Follow the fear, love the hate

(There are some minor spoilers in this post for the hit series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the feature film, The Babadook, so if you haven’t seen these, GO WATCH THEM RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY’RE AMAZING – and on Netflix – and then come back and read this.)

It’s officially October, one of my absolute favorite months. Fall is here, along with the cooler weather, changing leaves, pumpkin-flavored everything, and my favorite holiday, Halloween.

It seems only appropriate then that I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of fear and what truly scares us. Not so much in the sense of goblins and monsters, but more so about the demons that are actually the scariest of all – the ones that lurk within.

The legendary improv coach Del Close coined the phrase, “Follow the Fear,” a phrase that many in the comedy and entertainment world have heard of before, and it doesn’t take a psychologist to recognize that this advice is not only helpful in improvisation, but in life as well. But lately I realized that for me, following my fears is more than getting on that new roller-coaster, watching that horror movie, or riding that haunted hay ride. Following the fear is more than just getting on stage, asking for a raise, or telling someone you love them. Recently I’ve become fascinated by the idea of not only following the fear, but becoming the fear. You know what’s scarier than ghosts, axe murderers, or even The Feels? My self.

Inside each of us, in the dark recesses of our subconscious, there is a shadowy place – an elephant graveyard if you will – that hides and represses the true things we fear most, traits we never want to acknowledge, emotions we should never feel, and beliefs that would shock those closest to us – and most of all, shock ourselves. Carl Jung called it the Shadow, and he asserted that every human has one. There are a lot of different theories (Freud has his own interpretation, for instance) on this idea of Shadow self, and if you’re interested, you should definitely look into it more, but for me, I like to think of it as a self of many layers.

credit unknown, but creepy right?
credit unknown, but creepy right?

I finally watched the hit independent horror film, The Babadook, directed by the brilliant Jennifer Kent, and not only is it a well-made, sophisticated, and superbly scary film, it delves deep into the popular boogeyman trope and all of the ways we are haunted. Single mother Amelia and her precocious son, Samuel, find themselves stalked and haunted by a very menacing force, one that represents to me many things – grief, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness, and most of all, our Shadow selves.

When we are very small children, we live very reactionary, impulsive lives. As we grow older, we are told what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We lose our baser instincts and repress traits and emotions that our friends, community, and society deem as unacceptable. We transform ourselves into becoming who we think we should be, who we want to be seen as, in order to be more palatable. Jung calls this the Persona. But those traits and emotions never really go away. As little Samuel reminds his mother, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” These unwanted traits and emotions get boxed up and placed in the basement or broom closet of our minds, lying there, forgotten, but very much still there.

As I continue to work on my self-growth and self-awareness, or as I like to call it, Adulting, I have lately found myself in a strange place. As I’ve told my friends exhaustively, it feels like I’ve bought a beautiful old house. I’ve painted the walls, stripped the floors, papered the shelves. I’ve unpacked and decorated, and I’m about to have a wonderful big housewarming party soon. But then I go down into the basement, and I’ve found that there are actually dozens more boxes to unpack that I have completely forgotten about. They are huge and unwieldy, filled with old, dusty, rotten things that have started to fester and smell. I desperately do not want to go through all of those boxes, especially with a party so soon, but the smell is starting to creep up through the floorboards. The funk crawls up into my nostrils, taunting me, haunting me, and I know it will never go away until I go back downstairs and sort through all of that stuff. (Ugh, this again, my friends are thinking.)

Gross, right? The best metaphors for me usually are.

Those boxes all belong to my Shadow self. But I don’t think the contents are only baser emotions and traits from childhood we’ve repressed. Freud would say that it can also stem from past traumatic events, from something as emotionally scarring as abuse to seemingly sillier ones, such as farting in your first grade music class in front of everyone. (That’s just, you know, an example, not like that happened to me…) But Jung also believed that what we hate in others, is actually a part of our Shadow selves. In fact, he believed that our Shadows are so much of an integral part of ourselves, that we not only project that self onto others, but we even subconsciously attract people in our lives that exemplify our Shadows. (Which is why I will no longer exclaim, “Why am I always surrounded by crazy people!” outloud.)

