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“People who have hallucinations after operations sometimes ­don’t seem to come all the way back. Part of them gets lost. The hallucination can be at least as good, as powerful and compelling and meaningful as real life. Especially since real life is as a patient, the victim of a disease. The hallucination is so engrossing that they ­don’t want to leave it behind. ­I’m afraid that will happen with ­me.”

That paragraph was written by a friend of mine and published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in December 2009, in a novelette titled “I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said.” It is part of a larger novel in the works, My Life in Speculative Fiction, I believe. His name is Richard Bowes, and he has won the World Fantasy Award and much attention from serious readers and ­publishers.

The title is a kind of double twist on, for one, a Philip K. Dick novel, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. (Dick, as you may know, is the author of multiple SF classics; and since his indigent death, many of these have been adapted to film, such as Blade Runner, originally titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

All of which owes life to an Elizabethan poet and composer, John Dowland, “Kind of the Kurt Cobain of Elizabethan England.” — Richard Bowes. Dowland wrote the song/poem, “Flow My Tears.” Part of which is:

Now,
oh now I needs must part,
Parting though I absent ­mourn.
Absence can no joy impart:
Joy once fled cannot return.
Later:
Sad despair doth drive me hence,
This despair unkindness ­sends.
If that parting be offence,
It is I which then offends.

It is great stuff for the self-indulgent romantic, the pretentious tubercular, or victim of some other life-threatening deal, the body betraying its host. It happens and the temptation to romanticize freaking everything (and depress everyone within reach) can be a terminal ­symptom.

Which leads me to personal, confessional stuff; ­I’ve done it many times before and have been met with both applause and disdain for ­it.

Since my quadruple bypass seven years ago, I have had recurring nightmares that began, I think, in the intensive care ward at Mercy. ­Here’s the confessional ­part.

I dreamed I was driving (though my license was to be pulled, and I ­didn’t know that at the time, by the DMV because of cardiac failure and their vision that I would collapse behind the wheel). I hit a young deer on a rural road, a fawn. I did not kill it but nearly so. I got out of the car and found a rock to crush its skull and end its pain. I began and within a blow or two the fawn transformed into my son at a young age — just past toddlerhood. I killed him before I knew it. This is the first time I have ever related this dream, much less published it. I killed my ­son.

Another recurring dream since intensive care has been illicit adventures with my brother Paul, who died some years ago from a feral bone cancer. He is most often with me in my dreams these days, and frequently we are doing something vaguely illegal — setting fire to piles of raked, dead leaves; stealing jewelry from Marshall Fields in Chicago (something we would never conceive of); and torturing bullies with dental equipment (satisfying, but again, never happened).

Since open-heart surgery and recovery, dating exactly from that weekend seven years ago, is the dream of being apprehended for crimes I never committed but for which there is always proof: photographs, dream videotapes of me introducing alcohol to minors in an insistent way and giving them drugs in glassine envelopes, the names of which I ­don’t even know to this day. Did I indicate that this is something I never ­contemplated?

The dream that takes the cake, one that dates from ICU seven years ago and pops up at random but too often, is this: being part of a web or — what? — a conglomerate of green lights floating in space. I recognize these as information on vital sign monitors in hospitals: a universe of terminal patients with inconsequential information they are determined to impart. Bowes writes about something very similar. Ironic, and I ­don’t remember ever speaking with him about this particular ­image.

I have few erotic dreams, but I do dream of women, former companions I loved but alienated, with drinking mostly. They come to me at night and seem to forgive me, but in waking reality they (sensibly) want as little as possible to do with me. Loneliness is a trigger for inebriation and one ­I’ve ignored because I thought it did not apply. You are born alone and you die alone. Existential machismo that qualifies as bullshit as surely as the illusion of ­immortality.

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Comments

EricBlair June 23, 2010 @ 1:05 p.m.

Actually, John, your green web? It's more than patients in the ICU. It's all the connections you have to everyone, by word or by deed, throughout your life.

Thomas Mann comes to mind: "A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own."

Of course, I hope you remember the joke about what a dream really means.

Me, I hope that you crawl up into the light, now or later. But if you do not, remember that you have done many good things, as well as things you wished you had done differently. Like most all of us.

The young wish for justice. Wise elders wish for mercy.

You have done much good, John, and I think of you often. And always, always wish you well.

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rickbowes June 23, 2010 @ 8:46 p.m.

Hi John

The reason I was so aware and wary about post operation hallucinations is that a few months before I was hospitalized my mother underwent a 14 hour operation for cancer of the mouth. She came out of that with an elaborate hallucination that the entire staff of the Mass General hospital was involved in an illegal movie in which she was playing a corpse. She never quite overcame that. She died a few weeks ago.

