I was born in August. Because of this, my astrological sign is a Leo; a lion, golden and king of the animal kingdom, maybe the world. My horoscopes describe me as extroverted and forever desiring to be the center of attention. My favorite color is yellow and sometimes I think I’m a child of the sun, because of my attachment to the comfort of its heat. Relatives still tell me today how much of a “smiley” baby I was, always laughing and flashing my small white teeth set between chubby cheeks. My name is Rachael, an alternative spelling of Rachel, essentially meaning innocence.
Why, then, have I for a majority of my life felt an affinity for this character I’ve created? She’s almost everything I wasn’t as a child; she wears deep plums, the opposite side of the color wheel from golds and yellows. She’s isolated save for the sideways glances of black and white drawings taped up onto her wall. The only thing she seems to be passionate about is her drawings and her cigarettes—when weren’t we always taught, as children, how disgusting cigarettes smell? She’s an enigma with a hint of tragedy—something I, admittedly, have always been attracted to. Her name is Luna.
Consider the foreground. Her desk light lights up nothing else except for her drawings, which seem to be the sole focus of her attention, and maybe even life. She’s drawn to that light and what it illuminates and subsequently enlightens her of. Despite her dark setting, she appears to have an intense, fevered interest in what she’s doing, because perhaps it is the only thing that excites her anymore. Even what she’s wearing suggests her attachment to her art: a thin black nightgown and aubergine robe leave you to wonder if she’s been up all night with her thoughts or if they just woke her up in the middle of her slumber. A half-finished cup of coffee suggests the former.
The wall behind her, however, suggests that her (perhaps subliminal) desires may be elsewhere than the empty white page in front of her. In black and white, a hand reaches up towards the sky. Perhaps Luna needs a lift up and out of her rut, her messy room, her dark apartment. A messy sketch of door suggests volumes: does she want out? Does she want in? Does she feel opportunities are no longer open to her? Is she just looking around for the key? A drawing of an overstuffed armchair implies that at least she’s comfortable and in her element. A paper face with closed eyes and a blissful smile, against a background of harsh lines, suggests that she’s blissfully unaware of the world and responsibilities it requires her to fulfill. But is she really unaware of the world’s obligations if she drew the picture? And considering the piles of books behind her, is she really ignorant to the world outside of her room? Note that a vinyl record titled “Plans” sits in her background, behind her; at least it’s within reach.
Now: a silhouette against a cityscape. She smokes a cigarette, maybe to get her mind off of things, or maybe to stir her mind a little more. Does she just not care about how harmful those things are? Is she that unaware of the world? I don’t think she is—in fact, I am sure she is precisely aware of the harm they inflict upon her each time she pensively brings the paper to her plum lips. Her arms are wrapped around herself; maybe she’s cold, maybe she’s holding herself in, or maybe no one else will do it for her.
I ask all of these questions because I think, maybe a little like Cindy Sherman, I like the ambiguity of my character. My job was to step into costume and let the character reveal herself to the camera, to later let her be interpreted in a dozen different ways, and offer whatever message someone feels they need to take from it; whatever message will help them most to grow.
For me, the character of Luna represents a very different time in my life compared to my childhood. For such a happy child, how could I even feel a connection with her darkness? Perhaps I felt my life was baking in the Leo’s spotlight, and I felt I had to find some shade to cool off in, and that the characteristics of Luna were the perfect temperature. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I think I fell asleep in the shade. There was a time in my adolescence where I struggled with acceptance of myself, and tended towards suffering from chronic sadness. Despite the lack of clinical diagnosis, I can’t help but feel that what I felt every day, like my chest and lungs seemed to be filled with and weighed down by concrete, could be labeled as anything but some degree of depression. Now, for a girl who had such a happy childhood, for a girl known for being such a smiley baby, and for a girl who’s supposed to be extroverted, what could possibly make me depressed? I literally cannot tell you. Like falling asleep in the shade, it was unintentional and out of anyone’s control.
These photos of Luna represent what that used to be for me. I’d often choose to spend all my time by myself because I thought that was what I wanted; I could rationalize the loneliness with the fact that I was “just introverted”. Plans and opportunities to explore the world often passed me because keeping to myself and my home was just more comfortable. Countless weekend nights were spent indoors drawing or writing while my friends went out together. I’d imagine a person like Luna: creative, dark, and urbane in her loft, and aspire to be in her cloud of smoke and tragedy someday, because I found it beautiful, in a way.
But in these, photos, you see that Luna isn’t actually as cool as I used to think she was. She knows there’s a world around her that needs to be explored, but she’s sucked into the comfort of “just staying inside tonight,” every night. She has set her plans behind her, like she’s forgotten about them, but they still loom. Her destructive behavior with her cigarette habit shows she’s not as impervious to the pressure of the world as I thought she was: clearly they seeped into her mind and pushed her to smoke, didn’t they? And she’s smoking because she knows how disastrous it can be for her: Luna likes how tragedy looks on her—can’t you see it in the colors she wears? She wants someone else to like how it looks too; this could explain the drawing of the reaching hand, and her arms wrapped around her as she gazes out of her window. She’s not just alone, but she’s lonely.
I see these photos and think to myself: I don’t want that anymore. I don’t long for “nights in” by myself just to avoid the ebb and flow of the world and the rise and fall of the sun. Just seeing the solitude Luna seems to revel in makes me feel the constriction in my chest again, like the loneliness is pressing down on my lungs and I need to breathe cold open air and strike up a conversation with the nearest person. When I see these photos, the notion that I’m over this phase of my life is strengthened. The idea of slipping back into depression doesn’t sound appealing when I think of all of the plans put behind me and all of the time that could have been spent enjoying and making changes in the world. After all, Luna’s drawings never made it anywhere other than taped to her wall; all of that effort, passion, and strife put into her drawings was for nothing other than her own enjoyment. The idea of not leaving traces of me throughout the world is not comforting—it’d be like I didn’t exist. Luna doesn’t seem exist to anyone other than herself.
I’m back to being a smiley person, and while I still consider myself somewhat of an introvert, I express that part of myself by spending intimate evenings with small groups of friends, or the occasional movie or reading night. Despite all of the negative thoughts towards everything that Luna represents, I still carry her around inside of me, as a reminder of what I don’t want to be, and as a comparison to what I should be for the world. Maybe that’s why, when I’m out exploring the city instead of gazing at it from a distant window, I appreciate seeing the moon as much as I appreciate feeling the sun.