I dreamed I was working downtown in some city at night, I don't know what city. I drove around, and my car left pictures in the middle of the lane I was in, similar to arrows in turn lanes and "STOP AHEAD," but in my case, my car -- I was doing this with an ordinary car, not one of those very slow-moving vehicles used to paint lane markers and others signs on streets -- in this case, I was painting things like picture of oranges and grapes in the canter of lanes, images almost as wide as my car, simple iconic images similar, except in size, to the oranges and cherries and 7's in slot machines.
It was not at all clear why I was doing this. It was also not clear for whom I was working. Someone seemed to be paying me, but I don't know whether it was a government entity or a private firm. My job had a sort of institutional feel to it, as if I was working either for the government or for a contractor who was being paid by the government. Besides myself and my fellow street-painters, most of the people up and about were people making street repairs, and cops, and news vendors, and we all knew each other and nodded collegially when we saw one another.
My car didn't look any different than other cars. There wasn't any huge painting equipment sticking out all over from it. The ability to paint the images on the pavement and to paint them right, at right angles to the lanes and with no smudges or doubling, and a whole image each time, not just a part of one -- all of this seemed to have much more to do with my skill than with any issues of the equipment I was using.
In the daytime, after my shift was over, I visited a large group of friends and acquaintances in a big house just outside of town. It was autumn, the house was surrounded by big trees and their leaves were brilliant orange and red and yellow, only a few were brown and dead. It was a ranch-style house, with a lot of horizontal space. Many of us were gathered around a huge dining-room table, some having breakfast, others just socializing.
One of my acquaintances in the house was a young man who had recently started doing the same sort of street-painting work as I did. It seemed he was struggling at work: his pictures of fruit -- most of the pictures we did were oranges or lemons or grapes or cherries -- were coming out smudged or partial much too often. He was very worried that he was going to be fired. I did my best to help him out, telling him how making good pictures was almost entirely dependent on having the right frame of mind.
I told him how for a long time I had a lot of trouble operating manual can-openers. I had thought that the problem was that I hadn't been gripping hard enough. Finally I figured out that it had been the very opposite: I had been gripping the can openers much too tightly, so tight that they could barely move. Once I figured out how tightly I should grip, opening cans became amazingly easy. I asked him if he had ever had this sort of problem with a hand tool. He said no. I asked him if he could imagine what that sort of problem was like. He thought for a while and said he supposed so. I said that he didn't have to say that he understood if he didn't: he wasn't here to impress me right now, but to learn how to paint the streets better. He thought for a while longer, and said, Yes, he thought he understood.
Then I told him that painting the pictures on the streets properly was similar to how I had solved my can-opening problem: almost every single time, someone in his position, struggling to get it right, merely needed to relax enough, and it would come.
He nodded and thanked me, but I was worried that I hadn't helped him, that his problem was, indeed, that he was much too tense when he was operating his painting car, and that he tried to correct it by becoming more tense, which was exactly the opposite of what he needed to do to get his pictures to come out just fine -- but that I hadn't managed to explain it to him. After all, when people are too tense, the solution, unfortunately, is not always as simple as just telling them to relax.
The next night I was working downtown again, painting those slot-machine-similar images of oranges and lemons and so forth in the middle of the deserted downtown lanes, and I wondered whether I might run into that young worried colleague and see how he was doing. But instead I woke up.