This week, some incredibly cool and interesting people I’m glad to call friends were suddenly in town from California and we had the fortune of meeting for dinner. We talked about so many things–books and art and documentaries and geography and history. We talked a fair bit about the artist James Turrell, who they had heard speak earlier in the day, and his work with light. Now that I’m thinking of it, light was a theme we came back to a lot over the course of our long, slow dinner. Earlier this summer I had dinner at the very same restaurant with my friend Chris, a really prolific musician and writer. The conversation turned to the creative process and how so much of the magic of creativity seems to appear out of thin air, the ever present sneaking fear that the last thing you created will be the last thing you ever create.* Chris said, “The Fall and Winter are for getting into new creative projects, the summer is for putting out what you’ve already created and gathering information.”
I don’t think I’d ever articulated it, even to myself, before I sat down to write this, but autumn is the saddest season to me–I feel anxious about the winter months. I start to get worried that whatever calm and joy and enthusiasm I have is temporary, that somehow darkness will overcome me, that I’ll sink, sink sink. As days start to shorten, I think a lot about sources of light (literally and figuratively).
Hours before the sun rises I switch on first the bathroom light and then a light in the passage that’s a tangle of christmas lights hung on a hook and connected to a switch, and use that light to guide me to the hooded light over the stove. I pour a big mug of coffee and stumble back to bed with it. The big blank surfaces of the windows reflect light from the open bathroom door and my bedside lamp. I feel quiet and invisible and self-contained, existing outside of responsibility and time, not pulled by anything before I wake the kids or start doing for anyone else. There are lessons I learn here, in these early hours, an opportunity to listen to myself that I don’t get when the commitments of the day begin to enter. In the lengthening darkness, there seems more reason than ever to climb back under the covers when even the sun won’t rise for hours.
Our poem this week is from Verse Daily. What do you know about light? What are your sources? You can use the opening line, “Everywhere you look is light…” if that feels right to you. Or, as I did above, you can freewrite about your first light of the day.
by Claire Askew
Everywhere you look is light
so exquisite it hurts. Light
off the taffeta sea, the brief white
rips of wake and surf; light
frosting the bleached houses’ sides
wedding-cake perfect; light
in the wires, in the cut pot roofs, light
that’s one hundred per cent proof. White-
washed island carefully dressed in light,
bridal; hung with thick sheets of light
like honeycombs, like dress shirts lightly
starched and hung to dry. Yachts in the bite
of the port, marshmallow white,
confettiing armfuls of chopped light
out into water clear and keen as ice.
And over the flat-topped hill as night
comes flirting on, the island saves its great lightshow
for last. Ancient, many-headed light
that warms the kilns of myth: clay red, bright
pink, streaked ochre fingering the cloth of sky,
the undersides of all the thin white
clouds turned iris, mauve. And then the fine
pale strings of windows flared like Christmas lights
along the port; yachts flicker and go out, and high
across the strait the pinprick warning lights
flick one by one along the radar masts. Tonight,
insomniac in unfamiliar heat, I’ll write
under the moth-bothered kitchen light,
this is the life. Mine is the lightest, easiest life.
*Have you seen Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity? Worth watching–I’ve watched it many, many times. Always helpful.