pomona burns, and the trapped air stewing over concrete turns the avenue into a furnace. On and off, the scene around me becomes a Van Gogh nightmare, forms swirling and trembling in the seething heat. Traffic has been slowed down by construction; I’m at the stop light, boots on the pavement, gloved hands on grips, enduring the radiator blowing hell at me as the exhaust pipe burns my right leg. Halfway through today’s journey, with 2 more errands to go, I chide myself for this bright idea. If only there was a breeze… I need to get moving soon or I’ll be cooked alive in my leathers.

A beastly earth mover makes its way across Garey Avenue in a thunderous slumber. The ground vibrates and creaks under its immense weight, and for a moment I envision a lazy eye on it, looking at me as it passes, a whale considering the fish yielding the right of way, smoldering in an ocean of effervescing light. It all happens slowly enough that I can take a look around. What sort of creatures populate this hour? How have they adapted to life in the fire?

This isn’t the best part of town. Aside from the ubiquitous palm trees betraying my surroundings as somewhere in Los Angeles, the scene is a typical slice of run-down America. A handful of characters roam the sidewalks, some, predictably, the embodiment of oppression. Vacant buildings are always within sight. Empty lots, bare soil bereft of all but dry weeds and refuse, speak of neglect. Exhaust fumes reveal the age and disrepair of the vehicles around me. And as we wait—impatiently—for the construction crew to part the boiling seas, I notice people in their cars looking at me, the urban cosmonaut in black. Unable to see past the dark polyglass over my face, they feel at liberty to put on their this fool must be crazy faces. Yes, the world is on fire, my skin under leather is aflame… but I am not crazy. The world confirms it. There is an acrid tint to the air; an incisive, disturbing assault on the senses. It’s the scent of death… Somewhere near, perhaps in one of the vacant lots, a carcass is returning to the Earth. Memento mori as we wait for a green light, and an admonishment to all: in this our world, the world today, the world we have created, venturing anywhere without armor is, quite simply, no longer an option.

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The New Absence

Posted in Dreams, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on March 4th, 2012 by Angel Villanueva

A drug in the veins expressed by the heart, the spell works its way from my center to my extremities. I feel numb, sitting loosely across the table from the mystifying siren who has just cast it. We are approaching the end of the dream after a long, deep conversation, the contents of which I am not to remember. Awash in the flow, all I can do in my stupor is observe my interlocutor, puzzled by what an unlikely enchantress she is. I’m not sure what I expected to find in this room, but a frail, mousy young woman in thick eyeglasses smoking a cigar was certainly not it.

“Remember, Angel. It is not a coincidence. It is never a coincidence.”

At her final utterance, the space begins to change: dimensions slowly altering, walls stretching, the floor acquiring depth… I can feel what has just happened, but I cannot remember it. The dialogue was between an ancient force and my core, held in a base language, a construct too greatly complex for the conscious layer to fully grasp. A negotiation has taken place, and as a result, one of my principal inner selves has been entirely extinguished. Gone. I can feel the space between alter-entities on its way to becoming a force, partially exposed boundaries of previously tightly packed other selves burning tender against a vacancy. And I see the clairvoyant retreating, the table stretching between us as it vanishes, as everything vanishes. The rug underneath us is a map of the constellations, glowing stars drifting into position in three dimensions, a jet-black ocean reflecting moonlight for a moment, then expanding, expanding into space, and everything disappears except me, shrinking and falling into the cosmos as the stars fly about and retreat to their distant homes in myriads. Dim vertical bands of light appear, brighter, brightest, and I am forced to shut my eyes hard and open them again before I can come to grips with my waking state, staring at my blinds through which the morning sun is invading the room.

The house is silent. I am alone. Sitting at the edge of the bed, I take a deep breath, stretch, yawn… The dog hears me and comes nudging at me. “Good morning, sweetie.” She wags her tail in joy. We head downstairs together. Coffee for me, breakfast for both of us. I stare at the world outside through the kitchen window, the steam from my cup dancing in the light. My mind is empty. I like it. Quiet inside is rare. I know it won’t last, but for now I am centered, balanced, ready. For now, I am the world anew.