For me, it’s all of these things and more – it’s base instincts, it’s past trauma, it’s projected fears and hates, but what interests me the most is that collective whole that stems from all of it. When am I the absolute ugliest? Not in a cute Manic Pixie Dream Girl way that’s just such an adorkable hot mess. Not in the pre-makeover montage romantic comedy sense either. But when am I truly ugly? What is it about myself that I don’t want to admit, much less even look at?

Scary, right? Well, let’s go there.

But why? You might be thinking. Isn’t fear a useful emotion to warn us of danger? Why go to these dark recesses? Why dredge up the past? Why voluntarily go through the pain?

Because you can’t get rid of The Babadook! Jung believed that actually ignoring your Shadow only makes it stronger, only allows it to grow and can eventually take over. You give it power by not standing down to it. At the end of the day, pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t make the Big Bad go away. Only confronting your Shadow is only the first step. But your goal isn’t to defeat it. You can’t. But you can make friends with it.

artwork by Alex Juhasz
artwork by Alex Juhasz

Jung writes, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate… To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.  Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self.  Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” (Jung, 1959, p. 872).

So how do we do that? I’m not really sure, I’m figuring that out myself right now. But WWBD? (What would Buffy do?) She wouldn’t wait around. She’d go after the Big Bad first. So similarly, like Spike in the season 6 finale of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, it’s my turn to go into the deep, dark caverns that I’ve been ignoring for so long.

I recently was joking with a very wise close friend about how I hate mirrors. They’ve always freaked me out, so much so that I never kept one in my room and would cover ones with towels if they faced the bed at night. He replied, “I bet you could psychoanalyze the shit out of that.” I joked back, “What, you mean I’m afraid to truly look at myself? Yeah probably.” At the time, I was kidding. But he was right on, and so was I.

I now try to look into mirrors as often as I can. Not to make sure I look good, but to see and accept my flaws. I check in with myself when I’m feeling Shadow-y and instead of trying to squash those feelings or dismiss them, I Lean In. Another wonderfully wise friend of mine says he likes to just acknowledge his Shadow when it pops up: “Hey you, I see you. I hear you. It’s okay.” It doesn’t always make those emotions magically disappear, but I’ve found it lightens the load a bit. So I’m now sitting with my Shadow, hanging out with her, and sometimes even giving her a hug or two. Because like it or not, she is a part of me.  And by acknowledging her and accepting her, I get that much closer to fully loving my whole self. As another very wise friend of mine once said, “This thing, this whole beautiful, unimaginable, unrepeatable, glorious mess is OURS.”  (Yes, I have many wise loving friends, for which I’m very grateful.)

painting by Steven Kenny
painting by Steven Kenny

Yes, it’s absolutely terrifying. Yes, I’m going to have to go through a myriad of extremely hard tests, and yes, I’m going to get my butt kicked. But if I don’t, the boxes will only continue to fester until the smell takes over my whole house. The Babadook will possess me and take hold, leading to destructive, unconscious actions. And I will never get my soul back. But unfortunately, I don’t get a season hiatus or end to this movie. These kind of battles are lifelong, methinks.

I see now that I’m using too many metaphors. But you get it.

So go forth! Follow The Fear. Feel Your Pain Fully. Love what you Hate.

Because in doing so, you might find that’s when you’re truly free and your truest self. And that self is beautiful. And I think the benefits will prove to all be worth it in the end. In fact, so far this Shadow work has already positively influenced all of my work, which makes perfect sense, as Jung believes that in this darkness actually lies the root of creativity.

And as my one of my beautiful previously-mentioned friends says, “It’s in the darkness we find our strength.”

 

I read about it somewhere, maybe it was the Times…

So I’m going to hold off on my previously planned blog post to address something that is a little more timely and quite frankly, pisses me off has me quite confuddled. (I just made up that word, it’s a mix between confused and befuddled. You’re welcome, and you may use it.)

