Tag Archives: teenager

Every Person’s Life

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In 1987 renowned Gestalt psychotherapist, Erving Polster, wrote a book called “Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel”.  In this book he writes:

Stories must not only be told, but also heard. What is said gains value from the listeners understanding…

He goes on to write:

We also use stories to join our lives with those of other people…

I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of the founders of a remarkable and powerful new venture called Narrative 4 begun by writers, artists and educators who are passionate about ‘hearing’ and ‘joining’. Narrative 4 aims to enable teenagers globally to come together to exchange stories as a tool for social change. The exchange is intended to be literal – an ultimate act of reflection. The idea is for the young people to swap stories and then read each other’s stories aloud to one another – to allow words to transcend all differences and thread together human experience.  The stated ethos of Narrative 4 is: 

We believe sharing stories is the key to opening the world. We call it ‘Fearless hope through radical empathy’

I call it inspired.

We all crave an attuned listener. We carry our stories with us deep in our pockets, etched on our hearts, buried in hidden places. Sometimes our stories are legible, easy to read, but sometimes it is as if they are written on the wet wall of a dark cave and we spend years waiting for someone to strike a match.

And when the day finally comes, the sudden exposure can be glaring. The attention can call forth panic, anxiety, shame, trepidation, but ultimately relief. We want to be heard. We need to be seen. And even the small flickering flame from a single match can shed enough light for us to look around and realize that we are not alone with our stories. Sharing our truths is an act of healing.

I’ve experienced this firsthand both as a client and a therapist. Every week in my workshop I listen intently as participants grow brave enough to write their stories and offer them up to the group. We are not there to assess or critique or shape or edit. We are there to listen. People come to Write To Be You to be seen and heard, and to see and hear. I am humbled by the courage of my participants and I am witness to the bonds that powerfully and delicately ‘join’ us through story, encouraging self worth, enabling understanding, embracing recovery.

I am often amazed at how few questions people ask in social situations. Is it that we are bound by decorum not wanting to appear nosey? Or is it that so many people are wrapped  tightly in their own inward facing cocoon that it doesn’t occur to them to reach beyond that and explore another’s landscape?

Questions are essential to social interactions, and yet contemporary technology encourages a ‘me’ centred paradigm where our young people are at risk of becoming voyeurs and not listeners. Let’s encourage curiosity in ourselves and younger generations. Next time you meet someone you don’t know, practice drawing out their story. Be interested. See what you can learn about yourself by listening to someone else.

And while you’re at it, please join me in exploring and supporting Narrative 4 as a dedicated group of individuals step up to link our ever divided world. Personal narratives are thirsty for oxygen, buried within us they can fester and wilt. Now more than ever we need to return to the ancient arts and allow them to work their communal magic alongside technology.

It is not only in recent years that the most essential tales told have gone ‘viral’…  the passage and momentum of storytelling has been with us from the beginning of time. We just need to keep breathing fresh air into stale corners and lighting that match in the darkest of caves.

Read about the origins of Narrative 4 by clicking HERE and visit their website HERE

A writing prompt inspired by Narrative 4: Write about discovering a story on the wall of a cave. Who has been there before you? What is the writing on the wall? Imagine you are illuminated by the light of the match. Tell both of your stories. Give yourself permission to write in fragments, dream images, floating words. Feel your way…

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If Only Shmonly…

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I started wearing glasses when I was two. Horn-rimmed frames with magnifying lenses that made my eyes look like marbles. Top that with a frizzy bonnet of mad hair and I resembled a miniature version of Garth from Wayne’s World.

I didn’t realize the glasses would present a problem for me until I grew up and began listening to the chatter around me. The reason I wore them, among other things, was because I had lazy muscles in both of my eyes, causing a wayward drift. Even though I might have been looking directly at you, my eyes betrayed me, giving the impression that I was looking both left and right at the same time. I don’t call that lazy – I call that highly motivated!

