“…what I am thinking of is the more authentic menace of the subconscious mind of the French race, the night-side of their daytime perspicacity, all the more copious for being repressed beneath apparent equilibrium. For the Frenchman, so conservative by day, goes revolutionary in his dreams. He stands for civilization at its most lucid and alert; only in sleep does he set his questing fancy free to stray in the dim hinterlands of the Unknown.”
— Paul Monand in the introduction to Brassai’s “Paris at Night” (1932)
“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” — Gustave Flaubert (1876)
You know that thing in your head that keeps telling you “the truth”?
It’s that thing that wants you to believe the thought you just thunk.
I know I do this. All the time.
Everyone does this. We tell ourselves things. The self talk is relentless: “What did he/she mean by that?” “I am such a loser.” “I’d better keep my head down and just shut up.” “I’d better speak up or I’ll miss my chance and never have it again.”
But do we ever listen to what we are telling ourselves?
That, I think, is the key difference.
Many years ago, when I was 25 and had just started working my first fulltime job, I felt really insecure. I wasn’t sure I could do what I’d signed up to do. (BTW This feeling has never completely gone away, so if you’ve felt the same thing, you may recognize it.)
But over time, and repetition, I learned skills I never thought I had. I was better able to master them merely by doing them day in and day out.
So, if we could get Nightwalking (the fear, the insecurity) to open up to Daytalking (the open and accepting part) and turn it into Stargazing (asking questions, refining information), well, that would be quite the life, wouldn’t it?
And maybe we can.
Before I get any further, let me clarify how Nightwalking (isolation, self-shutdown), Daytalking (openness, light-heartedness), and Stargazing (curiosity, interaction) all play out — at least in my world.
It would be easy for me to simply chuck Nightwalking into the camp of depression, mental illness, anti-social behaviors … my dysthymia.
But I think it’s more than that — way more.
It’s also everything Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote or Vincent Van Gogh painted. It’s the Grimm Brothers, Jonny Quest scary-stomping mummies. It’s bad horror flicks, monster movies, dystopian science fiction and prog rock with minor chords. It’s like you’ve been assumed dead and woke up nearly buried and completely forgotten.
It’s confusing and lonely, confounding and maddening.
It can feel like the deepest form of loss, as if life itself has betrayed you any scrap of humor or hope.
But going back to that incident from my 20s, I realize that maybe it’s just a stage, a form of passage, a sad creeping ride on Charon’s barge across the Acheron. Even that mythological metaphor is useful: the Suda describes the Acheron as “a place of healing, not a place of punishment, cleansing and purging the sins of humans.”
So, where am I going with all this?
Well, I’m trying to bring it back to the uses of Nightwalking in the context of Daytalking and Stargazing. I initially wanted to write about Daytalking and how one person’s overabundant supply of Daytalking energy can compromise another person’s energy, but I’ll have to save that for the next post.
Nightwalking isn’t something I want to fear, since it’s inextricably tied to the other aspects of my personality: Daytalking and Stargazing.
But it can be a vacuum into which those other aspects get sucked in — like a voracious black hole eating bright little stars of curiosity and friendship. For that reason alone it feels hateful. But it does exist and acknowledging it tames it slightly.
If your dreams are dark, you must keep walking through them.
Absurd ideas can emerge in the dark. And sometimes they’re revolutionary.
And sometimes they light the way long enough to reveal a path out of the woods.