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killing your shadow
A couple of years ago I was in a car with a beautiful woman, headed up the hills towards a cabin that our friends had rented out. Her boyfriend was sitting in the front with her, but we were the only ones talking. I had to kill my shadow recently, I explained to her. It hurt but it was good for me.
What I meant by killing my shadow is this. There is one part of me that moves through the world, and does practical things. I did well in school and got a comfortable job working with computers, a job that wasn't too demanding and paid well. I married a sweet, kind, practical girl, one with a good heart and a beautiful smile. We go to brunch with friends and send them notes on their birthdays, when we remember.
There is another part of me that looks at this all skeptically. Is this all there is? What if there was more? Everyone you meet might be a portal into a different world. I used to walk past this one place on my way home, a badly-painted stairwell leading to a door that was always slightly ajar, with an LED light pulsing and changing behind it, cycling from blue to purple to pink. What was behind it?
I think this shadow self must sometimes become visible, somehow, to people around me. Once I was standing on a subway platform at 3 in the morning when a girl struck up a conversation with me about the game I was playing on my phone. A few minutes later she got into the same train as me and kissed me, open-lipped, as we went through a tunnel under the river. I swear I gave her no conscious invitation to do this. Another time a group of strangers outside a closed bar in San Francisco lifted me bodily off the ground and brought me into one of their apartments, where they shared boxed wine and a joint with me. This isn't normal, is it? I think there must be something that shows through my face somehow, sometimes, saying something like: I am not rooted in this place. Would you take me away from here?
I was trying to explain all this to Mia, my friend's girlfriend, but she looked horrified. She was a psychologist and also a bit of a hippie, and this shadow-killing thing is verboten to both of those kinds of people. Your shadow is part of you, she explained. You can't kill it. You can suppress it, but then it grows hidden deep inside of you, like a cancer. It can become a real cancer, actually. Steve Jobs might have died from trying to kill his shadow.
I started to backpedal. I don't really know what other people mean by killing their shadow. I didn't grow up with the mainstream here, but I hear other people use these little phrases that are so evocative and resonant with something I feel that I just have to assume it must have meant the same thing to them. I had to kill this shadow so that I could get married, put away the unformed what-if so I could build the now. It was forever dragging me out of bed, this shadow, taking me to the shore with another woman at two in the morning or to these artsy gallery openings in the Bronx where I stuck out like a sore thumb. How could I find a place to belong, with this restless, hungry shadow attached to me?
Hidetaka Miyazaki said that he was inspired to create his Dark Souls series by an illustrated fantasy book that he had seen in a bookstore when he was a child, back when he couldn't read any English at all and had to imagine his own stories to go with the dark-scaled dragons and knights in shining armor in the pictures. In Miyazaki's world the dragons are changeless, sorrowful and wise, and the knights cutting them down are foolish and driven by ambition. He was looking at the same pictures but he'd gotten them all backwards from how the author meant. That's how it was for us with this phrase "killing my shadow", that seemed so necessary and wise to me, and misguided and dangerous to her.
I'd only just met Mia but I wanted her to like me. She lived in a beautiful new apartment building on the west side, black marble interiors with gold trim, huge pieces of metal art on the walls and a full grand piano in the lobby, her car fetched by a valet from the garage just as I arrived. She charged her clients four hundred dollars an hour, no insurance, and sometimes gave them ketamine.
She started telling me about this book that she had just started reading about shadow work, something about the jungian archetypes and how they need to be properly incorporated into the self. I didn't really know enough about Jung to follow. I started thinking about how she looked in her makeup and dangling gold earrings, quite pretty and a little sad too, and how she'd taken so long to get ready just for a road trip, and how another girl might have just thrown on some sweatpants and put her hair in a ponytail, something practical for a long drive through these very dark woods.
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