may 3/RUN

4.25 miles
minnehaha falls and back
58 degrees

Warm, too warm. I need to remember to start these runs much earlier and to wear a tank top. A beautiful morning. All sun. Perfect for giving attention to shadows. Noticed many, cast from: new leaves on trees, tree trunks, lamp posts, a swooping bird, a parks truck, me.

Listened to water — dripping then trickling then gushing, vigorous rustling in the brush, some frogs in the marshy meadow near the ford bridge as I ran south to the falls. Put in my “I’m Shadowing You” playlist on the way back north.

I’m Shadowing You/ Blossom Dearie
Me and My Shadow/ Frank Sinatra
Shadowboxer/ Fiona Apple
My Shadow/ Keane
Shadow Dancing/ Andy Gibb

I didn’t think too much about the first two songs, but when I got to “Shadowboxer” it hit me: shadow box. I wrote the following before the run:

May is for shadows and I was thinking that I’d like to reread/study Plato’s Cave until I read this line in Readers recommend: songs about shadows without them everything would be a floating morass of light and colour — drop shadows bring a third dimension to the 2D world. It made me think about one of my ongoing obsessions: ekphrastic poems and visual art. Just yesterday afternoon, I was reading Diane Seuss’ Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. (The title is a reference to Rembrandt’s “Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl“) In several of the poems I read, Seuss describes the dark and light in some famous paintings — does she ever mention shadows? Here’s one of my favorites, both her poem and the painting:

Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber/ Diane Seuss

Anything can be a marionette. A quince, a cabbage, a melon, a cucumber,
suspended against a black background, illuminated by a curious
white light. In this little show, the quince plays a full gold moon. The cabbage
is the antagonist, curled outer leaves fingering the charcoal void.
Cucumber’s the peasant, nubby belly to the ground like a frog.
That leaves melon, center stage, rough wedge hacked out of her butter side.
Each object holds its space, drawing the eye from quince to cabbage, melon
to cucumber, in a left to right, downward-sloping curve. Four bodies
hang in the box of darkness like planets, each in its private orbit.
It’s a quiet drama about nothing at all. No touch, no brushing
up against each other, no oxygen, no rot, so that each shape, each
character, is pure, clean in its loyalty to its own fierce standard.
Even the wounded melon exudes serenity. Somewhere, juice runs
down a hairy chin, but that is well beyond the border of the box.

This poem is about a painting by Sánchez Cotán: Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber

What would these four objects look like without the shadows around the curves, in the cracks, below the belly? Would they look more real? Less real? This painting is strange and haunting, and both difficult and easy for me to see. Can I remember it on the first part of my run? I’ll try. I’ll also try to notice how shadows offer depth, make things seem real, substantial, not just dots or flat objects.

side note: These fruits and vegetables as subjects reminds me of a movie that Scott and I rewatched the other week: The Four Seasons, with Alan Alda, Rita Moreno, and Carol Burnett. One of the other characters, Anne, has taken up photography and has spent the last 2? years photographing vegetables, one at a time. Her husband thinks this is ridiculous and offers it up as evidence for how little she does, and as one of the reasons he’s divorcing her. Reading Seuss’ poem and staring at Sánchez Cotán’s painting, I am far less judgmental of her choice than my 7 or 8 year old self was when she watched this movie, over and over, on HBO.

I searched for a clip from the movie and found it! Unfortunately it starts right after the photographs of the vegetables are shown.

Still Life with Vegetables and an Asshole Husband

During the run, I kept thinking about the painting and the objects painted in a box. How each of them were separated from each other, isolated, with some amount of light shining on them to display them. I thought about how sometimes I feel like I’m on display, a bright light shining on me, blinded, unable to see other people clearly even as I know they can see me. Disconnected from the world by the box. The shadow box, which brings me back to the Fiona Apple song, “Shadowboxer.” I started wondering about shadowboxing as a verb that didn’t mean boxing at shadows, but the act of putting someone on display, isolating them, turning them into a keepsake in a box on a wall, like the set of small boxes my mom had hanging in our many houses when I was growing up. I also thought about how there’s no reference point for size in the painting. What if the box was a small shadow box, and what if the fruit were miniatures, made out of wood or silk or plastic? (my mom loved wooden fruit) These thoughts made me want to study the history of shadow boxes.

Okay, just looked up shadow box origins and found some interesting stuff, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But first, any connection between Apple’s song and my version of shadowboxing? These lyrics seem promising:

Oh, your gaze is dangerous
And you fill your space so sweet
If I let you get too close
You’ll set your spell on me

Now, the history of shadow boxes. I had no idea —

Sailors were the first to create shadow boxes. They made them out of wood salvaged from their ships. They made them out of fear. Sailors believed that if their shadow reached shore before they did, their life on land would be cursed. The box, containing the sum total of a sailor’s personal effects, protected their true self.

Shadow Box — The Art of Assemblage

In this post, Karen Kao also mentions Cornell Boxes, named after Joseph Cornell who collected objects then arranged them in whimsical and weird ways in little wooden boxes. Adam Gopnik wrote about for the New Yorker in 2003: Sparkings.

Kao opens her post with an intriguing way to think about shadow boxes:

Think of a literal box, perhaps protected by a glass front, inside of which resides a world of whimsy. Think of it as found poetry in three-dimensional form.

Interesting, but what does this have to do with shadows? Not much, or at least not much in the way I expected. Shadow boxes don’t involve literal shadows, but figurative ones — the shadow-self as embodied through cherished objects. Am I getting that right? This shadow-self, serving as proxy for the real self, needs to be protected, plucked out of the world and made safe, preserved, in its own little box.

The idea of the shadow-self and the shadow as the property of the self bothers me a little. Even as I imagine my shadow to be connected to me, I don’t see it as me, mine. This leads me to a question for another day: what is the relationship between an object and the shadow it casts?

I want to return to the painting and Seuss’ poem and the shadows and dark and light within them, but I also want to finish this entry so I can go outside and sit in the sun.

Okay, I sat (and napped) in the sun for about an hour. I’m looking at the painting of the quince, cabbage, melon, and cucumber and thinking about light and darkness and shadows. Then, color. I think that this painting would look the same to me if it were in black and white — I searched for a black and white version, but couldn’t find one. Okay, back to shadows. They offer texture, especially on the cabbage. They also suggest that the light source is coming from the left side — a window? Anything else? I’ll keep thinking about it.