Seeing in the Dark

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout 20 paintings of Iceland and other dark places will remain up throughout February at Fox Optical and Gallery, and (weather allowing!) Tim and Mike will be open for First Friday reception February 7th. I’m posting this essay, hoping it may entice some of you to come out and see the pictures, or to look further into the ‘flickr’ gallery of my paintings.

When I was a little girl, my mother read to me The Friendly Dark. Something about safe and sound and ultimately—this was the ruse—sleep. I didn’t listen. I was busy with my own tricks –how to hold off the inevitable moment when the door clicked shut and I’d be alone in that other Dark.
The creepy Now-I- lay-me-down-to-sleep-I-pray-the-Lord-my-soul-to-keep kind of Dark. God steals my soul? Friendly? I don’t think so.

Everything’s all right, my exhausted mother insisted. Just close your eyes.

Years later, on the other side of the sheets, I came to appreciate how a parent says anything just to get the kid to settle. Your child’s fears can feel like your own failure. You want your daughter to feel safe, so you tell her she is. You skip the Now-I-lay-me stuff and instead you say a grateful prayer with blessings. No mixed messages. Friendly all around. Still, there’s restlessness. Fear. Your son wants a light on. All right. But light doesn’t cancel dark. Dark’s all around. It’s behind the eyelids. It’s within and without.

“Is everything guaranteed?” he asks you. “Guaranteed,” you answer, sealed with a kiss and firm tuck of the covers.

How many nights I said it! Everything is guaranteed. What was I saying about the world, the dark, his perceptions, mine? That I was super mom and could protect him from the things he feared? Or, more likely, that his terror was unfounded. Everything is guaranteed in The Friendly Dark.

I see now that the mother love I thought was big was really far too small. Today, instead of that fool’s promise, Everything Guaranteed, I’d open the door to the night and bring the child out.

Because, everything changes. I think the term is enantiodromia: a thing becomes its opposite. A childhood fear turns into an adult passion. Darkness once avoided, is suddenly required.

I stay up late to paint. I sometimes sleep alone in woods. I’ve learned the night sounds of screaming fox and scurrying possums, rutting deer. I study the stars’ and planets’ paths. And I fall asleep confident that sleeping awakens the soul and dreams lead me where I need to go.

Night is our other mother. Her language is darkness. Her words obscure. She dissolves the shapes of things, and takes away beginnings and ends, edges of all kinds.

That’s why I’d bring the frightened child out. We’d walk into the dark together. He will be confused, but I’ll say, I’ve been here before. I’m acquainted with the Night. Go on.

We hear the nightmares gallop and snort, or maybe it’s the angels beating wings, or the wind that terrifies. Even so, I tell him, it’s a power I’ve felt before. Go on.

We hurt ourselves on the rocks and stumble. We’re tired and lost.

I’m blind, he says.

Me too, I tell him. Let’s open our eyes anyway. Feel the darkness pour in. Enough dark and we’re sure to see the stars. I’ll teach you how to follow them home.

January 2014

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