Per Ardua Ad Alta: Shane Jones’s Light Boxes

When Shane Jones wrote Light Boxes he also made a series of paintings. Reduction of compositional elements led to erasure. Blank space as spectacle. The yawning maw. The void as voice.


c.1290, “unoccupied, vacant,” from Anglo-Fr. and O.Fr.
voide “empty, vast, wide, hollow, waste,” from L. vocivus “unoccupied, vacant,“ related to vacuus “empty (see vacuum). Meaning “lacking or wanting” (something) is recorded from c.1420. Noun sense of “empty space, vacuum” is from 1727. The verb meaning “to clear” (some place, of something) is first recorded c.1300.

Think of this phenomenal act as Shane Jones “being Robert Ryman.” He made this painting in 1965. He untitled it.

I don t know why he called this one Ledger, but I suspect since the word can mean bible, breviary, and record-book, it may have been Jones’s signal that paintings are texts that may be read in the same way as books. He finished it in 1985.

He finished this one in 1995 and called it Gate for what should be self-explanatory reasons. Let me reiterate: Shane Jones slips in and out of the spacetime continuum. This painting is one of his portals.

The Things I Think about When I Think about Snow:

1. That snow is cloud dust.

2. That snow is atmospheric static.

3. That snow is frozen confetti.

4. That snow is angelic dandruff.

5. And it’s, if you want to get technical, precipitation falling from clouds in the form of ice crystals.

6. It’s slang for cocaine. “Snow White” is also slang for cocaine. “Snowball” is cocaine and heroin. “Snow bird” is cocaine. “Snowcone” is cocaine. “Snow seal” is cocaine and amphetamine.

7. I think about this year’s first snowfall when my daughter and I went to the backyard and she stuck her tongue out to catch snowflakes. Wide-eyed and smiling, she said “Ooh, I like it Daddy!” as if it were the sweetest thing she d ever tasted.

8. I think about the time I made snow angels in the middle of the street, oncoming traffic be damned.

9. I think about my wife and the sledgehammer to her soul as soon as winter starts. Sounds melodramatic, but no. If David Foster Wallace’s depression was a black hole with teeth, hers is a perpetually falling and crushing boulder.

I also think about this:

But I should say that when I think about William Gass’s
The Tunnel I don’t think of this:

But here are some interviews with Gass that should destroy you:

Stephen Schenkenberg interviews William Gass. (It mentions here that he has a personal library of over 19,000[!] books.)

Don Swaim interviews William Gass.

Kate Bolick interviews William Gass.

The Things I Think about When I Think about Hot Air Balloons:

1. The terrier-botched departure from the movie the Wizard of Oz, and along with that, the collapsed paper balloon in the Wizard of Oz pop-up book I ve read to my daughter repeatedly.

2. Another is Sam, the famed aerialist, in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials books.

3. Enduring Love, the film adaption of Ian McGewan’s novel.

What is it about a hot-air balloon that paradoxically evokes whimsy and melancholy?

I went up in a balloon once with my sisters and we watched the sun roll across the horizon, clouds going red and pink, colors swirling around us in a mist. I shouldn’t be thinking about that anymore because flight is over. Some people in this town say the more thoughts you have about flight the worse February haunts you. And then there’s the priests who have locked away believers of flight someplace at the edge of town. But that’s just a dumb rumor. Could be true though. If given the chance, I’d break open the skull of February. I’d swing a nice big bucket of sap right into the side of his head and watch the ice of his mind explode like confetti. (Light Boxes, p.24-25)

There’s a guy in Light Boxes who tries to get to heaven using a balloon.

Here’s another one who calls himself a cluster balloonist.”

And this one is a

And here are some other crackpots making homemade balloons:

This is blasphemy of course. You can’t get to heaven on a hot air balloon.

Here are some more ways you can t get to heaven:

Somehow they missed, “Oh you can’t get to heaven on a puff of pot. You’ll think you’re there, but you re really not.”

Note: The verb form of balloon meaning “to swell, puff up is attested from 1841.

Here’s a link to a scientific paper on

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Serotonin-Related Polymorphisms.

Some preventative measures and cures for sadness:

1. Get off your ass.

2. Help somebody else.

3. Play with a child.

4. Play like a child. For instance, travel to a pebbly beach and pick up bleached out shells and sea-softened glass and carbuncled driftwood and crush a pile of dried seaweed and throw it in the air and watch it fall and pucker your lips and pretend you’re a fish trying to eat it.

5. Catch up on your picture book reading and memorize one by Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein and then recite it as quickly as you can on a busy train platform.

6. Accept that life has no meaning, but may be an opportunity to create it, that you will never find what you’re looking for, that the looking is the finding.

7. Turn off your electronics and make love to with for on about somebody.

8. Forgive someone.

9. Do what you have to do.

10. Acknowledge that sometimes going through the motions sets other things in motion.

11. Give away something precious to you to someone precious to you.

12. Take responsibility for your problems.

13. Be honest about your failings and stop blaming others for your mediocrity and failure.

14. Listen to dull and ignorant people.

15. Don’t confuse plans with achievements.

16. Don’t confuse laziness with sadness.

17. Accept that you’ll never compare to whoever or whatever because nothing compares to you.

18. Watch this (Thanks Nicolle!):

19. Watch this:

Light Boxes has a bunch of crazies who deny that February lasts forever. They’re like global warming deniers except in reverse. Here are some of the things they do. Note: Don t be fooled by their laughter, these are sick people.

The first attack on February occurs. Thaddeus, Selah, Caldor Clemens, and The Solution devise a plan to trick February by pretending it’s summer. The men take their shirts off and roll their pants into a ring at their kneecaps and call them shorts. Selah wears a thin summer dress, the one she wore while on her first balloon trip with Thaddeus. It smells like cedar and grass clippings from the floor of his workshop. The rest of the women wear skirts. They unbutton their blouses and untie their bonnets. (Light Boxes, p.42)

Thaddeus and Selah move away from the group and make love in the naked snow. They tell each other to concentrate on the ocean teasing their toes, the sand in their hair. Selah imagines the melting snow between their legs is sweat. Thaddeus licks the ice from her lashes, pushes into the snow. They feel watched and excited. (Light Boxes, p.42-43)

February watches the snowfall. He thinks about the senseless deaths of Selah and Bianca and the ongoing war against him. He creates ten different shades of gray in the sky and then starts over again. The girl who smells of honey and smoke calls for him to come inside. He thinks, she has a light in her throat when she speaks. She has strings of light draped inside her body.

There’s a terrible war inside me, he says over his shoulder.

I know, she says. You can stop it any time you want.

The girl who smells of honey and smoke can’t hear him cry but can see the curled shoulders. She can see his black shake. (Light Boxes, p.81)

Meet February:

Tell me everything won’t end in death. That everything doesn’t end with February. Dead wildflowers wrapped around a crying baby’s throat. (Light Boxes, p.75)

2 responses to “Per Ardua Ad Alta: Shane Jones’s Light Boxes

  1. John: This is my favorite review of Light Boxes, and I the one I think most beautiful.

  2. John, this review is brilliant.

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