New emptiness

Loren and I stay up late watching old Genesis concert footage on his sofa, angling the laptop so we can both see. He has a retro light projector propped in the corner that spins on a slow orbit and is holiday themed, so it throws red, green and white light in Christmas-like patterns, this one my favorite, twinkly stars. There’s a scratch on the lens that causes an anomaly with the light as it spins, making it look like a random shooting star. You get the feeling the lighting effects are unique, meaning the pattern can’t be replicated. And that backdrop works well with Genesis. Peter Gabriel is just 22 in 1972. He’s let his hair grow out but shaves a patch down the middle like a landing strip. It’s not a good look. He’s painted his forehead white but stops at the eyebrows so the rest of his face is unpainted. Lots of eyeliner. Phil Collins isn’t using eyeliner but has thick pork chops growing on his jaws. The calendar has flipped over to the 1970s but no one knows what that means yet for fashion and they will spend the rest of the decade trying to figure it out.

Loren and I both like an experimental musician out of Glasgow named Richard Youngs. Richard has maybe 100 albums, probably a lot more, but releases some in batches of just 500. His latest is all instrumental but Loren has another one that is a cappella and has the idea we can play both records side by side out of different stereos to see how they sound together. So we do this and then Loren sends Richard an email telling him we’re playing Summer Wanderer against New Emptiness. Some artists would find this offensive but we’re convinced Richard will like the idea, being experimental and not overly precious about things. And because Richard isn’t well known he’s written back the next day from Glasgow, and Loren shows me the response on his phone. And there is the sound of Richard’s voice through his email thanking us and sounding British somehow in his upbeat, slightly distant fashion.

The drive home is typical for this time of year, the route from Portland to Seattle. It is a straight shot up I-5 for three hours without interruption. We don’t get the fall foliage they do in the northeast, it’s more the green, yellow, brown trifecta. Coming through a valley and up a hill the fog is so thick it makes the line on the horizon disappear and creates a distressing effect with the sky feeling so vast and undefined it could swallow you. Dad and I experienced this sensation the first time we drove out west, coming to a vantage where the sky opened so much we imagined we were falling through space. It’s a recurring nightmare I had as a kid, the sense of an overwhelming darkness surrounding me. I could pinpoint myself shrinking in the dark, and the dark took on a palpable quality. It wasn’t just the absence of light but an inky entity with depth and curves swelling, expanding. I realized with horror that the darkness wasn’t outside of me but actually coming from inside. And as a child I would have to grapple with this part of my mind I’d never understand. Was the darkness a danger or some form of release? A means to fly, or sink and drown?

I pondered this driving through the fog, with Richard Youngs. The trees looking as if they’d been dabbed on a canvas with a sponge. The way you can get that muted effect by touching the surface just right. That’s how it all looked from the car. Each time I took this drive it was going back to the times I remembered before, a reprint. They got combined, each former time. Going past the amusement parks where we took the kids, taking the exit for highway 18. Pulling into the driveway, seeing the dog wave her tail in the window.

The fog like that is exhilarating and problematic because it touches some part in me that recognizes the vast emptiness and endlessness are one in the same. The everything and nothing of the world. And we are that too. We are slowly ascending to this summit where anything could happen, we just can’t see what.

Categories: prose, writing

Tags: ,

33 replies

  1. Ahhh, Peter Gabriel. Only Gabriel could dress up like that… Prog rock has a lot to answer for! This post is so evocative of formative music scenes.


  2. Great essay – your writing always has intertwining themes and motifs. I can’t read this without immediately seeing the parallels between comparing an artist’s versions and the sense of reprint (versions) making the drive. I really enjoy your writing. I look forward to enjoying reading again without feeling compelled to deconstruct everything in my head (damned MFA)!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Bill,
    You did it again! Sucked me right in with your painted pictures of words. I was beside you on the drive up to Seattle. I’v e experienced the fog of the GNW. Your writing touches me with its depth. Please keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey that’s what I’m here for Rosemary! Happy you know the fog and the blurred reality here in the GNW as you say. Was enjoying a lungful of it just now as the drizzle came on! Grateful for you reading and reaching out, sending warmth and good vibes your way! Enjoy the day. Bill


      • Bill,
        if you can, please, send that drizzle to eastern Nebraska. We are dry, dry, dry. I’ve tried dancing naked under the moon, but I think that scared away all the rain clouds.


        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha, yeah I know about the dry. We had it in spades here, which is unusual so deep into October. Finally squelched the nearby wildfires for good. Eastern Nebraska?! Do you know that Springsteen album of the same name? I picture the openness combined with a sense of desperation, which is kind of what I was going for in my fog imagery here. Like the unavoidable existential parallels with all that seeming space that can also just feel empty sometimes too.


  4. Those first two paragraphs sound anything but sober. Also love the description of seventies fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The retro lighting reminded me of Flowers – both the bar and the piece you wrote so long ago. Like everyone else here, I sure enjoy the way you paint.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s kind buddy. I remember how you liked that, was a long time ago. Made me think of the bar by the same name (Flowers). Ha ha ha. Hope you’re well man!


  6. I was listening to the Jesus and Mary Chain while reading. That worked too.

    Prog has a lot to answer for. True. Much of my happiness, for starters.

    Thanks for this misty piece, Bill. Gonna have to check out Richard Youngs.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As Michelle said, “your writing always has intertwining themes and motifs.” I agree. That image of Peter Gabriel is pretty disturbing, more so than the darkness, I think. But how did the grappling go? With the darkness, that is? I can imagine how that would be scary for you as a kiddo, trying to figure that one out alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Walt! Thanks, and for asking about the grappling. It still happens sometimes when I have a fever but as a kid, it was somewhat exhilarating and terrifying. I think there was a slight out of body or disassociating thing happening. I’d like to know if other people have experienced similar. It’s like your perception of your own consciousness has shifted elsewhere, like a sense of flying maybe, but there’s a physical aspect to it too, or one I felt in my gut. I almost felt it now trying to make the recall. Oddly I kind of liked it too. Maybe on a cerebral level there’s a valid connection to what I was trying to make with the fog and the effect of perspective, when things get blurred out and distorted like that visually. Now I need a coffee. Good morning!


      • I had some similar experiences as a kid, but not as an adult. I saw a video that I think pertains to what your talking about and if I can ever locate it again I’ll send it your way. Your description of what is going on there is pretty good, and I think those kinds of experiences are not uncommon, but they don’t fit into our template for everyday life so they get pushed to the side or repressed, which is too bad, because I think there’s something meaningful going on there.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, something meaningful for sure. Glad you’re in that line of study and practice now yourself, must think you’re quite good at it. Thanks for this!


Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: