THERE’S A PHOTOGRAPH, long lost, I used often to describe, to illustrate something essential in myself. I was five and visiting Disney World. I wanted to have my picture taken with Goofy, but I was shy. Also, not understanding the lack of peripheral vision in the mask, I didn’t get that I hadn’t gotten his attention. And so what evidence there was – or perhaps still is, somewhere – of this encounter: a photo of that character with some other kid (his parents taking theirs as intended), & me, a few feet away, little boy of coy resigned posture, photobombing my own commemorative image.
Much has been decried or even celebrated of selfie culture and its underlying impulses, the ‘for whoms’ and ‘whys’ of the choice we make in documenting ourselves in our moment. To add to such navel-gazing would no doubt extend the rabbit hole that much further, so I won’t. Instead of that, I’ll rather turn my attention to the specific (tho no doubt no less narcissistic) act of mapping a series of images I’ve selected as an index and gloss to a life lived thus far. In this case, the notion of experience wraithlike & lingering, a golem of the self that trails behind, that reminds, that effaces. Dark scribble over the reflection that shows up each day in the glass.
.. which is not to say that there isn’t a fondness for the weight one willingly drags when one looks back. Most of the stories I’ve chosen ever to share socially have detailed some humiliation, some misstep or another – and there’s been some satisfaction in that. As to why I’d share my shame & regret with a raconteur’s fervor – beyond the obvious: dropping ballast, distancing the incident thru an act of telling that reveals to the listener an unassailable ownership and helps as such to render in the speaker an imperviousness to the kind of criticisms he’d encounter in the company of others, behind his back, or echoing & imagined inside his own head — well, let’s presume a joy of morbid reverie. But also in the same manner in which we may advertise our sadnesses in tweets or choose to include in a published book an image of our face streaked with tears, it’s in our sharing what’s unflattering that we build the greater bridge to sistren & brethren alike, a brick flung into the temple of warts-and-all humanity, for better or for worse, in the epic forge of what forgets us.
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IN A BACKALLEY, I attack this mattress and my shadow both. This is one of maybe thirty taken. I ran at it, jumped at it, screamed at it, lunged and jumpkicked. A deserving fury, for sure.
Neither of us, here, seem to be winning. The punch I throw seems also to extend from the surface of the mattress. My shadow lands a blow in turn.
This was a fun night. The light at my back is no doubt laughing.
As an encapsulation of my twenties, here’s one as good as any: locked in an ecstatic, solipsistic battle with refuse.
“I don’t remember that.” Lucky are we who have some few around tolerant and with thought enough to provide for us such an evening’s highlights.
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MY FIRST BEER. Old Milwaukie. Tho one might just as well presume a can of worms.
It wouldn’t surprise were I to learn that this was about as proud as my father’s ever been. Of me, I mean.
In this photo, he’s as old as I am as I write this. And with two older daughters, besides. Yikes.
There are some bullets we dodge that we’re born with, in the settings and the ways of life that would otherwise conspire to the fate that has us shackled in the tarpit, the bonfire, the briarpatch.
And then there are all those that we don’t dodge. The ones we’re forced to reckon with and assimilate in the night of time that loves us to it no matter how far we manage ever to live or to wander.
Off to the side, there, you can see my family’s dog. Chance. As appropriate a name as any for what dog my family would have..
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AN IMPROVISED SCULPTURE I built in the backyard one night; precariously bound, balanced and arranged, made solely from what was near at hand. Some kind of buddy or other to catch and send a signal – tho, once made, possessing an agency of its own.
I’ve always enjoyed moving things around within certain conditions. If not already given to a requisite trance, the act of assemblage gives rise to it.
I don’t know from speaking softly, but at least I’m carrying a big stick.
As to what I’ve crafted, I regard it with suspicion. What’s channeled in any improvisation is always uncertain. An uneasy alliance, then, between the maker and creation, having acted only in intuition, or under other such mysterious influences.
Just what, exactly, is passing thru what or thru whom ?? is always an invaluable question. Some days it’s the only one worth asking.
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LATE AT NIGHT, a picture of me taking a picture of some vomit (not mine). Nonetheless, it’s pretty impressive.
This was on a long walk home after our noise band, CLOTHES, played what I felt was one of our more successfully disastrous shows, at a place called the Red Room during my final stint in PDX.
If anyone ever requires an emblem of my dedication to (documenting) the abject, you need look no further.
Honestly, this takes the words right out of my mouth.
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I WAS RESISTING, in this sequence, including any self-portraits, or any other images that would appear overly staged. It’s too easy, that way, to portray oneself flatteringly – which is not the point of this series.
Here, tho, I make an exception, since the composition of this photo as it turned out was largely accidental.
Wearing a protective pentacle around my neck, a shadow-self projects from my chest and challenges me to a staring contest. Its face, a featureless orb, its head alien and oversized. A beam of light shines into or perhaps out of my navel, while another shines into my face. About my head, a thought-form or an angular nimbus.
Any image can prove allegorical under the right circumstances. Some lend themselves more easily than others.
In review, we are requesting such readings. The living-backwards of meaning-making, the shining of sense back into the dark of what’s vanished, but for these rectangles of light trapped in time – modular, whispering to us so many stories of what we’ve been. Honest, maybe, or not.
The frame is ours to impose; and was, has been, in infinite regress. A window – and here’s another, another – we climb thru, in the sifting of memory and ash.
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GARETT STRICKLAND is the editor of .PLINTH., ICHNOS, and other publications of the Unwin-Dunraven Literary Ecclesia. He is the author of a long-poem, WHOA DONT CARE (Jerkpoet, 2015), and UNGULA (forthcoming from Solar▲Luxuriance). He’s an ordealist.
FIVE SHADOWS invites writers to present themselves thru images & text in startling, unlikely ways, as a form of ingrown reconnaissance.