In my dream, I was supposed to meet David Foster Wallace at the Lucy Robbins Welles public library–as it existed in 1979, not as it does not today. But I was stopped by an unexpected guard at the door asking for my badge. A badge? To get into a library I’d been visiting since I was old enough to walk there by myself and check out every single creepy William Sleator book I could find, reading and re-reading House of Stairs until the binding broke? The guard insisted my machine-washed, heavily creased, barely legible library card wasn’t enough to gain admittance. (And that I owed them a Judy Blume I never returned.)
But most importantly, I didn’t have a badge. I wasn’t allowed inside.
Frantic, I insisted I was to meet the author prior to some engagement he had there. I didn’t want to screw up probably the only chance I would ever have to speak with the closest thing I could equate to a hero (musicians, actors, quarterbacks, astronauts . . . yes they are nice, but give me a wordy nerd, thank you). An older gentleman came up behind me as I was desperately arguing my case. He said in an authoritarian, nearly presidential voice, “She’s with me,” flashed his badge and we were in.
While walking among the stacks on the way to what I thought was a presentation with Wallace, this man spoke to me kindly and as if I should know who he was. It was clear he knew me. He talked of my writing, both private and public. He praised some of it and greatly shamed me for most of it. Shamed me for being lazy, for skating by with a minimum of effort, for not working hard enough, for wasting something special.
He humbled me to tears.
This man took pity on me as I stumbled to thank him for being so honest, for having faith in me. I was profoundly humiliated that after all his generosity, I still could not place this man who so clearly invested considerable time thinking about me, mortified that I had no idea who he was when it was clear I was supposed to be meeting him all along.
The man took pity on me and flashed me the badge that gained us both entrance into the cavernous, now unrecognizable library of my childhood. His badge identified him as Wallace Stevens.
I don’t often cry in dreams and when I do (much like when I laugh in dreams) I quickly wake up.
The dream haunted me for most of the day and when I confessed it to my friend BG, confessed the part about being a dork and looking up Stevens on the Internet–discovering his achievements were made much later in life and half-wishing that this might be some message of hope for me from the great beyond, BG quickly (and appropriately) put me in my place, suggesting that this was far better than Foster Brooks haunting me.
BG then suggested I underestimate myself, and made what was likely to him an unassuming metaphor regarding me just taking off the water wings, discarding the inflatable ducky and swimming to the deep end of the pool.
I think this meant as much to me as Wallace Stevens making the long voyage from wherever it is dead authors go, waiting to be dreamt alive.