Agent Cooper’s Dream
by Annie Heckman
My friend’s mom would let us watch whatever we wanted from Blockbuster.
After she came home from work, she took a glass of wine upstairs and we took over the couch. Seven Years in Tibet. Brad Pitt! This was our introduction to Tibet.
We had all our warm clothes and nothing to worry about. We wanted to learn about Tibet too. How cold was it really? And wasn’t the Dalai Lama lucky at first to live in a place that’s so fancy, with everybody paying so much attention to him, or would he have been so cold in the hollow dark palace? And the end of the story was beyond our knowledge of history, somewhere in a hazy mixture of conflicts that fell to the side of the biggest wars in our imagination. We were responsible for knowing about those biggest wars, and the American Constitution. Our teacher asked us to clip out Earthweek articles from the newspaper, and we did this every week. I remember that she cried when she told us about Tiananmen Square. This was awkward at the time, crucial later.
But seven years before that movie came out in the theatres, maybe eight years before it made it to VHS, some time when I was really not supposed to be watching, my sister showed me the whole two-season run of Twin Peaks. This was partly to sponsor my upcoming education in cinema and detective work, and perhaps partly because the series was a little damaging when viewed in solitude. Near the top of the first season, I discovered years later, Agent Cooper had introduced me to the great land of Tibet, with an exercise in catching killers through meditative absorption and target practice, throwing rocks at bottles while reading off different prompts to narrow down the killer’s identity. Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer. Agent Cooper learned, through dreams and study, how to nourish and trust his intuition. I was too early in my career to notice the historical precariousness of his observations, or his conflation of other Mahayana schools with Zen. Because of the sincerity of his narration, I quote him at length here:
“Following a dream I had three years ago, I have become deeply moved by the plight of the Tibetan people, and have been filled with a desire to help them. I also awoke from the same dream realizing that I had subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique, involving mind-body coordination operating hand-in-hand with the deepest level of intuition.”
Later in the series, our villain Windom Earle brings up stories about red-hats and yellow-hats, the mythical underpinnings of the Black and White Lodges, planting further echoes for aspiring Tibetologists of the 21st century. Life is one great hallucination.
But if I go back a little further, I remember the puzzles.
Grandma had a puzzle in the den. One side was the United States, and the other side was the world. Here’s a picture of this type of puzzle:
We may note that the Atlantic Ocean floats steamer ships and, surprisingly, sailboats. But from the Cape of Good Hope, one might observe a mermaid reclining on a stone in the middle of the ocean, and may wonder whether she is brave enough to stay at her post while the massive swimming yellow dragon approaches from Australia. The central region of North America, the United States, carries many detailed industrial and natural markers, while Canada carries considerably fewer lifestyle notations. Toronto, for example, lies between two large piles of logs. Looking further East, we see the Taj Mahal riding low into the Deccan Plateau, with a panda bear knocking at the door. On this map there are no diasporas. The color blocks make loose borders, but there are no lines at all. So many things are wrong with these, and I loved these puzzles. I’m sure that if I find this in Grandma’s basement over the holidays, I’ll want to put it together piece by piece.
So then I could flash forward to a party in the late 2000s. When my friend the foreign policy expert shook his head and asked me why I wanted to write my art history paper about Tibet. He looked at me skeptically, rubbing his forehead with dismay while I talked about my topic, until I started to talk about buffer states, and then we had a conversation.
I bought the Bardo Thödol and a book about the Kalacakra Mandala. I kept the Bardo Thödol alongside the Egyptian Book of the Dead and hoped to discover what a book of the dead would tell me, fundamentally and universally, that I could use as a lever in my future departure from the body. Today when I read books about the misconceptions people have, and the poor ways they categorize and exoticize, and the damage it does, I can see through my own arrangements that misunderstandings are like stepping stones to any understanding that does take shape. And that I need to make and break my own misconceptions sometimes. And that I’ll look back on my current intellectual certainties with laughter at best. Perhaps it comes to a question of motivation, and care.
The stories could keep going forward. If the language of Ewoks was actually inspired by Tibetan language, then many levels of analysis will be required to continue the process for me. I will find Tibet in every thread of my clothing at the age of five, and I’ll find it in every pleasant dream and in each nightmare, because this is what happens when we look for things from the present state.
I’d like to understand the dream of 2008, when he died and came back in a white tent. And the disappearing gift shop on St. Mark’s in 2005. But otherwise the accounts are really just like the little dot you make on a ruler with a felt tip marker, to keep the measure temporarily. Academic work has some kind of wrapper on it that’s supposed to keep it clean alongside the slippage of dreams. There is nothing really to illustrate.
I would like to note that, as a child, I thought that Weird Al Yankovic and Michael Jackson were brothers, and that Weird Al had permission to use Michael Jackson’s songs because of this closeness. I ground this misunderstanding in Bad / Fat, Beat It! / Eat It! and so forth. With these kinds of perceptions, I can only be grateful for the books I have.