“I, is the total black, being spoken.” —Audre Lorde
Our senses are sharpened in the dark.
Of course, that typically isn’t what we first notice in spaces that are, either figuratively or literally, devoid of light. Often, our first encounters with anything uncertain—say a poorly lit room or a lofty, obscure topic—provoke anxiety, doubt, confusion, fear, or, if you’re me, a bit of impatience. (In my case, the night generally represents a despairing state of immobility. I’d rather do anything else after nightfall than work, which might be why I consume more bowls of cereal for dinner in a state of procrastination and lethargy than for breakfast.) But then, after inching your way through shrouded environments, you get acclimated. Unable to rely only on your sight, you engage other senses or follow thoughts you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. These are worthy skills for a reporter or photographer to exercise. Whether you’re developing prints in a darkroom, descending into a lava tube, surfing at night, or beginning to write, you have to feel your way.
Trekking through uncertainty to see something more clearly—what a paradox to embrace! In her book The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit ruminates on this subject elegantly. “Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not know what you are doing and what will happen next,” she writes. “Ideas emerge from edges and shadows to arrive in the light, and though that’s where they may be seen by others, that’s not where they’re born.” Darkness giving way to creation is a theme that echoes across ancient cultures worldwide. In Hawai‘i, the principal genealogy chant, the Kumulipo, begins in the cosmological realm of pō (dark) and lingers there for almost half of its 2,101 verses: Not only is the dark the source of everything—it is worth settling into and spending time with.
This theme of welcoming discovery in the dark resulted in a surprisingly sensuous issue. Some of the stories are charming, others are challenging. Rather than individually highlight the stories contained in this issue, as an editor’s letter expectedly, if resourcefully, does for its readers, I’ll let you feel them out on your own. They don’t always provide answers, but each are delicately traced with specificity to people and place. They show that among tumultuous days, a single night can, in fact, hold us steady.
For me, this was revealed to me in a single visual from the visits I made to diners over multiple evenings for this issue: a carousel of pancake syrups, salt and pepper shakers, and red-capped shoyu bottles. They greeted me at every diner, at any table, at whatever hour, and began to feel oddly reassuring and dependable. In the strangest way, all of their spaces seemed to hinge on their presence. It brought me back to a sentence from one of Patti Smith’s memoirs that I find myself returning to whenever I feel like we’re all just floating through this world or feeling uncertain about the role of art in our lives. She writes, “Life is at the bottom of things and belief at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all.” Each of the contributors in this issue, with their senses finely attuned and attentions paid to minute details, managed to ground themselves and find their footing in the dark, to share with us something concealed about Hawai‘i and where it fits in our understanding of this place. They remind us we’re all here dwelling at the center.