I don’t remember any of the expected exhibits at the opening of the Asian Museum in San Francisco when we attended some years ago. The building itself was austere, cold and grey as I think of it. Serious rather than fun. Since it was the opening night it was crowded with erstwhile art enthusiasts, some dressed in colorful artwear, many in more casual jeans and Birkenstocks, a few bearded, grey pony tailed men. The usual group who show up to see and be seen.

It was all very shibui. Quietly elegant I would have described it if asked. Not quite up to the old Gump’s store in San Francisco, where the rich classic and beautiful displays on the third floor was a frequent destination for me. On this night I was drawn to the large black chains hanging from the high ceilings arranged in intricate configurations. Obviously it was the intention of the artist, and I found myself admiring the shadow patterns on the walls more than the chains themselves, even more than the large installations on the floor. Even today when I think of that show, it is the shadow patterns which remain.

Sometimes the separation of the real from the imagined becomes more intriguing. In my art classes I often suggested sketching the shadows of leaf patterns of trees or architectural designs as a jump-start to a student with the blockage familiar to artists and writers at the sight of a piece of blank white paper.

Our memories are the shadow patterns of our life. The bits and pieces of our journey which lodge in the nooks and crannies of our remembrance. These ghostly shadows keep us in touch with our past.

I have a small antique chair which belonged to my mother in law, upon which she worked a lovely petit point seat cover. I sit on it each morning while putting on my shoes and socks. It is old, like me, and also like me, has a couple of creaks. My MIL always laid the blame on Auntie Carmen’s excess weight when she perched on it. My shadow memory kicks in with each creak. I don’t recall an overweight Auntie, rather a nice looking well-dressed, white haired lady who often joined my MIL’s bridge group. The shadow patterns become more complex when that memory segues into another, and yet another.

You could say that habit is a form of shadow memory, which presents a whole new concept. When we bought each of our homes, we made changes which better fit our plans. After relocating a light switch or moving a door, and even the refrigerator, at the beginning of our residence, it confounds me when I reach toward the old position of things which are no longer there. Is it carelessness or shadow memory?

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

17 thoughts on “SHADOW PATTERNS”

  1. OK. This is lyrical and thought-provoking, this post. Here you are writing at your finest.

    “Our memories are the shadow patterns of our life. The bits and pieces of our journey which lodge in the nooks and crannies of our remembrance. These ghostly shadows keep us in touch with our past.”

    Your lead about the opening night at the SF Asian Art Museum drew me in to the essay. Your suggestion that the shadows were more interesting than the large dark chain.
    Your advice to students to draw the shadows.

    And yes, for those of us for whom the shadows seem to be longer, it is the little things, the creak in the chair, the way a hand is held, the donkey tail succulents in a hanging pot–that take us back to another time.


    1. Thank you mrsdaffodil. Yes shadows would certainly qualify in that respect. Funnily enouigh, we don’t always remember pain as such. Remembering being in a bad place will bring back a cringe though. Most people don’t remember birth pain.


    1. Thank you. There was an old song called “Shadow of Your Smile”. Smiles do become shadows after a period of time. We remember them, but we can’t quite bring them into focus. That’s the intriguing thing about shadows, they flicker in and out.


  2. When I began looking for dragonflies, I never could see them. Then, one day, I saw a shadow moving across the sidewalk. When I looked up, there was the dragonfly. It was a revelation. Rather than looking for dragonflies, I began looking for their shadows, and the number of my sightings increased significantly. I’ve heard people speak of “chasing shadows” disparagingly, but it may be that some realities are best approached through their shadows first.

    As for your mention of the refrigerator and light switches, I smiled in recognition. When I begin working on a new boat, I’m all scrapes and bruises until I learn where things are. Then, I move around the decks almost instinctively, never colliding with the rigging or missing a step.

    Your shadowy smile reminds me of the Cheshire Cat. Sometimes I think that’s how I’ll depart this mortal coil — fading and fading and fading until there’s nothing left but that grin. For some reason, the thought amuses me mightily.


    1. I can imagine there are many more flying things we can only see when they cast a shadow. Right now, we have the return of the crows and an occasional hawk. They have managed to scare off all the rest of the birds except the intrepid hummers.
      They say it only takes 20 days to break a habit. Wonder how long it takes to form one? And more than that, who are the “they” that think they know so much?

      The Cheshire Cat smile is not a bad thing to look forward to. Better than an all-out tumble down the Rabbit hole all at once! I believe in taking time for everything.


      1. I was in the process of settling down for the night when a thought occurred to me: I wonder if shadows have shadows?

        I’ve never heard anyone address the issue. There’s something to ponder through the night!


      1. Yes, I did publish, just as an eBook until the next is ready. It’s been over a year ago now – I’ve been very slack and enjoying my retirement in other ways. I’ve often thought of you, too, and glad to find you are still blogging so splendidly. I’ve been missing the interaction, so went looking for weekly challenges, and that’s where I came across your avatar in comments and of course, had to come visit. 🙂


  3. The idea of shadow patterns and shadow memories intrigue me, and I found your words, “Our memories are the shadow patterns of our life. The bits and pieces of our journey which lodge in the nooks and crannies of our remembrance. These ghostly shadows keep us in touch with our past,” wonderfully describe their purpose and possibilities. Such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Thank you Kayti.


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