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?