The Art of Gradi Nitert (Studio Sacre Bleu)

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 6, 2019

sa·cré bleu

/ˌsäkrā ˈblə/

1) The expression today is not used in the major French-speaking countries, France, Belgium or Switzerland, but in the English-speaking world it is well known from Agatha Christie’s books about the fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

2) A stereotypical French curse that is never used by real French people. Similar to the mustache and the beret—something only non-French people think is typical of the French.

Gradi Nitert

As with many artists, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly what makes Gradi Nitert’s artwork stand out from others’, but it is immediately apparent that her artwork possesses an original style. Yet, Gradi’s work ranges across a wide spectrum of subjects and technique so, what common thread brings her artwork together?

“I think I now deeply realize my deepest core desire or ‘why’ is creating worlds where others—and myself—can find wonder; be surprised by the estrangement and alienation.”

Gradi Nitert is a dutch illustrator, maker and creator from Zwolle, in the Netherlands. Her work spans across collages, paintings and digital artwork, and her art incorporates elements of surrealism, fauvism, and abstraction. Drawing inspiration from dreams, oddities, music and a sense of nostalgia, Gradi pushes the boundaries of conscious and unconscious perceptions, and creates small pocket-realities of memories, imagination and fragments of reality.

With this kaleidoscope of the unconscious, the strange, and the familiarity of the past, Gradi’s artwork stretches the walls of reality, until Gradi simply steps over those walls. Outside the confines of a prescribed reality, Gradi defines her own rules, shapes her own landscapes, and gives life to her own people and places. Yet, for all the absurd strangeness of her work, Gradi has managed to build a bridge between her imagination and the world we inhabit.

“Vision”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

“As a little girl, I started creating little worlds—sometimes with small, hidden moments in them that made me laugh. When making 2D or 3D work, I always want to create an ambience where people feel nice, and with every piece there is a journey of discovery. I love to get out of reality, stepping or crawling into a new world—not to escape reality, just to discover a new one. Creating new worlds is my passion, and in surrealism I can do that infinitely, with a sense of connection.

“The curious thing is that I often like a sense of nostalgia in my work—a hint to the past. So, again, by creating a new world, I don’t want to lose our connection to reality. With things from the past, I want to give my art a cozy, comfortable feeling. The past is like our own, personal collection. I love to collect old, curious and peculiar things, so that I have that comfortable sense of nostalgia in my personal life. Surrounding myself with nice things, it gives me space to create and simply be.”

From the start, I found Gradi’s connection to music quite interesting.

“Music is the oil that makes the ideas come out. For all my ideas I do first visualize them in my head, which sometimes is a problem because by experimenting you’ll find yourself in things you never thought of in the first place. I try to do both, pushing myself to experiment with materials, and ‘to just do it’ and make ‘mistakes’, but I think still 70% of my work I see in my head. How? I don’t know. Maybe the music is a trigger; maybe the ambience or mood creates unconscious links and triggers. I love instrumental music the best; classical music, music from movies, or orchestras. Orchestra plus rock or electronic beats and other mashups are perfect too. I love Rob Dougan, as well as big band music—music from the 20’s to 40’s.”

In music, like in art, meaning is formed from the relationships of small components, and the patterns across a piece. Chords harmonize from notes across a scale. Chord progressions and rhythms form a landscape of sound, with melodies and improvisations roaming across that landscape. Together, these things form a cohesive whole. Formed from the placement of many small parts, the composer creates their own, unique space within the sound.

In art, colors, lines and shapes harmonize into the fundamental forms of a piece. These come together into the images or symbols of the piece. The placement and composition of each image forms a relationship with the other images, and together they create a new world of the artists design.

What’s peculiar about Gradi’s artwork is that, despite the seeming arbitrariness of her art, she forms something cohesive and meaningful. Similar to jazz, orchestra, and other instrumental music, Gradi’s art doesn’t tell you what you should be thinking about, and yet it still feels familiar. The worlds she creates define their own rules, patterns and relationships, and it’s from these patterns and relationships that Gradi creates its meaningfulness.

“Decoupage”
Digital Collage/Illustration
2014

“I was asked by producer-duo Seven League Beats to create a cd-cover while they were finishing their music. I saw their process develop from “sketches of sound” to the final CD. It was an amazing project. They gave me very personal notes of why they created that CD, what drove them to make the music, and what inspired them. Since they were a duo, there were two experiences I had to fuse into one ambience-world. Listening and isolating myself with the music made me create the final design. Sound and music have always been a huge inspiration for me—it easily takes me into that ‘world’ in my head, and the creations flow out of my head onto paper. Some movies, I listened to over 200 times, and never fully watched them, just because the sound design and music is so inspiring.”

