Summer in Denver is inescapable. Brightness lands on your skin, in your eyes, refracts off cement and shatters skyward. This summer, I walked through downtown with my friend Zak’s family and felt the buzz of late, light nights and the love of a family that was not my own. By now I understand how rare it is to have another family open in your presence and reveal their intimate moments, their own unique language. I’ve always loved watching families interact—it’s like watching bats dance in the darkening sky, responding to frequencies indiscernible to the human ear, but communicating nonetheless. As I watched them dart around each other, seamless and easy, Zak’s father pulled me aside.
Tone is the strangest, loveliest combination of things: an engineer who can talk for hours about how cryptocurrency will change the world and man whose favorite movie is Titanic because of the love story and not the big ship. That night, Tone put his hand on my shoulder and told me he was concerned about my darkness. My darkness. It never occurred to me that such a quality was visible, let alone so palpable a force that this man I see every few years, who knows me only through my writing, would deem it a concern. I knew that he meant it as a tender expression of love, a desire to see happiness persevere in my life. He wanted me to reflect what he saw in the world: bright, beautiful, light. But despite his good intentions, our conversation left me shaken. What does it mean to contain darkness? And why is darkness inherently bad?
Perhaps, he was referencing my most recent piece—a poem about an experience I had hunting in New Zealand. I wrote about walking through the rain-slick beech forest, listening to the roar of the sika stags, accompanying a hunter over whom I had no power. I’d hoped to convey through the violence of the writing, the violence of the stag’s death, something about the nature of womanhood and our relationship to this world—how our lives can so often twist out of our control. Is this what Tone meant by darkness? And if it was—why is this the home I so often curl within, an animal safe inside a cave of its own making?
I can only speak for my own darkness, but maybe what Zak’s father identified within me is my insatiable appetite for uncomfortable truths, or perhaps, more accurately, uncomfortable questions. And I believe that the wildness of language lends me the power to track those dark landscapes. For better or for worse, I’m obsessed with finding the answer to questions like, what does it mean to be a good woman? Or, Do we all contain our own, inherent human violence?
In an interview for the podcast, So Many Damn Books, Samantha Hunt said of darkness—“it is not being scared of the night, but dwelling in the night.” For her, The Dark Dark is about the darkness of women’s experience in the world. I listened to this interview three times. I felt heard. I felt released. This is the type of darkness that resounds within me. My favorite short story of hers’, A Love Story, describes our fascination, a woman’s obsession with dark things and dark thoughts and the tenuous line between fantasy and reality. Hunt shows us that our night thoughts, the mind loops we lose ourselves within, are beget of our own environments.
The darkness is inescapable. All you can do is open the door.
Growing up, my mother was the librarian at my elementary school. The school had just opened after being shuttered for over thirty years and the library was filled with the dust of decades. She was a single mom and didn’t have the option for daycare, so every night as she perfected her little world, my sister and I spent hours hidden under tables reading every retelling of Cinderella, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Rumpelstiltskin that we could get our hands on. We had an entire universe, illustrated and colorfully expressed, open to us. As a child, I loved fairy tales for their beauty, for their inexplicable sadness, for women discovered and redeemed through their love. Every day I was able to enter the lawless domains these tales provided and feel like I belonged. Fairytales provided the escape I so desperately needed.
But as I grew older, I began to love fairytales for their potential to carry heavy thematic burdens with grace. Fairytales don’t have such a brutal emphasis on truth; they don’t barbarically force a story to convey what really happened.
I began to realize that in the stories I craved, it was because of the fantasy, not in spite of it, that I came to an understanding of truth.
And, in the end, that’s what I want out of any piece of writing, what I want out of my life--to enter and feel transformed.
Fairytales are gruesome, bloody—grandmothers are ripped from the stomachs of wolves and little mermaids are faced with the ultimate question—what will you do for your own survival?
When creating the stories that I want to tell, I know I need a ruthless medium—a style capable of interrogating the pain that mothers inherit and young girls are born with. Like Cinderella’s sisters cutting off their own toes, or the Evil Queen forced to dance herself to death, I want to create something that demonstrates in physical, visceral terms, the lengths we go in order to belong, how far we are willing to go in order to feel love.
What do I mean when I say darkness? In my heart, I do believe that yes, this world is filled with bright beautiful, light that is almost too blinding to behold. But that light, that fervor and joy does not negate the trauma that is time. Nor does it erase the immutable understanding that everything we encounter within this human existence is subject to a chemical degradation--that despite our good intentions, our determination--there is nothing permanent to which we can cling. Nothing, perhaps, except the questions themselves.
That is what I love about fairytales--they acknowledge the brutality of this world and yet, in their exploration of that violence, they manage to manifest something beautiful. There is magic in the dissonance.
All I am saying is this: what I want from this world is the openness to create, a willingness to exist—not against darkness, but swimmingly alongside.