Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: Shadow

Negative Space

Flyer

Because I have some financial pressures squeezing ever tighter, I designed this flyer to promote my massage therapy business. I showed it to several people for their reactions, and got one or both of these comments from every one of them: What table? and Take the text off the image of the table you’re referring to, and move it into the empty spot at the top right.

Clearly it wasn’t an effective flyer. But the idea of putting the text in what I’d intended as open, clear, negative space irked me to no end. The whole point was to show expansive, uncluttered space, like your mind when you really relax. Some people are compelled to fill every hole. Maybe I should put big arrows pointing out: This is the table you will lie on. And, This emptiness is your mind during a massage. The fact that I couldn’t communicate this idea to people who already know me, and know massage, discouraged me, and I set the flyer aside to move on to other efforts at promotion (which, incidentally, failed more pathetically than the flyer).

That was several months ago, and last week I was making a feeble attempt at decluttering the office, when this flyer rose to the top of the pile. My daughters found it and started asking questions about it. Why hadn’t I ever done anything with it? I told them that it wasn’t effective, and they agreed. They had been among those who originally critiqued it, after all. But I kept coming back to my irritation. Some people think they have to put something in every unoccupied space. If there’s a corner, they have to stick something in it. If there’s space on a shelf, they have to put something on it. (My own house has a dearth of horizontal surfaces unfilled with crap.) If there’s an open minute, they have to do something. Why can’t people just allow what is to be?

But upon further reflection, it isn’t that people do these things that is bothersome. As my twelve-year-old pointed out, some people function well that way, and they get a lot done. She suggested there is a balance to be found. She’s right. Maybe I should be more like them. I get very little done, and have no excuse when I don’t know what I did at the end of a day, or a week. Maybe I should try harder, push myself a little more.

Truly, though, I know that isn’t the answer. It doesn’t make me more effective, it just makes me unhappy. I don’t know why pushing doesn’t get things done for me, but it’s always been the case. Hence the ineffective flyer and the hours I spent designing it. Hence the promotional efforts I made after that, which took more hours and also came to nothing. I wanted to will a busy practice into being, but that’s never worked for me. Rather, I usually look back and it looks like I got what I needed, if not what I thought I wanted, and it didn’t come through effort but through allowing, choosing with intention, and accepting with gratitude what came to me. Why do I say I should be more like someone else? I know it’s not true.

I imagine people thinking I should be busier, try harder, adopt a better work ethic. They often ask me, “How is massage going? Keeping busy?” It’s what the Midwest is all about: the highest and most frequent praise people speak of anyone else is He works really hard. If I’m honest, though, I can’t think of anyone ever telling me directly that I should be different in any way. It could all be my imagination. It comes from me.

I had a vision of how things could be, of expansiveness and light, uncluttered and free of expectation, thought, or intention. Another name for this is peace. I could share that with others, but instead of receiving it, they mirrored back to me my own excess thinking, expectations, judgements, and willfulness. Isn’t it always that way, with the things that bother us most? Those are the things we don’t want to see about ourselves, that we try to push away, that keep coming back to gnaw at us until we pay attention. Hello old friend, Shadow.

I don’t know how I’m going to manage my debts. I may or may not expand my business. I will not be presented the highest praise bestowed in the Midwest. There is another statement, though, which describes me; it has yet to be elucidated. It is something about self-knowledge, higher understanding, effortless balance, peace. When I get there, I will know, and I won’t need other people to tell me.

 

Enantiodromes

I love enantiodromes. These are words which are their own opposites, also known as “auto-antonyms.” (Not that I have to tell you, you already knew that.) Enantiodromes often arise over time, as word meanings change with long use. Jung spoke of enantiodromia, a psychological phenomenon in which a tendency becomes so extreme that its unconscious opposite must eventually erupt. Shadow work, anyone?

One enantiodrome is oversight: it can mean carefully watching to make sure no mistakes are made; or it can be a mistake that one has carelessly failed to notice.

Another is bill. If I hand you a bill, have I just given you money, or a request to give me money?

I’ve long observed that advertising often says the opposite of the truth about a product. It was only recently that I realized that this makes advertising a fertile spawning ground for new enantiodromes. A thing of value used to be one of the highest quality, and precious; but, anymore, if you see the word value on a package at the grocery store, you know it’s probably the cheapest brand.

Original is another marketing enantiodrome. Something original is new, like an idea no one ever thought of before; it probably stands out, or above, the others. But if you see original on a food package, you know it’s the oldest flavor, and, let’s face it, the least interesting. It’s just the regular stuff, nothing special about it.

