The shadow side, Carl Jung and Sue Grafton

Yesterday, writing about the shadow side in nature, I promised to blog about Carl Jung and Sue Grafton. But today, determined to fulfill my promise, I found myself under attack by one of my own shadow selves – the harsh academic critic that drove me mercilessly throughout my higher education.

At last month’s MWA Edgar Symposium in New York City, Sue Grafton spoke about a time several years back when she found herself creatively blocked. (Who wouldn’t be, committing to write 26 novels about the same protagonist!) She entered therapy, in the course of which she explored her “shadow side,” the unconscious, more instinctual and irrational side of the psyche we find it hard to acknowledge. The process helped her regain momentum, and she recommended that other authors mine the depths of their own shadows.

I took voluminous notes, as I always do at these events – a holdover from my years in academia. True, I rarely read them again, but at least I know I have them. Today, though, I couldn’t find them, and panic set in. Should I write about Grafton anyway? What if I misquoted her? Ultimately I decided to forge ahead with my memories alone, but the choice wasn’t an easy one.

Then I decided to check out what Carl Jung had to say about “the shadow.” Wikipedia was the easiest choice, but when I read the endless entry on Jung, there were dozens of references and links but absolutely nothing about the shadow. Again, more panic – I started hyperventilating, and my heart rate went up. Had I been wrong? Maybe he hadn’t written about the shadow after all. Fortunately, I did an advanced search, adding “shadow” after his name, and there it was, a long entry under “Shadow (psychology)”. Here are some tidbits:

In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts . . .”Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” . . . The shadow may appear in dreams and visions in various forms, often as a feared or despised person or being, and may act either as an adversary or a servant.

Hmmm, sounds like the villains in our mystery novels, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of Gabriel, the sensitive, tormented shadow figure in my book Eldercide, who murders elderly folks he believes have outlived their allotted life spans. I relished writing from his point of view far more than I liked writing about the good guys. Guess I’m in touch with my shadow!

Thanks to my inner critic, I achieved the academic goals I set myself. For example, I graduated from Barnard Magna cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. But that turned out not to do me much good in the real world. Some of my classmates did a bit better – they included Erica Jong, Twyla Tharp and Martha Stewart. Oh well, I’ve still got time, right?

How about the other writers out there – are you in touch with your dark side? And how does it fuel your writing?

13 thoughts on “The shadow side, Carl Jung and Sue Grafton

  1. Hi, Julie.

    First, just plain old chit chat. I really like this blog theme you’ve chosen. I almost picked it myself. Very…I dunno, comforting. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve had a blog site critique yet, but you’ve put together a very tasteful and useable blog. Good job. I also like your idea of placing quoted text in a different color. May I steal that from you, please?

    Well, I had no idea about the shadow side, but, mine must be huge if it’s filled with, ‘…repressed weaknesses, shortcomings and instincts.” I got a ton of that stuff, trust me. It is probably both my servant and adversary. Is that possible? Probably. If it fuels my writing, I’m not sure how…except to the extent, I’m always being called upon to do something other than write…and usually giving in. Is that it being an adversary?

    Best Regards, Galen

    • Hi Galen,
      Glad you like this theme and that you didn’t use it. Does that mean you’re on WordPress too? I got the theme from their options. I also got the “WordPress for Dummies” book and learned that they have a for people who want to manage their own domains. Is that what you did? I love the website with the lead-in to the blog. The pencil with your name on it is especially dynamic.

      By all means, use different colors for your quotes.

      You raise interesting questions about the shadow. In my case, the shadow definitely calls upon me to do other things than write.

      I’ll add you to my blogroll, but which site should I use? I hope you’ll add me to yours as well.

    • Yes, I chose that name deliberately. And Gabriel chose it for himself; it’s not his real identity. It probably is my shadow side taking over. I envision him as looking very much like Michael Easton, the actor who plays John McBain on One Life to Live (one of my guilty addictions). He used to be on a defunct soap opera called Port Charles, where he played twin brothers – a priest and a vampire. The brooding Heathcliffe type has always appealed to me.

      Too bad Gabriel has been brought to justice and won’t be around for subsequent books in the series.

    • Enid, thanks again for your comment yesterday about Gabriel. I’ve been planning to blog about soap opera plotting, and today’s the day. But this morning I realized I’m on the actor Michael Easton’s fan club Yahoo group, which has hundreds of members. I’m going to comment there about my villain’s resemblance to Michael – maybe I’ll get some new fans and readers!

      First, though, I’m off to the Y for my Nia class, then 9,000 lbs. on the weight machines.

  2. Very interesting blog. I like the shadow side references. I think those with creative dispositions (writers, illustrators, actors, dancers and the like) are probably more sensitive to their shadow sides. Part of the creativity left brain/right brain mode of thinking. I think we draw from elements of the shadow sides in some of our interpretations of some of our characters.

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

    • Yes, it’s great fun, isn’t it! I struggle with obscenities in my writing, though – they don’t come easily, though I use them liberally in real life. But I’ve heard many readers are really turned off by them. (Are those the readers we want? Good question.)

    • Good to hear from you, Karen. Trickster – are you by any chance talking about the Native American coyote spirit? I once had two dogs named Shawna and Deezy after him.

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