Notes from the Shadows

Michael Onsando
5 July ,2016

People can only see you as you appear to be. Which, if you think about it, is not really their fault. And you, as a person, can only see people as they appear to be. The outside will always be a projection. So we are really thinking about those who are best at projecting here.

I’m reminded that the inside can only seem to match the outside if the inside is just as tumultuous.

The secret, then, might not be to quiet whatever lies within, but to listen with a keenness. As opposed to silencing that which drives us towards a form of understanding, perhaps the secret is to feed it. Too keep pushing and fanning our curiosity beyond imaginable points. To ask “what if?” to be better.

But listening is also a form of silencing.

Maybe this is where it all falls apart. Focused on making sense of ourselves, who we appear to be and who we are, we forget that these appearances clash. And this meeting of shadows we have aptly called the politic. The problem with a clash of shadows is that shadows are difficult to pin down. Shadows don’t fight back in the ways humans do. Shadows don’t hurt. Shadows don’t bleed. Shadows just absorb – and wait.

But since people can only be seen as who they appear to be, until they show you who they are, they are or are not who they appear to be. And sometimes, when it’s most apparent who people are, it becomes tricky to figure out whether they are genuinely who they are – or just really good actors.

Thus the fickle nature of trust. If we believe that people will always be people in that chaotic, rash, unpredictable, stable way that atoms continue to collide to create substances, then trust shouldn’t be a problem. But in the game of shadows, consistency is key. Any move outside what one appears to be is seen as suspect. Consistency means predictability. It is important that people know what you will do next, thus they can plan their next seven moves accordingly.

But if capacity, and this is the only thing that we truly have, is largely spread around equally – then it would be false to assume that all at play is the shadows. Just like one has an inner struggle between self and projection so do others. And since it’s all a game of shadows it would be important to assume that everyone else is then planning their next seven moves accordingly.

This, of course, is madness. Every interaction becomes an exercise in scrutiny. Are you who you say you are? It becomes even more confusing for the oblivious. Those who come in with no knowledge of systems and tear them apart with reckless glee. Oblivious to the various places that they aggravate every step seems to be a coming against a wall.

But if the frames are of calculation and the game of shadows has everyone believe that every move is calculated then it looks like this person is actively looking for walls. Curiosity driven bumbling can be interpreted as strategic placement of the self. After all the game is a game of alertness. If anything could happen at any time then you must be ready for anything – at any time.

But, of course, this is impossible. To calculate for every single possibility is a losing game. There will always be factors that you have not planned for. So, instead, it becomes a game of probabilities. Shadows, after all, are only the ways that we block light. The ways that we absorb. And, if you notice similarities in how light is blocked by certain people, then shadows remain pretty predictable – even in their calculations. For calculations based on shadows can only predict how shadows move.

And so to maintain a sense of security and control it becomes important to insist that people remain as they appear. To demand that we become the ways in which we block light is weird isn’t it? After all, stars are going to shine. This is, by their very nature, what they do. To insist that we navigate as shadows of who we are is to insist that we become smaller. And to continue to fight to fit those frames is to actively work towards the erasure of oneself. To actively work towards unbecoming who you are. The journey of becoming a belonging of participating, folding and receding into spaces that were never designed to hold you. This demand.

This demand continues to shake me.

But this is the game. These are the rules of engagement that were set. This was how to navigate – to not touch. To tiptoe around while questions are asked, demands are made. “Why were you out late?” “Don’t waste your vote.” “Are you sure that was racial?” and my personal favourite “Accept and move on.”  To navigate the scenes of our destruction with playful joy. To refuse to participate is to point out what is known, but would rather not be known.

To refuse to believe in the collective lie is to reveal it for what it is. And you can see how there are many people who are invested in seeing it as it appears to be. If it is as it appears to be then it is stable, it offers safety in ways that other things don’t. And, if that itself is the base instinct, then it makes sense to fold ourselves for our own safety.

Becoming smaller is then not only an inconsequential way to fit in – becoming smaller is now necessary to survive. “If you want to make it in this world” it has been said, there are certain things that you must do. And at least 80% of these things involve staying quiet, observing and being complicit. What is it then to make it but to perhaps be the most instrumental with complicity? Or maybe to enable complicity?

Perhaps the work of art is to put us in complicity with things as they happen

Lyn Hejenian

“Who, they ask, who are you to undrown?”

Do Mammals Breath Underwater?

Maybe then to refuse to be complicit is to know that shadows are not real. And that until we can bask in each other’s glow we will never really know just how beautiful it can be. People can only see us as we appear to be until we let them see us in other ways. Letting people see us in other ways allows them to show us themselves in other ways. In the game of shadows, we are the key to each other’s light.

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