On a Dark Room

I was cleaning a room in the building in which I work. I had never seen anyone use this room except to briefly walk in, grab some necessary tool, and to walk out. They’d step strategically on those spots of floor that remained visible underneath the layers of pieces of wood, scrap metal, spilled nails, wires, insulation, tubes. There was no place to sit or to set in this room. To me, the room appeared to be nothing but some easy to disregard corner of the building, a convenient place to ignore the need to remain organized, like that one drawer everyone has in which they throw things that would otherwise have no home.

While I was cleaning this room, however, I realized it had a history, as all rooms inevitably do. Coworkers would pass by me to say, “Wow! They have you cleaning this up? Let me tell you something about this room.…” I grew to learn some of the things the room had been and was not any more. It was, for example, a dark room, in which photographs were developed. One coworker associated that dark room with a more enjoyable part of his life. “I’d spend all day in here. Being the photo-nerd I am, I was in paradise. Now look at it.” The “now look at it” created an interesting parallel between the narrative of the space and the narrative of his life.

One time when I was high, I was looking at a glass of water, and I was overcome with the revelation that the glass I could grab and drink from was not the same glass as the one I had filled with water. Something about the glass had changed, as well as the water, and would always change. Nothing was fixed. I’ve subsequently learned about the buddhist concept of non-permanence. I’ve also learned that buddhism is not focused on conceptual understanding but on felt experience. Understanding the concept on non-permanence is not the same as experiencing it directly. This was the only moment I can recall in which I truly did experience non-permanence directly. All of the objects and people around me felt as though they were not in a constant river of change but were a constant river of change (like water isn’t “in” the river, but is the river).

Reflecting on that moment in the here and now in which I exist, the nature of change becomes obvious. That moment, and all those physical things that surrounded me in that moment, have thoroughly slipped away. Their rate of change is perhaps slower than my rate of change. Of course their change can be sudden. A glass can fall and break. Water can be consumed. A new tenant might have moved into the house, installed new furniture, knocked down a wall.

(In the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, there is a simple display of a rock and a Geiger Counter. The counter makes a noise every time it detects an ion being released from the rock. There, the rock behind the glass, looks like the very manifestation of permanence. And yet the counter reveals, however slow and imperceptible, the slow dissolution of the rock.)

This analysis is highly conceptual, however, and understanding has no relationship to the experience of that moment. Concepts, however, appear to be somewhat fixed. Or they allow themselves to be. Concepts, being a-physical, are also anti-entropic.

I played a video game from my childhood and was impressed at my own spatial memory. I knew every part of the game as fresh as I had when I played it as a child. I can navigate it as I navigate to my bathroom in the middle of the night.

The disk is, of course, slowly disappearing, but the game is not the disk on which it is stored. (The experience of a game disk being broken or scratched is the experience of a door being locked, never again to be opened.)

There is a unique sadness that comes from changing a space. Somehow, one’s mental construction of the space remains unchanging through one’s life. It’s the same sadness of returning to one’s elementary school. The space is changed in reference to one’s body. Scale is altered. One experiences the phantom of the space one knew.

But a video game never changes. A virtual space is as anti-entropic as a concept because concepts are the raw material out of which virtual space is constructed.

I once had an odd experience during my first visit to Grand Central Terminal in New York in person. I clarify “in person”, because I had been in this space as Spider-Man. (Playing different Spider-Man games, which include different references to the architecture of New York, has given me a strange, collage-like mental projection of the city.) I had the odd experience of both recognizing and not recognizing the space. I had the mental construction prior to physically visiting the space.

I have had dreams of places I can still vividly remember. I can’t form the memory of the space into a map, just like I can remember my mother’s face in whole yet I cannot draw her face in detail from my memory. I remember parts of specific places that I have visited or revisited in dream. Some of these places I’ve been to three or more times. The most odd one is a park. This space is odd because it connects to my childhood home. In the dream space, there is the home, which is spatially consistent with my childhood home, and there is the street, consistent with my childhood neighborhood, and there is a park that exists in the dream but does not exist in reality. I’ve been to this park more than once, and it remained somewhat consistent despite different dream sessions. It impressed itself upon me so much that it disrupted my mental map of my childhood neighborhood. I began to wonder if the space actually did exist and I simply forgot about it.

I read a book on how to take a good photograph. The author took a moment at the beginning to differentiate a photograph from reality. One of the most important differences, he said, was the meaning that things have in relation to the body really being there. He used an image of an on-coming storm for an example. He said that to us viewers, the image of clouds are simply that: grey clouds on the horizon, but to the person who is actually there, their presence has a different dimension. The person there-in-body feels the wind against his/her flesh. The clouds signify the need to find shelter, they precede the inevitable event of a storm that the viewer of the image will never experience. The clouds of the photograph never become rain.

 

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