Monday, Mar. 31, 2003, 11:42 PM

Dream sequence number one

So here I sit on an airplane at the Pittsburgh International Airport. The pilot just informed us that sever weather in the north Midwest is going to delay our departure for at least an hour and a half. That's about how long the battery on my laptop is going to last. I have been busy and I have neglected you, dear diary, but now I am captive in a flying tin can with my laptop. I could be doing work, but I will scorn work for you once again.

Today's subject, boys and girls, is dreaming. I have incredibly vivid and intense dreams. But of course, being long-time readers, you already know this salient fact. I participate in about half of my dreams, and the other half I look on as an impartial observer, as though my dream was a movie or play being performed for me and me alone. How strange the human mind to conjure such images while the body is regenerating itself one cell at a time.

I remember one dream where I was launched into space with Laika the Russian dog on a journey to the edge of space. We floated along and watched the Earth fall away from us until it was a blue spec swirled with white like a marble. I had my notebook with me with formulas and lines and circles where I had calculated the trajectory to fling us beyond the solar system. We passed Mars and Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and finally little Pluto. We passed through the Oort cloud where the comets hung like fluffy snowballs waiting for some errant body to send them careening through our solar system on a game of cat and mouse with our sun. After a while the stars seemed to grow brighter and they began to whisk by the window and I was surprised to see that they were lightbulbs. Little glowing lightbulbs all ablaze with no sockets, floating in space like channel markers for passing spaceships. More time passed and the Milky Way began to materialize as a thin band of light until we changed course and flew above it. As it dropped away from the window I could see the spiral shape, and could almost believe that if I looked hard enough at the Orion arm, three quarters of the way to the end, that I could see a flicker of blue that was my home.

Galaxies began to float by, large collections of lightbulbs and tube socks lost to the dryer. Then giant collections of galaxies and quasars and I lost sight of the Milky Way amongst the flotsam of space. And then I reached the edge of the universe.

You could not see it from inside. It looked like black empty space that stretched out to infinity, but all at once the ship passed through a barrier and a demarcation line drifted by the window and everything was mind-numbingly white. It was white and empty. A space without dimension and a steady light very like being in a cloud. I could see this window of dark space where we had left the known universe slowly shrink to a point and then disappear. At that point it was impossible to tell if we were moving at all. I could hear the steady drone of the engines but with nothing to reference outside of our surroundings it became impossible to tell if we were making any progress.

I turned the ship around hoping to find the way back. I could not measure distance so I measured time and waited until we had drifted for the same amount of time as when we had first left our known universe. When the opening failed to come into view I waited some more.Laika and I played catch by bouncing a tennis ball off of the wall of the ship and watching it float by. She wasn't very good at catching it since she had no leverage in zero gravity and could only flail her legs and soon lost interest.

It would be nice to say something profound at this point. It would be nice to tell you that I realized the dream as a metaphor for the failed search of self beyond our surroundings, or the inability of man to comprehend the unknowable, or even the tranquil enlightenment acquired from leaving all worldly possessions behind and embracing the light of nothingness, but it is not true. The truth is that time ceased to matter and space ceased to matter and the engines, impotent and immeasurable, cut out with a sad final sputter and left us drifting or sitting in the heart of nowhere.

And then, like every dream before, I woke up.