I describe her hallucinations in the course of the story - attribute them to "a woman of my acquaintance. That's right, I exploited my 86 year old mother for a pulp fiction story.

Was your brother Paul the one I met here in New York years ago?

Hospital hallucinations are a common enough phenomenon to have gotten written up in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/21/science/21delirium.html?adxnnl=1&ref=homepage&src=me&adxnnlx=1277218858-M/n1PdkpSc5VWnd36ZuqyQ

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rickbowes June 23, 2010 @ 8:50 p.m.

Oh, yeah, and the novel to be's title is DUST DEVIL: MY LIFE IN SPECULATIVE FICTION.

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EricBlair June 24, 2010 @ 10 a.m.

Mr. Bowes, I went looking for your e-mail address to write to you directly, and was unsuccessful. Thus, sorry for the note here.

JB has spoken admiringly of you for the couple of decades that I have known him. Not just because of your fine fiction (and having read it, such is my opinion as well), but because of your kindnesses toward John as the Pinball Machine of Life batted him around.

Like me, you have tried to help John out monetarily from time to time. I never thought of that making loans; I thought of it as an investment in getting more writing from John. And so we were both successful, here and now.

I don't know how often JB has thanked you for being a colleague and friend. I know that he was grateful, and is so still.

And JB, sorry if I am speaking for you, but that is how you described things to me years ago, and I have no way of contacting you now.

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Grasca June 24, 2010 @ 10:36 a.m.

Yeats - "the center will not hold."

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SurfPuppy619 June 26, 2010 @ 7:57 p.m.

Does the guy in the pic remind anyone-besides myself- of Ricardo Montalban??

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Ponzi June 26, 2010 @ 8:39 p.m.

Somewhat. Except Mr. Montalban's hair was gray all around (on top) for many years before he had developed many wrinkles.

But it is a resemblance!

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SDaniels June 26, 2010 @ 9:19 p.m.

re: #8: Unfort, in better days.

re: #2: Thank you for that article. When my aunt and grandmother both had terrifying hallucinations in hospital, it was attributed to postoperative recovery from anaesthetic. Of course, drying out can give one hallucinations as well, though neither of them were alcoholics.

re:#7: Let's hope SurfPuppy gets over his Fantasy Island hallucinations before he accidentally falls out of the hydroplane ;)

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Ponzi June 26, 2010 @ 9:28 p.m.

You mean flying boat SDaniels? A "hydroplane" is a race boat not "ze plane, ze plane..." as the flying boat that was the feature in Fantasy Island.

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David Dodd June 26, 2010 @ 9:45 p.m.

Apropos of nothing, I actually met Hervé Villechaize once. I was perhaps seventeen, maybe eighteen. I was acting, he came backstage. A girl I had a crush on who was also in the play took to one of his handlers. This is what happens. Anyway, Hervé was very nice and quite supportive.

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SDaniels June 27, 2010 @ 1:08 a.m.

Ze plehn, ze plehn! Ehhh, merde alors, un "flying boat!"

Really, Ponz? Is that a technical term? What about those light planes that land on the water? Or are they really landing on sandbars?

In that case, what kind of falsehood has been perpetrated on Fantasy Isle fans and non-jetsetters everywhere!?!

And upon pain of late night death, don't answer, "This is what happens, refried." ;)

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David Dodd June 27, 2010 @ 1:38 a.m.

Actually, SD, truth be told, I had to look it up. And I'll be damned. Ponzi is technically correct. This is... um... very early on a Sunday morning...

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Grasca June 27, 2010 @ 9 a.m.

Ricardo hawked Corinthian Leather in some commercial 100 years ago.

FG offering any apology ? I need to light a votive in thanksgiving and disbelief.

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Ponzi June 27, 2010 @ 11:21 a.m.

@SDaniels

"...Really, Ponz? Is that a technical term? What about those light planes that land on the water?..."

Those would be "floatplanes", regular fixed-wing aircraft fitted with pontoons to land on water. Flying boats are seaplanes (with specifically designed fuselage/hulls) to land and navigate on water. I think the difference is that flying boats usually can carry more passengers and can land in more turbulent waters. Most floatplanes land on lakes and bodies of water that are gentle, whereas flying boats tend to land in ocean water.

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nan shartel June 27, 2010 @ 1:34 p.m.

s*** Brizz...ur still swingin' for the fences homey...all is well

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nan shartel June 27, 2010 @ 1:39 p.m.

this reminds me of a movie about that choreographer Bob Fosse

in it he ended badly 2

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