I hold a random bundle of post-it notes to my chest to staunch the river’s flow of loss, like the loss of years and the loss of youth and the loss of moments I forgot to commit to the notes to remember so then I’ve forgotten them. Footnotes to a life lived as a time machine.
Years ago I set-up a calendar alert for Valentine’s Day and made it seem like it was a love letter from a stranger. On the day I got it, I thought maybe you snuck on my phone and programmed the surprise. Then I remembered. In the years passing, I would send myself candy grams during office Valentine’s Days. And I never forgot who values me the most.
I delete the text you sent me.
by J. Sam Williams
Louisa hated these trips to the surface. The masks smelled like feet, and the canned oxygen tasted like plastic. The recycled air and close quarters on the station weren’t much better, but at least they weren’t pressed against your face. At first, going down to the planet had been worthwhile. They searched for survivors, even found a few people who had managed to seal themselves in with enough plants to keep the carbon cycle going. Now, though, they just looked for salvage —electronics, fuel, medical supplies, rare plastics—and food. Anything refrigerated had rotted long ago, and even the canned goods were inedible by now, but thanks to the station’s reconstituter all they needed was organic material. Without aerobic bacteria the bodies hardly decayed at all; they’d have all the flavorless protein goop they could eat for at least a few decades. “Look!” She looked up sharply at the urgency that broke through the tinny tone of her headset. Tetsuo was walking quickly towards the skeleton of a high-rise. They must’ve just started building it when the photosynthetic plague hit; it was little more than steel beams jutting into the sky. Like metal saplings, thought Louisa, trying to feel the sun. She caught up with him, breathing heavily as her space-atrophied muscles strained against the weight of gravity. “What?” He ran his gloved finger along one of the beams and held it up. The tip was a reddish-orange. “Rust,” he half-whispered. Louisa looked at the smear, uncomprehending. “Yeah, so?” Tetsuo’s full expression was hidden by the mask, but his eyes shone and the skin around them crinkled. “Rust means oxygen.” His voice creaked. “Oxygen.” She felt light-headed for a moment, then remembered to breathe again.
by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
The rusty-spotted cat is tiny and streaky and rare; and I’m told that despite my interest, I won’t be able to adopt one. They live in Sri Lanka and India, and they make their homes in the rapidly diminishing deciduous forests. Obtaining one would be impossible, or so it’s explained to me by the animal shelter on Morris Street. But, I mean, I can make a forest of my apartment if necessary. Fill it with trees and we can live underneath one at the end of the growing season. I’m told the tiny wild cats are protected, but I can protect them here, too.
My current cats are big as hell and none of them are spotted with circles of iron oxide - none of them would want to venture into a tree or cave to escape a predator or, more importantly, a responsibility. My cats are average-sized wards of my wood-paneled home, they ask a lot of questions about my plans for the future in raspy sounding mews whenever I call out sick from work. But just like the rusty-spotted cat, there is so little I know about myself - so the fact that almost nothing is known about rusty-spotted cats works for me just as well. We could live together in anonymity comfortable in not knowing. Spend the days in the vegetation of my deciduous home experiencing the shelter of a solitary life. We’d only emerge at night to hunt out the snacks in the fridge and talk to one another about dreams, make meaning out of the stars blistering in through my ceiling. And the joined unity would be enough - they can keep their secrets and I can keep mine, and the little pack of mini cats and I could sleep in a circle in cavernous regions of our home.
So, I’ll keep hoping that one day I can adopt one, and we can protect one another.
third image is William Cheselden's Osteographia
fourth and fifth image are Illustrations of Madness: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom
Marie Marandola - BAGGU for Irving Farm Coffee Roasters
I bought the bag with the crows on it at the station coffee kiosk, back when I was still learning to ride trains by myself.
“Do you know the difference between a raven and a crow?” the cashier asked.
I shook my head.
“Crows are the ones that travel in groups,” he said. “They menace and caw. Whereas ravens are bigger, with hooked beaks. You only ever see one or two ravens in one place. And the sound they make is more of a low croak, or a growl.”
My coffee was free that day. The bag’s been with me since.
A friend mentioned recently that, although he doesn’t mind the single life, he misses having someone to make breakfast for.
I don’t. These days, I like waking up by myself in undiluted darkness. When all I can hear is the murmur of Law and Order reruns circling my neighbor’s TV while she sleeps—and only if I strain to hear it.
If I strain to hear it, I can remember a time when my skin ached from lack of touch. When I cackled and flapped about with need. When my own breath wasn’t enough to circulate love through me. A lonely girl with a cache to fill, wandering hazy through an echoing commuter hub like a half-remembered dream.
Now, awake, I brew strong tea and test my voice to the sound of no one snoring. I paint my eyelashes into black, long-feathered wings.
Outside, dawn breaks.
I skip breakfast altogether. I want to live on air.
A self body bag
I wrapped for you, trekked with ropes
From the sea, perfect: wrecked.
J. Sam Williams
Never been drunk. Never been wrecked. Never smoked weed or a cigarette. Emotional trauma wrecks me enough. Gluttony wrecks me enough. Lust wrecks me the most. Sin is my wrecker and death my destructor. Try and purge all from my mind. I don’t have time to focus on the rest.
photos supplied by Cassandra Panek with the exception of the last two
“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten.” Neil Gaiman
Welcome to Shadow Work
When I hear the term “Shadows” I often think of The Nazgul, the Ringwraiths of Minus Morgul in Lord of the Rings who live in the shadowlands. Their black shadow cloaks and the fog they summon. Or of J.K. Rowling’s Dementors, based on her experience of depression. Or of Plato’s cave in which the shadows projected across the cave wall from the fire are an illusion of the real. I think of what Bane says to Batman in the The Dark Knight Rises: “I was born in the darkness, you merely adopted it.” Or of this marvelous essay by Gayle Brandeis on her shadow son: here.
