Recently, I had spent time in my bedroom more than usual in the company of my beta, Audrey. More than I was comfortable with I would noticed her floating motionless at the top of the water, so I would tap on the bowl or give my desk a shake to make sure she still lived and breathed. Just as anyone would be expected to do if their entire world suddenly oscillated violently, she never failed to flit quickly around the bowl before settling again. Several days went by of this lethargic behavior. I concentrated on her water and how I fed her (the only two things I actually need to keep track of. Taxing, I know). On a particularly cloudy day, the room was dull and dark with the blinds closed (when I turn on the ceiling light, I wonder what sort of psychological pain I’m putting her through). I twisted open the blinds to let in the grey glow. It was a smokey light, but gave shape to the room. Audrey became amused and showed more energy than she had been. Of course, this was no official study; I wasn’t exactly following through with the scientific method.
On one of my days out of the apartment I was walking through campus with a friend, who I will call Thor. We decided to explore the education building, which sits at a fantastic spot on the Mississippi River. Inside, this building was truly beautiful. The walls were simple colors—white or light brown—and the metal framework throughout was clearly and fancifully visible. We realized, during our exploration, that we were never out of the rays of natural light. No artificial lighting was even being used in the hallways. Long windows stretched along the wall to the river, skylights lit the main staircase, and, best yet, the balcony was vacant and accessible, pushing me and Thor nearly over the flora of the riverbank and out into the Minneapolis skyline.
It doesn’t sound fanciful, shining, or impressive in the preceding paragraph. There really is no detailed science to windows and balconies. Why am I so wide-eyed by natural light? Why does Audrey go buzzing when I open the blinds?
The first home I remember had a long room that extended from the front of the house to the back, beginning as a living room and ending as a dining room. Bay windows pushed outwards from the front portion, two square windows lined the side wall, and another two stood at the back. From any angle of the sun and any angle of the room, light came through. We moved to a more dense suburb later on. Again, bay windows in the front living room, and a screened-in porch for our other nature needs that we had built. These places boasted the most sunlight, in my memory.
College arrived. Dorms arrived. Practice rooms arrived. When one thinks through the construction of our music hall, it makes sense: enter into a glass lobby and go left to find classrooms and office hallways, right to find the recital hall and locker rooms. In the basement, going left takes one to the music library, lounge, and the hallways of practice rooms. Going right travels through larger practice rooms, ensemble rehearsal rooms, access to the concert hall, recital hall stage, and more locker rooms. Guest artists comment on how long of a building it is, which is no more apparent than to the student whose locker is on one end of the building and the practice rooms—their destination—on the other. These practice rooms are where I have experienced the gradated value chart of the emotions of academia: anxiety, calm, frenzy, stupor, victory, defeat. Like war. War without field hospitals, nor thick uniforms, nor heavy backpacks, nor sunlight. Why am I so wide-eyed by natural light?
“They’re called solar tubes.”
I am standing among a small pod of college students in a beautiful house, the house of our internship supervisor. The annual summer pool party has ended, and we are receiving a tour in the waning hours of daylight before we, too, head home. The necks of our pod are craned upwards, peering at a glowing circle in the middle of the living room ceiling.
“So you can’t see the sky, you just get the light?”
“You just get the light.”
As the tour continues, our pod travels into the next hallway and passes under more solar tubes, like private pieces of sky.
“You don’t get light when there’s no light out there. But it’s great during a full moon, and a cloudy one when you get the shadows moving.”
The hallway, the bathroom, the master bedroom, all experiencing their own, smokey-blue dusk.
Why does Audrey go buzzing when I open the blinds?
The day after Thor and my exploration, I packed up my backpack, clipped on my bike helmet, and prepared to give this new great discovery its first voyage. If it passed the homework concentration test, perhaps I would consider making a pilgrimage, a colonization effort. I found a study space near the central staircase between large potted plants and beneath the milky skylight that first earned my attraction. The productivity was impressive. My text to Thor, which he understood, read: “I’m doing homework in a jungle.”
Think again over the blog post you’re reading. Writing about light—sunlight, even—is pretty harebrained; we have every right to take it for granted (all the sun does is sit around and get bigger. Unlike fossil fuel. But a lot like most Americans). We humans, though, have created our technology to take the place of the sky. Clocks tell us the time, not the sun. Streetlights show us our way, not the moon. A GPS tells us the right direction, not the stars. (We used to just use a compass. Repeat it slowly. Com…pass. Good job.) Our late-night computerized socializing and early-morning [coffee] schedules send our internal clocks for a spin with the artificial light and arousing liquids.
After a long day in the St. Paul sun, I ducked into the dark for another evening of Job at the Concert Hall. The concert was a lovely accompaniment to my summer school homework as I sat in the light booth, and later on our small crew of three cleared the stage for the next day. The house manager arrived and reminded us: the Minneapolis Aquatennial Fireworks were on, and the rooftop was calling. Like children, giggling, we ran (mostly) up 100 feet of staircases and pooped ourselves out onto the roof. Brilliant explosions laughed out light upon the surrounding buildings that were in the view we commanded of the city. Buildings that were now our compadres in elevation.
A bit of stargazing was attempted, but it was not so easy as the areas I once knew. More streets are built that need to be lit with more cars populating them with white and red eyes traveling to larger cities with higher buildings shining from floor to ceiling, sidewalk to rooftop. And what was once a sky that humbled humanity into religion is fading. We have competed against each other for the better and the brightest; now we must be better and brighter on this side of Heaven. Religion today fills little more than our churches, graveyards, and conscious efforts to remind ourselves of it. Religion before filled the firmament, the very atmosphere, the thoughts of the world in the cranium of the Earth.
Away from the skyline—covered by the wafting smoke of the fireworks—was the black Mississippi, reflecting the glowing Washington Avenue Bridge and the metallic shimmer of the University before trailing off through the trees into distant St. Paul. The fireworks ended. Small headlights trickled out of the city and flowed away along the still river. And the skyline dusted itself off for another day.