Wherein lies the power of writing? Of story? When does a story become a meaningful experience? Prose become poetry? Writing become art?
Is good writing simply the ability to string words together in a logical way that always makes sense? Or is it something less horizontal and linear? Something deep and dense, high and elevating? Complex and personal? The answer to these questions has less to do with your left-brained cognitive abilities — skills typically studied on IQ tests — than you might imagine. It’s more about your right brain’s preference for images and emotions.
Plato said art is mimetic by nature — an imitation of life — whereas ideas are the ultimate reality. For him, philosophy was superior to poetry. But his student, Aristotle, preferred poetry for the very reason that it mimics nature. He believed life is the ultimate reality, and that poetry reflects it.
Good writing, whether prose or poetry, resonates in your psyche because it is grounded in life. You might admire a writer’s intellectual cleverness with ideas and words, you might even try to imitate it. But a story or piece of writing will not become meaningful and memorable unless it stirs up images, memories, moods, and emotions in the same way dreams and myths do: by mirroring the archetypal truths of your soul in ways that move you. Interior experiences like this are embodied expressions of your nature in its essence, human nature, both physical and archetypal.
Meme-Noir (a play on the word ‘memoir’), is a remarkable new book by Toronto-based author, poet, artist, and teacher Steven McCabe that illustrates this connection perfectly. All of McCabe’s work — now including eight books, a blog called Poemimage, paintings, poems, drawings, videos, murals, and multi-media works — tell stories with a powerful psychological impact.
Imagine you are standing alone under a black-domed sky splashed with a panoply of starry constellations. Each has its own myths, cluster of personal associations, and visual and emotional nuances. This is how McCabe describes his inspiration for Meme-Noir:
“I emailed myself stories and anecdotes
Over an eight year period.
During discussions with the publisher (then),
For now the company has been sold,
I experienced a moment of revelation.
Luciano Iacobelli looked over my first ten pages
‘No, no, no, no, no.’
‘No theme, no thesis,
Just give me the puzzle pieces.’
He gestured with his hands and said,
I was left to interpret ‘constellations’ as I wished.
I came up with the idea of vignettes comprising constellations.
Each vignette in a constellation
Has one key word in common.
Each series of vignettes
Covers various time periods,
Within a constellation.
So, it’s a non-linear timeline.”
This excerpt is from his beautifully illustrated post about Meme-Noir on his blog. Following is a sampling of three vignettes from the book. Each is a unique star in a particular constellation of his psyche centered around the key word “float.” As you read, notice the images and emotions the words elicit from you.
“Around dusk I saw a ball of light float slowly past. It was bigger than a basketball but soft as a dandelion puff. Later I saw another one outside the window, in the pitch-black countryside. The couple visiting from Toronto said, “We saw them all the way here.” I stayed overnight at their place when they were students. In the morning I did a shoulder stand and above me a tiny star exploded as soon as it appeared. Light shot everywhere.” p.12
“My brother asked older ladies in the department store for directions – while forming a saliva bubble on his tongue – and floating it out his mouth. “Are you alright, son?” When George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, ran for President in the Democratic Primaries he gave a press conference downtown. We leaned against the wall. Wallace walked towards the exit with men on either side. My brother stomped one leg like a pony. Wallace froze, with a startled expression. My brother leaned forward, at the hips, and floated a bubble into the air. Wallace stared for two seconds and continued walking. My brothers and I laughed, all the way home, down Canal Avenue.” p.13
“I substitute their names when I read art history books aloud as they paint: Myra developed Cubism, with George Braque, in the early 20 th Century – Omar painted a melting pocket watch, defining Surrealism – Janine introduced Pointillism, dabbing thousands of dots. I personalize the text, so it floats – without dragging – after their long week of data coming at them like a flash flood.” p. 13
This is not just art for public consumption. It’s an example of how a man is alchemically transforming the raw elements of his life into a work of art. What floated through your mind as you read?
Meme-Noir is a fresh, original, page-turning tour de force of a psychological memoir. McCabe as storyteller is an enormously likable lover of life who survives daunting challenges with forthrightness, intelligence, compassion and wit, sustained by his ability to lose and then find himself again in art.
