Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Story Behind The Lizard's Ardent Uniform (Veridical Dreams Vol. I)

I’m running through a dense forest—fast. My middle-aged body strong as I soar over fallen limbs and push aside branches. I hurtle over a mound of dirt and shrubbery, and crouch down at the edge of a vast, open field as arrows begin dropping all around me. I see a castle—my destination—in the distance. Off to the right of it is a small embankment and a familiar figure motioning for me to join him. He shoots a slew of arrows for cover and I make the run while cannon fire tears up the earth near me. With my last surge of energy, I leap wildly, landing next to my nephew who’d been providing protection.

“Glad you could make it, Uncle David,” he says with a grin.

I’m gasping for air but manage, “Wouldn’t miss this adventure for the world, Kyle.”

Together we travel on to the base of the fortress. I shudder at the sheer size of the wall that stretches high into the sky above us. I look at Kyle, his muscles are corded, flexing for the challenge of the climb. He’s ready to tackle it head on.


This recurring dream has a habit of varying in interpretation. At first it represented my concern with getting Kyle’s work published, in doing it right, to perfection, trying to avoid a barrage of sharp arrows of criticism, and also in getting his work out there, trying to climb that impossible castle wall of marketing and distribution. In spite of my own anxieties, I admired how he was ready for the challenge. Then, in lucid dreams the castle became death itself, my own human fear of passing over, and his brave wide-eyed fighter’s stance. He had perished in a horrific house fire that twisted the steel girders on which the home stood. Could I face death with as much strength as he showed in my dream?


In March of 2013, Kyle and I were talking (in one of our last face-to-face conversations) in his home along Fall Creek in Freeville, New York. He was telling me how he thought that a human’s nighttime voyages could be more than a breakdown of past events and a sweeping up of life’s daily debris or more than learning about one’s character and secret desires. He believed that dreams could be used effectively to reach one’s inner creativity and, perhaps, to reach the beyond. I listened politely, careful not to appear overly disapproving of something I felt wasn’t particularly plausible.

A little backstory is needed here to appreciate our relationship. It had taken awhile for Kyle and me to get back to just sitting, relaxing, and enjoying each other’s company: talking poetry, books, movies, et cetera. He was coming into his own as a man and a writer, and I was slowing down from globe-trotting for my day job. During the first seven years of his life we were very close. I was the zany uncle who would swing him and his younger sister, Kayla, (who’d referred to me as a human jungle gym) high in the air, upside down, and around and around. I even got down on his pre-K level to play in our pretend rock band, The Skeletons. Years later, Kyle would cringe as we’d watch our juvenile performance on primitive VHS video, and I would laugh. In the home movie, he’s wearing sunglasses and jamming on guitar, leaping from imaginary heights off his bed to the stage below and continuing to rock on while I banged away, off beat, on a tiny toy drum.

Then, at twenty-three, I entered the Army which was the beginning of a slow separation. As each year passed, my visits back home became fewer and shorter. We knew each other less and less as Kyle was growing into an adolescent. At first, we made idle chitchat, but, eventually, the silence between us filled the all-too-short visits. Our closeness had become a shadow of the days gone by.

In 2010, fate, thankfully, managed to wind back the clock’s rusted hands … just a little. It would never again be how it was, but we did achieve some common ground in books and writers. Kyle introduced me to the work of Vladimir Nabokov and I turned him into a Charles Bukowski enthusiast. Some literary-minded folks might say I got the better deal but not so. Kyle and I were in agreement: a good book was a good book whether it was what is considered literary, pulp, or in the case of Buk, dirty realism. We reveled in talking about Sylvia Plath, J.D. Salinger, and the Beats. I know we were both relieved that the uncomfortable silences were filled with gratifying conversation and spirited discussions. As much as I would like to paint a picture of all sunny days, I can’t because, as with most families, it was laced with struggles that barred an unfettered rapport. All considered, in a nutshell, that was our relationship from 1989–2013.

Back to March 2013 and dreams. I listened to Kyle talk about tapping into the undiscovered self and realms through our unconscious voyages, and while I did concede that I believed we can manipulate dreams for our own pleasure and use them to learn more about ourselves, I now know that he gave me a wizened look of, “There’s so much more,” and we moved on to other subjects.

Sadly, we didn’t delve into a topic of common ground: dream journals. I had never mentioned to Kyle that years before I had kept a dream journal, and I didn’t learn until after his death that he had also kept one on and off. When my sister, Meta (Kyle’s mother), showed me the large stack of notebooks and papers he had left at her house, I dug through finding early poems, letters, and different versions of already published prose as I began preparing his posthumous release, Celebrations in the Ossuary. Then, farther down in the box, I came across several battered notebooks. Like an overexcited child, I yelled, “We have his dreams!” It may have sounded foolish in the moment, but for me, as someone who had missed out on so many years of his life, it gave me a chance to discover more about him on a different level—from the surreal dreamscape cultivated under cover of rapid eye movement.

This beguiling world where he lived, loved, fought, escaped mazes, and time traveled was begging to be further explored. Kyle had read the BEAT to a PULP webzine and books, and he was familiar with the work of each writer involved with this collection. With his family’s blessing, I called on these friends, asking them to turn fragments of Kyle’s dreams into short stories. I picked out a handful of thought-provoking lines (for this first volume: “the lizard’s ardent uniform,” “the laconic dust,” “celebrated stomach of copper” and “two blurry rabbits,” “my body was hanging from a conveyer belt meat rack being pulled into a sky,” “I sold my soul to the devil for drugs,” “a lonely hitchhiker was walking down the road on a sunny afternoon,” “I went back in time … and tried really hard to warn him it was the boots that he used to take-off like a space ship”), and I sent off these prompts to each writer along with a bit of insight into Kyle. The rest was up to them to create anything they imagined from the dream prompt, and they all turned in stories I know Kyle would have found positively engaging.

Only after his death did I find out that, like me, Kyle was a fan of Dr. Who, and in an episode from season three of the new series, when David Tennant, playing the famous time traveler, says, “Some people live more in twenty years than others do in eighty. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person,” I think of the twenty-three-year-old Kyle Joseph Knapp and the many lives he lived as a poet, naturalist, musician, son, brother, friend, and dream voyager.

He lived a robust life, and in a way he’s continuing to do so … you’re holding the most current example.

I hope you enjoy. He would want you to.


Charles Gramlich said...

It's good to have this information down. I always finds it helps me to complete my thoughts on any relationship by writing them down. Looking forward to reading the collection.

Kayla Knapp said...

Im so excited for everyone to read this book. I feel that it has turned out just how Kyle would have imagined. You've really out done yourself Uncle D :)

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

David, you're a swell uncle. This is such a wonderful way to realise Kyle's dreams and reveal his writing talent. I look forward to reading the collection too.

David Cranmer said...

I keep a journal, Charles. And I'm continually amazed as I look back to the past how much I've forgotten.

Kayla, Your opinion (along with your mom and dad) is worth more than a NY Times review. I love you very much.

Prashant, Very kind words. Thank you. And please grab a kindle copy for free over the next several days.

pattinase (abbott) said...

So glad he kept a journal and wrote poetry. Such a great gift to leave behind.

David Cranmer said...

It was, Patti. And thank you for the gift of "Twin Talk." That was his kind of story and he would have loved it.

A Cuban In London said...

Fascinating backstory. Loved your post.

Greetings from London.

David Cranmer said...

A Cuban In London, Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read my post.

Ron Scheer said...

A copy on my desktop that I've been intending to read. Glad I waited to discover the backstory to learn of the shared imaginative world it sprang from.