Maybe enantiodromes are a collective expression of our unconscious, emerging from the shadows to point out to us what we really want, who we really are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going. Watch for them, and ask them what message they bring.

What enantiodromes are you seeing in your world?

Toulouse and Wildfire

The venerable Toulouse with just-weaned Wildfire

Luscious, Moody Prose: On A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin

I read A Wizard of Earthsea as a kid. I was a big fantasy geek, and it was in the school library. I didn’t remember much, though. I liked it enough to read it twice, and to go on to love other LeGuin books; but the language was a bit challenging for me in grade school, so I mostly remembered a dark moodiness pervading the book, and a lot of sailing between islands.

Last week I happened to find myself wandering the stacks of the Emporia Public Library, and this book appeared in front of my face, so I checked it out and reread it, and it’s now my new old favorite.

I still love the luscious, moody prose. It would be a great book to read aloud, or listen to as an audiobook.

“In winter it was different. He was sent with seven other boys across Roke Island to the farthest northmost cape, where stands the Isolate Tower. There by himself lived the Master Namer, who was called by a name that had no meaning in any language, Kurremkarmerruk. No farm or dwelling lay within miles of the Tower. Grim it stood above the northern cliffs, grey were the clouds over the seas of winter, endless the lists and ranks and rounds of names that the Namer’s eight pupils must learn. Amongst them in the Tower’s high room Kurremkarmerruk sat on a high seat, writing down lists of names that must be learned before the ink faded at midnight leaving the parchment blank again. It was cold and half-dark and always silent there except for the scratching of the Master’s pen and the sighing, maybe, of a student who must learn before midnight the name of every cape, point, bay, sound, inlet, channel, harbor, shallows, reef and rock of the shores of Lossow, a little islet of the Pelnish Sea. If the student complained the Master might say nothing, but lengthen the list; or he might say, “He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.”

But what struck me more was the shadow. Unlike, oh, just about every fantasy book ever, Earthsea doesn’t have a real villain. There are plenty of bad people, but the real evil is merely a shadow. It hunts hero Ged, until he turns to hunt it. No one knows exactly what it is, but it is believed that this entity’s will is to take over Ged and do evil through him. And what is its name? Maybe it has no name at all. If you’ve done any Shadow work, you’ll guess the answer to the question.

I’ll try not to spoil the book for you. I’ll just say that I think I was a little disappointed in the ending as a child, or maybe dismayed; but as an adult, it is perfect. Because evil doesn’t really come from some Other person, and one might wonder if LeGuin was the first fantasy writer in history to notice this.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a relatively slim two hundred pages, but it’s rich, dense, and never falls into fantasy cliches. Nearly fifty years after its first publication, it’s far less dated than the books of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander. (The latter being the author of another series I loved, The Prydain Chronicles. They’re still good, but . . . dated, particularly in the characterization of male vs. female characters.)

It’s a wonderful experience to reread a book I loved as a child, and find it even better than I remembered it.

fat lady on airplane

I took a picture of the cover of the book, but, for complicated reasons, the computer can’t find the photo. When I enter the name, it can only find this shot of me, taken by Kevin Ireland, on an airplane above the Central American Pacific Ocean. No, I can’t fix the exposure. Think of it as art.

The Shadow Saboteur’s Magic Wand

I dreamt I took the kids to a birthday party, and, because I had no pockets, I set my phone and journal on a table while I went about the party. When it was time to leave, the table had already been taken down and put away. I tried to find the hostess to ask her if anyone had seen my things, but I couldn’t find her. Eventually I looked through some things, then went to a basement room where there were rows of stacks of things. I searched through countless items, none of which was mine.

Now, this shadow saboteur bit is getting tiresome. (See my previous posts on the saboteur.) On the face, this dream might seem to be about seeking that which is unattainable, but you can tell that in fact these things are attainable, only the saboteur is preventing them from being mine. I could find lots of things, but it was as if someone were looking over my shoulder, someone who knew all my secrets and weaknesses, who knew just what feature of a thing would eliminate it from the category of mine, someone who held the magic wand, not the one that generates matter in being, but the one that specifies its nature, so that as soon as I have a phone in my hand (My phone is red. Or is it sparkly green?), this one is black. I find a checkbook I wasn’t even looking for, with the right cover, the right style of checks, a winning lottery ticket tucked inside, but the name on the checks is someone else’s. I find a journal, and not only has it no cover at all, but the pages are filled with unfamiliar handwriting.

In the end, I did find the phone, because it rang, and it turned out it had been tucked safely in my cleavage all along. Did the saboteur relent? Or somehow slip up? What do I do with this?

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