Life was happy and, somehow, bland in the oasis of the university campus. Green lawns cascaded toward buildings colored like desert mountains: tile red, yarrow, grays and greens and dusky-sunset blues. But that’s simply to set the scape of the dream, where imagination creates, not mere desert willows, but willows that enliven their narrow leaves and pink blooms, whose pods rattle wildly in the brush of hot wind.
The blandness bled from my mind. This was my life, my dream world: children, husband, and extended family sought comfort in numbers while they tossed bread to absurdly mean geese stampeding around the campus pond. No, this wasn’t the life I had always dreamed of, but the life that filled me when asleep, which is an important distinction to make.
In due time, my father-in-law spotted the name of the game show painted down the sides of the vans, all parked together near our vehicle. We were thus enlightened to the actual purpose of my dream: The Traveling Debate Show, a PBS venture, had finally found its way to the back cactus acres off the NM I 25, and hoards of hopeful locals gathered. They were the best, the brightest, or simply wanted a stab at a TV appearance.
Dad, Dad-in-Law, and Husband mocked the show. The debaters consisted of three groups–the Default Show-Host plants, the Intellectual Elites, and the average citizenry who occasionally conquered the debates, to the chagrin of the PhDs. The three men in my life mocked the show for its falseness, claiming it was an unreality show meant to subvert average people, to convince them they weren’t capable of rational debate, even though average people stuck to arguing the established positions. And still they lost, unless the directors needed to push forward a smart Joe or sassy Nancy to further entrap the viewing audience into watching again and again, rooting for Nancy-Joe-Junior-Jones-Smith-Chavez.
“I want to sign up,” I said.
“You’d better get in line quick, then.” Husband’s voice stung me with its dry skepticism.
Feeling small and silly, I joined the throngs and added my name to the list: — In my sleeping world, I’m an unnamed individual, a blank scrawl on a signature line. With every last drop of sweat-born courage [it was June or July and HOT], I informed the registrar that I chose to enter as an oppositional debater. I would take the Contrarian position, rather than the mainstream one.
“You don’t want to do that,” the registrar said. “Average people don’t sign up for the oppositional position. The only people who win that side are the PhDs.”
Inside, my heart quailed, but on the outside, I insisted. The Contrarian was my archetype. I couldn’t play any role but that one. Being perversely obstinate came naturally to me.
“O.K.,” the registrar said, and he put pen to paper and signed me up, directed me to my debate table where I filled out a myriad of disclaimers while my Default Show-Host waited, bored.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “Average people aren’t usually capable of debating the opposite viewpoint.”
I stared at him–at his clear eyes, brown hair, at the honest and instinctual appearance of his face. At essence, he was the archetypal image of Husband. No, I wasn’t sure at all that I wanted to do this. But I would carry on with it for the perverseness of the venture.
“They’ll bring us our topics in a few minutes. We may or may not get on camera,” he warned.
My contradictory nature couldn’t decide whether being on camera would be a negative or a positive. As my gut cramped, my mind warred between I want to be famous! and I want to be anonymous! Eventually, a harried woman in a lavender suit brought us two slips of paper with our debate topics. No cameraman or equipment appeared, and that fulfilled my expectations, at least. Average No-Name with Default Show-Host weren’t where the action was at.
Much to my non-surprise, the slips of paper were both blank and bore our topics at the same time. I knew as I stared at the little words not written there that I didn’t stand a chance of winning as a Contrarian. I couldn’t debate against these topics. How could I? They were too ordinary, and I would appear a fool.
As dreams go, the actual debate, where the climax of the dream should have played out, was a blur. I lost. But the details of my failure were missing because it was the expected result. The topics didn’t matter, and neither did the syllogisms. After it was over, Default Show-Host pretended that we’d had a good fight to the finish. He practically patted me on the head–in fact, I think he did. He patted me on my golden blonde hair [my hair hasn’t been that blonde since childhood], and he reassured me: “Average people don’t ever win the contrary argument. You did fine.”
Of course, my dream self shrugged the loss aside and buried the smallness I felt. I shrank inside my Wal Mart clearance rack t-shirt and convinced myself that the topics were wrong, that going against an instinctual male would never merit me accolades, that I still possessed a deeply intelligent half to my psyche. I was still a true Contrarian.
As I write this account of my dream world, many obvious interpretations leap out at me. And yet, I wonder if the true meaning is hidden in the same way that the PhDs were hidden throughout. In my imagination, I’m able to conjure a vision of the Intellectual Elites, with their dry shirts and sharp, wicked eyes framed by wire glasses. But they aren’t in the scape. Nothing in my mind brings them to life–no rattles of pens or the shaking of paper leaves, or the seeds of oppositional knowledge meeting the desert wind.
At the finale, I left the debate show, and the extended family went off for barbecue, and I followed along behind them, unsettled. A piece of me is still left in that dream.