. . .Yet, the shadow, while very real, is not meant to be taken concretely or literally but rather, allegorically. It is not an evil entity existing apart from the person, nor an invading alien force, though it may be felt as such. The shadow is a universal (archetypal) feature of the human psyche for which we bear full responsibility to cope with as creatively as possible. . . Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D
I’ve spent parts of the last few weeks “purging” –a continuation of the “Magical Art of Tidying Up” –clearing out my physical world and consequently clearing out my psyche. Letting go of the past. Honoring the memories, the people, the experiences. Kayaking in Prince William Sound that summer. It rained everyday but the water so still. Placid. The world incredibly green. Lush. Monica’s pink umbrella. The drip drip drip. The Labor Day I started school a week late to go kayaking in the Broken Islands with a group from Bellingham and that glorious pause to watch the Sea Lions slither in the water before us. Magnificent. Another week floating and writing on the Copper River from Chitinia to Cordova with other artists and poets.
David Grimes music and flag rising up to honor our passing. The Million Dollar Bridge. A helicopter in Kamchatka that didn’t crash but took us far into wilderness where we watched a rehabilitated eagle released back to the wild. A canoe trip down the Chulitna with an old boyfriend who went into a rage when I answered my phone in the quietude of sandbar and fireweed. Oops! it was work.
Where are you?
Salmon spawn and the encounter of bear between us and the river. The trips to Mexico. My 40 year old self still wearing a bikini. Belly belly. The long hair. The bad hair. The bangs. Those early summers in Alaska. So much wonder. So much heartache. My PTSD Purple Heart neighbor on Indian Creek. The wildflowers in a crystal vase he picked for my birthday. Even now I feel outside those moments. Looking in on my life. A shadow of myself. The desire for approval. The asking permission. The crazy-making. The disappointments. The mistakes. The blessings. The beauty. The tears. So many tears. “Cry me a bucket” he used to say and I’d laugh.
Did I mention how hard it’s been to breathe lately? To draw a deep breath without thinking. To relax naturally into the rhythm. That same rhythm that keeps us alive everyday and through sleeping without thinking. These past few weeks: going through photos, sitting at my desk, walking a path or even reading before bed I’m suddenly unable to breathe. Naturally. There’s anxiety in my lungs.
My creative life involves taking photos. Apparently 1000’s of them. It gives me a role. A safe place to reside. A focus. Something I enjoy. Immensely. Time stops. Or begins. I realize it is a part of my wanting or needing to be known. This art of becoming visible. Even to myself.
A way to engage without words — though it is still a conversation. The subject mostly abstract. Dishevelment. Texture. Street furniture and mailbox. Urban. The warmth of light on concrete. A spider’s web. The beauty in ordinary.
In the early days I took slides. All those adventures. Documented. My 20 year old self at Colorado Mountain College exploring the canyons of the San Juan, the Escalante, Canyonlands National Park, Havasupai and 21 days down the Grand Canyon rafting. Twice. Later came travels to Tasmania, Fiji and a ridiculously short stint in London. Slides left on a bookshelf in Anchorage nearly 20 years ago.
It brings up stuff this purging of past and people and memory. The passing of time. I turn 60 in July. Hmmm. Never one to worry about aging. Before.
My nieces and nephews grown. I find their Senior Class photos. I was not the good Aunt. Far away, but I love the photo of Brandon eating cold pizza on the glacier in Alaska. He passed the bar (exam) last summer. On his first try. I save all the family photos. Mom in the farmhouse kitchen where my sister no longer lives. Dad drinking mimosas on Thanksgiving morning. Hugh in the studio. Alberto and the postcard he sent from Paris. I put it on the refrigerator. People have died. Babies born. I remember the moments like yesterday. So much angst in the joy. Despite the beauty. There is loneliness. Despite the smile. There is undercurrent. Despite all that opportunity for travel and adventure there is absence.
I carry the first bag of photos to the recycle bin outside my gate. Inside I pour a glass of wine. Only 2pm. Saturday. The sun is brilliant. I’ve had a lovely walk in the arroyo. Hello to dogs and people. An errand feels productive. Check on houses for people that pay me to do such things. Feed the birds. Water the plants. Fold the towels. Pick up the mail. It is a good day to keep the project going.
Photos on the trunk in front of the couch stacked in piles. Some for scanning. Some for giving to others. Some on the couch. Some are maybe. Others I toss easily into the bag for recycle. And then I’m overcome. Spinning. A poltergeist sweeps my ‘still life on windowsill’ crashing to the floor as my own hands thrust a large medieval sword straight into my heart. I see it spinning clockwise around the room. A whirlwind of energy. In an instant. Suicidal. I am stunned by the emotion yet remarkably present. I stand fully grounded.
I’ve been here before. I know how to be. I hear Joseph’s voice in my head saying “stay with the feelings” –and then I realize—Anger. Rage even. Wow! and a little bit of grief. Well maybe a lot of grief. In writing this now it sounds like I’m sniffing out the nuance of a fine wine. Tobacco or notes of vanilla. Spicy tannins. I go outside to sit in the sun. Late afternoon warmth. Overcome I put my head in my hands and the light disappears. There is so much darkness. A total eclipse. Surprised at the intensity. Yes it’s still here. I get it. Okay. Honor the shadow. And so I do.
This is a gift. Though it feels violent. A tsunami of emotion. I scratch my head or slap myself in a mad flurry, not unlike my massage therapist, and then I beg for it to stop. I shout “I hate this” and then I’m quiet. Gentle. I take another walk. A bath. I’m fine now. And I am.
I’m not bipolar in case you’re wondering. Not mentally ill though I use to wonder. Emotional abuse will do that to you. I don’t take medication. I believe in feeling my feelings. I’m grateful for wilderness. For natural beauty. For quietude. For wine, walking and travel. For friendship. For family. For all the hard things and happy endings and magic. I’m grateful for the gifts that come from living an atypical life. I have good luck. I may be empathic. Intuitive. An introvert. This is my world. All those moments that make a life. A simple photograph. Death and resurrection. My adventures are changing. Purging is risky business. But I’m diving in. It’s okay.
Brenda is a Personal Assistant to interesting women, caretaker of dogs and the occasional cat. She currently lives in the Land of Enchantment and is enjoying the absence of winter though as she writes the clouds are gathering outside her window.