Darkness Defines the Light

Paintings with very strong contrasts of light and darkness, like this one by Georges de La Tour, help us realize that what we see is defined in part by what we don’t see. The image quality called Chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and darkness in a painting, dramatizes this. From Caravaggio to Rembrandt, darkness colors the emotions their paintings evoke.

I think memory is somewhat analogous. Darkness – what we don’t remember – shapes us as much as the light – what we do remember.

Our memories inevitably fade with the passage of time, like the fading of a painting. Sharp emotions dissipate, images fade to sepia, and eventually may disappear entirely. In addition to this natural fading, our subconscious works to subtly reshape our memories so that they better support the persona we want to present to the world.

Another kind of memory reshaping can occur when someone we trust informs us that what we remember is not the truth. Our minds adjust, but we are irreversibly changed, and it is sometimes a wrenching, change. We may remain uncertain what to believe.

Thinking about darkness and light and the mutability of memory, I wrote a story called “Darkness Defines the Light”. That story is scheduled to be published in February 2019.

In it, Sarah who is an accomplished painter, and who has spent years reconciling her mixed feelings of resentment and of admiration for her father, suddenly learns he is not the person she thought he was. Sarah must adjust to a changed past. But is which story is true?

I first became intrigued with Sarah’s story several years ago when I wrote a short story titled “Sarah” published in my 2013 collection of short stories called ‘Things Were Never the Same Afterward’.



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