And Now for Something Entirely Different

Light Story

“Over time, he became particularly adept at endowing ambient light with an almost physical presence: he spoke of light ‘inhabiting’ a space, of ‘color entering a space riding on the light.’”
From a Newsweek story of 2/10/86 about James Turrell who is working in northern Arizona to build a “celestial vault” in the Roden volcanic crater.
A more recent article about him appeared in the New York Times Magazine on 6/16/13.
This piece is fictional. It has no connection to anyone living or dead.

Never go to the moves, no tv here, no reading. All I think of and see is light. But sometimes, at sunset, I see the darkness instead of the light. Sometimes I’m afraid my eyesight is going. I’m s much older than the rest of the crew. I feel he made an exception for me and I have to be better, to see better light than the rest.
I’m getting more tired every day. I’m not used to sleeping in a cabin with two other women. They are cooks for the crew. They don’t mean to be noisy but they talk until late. I can’t sleep and then we have to get up at seven and start again.
I sometimes gaze at diagrams all day and Herken wants me to conceptualize light: how it comes and goes. He wants me to go out into the dessert at noon and look at flowers and cacti in the sun. In the moonlight and see the shadows.
I don’t know any more what he wants me to do. I’m afraid I don’t know what he wants and that I’m not seeing the right things.
Every day now I take rolls of film–plants and rocks in the sun and shadow–all day long. I develop them in the darkroom and give them to him, my offerings, my attempts at communication. Sometimes he sits and stares and stares at one. I look over his shoulder and try to see what he sees, why this photo is different. I don’t see it. So I take even more the next day.
A few times recently I’ve caught myself staring at a rock, waiting for the right shadow to move behind it. The sun beats on my head and I go into a trance. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing there when I come to, but I’ve missed the shadow I want and have to take a picture of what’s there. I think these trances are getting longer.
The day before I left, Herken finished his first effect. He made, by multiple reflections of the sun through a porthole in the wall, concentrated light. He called me to see it. I stared at it. It seemed bright, dazzling and yet opaque. It frightened me. Light which had always been a way to see other things more clearly and differently, had now become itself.
He said, “Put your hand in it.” I hadn’t wanted to but I did, with my palm facing out.
I could feel light. It felt like rich, silky cream covering every part of my hand including the back that should have been in shadow but wasn’t because there was no shadow. It felt like the richest, thickest buttery cream in the world. I turned my hand and the light slid over my fingers, between my fingers. I wanted to grasp it and tried but there was nothing in my fist.
I don’t know how long I stood there. Herken shifted his weight from one foot to the other. I pulled my hand out and kept it suspended in front of me. I turned toward him but didn’t see him. He pressed me into a chair and I sat there, my hand suspended in air.
My mind was full of light, only light. Nothing else.
Herken cleared his throat. I blinked and came back to the chair.
I said, “I levitated.” He said, “No, you didn’t.” I nodded. He was right. So was I. I kept the two contradictory ideas in my head at the same time and embraced them both. They were both true.
Herken brought me to my cabin and had one of the other women put me to bed and watch me for awhile. In my mind I remembered the levitation and at the same time I remembered sitting in the chair. At the same time.

I had to go home the next day. My husband met me at the airport and took me to a doctor.
It’s been a few weeks and there isn’t much light in my mind now. June here in the East has a light that is broken up. I can’t see it as well. I want to go back where I can see the light clearly again but my husband says, Wait.


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