The two most prominent ways Gradi portrays her small worlds are with her choice of imagery, and her application of color theory. Gradi’s work achieves its dream-like effect by pairing random subjects and objects together, and by blending realism with abstraction. This is seen particularly in her collage-work, where she pairs together animals, people, plants, architecture, and other random objects.

Some of her work anthropomorphizes animals, or clumps odd arrangements of visuals together. Some of her work pushes towards more uncanny cliff-edges of the weird and strange, but never comes across as disturbing, or so strange or novel that it’s unpleasant to look at. By toeing the line between strange and familiar, Gradi pulls us into the worlds of her invention, and invites us into spaces created from her dreams and imagination.

“Weirdscape”
Collage
2018

With “Weirdscape”, from Gradi’s “Nation of Nonsense” series, Gradi combines three rocks, a planet, a bear, and a pathway of boxes. The bear is walking across the path of boxes, with a planet emerging from its body, and the rocks projecting up and out from the planet. It’s arbitrary, it’s random, it’s nonsense, yet it feels meaningful to look at.

There is an orderly placement of each object, with the direction of the bear, planet and rocks centered and perpendicular to the boxes, and there is a hierarchy of size with the objects. There is a single, small rock at the top, the bear and the planet at the center, and the endless rows of boxes at the bottom. Despite its apparent nonsense, there’s a pattern and an organization to the image.

Beyond the selection and arrangement of images, a major part of what gives “Weirdscape” and other pieces of Gradi’s meaning is her use of color. Much like the Fauvists of the modern art movement, Gradi uses color in a surreal, dream-like way. Rather than depict reality as we know it, Gradi colors her new worlds in muted tones and unnatural hues.

Though some of Gradi’s art appears to have random color schemes, Gradi’s use of color is just as organized and meaningful as it is dream-like and strange. She uses scales of complimentary and analogous colors, but also uses scales of values—from neutral tones to brighter, vibrant colors—to create dreamy, pleasing and cohesive color schemes.

In “Weirdscape”, she uses a light, muted purple as her background, with a dark purple bear and a light blue-purple planet at the center. The two uppermost rocks are colored with orange/red-orange and purple/red-purple, with a few hints of blue. At the bottom are the neutral-tan boxes, which contrast with the other colors, but also pair with the muted and lighter shades throughout the rest of the piece. Though the colors are strange and otherworldly, they’re arranged in a pleasing pattern, which clicks in our heads as something meaningful and familiar.

“Cult”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

Another example of this use of color can be seen in “Cult”. The background is a chalky black, which transitions into the dark, red-purple bodies of the figures. The heads range on one end of the color spectrum from red-orange to violet, and on the other end, blue-green to yellow. Despite the abstract use of color, the hues of the odd figures are tied together like notes along a scale, with the purple-red bodies grounded in the black background.

While “Cult” can be analyzed technically, this piece also ties back to Gradi’s interest in the unconscious—which is actually her inspiration for the color choice.

 “This is one of my paintings I made in response to some dreams I had. A period of my life I couldn’t sleep during the nights and barely stayed awake during the day. That period had some really inspiring visuals for me. The dreams were so complex, so deep, I had to recreate them. I even tried to make myself have lucid dreams, but I never really succeeded. The colors I saw were so consistently intense, it took me a while, but I managed to ‘catch’ them and transfer them on my canvas. That period was one of the darkest in my life, you can imagine lack of sleep is a real killer. When I look back at the works I created that time, I can still see and feel the darkness I sunk into.”

Across cultures and throughout history, humans have a fascination with dreams, and, since Freud and his contemporaries, there’s been a fascination with the unconscious parts of our mind. It’s become apparent to many that there seems to be some connection with the unconscious and art, music, or writing—with creativity and ingenuity in general.

This connection between dreaming and reality has been a major inspiration for Gradi and her art.

“I think I can analyze my work more and more after looking back at myself when I made the piece. Dreams are a way of processing. By not giving yourself time and rest to do so, it will be a mess starting with intense dreams. I don’t think dreams give you literal answers or views of your mind, but I think you can learn from them sometimes; maybe you have to think things over more. Maybe you have more difficulties with a subject than you thought. But also, the weirdness of dreams is amazing, right? It’s funny to think you sometimes dream unthinkable weirdness, but it’s still your head thinking it. That makes you think, don’t you think?

