Something About the Darkness

There’s something about darkness that drives me to places I don’t expect. About twelve years ago, a friend invited me to stay in his cabin on Block Island. I drove up there alone. It was in early March. Cold, deserted. Not tourist season. One of the locals I met in a convenience store described it as The Shining.

I fancied myself on an artist’s retreat. During the day, I woke up at dawn, did yoga as the sun rose over the water, watched the snow fall out of the windows and wrote poetry. I bundled myself up and took my video camera outside to capture close-ups of frozen plants and wide shots of ships sailing on the horizon. I listened to music on my portable CD player and danced around the room. I played my flute, improvising harmonies to the melodies I heard. The quiet solitude drove me deep inside myself. I felt a trembling desire to derive meaning out of everything I saw and felt and heard and thought.

As sunset approached, my anxiety grew. I cooked pasta, drank wine, and watched as the windows darkened all around me. What had been, during the day, a symphony of soft light playing across the bare wood and woven fabrics of the cabin’s modest interior, became at night an increasingly frightening experience that threatened to overwhelm me. I felt trapped in a spartan cubicle of rustic solitude. The darkness was filled with shadows that flitted just outside of my line of sight. The wind whistled with a sinister mystery. Cell phone service – none. TV – nope. A couple of random movies that I played on my laptop helped to pass the time and tire me out. My night time poems took on a desperate and slovenly appearance as I drank more wine.

I cut my trip short after four days. I couldn’t take it anymore. On the ferry ride back, the waters were so rough that I spent the entire trip throwing up. The drive back to NYC barely settled me down, and by the time I arrived home to my husband and cat, I could only meet their enthusiastic welcome with a queasy half smile.

Much has happened since then. I have endured great losses, and my fear threshold has risen dramatically (that is, it takes a lot more to scare me). What I fear now has less to do with the cycles of light and day, and more to do with the internal spaces that I strive to fill with significance. I still yearn for that satisfying experience of self-expression, but I am not as drawn to the heroic gestures of creativity that characterized my youth. My aspirations are broader, the projects more long-term. I recognize the work will be only about one part inspiration to nine parts diligence and hard work.

It takes more of an effort to focus these days. I’m sure part of it has to do with the sheer volume of responsibilities that fall under my domain – parenting, home-owning, working a full time job, not to mention the stuff of everyday living – taking care of myself, paying my bills, maintaining relationships with my family and friends… I also know that the nature of my work lends itself to a consciousness pulled in a myriad of different directions at any given time. Managing communications for a small start-up company, I wear a lot of hats, and I spend a good deal of my time engaged in social media marketing and networking. Plus, I still work on my own creative projects that fuel my spirit and fire up my imagination. They feed back into my ability to do everything else.

When we lost our electricity yesterday in the surprisingly severe snowstorm, I was surprised at how I embraced the opportunity to be home with my son and enjoy the simplicity of the evening. Sure, I had work I was supposed to be doing, and I regretted that I would lose time on a number of key projects. But as night approached, I decided to hunker down and enjoy the moment.

To combat the increasing cold, I turned on the oven and baked a kabocha squash. By candlelight, I cut and peeled vegetables for soup while my son sat on the kitchen floor organizing his Pokemon cards. We talked quietly. We laughed. I drank wine. He added orange seltzer to my glass, and I discovered a new, refreshing kind of wine cooler. We ate soup and squash together on the couch, cuddled under a warm shawl. He fell asleep before his usual bed time. We moved into my bedroom and hunkered down together in our clothes, under layers of blankets. We slept for almost 11 hours, hibernating like bears, hoping to wake up to warmth and light.

I didn’t write anything last night. No flood of creative inspiration in the midst of a liminal experience. But I did touch a quiet place inside myself that I rarely encounter. I thought about the different people in my life. Some happy, some sad. Some  in passionate, satisfying relationships, others lonely, searching. Most of them having moments of each, since life and love are rarely if ever only one thing.

Do you get scared and lonely in the dark? We all do. Once in a while. But darkness is also a place of great magic. Memories, fantasies, dreams and desires blend and mingle into a soup of possibility cooked from the simple ingredients of our experience. It’s all material. I try to remind myself of that. All those awful moments, the mistakes, the regrets… they’re material. I’m grateful for having all this stuff to work with… I hope to create something very special.

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