The style is unlike anything you’ve read before. Described as a “journey of addictive linguistic charm” (from a blurb by Pierre L’Abbe), it twists and turns through the subterranean rabbit warren of McCabe’s artistic sensibility to trace the transformational odyssey of a wounded soul trying to make its way home.
I highly recommend Meme-Noir. You can order it here, and here. Never More Together, McCabe’s visual, wordless poem about the harsh treatment of truth in a society ruled by fear, can be found here. To watch the poet speak about Never More Together, check out this Youtube video.
Image credits: All images created by Steven McCabe. Reproduced here with permission.
“These are writings about ‘becoming’ as an ongoing and active process with its especial significance as we age….becoming assumes a ‘changing to’ and a ‘moving toward.'” Susan Scott and Susan Schwartz
The above words are from the preface of Aging and Becoming: A Reflective Enquiry, by Susan Scott, a writer from Morningside, Johannesburg, and Susan Schwartz, a Jungian analyst from Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Each of the 26 chapters in this slender volume begins and ends with an appropriate quote, most from wise women throughout history. In between is a conversation between the authors on topics ranging from A–Aging & Attitude–to Z–Zero. Stitched together, these musings create a nurturing patchwork quilt of a month’s worth of meditations on how women can age consciously and wisely. Here aging is not treated as a downhill slide to a disastrous end, but a series of challenges and opportunities to grow your soul into its intended fruition.
A: Aging and Adapting
Susan Scott: Attitude is a word of motion that in its best sense expands and broadens. Many of us who do not allow for an expansion of attitude, a growth in our view of ourselves and the world and our place in it, can get stuck…This entrenchment of attitude is limiting and draining to personal power and leaves little room for movement or maneuver.
Susan Schwartz: We are not only on a descent but also on an ascent into a more complete rounding out of our personality….Perhaps what is referred to as wisdom is the ability to cope and find reasons, strategies or ways of being and for valuing the present moments….The wisdom and spirit of age can be demolished only if we agree or collude with those attitudes that denigrate and demean.
Susan Schwartz: The time for conformity and fitting in just to be accepted is over. Real forms of self-expression derive not from a false front or to superficially conform, but arise from the real self, a more complete woman self. As we age, the need to define and express our essence becomes more insistent. The image of the older woman as frumpy is not true. Voice, artistic writing, style, intellect comes in all these numerous garments and more for expressing her soul.
Susan Scott: Healthy self-care differs from the obsessive body panic. The fine line is to be aware of judgments about the body as negative or perfect. That signals the false ego rather than a devotion to restorative self-attention.
D: Dreams, Death & Depth
Susan Schwartz: Dreams are both messages and messengers. And how awful it is to be ignorant of them. The mystery of not understanding them while holding them preciously allows for secrets to gradually unfold….[Dreams] illustrate, through their mirroring function, how the personality keeps on presenting information about life events, aging and changing.
Susan Scott: The dream reveals our own metaphor, our own myth, as a gift to one’s self. It carries great responsibility and opportunities. The rich and honest soil of the dream, unconscious and wanting some light thrown on it requires attentive watering for its fertility and to bear fruit.
F: Fear & Fulfillment
Susan Scott: When I am assailed by fearful feelings I realize that they are often the spur that shakes me out of my languor and torpor. It is not easy sitting with them. Yet, by virtue of sitting and being in that fearful place, another kind of awareness may emerge creating a slight shift.
J: Joy & Journey
Susan Schwartz: Jouissance is a French word for physical or intellectual pleasure, delight, or ecstasy…it means to go beyond the superficial and metaphorically get out of the box. Jouissance transports us to what is beyond the familiar. It represents…intricacies to be appreciated as the journey wends its way even more uniquely and we continue to define and refine.
M: Moon, Mourning & Mystery
Susan Scott: The moon’s principle is constant change and as such is symbolic of an emotional inner and outer principle. What other force is there like the moon that pulls the oceans from shore to shore? Now as we age we are more mindful of the powers of darkness, the night atmosphere represented by the moon and its associations to the feminine energy.