“I love how endless your brain can be, the unique ideas and images you can create, and how unfortunate 80% of the stuff we make looks like each other. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my dreams anymore the last few years—though, for me personally, I know that is a good thing. I have some peace—some rest in my head—but my unconscious is of course still influencing my work. In a good way, but also some times in a bad way.”

On her piece, “Dreamsight”, Gradi stated:

“Dreamsight”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

 “In the same series as ‘Cult’, is Dreamsight. Notably, I always hid the faces during that time. I think it’s an unconscious choice I made. I wanted to hide—trying to understand this intensely confusing feeling. I still often make my paintings like that.”

Dreams, daydreams, the unconscious, and the storm of thoughts that can invade our waking minds, can all be seen as a window to the soul, or to the Self. Yes, we must mediate between our personal selves and the selves we put out into the world, but we must do so without obscuring our inner realities, our inner selves. I think this might be one of the greatest challenges of the modern era—of rediscovering the things that made humanity, and that make each of our lives, meaningful.

Gradi shows this with her piece, “Block”.

“Block”
Acrylics on Wood
2015

“I think this is the painting that describes my most dominant and recurrent topic in my personal work and life. Trying to escape the mold of society. I painted myself stuck in the structure (I call ‘the mold’) and the pressure I feel very deeply in the Western world. We constantly get shown how we should live. People just assume it is the way you should go. And how simple the solution looks like, I still have to remind myself as an adult to follow my own path. It’s easy to float in the stream, you know.

“Stuck, oppressive, trying to get out. The world walking numb in circles around you.”

When I asked Gradi to explain this sense of pressure from society, she explained:

“I think it’s the unnatural overload of advertisement, the core of materialism and capitalism, and the acceleration and the growing presence of social media everywhere. The way ‘normal’ is portrayed, and the way it must be in your life is constantly rubbed in your face. It’s really a struggle, the jealousy (really nasty feeling), and thinking 10,000 people can do what I do better, so why should I make this stuff.

“What can I contribute to this (art) world? All slowly slipped in my mind. Good thing you can go offline—literally stop or unplug—but it had me, and I didn’t even know it… …it is just something that unconsciously slips into my life, and by not reminding myself, I will do and make stuff I don’t want.”

My favorite piece of Gradi’s—the beautiful, vibrant and expressive, “Silence”—expands on this idea.

“Silence”
Acrylics on Wood
2018

 “This one I made more recently. I think my style constantly develops. I also believe that experiment and development is crucial to your work and your own, personal development. I don’t want to stand still. I always try to find new, other, or better ways to express myself.

“’Silence’ is made with the feeling that you have to be your own explorer, instead of listening or looking at others. I think this is an important topic in my work. Look at ‘Dreamsight’. So many influences with the same eggs. Don’t create the same egg. Create your own.”

Let it out. Let yourself, your ideas, your creativity—your inner reality—flow out from your head, and into the world around you. Let the space you inhabit be your own, and don’t let the world constrict you so much that you lose sight of what’s important and meaningful—don’t let the world constrict you so much you lose sight of who you even are. Bring your own vision to bear upon the society that bears down on each of us.

When talking about developing her style, Gradi stated:

“I can’t remember not wanting to be an artist; it is my love, my why. It never was and still is not easy—to be an independent artist, to make art most of my time. To develop my own style, I always push myself to reflect my work and myself—reminding myself why I want to make art, what inspires me, and what has always driven me.

“After being ‘lost’, and not being true to myself as an artist, I slowly started making stuff I thought others would love to have. Since I had to make money, pay my rent, pay my bills, and not really have other degrees or skills, I HAD TO MAKE IT, I HAD to make MONEY. People had to love my work and pay for it so I could make art and not have to work elsewhere—elsewhere meant no energy or inspiration left to make art. Otherwise it was office jobs, and that would slowly dull me out. But I realized that I only want to inspire people, make people feel good a little bit by looking at my work.

“Not money. I just want to MAKE. And the only way to do so, is make what I love. Make what inspires me, only then can I give that spark to someone else. And so, I try to experiment, and also remind myself often why I make what I make. And that makes me go forward, and it makes me happy.”