The chatter I began to absorb, mostly at school, was a variation on a theme “If only her eyes were straight, she would be so pretty…”

I’m not certain if I ever heard someone say these exact words, but I might have done, because that is the story I began to tell myself.

“If only my eyes were straight…”

“If only I didn’t wear glasses…”

That soon translated into my adolescence, fuelled by the images and articles young girls and women are flooded by, “If only my breasts were bigger, my hair silkier, my posture more poised, my skin clearer, my confidence higher, my grades better, my nose smaller, my thighs thinner…” and on and on and on…

It’s a relentless barrage of ‘if onlys’ which many girls start to digest from an early age becoming so full of self-doubt and self-hate and self-consciousness that they feel like bursting or cracking or choking or hiding.

We all know girls that have succumbed to the above list in one form or another, and the saddest part is that our society is hell bent on reinforcing the ‘if only’ mentality, praying on our prediliction to feel shame over pride.

Images of how our lives could be better ‘if only’ we bought these clothes, or that make-up, or subscribed to that magazine, or sprayed that perfume, or dated that boy, or lost that weight, are shoved down our throats incessantly. Girls are being fed on a diet of inadequacies, supplied by companies recently in the media, like Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Disney to name a few.

These corporations, with such great sway, choose to promote a warped mirror to women and men alike – offering reduced, dumbed down, one size fits all versions of ourselves. It’s tragic really, when they have the opportunity to reflect the wonderful truth to women of all ages – that we are dimensional, complex, diverse, beautiful – as is.

If only someone would teach us to believe that…

It took me many years and corrective surgery to overcome my insecurities about my ‘defective’ eyes and my chunky glasses. Ironically I am now the epitome of geek chic. What I wasn’t factoring on was the onset of vitiligo when I was in my early thirties – a skin condition, affecting thousands globally, which results in the loss of pigment from random places on your face and body. I look like an atlas, mapped with islands of white, my skin an ever-changing patchwork of pigment.

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Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that has always fascinated me because in autoimmune disease the body essentially turns on itself. The immune system mistakes healthy cells as the enemy and launches an attack. And I wonder if that is in fact what our society and media and advertising has subliminally encouraged women to do, disguised as self improvement,  enhancement, entertainment?

Have we been brainwashed to ‘battle’ ourselves – to turn away from self-love towards self-hate?

Are men being influenced also?  Consider the statistics of violence against women. This is a bigger, complicated picture and I am merely examining fragments of a broken mirror here, but surely it is worth our reflection?

And as for me. I’m over it. I still have wonky eyes and thick glasses and patterned skin that draws unwanted attention and occasional questions, but I’m healthy otherwise. I embrace my quirks, my unique aspects of self. My issues are ‘cosmetic’ but we’ve been conditioned to allow ‘cosmetic’ to win.

I want to wage another war – a war against this absurdity. And I want to wage it peacefully by offering up thinking points and a compassionate dialogue. I’m raising a boy and a girl, and I know that one size does not fit all. They both need to be part of this movement.

We all do.

If only shmonly…

 

If you are interested in exploring more of the issues I have raised here, visit www.missrepresentation.org and join the conversation!

 

TEN MINUTE PROMPT!

Where do the words ‘if only’ take you? Explore the paths you travel and pause to consider what needs challenging?

I’d love to hear your responses to this post or your responses to the prompt. Let them go. Here. Now.

Here’s thanks for reading and hopes for writing!

 

 

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I’m Pushing an Elephant up the Stairs

As many of you know I’m a music fiend, but more accurately a lyric hound. I sniff lyrics out. I delve into them. I immerse myself in lyrics in the same way that I sink into a luscious hot bubble bath at the close of a day.

I just can’t relate when people (okay – I’m naming and shaming my husband here)  say  “I never really listen to the lyrics.”

Really?!  That’s blasphemy to me – like watching Downton Abbey on mute. You miss out on so much of the juicy, nuanced loveliness of the experience.

If you’ve read ‘Playing Along’ then you’ll be familiar with, George, my sweet lead who is a musician and a songwriter.

