Hmmm, that title sounds like I’m entering tricky territory, like maybe you wouldn’t want to meet me at your local cafe for a cuppa conversation. But that’s not what I meant. Really!
What this is about is a technique for working with the mind’s tendencies (the helpful and the harmful) to track off into non-rational territory, into the realms of feelings or desires, creativity or judgments, or what have you.
Early on in How to Think Sideways, there’s a lesson on getting to know your creative/unconscious mind by personifying it as a Muse. While I will post about that experience at a later time, here I will give you an example of how it can be useful to follow with the images presented by the unconscious mind when you become aware of territory that seems “loaded.” This is along the lines of Active Imagination as developed by Jung but as I really haven’t explored that too deeply, I can’t say that there are more than nominal similarities. While Jung’s method was really about “following” the images that arise out of the unconscious and letting them lead the way in further, I’m not talking about that here. This is visualization at a basic level.
In the first week’s lesson, Holly analyzes the mental barriers that prevent writers and others from being successful, in whatever way they define it. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is a very insistent case of perfectionism and residual (carried over from when I was a kid it seems) fear of screwing up and not fulfilling my own expectations.
I’d benefited years ago from visualizing my “inner critic” who had austere hair and a sharp, no-nonsense face with an eye for mistakes. I sent her out a door in the attic of my brain and told her I didn’t need her help. With her gone I’ve been able to be relatively free in my writing – I don’t freeze up on the page, don’t generally stall and humm and haw for time while I scramble about trying not to write something that would reflect badly on me. That she would have judged me as having poor writing style or choosing tactless subject matter (for example, writing about depression or writing about family stories) has not been too much of a hindrance. I don’t suffer under her insistence that I conform to certain social standards, for example and allow my writing to go where it will. Likewise, the grammarian/hyper-spell checker (who cringes at all my parenthetical statements) doesn’t get free reign. That came in handy when I was writing for NaNoWriMo because the goal is quantity of words typed and apparently a lot of writers get stalled on word choice and grammatical errors or typos. Over the years, though, I’ve learned to be relatively undistracted by those issues, or at least to be able to ferret out the trail of what I want to say no matter the distractions that show up.
What I hadn’t realized until this week, however, is that the judge had crept back into my life but in a new form. Or maybe it’s that I’m now recognizing the other areas where self-judgment has become a stumbling block and am looking to clean the path up a little.
One method for accessing the strange information in the unconscious mind is rapid, uncensored writing which is actively imagining on paper. Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, uses “morning pages” (and recommends they be in the morning, before rationality takes over for the day) and Natalie Goldberg talks about “writing practice” where pen is put to paper and you write whatever comes up for typically ten or more minutes. In my Tuesday writing group (which follows Amherst Writers and Artists’ Guidelines) we start with a prompt and write whatever wants to be written. I’ve wanted to incorporate more of that kind of writing on my own time though, and have attempted morning pages of my own. Usually it’s a struggle because my eyes still want to be asleep if I’m just going to sit in bed at 5:30 am, no matter there’s a pen in my hand. But I can type with my eyes closed and let the keystrokes report what’s going on behind the scenes.
I found a site that serves as a repository for just this kind of writing and they have little bells and whistles that make it a fun thing to log in and type up a storm (all writing is kept private). So I’ve been doing that since Wednesday, writing whatever blather is in my mind when I wake up. Trust me, it’s mostly blather, however on the second day I was writing about what had been covered in HTTS and I suddenly realized that my mental space was being inhabited by a newly recognized inner critic! Had I not been doodling about on 750words.com I probably would’ve been a lot slower to figure this out.
It turns out that Mr. Slick is a promotional agent and he’s judging everything I do to see if I meet his standard of awesomeness. He cares about his reputation and how well I carry it for him. He has an eye toward whether or not my life (and therefore my writing) meets the standards of the genre into which he’s steering me: Am I imaginative enough? Mystical enough? Deep and mythological? He requires it. Do my ideas tie up tightly, like perfect intricate origami? Is there intelligence and subtlety? Is the meaning profound? Do I measure up on his cool-meter? Apparently, according to him, I hired him so that I could fulfill his expectations of brilliance and edgy non-conformity.
He lives in Berkeley (it’s an easy commute), where on the street I never measure up to anyone who’s anyone and in Berkeley everyone is someone and if they’re not, they’re at least up and coming (in intellectual/creative circles. I don’t think Berkely’s a hotbed of pop idols).
Thursday, when he knew he was ratted out and I was looking to sack him, this Mr. Slick started saying, “Why neighbor, you don’t mean that! I’m here to help you. Stick with me baby and you’ll go far! I have it all planned out, there’s a trajectory to stardom and you’re riding the train with the ticket I got for you. If you don’t screw it up, you’re going to be the next big thing, the Billy Collins of the blogging world, the Mary Oliver of novels, the Rumi, the Rilke of the century [oh how he’s pandering to the poet these days]. You’re going to be different from all the other struggling writers with me on board. I’m going to hold you to task and only then will you accomplish what you can’t accomplish on your own. Only I know what you’re capable of and without me you’re going nowhere.”
How the hell did this guy get on my payroll?
I imagined a wolverine eating him. Neatly and symbolically, I mean.
Which seems to have worked because now I feel like laughing about how ridiculous it all sounds.
Later, the astute Texanne suggested that Mr. Slick would make a great comic villain… something I hadn’t considered, but now the idea of him, working for me on a really short leash does sound about right.
image source: National Geographic
No wolverines or figments of my imagination were harmed in the making of this blog post.