I’ve been working on my memoir for nearly a year. As I have said on this blog before, the concept for the work is that the stories I have created over nearly fifty years tell the story of my life. More specifically in relationship to the ideas of Carl Jung, they share my process of individuation.
Recently I have started to think of another metaphor for the role of my stories. My stories are like animal droppings—scats—that a biologist studies to learn about the life of the animal. For fifty years I created stories and they had a life for a short time in one of my school assembly programs or some adult performance; and then they dried up and were left to decay in some office folder. Now, like the animal biologist, I am rummaging through folders for dried up scats that will help me make sense of the life I have lived.
I particularly like this metaphor because I have always claimed to be a dog-wolf creature. My first school program was called, “Way of the Wolf”. I spent several weeks following a Canadian biologist who was studying wolves in Algonquin National Park. This was before electronic surveillance; the scientist tracked the pack by howling and hearing the wolves’ response in return. I found great pleasure in the howling when he invited me one night to try my voice. And as final proof of my “wolfness”; I love to lick the bowl or plate as my canine brothers and sisters do!
In the last blog I spoke about and shared a story that explored my issues with dyslexia as a child. This past week I was working on stories from the time when my first marriage ended and I was living alone for the first time in my life. I guess you could call this a time of mid-life crisis. It certainly was a time loneliness and depression. This is all reflected in a story called, “The Shadow”.
There once was a man named David Evans. One snowy winter day he boarded a plane to travel south. When the man stepped off the airplane in a tropical land he was met by a brilliant sun overhead. He squinted in the bright light and dropped his head to look away from it. On the ground, his eyes settled on a strong, dark shadow beginning at his feet and extending across the concrete pavement. He paused momentarily to appreciate his shadow and then hurried on his way.
The man found a room in a pension on a narrow street in the old part of the city. He was exhausted from his travel so he lay down on the bed in his room. It was in the heat of the day, siesta time, and outside the street was quiet. The man drifted in and out of sleep as he allowed himself to fantasize about a dark-haired, dark-skinned woman coming to his room. Over and over he saw her open the door and he imagined her standing beside the bed as she undressed.
A cacophony of sounds in the street outside stirred him from his siesta. It was now late afternoon and the winter sun was already setting. He stood and turned on a light by the side of the bed. The man paused for a moment as he noticed his dark shadow that now reached across the small room to his window balcony. He walked across the room to the wood louvered doors and partially opened them to the outside world. By this time the winter sun had set and lights were being turned on in a room across the narrow way. From the street below his window rose the sound of dogs barking, a human laughing, a donkey braying, and the whining of motorcycles in the narrow street. The man did not relish the thought of venturing into this foreign world to find a meal, so he focused his attention on the room directly across the narrow street from his window.
The wood louvered doors opened and a beautiful, dark-skinned woman stepped out to a small patio with a wrought-iron railing. The woman raised her head and he could see her take a breath of the cool evening air. As she looked up to the sky he saw she was wearing a simple cotton dress that formed around her ample breasts. The man thought to step out on his own balcony and call a greeting to the woman across the way, but he hesitated for a lack of words. In that moment, the beautiful woman turned and went back into her room.
A look of disappointment was clear on the man’s face for only a moment as he stood peering across the narrow street. His frown then turned into a smile as he noticed that his shadow from the room’s light now reached across the street and touched the wrought iron of the beautiful woman’s balcony. The man called out in the night air, “Shadow, do what I cannot do. Go to her. See all, and then come tell me all!” The man and his shadow separated; he went back into his room and the shadow disappeared over the railing of the balcony.
That night the man lay on his bed and fantasized about the beautiful woman. His energy grew until he got up from the bed, turned on the light, and went to the bathroom to masturbate. When he returned to the bed, he paused before turning out the light. He noted that he no longer had a strong, dark shadow.
The man waited in the pension for two days, but his shadow did not return. Finally he left the city and continued his holiday. And he found that his tropical excursion soon helped him nurture a new shadow from the roots of the old, but it was not as strong or as black.