I believe all characters are a synthesis of fragments  –  actual reflections of the author’s psyche blended with imagined realities. George is part of me. The part of me that loves lyrics. He is the writer in me. The side of myself that doesn’t always like to be ‘looked’ at directly, but attempts to be ‘seen’ through words, and in George’s case – words and music.

This morning while on the school run an old REM song came on the radio. I marvel at how I can’t recall algebraic equations or historical facts from my Freshman year of high school, but throw on an 80’s dance party mix and I have every word to every song committed to memory.

Think of how many lyrics we each have stored in our brains, only for them to arrive promptly on instant recall when the melody releases the trigger. It’s pretty amazing. Perhaps all school lessons should be a collaboration with Duran Duran or One Direction?

But I digress… back to the REM song :

I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs. I’m tossing out punchlines that were never there. Over my shoulder, a piano falls. Crashing to the ground

A gift really, those words. I sang along, remembering what those lines meant to me when I first heard them, but also deriving new meaning in the present moment.

“I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs”  sums up much of the creative process. My daily tackle with writing a second novel – confronting the blocks that rear their ungainly heads, yet remaining determined to convince that elephant to cooperate.

“I’m tossing up punchlines that were never there”  calls to mind how I grapple with writing these blog posts, wondering if what I have to say and how I articulate it still holds interest.

“Over my shoulder, a piano falls, crashing to the ground”  for sure means something to my middle schooler sitting next to me in the car, juggling a pre -adolescent world that is out of her control, loud and unpredictable.

I was so relieved to hear those lyrics and syphon from them the empathy the songwriter wasn’t even aware he was offering. Thank you Mr Stipe.

Songwriting is cathartic – not only for the artist but for the recipient.  Songs are like potent microscopic therapy sessions. Offered for free. Always accessible.  Soulful mirrors. There for the taking.  But most importantly, there for the listening…

On a side note, I am thrilled to be featured as the guest poet this week on Samantha Reynolds’ gorgeous site www.bentlilly.com. Samantha writes a poem a day and hosts one guest each week. Click HERE to read my ‘Creative Diagnosis’.

 

Share your favorite song lyric. Reflect on how the meaning has changed for you over the years. Take ten minutes to write about the impact music has in your life.

OR

Are you writing fiction? Tell me your experience of integrating aspects of self into your characters. I’m always curious – let me know!

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A Really Scary Story

Remember this 90s classic by World Party?

Put the message in the box, Put the box into the car, Drive the car around the world, Until you get heard

I love that song. Whenever I hear it I want to sing the chorus loudly. And there is no better time than now, when the election is around the corner and there are many messages fighting to be heard – wrestling for our attention.

In the midst of election mania I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to see a screening of a documentary this week.

The film, Miss Representation, made by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, exposes how mainstream media offers young girls an extremely narrow, often over-sexualized view of who they ‘should’ be in the world. Jennifer believes this limited portrayal has contributed to the lack of women seeking positions of leadership and power, and sabotages the developing self-esteem of many young girls, bombarded constantly by a barrage of distorted images and messages.

I couldn’t agree more.

I felt extremely emotional watching the film, which is intelligently narrated and edited and includes fascinating interviews with women who have held influential positions, like Condoleeza Rice and Nancy Pelosi, as well as teenagers on the frontline.

The film is relevant to me because I am raising a 12-year-old daughter who is lodged firmly in the demographic much of this advertising and programming is aimed at. But I am also raising a 14-year-old boy, who is vulnerable because his responses and ideas of women are potentially being shaped by this insidious onslaught.

Let’s face it – this film is relevant to everyone.

Magazines are plastered with pictures of young girls draped in women’s clothing, often sickly thin and posed provocatively. Girls and women are still frequently depicted in advertising, mainstream films, TV, and music videos as sexual objects whose primary purpose is to attract men. Overweight girls and women are continually mocked and reduced to caricatures.