The last piece of Gradi’s in this article, “Circus”, is a simple yet beautiful example of what makes her work unique. It’s like a photograph taken from a distant mindscape—possibly an image from a textbook on the geography of dreams and the unconscious.

“Circus”
Collage/Illustration/Paint

“Okay, after the previous works, I want to show you the other side of creating. The fun just drips off this work. It was made after I read Kafka’s ‘Ein Hungerkünstler’ [A Hunger Artist] (1924). Shuffling and combining collages and pieces of paper, until I created the right ambience of that masterpiece by Kafka. It shows my hints of nostalgia, my love of paper and oddity, and the experiment I always recommend.

‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.’

—a quote by Albert Einstein.”

I was a little surprised that the inspiration from this came from Kafka’s “Ein Hungerkünstler”, as it’s a rather dark read. It’s about an artist who starves himself in a cage for days on end for the entertainment of others. When the artist finally dies from starvation, they are replaced by a panther, which the crowd finds far more entertaining than the artist. However, I thought about this for a little while, and it began to make sense to me.

I don’t want to speak too much for Gradi’s interpretation of Kafka, but, relating it back to her other artwork, between the self-starving artist and the panther, the crowd found the panther far more enjoyable. Why? Because the original artist became a hollow husk for the sake of others’ pleasure, but the panther was something wild and true—something full of life, something that didn’t apologize for its existence, or seek to please others with its own demise.

Gradi likewise overcame her need to please others with her art, and became an artist as wild, true and full of life as the panther. We’re not searching for artwork that was designed to entertain, we’re searching for creations that emerged out of someplace deeper. Gradi’s art not only emerges from that deeper place, but creates a bridge for us to cross over and join her in the worlds of her creation.

If you enjoyed Gradi’s work, you can find her on Instagram @studiosacrebleu. You can purchase prints, original artwork, and other products of her design at https://www.studiosacrebleu.nl/. If you’re ever in Europe (or, if you live in Europe), her work can be found in a wide variety of shops (which you can find on her website), and—if you catch her at the right time—festivals, galleries and other events.

Forest in My Attic

By Alexander Greco

April 5, 2019

Hours after I planned to begin, hours after the sun had risen above the horizon, I lowered the stairs to my attic. At the top of the staircase, I stopped half inside the attic, half inside everything else.

The Sun beamed through the left-hand window. Outside I could see the forest surrounding my Father’s house. Dust covered everything up here, most of which hadn’t been touched in years. It was a mess up here, a chaotic city of boxes piled against dressers, cardboard towers leaning against bookshelves. Dust covered the city like the snow of an ashen winter. Some parts of the attic clearly hadn’t been explored in years, where some objects were almost invisible beneath a couple decades of dust.

For a moment, I stood still and stared around the attic. For a moment, the attic seemed to stare right back at me.

I had no idea where to begin, or what I might find. Everything in the attic was an accumulation of my Father’s forty-year stay in the house. I had moved in when things first started going downhill, about five years ago. His life slowly came to an end two years ago. Only now did I finally force myself start cleaning the house out, deciding what to keep and what to throw out.

I looked around the attic once more, mentally preparing myself for hours of digging through old memories. I sighed, then stepped forward.

My first steps across the floor were slow and cautious. One wrong step, and who knew what might come tumbling down. One moment of incaution, and-

Shhhf.

Something had moved.

I looked around. There was nothing.

Probably a rat, I figured, or a mouse. And god knows how many spiders, cockroaches and cluster flies there up here.

No… No, no, no, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to deal with

I turned almost went back down the stairs. I’ll call an exterminator, then maybe I’ll hire someone to haul all this stuff downstairs.

But then I stopped, and looked around one more time.

Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have looked away. Maybe I should have kept going, closed the ladder, and never looked back, but I didn’t. I looked around, and I started catching sight of things I’d completely forgotten about. Stacks of books my Father owned, old furniture, and ancient relics from childhood.

Old memories began wrapping themselves around me, and I tried pushing them away. Just leave, call the exterminator, and come back to this another day.

Then my eye caught a lone box on the floor, only a yard from the ladder.

 “PHOTOGRAPHS” was written in sharpie on the side.

I studied it for a moment. Then took a short step to where it lay on the ground, and knelt down to it. I studied it like it was some curious yet potentially dangerous specimen I’d found in the jungle. I almost stood up to leave, but I wanted to know, “What memories are in this box?”