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The Rose

Posted in Impressions, Journal Entry, Uncategorized, Writing and Poetry on May 8th, 2011 by Angel Villanueva

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I remember her smile, her hands, her long fingers as they delicately removed the outer petals of an overgrown rose in our garden, granting it the gift of temporary perfection. Had I not remembered it, trimming that rose would have been a gesture lost in the immensity of space, in the eternity of time, gone with the unknown lives of countless generations who haven’t understood their mortality and the ephemeral quality of their every thought. But the whole of her expression told me that this wasn’t a meaningless event; the very essence of our nature was contained in that simple gesture, and it was my duty to understand it, to remember it, to pass it on. The pursuit of meaning and fulfillment in our lives, and its seeming lack of consequence when faced with the inevitability of our departures, were symbolized by that one rose, standing there perfect once again for a tiny fragment of time. A trivial achievement when placed in context with the rest of reality, yet a superb example of our spirit, of our willingness to make things better, to bring the world around us in line with our visions. The rose was that desired life, a state of balance that couldn’t last, but in the meantime, it could be perfect: a paradoxical mix of natural and creative input.

That is how she was herself: a living, breathing, walking paradox. The depth of her mind a wellspring of revelations, a vast library whose true content I never had an opportunity to explore completely, but from which my own creativity stemmed and flourished. She placed my early mind in an almost mystical environment, in a world of her own making, always full of sensory experiences: music of birds, air perfumed by flowers and fruits and lush vegetation, nights under the stars, a feeling of peaceful solitude permeating our everyday life. Life was a rose garden, an oasis in the middle of the desert. That metaphor continues to live in me, and I will bear its mark until the day I dissolve back into the universe.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.


Pomona, California
May 2001

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Posted in Impressions, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on January 31st, 2011 by Angel Villanueva

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Long before any of us began wandering into the treacherous realm of prejudice, a story that we should all have listened to was told at one of the gatherings.

In the center of the garden is a small fountain, and crowning it, a talking skull. Normally no one pays attention to it, but that night, awash in the dazzle of strange spells, I struggled between reading someone’s lips and threading together filaments of the ancient voice that streamed between the gaps in our conversation. It was all over the garden, infused into the crisp air of the night, present and immaterial like the smoke, though no one seemed to hear it.

We would all be reminded in time.

“The hearts,” it said, “are made of clay, and clay can only be molded in the wet. The hearts will dry, they will crack against each other if one waits too long, if one waits for that perfect day, that perfect moment when the hearts are dry as bones, brittle and bitter. Hearts lose their power to become one with another, they become rocks and skulls. I know. I know.”

I held my smile. Sparks flew about. I felt the skull was leaving something out. At that moment, it didn’t matter. It was the song of the dead, and we were very much living. We were wild birds in the jungle, each trying to outsing and outdisplay the other, ourselves, the last one and the next one.

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Window open to the cool winter air, I hear a call. An owl. And an owl calls back. Together they are hunting in the night, roosting at the edges of their reign.

I remember someone.

I have not looked into the book of souls for ages. That book filled with blank pages, each belonging to one. I hold it once again, find a page, sit in the dark, and wait.

Soon it comes, the image of a man making his way across a vast plain, that same abject infinity that once plagued my nightmares. But this is not my nightmare. It is what I feared I would become, happening to someone else: a lone slave dragging a giant heart of stone across the desert. The pathos of lost hope, the weight of apathy, a cruel, self-imposed sentence.

There are two ways out of it. I know them both.

I wanted to help. I tried. I am not meant to. Let go.

Something within splits in two, and one half falls away. I close the book, and my eyes. Press the back of my head against the wall. Take a deep breath. Above me, far above this roof, there are many, many stars shivering in the night.

The half that remains is gratitude.

And, lurking beneath, invisible for now, the razor’s edge of fear, held at a distance.

