Friday, November 30, 2012

Mr. Dressup, Bugs Bunny and Other Childhood Mentors

Mr. Dressup turned 85 this week. I grew up with this man and his pal, Casey; Rusty and the Friendly Giant, and the ladies at Chez Helene. Although the latter, I must admit, was always beyond my comprehension. I think I watched it only because it came on the same channel and I didn’t know how to switch it over to something else.
I’ve been thinking about childhood memories, at least the televised ones, since my friend Kristen, The Good Typist, wrote a blog asking which character on Sesame Street was your favorite. She posited a theory that who we most related to is reflected in our lives today as adults. I wrote in her comment section that although I was (ahem) outside the Sesame Street era I did have what I call my childhood mentors. The most important one coming not from TV but from a book: The Ugly Duckling. Family legend has me begging my Nana to read it aloud every night. And, even though I was a cute kid (really!), something inside me must have resonated with that little duck. Perhaps I just needed to feel hope that everything was truly going to be okay. Does the duckling reflect who I am as an adult? I would have to say yes in that my life goal seems to be about transforming my so called “ugly” parts—the ones I am ashamed of—to work for rather than against me. The little duck was indeed my mentor.
Then there were the other cartoon characters of my childhood. How did they colour my personality? I definitely admired Bugs Bunny with all her street smarts and the innocent looking but savvy Tweety Bird but I think I thought they were beyond my reach.  I would still love to be able to toss out the wise cracks of Bugs but most times I feel like the hapless Wile E. Coyote. Then again, maybe that is a good thing. I like the way he always picked himself up and carried on after a tough day of chasing the Road Runner. And while I truly hope the latter didn’t brush off on me with her subtle passive aggressiveness, I fear I learned her lessons all to well in times of darkness.
So which childhood cartoon or book character were your mentors? Who helped form your adult personality? I invite your comments and, just for fun, let’s keep this to the time you were real small, when picture books, easy readers or the cartoons on TV were your main source of inside entertainment.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Pomegranate

I ate a pomegranate the other day. I didn’t want to eat it, didn’t even want to look at it… just got so damn tired of seeing it in the fridge. Round, red lushness, rich as a cherry; lascivious as the first apple—it lured me in like the sirens of past lore. I held it in my hand and felt its firm outer shell. Inviolate, I thought, silent, mysterious; inviting, yet, in a way not. Memories surged forth: my first love cutting it in half; painstakingly scooping out each reluctant piece of treasure. I didn’t want to go back.
Persephone didn’t want to go back. Then again, maybe she did, and it was her mother that held her captive. Demeter petitioned Zeus; fought hard against the hell she figured destined for her daughter. She almost won, half won, in fact. Six months in heaven; six below.
I didn’t want to go back. What good lay in it for me? Who would rightly choose a half life of darkness?
The ripe fruit sat still in my hand. It was cool to touch; smooth, unblemished. Hunger stabbed me. I wanted it; I wanted it all. The knife thrust downward, eight times. Glistening rubies shone bright, burning my eyes. Memories disintegrated as I spread open the peel. Cerise niblets fell to my plate with ease; no pain. I ate of it as ribbons of red juice ran down my chin.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Shadow

