Earlier this year I interviewed a very talented artist, Jessie Meehan, who told me that she gets much of her inspiration in the moments right before she falls asleep. In that soupy space between waking and sleeping, she sees geometric shapes that eventually find their way into her magical, brightly colored paintings.
Jessie smiled as she told me about this. She didn’t mind talking about such things, and you can bet I was taking notes like crazy.
Her disarming revelation got me thinking about the mishmash of people who sometimes show up in my bedroom late at night. There I am, nearly asleep, when suddenly–behind my closed eyelids–a bunch of strangers begins shifting and moving toward me. Their faces are very clear and distinct. They are not speaking, just gliding around and coming ever closer. The sight of them can wake me up, but they don’t scare me. Not much anyway.
Sometimes, when I’m really relaxed, a thought seeps into my mind: “They are here, so I must be falling asleep. That’s good.” Then poof, it’s the next morning, and the cat is batting at my eyelashes and I’m awake again.
Who the heck are they?
My guess is they’re strangers I’ve encountered somewhere or another–on the sidewalk, in a store, hurrying through an airport. My brain took a sort of screen shot of each one of them and filed it away. Now there are hundreds of thousands of them, and they slide into view when I’m very briefly able to observe the workings of my own mind.
Just to make things spookier, I suspect that some of them, maybe many, are people from other eras, other lifetimes.
Why? Because when I try to think about them–and it’s hard to concentrate and really think about them–I get glimpses of old-fashioned attire, long-ago faces.
They’re not from here, one might say.
Are they ghosts? Ancestors? A kind samaritan who gave a begging, sixteenth-century version of me a crust of bread? A Prussian soldier who lowered his bayonet and waved me away?
And so I live with them, my strangers in the night. Maybe someday I will paint them in shades of red and orange and green. Or maybe one of them will paint me.