Susan Schwartz: it is time to unravel the shadow pieces lying on the dark side of the moon. This expands the personality making us more inclusive and complete. We could then be more honest, openly accessible to ourselves and to others. Honesty is not hiding what we never had to hide to begin with.
P: Path & Pain
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Gloria Steinem
Susan Scott: The quest in life is being aware of the questions–about who we are, our place in this mystery of life as we experience it. We can ask the questions, stir things up a bit as it will surely do…we can welcome whatever arises as we would a guest, coming newly into our home. Can I live the questions I ask of myself? The only foolish question is the one not asked.
Susan Schwartz: The end of the alphabet, zero, is a letter than denotes what begins and ends…An aspect to Zen is waiting, awareness, feeling and not feeling the body and its sensations and reactions, being and not being caught in the mind….And the zebra that is such a lovely and unusual animal…Like the zebras none of us have the same stripes. This is similar to how we move through aging by negotiating its complexities and living consciously….Aging presents challenges that we do not escape at life endings.
Aging and Becoming is not a work to rush through. It is contemplative reading, packed with thoughts to savor slowly, like a leisurely conversation over coffee with a beloved friend. It will activate your ego’s awareness of your soul’s natural condition: an appreciation for wonder, mystery, and curiosity, and a knowing of the essential meaning and potential of your life. Like winter, these inner events portend spring’s renewal.
Greetings from the Smoky Mountains! After two years of obsessing over my book, it’s at the publisher’s. Now that we’re settled in our summer home, I’ve spent many glorious hours rocking on the porch, savoring the cool breezes and ever-present music of nearby Buck Creek while slowly depleting the pile of unread books I brought with me.
The Abolitionist’s Daughter was one of the first I read. I’ve known Diane McPhail, a gifted visual artist and now a bona fide writer, for several years. I’ve attended her art workshops here, and she’s attended my dream groups. We both attended meetings of our little town’s writer’s group. I first heard about her project years ago when she was in the early stages of crafting her story and shared samples of her work with us, all the while wondering if she had it in her to be a real writer. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since and wasn’t disappointed. Far from it. I was captivated from beginning to end and devoured it in three days. I highly recommend it for several reasons.
First is her careful and thorough research into the details of the everyday lives of the people who lived on a slave-holding farm in the pre- through post-Civil War in Greensboro, Mississippi. I craved the early morning biscuits slathered with apple butter made by Ginny, the housekeeper/slave who was a strong surrogate mother, wise counselor, and courageous friend to Emily. I would have liked to meet Emily, the outspoken daughter of a judge who wanted to abolish slavery and saw to it that the ones he owned were taught to read. Paradox? Yes. Hypocritical? Perhaps. But also a harsh reality in a place and time governed by laws that fiercely protected the institution of slavery.
I wanted to protect Emily from the narrow mindsets and sullen glances of the townspeople who shunned her for her father’s views. Watch the swaying of her green silk dress with its ruffled hooped skirt when she danced around the room with Charles. See the basketsful of fresh-picked turnips, beets, and greens that the indomitable Adeline, mother of Charles and wife of an abusive alcoholic, secretly brought to the family when food was scarce. Share the celebratory feast where Ginny served a “slow-cooked stew of beef and onions; green tomato pie with potato crust, minus the called-for lemon zest; layers of sliced turnips and potatoes baked with cheese: Indian bread: and rice pudding with molasses, flavored with a bit of brandy and the carefully hoarded nutmeg.”
Even if you didn’t know that Diane is a gifted artist as well as writer, you would probably suspect it from her discerning, artistic eye that sees beauty in ordinary things: the tangled limbs of a tree limned against a blue stained-glass sky that reminds Emily of a broken and repaired piece of pottery. A fragment of a quilt used as a potholder.The delicate young violets and pansies dipped in sugar for the children to savor. A small blue feather left by a migrating bunting among the green clover and milkweed of an ungrazed pasture. The Indian summer heat that “rose off the fields in waves of liquid mirage.”