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Farewell to a Dear Friend

Posted in Impressions, Journal Entry, Photography, Writing and Poetry on September 30th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

“There is no limit to the extent to which we can imagine ourselves into the being of another.”
~J.M. Coetzee, “The Lives of Animals”

On September 9th 2010, Rose, my Labrador Retriever, passed away. She was five years old.

In a way, it was good to be in a distant city when I got the news. Not surrounded by the familiar, I could go about my day bearing the standard of grief without having to explain myself. I could walk the streets at night under a light drizzle, letting the fresh water from above mix on my cheeks with the salt water from within as others hurried past me busy with their lives. I could, as I do, turn inside for answers and not worry about the external world being an encumbrance to the process.

Weighing heaviest on my heart was not being there. Rose was sick before I left for Europe, but we did not know what it was or how bad it was. The different vets who saw her were stumped by her symptoms, which seemed to respond favorably to treatment for an allergic reaction. The cancer diagnosis came too late, at a moment when I had no way of being in touch. Steve, my partner, had to go through it alone, watching Rose quickly fading and helping her to fight in every way he could think of. I know she was well taken care of, yet a part of me wonders if she felt abandoned, if she waited for me as long as she could. I wish I had at least been able to say goodbye.

Rose came home as an eight-week old puppy one eventful afternoon in July of 2005 and immediately became part of a happy triad: Steve, Angel, and Rose. She was family, an integral part of daily life, complementing our existence in ways that only a friendly and loving animal can. For five years, raising and sharing a life with Rose gave Steve and I a joyful common purpose and brought us closer together. She was a gift: free-spirited, tirelessly playful and curious, always excited about new things, places and people, and possessing of a fixity of purpose (finding food!) I have yet to construct for myself about anything. She kept us company when we were away from each other, brightly colored our day-to-day activities and even helped to keep us healthy by having to walk her for miles every day lest she be restless at night and keep us awake. Rose was a living anchor to the good in life, and we were in turn happy to be responsible for the life of an animal friend.

To me, Rose also functioned as an expansion of my mind, extending my cognitive reach into the animal world. She was my experiential bridge to a realm of perception and living otherwise closed off; a constant reminder of the fact that the human experience is but a fragment of a larger reality. Rose showed me that as sentient beings, humans and animals share commonalities which can uphold a kind mutual understanding with surprising ease.

In April of 2007, I had a strange apocalyptic dream in which Rose, then two years old, came to me during a moment of tremendous duress which just happened to take place amidst the ruins of my college campus. Considering the pressure of school at the time, the dream reads like a metaphor for salvation, an act which, in more than one way, this singular creature in fact carried out for me.

There are brands of conviction that place animals on a value scale in which they are considered lesser creatures, different and separate from us, granting adherents the liberty to distance their self-concept from animal identity as far as they wish. I find this appalling. The insight into the fabric of nature we have so painstakingly obtained through scientific study indicates clearly that humans are not simply Masters of the Earth, alone in our comprehension and privileged in our superiority. Being the first species to acquire the power to change the biosphere at will while remaining dependent upon it places us squarely in charge of maintaining its delicate balance. In this sense, we are deeply indebted to the species who have chosen to become our friends, for they are a reminder of our intrinsic connection to the rest of life. To the extent that we separate ourselves in identity, thought, and action from the animals, we become less and less.

A Short Walk Down Memory Lane

Baby Rose, Sleepyhead…

Time out for a rambunctious little girl.

With Steve in the family room.

Growing up.

Graduating from puppy school.

Still thinking she’s a tiny puppy.

In the pool with Natasha.

Fun with friends at the lake.
(Click here for full photo essay.)

Survival instinct at work: taking to the water during the brush fires behind the house.
(Click here for the photo blog of that event!)

Full Winter Coat

One day I came home from work to find that Rose had been busy making art out of herself… and the house! She was about a year old here.

With me in the garden.

Her favorite toy: a hula hoop!

