During the U.S. Democratic primaries in 2008, Sheila Heti began collecting dreams that people were having about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and posting them on her blog, I Dream of Barack. She talked to Geist in November about how the project came together. Scroll down to read excerpts from the interview.
“In the early months of 2008, when the Democrats were trying to decide whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama should be the candidate for president of the United States, a close friend and collaborator of mine, a painter named Margaux Williamson, told me this Hillary Clinton dream she’d had where she was shopping for Tupperware with Hillary. It was so funny and weird, and I thought, I bet people all over the country are having dreams about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and maybe it’d be interesting to put them all on the web because the web should have everything that could possibly exist on it. So for about six months I continued to get dreams, and I ended up with about eight hundred dreams from people—more dreams about Barack than Hillary by a slight margin, and also the tone of the dreams about Barack was pretty messianic and Barack was like a great basketball player, whereas the Hillary dreams tended to be a bit more like she’s a castrating bitch type of thing, so it was pretty clear from reading the dreams that Barack was going to win that fight.
“People started demanding a website for John McCain because Republicans felt left out of the whole thing. So I put one up, but there weren’t so many McCain dreams, I think because the liberal media covered the website more strongly than the conservative media. I think that’s the only real reason why.
“I edited the dreams a lot because people aren’t good at knowing what’s interesting about their dreams and what’s not, so I would sometimes leave details out or reorder things and put them in my own voice because I wanted them to be easy to read and all somehow sound similar to each other stylistically.”
—From an interview with Sheila Heti in Vancouver, November 2008.
Keanu Reeves was voted in as the next president of the United States. He was giving his acceptance speech, dressed in jeans and a hoodie. He looked good, but we were all shocked. How did he win? Did we even know he was running? I set about urgently painting him a sign, twelve metres long, with a too-dry paintbrush, reminding him of all the things he had to remember: Prioritize education. Provide Medicare. Cap corporate profits. The environment! There were two brief interruptions as we fielded interviewed reactions from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They were equally stumped. They didn’t know he was running, but they were gracious losers.
Barack Obama stopped by with Lorna, a woman I used to work with. They were just standing there, he in a white shirt and dark pants, she stark naked with her long red hair covering her shoulders like she was Lady Godiva. He had brought her to pick up the baby, which was in the other room. He was explaining to me that she would be taking care of it. I was quite surprised because Lorna is an unmarried woman in her late fifties and has no children, and I couldn’t understand why she would be caring for his—her?—infant.
Then they left, explaining they had to be on their way.
Barack made a campaign stop in my hometown. Someone had booked him into a hotel that had a bathroom made entirely of glass, so you could see from the outside what he was doing in there, but it was clouded glass so you couldn’t see anything clearly. Someone made a video of him showering and posted it on the internet. Of course, this caused a hailstorm of controversy and everyone demanded that Obama explain why he would book a hotel with a see-through bathroom. He countered by explaining that it really wasn’t a big deal because it was clouded glass and you couldn’t see everything.
Barack was the new youth minister at my university. As a gesture of welcome, a group of us invited him out for the night for beers. The evening was a success, and we returned with him to his faculty apartment for some late-night meaning-of-life conversation. We were getting comfortable when Barack excused himself to go to the restroom and came out lighting his Speed Stick gel deodorant on fire and huffing the fumes. His adeptness with the deodorant/lighter technique and lack of self-consciousness implied that this was simply his standard nightcap.
Barack and I had plans to drive to the outlet mall that afternoon. As we left my house and walked toward my husband’s Ford Explorer, we laughed like two old friends. He gave me a playful nudge and said, I just love you! This made me ridiculously happy. When we reached the car, he had trouble fitting into the passenger seat because his legs were so long. The back seat was down and needed lifting. I was afraid he would make me lift it by myself, but he helped me. Then we drove to the mall.
I am standing in the front row of a large, packed arena. The crowd is going crazy in anticipation waiting for Barack to come out, the atmosphere more rock concert than political rally. Barack finally emerges, only he has long, bright green dreadlocks and he’s bouncing around on stage in jeans and a white T-shirt, getting the crowd fired up. He passes up the podium and goes straight to the crowd, ripping off his T-shirt along the way, and gives everyone in the crowd a high-five. The crowd is loving it, but I find myself filled with anxiety, thinking, Wow, I’m glad he has finally found his confidence, but I think this is taking it a bit too far.