I especially admired the author’s deep compassion and psychological understanding of her realistic characters. (Diane is, by the way, a minister and doctor of divinity.) Emily, with her forgotten childhood traumas that gave rise to unexplained anxieties, her sheltered innocence, her forthrightness and innate kindness. Ginny’s resilience, strength of character, maternal love, and determination. Benjamin’s pride in his work, respect for his owner, forgiving nature, and love for his son, Lucian. Dr. Charles’s well-intentioned playfulness and love for Emily combined with his cluelessness about how to understand and relate to her. His passion for healing others combined with his womanizing and greedy determination–triggered by his abusive alcoholic father and impoverished childhood–to make something of himself. These are not cardboard figures, but very human, complex, and real. Through it all we watch Emily transform from a brave but naive and vulnerable child into a confident and accepting woman.
Finally, the pacing of this fictional story about a real-life family feud set against the backdrop of the Civil War is well-conceived. Like life, it moves quickly and seamlessly from a tender domestic scene in one moment to images of unspeakable tragedy in the next. From dramatic events and powerful emotions like love, envy, greed, and hatred, to the inescapably depressive aftermath of trauma with its lengthy road to recovery and forgiveness. The realistic development of McPhail’s theme of human prejudice, greed, and resilience, combined with her compassion for her flawed characters, is a major strength. Another is her graceful writing, which manages to convey a maximum of information and meaning with a minimum of carefully-chosen words. In fact, this first novel contains a delicious basketful of strengths.
Congratulations, Diane. You are, indeed, a real writer!
Do you ever ask yourself, “Is this all there is?” Have you played by the rules and done your best, yet wonder why you’re not as happy and fulfilled as you expected to be? If so, How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening is a book you’ll want to read. The author, Ira Israel, is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Mindful Relationship Coach.
Israel sees beyond the cultural illusions and covert assumptions that have kept you from discovering your authentic self. For example, Western culture’s beliefs in capitalism, science, and religion taught you to value the wrong things like productivity, consumerism, and romantic love. Your futile struggles to find happiness and unconditional love via these beliefs created resentments and judgments about the past. And whether or not you realize it, as an adult you still dwell on these beliefs and ignore your present pain to stave off future pain.
This book will challenge and deconstruct your current worldview and encourage you to own the realities of your life. It will help you see the false self you created as a child to gain the acceptance, approval and love you craved.
Every time we are forced, as children, to jump through hoops in order to get love or positive feedback, this foments resentment. And even if there was no physical trauma during our childhoods, all of the resentments can add up to what is often called “a core wound.” As adults, we have remnants of wounded children in us.
Israel says that without our conscious awareness, these remnants influence the way we think and behave as we live our everyday lives. Here is the clearest description I’ve ever read of what this looks like:
In short, we emulate the characteristics of the caregivers we had when we were young in an attempt to retroactively subconsciously gain their approval and love; and we also subconsciously incarnate the opposite characteristics of the caregivers we had when we were young as a way of individuating from them.
You might be surprised to know that, “Becoming something in order to gain approval is inauthentic: being reactive and rebelling against something is also inauthentic.” In fact, living through your false self is the reason for your resentment, stress, anxiety, depression, and unhappiness. The antidote is to be congruent, to allow your outsides to match your insides. To do this you need to be present to yourself: your honest feelings, your true intentions, and the way you are thinking and acting in this very moment.
As a being who yearns for connection, you will welcome the author’s instructions about how to express yourself compassionately and as authentically as possible. He says,
If it is time to improve our conversational skills and create a more loving and positive reality, then let’s become conscious of the words and actions we choose in order to express who we are, who we want to be, and what type of lives we want to lead.
To this end, he recommends two transformational tools to improve your relationships: reflective listening and “nonviolent communication.” These are described in the final chapter. As Israel says, there is no plan B.
The only possible panacea is authenticity, which is difficult but must be attempted and practiced on a daily basis. It is up to us to break the chains of unskilful solutions that were handed down to us, to consciously decide who we want to be, what type of relationships will nourish us, and what kind of world we care to live in.
Throughout this delightfully humorous and seriously wise book, Israel guides you through healthy and dysfunctional ways of thinking and suggests practices that combine valuable wisdom from philosophy, spirituality, and psychology. If you make it your job to become a mature, authentic adult, you can transform your life into the fulfilling journey you looked forward to as a child by committing yourself to these practices. They will alleviate your suffering, promote loving relationships, and help you live with authenticity and love.