And so, dearest Rose, Steve and I bid you farewell. Though we will always wish you hadn’t left us so soon, we are grateful for the wonderful time we spent together and all the joy you brought us. Thank you. We hope you had a good life, that your needs were met, and that you were as happy with us as we were with you. We loved you. You will always be a star in our sky.

Paris, France
September 30, 2010

“We send our thanks to all the Animal life in the world.
They have many things to teach us as people.
We are glad they are still here, and we hope it will always be so.”

The Mohawk Thanksgiving Address

The Seal of God

Posted in Dreams, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on July 9th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

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I happen upon the nest while surveying the devastation inflicted on the farm by the storm. The nearly uprooted tree is tilted enough that the nest, miraculously spared destruction by the tangled mass of broken branches around it, has come to rest just above eye level. Sitting in it, frightened and cold, is a lone baby rabbit.

I reach in and grab it gently, the tiny creature barely fidgeting, fluffing its fur and immediately cozying up to the warmth of my cupped hands.

“Where are your brothers and sisters?” I ask as I begin walking.

“They were taken by the big bird. Biiig, scaaary biiird… Oooh…” He trembles, no doubt reliving the abduction in his mind. Cute and helpless become dismal adjectives.

“How come it didn’t take you?”

“Because I’m different. Because I’m special.” He sounds quite sure of himself.  “See how tame I am? If you look into my eye, you will see in it the ineffable Seal of God.”

Worth a look. I raise him up to my face and amplify the image of his eye. The effect is that of riding a meteor as it approaches the atmosphere of an alien planet, the round of the cornea glistening in the light of space and flattening as I come closer and closer upon the brown wrinkles of the iris. The iris expands to form a mountain range surrounding a circular lake, Lake Black Pupil, resting beneath the beautiful bluish transparency of an airy surface marred only by… What? A little cloud…?

The seal is an oblong, translucent, iridescent shape floating on the cornea and surrounded by progressively fainter concentric rings. A gentle tilt reveals all the colors of the rainbow dancing within it; a subtle, exquisite, ever-morphing composition.

“I see it! It’s there!”

“I told you.” He asserts.

“So… What do I do with it?”

“Oh, nothing. You can’t do anything with the Seal of God. You can only look at it. And it’s everywhere. As a matter of fact, I used to have it on one of my buttocks.”

He pauses, becomes absorbed. Conjuring up the memory of a different body sets off a process of awakening, the little animal vessel stiffening up as he slowly begins to understand his new condition.

“How long has it been since my life?”

A breathless question.

It’s then that I recognize the voice. Of course. I’ve come across this spirit before. I have access to his records, and begin going through them in the back offices of my mind. The images in his file are of a white man in his late thirties or maybe early forties; a pleasant face with longish, straight brown hair. The last picture shows him looking quite tired in his blue hospital gown.

“Seven years.” I whisper it to him, no need to shock him any further.

He’s frozen in my hands, trying to come to terms with what he cannot understand.

“Oh, David…”

We have reached the farm house, and I set him down in the cage where I will keep him until he can take care of himself. I know that as soon as I utter the next phrase he will lose his memory and capacity for speech, but I utter it nonetheless. I have to. It’s my job.

“You are a rabbit now.”

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Dream Journal, July 9, 2010

The Capital

Posted in Dreams, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on June 18th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

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“Why do you always look at me like I’m not real?”

Rather than answering I look out the restaurant window at the people pushing bales of hay up and down the street. The air between us has frozen solid, plastic toys and an old shoe are suspended in it. He says something else but I can’t hear it over the thunder of the waterfall at my back. I look down the sheer cliff, an immense drop to a pool of dark water furiously beating itself into a foam. My chair is at the very edge of the rock and the rock is wet, but I will not fall. I’m safe. Overspray moistens my face. I like it. Maybe I’m thirsty. I look at him again. Now he wears a silken hood over his head and is eating soup through it. How clever, I think. He lifts the spoon to his lips, the hot liquid goes through the fabric and into his mouth, cooling down in the process. He takes the hood off. His head is now a giant cigarette.