Reality TV pits women against one another encouraging ‘cat fights’ and  ‘bitch bashing’. And entertainment shows and magazines exert excessive amounts of time and energy into picking apart celebrity’s bodies and fashion sense – including women in politics – the small minority of females who actually do hold leadership positions in government.

This documentary is a bright red flag. A piercing siren. A disturbing alarm. And one that should be heard by everyone. I commend Jennifer for challenging the system and asking us to pay attention. She really is putting the message in the box and driving the car around the world.

I am concerned that girls are being dislocated from their sexuality as an instinctual sense of self, and relocating their sexual identity solely in how they are perceived by men. This has massive consequences for both genders, and is being fuelled by many media avenues. The results are widespread and devastating contributing to bullying, depression, under achieving, eating disorders, addiction – the list goes on.

There are people responsible for making these decisions based on revenue rather than ethics. We do need to take a stand. This could be a boldly brazen soapbox – let’s step up – join forces – gather momentum!

Miss Representation has not had a cinematic release, but you can contact Jennifer and arrange for a screening. She also runs educational programs for middle and high schools. Recently she has spearheaded a campaign on Twitter #notbuyingit, targeting companies who are using sexualized images of women/girls to sell products. Spirit Halloween is one of the companies she outed for promoting seductive costumes for ‘tween’ girls, suggesting that wearing the tiny ensembles will make them more attractive to boys.

It’s human nature isn’t it?  When the time is right, boys and girls will get crushes on either gender. Trying to accelerate the process by dressing girls up as little seductresses is the scariest Halloween story yet.

Get involved: http://www.missrepresentation.org

 

Today I’m asking you to take a few minutes to visit the Miss Representation website, watch the trailer and notice how you feel.

Write down your response. Whether you are male or female, gay or straight, I want to hear how you are impacted by some of the issues raised in the film.

What’s your take? Were you affected by these issues growing up? How have times changed? Are you a parent watching your children affected now? Are you a teenager becoming aware of the impact?

Write about it. Crystalize your thoughts. Rant or reflect. Join me in this important dialogue…

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Behind the Bully

I’ve been reading too many stories about bullying recently. Shocking tales of young people driven to distraction by relentless torment. Heart crushing accounts of teenagers posting videos on YouTube detailing their harassment and hours later taking their own lives.

It’s a sickening and tragic truth.

Bullying has now extended beyond the home and school day and found a toxic and fertile breeding ground on the Internet. This means that perpetrators have access to their victims 24/7 and victims can literally never catch their breath. The Internet, as we all know, is not a cozy corner. It’s a wide-open forum where abusers can roam freely, while those being abused can feel utterly exposed and unprotected.

This is not a new landscape, but it is one where new avenues appear daily. Adults provide the tools to build unpoliced neighbourhoods, and then we allow our children to access all areas. When disaster strikes, which it inevitably will, we hold up our hands and ask “How did that happen?”

This is how it happens.

We are not born bullies. I do believe that we are born with personalities, with predilections, with potential, but the path those elements take is shaped by our environment.

We learn behaviours as we grow.

As children we consciously and unconsciously model the adults who punctuate our days. If those adults move through the world expressing intolerance and distaste for difference, then why should we be expected to do otherwise? If those adults do not show us kindness, compassion, understanding and love, then how can we develop those qualities in ourselves?

Children who experience attacking parents and frequent battlegrounds in their formative years become adept at creating defense strategies.

They harden their tenderness.They mimic. They armour. They collect an arsenal of emotional artillery and choose to either withdraw and baton down the hatches, or fight back.

If they can’t fight back at home for fear of retaliation, they fight back out in the world. They fire rounds of harassment on someone’s Facebook page. They empower themselves by bullying others. They target weakness in their peers, which in reality is a reflection of the weakness they feel within.

The perpetrator more often than not has lived as a victim. And so the cycle continues….

Why has it become so difficult to break this cycle? Because the ‘bully’  has been internalized. It’s an effort to show genuine kindness and compassion to another human being if we can’t even show it to ourselves.