How to Survive Your Childhood Now that You’re an Adult is not just a great read. It’s a must-read for anyone who seeks truth, growth, and happiness. I highly recommend it.
The following is the transcript of an interview I had yesterday with Teresa Oster, MS, MSW. She’s a board member of The Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida where I’ll be doing a presentation on February 23. This is their link: www.jungfl.org. I’d love to see you there!
Q. Healing theSacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other and the World, which took you 18 years to write, is compelling reading, weaving the insights of many — spiritual masters, Jungian analysts, psychologists, and others — with your own. As a warm-up question, might you describe your personal library? How many books? How are they organized? What is on your reading table or night table now?
A. Oh, my. In our home we have a designated library/music/reading room with two walls of shelves containing about 1,650 books. At the moment there are another 200 plus on or near my desk for quick access. Most of the other rooms have a shelf or two of books as well. Those in the library are clustered together in genres: classics, children’s literature, art, fiction, poetry, dreamwork, philosophy, archetypal symbolism, religion/spirituality, mythology, psychology, and women’s issues. Those nearest my writing desk belong to the last five genres.
The books on my night table at the moment are: The Hidden Spirituality of Men, by Matthew Fox; The Physics of Angels, Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake; Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Volume 3, edited by Joseph Campbell;The Wisdom of Sundays, Oprah Winfrey; Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought, by Tom Jackson; and Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, by Tracey Bashkoff of the Guggenheim Museum. A friend loaned the last one to me last night. It’s filled with extraordinary archetypal images.
Q. Would it be accurate to call Healing the Sacred Divide a spiritual autobiography and workbook as well as a discourse on the trials and treasures in healing our divided selves, our divided relationships, our divided world?
A. Yes. That’s a perfect summation. I find it almost impossible to separate my thinking and learning from my personal life and my passion for sharing what I’m learning with other psychological and spiritual seekers. I want to become my fullest Self and I love mentoring others who are on the same path.
Q. The late Jungian Analyst Robert Johnson wrote the forward to your previous book, Dream Theatres of the Soul. He appears to be a touchstone for your work. Would you comment on him, and his passing, and his favored concept of the mandorla, which you emphasize in Healing the Sacred Divide?
A. Robert A. Johnson was my earliest Jungian mentor. I met him at a Journey Into Wholeness conference in the early 1990’s and immediately knew him to be a soul brother. From him I learned that myths and dreams are valuable stories that show me the archetypal forces in my unconscious. I also learned that my psychological and spiritual growth is dependent on my ability to reconcile the conflicts in myself and my relationships. This is symbolized by a mandorla — the third, almond-shaped space made by two overlapping circles. It represents the holy space of dialogue and understanding where we connect with the Self and resolve conflicts in creative new ways. I’m sad that he’s no longer with us, but his soul left a powerful imprint on mine that will always be with me.
Q.You begin the book with a nightmare you had when you were ten, of the Lone Ranger, who you so admired but who shot you in the dream. The Lone Ranger has ‘shadowed’ you for all these years. Could you say just a bit about the importance of him in your process? I recently saw the archetypally rich film The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. Have you seen it? If so did it resonate?
A. My dream was as archetypally rich as the film. I did see it and I loved it. As a child, I idolized the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Silver. I woke up from that dream screaming with outrage and weeping from a profound sense of betrayal. It has taken me years of inner work to understand why. The Lone Ranger was my version of the heroic Father archetype. Tonto was my personal image of my shamanistic Mediatrix/Sage archetype. Silver represented the power and potential of my Animus, the drive that motivates my teaching and writing. Why did the Lone Ranger shoot me at the age of ten? Because I was becoming aware of the toxic patriarchal conditioning of my childhood that said males were heroes and authority figures and females were victims and second-class citizens. The dream was a call to discover and empower the archetypal forces in myself, especially my feminine side. It took me 35 more years to find the path Jung paved for me and other seekers.
