Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Facing Your Shadow

The other day I read a German Fairy Tale (after Grimm); The Man Who Lost His Shadow. Basically the story is this:
A man of modest means enamored by the finer things in life sells his shadow to the Gray Man in exchange for all the gold he could want from a purse that has no bottom. As he acquires more and more things, he gets more deeply upset that others now reject him because he has no shadow—that's too strange for their comprehension. He seeks the Gray man again and asks for his shadow back in exchange for ‘his’ gold. It turns out the Gray Man is really the devil and will only accept the man’s soul in exchange for his shadow. Will the man sell his soul to get it back?  
(Fairy tale is from Where Magic Reigns by Gertrude C. Schwebell)
* (Picture attribution at bottom)
According to Psychologist Carl Jung, the shadow is the unknown dark side of the personality, the unconscious.  It’s what defines us; what we fight against to become the people we are. It has value. We either resist looking at where our beliefs come from, or we dig deep to face what’s there—a place to be explored, acknowledged and redefined in order for us to become more fully developed. It’s easier to keep the beliefs we’ve been spoon fed than examine them in a wider context. 

To explore the shadow, requires honesty. I love author Flannery O’Conner’s quote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” To put your shadow thoughts out there is courageous and many writers will not do that. They will hedge and only write what is safe. “Don’t rock any boats.” “Don’t reveal your politics.” “Don’t delve into those dark experiences/subjects or you will lose sales.”

But all the guru marketing experts agree with Aesop’s Fable:

In trying to please all, he had pleased none

So, I’ve been second guessing some of my choices lately about posting articles on political resistance--until last Saturday. A long time friend came up with tears in her eyes and told me I saved her life; that my posts pulled her back from the edge. Her confession confirmed my decision to go there in that direction and write about the Shadow.

I love Pat Conroy’s writing and through all the miasma of political angst of late, I bought one of his books, hoping it would pull me out of my funk, A LOW COUNTRY HEART, Reflections on a Writing Life. I was finally able to make some sense of all my feelings emerging from this political season (everything from numbness to feeling depressed).
The thing affecting me the most, is how people I love and have a close relationships with, whether family or friends, could respond so differently. And now I think it has to do with the unexamined Shadow.

I want to share a quote (because I cannot paraphrase Pat Conroy) from a speech he delivered at PennCenter in 2010:

“So I came to Penn Center fifty years ago, and Penn Center does me high honor tonight. Penn Center led me by the hand to a destiny that made me a teacher; that made me become a teacher of Afro-American history, the first such course taught in a formerly white high school in South Carolina. When a job opened up on an isolate Daufuskie Island, I asked for the job because I wanted to be part of history. I knew I’d be the first white man ever to teach black children in that portion of the world and thought I’d be doing God’s work. I did God’s work with eighteen of his sweetest children.”

An official from the school district visited my school at Daufuskie after I’d been there for a month. After strolling through my class, this man commented, “Too bad they’re all retards.”
“Come back in a month. I’ll have a surprise for you. And don’t ever call my kids that again.”
He returned with four people from the county office the next month. Me and the kids were ready and waiting. My mother had given me one of her cheapo birthday presents that had the fifty greatest classical hits on it—everyone from Beethoven to Handel. Each day, I’d play that record at the end of school.
“Okay, kids, this is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Raise your hands when you hear death knocking at the door. Fall asleep when you hear Brahms’s lullaby. Run for your life, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee’s on the way.”
When those school officials walked into that room, a woman supervisor said that the music I was playing was inappropriate for children this young.
“Sallie Ann,” I said to my introductress in the sixth grade, “This nice lady thinks that music is inappropriate.”
“Perhaps she’d rather listen to Rismsky-Korsakov.” Sallie Ann said “Or perhaps Tchaikosvsky.”
I went straight through the fifty top classical hits and my kids nailed every one of them. The five officials left stunned, and were angry when I offered to test them in front of the kids.
“Most inappropriate,” the same woman said.
“That’s because none of you know the music.”
Last night, my old friend John Gadsen remembered the days of my youth when I was a hothead. I do not think I was a hothead—not then and not now. I thought I was right. I had read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible. Segregation seemed evil from the time I was a boy. Slavery is an abomination on the American soul, and ineradicable stain on our body politic. But Penn Center lit a fire that has never gone out, and the election of President Barack Obama was one of the happiest days of my life.
You know how my story as a teacher ended. The white boys rose up and got rid of this hotheaded white boy. I never taught again. The white boys won, or so they thought. That superintendent and that school board drove me out of a job and eventually out of Beaufort. But to you, the people of Penn Center, whose ancestors survived the grueling Middle Passage and the heat of cotton fields and the whips of over seers—rejoice with me. I’m living proof that Penn Center can change a white boy’s life. You changed me utterly and I’m forever grateful to you. Yes, I was fired, humiliated, and run out of town because I believed what Martin Luther King believed. Yes, they got me good, Penn Center, but on this joyous night, let me brag to you at last: Didn’t I get those sorry sons of bitches back?”