I also think of the Enneagram, it’s notion of shadow work, and the exploration of my own shadow side. The Enneagram is a collection of nine, inter-related personality types that describe one’s psyche, modes of behavior, strengths and weaknesses in order to (hopefully) set you on the path to your true self. Each person has a specific type or number with a set of “wings.” When one is living within their numbers and wings, they are living in a healthy balance. However, each personality type also has a darker side, literally called a shadow side, which they must also learn to deal with. If one works through the Enneagram you soon learn that this shadow work becomes a necessary part of the process on the path to discovering your true self. Just because they’re called shadows doesn’t mean they’re bad or evil, like the aforementioned Ringwraiths; in fact, the Enneagram teaches that one must embrace their shadow side. We must embrace this shadow work. In our writing, in ourselves, in others even. This is Shadow Work. Let’s begin.
My Shadow Self
My shadow self is a gibbon with a sash strapped around her neck. When you ask about her ribbon she says she'll never tell about the gushing gash or the river that came before. Instagram means our wounds are medals, brown packages tied up with strings, bondage as beauty. My gibbon bares her teeth because, in the world of demented apes, molars are a mark of the bipolar, because, in the world of shadows, it's better to share your marrow than it is to trudge along with a club slung over your shoulder.
After dinner, my shadow gibbon drips onto the throw rug so we must put it out for the night, grip a rolled-up newsprint flat in the hand, though she whinnies and flees for the nearest tree. You can’t see her, but you know she’s there. You know she’s watching. That’s the thing about the shadow self: she’s precisely an Elf on the Shelf, except your mother cannot reach her, except your father will always blame you when she lands on parquet and it will be you who turns to smithereens.
featuring cover from the illustrator FD Bedford
Marie: Peter Pan
I don’t think I’m allowed to let this theme pass us by without admitting that I’m obsessed with Peter Pan.
What started as a relatively normal childhood game of pretend, a play enacted and re-enacted with my mom’s best friend’s son and our collective team of younger brothers, has in my adult years turned into something much larger and deeper. No longer does my love of the story hinge on the possibility of flight, or my desire for eternal youth, or the availability of rad merchandise at Hot Topic; now, I’ve become steeped in its shadows as well.
For the story of Peter Pan is full of shadows, both literal (the boy’s shadow lost and regained at the beginning, the children’s silhouettes against the moon, the depths of the Neverland’s forests and jungles) and metaphorical. Wendy must stay home and darn socks by hearthlight while Peter and the boys whisk away on various adventures, and although she is arguably the story’s true protagonist, it is not for her that the book is named. As a woman, she exists only in the shadows of a world that favors men. In theatrical and movie versions of the tale, Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are traditionally played by the same actor, a casting choice that throws a pretty heavy Daddy-Issues shadow of its own.
But, what I find most interesting, is knowing that when J.M. Barrie was first creating this world and its characters, it wasn’t Peter with whom he most identified. Barrie wrote Captain Hook to be an embodiment of the darker parts of his own character: his insecurities, his temper, his fear of whom he might too easily become. The author and the villain even share the same first name: James.
featuring the covers of the Ballantine editions
Sam: Lord of the Rings
My favorite use of shadow in a narrative has to be in Lord of the Rings. Both in the books and in the movies, the "Shadow of Mordor" is a vital piece to the narrative puzzle. Think, in LotR there is never a concrete villain. Sauron is just a magical eye (or cat butt) depending on who you ask. There are what amounts to faceless Orcs and some video-game-like bosses in Saruman and the Witch-king. All of these villains together make up the one true villain, the force that Frodo and Co. are fighting against—the power and influence of Mordor.
Tolkien's villain is nothing more than the idea of what is to come, the shadow of a future that will curse and kill everything Frodo loves. This is what makes the use of Shadow in LotR so effective. It's a looming presence that feels insurmountable. How do you kill an idea? You go to the source of the idea and refute it. The idea is of ultimate power, an evil-godlike dictator. The ring of power suggest to those who wear it that they can be that person, that they can use the power for good. But, as we learn, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And Frodo fails to refute this idea.
featuring covers from the Little, Brown and Company issue and the William Morrow & Company
Janie: Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Heart
When thinking of a work that utilizes shadows, this title is the first thing that came to mind, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Heart. It’s a mystery novel that I read when I was twelve while on vacation. Maybe it was the title, which would sorta indicate a utilization of color theory. And color theory makes me think of contrast and contrast makes me think about manipulating shadows and highlights in Photoshop.
I looked up the book and its plot, since the only things that have maintained since I first read it is the enthusiasm I had while devouring the whole book in one day and that it was a mystery. Everything else was relegated to the dense cloud of memory. As it turns out, I remember nothing of it. I was genuinely surprised when I read the plot—I had to re-read the plot twice to be, like, “there were folk musicians involved? I thought this was set in Victorian England? Is this actually the same book?” (It was).
And maybe that’s how shadow work unintentionally functions in this narrative. The plot of this mystery is now a mystery to me in my old(er) age. The only thing that has struggled through the shadows is the memory of enthusiasm and enjoyment while losing myself in the reading of this book. What creeps through the dust of one’s mind is reduced to a fragment, a feeling, a snapshot of a time that was lived and now not-lived.
This plot has been lost in the shadows of my mind for twenty-one years—maybe it’s time for me to bring it into the sunlight of remembrance again.
"The plot of this mystery is now a mystery to me in my old(er) age. The only thing that has struggled through the shadows is the memory of enthusiasm and enjoyment while losing myself in the reading of this book. What creeps through the dust of one’s mind is reduced to a fragment, a feeling, a snapshot of a time that was lived and now not-lived."
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