Maybe we are like shadows
A celebration of shadow-making and storytelling
Well happy in-between Christmas and New Year! I love this period, where time is suspended and some of the external doom of associating our self-worth with productivity are paused too – its internal doom is a tad harder to shift.
This week I wanted to write something that connected with playfulness, using the exercise of writing to take that wonderful brain of mine into the present moment. So I watched my hands making shapes with the shadows, and shaped that into a poem too. I think it’s best read aloud.
Maybe we are like shadows, playing in the light. Hazy, with an aura of flammable heat cheating our visions of reality. There's hope in the fuzziness, where we're all shapes and lines, blending into one monolith, cupping our hands and touching for love. Delicate, wondrous, there's comfort in the shutter speed slowed down, more essence captured in the image than any definite article.
I think our shadows move to hold us when we're not looking, reaching back into ourselves, curved with a light of greater tenderness that helps us see what's already there. A mirror without the ego, or maybe a child at play.
I remember making animals with nothing but my body and the air around me. Birds were my favourite, hands extending out to float with such grace as they carved beating wings and shepherd hook necks against the light. Crystalline, cut into a million rainbows, with each slight adjustment refracting into a new promise.
I see our bodies as outlines, spaces, where we fill a life; echoing the shadows that twist and quivver in a trick of a flame, they dance in a kind of firelight, sharing it with others, to ignite a bigger spark.
Where would we be without the shadows? Blinded, perhaps by light we cannot fathom, wishing for their mysteries. Beaks and wings and ears and paws, on each bedroom wall we watch beyond the words we know as new forms take shape, sitting in the in-between. Skipping over radiators, they undulate, over, through, within the curtain by the window and the wall opposite the chair. Like a nymph, seeking to transform and distort, never a terror, never flat fact. Wise from their watching.
Keep playing, they say. Play with foggy yellow lamps and closer than close floodlights. Choose the haze over crisp clarity, coax open your imagination to new stories you can spin. Don't you just adore watching that shadow move, take shape and dissolve into light again? The flow of your body to create something new and unhuman. On long winter nights where you declare 'melancholy you shall stay in the corner', you can turn the table and become the watcher, a gliding swan next to a candle or a torch, crested for a moment in the sheer pleasure of the curve of a hand. Suspended and floating. Gone in a flicker.
Balm for the week
In my first newsletter, I mentioned wanting to call this project 'On Connection', only to discover that Kae Tempest has written a book with the same title.
Well, dear reader, I've now read that book, a short 120 pages, that ponders on how we can use creativity to bring about deeper connection to ourselves and others. You can imagine this was really up my street.
I resonated with Tempest's reading on Jung's The Red Book, examining the two parts of ourselves we draw from in our lives: the sprit of the times (driven by the self as individual, social needs, current culture), and the spirit of the depths (a more ancient part, your dreams, your soul).
Tempest examines the collective restlessness and dissatisfaction of our culture, and argues its cause is living out of balance between the two selves. These days, made worse by the internet, we exist nearly fully in the spirit of the times (no surprises that this is the side that aligns with capitalism, individualism, productivity)."We are running after all things, we have been seizing hold of them, but we have not found our soul, since we would find it only in ourselves."
And this is where really engaging with creativity - whatever that may be for you - has the power to bring about the connection we so crave through the humbling of existing in other people's shoes, the joy of shared experience, the wow of a moving piece of music or beauty of your favourite film.
Tempest writes about these two selves in relation to creative production itself, and how as an artist you are often in conflict with yourself as you create. Is it fame and validation you seek, reassurance your work is enough, rather than the chance to reconnect with a deeper part of your existence? Reconciling the two in a capitalist society is a daily struggle.
"I'd been a poet long before I ever dared to take myself for one. I'd been a poet long before it paid my rent. But when I could finally say to others that yes I was living off my art, it made me feel legitimate. Because I judged myself by the spirit of these times, which is concerned with 'use and value'. Rather than being in communication with the spirit of the depths, which wants me to 'refind my soul', or retune my creative compass".
I really relate, as someone who in desiring to seek out that depth of the soul, has wanted the time and economic flexibility to write more, to have that writing reach more people, to connect with them, to enable more of the soul-work. I don't berate myself for wanting that. But I can increasingly see it's a fine line to tread, and that more will never be enough if I can't surrender myself to the process of creativity in the first place. I find this quite reassuring actually, it gives me license to keep writing and keep moving forward in other parts of my life too.
Okay that's all, but since I really nodded my head along to most of the book, I'll leave you with another quote which I think you'll like:
"Finishing work', is what gives the artist the humility necessary to begin again. Many, many, people have ideas. But to go through the agony of finishing that idea, realising you are so ill-equipped that, despite your burning conviction, your deep creativity, your relentless practice and your natural talent, you have still failed. You made a good go of it. The thing is out there, another step towards meaning. Next time, maybe you'll do it better. Or maybe you'll never do it again."