My daughter is a fountain of questions. How do ladybugs pee? Why can’t we touch the sun? Will I still get to eat my favorite cereal when I am growed?
She is at that age where it is rarely quiet, where her hunger for knowledge outlasts her sweet tooth, where answers can only be swallowed in absolutes. Recently, she’s heart set on delineating what’s real from what is unreal, as in pirates and mermaids, Christopher Robin and Pooh, castles and dragons, Neverland.

Can a person lose a shadow? M asks, scooting home from nursery school. It is a sunny day in winter and our bodies stretching out beneath us are funhouse long.  What do you think? I say. Between her helmet and our aggregate limbs we cast a cockroach onto the pavement. There is barely a beat before she wants to know if a shadow can be sewn on – you know, like Peter? Again I throw the question back for her to mull over as she peels colored foil and pops a chocolate from her pocket and takes off down the block, steering through life’s pressing mysteries, where do stars come from, who is Aiken Drum, what happens to your bones when you’re dead, screeching to a stop before the traffic light at the curb. “I think,” she says, facing me.  “Your shadow goes everywhere with you.” 

I write. I don’t write. I think about writing. I’ve written. Inconsistency may be the only constant to my practice. It’s always been like this, with few exceptions: the fury of grad school deadlines, the seemingly interminable sleepless haze of babydom. I work in fits and spurts, enjoying spells of productivity followed by unhappy droughts, as if that Biblical law about letting the ground lay fallow after a series of harvests applied to writing. (Only I’ve never enjoyed the bounty of a finished book.) Voices of self-doubt arise as the clock ticks: I am no longer young. Now or never, Bucko! (Yes, Bucko.) I am my own worst enemy. As a child I wrote feverishly only to trash journals, distrusting my words on the page as much as I cringed at the recorded sound of my inarticulate voice. Perhaps I’d detected the falseness inherent in any conscious effort to construct a diary; perhaps, rather, I merely feared it would be read.  Not until high school did I learn to hack at it without self-censorship, without letting the pen waver or still, my wretched scrawl becoming less legible as it struck a vein, protecting me from myself, enshrouding new worlds in a haven of privacy. 

I have a friend who is a yogi and she can pull her foot over her head, so when she speaks I listen. “Where there is darkness there is light” she says. (She also tells me to drink green smoothies.) The only way to achieve personal balance, she says, is to embrace both sides. “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is,” Carl Jung wrote. I don’t know much about Jung or psychology, but I do know that our shadows, as much as we may fear them, as much as they may not cast us in such glowing light – cannot be outrun.  Deny them, and they boil and fester. When we deny our shadows we are denying an integral part of ourselves.

Perhaps that is why I write. My shadow may be ragged and snaggletoothed and at times buried beneath a heap of plastic ponies as I walk the tightrope of who I think I am vs. who I’d like to be, who I may project and who I am, but it remains as inextricable to my core as motherhood. My best shot at equilibrium is when I’m actively incorporating the two. Still, it’s a daily struggle. How to pluck oneself from the loom of narrative when it’s time to play Chutes & Ladders? More, what would my children think? Questions like these and I lose footing, fall into the well of futility, I give up.

It has been a dull, dry winter. A fallow season. Forget about the book I’ve failed to deliver and take this essay, for instance. When asked to write it, my initial response was shame – but I haven’t been writing! Immediately, I resolved to become better disciplined, take fewer snack breaks (by snacks I mean the internet); someday, perhaps, I’ll follow through. For now, it’s another March afternoon.  School ends in an hour. The sky is the gray of erased pencil.

Irregularity is the only pattern I know, so I must trust it. Nothing good may happen on the page today, but eventually I’ll get there. Stories await. There is a persistent curiosity that cannot be ignored. Before long I will heed the imperative and the unknown, the driving force that sends me to my knees, peeling dark scraps off the floor. I will cradle the film like a broken ghost in one hand while sucking a thread and slipping it through a needle’s bright eye to resume once more the humble work of stitching shadow to soles of feet.    

Sara Lippmann's stories have appeared recently in PANK, Sententia, BULL: Men's Fiction and elsewhere. She co-hosts the Sunday Salon, a monthly NYC reading series, and lives with her family in Brooklyn.