I picked it up, and the bottom fell out a few feet into the air. Half a dozen 6”x8” albums crashed to the floor. I jumped back, and cursed, “Fuck,” at the sudden calamity.

Then everything settled into a new, stable chaos. The box was empty, and the albums were still.

Again, I almost left. I almost called it a day, right then and there.

But maybe, I thought to myself, I should at least pick these albums up. I set the box down, and knelt at the pile of photo-albums, beginning to re-stack them. At the bottom of the pile, one of the albums had completely opened. I glanced briefly inside. They were pictures of my friends and me, pictures from high school.

I’m not old, I’d say—early-thirties—but people I saw in those pictures were so much younger than the people we’ve become. I honestly don’t know who a lot of these people became.

I flipped through the pages, and wondered how much Joey has changed, or Mike, Kris or Drew—how much they’ve all changed; everyone I knew. Who did they all become? Who are they now? What are their lives like?

Then I saw a picture of Mary, the last we ever took. The one after we’d both graduated from college, after we hadn’t talked in months. We took that picture, ate dinner, hugged and said goodbye, then never talked again.

And then all my memories of her pulled themselves out from the old closets of my mind, like ocean Leviathans being reeled in on 30-pound poles. All the peaks, and all the ravines. All the steps forward, and all the stumbles down. All the nights out, and all the days lost.

Everything we did together, all the thoughts we shared, constructed itself like an architecture of memories. Words we’d spoken that built bridges between us, and dreams we painted onto a shared canvas.

What secrets did we share in our dreams? What cities did we walk through that will never have a map? What people did we meet that will never have a name?

Something moved again.

I looked up.

No.

Mary was standing in the attic. She was looking at me. Looking into my eyes.

I blinked, and she was gone.

No… No, this is impossible—I must have just imagined it—this is impossible.

She had been standing there only a moment ago, but now she’s gone. She had been standing there, standing by my… By my father’s…

My father’s old hunting bag.

No. I stood up. I didn’t want to deal with this, I didn’t have to deal with this. I’m going crazy just being up here. I need an exterminator. I need to hire someone to do all this for me.

I flew down the attic stairs. I didn’t even bother closing the attic up, I just kept walking through the second story, down to the first floor, and out the front door.  The moment I was outside, walking out into the trees surrounding the house, I lit a cigarette and took a long drag. I kept walking, and walking, and walking away from the house. I didn’t want to think about what I saw, I just wanted to fall into the trees.

These woods had been my father’s woods—a whole square mile of it my father bought in the 70’s. It was on the outskirts of the suburbs, and in the suburbs, the city at the center of us all kept encroaching on us, so these woods were like a last bastion of something old and natural. They’d been my father’s woods. I guess they’re mine now.

I kept walking, and walking, and walking away, but I was still in my father’s forest—my forest.

 Autumn had crept into the world, slowly and subtly until its presence was undeniable. The forest was a small world of silent giants carrying a canopy of green, yellow, red and orange on their shoulders. Beneath the giant’s feet were roots dug into soil, roots cracking stones beneath the earth. Worms, beetles and mice burrowed beneath the grass. Deer eat the grass, wolves eat the deer, vultures eat the wolves, and time eats the vultures.

I kept smoking cigarettes. Each one, I put out on the sole of my shoe, then put in my pocket. I wouldn’t dare leave them in the forest. I wouldn’t dare drop them on the ground. Not even the vultures would eat them.

My father was somewhere in that world now, buried in rock and roots, rivers and grass. Buried somewhere where the world dies, only to feed the dying giants above.

I never made it anywhere near the edge of the forest, I never made it to the deeper trails and through the deeper glades. Eventually I stopped, and sat down on a tangle of knotted roots. I lit one last cigarette—I’d gone through three already—and stared into the forest. I tried not to think about the attic, or my father, or going back to the house. I tried only to stare.

But then I turned back toward the house. What had I just seen?

Was that real?

There wasn’t any answer—not from the woods, not from the grass, not from the dirt, not from my head. The grass churned with the air, the birds chirped, and the air danced across my skin, But there was no answer.

I stood up, and turned toward the house—well out of view through the trees.

It doesn’t matter. No, it wasn’t real. It was your imagination, that’s it.

I have to go back soon. I have to… I don’t know, I have to do something. I’ll call pest control, that’s what I’ll do.

When the house came into view, something seemed odd, but I couldn’t tell what it was at first. The front door was open. I didn’t remember leaving it open. Closer now, and I could see colors across the windows.

