The Gloom

One of my favorite films (and books) is Night Watch. I wonder if I find its Eastern European mythology so appealing because I am that, and it recalls the tales my great grandmother told me, in her heavy accent and perpetual house dress and bright, tomato laden goulash simmering in a big black pot on her stove, me seated at a table in the window nook. Some were very dark fairy tales that would not, in America at least, be considered “child friendly.” I loved them, and I wish I better remembered them.

In Night Watch, there is place called The Gloom (in the film, at least; in the book, it is The Twilight). This is, however, one of those situations in which English doesn’t have a concept that exactly matches the Russian one. In Russian, sȕmrāk (Cyrillic су̏мра̄к) is not really twilight; it is not that in-between time between day and night, but a time much closer to darkness. Technically speaking, the nearest match (and, I think, preferred translation) in English is “dusk.”

On the other hand, I think “The Gloom” best captures and communicates the place, much more so than “The Dusk,” so it is my preferred term. The Gloom is another plane of existence, a magical realm and a sort of underworld that overlaps, or runs parallel to, ours. In appearance, The Gloom resembles the real world. It does not look like a fairy land, but is more like a mystical reflection of the real world.

In Night Watch, there are two groups of human beings with supernatural powers, all of whom are called Others. Others are born, not made. The Gloom gives Others their supernatural powers but also feeds off of their life force, making it dangerous to stay in The Gloom for too long. An Other can be totally consumed by The Gloom, never to be able to return to the real world. There are Dark Others and the Light Others, and it is the aura of The Other at the time they first entered The Gloom that determined whether they became a Dark or Light Other (a combination of soul, fate and feelings). Emotions have color in The Gloom (the aforementioned aura), which allows the emotional state of The Other to be read while there. The Night Watch polices the Dark Others and the Day Watch polices the Light Others.

An important point is that it is hard for Others to see, while in The Gloom. They can see, but things are indistinct. In the film, the Others squint a lot, and appear to be moving through murky fog.

There is a lot more to it than this, but you get the idea. The Gloom is the only metaphor I can think of to express what the past eight to nine months (since table flipping and leaving my tech job in June 2015) have felt like, and where I have been.

And now, begging your pardon, I will proceed to beat you over the head with this unfamiliar metaphor.

It wasn’t depression — not even close. I simply was not in the real world anymore (or at least, was not treated like it sometimes), insofar as my “real world” was greatly defined as being a “productive member of society,” where I took the form of a “woman in tech.” No one else had a slot for me, nor did I have one for myself.

I never belonged in that real world. I was always an Other, literally, as a woman and as the daughter of immigrants with a hodgepodge cultural framework. My soul never fit in these profit-at-all-costs, at-will-employment, sexist, racist tech companies, either, though it took me a long time to admit that.

In Night Watch, the Light Others have empathy and believe they have a duty to help the weak and the helpless. They recharge with emotions from others like joy. The Dark Others, as you might guess, have no morals, do whatever they want, and do not care about consequences. They recharge with pain and anger.

I felt like a Light Other who worked for Dark Others. In the Night Watch (and other Eastern European mythologies in general), the world keeps going due to a truce (or balance of power) between Light and Dark. The corporate world had many more Dark Others than Light, or perhaps the Light Others were afraid to declare themselves.

After I left, I no longer knew where I was. I rambled around outside, in beautiful places, but did not feel present. The world looked the same, but I felt alongside it, ever so slightly offset and elsewhere. I found it difficult to see. I ran on the beach and did not notice the temperature, or my breathing, or that a cold incoming tide was washing over my feet. I could see my breath in cold air, see my feet cause water to splash, but it was as if I were watching it happen to someone else. If there were birds, I did not hear them. (Sometimes, for a few seconds, I would hear them, and I would marvel at the fact that they must have been there the whole time. Then they were gone again.)

If it sounds like narcissism, perhaps it was, but I wasn’t actually thinking about myself, or much of anything. But, ever so slowly, something was happening to me. Every few months, my joy, my happiness, my light would grow. Of course I would rather stay in The Gloom. At the same time, to do so felt a bit dangerous, like a temporary mental slip that might become permanent. In late November, looking back, I think some part of me was probably trying to leave.

A couple of weeks ago, all of a sudden and without any effort or intention on my part, I crossed out of The Gloom. In a split second, in a single moment, I was back. It was January 8, in the late afternoon, and I came to in my living room during the gloaming. The similarity in words — the difference of a single letter — is not lost on me. The gloaming is that beautiful, golden, warm time of late afternoon and early sunset, when everything is buttery and glorious and burnished to bronze, and it’s the perfect time to take a photo, and all you can think of is that light.

But I will keep it. I inhabit a very different real world than the one I left, but it is real nonetheless. A balance has been restored. The world may be an absolute mess, and I fear the Dark Others are winning for the moment, but I am no longer surrounded by them day in and day out, and their creating anger and pain with which to feed and enrich themselves.

The Gloam, I’ll stay in.


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