Q. You quote Krishnamurti: “The world problem is the individual problem.” Would you comment? How are we individuals responsible for the extreme conflicts in our world today?
A.The opposite of Krishnamurti’s comment is likewise true: the individual solution is the world solution. We and our species are evolving from a state of primitive infancy toward greater consciousness and psycho-spiritual maturity. As you do your inner work and grow in self-awareness, you automatically motivate everyone you touch to seek healthier resolutions to their problems and find meaning for their own lives. For the first time in human history, the internet has the potential to swing the tide of collective consciousness away from conflict and hatred toward understanding and love. I truly believe that if we join the drops of our individual awareness to the gathering collective wave, we can save our species and our planet from destruction.
Q. Another author you cite is Jungian Analyst Janet O’ Dallett, author of The Not-Yet Transformed God. She spoke to our group many years ago, but I still remember what she told us before the lecture. She said she lived on the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle and there were two houses on her property. She lived in one and her husband lived in the other. What do you think she was trying to say about the individual in relationship?
A. I love that. I think she was trying to illustrate how hard it is to create a healthy, loving, lifelong, relationship with your partner without sacrificing your freedom to be true to yourself. For the last few years I’ve been taking baritone ukulele lessons and writing songs. My latest song, “Happy Place,” is my answer to your question. It’s about the mandorla that two individuals can create in a couple relationship. Here are the last lines:
“I wish my happy place was yours. I wish that yours was mine.
But everybody’s got their own. Seems like that’s just fine.
Together we’re building a place of our own, where we both can grow.
You can do your thing and I’ll do mine….It’s the happiest place I know!”
Q. You cite so many influential authors in The Sacred Divide. I was disappointed not to see a bibliography. Might you want to hand one out to attendees at the upcoming event?
A. I’ll be happy to. I’m in the midst of creating one for my new book, and I’ll bring it with me to the workshop.
Q. You called your first three books a trilogy. Now you are working on a fourth. What is the subject of the new book?
A. The Soul’s Twins transforms my work into a quaternity — a symbol of wholeness that is my answer to the Lone Ranger and the patriarchal culture he alerted me to at the age of ten. I believe it is imperative for our species to eliminate old stereotypes about Deity and gender by consciously integrating the feminine and masculine principles within and without. The Soul’s Twins was conceived in the early 90’s when I attended an intensive at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich where Jungian analyst Dr. Martin Odermatt introduced us to a newly emerging image for the Self. He called it the Couple, a new God-image representing the unifying force of love that can heal the world.
Over the next year I wrote a manuscript describing how the interaction between four basic feminine archetypes and their four masculine archetypal partners creates the Couple. I also created and tested a self-assessment instrument called The Partnership Profile which is included in the new book. I didn’t know how to finish it then, which is probably just as well because I’m pretty sure the world wasn’t ready to receive it. So it sat in my computer until two years ago when my Animus reared up and demanded that we revise, condense, and see it through to publication. He and I are very excited about the dramatic movements like #MeToo that are shaking up and tearing down the toxic bastions of patriarchal dominance. I’m pretty sure the time is right for it now. May it be so!
Reminder to attendees: Some journaling is part of this event. Bring notebooks and pens. Sharing is optional.
Image credits: The rearing horse found on Google Images is attributed to rebelyell.
The intuitive’s morality is governed neither by thinking nor by feeling; he has his own characteristic morality, which consists in a loyalty to his vision and in voluntary submission to its authority. ~Carl Jung, CW 6, para. 613
Every day was Labor Day this summer. Mental labor. Emotional labor. A labor of love. Labor nonetheless. That’s just the way it is when you’re writing a book. At least for me. I’m exhausted. I’ve been back in Florida for four days, trying to let myself rest. Yesterday was Labor Day. We celebrated our granddaughter’s thirteenth birthday at the beach with our family. Pure pleasure. How can she be thirteen?
Today’s my first day back at work. I’m eager — well maybe anxious is a better word — to get started, but putting it off. It’s time to give you an update. I finished six chapters this summer. Yaayy!! Only two more to go before the first draft is finished. Almost….. There’s so much more to do.