Ribbon? Tape? What was it?

And… And there were colors coming out the front door? I started jogging up to the front of the house.

Yarn trailed out from the front door, across the wooden patio, and onto the grass and dead leaves. Yarn of all different colors, and string, twine, strips of silk—what the hell happened? It didn’t make sense—nothing made sense for a moment. Then I saw something run by the windows of the second floor, then through the front door I saw something run across the living room.

Kids. A bunch of dumbass kids tearing up the house. That was my rationalization. I don’t know what they were doing, I don’t know how, but I didn’t care. I would get them out of the house, and I would clean their mess up. I forced myself to be mad, forced myself to be furious, and walked inside.

And the moment I stepped inside, I wasn’t furious anymore. It wasn’t kids. It couldn’t be. The yarn, the ribbon, the string and the twine were everywhere.

All across the walls, coming down from the ceilings, wrapping across the floor, and tied in chaotic nets through the air. Like fauvist cobwebs, ribbon, string and silk covered the walls, and like a surrealist’s spider-webs, all the string and silk and ribbon wove in and out of each other through the air, forming an insane cloud of color between the walls.

Thud thud, thud thud thud

Something ran across the floor above me. There were voices, people talking.

I looked across the ribbon-strewn ceiling, then around the rooms of the walls, and then to all the doors and hallways littered with yarn.

My heart thumped in my chest, and I could feel my palms getting sweaty. What the hell had happened? What was this? Who was upstairs?

I turned to the staircase. It was almost completely clogged with webs of twine and silk. I studied it nervously for a few moments.

THUD THUD THUD THUD.

I whipped my head up to look at the ceiling. Someone had run across the floor upstairs.

I looked back at the staircase. I had to do something… I had to find out what the hell happened, and who the hell was upstairs.

Slowly, calmly, I approached the staircase—evading hanging webs and bridges of string as I did. I stopped a foot away from the bottom of the stairs. There was so much hanging between the walls—I could avoid getting touched by most of it, but I’d have to come into contact with most of it. I don’t know why it made me so nervous, but I hesitated there for a moment before plunging in.

There was a moment where I wondered if this was real or not—like the moment before you dive into cold water, and wonder if you’re actually diving into cold water.

But as they brushed across my skin, the ribbon and silk and yarn all felt real. This schizophrenic tunnel of craft-supplies felt real—felt tangible, physical, material. There was a part of me that had been wondering whether this was   Along the way up the staircase, I began to notice photographs dangling from the webs. Photographs, then newspapers clippings, and then lines of text cut from books, cities cut from maps and definitions cut from dictionaries.

They were all hanging from the string and yarn, like they were apart of some arts-and-crafts mobile, or the creation of some conspiracy theorist. What the hell was this? What had been made in my father’s house? What was this filling the halls and filling the staircase? What happened?

Someone—a child—I think -ran across the top of the staircase. They flitted into existence one moment, then ran into oblivion the next, but I could still hear their footsteps pounding away at the floor. No…

Had children done this? Was this the work of small kids? With many careful steps and uncertain maneuvers, I made it to the top of the staircase. Immediately, I noticed small movements that seem to fill the second-floor hallway. Crawling all across the yarn webs were mice, bugs and spiders… And they were all carrying objects with them.

I saw small mice carrying little nick-knacks with them—pens, miniature figurines, keys—bugs rolling marbles and dice across silk bridges, and spiders preying on toy soldiers caught in a twine web. They all maneuvered through the webs, around and across photographs, and between pillars of newspaper clippings.

For a few moments, I tried to digest what I was looking at. I tried to digest the sight of all the bugs crawling across the silk bridges and yarn spirals, with all the little objects they carried on their backs and in their mouths, and all the mice running through the air like naked tight-rope walkers. But several moments later, it still didn’t make sense. Several minutes later, I still couldn’t understand what I was looking at. It seemed so obvious though, it seemed like everything was right their, like all the pieces of the puzzle had already been put together, and it was just the image the puzzle formed that didn’t make sense. My eyes travelled to the end of the hallway. The staircase to the attic was still open. Mary was standing at the base of the staircase. She was staring at me.

No. No, she couldn’t be real, that couldn’t be right. That person standing there, that can’t be a real person, that can’t be…

“Mary?” I called out.

Mary didn’t move. She kept staring.

I put my hand out, almost as if to wave at her. “Mary,” I spoke, “is that you?”