Years passed and the man’s career as a university professor prospered, though he did not marry and remained a virgin in fact if not in fantasy. At various times he rationalized his sexual life. He told himself that he was a man of ideas and high morals. Sometimes he told himself that he did not have a strong physical drive. He did not make a connection to that time long ago when he had consciously abandoned his strong, dark shadow for one of weak, unclear pronouncements.
One night the man was working at his desk when he heard a knock at the door. When he opened the door there stood a tall, slender man about his own age. He was dressed casually, but with good taste.
“May I help you? “ The man said to the stranger.
The stranger paused, and then responded, “I was hoping that you could recognize me.”
“I do not recognize you,” the man said, irritation in his voice.
“I realize that I have changed over the years,” said the stranger. “I have taken on flesh and bone and now I dress much like you. I am your shadow.”
The man shook his head in disbelief. “What does this mean?”
“Invite me into your world and I will share my meaning,” said the shadow.
“Yes, yes, come in. I am just a little in shock,” said the man, as he motioned for the shadow to enter his apartment.
The shadow entered the room. The man noticed that he chose a seat away from the brightest light. When the shadow was settled the man said to him, “You must tell me what happened that night when we separated.”
“Ah, well,” said the shadow with a wink to the man, “she was indeed beautiful. I went into her room and saw all.”
The man found an excitement rising in him. “Did you watch her when she bathed? Did you watch her sleeping? Was her dark skin like velvet and soft to the touch?”
The shadow smiled and answered, “I can confirm that she was beautiful, but little more. Her room was well lighted and I could not explore it.”
“Well, what did you do? How did you survive after that night?” The man was now taking interest in the life of the shadow.
“Well,” said the shadow, “I hid for some time until you left the town; then slowly I gained confidence and found a way to survive on my own powers. Soon I discovered that at night I could enter the homes of people and observe the most intimate details of life: husbands who beat their wives, wives who cheated on their husbands, crimes of all sorts. I was able to take these sordid details of life and share them for money. This money allowed me to build a life not unlike your own life. I have been able to accumulate the material things of life that you enjoy. Here is my card; if you have need of my services, do not hesitate to call me.” The man stood amazed as the shadow now got up and left without another word.
More years passed and the man passed through middle to old age. Life did not grow easier for him. The university where he taught had a mandatory age for retirement. At first, he thought this would give him time to do more writing, more time for research, but somehow, some way this work was not a positive in his life. He became depressed and found himself isolated and alone. Then one evening, when he was reading late into the night, there came a knock at the door.
When the man opened the door, he saw his shadow standing before him. Unlike himself, his shadow had not aged with the passing of the years. If anything, his shadow looked younger, more virile, and full of life.
“How are you?” the shadow inquired, sympathy in his voice.
“I am not so well,” the man said to the shadow.
“You need a change of scene,” said the shadow. “I am planning a vacation. I propose that you come with me. Come with me as my shadow, I will pay all of your expenses.”
“That is absurd,” said the man, slamming the door in the shadow’s face.
It did seem absurd to the man for a long time, but his life did not get any better. His depression grew and he had no one to turn to for help. He felt there was no person who cared whether he lived or he died.
One night, in desperation, he took out the card his shadow had given him long ago. It was dog-eared and worn from many years in his wallet. He went to the telephone and dialed the number. The phone rang four times and then an answering machine clicked on. The man heard this message. “Hello, this is David Evans. I am out of town for a few days. Your message is important to me. If you leave your name and number after the tone, I will get back to you just as soon as possible.”
As best as I remember, this story was only performed one time at the National Storytelling Conference in 1996. The story was distinguished from all other stories shared that night by the boos it received from the audience. I think they mostly came from woman who did not appreciate my self-absorbed male. So this is one scat from my creative past that I dissected and decided to leave in the folder on the shelf. I am not sure it deserves this fate; I may reconsider a performance sometime in the future.