Recently I’ve had some interesting conversations about the nature of evil and its relationship to shadow. Out of them came the idea that evil is perhaps nothing more than the experience of fear around the manifestation of, shall we say, our darker side—the side of which we tend to ignore and, at times, even deny.
The shadow, however, doesn’t have to be something universally abhorred. Although I believe that every one of us is capable of deeds from the most profound good to the most dastardly bad, the shadow is not necessarily “evil”—it can simply be a behaviour or belief of which we are ashamed.
The thing about shadows is that the more we deny them the more they creep into our lives. Lisa Unger, a suspense novelist, goes so far as to state that the universe has a personal dislike of denial and goes out of its way to set up situations that make us face the things we would rather not acknowledge or see in ourselves.
Although I’ve exposed several of my shadows through years of reflection I doubt my personal closet of skeletons is far from empty. I have no issue with this but find it funny how I always end up surprised when the unconscious finally comes apparent. It is not so much that I cannot believe this newly revealed fact about myself, it is more of a feeling that I’ve known this part of who I am all my life. It is like having a déjà vu experience: you’ve been there, done that… you know about it already. And this is shadow’s truth: we do know about it, it is just that it is all … unconscious.  
Lately I have been faced with one of my more devious shadows through the behaviour of an aged relative. At first I didn’t realize what was happening, I just found myself getting angrier and more frustrated in my relationship with this family member. It is the nature of these beasts to be subtle. If these darker parts, for example, were to broad side us with blatant actions there would probably be an immediate turning away, a quick denial of how it holds no relationship to who we are. Sliding in with its understated persona allows it to insinuate itself into our thoughts, actions and emotions before we even know what has happened.
This current shadow, manifested by my relative, expresses itself as a certain passivity towards life.  It threw me a bit. I thought I had dealt with this side of myself—held dealt with my fears.  Living with depression for many years, I’ve experienced the extremes of passivity’s darker side. I know the urge to end it all: the seductive tease of finding peace, of not caring; not having hope or having the energy to reach out. However, I have also partook in its illuminated side and found there was plenty to celebrate. A passive life is one of reflection and of being receptive. It allows for stillness and the ability to sit and watch one’s path unfold. Passivity is also about surrender and letting go. I have worked hard on nourishing these positive aspects. I thought I was making conscious choices each day of acknowledging the darkness but still living with full participation in the evolution that is life. I guess I was wrong. The shadow, like I said, has a way of showing its face and exposing our fears, especially when we are most smug.
My aged relative has, over the past year, been sliding into the more negative form of passivity: he slowed down on his activities; ignored or downgraded the inherent joys of the day and started living under the idea that life was only going to get worse. I tried everything to get him out of it. I used well versed therapeutic techniques and, when that didn’t work, laid out the facts like a coach: I was blunt then was gentle; was angry then sad. I tried anything and everything to make him understand that he was throwing away the opportunity of life. The more I pleaded, however, the more it felt that his decision making processes had this vice grip on me that was making it more about my survival than his. I knew I had to step back.
It wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to let go. But after a few weeks of wading through familial issues that fed some of my more intense feelings of grief, anger and responsibility, what finally emerged was that he was manifesting my shadow… the shadow I thought was no longer an issue. Turns out, I still had fears that my shadow would waft in and take control. And, even though I am quite effective when my clients manifest this particular darkness, seeing my relative act it out in real life got me scared; very scared
The good news about shadows, however, is that once we bring them into the light they are no longer as frightening as they once were. In coming into awareness of the main cause of my angst I was eventually able to let it go. Insight gave me knowledge and, from that, power. I found that I was in charge of my passivity and not it in charge of me. In re-exploring this darker side of myself I discovered I had no need to be afraid when it manifested in a family member. I began to see with utter clarity that my relative’s life was his own; that we have unique paths and that his choices are solely about himself. I know now, with surety, that I would have only hindered our relationship had I continued along the path I was walking.  In letting go I not only freed myself but empowered him to do his own exploration. Funny enough, since I’ve come to this conclusion he has, indeed, turned a corner.
The shadow works in mysterious ways. We can fool ourselves and think we know about life and all its ins and outs when in fact, the only thing we end up discovering is, well, what can I say … only the shadow (really) knows.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Jack of the Petit Dumpling

I carved myself a Hallowe’en pumpkin on Wednesday. It’s been years since my hands laid a knife to squash (for purely celebratory reasons, that is) and you know, it felt good. I wasn’t planning on doing it. In fact I told a friend a few days ago that I had no plans for Hallowe’en whether that be decorations, trick-or-treaters or crazy faced pumpkins. I live in an apartment, I said, no children live here. Besides, I am on the upper floor, decorations in my window would mean nothing.  Jack-o’-lanterns are for others to enjoy as they pass by one’s door, it would be for naught.
I didn’t think about what I had said until two days later, the eve of Hallowmas. I realized that by saying “it would be for naught,” I was indirectly stating that I was unimportant: that my gaze upon a thing of beauty … well, sort of beauty, meant nothing. It was a subtle sort of self negation. Can I not create just for myself? Am I not worth it? I reflected on this until I finally said enough; got up from my comfy chair and walked to the store.
Now five p.m. on Hallowe’en is not the time to start gathering pumpkins.  But intrepid soul I be, I made my way to the local IGA. As I wandered over to the vegetable stand my creative juices started to flow. The idea of creating for myself felt like an infusion of magic. My soul yearned for expression and I called on Thalia, the muse of abundance and comedy, to aid my desire. With barely restrained excitement I queried the grocery clerk as to where his pumpkins were hidden.
We are all out, he said.  What? I exclaimed. My eyes widened as Thalia perked up and ran herd over my now unrestrained senses: no glossy jacinthe fruits of the vine? No deeply painted nacarat or lurid shells to carve? The clerk started to back away.  Oh come on, I said, what about saffron or even a faded ochre husk that cries out to be cut (yet ever so creatively) open? I leaned forward to stress my point but it was too late, the vegetable man had already inched his way back, lost forever behind boxes of Poptarts and Lucky Charms. I harrumphed, they just don’t make grocery clerks the way they used to.
Not willing to give up I steered myself towards the root vegetables. Perhaps, I thought, maybe, I prayed, there would be another form of marrow that will tickle my fancy. And, sure enough, there among the petit pan and carnival, the buttercup and golden acorn was my little wannabe Jack — a flavescent petit dumpling with splendid stripes of glaucus and a subtle croceate.  I grabbed him by the nape of his stemmish neck, paid my $2 and ran home with visions of devilment dancing in my head.
It took less than five minutes to perform the lobotomy and, after a few moments of decisive pondering, I quickly slashed left, then right and scooped a bit here and a little bit there. An evil eye now watched me as I gave him a leer and pronounced him complete. With a strike of a match my homunculus was born: a beautiful creation for a person of beauty (that would be me) to perceive. 
Happy Hallowmas to you all!