If you haven’t checked your Facebook or other social media site yet, TIME magazine released a poll with a list of words to ban for 2015. On it, there are several obvious choices stemming from internet slang and memes, such as “YAAASS” or “Om Nom Nom Nom.” Most of these my friends would say, “Wait, what do these mean?” (Yes, I’m only friends with 80-year-old grandparents.) But to many people’s shock and dismay, they also have another hot-ticket word on the poll, nestled ever so delicately between “disrupt” and “I can’t even,”…

Feminism.

Yes, TIME magazine, ever so relevant and witty, is equating a civil rights movement that is just about 6 years shy of celebrating its centennial birthday, that happens to address gender and the social, political, and economic rights of half of America’s population.

Stay classy, TIME magazine.

I could go into a big, sarcastic, angry tirade, but I want to actually address something bigger – why they felt the need to add that word to their poll. It’s true, as a liberal, intelligent artist who lives in New York, the bulk of my Facebook feed nowadays tends to be posts addressing sociological or political injustices. My queer friends post about trans* phobia. My feminist friends post about slut-shaming. My friends of color post about racism, or exploitation of minorities in the media. A lot of my friends fall into multiple categories, as do I, and they are passionate, well-read, and well-intentioned. I’m very lucky to have such smart, relevant friends. But it can also be overwhelmingly depressing, as I scroll through my daily news source (yes, I’m still talking about Facebook), and see nothing but articles about the offensive, discriminatory, oppressive evil Man keeping us down.

Please be clear, I’m not saying that I disagree with all of these articles or points, but I think we’re all starting to “Devil’s Advocate” ourselves into the ground. In specifically addressing feminism, we are in danger of becoming like those ghosts on Portlandia, and we are going to confuse our movement to death, if we haven’t already. (Yes, the new season is on Netflix, and yes, it’s fine for you to finish reading this later after you go binge watch all of them now.)

Let’s just look at one example:

Recently, Hollaback released a video of a woman walking through the streets of NYC for 10 hours, and recorded secretly the various instances of “catcalling” she experienced. Yeah, you’ve seen it. If you do click on the video link above, don’t read the comments, I don’t want you to have a rage stroke. (Comment boards are where humanity goes to die, but that’s another topic.)

This video has over 35 million views, and countless follow-up parodies and articles dissecting the impact of this video. At its heart, Hollaback’s video had a simple message: women experience catcalling just walking down the street (while wearing plain black clothing) and here is proof. That is a valid point in and of itself. When it first hit the web, I even posted it on my own Facebook, I thought it was great (and I totally liked it before it was cool.)

Here's a stock photo of defiant fists in the air and for all you know, they are all different races, genders, sexualities, religions, and sizes, so you can't get offended you're not included.
Here’s a stock photo of defiant fists in the air and for all you know, they are all different races, genders, sexualities, religions, and sizes, so you can’t get offended you’re not included.

But now, the masses have spoken, and the video is racist and exclusionary and unfair and rigged. Slate writer Hanna Rosin released an article shortly after the video was released, stating, “the video also unintentionally makes another point: that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break.” While this is a valid point, it seems like the majority of people have latched on to this sentiment while ignoring a very important statement she makes just a paragraph later, “Activism is never perfectly executed. We can just conclude that they caught a small slice of catcallers, and lots of other men do it, too.” While she has a problem that this video does not address its target audience correctly (by excluding white upper/middle class men, they can feel exempt from any wrongdoing seen in this video), she is absolutely right.

Activism is never perfectly executed. Feminism has long been criticized as only for white women and exclusionary to women of color. And for the most part, in America, it is. Absolutely race should always be addressed. And class. And sizeism. And religion. And sexuality. And gender. Wait… wasn’t that what we were talking about?

The thing is, ALL of these issues are connected. You can’t talk about one without the other coming up. Because no one is Just a Girl. (Sorry, Gwen Stefani) And anytime you talk about major social topics, you run into a problematic er… problem. How do you address something so personal, but on a public level? My experience is unique only to myself. Something that offends me might not offend another of my “group” – but – and here’s my issue – something does offend someone, everywhere, all the time, always.

A human rights group posts a video or a blogger writes an article or a TV personality has a hit series – they address the lives and issues of a marginalized group and educate the masses in a way that hasn’t been done before. We all know their intentions are well-placed, and for the most part, they’re effective.