I think Pat Conroy faced the collective Shadow; the unchallenged beliefs of his surrounding society, and resisted. Sometimes you just have to break some rules in order to stand up for who you are, whatever the consequences.
(For a wonderful movie, see Conrack is a 1974 DeLuxe Color film in Panavision based on his 1972 autobiographical book The Water Is Wide—March 27, 1974.
The novel was remade as The Water Is Wide (2006 film), a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie starring Jeff Hephner. ~Wikipedia)

*Picture taken from: Piercing the Veil of Reality

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Art is a Lie

In this season of discontent, where people are left feeling worried, fearful, and discouraged at the political climate, I found myself sleeping for long hours—and still remaining tired and listless. I began binge watching the 2013 TV series, The Fall. 
(A psychological thriller that follows the lives of two hunters, one being the serial killer who preys on his victims in and around Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the other, the female detective from the London Metropolitan Police who is tasked to catch him.)
Is it any wonder I awoke one morning with a terrible feeling that the world is crumbling into chaos. It led me to reflect on something the serial killer, Paul Spector, said.  (Did you know they have a whole page of his quotes? His character is a well read, intelligent serial killer.)

 “Art is a lie. Art gives the chaos of the world an order that doesn’t exist.” Spector

I spent the morning researching and reading, trying to understand Chaos Theory. (Whew, that’s a tough nut to crack!) Life is always in chaos, I just hadn’t thought about it in that way before. 

With this election many feel the effects of chaos. Especially the artists, the sensitives, the empaths. But it shook us to the new reality. And how we react going forward will determine our future—any number of possibilities.

People act irrationally—against their own interests, because of the pain and patterning we all receive in childhood. (more about that can be found here; A Chaos of the Mind. )

There are an infinite number of combinations to the “why” people do what they do. From the above link on depth psychology, quote:
As adults, we like to think we’ve put away most childish things. But infantile and childish ways of experiencing ourselves and life linger in our unconscious mind. That child in the adult’s psyche can be highly mischievous and harmful, producing chaotic reactions. Early childhood’s influences on our adult experiences have parallels to the scientific concept of Chaos theory.”

Why did so many Germans look the other way at the rise of Nazism? They listened to all the “reliable sources,” that pandered to the needs of the human psyche at the time; all is well. Nothing to be concerned about. This will pass. He doesn’t really mean it. Hitler is not really a threat. Just make nice and everything will turn out okay. The childish need to assure ourselves that all is well; the big people in charge will take care of us.

Gore Vidal said, “At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation and prejudice.” 

“People don’t change when they are comfortable. We cannot just legislate our way out of human problems. We cannot change the world by changing the rulers.” Prince Ea

“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” Deepak Chopra

“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.” Buddha

Some want to go back to the way things were. But “back” no longer exists. And back to where, to what? Like a painting that captures a moment in time, the conditions that existed are gone forever. The artist grows in skill and knowledge but that painting remains as a representation of his knowledge and expression at that moment. There is no going back to unknowing, to naiveté, to innocence, to a dream that’s now faded. 

