Dante eloquently and beautifully described the circles or levels, if you prefer, of hell. There is something poetic about the words written by Alighieri and despite the many years it has been on the list of banned books, one of human kinds more impressive attempts at explaining that which we believe. Inferno, which is Hell in Italian, depicted nine circles of hell and was only one of the books Dante wrote about the journey of souls through heaven and hell.
Dante wrote that the nine circles of hell were actually here on Earth. Everyone from Keats to Star Trek has either quoted or copied the poems. If you ask most people they may not be able to tell you how many of circles there were or even what exactly the poem was trying to portray but they will know of the story.
Our art, our literature, even our own writings can describe hell and its corresponding pain in many ways. If you have ever Googled ‘fantasy art’ you will get a view of other people’s pain that few pens are able to duplicate. The worlds that come in all colors often represent not only the places we wish we were but the people we wish we were. They show tears and anger, despair and even love. It is an amazing genre of art that I never knew existed in the early days of my journey through this disease. It is one I visit often now.
I need to see other people’s pain in art. I don’t want to be responsible for pain in myself or others, but there is something soothing about a work that shows you exactly what you are feeling. I consider these pieces mirrors showing me not what I want to see, not what is peaceful, but what it is that I am feeling. I get this way with other arts, including those marble sculptures that are bent into positions depicting pain so horrible it literally makes the body contract, but it is fantasy art that I most often get lost in.
In case you are wondering I actually don’t have any talent for visual art. Not my forte and not my specialty. I like the written word to comfort me. But the premise is the same; we search for ways to see pain, to be able to describe what we are feeling, so maybe we can fix ourselves; not for the enjoyment of others. Maybe by staring into the literal abyss painted by some unknown artist we can finally climb out. Maybe by staring at a warrior, set for battle and angry at the life he knows, we can finally vanquish those demons. Maybe if we see a broken angel lying almost dead, we can find a way to live.
Art is an important part of my life. I sit here writing on this machine, listening to the morbid words of the greatest soul singers, and wonder how I can depict in a way that the reader will not only enjoy, but in a way the reader will understand. I surround myself with art. I look for it when the pieces are falling into place and when the pieces are causing me to cut myself into the puzzle I can’t get away from. I have learned how to bend, who I am, and what pain I am capable of through the art that moves in my veins for the length of time it is in my memory.
And then there are the pieces that show the pain that I can’t forget. The paintings of Edward Hopper, the sculptures of Bernini, the music of Otis Redding can not only transport me to a place that I desperately like to escape into, but it also can convey the emotions that overtake me. I dare you to see Proserpina by Bernini and not feel all the ecstasy that is in a single moment. I dare you to stare at Hopper’s Automat and not feel like you too have willingly been abandoned for the more glamorous and glittery world of a life with a meaning. And then listen to Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and not feel like you have continued on this useless journey for so long you can’t be free.
I know what the silence in death is like because I have seen death in many forms. I have felt the tearing of an angel’s wings because I have seen the artist fall apart. I have known the nine circles of hell because someone has written about it.
In moments, in bitter seconds, I am not alone. I am not out here experiencing what the others can’t. I am capable of crying and feeling because this art gives me the license. When I am leaning against my bed and tears are falling down my face, there is something incredibly beautiful in art’s depiction of the loneliness. I can move in the notes of a song, and rather than listen to the words, allow the melody to carry me over the oceans and trees of my dreams; it can take me far out of the world I am suffering in.
I will be the first to admit that when something is drastically wrong, something that those who profess to love me can’t see, I often turn to my own words. I type what at times are symphonies of darkness and sometimes simple drivel. I make myself move not from the seat I am sitting in, but toward the place in my mind that is finally illuminated by that sentence, that word, that image.
There is comfort in pain. There is comfort in knowing that sometimes you aren’t traveling this world alone. Sometimes there is comfort in being able to explore the world that they have left you not through your own mind but the imagination of others. When you can shake off the shackle of your mind and travel to worlds that greet you with the love you desperately want, life is connected.
I feel alone with this disease. I know others have my disease but I also know that no one on earth has my same experiences and my same weakness. There is no one that can feel what I do when the lights are turned off and the world starts to sleep. There is no one that can feel what I do when the earth is moving faster than I know how to run. I know there is no one that can anticipate my disease nor cure my disease.
So I seek comfort. So I seek others that feel. Sometimes I am lucky and someone is able to share the perfect piece of art with me; the dream that they painted or sculpted. And I find someone who can see deep inside of me and put color to the pieces of my soul that I hide. Sometimes the comfort I seek are from the masters and sometimes it is from the student.
Because it is not the hand I wish to feel but the deep seeded emotional release of a stranger. It is me that travels those nine circles of hell; and it is me that will forever know the shape and feel of each of those sins. Dante may have written it, Bernini may have sculpted it, but it is only I who can find it. And it is only threw the colors of someone’s imagination that I can find my flight.