You spend eight hours a day writing two pages and end up on a great high. But by the time you go to bed you’re worried about the next problem. Plus, You have a deadline. Yes, okay, that’s a year away but there’s so much to be done. And so much you’re not sure of. You go back to it the next morning and realize half of what you wrote yesterday needs to be trashed because it’s empty. Boring. Meaningless. Dry. Too wordy. Whatever. You dread starting over. Find excuses to stall. Force yourself to start. At the end of the day you feel good again because you know it’s better. Maybe you’ll change it tomorrow. But that’s okay. You’re making progress and that feels wonderful.
You fall asleep quickly, wake up the next day forming sentences, playing with words, choosing this one over that one. You can’t wait to get to your computer because you’ve rewritten the opening lines in your head and don’t want to forget. You think you may have had a dream. What was it…..? But you can’t remember. All you have are the words you woke up with. The dream is lost. You wish you could recapture it. You think it might have been a good one.
You write down the words before you forget. Izzy nudges your elbow. She needs breakfast and a walk. You throw on some clothes, feed her, take her for a walk, make yourself a quick breakfast. Go back to the computer. The next thing you know it’s four hours later. Time for lunch. You don’t want to stop because you’re on a high again. But the phone rings, or the handyman knocks on the door. Or Izzy wants to go out.
So you do what needs to be done, all the time thinking about the last paragraph. Rehearsing the beginning of the next one. The pressure to get back to work never leaves. You make notes to yourself on your iPhone as you walk through the woods, impatient to return. You feel guilty because you’re not even enjoying Izzy’s delight at running around free, sniffing everything. Oops. She’s finishing a half-eaten, ant-ridden green tomato some critter gnawed on, then dropped. Digestive enzymes will see to them.
You force yourself to stop thinking. Just observe. Breathe. You smile. Gaze at the cloudless pale blue-gray sky. The mountains peeking through the spaces between the trees surrounding this valley nest where you live every summer. Like those Carolina wrens that return every year to the same nest in your porch planter. A yellow leaf spirals to the ground, a fiery flicker of light from the cherry tree that’s struggled all summer. Another tree dying?
You give Izzy a treat and make a lunch and force yourself to sit on the porch in your favorite rocking chair. You worry too much. Push yourself too hard. You need to enjoy the moment. You close your eyes. Slow and deepen your breath. Tell yourself the book will wait. Watch the birds vying for perches at the feeders.
A hummingbird stares at you and flies closer. It hovers a foot away from your face. You hold your breath, afraid to move. It flies lightly past your left ear. You sit still as stone, feeling the gentle breeze from its wings on the back of your neck. Do stones feel the breezes of hummingbird wings? You hear the soft hum in your right ear. She’s circling your head. You want to hold out your hand and invite her to rest, but you know she’ll only fly away. She does anyway. You smile, relish this magic moment. Then you get up, put your dishes away, go back to work.
The next morning you wake up with more words. A dream image flashes past. You let go of the words, close your eyes, breathe. Invite the image back.
Dream #4972. My friend and I have ridden motorcycles to the back of this vast complex of buildings. I’m hiding in the shadows by the back door. I’m trying to disguise myself as an old woman. I have to cover my hair with a cloth and stoop over so they won’t recognize me. The man with me is over on my left, trying to bluff a guard into letting us into the building. I’m afraid they’ll discover we don’t belong here. I think we’re imposters. But my friend convinces them that John Somebody invited us. Somehow, the man lets us in. We wander through. There are others here. Why are they here? Why are we here? I don’t know. I only know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve made it this far. Might as well have a look around until I know what the next step will be.
It’s been like that with my book every day. Joy and angst. Worry and guilt I can’t shake off. Conflicts I don’t know how to resolve. A mission I can’t stop trying to complete. I feel like an imposter. Yet my animus keeps pushing me to do this. I don’t know why. We just have to.
To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, p. 249
It’s a beautiful obsession. Back to work.
Special thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for posting the exact quote on Facebook I needed this morning.
