The dream deliverer's workday begins somewhere between 2 and 3 AM. He rises, gets dressed in bike gear (including a headlamp for the darkness), and begins traveling to his subscribers' homes to make a delivery before dawn. The dream they will receive, printed on a card left at their step, has been custom-written for them by the deliverer the day before, lacing the waking landscape with something inexplicable and uncanny. After 25 to 40 miles of travel, the deliverer returns to his workshop and begins work on the next day's batch. On Sundays, every subscriber has the same dream.
Since 2014, poet Mathias Svalina has been performing the role of the deliverer, a job he dreamed up for himself as a way of combining all the things he loves into a role only he could fill. His acts of local service have slowly spread over the US, including monthly residencies in Austin, Tucson, Marfa, and Richmond, as well as internationally by mail. Current subscriptions are available at $60 for a month by mail inside the states and $85 internationally; meanwhile, his "nightmare" package costs $3.75 more, because "whereas writing dreams is very open and improvisatory and expansive, writing nightmares for me is very closed and narrow. I usually dread writing the nightmares every day." In June, he'll return to his hometown of Denver, where local delivery by bike for the month runs $45. Svalina also donates 15 percent of proceeds to Planned Parenthood in whichever state he happens to be. As for the future, the 41-year-old is open to suggestion as to where to head—it's a road that could lead anywhere.
So how does one compose individually scripted dreams for a wide group of people—some of them strangers, others friends? How is it possible to bring to life a kind of service that most realities would insist could never be?
"When I'm in the zone, the dreams just come flying out," Svalina tells me. "And I can sometimes write eight or ten an hour." Then, he provides an example dream off the cuff, beginning with the lines: "You are in a haunted castle. You work at the ice-cream counter inside the gift shop. The ghosts that haunt the castle all think they are doctors." The 162-word dream example takes him about seven minutes to conjure in full, somehow along its way demonstrating an oddly emotional relevance in even such a short space. He usually spends eight to ten hours a day inside this mindset, producing a constant stream of micro-works of pure imagination. With some simple math, one might estimate a single day of Svalina's output might result in a hundred miniature creations.
Judging by Svalina's other writing—including more than ten works of published poetry—one gets the sense his brain is naturally connected to the curious, unwinding undercurrent of the subconscious such a project would require, able to deep dive into illogical landscapes and return with uncanny treasure. His 2011 novella, I Am a Very Productive Entrepreneur, provides an array of short vignettes in which a man describes the insane array of all-but-impossible businesses he's created, out of which something like a dream-delivery service could itself have been pulled.
Because, as Svalina puts it, the writing of these dreams are "formal experiments, not in the sense of recreating dreams themselves, which are expansive and uniquely freaky-deaky, but in how we relate dreams to each other." In a time of such heavy daily political and social turmoil, his service seems not like an escape but a rebinding maneuver, applying warmth to places uncared for, left to flounder. "Writing the dreams and taking experiences and stuff and making them into weird, illogical narratives," he continues, "that feels more complete and realistic than trying to navigate the byzantine complexities and veiled meanings of real life."
The idea of Svalina out on his bike in the morning dark of some small US city carrying poetry to the still-sleeping seems like an act of total faith, some kind of medicine. At the very least, it's also act of rebellion, veering completely out of the lane we're supposed to be in. It's work almost no one else could do, would even be able to conceive of employing as reality.
"I often feel like a douche writing these mostly whimsical pieces every day," he says of his pursuit, amid the national climate, "but I try to remind myself that the spirit of the project is to create this intimate relationship with the subscribers and that these forms of intimacy exist parallel to the horrors of the political scumocracy."
"Writing the dreams and taking experiences and making them into weird, illogical narratives feels more complete and realistic than trying to navigate the byzantine complexities and veiled meanings of real life."
As such, the dreams aren't political at all, by definition: They operate with space that allows the reader to fill in his or her own context, to reformat one's reality amid illogic. Svalina tries to combine images from whatever city he's in with intersections of other media—art and photography and film, as well as random dreams the people he runs into daily in the act of his delivery, like a neural network absorbing both the conscious and unconscious limits of his local world. Like a "whirlpool in the middle of a Wendy's maybe," Svalina offers.
"I can write something like, 'Then your mother walks in holding a rusted rake,' and I can trust that regardless of what kind of relationship the subscriber has with their mother they have or had a mother," he says. "And then the subscriber hopefully imbues the moment with some kind of intimate interpretation. I guess that's a basic trick of most writing, to leave enough space for the reader to make the thing feel important."
In the end, too, what's being created here isn't only an arbitrary system of flighty ideas and hidden logics but a work of literature devised specifically for its reader, an ongoing set of texts created in a series numbered only ever one of one.
"I want the whole month to feel like some kind of attenuated book," Svalina explains, "a book that only that subscriber will every read." Like the Chinese poet Li Po writing poems only to release them onto the flowing water of a river, Svalina's work is a waking form of magic, returning a feeling of the fantastical and unknowable to a culture that could surely stand a better example of how to be.
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Learn more about Mathias Svalina's Dream Delivery Service.