Mary stood and stared a moment longer, then turned and walked up the stairs into the attic. “Wait!” I called out, “What’s going on? Where are you going?” But she wouldn’t stop.

She disappeared into the attic.

I hesitated only another moment, then plunged into the hallway.

As quickly as I could without tearing the webs of yarn and string down, I made my way down the hallway, toward attic. The webs got thicker the further I went. Only a yard or so from the stairs, the webs were so thick that there was no maneuvering around them anymore. I had to push through thick mats and nots of fabric, ridden with crawling creatures. Mice investigated the back of my neck before scurrying back to the webs. Cockroaches and water beetles crawled across my arms and hands. One spider stepped like a manic dancer across my face before I swatted it away, and god knows how many other spiders had found their home on me.

Finally, my hands found the staircase to the attic, and I swung my feet onto the bottom steps. As I climbed the staircase, the webs only got thicker and thicker toward the top. I was immersed in the fabrics—my entire body—and all across my body was a crawling, scampering, skittering sensation—my scalp, my ears, my lips, my nose, across my chest, inside my pants, and down to my ankles—but I couldn’t see the things crawling across me, and I couldn’t do anything to stop them.

The webs suffocated all light, and the clutter and fabric grew so dense it was like digging my way up from the bottom of a landfill.

Then suddenly my body burst through a membrane of fabric and photographs. I was gasping for air, as if I’d just emerged from underwater, and I pulled my body through the writhing fabric into the attic.

Laying on the ground, I looked around the attic. Networks of yarn wove through the air in complex patterns and structures. Photographs and newspaper clippings dangled from the material like cosmopolitan leaves. The entire attic was a thicket of chaotic material, with a clearing at the center—surrounding the entrance of the stairs—but otherwise there was nowhere to go in here.

Mary was nowhere to be seen.

There was no path to the windows. The only other way out was back down the crawling hole next to me.

There was no path to anything in here.

I sat up and looked around. No path. Nothing. No where to go. No path.

Then my eyes caught sight of something.

No. That wasn’t true. There was one path.

It led to my Father’s old duffel bag. It was my father’s duffel bag he used when he went hunting in the midwest. He would carry the few changes of clothes he brought into the wilderness, his compass, a map, knives, and other small things he brought with him. I crawled across the floor of the attic, hand over hand through to the duffel bag.

It smelled like oiled leather. Gun powder from spent bullet casings. The earthy aroma of dried leaves.

It reminded me of him.

I never went hunting with him. I was afraid of guns. But I can’t count the number of times I wish I’d gone with him.

My thoughts travelled back to when he’d be gone. My mother let me rifle through his things in their room. There was his bed and his closet, his flannel and his coon-skin hat. In a dream I had when I was a small child, I crawled across his floor at night and into this same duffel bag. I wormed my way through the contents until I came out into a forested mountainside. In the dream, my father was there, waiting.

Next to his duffel bag, I saw a pile of old drawings I had made when I was a child.

There was an old picture of mine where the moon was keeping me safe as I slept. When I was a child, I used to think the moon followed me overhead. The moon was alive and thinking. No longer. There’s a picture of a half-man, half-deer person. I’d shown it to my father, and told him he’d meet the deer person one day in the woods.

So many ideas I had, so many creative and beautiful thoughts. Elves in the woods, dancing in whispering glades. Towering monsters that stalked forests in twilight hours. Aliens lost from space, trying to survive on our planet. So many small ideas from when I was child. From long before my father’s disease had taken hold, long before he had passed on.

Something moved behind me.

I turned around. Standing in the center of the room, in the clearing of strings and yarn, stood my father.

It was as if he had never died. As if he was still here with me. No. He was there with me. He looked at me with watery blue eyes and smiled. Every wrinkle cracked across his face with stark detail, and every line was so beautifully human.

“Dad?” I asked.

He only smiled.

Standing up, I took a step toward him into the attic, and stepped into the forested mountainside.

I was in the attic still, I knew I was, but… I was in the forest with him.

My father beckoned me over to him, and I walked with him through the forest. We walked together through this dream, and then we began walking through all my other dreams. He knew the way through all the moonlit cities, where shadowy creatures flew across the sky, and knew the paths up spiraling architecture—bent and contorted as they pierced into the starry heavens.

We went into the castles from various nightmares and spoke happily with the ghosts and the vampires, like long lost friends. Old, hidden caverns and buried temples were rediscovered. We admired these galleries of secrecy like children in a museum.