Dark, quirky, clever, and controversial, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been nominated for seven academy awards this year. Like “The Shape of Water,” nominated for a whopping 13, its protagonist is a powerless, justice-seeking female up against an unsympathetic patriarchal system. In this case, the villain is not the U.S. military, but a small town, good-old-boy police force. Both plots are driven by the archetypal hero/ine vs. villain theme punctuated with racism, violence, and abuse of power.
Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother whose teen-aged daughter was raped then set afire. Angry at local authorities who haven’t solved the murder, she rents three unused billboards and puts up an accusatory message to sheriff Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson. In the face of animosity and threats from several fellow citizens, especially the racist, mama’s-boy police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), she persists in calling attention to her cause. As tension and emotions ramp up in a series of unexpected events, viewers discover that in this battle between good and evil, the lines aren’t as clearly drawn as we might prefer.
Original as this film is, at bottom, its theme is archetypal. Consider the ancient Greek myth about the Earth Mother goddess Demeter and her beloved young daughter, Persephone. Carol S. Pearson’s latest book, Persephone Rising, contains an insightful explanation of the same psychological forces which continue to influence us and our culture today.
In the myth, innocent Persephone gathers flowers in a field when Hades erupts through a cleft in the earth and abducts (and some say rapes) her. When Demeter realizes her beloved daughter is gone, she is overwhelmed with grief. After getting no help from the gods who, fearing retribution from Zeus, refuse to tell her what happened to her daughter, she sets aside her responsibilities for making the crops grow and searches the earth tirelessly. While Demeter grieves, all growth on earth ceases, then dies. As Dr. Pearson notes, Demeter’s recognition that her needs matter too result in the “first ever recorded sit-down strike.”
Zeus — the Father/King of the gods and prototype of patriarchy’s top dog whose power trumps everyone else’s — is not happy about this. It was he, Persephone’s father, who had given Hades permission to take her to the underworld in the first place. But if the famine kills the humans, who will build his temples? Who will worship him with gifts and offerings? So this macho, uncompromising thunder God relents and demands Persephone’s release. Demeter’s non-violent protest works.
But will Mildred’s protest work? Will it stay non-violent? Our dualistic mindsets want a hero to celebrate, a scapegoat to blame, a heretic to crucify. But these people are not polar opposites like virtuous princes and wicked witches. They are complex, multi-faceted human beings grappling with complex issues and powerful emotions that aren’t easy to reconcile.
The gods and goddesses represent amoral, instinctual forces in all of us. At bottom, this is who we are. You and I contain every emotion they feel, and we are capable of being gripped by them to commit every act they do, good and bad. The only difference between them and us is that we humans want to be virtuous so we make rules for ourselves, try to keep them, and disown our shadow sides that want to break them. But sometimes they show up anyway.
Mildred’s daughter has been taken from her and she deserves justice, but can we condone her increasingly questionable tactics? We might likewise ask, how can Demeter, supposedly an endlessly loving and forgiving Mother goddess, let humanity starve to death just to get her daughter back? Does her grief justify her means?
Seeing unsuspected sides of Sheriff Willoughby and officer Dixon is equally unsettling. Why isn’t Willoughby putting more effort into pursuing the culprit? Is he indifferent to Mildred’s suffering? Why does he let Dixon — one of those ignorant Warrior bullies we love to hate — get away with his senseless cruelty toward a man less powerful than he? Are these people redeemable?
Demeter gets her daughter back from the underworld, at least for part of every year. But though Mildred has some admirable goddess qualities, she is not a goddess, and no matter how much she acts like one her daughter will never return. Is there a human force strong enough to reconcile her fierce Demeter hunger for justice? Dixon, like Zeus and Ares, the God of War, savagely punishes people he hates. Will Mildred become like him? And if she does, will this cancel out any vestiges of human goodness left in her?
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark, disturbing film, but I loved it for highlighting human complexity and prompting these and other difficult questions. It is the function of artists and art to raise a culture’s awareness. To challenge our either-or morality. To explore the gray realm between opposites in which a creative third force can emerge to reconcile our divisiveness. I love it that this film is being honored for rising to this challenge.
But I loved the dreamy, fairy-tale quality of The Shape of Water too. This leaves me with another question. Which one do I want to win the Oscar for best picture? This is a complex issue I haven’t reconciled yet.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.