Sometimes when I come home to my apartment late at night, like last night, after driving back from a weekend in Montreal, I feel around in the dark toward my bedroom trying not to bump into furniture along the way, and come to realize that the totality of the darkness is anything but; that if instead of resigning command to my other senses I use my eyes, I can actually see.
It’s not unlike going to a new place. I find myself floating on metaphor, making comparisons to where I have already been. The surrounding farmland is Northern California. The bridges over the river are Portland. Rue Notre Dame is old town Sucre. This is New York, this is New York, this is not New York. I am saying, effectively, “This is Darkness.”
Metaphors calm the chaos of noticing everything, and at their edges you can start noticing one thing at a time: the proportion of the streets, the dress of the locals, the shape of the lampposts (and how much of that New York quality comes from our predominance of fire escapes?).
These comparisons are a template for seeing. Yet they also restrict seeing. They introduce a tyranny of what Alan Watts calls “the grid of words.” Every word is a metaphor, and the moment you name something a small earthquake happens. Paved road breaks into rough stone and the fissures between are infinitely deep. You stand on your metaphors while avoiding the cracks, and fail to get closer to actual seeing, which is a chasm activity. You fail to get past the idea of This is Darkness.
DB and I spent the afternoon Saturday walking on Mount Royal, the namesake park in the middle of the city. When I set out on a hike I am usually thinking about hikes I’ve been on before. I am thinking about the clarity I’ll have on the mountain and start to panic when I’m not achieving the same clarity from the last hikes. It’s only later, when my imagined hike ends, that the real hike begins. I have stayed on the mountain long enough for the crust of ambition to fall away. I have stood still in the darkness and realized that, yes, this is darkness, but I can see, too.