Phosphenes is a word I recently learned. It is a word to describe something I’ve noticed for a very long time but have never had the right word to describe. This vignette has been the hardest to write so far, as it was hard to bring an abstract concept to light. Still, I hope you enjoy this week’s update! Thank you.
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Phosphenes (n): the light and color produced by rubbing your eyes.
The world looked more beautiful out of focus.
When light and color spilled into each other, boundless.
When things had faces and sides you could only catch glimpses of, even if you looked at them for the rest of your life.
Life was wasted in details. Fussing over details. Worrying over details. Arguing over details. It was better to look at the world like it was an abstract painting.
Where things had meanings that didn’t always make sense out of context.
Hana’s father was a painter, and he had told her once that the most vital things couldn’t ever hope to be understood with the mind alone.
Hana dreamed of being like him one day. Standing over a sturdy, wooden easel, brush in hand. Golden eyes looking into an incomprehensible dreamscape that would slowly, stroke by stroke, be conceived on the blank slate in front of her.
Her father forged windows to other worlds, but he often got so caught up in the view, he forget to look past the window to reality.
He was blind in that way.
Hana had never resented his inattention, but her mom certainly had.
“He’s so disconnected,” she would say with a sigh. “I could be talking to him for five minutes and then realize that he’s not even been paying attention to me in the first place.”
Hana never knew what to say. Her parents loved each other. She was sure of that. She was even more sure that they loved her. Her father could be absent-minded, but he had always been that way… Yes, she wished they could spend more time with each other, but their quiet afternoons of painting together was enough to sustain her.
One day, Hana decided to break the silence that permeated the sun room her father called his workshop.
“Dad, why do you only paint abstract paintings? I’ve never seen you do anything realistic…”
Her father put down his paintbrush, and for once, Hana felt the weight of his full concentration.
He was silent for several seconds as though he was deep in thought.
Her father was an iceberg. He only ever revealed the topmost layer of himself. But every so often, he would say something or do something that would allude to the lower 90%.
She felt that this would be one of those moments.
“Hana… Let me ask you this: When you close your eyes, as tight as possible, what do you see?”
She immediately shut her eyes.
“I don’t know… blackness? I can’t really see anything…”
“You’re not looking hard enough.”
“My eyes are closed. How could I see anything?”
Her father sighed as if he was disappointed with her.
“Hana, don’t focus on the darkness, look beyond it. Do you see it? There is always more to shadows than just shadows. Concentrate. Maybe rub your eyes a little. Now tell me again, what do you see?”
Hana tried to look deeper into the darkness. She gently pressed the outside of her eyes with her fingers, like her father had instructed.
Suddenly, a glowing flower bloomed on the back of her eyelids. Whizzing, luminous speckles darted and shifted around as she moved her eye.
“Light,” Hana whispered to her father. “I can see light. It’s not pitch black. There are tiny specks of light dancing on the back of my eyes.”
Her father smiled and gave her a chuckle.
“Now look at this.”
Turning his easel around, he showed Hana a canvas swallowed in darkness. The whole easel was black, but in the same way, it wasn’t. There were spots of color, barely noticeable. The painting felt like it was moving. It felt like…
“This is what I saw when I closed my eyes.”
Her father smiled even wider.
“That’s what I was going for.”
“But, wouldn’t most people be unable to understand what you were conveying.”
Her father gave her a sheepish look she had never seen before.
“That may be true, but I just like to think it’s because they’re blind.”
“I want to show the world things no one else has seen before. Not because I’m the only one who can see them, but because I’m the first one who tries to capture them.”
Hana closed her eyes, and the glowing, swirling colors leapt out at her.
Wasn’t it strange, that even when people closed their eyes, they couldn’t be rid of light?
Strange, yes, but amazing too. How had her father even noticed that? The only time Hana ever really closed her eyes was when she was trying to sleep. Is that why she couldn’t live in the same world he did?
But if she tried, did that mean that one day, she could also show her father something he had never tried to see before?
The thought filled her with an inexpressible excitement. Her fingers itched to pick back up her brush.
But before she could, she looked at her father. He had gone back to painting.
One day, she was going to show him her world. And it would leave him breathless.
Grabbing her brush, Hana looked back at her now flat painting and ran to get another canvas.