There were beaches we walked across. Waves crashed against our ankles, and soon we were walking into the ocean. Fish of all colors swam by. We stepped through the streets of coral reefs where eels snaked across winding alleyways and dark tunnels.

A coral reef bloomed around us into walls of buildings, with windows from old shipwrecks, and statues from drowned civilizations. The city in the ocean became every city in the world, and the people of the city became every person I’d ever met. I looked around, and it was still my attic, but the attic was so vast now, so infinite. Time was nothing, and for brief seconds we visited infinity together. The cities we visited, the people I met, the dreams I had, and all the memories forgotten; all were right there, right in front of me.

All of it was right there, right before my eyes.

All the thoughts I had never shared, all the ideas that fell apart and were lost in my head. All the people I hated, all the people I loved, and all the people I passed by without a second thought. We were all standing in my attic, we were all walking through our memories of each other, we were all talking in this forest with my father. There in the attic, I could hear every word and every sentence we’d ever spoken—every movement of the eye, every posture we ever held, every movement we ever witnessed.

All of you. I could see all of you

There in the attic, I could see all of you, and you’re all pulling on me with fistfuls of yarn.

And you were all me. You were all pulling these strings in my head, and you made me all I would ever be. Every word you’d ever said is all I am. Every memory of you is all I am. Everything that you are is all I am. All I could ever be is all of you, because all we are is pieces of each other.

I saw all of you, and I saw the truth. I saw myself, and I knew what I was looking at. I saw all of us, and I knew exactly where I was.

Then it all began to slip. Fall away. In my dreams, I was alone. The vampires slept in coffins I couldn’t open, and the ocean cities were abandoned. In my memories, we never spoke again, and I never found out if any of us had quit smoking. In my childhood, I deciphered all the rational truths, and the moon couldn’t keep me safe anymore. In our forest, you all turned your backs to me. In my attic, you all walked back into the pictures in the boxes.

I ran after all of you, yelling for you to stop. Bookshelves of all our stories fell down around me. The bedrooms of friends I sat in collapsed brick by brick. Kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms of family—blood or no blood—crumbled with age.

I scrambled through all the wreckage, chasing after you all. Secrets glittered in the debris like small gems, but I couldn’t stop to pick them all up. My lost thoughts peered from ruined classrooms I couldn’t go back to. Wherever I looked, I couldn’t find my old memories, or those old feelings I’d felt.

“Come back!” I yelled, pulling on all the strings.

But you all turned away, and now I can’t picture your faces in my head.

“Wait, come on! Where are you going?” but you wouldn’t answer.

You all disappeared somewhere, and I can’t see the lines on the map telling me where.

“Come on, Please! Please! Come back!” I screamed, reaching out for them.

But I couldn’t believe that the moon watched over me anymore, try as I might.

“No, tell me again! Just tell me one more time!” I called out to all my old thoughts.

I couldn’t believe that there were fairies in the forests, dragons in the mountains.

“What did I lose? What was in my head? No, no, what was it? What was it?”

And, despite all my effort, I couldn’t remember the truths I’d known as a child.

In my attic, you all left me to the dusty relics and lifeless debris. In my attic, you all disappeared into the walls, filed down the creaking, wooden stairs, and climbed out the windows. All the webs of strings pulled themselves back into the cracks in the floorboards. I wanted to stop them, I wanted to pull them back, I wanted to dig at the wooden floorboards until my fingers bled, and find wherever these strings led to.

I didn’t know who I was looking at anymore, and it didn’t make any sense. I didn’t see the truth, and I didn’t know the answer. I looked around for everyone, but everyone was gone. I looked around, hoping I was still in a forest of people at the bottom of the ocean, but no. I was here. I was in this attic. I was alone.

It was evening now. Yellows and oranges were streaming in through the right side of the attic. “Damn,” I said to no one, “damn it all.”

I looked out the window, and imagined going outside for a cigarette. “Damn. Damn, damn, damn this place.”

Something moved.

I turned.

Mary stood there in the attic. Staring at me.

I stared back.

Not even meaning to, I blinked. She was gone.

All of it. All that I had seen. All that I knew now, all the places my father had taken me, and all the people I had met. It was almost too much.

I looked around the attic—completely normal again, with no strings or lengths of yarn or ribbon—and imagined myself clearing this room out.

I didn’t know where to begin.