Light. What a strange thing. Not an object. Not a thing. More of an energy. An energy made visible. It’s there, here, everywhere, but without being anywhere in particular. Is Being a form of light? When we shed the body do we become light? Something, say, the size of a basketball with colors swirling around as they do on Neptune? Or no shape at all. Just a diffusion of energy beaming through interstellar space. Where there is light there is darkness and I do feel dark much of the time. Books, wine, certain drugs, high adventure and exercise will induce an inner light to be felt. Whether it’s an actual light or not doesn’t matter. If it feels like a light then so be it. Let it be light. Darkness can be converted to light. Or not. There are ways to inhabit darkness. Bees, for instance.
How do bees negotiate the darkness of the hive? All that wax and honey. Cells. Eggs. Pupae.
Bees have sensory neurons located on the backs of their neck that help them use the sun as a guide outside the hive but also help give them information relative to gravity once they’ve returned to the interior of the hive.
Me? I grope around in the darkness and try not to trip over the coffee table or step on the cat. Eyes are little help, though this is contingent on such things as moonlight or the faint diffusion of a streetlight into the rooms. Moving slowly prevents banging my shins. Or the sudden shrill crying of a cat.
There is such a thing as darkness within light. One can feel very dark while sitting in a brightly lit room. But since there’s no need to grope for anything on the inside of one’s body the interiority of oneself speaks for itself. It says “I am a gaping wound of emotional injury,” or “where is there indicated any purpose for going through all these repetitive motions day after day?”
When the darkness speaks, I tend to listen. Truth is, I don’t have much choice.
Illusions carry the heaviest burdens. These are things for which the truth is too hard to bear. The inevitability of death. Most personalities. Movies with Adam Sandler.
Is it all a matter of chemistry? I don’t know. It’s a chicken or egg thing. Which came first: the darkness, or me, the inducer of darkness, the source of darkness, my darkness, the darkness that will go away as soon as I realize I’m the one inducing the darkness, feeding the darkness, like holding out a handful of a grain to a mule, or a carrot. I imagine that if I were feeding a mule in its crib the food would most likely take the form of a carrot. The food I feed my darkness is just one big bowl of bad attitude seasoned with cynicism and disquiet.
I like to call it malaise. Because I like the word and I like to say it: malaise.
Malaise is the salad I feed my darkness.
But the main dish is anguish. Nourishing, savory anguish. I call it the Kierkegaard Special: the dizziness of freedom. That constant tunneling for the meaning of existence. Because in that meaning will be some form of salvation from death. And because the room is full of dark and I’m not asleep and the brain will not stop manufacturing things to ponder and worry about.
Health care. Shelter. Food. Popularity. Unpopularity. A sense of belonging. The animosity and dysfunctionality of an empire in catastrophic decline.
These are the types of things that happen in the dark. Brooding, worrying, headaches, thoughts of the afterlife. All fodder for that inner darkness. Darkness inside, darkness outside.
Thought sticks to thought like clay to a shoe.
Words come and go. Words like ‘narthex.’ Where did that come from?
Some recent reading about cathedrals, no doubt. That often happens. A word, or words, will bubble up to the surface of my mind and float there, idly, until it bursts, words burst, sentence explodes, leaving behind it a residual effect, a penumbra, a filigree of syllables to ponder.
This is why I occasionally check my pants zipper. It’s so easy to lose track of things.
The world is a huge place. It requires focus. I often lose focus. I carry thoughts of the past everywhere and drag them into the future while stumbling around in the present. Consequently I always feel like I’m in a garage. Or narthex.
Somewhere on the periphery of life, rerunning episodes of the past, coming to different conclusions, making changes, then realizing I can’t make changes, not unless I build a time machine and go into the past and tap myself on the shoulder and say listen, this is what you need to do right now.
I don’t even want to know about the future. That can’t be good. The ocean is rising and growing increasingly acidic due to climate change and an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a colossal earthquake is imminent, Lake Powell is drying up, the human population is exploding, etc., etc.
And yet Mick Jagger keeps prancing on the stage as if he were 22 instead of 72.
