Several dark thoughts:
1. The most trivial recent dark moment was what happened after I spent time writing this blog entry the first time, then pressing the button to preview it. The entry disappeared. Operator error no doubt, but anthropomorphically I imagine a computer in an internet cafe with a mean streak.
2. An enlightening darkest moment: I went caving last week. Caving is a caver's term for going into a cave. Caving counts as fun among young guys who are fearless and old guys trying to show they are still fearless. I had fear but I went along because it was roasting hot outside, and I believed it would be cool in the cave. I had heard that caves run about 55 degrees summer or winter. This cave was more like 80 degrees inside. Cooler, but if you factor in crawling on your stomach and dragging yourself forward, you get even hotter than what you were outside.
We were led by a caving expert. Caves formed as lava tubes are like bowels. They kind of squeeze in and out and so you squeeze in and out. For this reason, we wore caving helmets. You could wind up with a bloody scalp without one, perhaps even a concussion if you misjudged the changing height of the spiked ceiling and moved forward with too much fearlessness.
In this cave I started off standing like a human, then stooping like a Cro-Magnon woman, then walking like a a Cro-Magnon woman with severe osteoporosis, then waddling on haunches like a duck, then crawling like a baby on hands and knees, then slithering like a worm on our stomachs. This worm experience included lots of viscous mud. When my palms, toes, and stomach sank in this stuff I tried to imagine it was brownie mix and not another kind of oozy substance. I am my mother's daughter.
Finally, after what seemed like a mile of crawling (it was probably 1/10th), we reached the end of the cave. The cave expert suggested we turn off the cave lights on her helmets. When we did, everything went pitch black. I had never considered what pitch black meant, but this is it. It was the darkest moment I have ever had. So this is what a worm sees. Sounds were also muffled. There was no electric hum from the world. So this is what it feels to be buried alive.
I began to think about what we think about in the absence of stimuli. What I thought: it would be the perfect atmosphere for me as writer, no stimuli, no distractions, nothing to capture the eye. The imagination is everything. Perhaps I should wear a blindfold before I write and capture that sense of nothingness. I could appreciate that sort of darkness. When I turn off my bedside lamp, I fall asleep and begin to dream. Darkness is good. It is expansive. You see no boundaries. I am sure there is some seminar on inner awareness that has capitalized on this idea. Perhaps they even go into caves to have this awareness. Enlightenment in the dark can be profitable in more ways than one.
Who knows how long we were in total darkness. Time runs differently when you can't see. But after a while, we turned our headlamps back on and saw a cockroach.
3. True darkest moments. The caving experince left me thinking about moments we call "dark" --those involving tragedy. Why do we refer to them as dark? Is being in darkness really such a negative experience? If not, is there another metaphor that is closer to how I feel when I am overcome with despair? Is the sensation that of being lost or of falling? What I feel is a vaccum, of being sucked out alive. I do not picture darkness. I picture who I have lost. Lately I picture my dog. I picture my friend Bill.
So darkness is no longer the word I would use for despair. Not since the cave. I am always trying to go past the usual words used to describe things. The usual words are shortcuts and the impact of what I feel is then placed in a standard-issue box with other cliches. I used to feel as a child that I did not know the words that meant what I felt. I had to write a story to explain what I felt.
I now think that the metaphor of blackness, of darkness, is a good one for starting afresh. In darkness, I wipe away the old forms and asumptions. Time is suspended. Noise is blocked. In blackness, I slither in a place where I have only imagination.
Causes Amy Tan Supports
Self Help for the Elderly
Squaw Valley Community of Writers
San Francisco Symphony
San Francisco Opera