But then comes the concerned, hipster trolls. Well, this video is great, but it stars a White woman, what about Black women? What about Latino women? What about women from the South Pacific? What about Sikh women? What about trans* women? What about lesbians? What about bisexuals? What about Mormons? What about Amish women? What about fat women? You can’t say fat, that’s fat-shaming. No, you should say “fat”, it’s empowering!  Stop saying “fat”, you’re just skinny-shaming! This video is slut-shaming! It promotes rape culture! I’M ANGRY!

How the hell can we move forward and make progress as a human race if we keep holding ourselves back to make sure that we don’t step on anyone’s psychological toes? NO ACTIVIST ACT, VIDEO, ARTICLE, etc. is EVER GOING TO BE COMPLETELY INCLUSIVE and COVER ALL GROUND. I don’t mean to yell, but geez louise, we can’t ever win! Humanity and human rights is a complicated, sticky, giant area to discuss and no one thing is ever going to cover all of it. Don’t you see? We’re not helping ourselves by constantly picking each other apart – we’re supposed to be all on the same team! Remember who the real enemy is. (Yes, it’s President Snow.)

Of course, we should always be discussing these issues, it’s amazing that we do and can in the first place. But let’s stop dragging each other down through the politically incorrect muck when we are all trying to achieve the same thing. If you don’t see yourself represented, then YOU release a video, write another article, or whatever. I believe that life usually is better when you just follow the rule of Improv: “Yes, and…” As in, “YES, this addresses an important issue well, AND here’s another take on this issue that should also be discussed.”

And for the love of your god, can we please stop throwing around the “shaming” words? Calvin Klein released photos of their new model, who is gorgeous and a size 10, and now they’re being criticized because Elle (not CK) called the model plus-size  and she’s getting flack because she’s not big enough! Why not just celebrate the fact that CK hired a beautiful woman who isn’t a size 0-2? One step at a time, people. They may be fat-shaming, but keep in mind, they are fat-shaming considerably less than they used to with their size 0 models, right? It’s a small victory, right?

And people can criticize Kim Kardashian’s cover on Paper magazine without it being slut-shaming too, people. Yes, using the fact that she is now a mother as a point to why the photos are bad is unfair and frankly, completely beside the point. It’s just really um, gross. It’s distasteful on purely an artistic level (and of course, that’s just my opinion.) But I’m not a bad feminist for thinking so. I hesitate to say this, but not everything is sexist. EDIT: Further research into this Kim Kardashian photo spread (ugh, I know) actually brings up some really important information that I think is actually relevant and quite illuminating. It kind of makes me feel bad for her, poor girl most likely had no idea what she was doing…

As my good friend and writer Taylor Tobin said to me yesterday, “The egregious use of “slut-shaming” irritates me to no end. There is a DIFFERENCE between slut-shaming and saying that someone took a photograph that’s in poor taste. It’s like those high school girls who insist that their school dress codes are SLUT-SHAMING them. if the administration uses gendered terms to explain the dress code, that’s a problem. But if you’re not allowed to wear booty shorts and crop tops to school, SRY BITCHES, THAT’S LIFE.”

But Kate, you might say, how do I know what’s truly sexist and what’s not? Well, that’s complicated, but the magnificent and kickass Caitlin Moran breaks it down pretty well. Like Caitlin, I just ask myself, “Well, are boys doing it? Are men also being affected by this?” And if so, it’s probably just a human issue, not a sexist issue. I’m sure if Kanye West did a photo shoot like Kim did, we’d all be just as disgusted. And I’m sure the school administrations who ban crop tops and booty shorts are also banning boys from wearing them, as well as baggy jeans and wallet chains (we’re still in 1996, right?).

All I’m saying is, we need to keep our eyes on the prize, ladies, and gents, and others. We are letting ourselves get distracted from the real issues. We need to stop crying, “Discrimination!” every 5 seconds and really think – THINK before reacting to something. By saying every little thing is an oppressive injustice, we lessen the actual meaning of those words. They become cheap, overused, and subsequently ignored. Let’s get “feminism” off that stupid poll by using it intelligently. Let’s keep building each other up instead of knocking each other down. Let’s keep saying, “YES, AND!”