Necessary Shadows

When an artist renders the world on canvas, she is as much concerned with shadow – the negative space, what cannot be seen – as with light, what can be seen. In this way, shadows define the visible world, providing clear contrast for what we wish to focus upon. This is a friendly relationship to shadows. It also is easy to forget. As I go about my day, my own world can fall into shadow as quickly as a cloud covers the sun. Here nothing but moss and mold will grow; here nothing can bloom. And sometimes I meet a friend or stranger and I feel the shadow across their eyes, and I can hate them for it. In those moments, I fear shadows as I fear any terminal contagion. Only the strong of will survive and prosper in a world where shadows abound.

But if I were able to live on the surface of the sun there would be only light, light, and more light. Within that ceaseless brightness there would be no definition, no this and that. Not a terrible arrangement, but I like this and that. In this way, the world of form is a world of shadow by necessity. It is shadow that allows us to see. Shadow separates everything and allows everything to be what it is.

Still, the artist must remember she is not rendering the shadows themselves. They do not exist, so there is nothing to render. Much of human life is spent talking about shadows as if they were real. Newspapers and television and the Internet are full of heated debate about the quantity and meaning of shadows. Where did they come from? How long will they be here? Should we convene a panel or begin a case study on them?

Enough of this worry leaves me longing to live on the sun. Yet such a flight might only cast its own shadow on the world I’m departing. A pointless solution given that I will always cast a shadow wherever I stand. Better to continue learning to tell light from shadow, to see the bright and blooming world the sun has illuminated.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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