They call the door “The Egyptian Eye,” though it is not really a door nor does it look like an eye. A natural split in the rock wall, which the monks put an iron gate on long ago, hides in shrubbery by the side of the road. If you know about it, you come to it, shake the gate, and wait for the wordless monk. If he comes, reading you from the inscrutable darkness of his cloak, he may or may not let you in. Once in the garden you may get lost, as there are often fields of wheat taller than a man, and negotiating the narrow pathways threaded through them requires labyrinthine skills. From the esplanade beyond you can see the Capital, something of a medieval ziggurat, a massive rock complex  sitting squarely upon the Earth and boldly reaching skyward. The stairs are tricky, they look like one could fly up them, but they’re yet another laborious maze weaving in and out of the ornate facades. Up on the rooftop, you grab a chair and wait for things to be set up.

Five men dressed in red take aim at the bullseye painted on the man’s bare chest. He is strapped to a chair and they’ve put a bag on his head. “Fire!” The rifles bark in unison, a dull, muffled cough. The man’s chest bursts like papier-mâché, a cloud of fiber shreds swirling about him. He trembles briefly, starts falling sideways. The restraints hold him. Dead now, the men immediately begin disassembling the display. One of the reporters is sick. “He moved. I saw it. I didn’t want that.” So they’ve killed two men, the one in the chair, and the one who will now live with the memory of a sloppy execution.

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Reading the news before bedtime will do some strange things to your dreams.
I don’t think there is an absolute answer to the question of capital punishment, but I do believe that on a case-by-case basis there should be no room for ambiguity.


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Cognitive Archaeology

Posted in Dreams, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on March 9th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

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Late Summer in the countryside, a leisurely trek under the luminous twilight after sundown. The road was flanked by dense trees of a dark emerald, homes nesting between them with increasing frequency as we got closer to town. Glimpses of grassy hills beyond the forest led up to great purple mountains in the distance.

Striding confidently beside me was my delightful, longtime friend; cultured, intelligent, and congenial, a dashing presence not of our time. His fine, formal attire (pin-striped trousers, tail coat, top hat, immaculate white gloves) was as naturally becoming to his graceful, athletic frame as was his handsome face.1 We were talking about our plans for the rest of Summer when I stopped, in utter disbelief, before the house on our left. The shock turned my voice into a whisper.

“This is impossible… I lived in this house when I was a child!” 

Before us was an abandoned adobe building, a single-story row of doors and windows spanning half a block before turning the corner. The very first unit—one door, one window—had been my home, a place my mother rented for about a year when I was little. It was still the only part of the building painted a sickly pink, the color an incongruous touch on a facade of an otherwise uniform, dirty white.

I walked up to the heavy wooden door and pushed it. It was unlocked, its yielding open without effort or sound an unsettling “Come in…”. I stepped inside, surprised by how small the space seemed now. The two rooms, connected by a doorway, were empty. The dust and debris accumulated on the floor evidenced that no one had been here for many, many years. The door to the back patio was missing, and through its opening I could see what was once an outdoor kitchen, adobe forms long eroded by rain and neglect into shapes barely recognizable as a wood stove and bread oven.

My 18th century companion leaned on the doorway, observing me gravely. He had taken off his hat and was slowly twirling it in his gloved hands. Strands of wavy blond hair now framed his face. He looked uneasy. I was too, and I realized that, the moment I opened that door, it felt as if we were carrying out a desecration .

“These rooms are still haunted by that memory…” he said.

I nodded. They were. The setting was home to my earliest recollection of terror: my mother fell seriously ill for the first time while we lived here. I was six years old, and the place was said to be haunted then. It certainly was now. There was a strong, nauseating energy latent in it. The atmosphere felt dense, laden with something old and ill, something of death, an enduring, sad and immovable presence indifferent to our trespass but operating as powerfully as an eternal curse. I feared this unctuous malaise would permeate my clothes, my skin, my body… I feared it would cling to me like an invisible madness and pollute the rest of my life.

We had to leave.