And in order to harbour self-compassion, we need to have been taught how to do so in our youth. We commonly learn ways to be ‘hard on ourselves’  but being ‘soft’ doesn’t garner equal attention.

Emotional Literacy should be a compulsory class in all National Curriculums, in all schools, and then maybe we can start raising a generation of children who will blossom into parents capable of making these vital connections… capable of breaking the cycle.

Sadly it’s evident  that society’s bullying mentality isn’t going away anytime soon, but if continued dialogue can save even one child or one teenager from the fate of becoming either the victim or the perpetrator – or both – then surely it’s worth persisting?

Write about bullying. What are your thoughts on this post? Were you bullied as a child or teenager? Do you have a story to tell? Are you a bully to yourself? Let’s open up the dialogue…

Share in the comments…

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A Wish for My Daughter

Photograph by Boudist

My daughter turned twelve this week. I remember twelve.  Something about twelve made me want to linger. Maybe it was because I knew it was my last year before lurching into teenagedom. Somehow at twelve stickers and stuffed animals still seemed acceptable, but at thirteen the pressure to try and grow up was on. And that was in the 1980’s, the decade of yuppies and excess hair and ridiculous shoulder pads and fluorescent fashion explosions.

Strange how compared to today, the 1980’s appear relatively innocent and naive… it’s as if our lives pre-Internet have become equivalent to the times of a horse drawn carriage. Quaint. Simple. Charming. In the 80’s I could impress friends when I travelled home to London over summers, bringing back with me a treasure trove of cassettes – UK bands that no one in LA had heard of yet. That was serious kudos.

Sadly kudos is harder to come by today. Everyone knows everything about everyone and everything. My children have been exposed to a barrage of images and information much sooner than I would have ever hoped for. So I resisted my 12 year old’s plea for her dad’s old iPhone, and for her 12th Birthday present I took her to see Florence and The Machine at The Hollywood Bowl instead.

And it was pure joy.

For those who know me and for those who have been reading this blog from the beginning, you will recall that I LOVE Florence Welch and her Machine. She is a truly exceptional role model for young girls and women. She’s gentle and fierce. Strong and vulnerable. Expressive and Free. Dramatic and real. She whirls across the stage like a magical nymph and has a voice like an angel. She weaves stories and tells truths through her lyrics. She asks the audience to move. She requested that all 18,000 of us jumped. And we did. I held tight to my twelve year old’s hand and we jumped as high as we could. And we sung. And we smiled. Florence gave us permission to play!

And I threw a wish into the stars. A wish for my daughter:

That she can hold onto twelve while it lasts.

That even though she is growing in an age that is so far from innocent, that somehow she will still seek out the mystical moments of delight that cannot be delivered via a screen.

That she will mature into a teenager and a woman who is not afraid to embrace the child she was once was. The child she is now.

That she will always feel free enough to jump with abandon.

Who knows what the future holds? She too may look back at twelve and reminisce about the clunky gadgets she used to long for.

“When I was your age we had an archaic gizmo called the iPhone. We all wanted one. Those were the days…”

What was your decade? Share a memory from when you were twelve. OR write for ten minutes using the word WISH as a springboard.

I hope to see you in the comments section! Thank you for joining me here at Write To Be You. I am tremendously grateful for your support and presence…

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“Who Still Serves Consomme?”

Last week I wrote about holding onto conflicted feelings and my best friend, Karen, shared this beautiful response:

I just spent two hours ripping through dusty boxes from a storage unit that we finally emptied after ignoring it for seven years. I came across some treasures. The kind you love, but you can also live without, and even totally forget ever existed. I found my children’s tiny hand prints dipped in paint and made to look like turkeys for thanksgiving day. I wanted to keep them and throw them out all at the same time. Same with my grandmother’s china. What will I ever do with eight gold plated consomme bowls and matching saucers? Who still serves consomme? I wanted to smash them to the ground at the same time I was holding them gently up to the light appreciating their delicate craftsmanship. If all this had burned in a fire I would have been better off. Now I’m having to decided where it all goes. Recycling, the shredder, the thrift store, my already full kitchen shelves? Or worse, back in the box to live in our basement.

