After a day of image-making, image-filled thinking, and wandering an image-filled world, I prefer retiring in the evening to an image-free environment. At least within the field of view that I have lying in bed, I want to see no man-made image. My walls and ceiling are unpainted pine boards, browned with age and animated with the constellations of knots staring down at me like so many feral eyes. Only a small, square window interrupts the wall opposite my bed. It is just above head height and looks out westward on an airplane-shaped weathervane that sits atop the garage below.
Last year I bent my imageless-bedroom policy by adding a vertical mirror to the wall just beneath the window. I did this for the sake of painting a self-portrait in the twilight from the window. The painting has yet to be finished but I found that I liked the silhouette made by the mirror top overlapping the bottom edge of the window. The shape that was introduced looked like a well-tended moustache housing a secondary moustache formed from the negative space where the swan’s-neck pediment was cloven against the central stumpy finial. At sunset the contrast was so stark that the window took on a gothic effect that intensified as the light gave way to dusk.
During a rare summer afternoon nap, lacking a proper curtain, I pinned a green bath-towel above the mirror to blot out the light. Unintentionally I hung the towel with a twist, as one ties a bandanna allowing some light into the room by way of a triangular aperture between the mirror-moustache and towel and from a slight crescent above where the towel sagged. The darkness tightened around this odd shape, reversing the impression of positive and negative space. Out popped a very intense symbol.
I couldn’t say what the symbol appeared to represent. It looked like a squid, but not convincingly. As an upward arrow where two curling tails converged, I considered it as a reasonable symbol for synergy. But the look was more archaic and a touch too baroque for such a modern concept as synergy. The crescent above gave the adumbration of something rising up to the surface; perhaps foreboding, perhaps auspicious. No interpretation stuck and yet it felt emphatically important; more-so each time I fell asleep or awoke looking at it.
My image-free bedroom had been accidentally invaded by this bold, glowing, unignorable shape. While I look for new definitive shapes and compositions in my artwork, the strongest simply arrive, settling naturally into authority. We are in the habit of finding symbols. Most have been preordained by a culture for some purpose and we come to anticipate a reasonable intention for the symbols we come upon. But we are built to consider and derive meaning from our surroundings and if we are lucky and awake enough we have occasion to witness phenomena that suggest more than their artifact.
It is not for me to say whether such things are operative by supernatural guidance, but a mind, if it is to take stock in such wonders, must at least consider the impression indicative of more than we are momentarily aware. Regardless of its source, that sense of spontaneous awe in such cases is a placeholder for personal significance. Whatever individual story we are writing with its daily trials and distinctions is aided by the symbolic, which serves as a vessel for meaning. Found symbols convert the mundane into the numinous.
After some time living with the nameless symbol I had a hypnogogic dream—one that gives the feeling of such realism that it is mistaken for waking life. There was a horrifying dream at the center of my sleep that startled me into this hypnogogic state. The dream wasn’t very subtle in its depiction of the subconscious as a basement door beneath a red light at the base of a stairway on which I stood. Beyond the door was where the first dream had taken place. I ascended the stairs and found myself bolt upright in bed, sweating and breathless. I tried to dial my phone to relay the contents of the nightmare to a confidant but it would not work, suggesting that I was still dreaming. Then followed a series of tortuous awakenings into the same dream of waking and unable to make a call. In each shell of the nightmare the feint light of the moon was pouring in through that symbol in the window making the dreams indistinguishable from my actual room.
When I finally broke free into wakefulness I could not remember the core dream but it had readily been encapsulated by that haunting symbol. When a dream is described it often looses certainty but having the dream manifest as a symbol seemed to keep its secrets intact.