It’s good to be shaken and stirred occasionally. Just enough to keep awake. But what I really desire is inertia, sweet inertia. Velocity is over-rated. But that depends. Is it a question of pure sensation, as on an amusement park ride, or direction? Are we floating downstream in an inner tube on a hot August afternoon or riding a rocket into interstellar space? Or we on a busy freeway between two trucks or skiing down a slope in the Swiss Alps?
So much depends upon a wheelbarrow rolling down the street followed by a white chicken.
Glazed with rainwater.
Like the hood of our car.
I spend a lot of time fantasizing a life without people. Like the guy in the Twilight Zone episode, Henry Bemis (played by Burgess Meredith) “a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page,” who, as usual, takes his lunch in the bank vault where his reading will not be disturbed, while outside there is an immense explosion, a nuclear attack, which destroys all human life but leaves all the books in the local library intact, hurray! But then as Henry bends over to pick up a book and stumbles he breaks his glasses. Lesson learned. Like it or not we depend on other people. But hey, if the library books were left intact, wouldn’t there be glasses available at the drugstore or optician’s office? Couldn’t he see well enough to go looking for another pair of glasses, good enough to allow him to see better and better until he finds the perfect pair of glasses and can read again? What would that have been like? Henry gets to keep reading. He has enough food to last a lifetime. It’s not a problem. What would it be like to read books but not be able to talk about books?
Problem is, I like to write as much as I like to read. One way or another I require an audience. Even when I convince myself I’m writing for myself and strangers somewhere in the back of my mind is a homunculus craving the spotlight. I see the silhouettes of strangers in the auditorium. I need them. They don’t need me. I need to keep them sufficiently entertained that they don’t feel that their time was wasted by sitting in an auditorium listening to me rant about the follies and vanities of human existence.
The crucial point of existence is to find a room. Close the door. Hope someone might bring you some food. Maybe one could be on exhibit, as in a museum or zoo. I could knit socks like Cary Grant in Mr. Lucky. “Boss, people are watchin’…”
Alan Carney nudges him.
Carney: “What do you want them to think?”
Grant: “Will you look out, I almost dropped a stitch.”
How did I succeed at making such a leap between the private and the public?
The point of having a room is to have a room to oneself. At least for a period of time. Enough time to craft a sonnet, or a chapter in a novel, or a short one-act play, or a rant to the New York Times. I don’t want to sit at a big table in a department store learning to knit.
But I do like the word ‘stitch.’ Shakespeare uses it once, in the plural, in Twelfth Night:
If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself
Into stitches, follow me. Yond gull Malvolio is
turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no
Christian, that means to be saved by believing
rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages
of grossness. He’s in yellow stockings.
I’m not into stitching. I’ve spent hours trying to thread a needle. I don’tcare much for sewing. But it’s useful as a metaphor. Tiny threads holding wads of material together in recognizable shape as shirts, pants, socks, coats. Thread is thin and wonderful. Needles are sharp and marvelous. I don’t have a tattoo. Don’t know what that needle feels like. I imagine it’s a sharp, exquisite sensation, like the taste of brandy, or whiskey. Like sitting too close to a fire when the wilderness is a cold shadow on your back.
And what of patches? “Truly to speak, and with no addition, / We go to gain a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name,” says the Norwegian Captain in Hamlet.
It is in patch and patches that pasture is patched.
Patches of dark obscuring dust partially conceal the remnants of an ancient supernova visible as glowing red filaments in the region of the cosmos known in the astronomical catalog of H-Alpha light as RCW 106 in the southern Milky Way.
Here’s one by Emerson: “Here is the world, sound as a nut, perfect, not the smallest piece of chaos left, never a stitch nor an end, not a mark of haste, or botching, or second thought; but the theory of the world is a thing of shreds and patches.”
I remember a song from 1970 called “Patches,” written by General Johnson and Ron Dunbar and popularized by Clarence Carter. It was recorded in the famous Muscle Shoals studio founded by Rick Hall, where the Rolling Stones recorded “Brown Sugar.” “Patches” was a good song with a lot of pathos and detail. You could smell things in it, food, dirt, work. Smell of the air just before a heavy rain.
In the room of my imagination, sitting by the window, Ralph Waldo Emerson sips his brandy, purses his lips, and nods his head. “Presentiments hover before me in the firmament,” he says. “I fear only that I may lose them receding into the sky in which now they are only a patch of brighter light.”