My favorite line in her response was “Who still serves consomme?”

It struck me as so funny and so accurate. I have actually also been sifting through ‘old stuff’ recently in an attempt to liberate some space in my garage. I stumbled across a once precious journal, tied tightly with bright coloured ribbons – a silver unicorn dancing on the cover. The pages were heavy with heartache. The pain of trying to fit in. The blinding intensity of middle school and high school friendships. The longing for the life I felt I ‘should’ be living. Excruciating analysis both of myself and every person around me (perhaps a precursor to the psychotherapy route I would choose as an adult!)

Scattered amongst the words were concert ticket stubs and carefully transcribed lyrics.  From that tender age, I found empathy in music and I found release in writing. That hasn’t changed about me. But many other things have, and as I flicked through my journal, I understood on a deep level that it was time to let it go… or in Karen’s words, who still serves consomme?

Research has proven that writing down our emotions can be hugely cathartic. But the act alone can be enough. Revisiting those feelings repeatedly in the future or exposing those feelings unintentionally to people they might wound or confuse isn’t useful. 

My revelations were written for no one else to see. That journal was my private refuge, and leaving it lurking around in my garage for my children to discover one day felt like a betrayal to my middle school self. That book served a purpose at a certain time in my life, but that purpose has long since expired.

So I photographed a few key pages. I kissed the cover.  And I set that unicorn free!

The next morning I thought I might regret this brazen act of pack rat defiance.

But I didn’t.

I have been writing profusely since I could use a pen. I have written journals and letters and cards and fiction and poetry and short stories and articles and blogs and essays and a dissertation and a novel. I hope to write thousands of more words to come – but do I need to preserve every one of those words?

No.

Sometimes there can be tremendous value in the process taking precedent over the product.

If you want to explore the subject of ‘letting go’ further, please visit a fellow writer and blogger, Erin Kurup, at her site remadebyhand.com – she is an inspiring role model!

Are you a word hoarder?! If so, I am giving you permission to divest yourself of some of those words which might be weighing you down. I’m guessing this is a controversial topic! But why not give it a try? Create a ritual. Tear up an old journal, school essay or half baked short story. This non attachment will also help you tackle the editing process. OR try writing something now that you never want anyone to see, ever, and then delete it immediately or burn it. Notice how you feel…

Report back, and in the meantime – thoughts on this post? I’m curious to know where you stand?

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On Being a Hopeful Cynic

I’m having difficulty landing on a subject today. I have lots of themes jostling for attention in my head, and to complicate matters, I have a cold. Every time I sneeze it’s as if I am violently launching my most recent thought into the universe, never to be retrieved again.  So I’m in this weird position of feeling full and empty all at the same time.

Does that ever happen to you? You find yourself suddenly having to hold onto contradictory feelings? Grateful and bitter? Bored and stimulated? Morose and upbeat?

We’re complex beings, us humans, and sometimes our internal landscapes are not so manicured.

Sometimes they are overgrown, unruly, in need of a mow. Sometimes bright wild flowers blossom in the midst and we find ourselves questioning what needs weeding and what can remain.

For the past few weeks I have been occupied again with the novel I wrote last year, ‘Playing Along’. I have been toying with self publishing and the toying has slowly inched towards action. It was in fact the rejection of that very novel which led to the creation of Write To Be You… so I am strangely thankful to the very same people who this time last year were responsible for wilting my heart. I now have the distance and the insight to understand this as a rite of passage for most aspiring novelists. You can read the backstory by clicking here.

(On a side note – It seems this post has made up its mind. It’s definitely maybe about conflicting feelings. I think.)

So I have spent the last month working towards a goal — preparing to finally release my words and my beloved characters into the world. And I feel ready and reticent all in the same breath. I feel confident and cowering.

