My fear of light is as much obsession as fear, really. I mean, it’s everything, isn’t it? Our perception of the world is just light bouncing off the atoms all around us in a specific way to give us lines and colors, shapes and dimensions. You and I, to one another, for all intents and purposes, are only light. Which I recognize is an obnoxious thing to say, but it’s obnoxiously relevant to me it seems.
What if our perception was altered, even the tiniest amount? Everything would change. Trees would not look like trees as we know them. Apples would not look like apples. Blue would not look like blue. You wouldn't look like you and I wouldn't look like me. We would see the light bouncing off these particles in a completely different way.
This is simplifying, but it’s still true. Everyone’s perception is slightly different from each other, which is why we all see the world in our own individual way. It’s all about light. Everyone sees it their own way. We all know what blue is, generally, but what I would call royal blue, you might call midnight blue. What you might call a canoe, I might call a kayak. How I might describe you and you might describe me, might not be how we would describe ourselves. I don’t mean in a ‘this is the real me’ kind of way, or the vocabulary we would use. I mean all the details in between me being just a person and me being this Margaret that I know I look like. Nobody is ever going to look at me and see a six foot tall black dude, but I don’t really know what other people see when they look at me.
When I used to think about stepping on the street, I thought about all the people who would be there also. I thought about how each one of them might see me. How each one of them might be seeing a completely different me then I really intended. My eyes as small and round, or nose long and bent. Perhaps to them, I come across as a troll, short in stature and squatter then most, or as a petite and nubile nymph. I didn’t have any control over how they saw me and no way of knowing what they saw. All I knew is that they were looking and there was nothing I could do about what they saw, no matter what I did.
And the light. There's nothing you can do about it, what is there is what you have. Unless you're prepared to walk around with your own personal lighting, you're at the mercy of the engineers, architects and designers who made, or didn't make, decisions about how to light everyone. I mean, I understand that there are logistical concerns involved like visibility, but I wonder how we ended up wandering around a yellow fluorescent world. It isn't favourable for anyone and makes me wonder about the increasing rates of depression you hear about in cities.
Despite, or because, of all these things, light is an endless source of magic to me. I could be obvious and draw your attention to the northern lights, a solar eclipse or fireworks, but I'd be more inclined to talk about the light that comes to us from space, travelling billions of kilometres on some nights of the year to show us Jupiter. What we see is Jupiter 35 minutes in the past. It takes light, travelling as fast as it does, over half an hour to get to us. What we’re seeing in the sky is the past. Even the moon we see is two seconds behind us.
I'd be inclined to talk about the camera obscura I made out of my spare bedroom. By blocking out all the light in the room, but for a single small hole in the window covering, I can project an image of the world outside onto the opposite wall. It’s like a giant pinhole camera, except with a giant live projection of the outside world. It's actually projected upside down, but by placing a prism in the hole in the window covering I can turn it straight. It’s my own living movie of the street outside my house. Sometimes I just watch and place my shadow in the projection of that street as though I were walking there.
I might mention those moments in the dark, when you squint and let your eyes try to focus. What do you see? A little sliver of light pouring in. Or is that just your eyes in the dark? It looks like light cutting through, and you reach your hand out to nothing, just your eyes playing tricks. Squint further back into the dark, and what do you see?
The day I left, I wondered whether or not the other Margaret had ever thought about light. I assumed she had not, but hoped that perhaps she had arrived at these same thoughts. Only, she had found a way to work with them, perhaps in the extra months of life she had on me, which lead to her proclivity for marriage, children and skiing. This meant for me, I suppose, that if she could do it, then so could I.
My lightshow introduction was perhaps the best way to share with my guests who I am, by showing them instead of trying to explain. I could convince them a little bit of the magic I see in light and how it creates the world for us. Essentially, give them a little view of the world from my perspective. However, on the night I left, the power went out in the middle of my introduction.