If you were able to go back, that would mean unlearning all you’ve learned, giving up all you’ve gained, un-meeting all who’ve come into your life—you don’t get to pick only the good—you get the pain, sickness, evil as well—all of it. And our minds tend to soften and forget the unpleasant things we wouldn’t want to repeat. 

So wake up to the new reality of now. 

I’m especially troubled at the calls for love and peace and harmony—in the guise of being spiritual—but passivity does not equate with spirituality. Wanting to go back to the way things were. A happy ending. Putting our head in the sand and pretending the world did not just change in a big way is childish. 

Spector was right, we (the artists of our experience) try to give the world an order that doesn’t exist. From here we have to awaken and become responsible for our actions. Know that our actions and choices have consequences. Have we made a choice that really just gives power to someone to make our choices for us? Oh, the Hitlers, the Caesars, the Kings and Emperors of the world love that. They like to wield power over people—make choices for them—the sheep, the children, the ones who don’t want to have to be responsible. 

It comes down to working on ourselves; making ourselves knowledgeable and thoughtful so that our choices going forward count for something we really believe in. 

As artists, writers, musicians, poets--do we mirror the chaos of the world as it is so we can see ourselves more clearly and be the still small voice of thoughtful reason in the noise and clatter. Or, do we idealize the world and continue to live in the happy illusion that everything is fine? Each must decide for himself. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Accidental Inspiration

I go to other artists for inspiration to move my writing along. Sometimes for technique, sometimes for ideas and sometimes, just to get my bum in the writing chair. I was researching something this morning and found these wonderful quotes by Isabel Allende on Brain Pickings

This one inspires me to get to my writing even when I’m not in the mood:

I start all my books on January eighth. Can you imagine January seventh? It’s hell. Every year on January seventh, I prepare my physical space. I clean up everything from my other books. I just leave my dictionaries, and my first editions, and the research materials for the new one. And then on January eighth I walk seventeen steps from the kitchen to the little pool house that is my office. It’s like a journey to another world. It’s winter, it’s raining usually. I go with my umbrella and the dog following me. From those seventeen steps on, I am in another world and I am another person. I go there scared. And excited. And disappointed — because I have a sort of idea that isn’t really an idea. The first two, three, four weeks are wasted. I just show up in front of the computer. Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up.” 

This one reminds me to use economy of language:

I try to write beautifully, but accessibly. In the romance languages, Spanish, French, Italian, there’s a flowery way of saying things that does not exist in English. My husband says he can always tell when he gets a letter in Spanish: the envelope is heavy. In English a letter is a paragraph. You go straight to the point. In Spanish that’s impolite. Reading in English, living in English, has taught me to make language as beautiful as possible, but precise. Excessive adjectives, excessive description — skip it, it’s unnecessary. Speaking English has made my writing less cluttered. I try to read House of the Spirits now, and I can’t. Oh my God, so many adjectives! Why? Just use one good noun instead of three adjectives.

And here is wonderful advice for new and well established writers (something my last editor reminded me to do more of):

It’s worth the work to find the precise word that will create a feeling or describe a situation. Use a thesaurus, use your imagination, scratch your head until it comes to you, but find the right word.

When you feel the story is beginning to pick up rhythm—the characters are shaping up, you can see them, you can hear their voices, and they do things that you haven’t planned, things you couldn’t have imagined—then you know the book is somewhere, and you just have to find it, and bring it, word by word, into this world.

When you tell a story in the kitchen to a friend, it’s full of mistakes and repetitions. It’s good to avoid that in literature, but still, a story should feel like a conversation. It’s not a lecture.

Because I’m often inspired by the quotes of other artists, I put together a journal with the quotes of writers, artists and musicians; one for each of 30 days. A perfect gift for those who like to put pen to paper. It’s light and handy for those ideas that come at odd moments.It's on Amazon.

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