I’m a hopeful cynic – immensely excited by my book, but dubious of being overly enthusiastic for fear of  flailing

I’m the sort of person who is wary of those letters tucked into holiday cards – you know the ones – proudly listing the achievements of each and every family member including the dog. I’m left wondering – where’s the shadow? What about the child who is struggling at school? Or the teenager who is battling his parents? Or the dog who is crapping on the carpet? How would that letter read?!

Maybe it’s the therapist in me. I’m all for celebrating our achievements, but I’m also drawn towards the complexities in life, a predilection completely at odds with the tenants behind the self-promotion needed for self-publication:

Become a soundbite!

Run through the hallways of the wild web waving a banner declaring “Drink me! Read this!”

Enlist thousand of fans with your unwavering self belief.

Okay. Okay. We all get the picture. Even me.

So I will be telling you more about ‘Playing Along’ – my sweet, quirky, romantic comedy, before it makes its Amazon debut in November.

And I will be showing off the cover (which is currently a pretty cool work in progress).

And I will be hopefully tempting you with excerpts from the book.

But until then, I have blog posts to write, reluctant writers to inspire, workshops to run, and let’s not forget – dog crap to dispose of.

 

Write about contradictory feelings…Which aspects of this post can you relate to?

or

Paint a picture in words of your current internal landscape. If you were taking a tour of these gardens – what might you find? Be specific. Call upon yours senses – smell, sight, taste, touch and sound.

Join me in being brave and share your words. You are not alone in your hesitancy…

 

 

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Me and My Shadow

photograph by Denis Sinyakov

Walking with my dog, Lilly, in the sunshine this week, I noticed our shadows strolling in front of us … attached… dark faceless companions paving our way. I began to reflect on the word ‘shadow’ and how it’s been showing up in my life recently, nudging me cunningly.

Only a few days ago while purging clutter in my garage, I stumbled across an old diary entry from my sophomore year, bemoaning a night out with a friend.

 “She gets so much attention. I always feel like I’m in her shadow…”

It was a familiar story and one I told myself for years. It went something like this:

Once upon a time there was a little girl with crossed eyes and thick-rimmed glasses. She felt she could never compare to the beautiful princesses and queens surrounding her, so she lived in their shadows instead. She wrote in the darkness. She avoided the light, closing her eyes from the glare of the golden tiaras that sparkled brightly around her…

The thing about that story is that it was destined to end sadly, until I made the decision to alter it. I knew I couldn’t change the beginning, but I could affect the middle and the end. I could create fresh dialogue and play with new themes. I could step cautiously out of the shade cast by others and get to know my own shadow instead.

We all can.

Carl Jung, who explored the concept of the ‘shadow’ and how it relates to the human psyche, wrote in 1946 “The man who recognizes his shadow knows very well that he is not harmless…”

Shadow aspects of self are dark and dank. They reside in the mouldy basement of our unconscious where ill wishes and self harm fester and breed. Like a viscous dog foaming at the mouth, our shadow aspects are just waiting to be cruel, and that ferocity is as easily directed inwards as it is outwards.

Once I started examining my own shadow, rather than living in the confines of other people’s, I began to understand my spiteful urge to blame others for my lack of momentum. It was a valuable insight.

Self-sabotage can become addictive until you wrangle it with your awareness. Confronting your shadow head on can diminish its powers – like Dorothy throwing a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West, there may be momentary triumphs when we watch our shadows shrivel.

But unlike the witch, our shadows will never completely vanish. They are licensed to linger.

Coming to terms with our darkest aspects means accepting their presence rather than imagining we can permanently enforce their absence.

Like the prolonged political promise to ‘wage a war on terror’, the battle is one that will never ultimately be won, because wherever there is lightness, darkness is not far away. It is an age old, archetypal, unsettling truth.  The two are inextricably linked.