Then, as if they had suddenly materialized, I saw the paintings.

Three framed oils on canvas, painted in the French realist style, hung on the walls of the first room. I had no conscious recollection of them until now. It all came flooding in, faster than I could process. The paintings had been there when we moved in, and were obviously far older than my memory of them. Whoever hung them had found it proper to place one by the entry, one on the wall that separated the two rooms, and one by the door leading to the backyard. We never touched them, and evidently, no one else had.

“I can’t believe this… Hanging, unseen, for decades…” I spoke quietly, absorbed. I turned to him. He held my gaze. We both knew, in that moment, that I would be taking the paintings with me.

The pigments had faded a great deal in each of the three canvases, but overall the images were well preserved. The frames were nailed directly to the stucco. A strange way of hanging paintings, I thought, as if the intent had been to crucify them.2

I carefully began to pull the first one off the wall. It was a bust decorated with an oval mat. The sitter was a pale woman in a white blouse, her red hair pulled up about her head. Her gentle expression barely managed to balance the otherwise somber tone of the painting. She must have been in her late twenties when the portrait was made. Who was she? I wondered. The frame felt flexible, soft almost. The nails gave up easily, shedding bits of rust as they came out. I leaned it against the wall.

The next work was a small view of an old city, a patchwork of roofs, walls and cobblestone pathways. The town looked deserted. The picture seemed to have been painted from life, and the composition was strict: were it not for its painterly atmospheric depth and the rich detailing of its surfaces, it would have come close to geometric abstraction. It came off the wall easily as well.

The largest of the three paintings—and oddly for my taste, the one that fascinated me most—was a countryside view painted in thick impasto. Its execution set it apart from the other two: a hint of expressionism had made its way into the brushwork, with paint volumes accentuating forms and adding a contained dynamism to the stillness. In it, the dark brown planks of a wooden fence contrasted with the faded olive green of a grassy field behind, leading to a dark tree line beyond. Part of the horizon was visible, and in it, the faintest suggestion of a town under cloud cover seemed to tremble with the murmur of distant events. The frame was broken in places, I feared it would fall apart in my hands, but it held together as I pulled it from the wall.3

In the awe of the discovery, numbed by the unsettling atmosphere of the space, and fighting off the rising pain of memories unvisited for ages, I sought to understand the origin of these images; I felt it was my duty to do so before taking them—I felt the trespass warranted it. Someone before me had understood and kept them together. It was my turn to do the same.

What did these pictures have in common? They were obviously contemporaries and related to each other: depictions of a town, its countryside, and perhaps one of its residents. Although varying in approach, the brushwork and color palette suggested the same hand. Who painted them? When? Where? No signatures. No dates. Beautiful, connected paintings equally marred by a lugubrious heaviness.

The silence of loss.

Loss… The realization swept my mind like a tidal wave: The paintings were made after the plague. The portrait of the woman was posthumous.

Narratives began weaving in my head. I could only imagine the countless stories of pain and horror behind these images. They made sense. Perfect sense. I couldn’t bear to think about it any longer, not there, not in that place that was now more than ever a tomb in my mind. I stacked the paintings on each other and put them all under my arm.

“The plague…” he said as I turned to him. “I think so…” I whispered back. Tears welled up in my eyes.

On the walls, white rectangles of emptiness punctuated by stigmata screamed of undead nightmares.

“Let’s go.”

It felt good to get back on the street, out the ill atmosphere of the abandoned house. We walked briskly, our steps in sync. Interrupted by the archaeological find, our carefree dynamic could not be resumed. Its place had been usurped by the silence of complicity and a nameless, insistent concern. I couldn’t wait to get to my car, to put the paintings in the trunk, to shut them in the dark. I feared them. I feared that it was they who created the horror I felt back in those rooms, rather than being mere witnesses to it. They were alive with that sick energy and I had begun to realize it was a force that could not be contained or escaped from. I didn’t know what I would do with them.

