Theme to Suspiria

by Andrew Fort

m.c. escher

In the dream there was a courtyard, and a pile of apartments across the courtyard, as if the window I looked out and the distant apartments were all part of the same circular complex.

There was also a caterpillar (or was it?) running through the various apartments.

Also, the apartments were built at impossible angles, so it was very much like an M.C. Escher drawing. And inherent in this was the knowledge that the caterpillar was actually a team of burglars in cunning disguise, scaling the sides and the stairwells of the building in order to sneak in and out of apartments unnoticed.

But this was just a portion of the dream, which mostly centered around the sense of dread that this plague of robbers represented.

I was home alone. I was eleven.

In the dream my friend Jeff and I had somehow stayed too late at school and it had gotten dark when we weren’t looking. As we walked home through a nightscape haunted by neon, adults were busy doing adult things in all of the houses. You could sense it in the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the electrical charge we both felt was, but Jeff was very succinct: he listened intently, then told me: “I hear balls.” That seemed to clarify everything.

He wanted to stay and try to catch a glimpse of what was going on through the bedroom window; I decided I’d better get home. My parents had left for the night, and my mother had put my dinner on the windowsill which faced the courtyard: a metal bowl of the type that we used to feed the dogs, full of liverwurst and cooked ground beef. She had never been the best cook in the world, but this was a new low. I pushed it aside and watched out the window, as the caterpillar-burglars raided the apartments.

hot lava


I was beginning to feel agitated, so I decided that, since I was alone, I might as well play “hot lava.” I got up on the bed and pretended that the carpet was untouchably hot, and that if I fell in I would turn to ash. As I made my way around the room, past my denim record player, past my lamp whose light bulb still had melted crayon stuck to it, over the bed, past the little bookcase, and the closet with the mysteriously rattling metal doors, and back to the windowsill, I realized that I was not alone. As the lava roiled beneath and the burglar caterpillar prowled the Escher landscape outside, I noticed that sitting on the window sill was a disembodied head: bright red, like a devil, but not with the traditional black hair and goatee; in fact, aside from the redness, it looked rather angelic, with close-cropped pale blond hair and the handsome features of a baby-faced man.

It began talking to me, saying things I didn’t understand—adult things—and I remember terror mounting within me as I realized that what I really needed to do was shove the head into the roiling lava.

I woke up in one of those panic-sweats.

Despite its vividness, the dream was forgotten by the following morning.

But these things have a way of lurking subconsciously. When I returned home after college, I had learned many of the adult things that the devil-head had been whispering into my ear, but rather than answering my childhood questions, they only raised more questions. The world had become more baffling and my place in it more uncertain.

For one, I had realized that there were two kinds of writers: writers-for-hire who recognized their status as writers meant that their talent was to be exploited for material gain, and those who wrote because they were unable not to. The first type seemed to me more practical, and it seemed like they had a clearer path forward to a successful, happy adulthood. The second type often ended up poor, miserable, and alcoholic, and quite possibly laboring under a delusion of talent. One of the baffling adult questions on my mind was whether or not the fact that my work had been rejected in bulk meant that I was of the second type.

suspiria redAbout this time I saw the film Suspiria. Almost immediately, the dream came back to me. In fact, the theme music, and the film in general, seemed to be an elaboration of that dream. It was as if Dario Argento and I had been to the same vacation spot in hell and brought back different postcards. When I saw the girl running through the forest, and when I saw Stefania Casini fall into the room filled with razor wire, and when I heard the Goblins howling on the soundtrack, something inside me unlocked.

Guided by this music, I found myself laboring over a screenplay which eventually became a novel, in the same bedroom out of whose window I had watched the Escher landscape. For better or worse, it was the first time I was able to follow a novel-length vision to completion.

As it turns out, writing is a lot more difficult than dreaming. And publishing that writing is even harder. But it was at that point that I knew irrevocably which kind of writer I was. The important thing is that I did it in that very same bedroom, and when I look back on all of the complex emotions of childhood, and the sometimes baffling and tortuous beauty of the everyday world, I think I wouldn’t have it any other way.

During the month of October MIDKIN will devote entries to music and themes in keeping with the season. Submissions along these lines are welcome.



By Andrew Fort

fog 1Imagine you are having a dream. Any dream; insert your random montage here. Trying to shop for Brussels sprouts, for example, but the plastic bags are turning into jellyfish which threaten to sting you. Or you desperately need to go to the bathroom, but Chevy Chase is blocking the entrance, and he’s being really mean. And anyway the bathroom is not a bathroom, but a Ferris wheel. Chevy still won’t let you by.

Now imagine this random montage of absurd imagery is also deeply emotional. It is, in fact, making you weep with a sudden depth more profound than anything else you have experienced. And it’s happening while you’re awake.

And then imagine it’s over in an instant.

They might have been visions sent from God, if God had Captain Beefheart for a playwright and Salvador Dali for a set designer. They might have been visitations from dead relatives, if my dead relatives were Jane Curtin and Bozo the Clown. Or they might have been acid flashbacks, if I’d ever done acid.

I hadn’t.

As I began to figure out what was happening, I became aware that I was being revisited–usually about ten times a day, not counting the ones that happened while I was asleep–by long-forgotten dreams. And they weren’t the meaningful ones. They were just any old dream which I might have had over the course of a lifetime which has probably been too stuffed with surrealist art, pop-culture references, and hand-wringing philosophical quandaries. But somehow they were always paired with a sudden spasm of free-floating grief.

fog 2What was clear to me from the start was that this was something which originated in the chemical or electrical processes of the brain. My thoughts and emotions had never followed this particular pathway before. With a little sleuthing from my wife, we came upon the culprit: TLE, or Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Everything written about it said that it emanated from a small–often microscopic–scar on the brain which caused localized seizures and didn’t affect motor function. As the Temporal Lobe controls memory and emotion, it seemed entirely plausible as the source of these profoundly gut-wrenching inanities.

My doctors were a little slower on the uptake. I first had to see a therapist who, despite being perfectly pleasant, was clearly concerned by the end of session two that I was wasting her time. About six months after the incidents began I made it to a neurologist, who instantly recognized what was going on. Still, it took a month or two to find the right medication to get this to stop. In the meantime, I began to experience a depression like I’d never had before.

I understand that others probably experience depression differently, and it can be debilitating for many. But that wasn’t the case with me. True, everything seemed meaningless. True, nothing held my interest. True, everything was colorless. But ironically, it was a very productive time. Nothing held any meaning any more, but since nothing held any meaning, there was no reason why I SHOULDN’T continue to work on my novel, or do the dishes, or open an IRA. Since none of it meant anything, everything was weighted equally—inaction as well as action. I got a lot done, and I lost thirty pounds to boot, because eating also didn’t interest me.

fog 3But where it really hurt, aside from the random finger-jabs of inconsolable weeping, was that I couldn’t listen to music. None of it. All of the music that has brought me comfort over the years and helped me become who I am, it all reminded me only of myself. It was no longer a communication from someone out in the world to me, but only a communication from my own poorly-wired brain to itself, and it seemed as meaningless as the sudden Sisyphean dream-memory of a cat trying to retrieve a bean from the top of a flagpole while I watched from below and a boom-box played “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”

So what was I left with? Silence.

When the medication eventually kicked in, music began to creep its way back into my life. In fact, it was as if it had never left.

I have often heard people say that if it weren’t for modern pharmaceuticals, they wouldn’t be able to function. I’m sure, given the mildness of my condition, I would have continued to soldier on. But I have also heard it said that music is like medicine. For me, the two are now inextricably tied.