So drink up the darkness. Walk with your shadow and become familiar with its wily ways. You’ll be surprised how many tales you both have to tell…

 

Write for ten minutes on the word ‘shadow’

or

Give your shadow a voice. Create a dialogue between the dark aspects of your self and the lighter elements. What needs to be said? Who is louder? How could you introduce more equilibrium? If your shadow was an animal what would it be?

Let’s uncover these demons… gather them together here…

 

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Something New

I learned something new last week. Stand-up paddleboarding. It’s one of those beguiling activities I’ve admired from afar and thought to myself that it looked simple enough. Not much to it. Stand. Paddle. Glide across the surface of the water looking elegant. Engage your core. Appear serene, cool and unruffled. It was catalogued in my brain as one of those things I might try one day. When I had the time.

And then suddenly I had the time. Or should I say the time had me.

Saying no to the invitation to learn would have been a red flag. Flapping in the wind. Reminding me that I’m not taking as many risks as I am continually urging my readers to take. Expose your self! Write when you don’t feel like it! Be honest! Stop waiting! Be spontaneous! Try something that makes you sweat!

PADDLEBOARD!

And so I pull on my board shorts and I follow my eleven year old daughter down the dock at the marina (“If I’m  trying it, Mum – you’re trying it too!)

I listen attentively as the super chilled out instructor talks us through positions, launching and how to hold your paddle. I feel momentarily confident. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I fall in?  I get wet? Big deal.  All great lessons involve failed attempts.

And then my husband makes a crack about teaching me to ride a bike when I was twenty. The instructor probably thinks he’s joking.

He’s not.

I laugh along, but inside I cower.

Inside I’m fourteen again. Freshman year school trip in Yosemite National Park. Surrounded by 80 new faces. The first activity of the week is a cycle ride across the valley. The humiliating memory washes over me like a polluted wave. How do I explain that I’ve reached the 9th grade and I  still don’t know how to ride a bike? How do I make adequate excuses for my uncoordinated body? My fear of falling? My stubborn certainty that I am weird? Incapable?

I try and kick the memory to the curb. I try to forget my fourteen year old self who couldn’t cycle, and my twenty year old self who struggled trying. But even as I crawl tenatatively onto the board from the dock, my younger selves sit on the side in the sunshine, their legs dangling in the water. They’re not going anywhere. They look concerned because they know today I am a mother. Today I need to be a role model.

I glance at my daughter who is also floating on her knees, silently trying to summon her brave self. Her father and her cousin, seasoned boarders, are offering advice, but I have a feeling she is waiting for me.

It’s time to stand up. It’s time to balance. It’s time to try something new.

At this point my head is determined to be a grown-up, but my knees are stuck in the past. My knees refuse to cooperate as I ease myself into a standing position. They wobble. They tremble. They violently shake. If they had words, they would be yelling “Go back to solid ground. This is not for you. You’re going to make a fool of yourself!”

I look over at my daughter, who is looking over at me.

“I can’t stand up!” she says. But behind her I see my younger selves who are now standing up, cheering me on, willing me to succeed. “You don’t have to be like us!” they say. ‘You don’t have to stay the same forever.”

And I hear them.

And I begin to calm down.

And I listen to the instructor who seems to have been born gliding on the water. And his voice makes me feel safe. And my knees get with the program. And eventually I stand with more stability. And I paddle. And I’m still shaking but he tells me that’s normal. And in this moment I like the word normal, even though I have recently been wrestling with it.

And when I look over at my daughter she is standing too. Paddling with magical ease. Smiling at a sea lion.

I turn to thank my younger selves but they have disappeared.  I guess they knew their job was done.

So I just keep paddling. Feeling serene, cool, unruffled. Enjoying the light glinting on the water. Marvelling at how poessesive our pasts can be if we allow them to grip us too tightly, and celebrating the joys of learning something new.

Write for ten minutes using the words Something New as a springboard.

or

Reflect on past experiences that hinder your present. Can you loosen your grip on the past and keep growing? Keep going…

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