When I went to London in the late 1960s I brought a sword with me on the plane. (It was allowed in those days.) I was bringing it over for a friend. Seven years later, when it became time for me to leave, I was given a light by another friend—it happened in a dream, but a light is a light—and I like to think I brought over a sword and took back a light.
I took the long way home on a Polish cargo ship. During those eleven days with nothing to see but the sea and the sky and unobstructed space, I pictured a secret opening at the horizon line. Some kind of slit or crack or gap hidden between the curtain of sky and the rolling carpet of sea. A hole in the fabric of reality. A threshold to another place, another dimension. Yet the more we moved forward, the more it moved back, always out of reach. Except when the fog rolled in and we sailed into nothingness. Then the line could have been anywhere. We could have slipped through the gap without knowing it. If we did it couldn’t have been for long because we docked at the Port of Newark and I stepped onto dry land again.
I went on with my life, but the memory of the gap stayed with me, as if part of my consciousness remained on the ship, staring at the horizon. As the years went by, every now and then I’d feel it pulling me out to take another look, and I’d see myself floating closer to the opening beyond time and space.
And so the journey home became two journeys. The outer one where I made it across the sea and onto dry land, and the inner one where I was still out there, floating towards the unknown. When I started picturing it in the imaginary world of my paintings, it took on another reality, became an opening somewhere beyond life and death. A place where dreams could be actual memories on another plane of existence.
Then, about a dozen years after the voyage, I thought to resolve the matter in a final painting where I saw the gap as a portal, and myself at the threshold, balancing between the outer and inner worlds. Neither going forward nor back, but remaining in place, in the eternal present. An image created with my brush—about my brush with the unknown.
It wasn’t enough. Georgia O’Keeffe said it best. Making your unknown known, is the important thing.
I had to write the story behind the pictures. This was where the light came in. The light of conscious memory to describe a pictorial journey into the realm of the subconscious. And in the recollection of real events in real time, I discovered the portal or gap had been real too.
The Nancy Who Drew, the Memoir that Solved a Mystery, (2011) ends with the voyage back to New York. In the sequel, The Nancy Who Drew the Way Home, I found the pictures that would open the portal. They came from feeling the place I didn’t have words for.