I wanted to thank him for being my accomplice in the theft, but then I thought: Is this really a theft? I wondered if anyone had seen us. I wondered, strangely, if there were cameras monitoring the area, if the removal of the paintings had been recorded. Stranger still, I wondered if my handsome friend would even show up in such a recording.

We walked on, past the gates, into the city.

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1. I often wonder who these characters are who visit me in my dreams. The man in this sequence was not dressed in costume; those were his usual clothes. He made me think of the high society of early America. In the dream’s internal logic, I remembered him; we talked as if we had known each another well for a very long time. Perhaps he has been a recurring character for a while and my memory of him is crossing into daylight for the first time. Who knows? I do not recall a name.

2. Hanging is also an execution. Like the limp body of a dead criminal hanging at the square, paintings on display are captures and examples at once.

3. The first thing I did after documenting this dream was to call my sister in Mexico. I asked her if she remembered that house, if there had been paintings in it. She remembers the place but can’t say whether there were any paintings. She was four years old when we lived there, her memory of the place is much dimmer than mine. She does, however, remember the stories about the haunting.

What is haunting to my mind is how vividly I remember the pictures. They have the distinct quality of an unearthed memory; it’s hard for me to think of them as an elaborate invention of the subconscious. I could reproduce them easily. Fear of awakening something I may not be readyor ableto deal with, and perhaps remaining figments of superstition in my otherwise empirical mind, prevent me from even trying.

It was at that house that I created a painting for the first time. I received a set of watercolors as a birthday present from my mother when I turned seven. It would make sense, if these paintings existed, that I would have been inspired by them somehow.

The building was demolished many years ago. My mother, the only person that would have been able to instantly demystify this dream, has not been with us for a long time.

Thank you for reading.


Never Mind the Fool

Posted in Impressions, Journal Entry, Writing and Poetry on February 15th, 2010 by Angel Villanueva

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Senator Martin went in looking good. Her navy suit breathed power. She had put some starch on Gossage too.

Dr. Lecter sat alone in the middle of the room, in a stout oak armchair bolted to the floor. A blanket covered his straitjacket and leg restraints and concealed the fact that he was chained to the chair. But he still wore the hockey mask the kept him from biting.

Why? the Senator wondered. The idea had been to permit Dr. Lecter some dignity in an office setting. Senator Martin gave Chilton a look and turned to Gossage for papers.

Chilton went behind Dr. Lecter and, with a glance at the camera, undid the straps and removed the mask with a flourish.

“Senator Martin, meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter.”

Seeing what Dr. Chilton had done for showmanship frightened Senator Martin as much as anything that had happened since her daughter disappeared. Any confidence she might have had in Chilton’s judgment was replaced with the cold fear that he was a fool.

She’d have to wing it.

A lock of Dr. Lecter’s hair fell between his maroon eyes. He was as pale as the mask. Senator Martin and Hannibal Lecter considered each other: one extremely bright, the other not measurable by any means known to man.

The Silence of the Lambs

Thomas Harris, 1988

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Who hasn’t had a fool in their lives? In their desperate search for validation, these characters will command all they can, which on occasion will include our presence. But never mind the fool: in and of himself he is inconsequential. Sure they meddle and complicate things, and make no mistake, they can be destructive, but chaos is order ineffable: in facilitating encounters of all sorts they act as the catalyst for change. Much can be gained from being drawn from time to time to places where rules—particularly ours—are being broken. There, a great experiment is carried out both on our behalf and in spite of our efforts to stop it. The mistake most often made when wandering into a fool’s reach is attempting to draw conclusions from the experience before it’s time.

As for the fool himself, not much can be said other than everyone’s fares to the chaos are charged on his account. In The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris does us a sinister, yet amusing service, delivered perhaps more satisfyingly by the film than the novel. Chilton’s ultimate fate is our guilt and pleasure, leaning to the latter as it hints at a tantalizing possibility: a particular life form may experience a great deal of injustice during its existence, but the universe, in the end, balances itself out quite nicely.

With that thought, I leave you. I’m having an old friend for dinner…

Angel Villanueva

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