I moved into a house in the woods, part of an old ranger station, about a year ago. It’s sincerely in the middle of nowhere, dark as shit at night, and surrounded by the kind of old pine and fir woods that only Oregon can grow. I at first was ecstatic- I even was willing to pay the high rent. I’m an artist, a professional artist, and the place is wonderful. Huge, south-facing windows, high on a hill over a river for a grand view; the front room is one large space, about 1500 square feet, and attached is a bedroom, kitchen, and bath. It’s basically the dream studio, only instead of being stuck in a hellish noise-hole of a city, it’s in the beautiful, dark, mossy woods.
I have only one neighbor. She is unintrusive, normal, and boring. She has chickens.
I moved in in a state of grace. My art area takes up the entire front room with the exception of a small corner for a couch and TV (I watch a lot of VHS but don’t have cable). The front wall, with the huge windows, is lined now with my desks and tables, on which I store all my gear.
I work in a lot of mediums; I’ve done photography, paint in oils, watercolor, and in the last year or two Ive begun doing sculptures. Now my sculpted work is not “sculpted”, more of “assemblage”, since I rarely use clay. I collect and build mounts, plaques, which combine animal remains and paint, feathers, wood, and carevd pieces into totems of a sort. I’ve had two damn successful shows of this kind of stuff, and the only trouble I’ve had has been doing enough research to avoid using any illegal materials (songbirds and whales and such) in my work.
I intended to continue mining this rich vein of inspiration in my new work space, and felt for the forst few months that being so isolated was even helping me to gain more inspiration. Having the woods, sea, and river so close has been a boon for my collection of “supplies”; and my eye has been more honed by this constant exposure to nature than it was before (I had previously been living in town, and then on a farm in a rural town.) I have always found isolation to be best for my work, but here I experience a more profound aloneness, and I still, despite everything, enjoy it.
It was in July, on return from a long vacation, that I began to have the dreams. I would wake up suddenly, my heart pounding. I felt a complete loathing, as if a slug had touched my tongue. I did not at first remember the dreams, but as this summer wore on they began to sneak through during the day, in fragments, slight jolts of memory here and there. I’d be pouring coffee in the morning, staring out the window at the trees, and shudder. I’d hear a tapping sound of a branch and cringe.
Once, I walked through a spiderweb and almost vomited from fear- there seemed to be no reason for any of it.
And yes- I’m an eccentric artist. I’ve suffered from extreme depression at times in my life and am all too familiar with the sensations of delusion and madness. I spent many of my younger years drugged, drunk, and hollering or fighting. I know that my ability to convince any authority of my honesty is simply feeble. So I haven’t spoken of this, at all. Not to anyone but you.
I should say that my work entails having a lot of creepy items in my studio. My studio which is in my house. I get a lot of strange animal remains from various friends and clients in sundry stages of decay or dissolution and sometimes from questionable sources.
Right before I began having these dreams, a friend of mine had returned from a trip to northern Africa, to a nation in some disarray, from a trip to promote literacy. (she is a volunteer) She brought me, on her return, a pair of monkey skulls. one was complete, female, and small. A vervet or something, perfectly legal and not too unusual. The other appeared to be a male, slightly larger, and with the back of its head cut out crudely. “Bushmeat.” she said. “They eat their brains. It’s legal, it came through customs fine and all and isn’t CITES, but I have no idea what it actually is.”
As the dreams progressed, and began to make themselves more known to me, I decided to build something with the monkey skulls. At first I placed them on a mount with some veves, voodoo charm symbolism. I chose papa legba (a protector spirit of sorts) as their totem. I used red silk and various other items to assemble a mount for an artwork. I was satisfied when finished, but on waking I felt it was the wrong use. and I began to pick through bird and cat bones, a bin of which I have amassed over the year just passed. I lay out a handful of bones and suddenly the shape came to me in a flash as if I remembered it instead of imagining it. And I knew somehow it was from my dreams. I ended up abandoning my other work in order to finish this piece as quickly and well as possible. It came together with almost no effort; simply looking I knew which bone to apply where.
And I found myself not building a totem, but a golem.
I spent three days working, drinking coffee, no sleep or food. The staining and painting took the longest, and while drying I would pace the room. I felt almost frenzied. As I finished, and mounted it to its plaque, I broke off one of the fore-legs. I cursed, reattached it, and finally, happily, went to bed.
In the morning it was no longer straight on its mount. I decided the glue must have been still tacky, and that it shifted of its own weight. But my dreams had been horrible. I’d seen it trying to get off the mount, straining like a fly on sticky paper. its foreleg reached out to me and pried at my lips, trying to get in. I added more glue, all round.
Over the next few nights, my dreams became more vivid. The creature was on the ceiling, dropping down on a thick wire of silk, reaching for me. It was in the shower, weaving in a corner. Its jaws (which I had lovingly chosen, skunk’s jaws to be exact) gnashed and slobber fell off in pats like butter. If I closed my eyes I saw it. Creeping. It could move fast. Then one night I snapped. I have a habit of napping on the couch in my studio.
The creature had been hanging on its plaque on the wall. Each morning it seemed slightly off from the position of the night before- but I attributed this to the glue still not set (a week later…the mind is so clever, isn’t it?) That night- I had been drawing. I have a few commissions that at that time I was still maintaining some little interest in completing. I grew tired, and as had become my habit, I lay on the couch; at this point I always turned my back to the wall where the creature hangs. Right now as I type it is to my left, clutching its plaque, waiting for me to see it again. To be honest I cannot stand to look at it. I lay on the couch and dozed. I dreamt that the creature poised itself over my face- it brushed my lips apart and inserted one leg, then another. finally it deposited something sticky on my tongue- and yes, if your mind went there, that was exactly what it was like. I’m a woman, I like men- I know that taste and feel. It was awful. I woke up flinging my arms to my face and could still taste it, faintly.
I looked at the plaque and- the creature was just settling itself. It seriously looked- well have you ever tossed something onto a bouncy bed, and seen that last tiny bounce before it stops? it was that sort of motion.
I left my house. I live, as I said in the woods. Being outdoors here isn’t safe-feeling, exactly. I mean, there are bear, cougars. It’s pitch dark and ancient. I wasn’t happy about being outside but I was even less willing to stay indoors.
I had an epiphany. I could not keep this thing.
second installment is here
third installment is here