This is a small, whimsical collage I did just after leaving art school, as my works kept getting more three-dimensional, as their titles kept getting longer, as I started moving into the fourth dimension of the literary word, the inner dimension of the mind. The mood of the piece reminds me of the way I felt one night I sat by the ocean this August.
In what can be described as one of the most stellar nights of my life, I took my star charts and binoculars to the beach on an island off the West Coast of British Columbia, and waited for the light of the stars to soak through the darkening atmosphere. This is part of what I’m doing in order to invent the main character of a novel, a failed astrophysicist. Over the last two years, I’ve joined the Royal Astronomical Society, read cosmology, quantum mechanics and number theory, bought a ten-inch diameter telescope, and begun my hunt of the heavens for the 110 Messier objects, galaxies and nebulae listed by the 18th century comet hunter as things to avoid.
I was overtaken with what I can describe only as a kind of iridescent ecstasy as the universe slowly revealed itself in the sky, and in my mind – Vega first, in the constellation Lyra, and the stars of Cygnus, the swan. I met Aquila for the first time – Zeus’s messenger eagle who flew with his thunderbolts to earth. A meteor flashed into and out of the atmosphere and left a burning trail of bright dust for a few moments – something I had never seen before. Under the bright milky way, the ocean was utterly still, but I could hear wildlife – strange wildlife for a prairie girl – huge slick things that surfaced from the deep, maybe from the subconscious itself; I thought I heard the gushing breath of a whale. There was the belch of a nearby sea-lion, and the slap of flukes on the surface of the water, here and there in the distance, echoing off the islands. It seemed to be some sort of Morse code, the water-drumming of I didn’t know what, dogs on shore barking at these things – these sea monsters.
I slid my eyes down the tail of Aquila to where a curl of stars pointed toward Messier 11, the Wild Duck star cluster, then moved the binoculars down, to the Lagoon Nebula – Messier 8 – trying to make my way to the center of our galaxy, to where Sagittarius disappeared into the trees. In the East, just above the mountains of the mainland, the bright young sister stars, The Pleiades, were rising and piercing the air.
I was giddy, falling in love, seething with astro-geekness,
People sometimes wonder if, or how much, an author’s character is the author herself. Usually a character comes from a part of myself, though none of them have ever been the whole of me. I’m having a very different experience, now, dredging up and cobble together a character out of oblivion. Until this book, I’d never concerned myself with the star before, or their names, or the stories hung from them by ancient cultures.
This character I’m inventing had never been a part of me, but will be a part me now, forever.