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.”

 

How ‘Game of Thrones’ taught me about Feminism *SPOILERS!*

Are you sick of hearing about this past Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones yet? The shelf-life of this episode in the blog-o-sphere has been remarkable. It has been 3 days since it has aired and it’s still being discussed. People are outraged. People are over it. People don’t see what the big deal is.

And all because our imaginary little daughter/sister got raped on her wedding night by a terrible awful demented excuse for a human being who flays and hunts people for fun. (Looking at you, Ramsey.)

ramsey

I’ve read several articles and blog posts about this, I’ve gotten into civil discussions on Facebook with kind strangers, and yeah, I saw the episode (and I have read all of the released books). I hear you. All of you.

Here’s my take – because I know you’ve been dying to know what I think:

We’re talking about this the wrong way.

I don’t mean to let the cat out of the bag, but I feel like I have to set the record straight. All of this “rape” that you are all so upset about – it’s all part of a secret master plan that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have in place to actually teach society all about Rape Culture and the Male Gaze through the guise of a multi-million dollar fantastical HBO melodrama. DUH.

But in all seriousness – for me, rape itself in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” isn’t the issue, it’s the way the ‘Game of Thrones’ show has been handling the depiction of women, violence against women, and rape overall.

I mean, at this point, I’ve given up on the show ever doing the books, these stories, or the characters justice, but the last scene from this week’s episode was problematic in many, many ways. Not just because it was a lead character that was raped – that wasn’t raped in the books (Um hello Daenerys and Cersei?!) but for larger reasons that I think tie into portrayal of women in the media today.

The fabulous GoT G&M blog has a great take on exactly WHY the show has been missing the mark for so long, especially in the last point:

“The ASOIAF universe is not one that’s very friendly to women, and there are many women who, for that reason, take a large issue with consuming the series… Martin is a 21st century man with rather progressive sensibilities, and instead, we would argue that the violence against, and mistreatment/relegation of women, is a major theme explored in his novels.
[The show writers]…don’t seem to get this. Or see these themes. They see the violence alright, and they’ll throw in some casual rapes… to remind us what a terrible place Westeros can be… But it’s beyond rape. It’s their treatment of every. single. woman. character.”

Not only do the rapes of Sansa, Cersei, and Dany create so many problems for these main characters’ arcs and development, but I think we should also maybe start thinking bigger picture. Some people have been asking WHY does a hit premium cable show feel the need to write in a rape scene for a main character when there isn’t any? (Which is a great question I think any viewer should ask of any artwork that portrays brutal sexual violence.) But I would actually take that a step further and ask why they choose to show it as they do. Yes, the rape scene in the books with Ramsey is much worse, and yes, rape is a real problem and yes, it’s historical fiction (no it’s not), and blah blah why are we so upset about a mild rape when nobody cares when guys get their skulls crushed in or members cut off? That’s not fair! Waaah!

I mean, hey. Some people are fine with it. We know Ramsey is terrible. Some claim this is truthful to the material, this world, and the characters. Some are even saying it wasn’t a rape. To which Genevieve Burgess of Pajiba.com says,

“If someone tries to tell you that it wasn’t rape because she walked into the room and didn’t “fight back” do me a favor; squint at them funny and say “oh, you have an eyelash there, mind if I…?” and when they agree, punch them straight in the face.”

But even as a rape, some felt it was justified, or at least treated better than other rapes and scenes of violence in the series. Even the ladies over at Jezebel said,

“But while last night’s sexual assault was absolutely disturbing, it relied more on sound than on visuals, was shot with a lot of care and respect given to a very young actress.”

And a lot of people have been pointing out that this very well could be the plot point that snaps Reek back into action as Theon.

But that’s exactly my problem with it. In the scene, the camera pans away from the actual rape to Reek’s face as he watched, as if we’re supposed to only feel bad that this is happening by viewing it through his eyes. Not to get all feminist theory, but that is actually a perfect personification of the Male Gaze. Why not pan the camera the other way and stay on Sansa’s face like they did for Dany’s rape? Why not experience the horror through her eyes if you’re going to go there? And if this is really a plot device to awaken ol’ Theon, then WTF – or as Criticwire puts it,

“…This is trending awfully close to what genre writers call “fridging,” where a woman’s agony is cast primarily as a motivating agent for more important male characters.”

Bam. Male Gaze lesson. Clever, clever Benioff and Weiss, you sneaky bastards. You almost fooled me. Look at how much we’re learning!

Sophie-Turner

By the way, can we please shut up about whatever the hell the director of that Cersei/Jaime atrocity meant it to be? Of course it is a rape! If 99% of your viewers watch your show and freak out and scream rape, then maybe you should think that whatever your intent was, Alex Graves, you terrible director*, doesn’t fucking matter?

Oh but wait, maybe this is just another lesson by the genius Benioff and Weiss. They’re showing us a metaphorical artistic example of the excuses that ACTUAL rapists and defense lawyers use: “Oh, no it was totally consensual, I really didn’t mean to rape her. She did want it, I know she kept saying stop, but her body language showed that she obviously wanted it.”

Hey Mr. Graves, maybe you should take a good hard look at yourself if you create a scene, that in your head, is a passionate sex scene, and then practically everyone who sees it calls it rape. That might be a red flag for ya, buddy. (*I don’t know if you are really a terrible director, I got heated. I’m sure you’re a nice guy.)

But again, it’s just all part of the Master Plan to Teach the World About Modern Feminism by Benioff and Weiss.

And that’s just two examples. Over the course of 4.5 season, Benioff and Weiss have showed us scenes that address many different and varied issues when it comes the complex world of Rape Culture, Misogyny, and Feminism. For example:

  • Married people can be raped too, or You don’t owe your husband sex.
  • Whores can be raped too. Lots of them. Repeatedly. And then killed.
  • You can be really poor and your father’s daughter-wife, and it’s still rape.
  • You can be white and raped.
  • You can be black and raped.
  • You can be ethnically ambiguous and raped. (Not really sure what Dorne people are yet in Earth terms.)
  • Rape can happen doggy style.
  • Rape can be with someone you know or as an act of war or with total strangers.
  • If you are a woman, you will be raped.
  • You can be raped as a man too. And gay men can and will also be used as possessions.
  • Basically, sex is bad, humankind is bad, and you’re better off just getting killed off early. (Looking at you, Ned Stark.)

So what do we do with all of this knowledge? Angrily write about it on the internet? Shun it and stop watching? I’m not really sure. I’ll keep watching for now – I have to say, I am interested to see how things turn out. Besides, it’s not like a new book is coming out anytime soon. And there’s always drinking.

 

I don’t know.

I haven’t written in this blog in a long time. And until just a few moments ago, I couldn’t really tell you why. Being busy, not feeling “inspired,” or not having anything to share are not really accurate excuses. I think it’s because I’ve been hiding.

Photo by A. Pagliaricci
Photo by A. Pagliaricci

I didn’t know I was hiding, not at first. But like a shapeless, dark monster that creeps into your dreams, vignetting what seems to be a fairly standard happy image, I had this growing suspicion that something was not quite right with me. It’s been plaguing me for weeks, this sensation that something is about to fall apart, that I’m not truly alive and aware, that any happiness I’ve felt was false. I’ve talked about it at great lengths with my close friends, my therapist, writing about it in my journal. I could articulate it, yes, but at most it was an intellectual diagnosis. It felt like someone dubbing over my own voice in a foreign language. I knew, but I couldn’t touch it. It hadn’t hit me yet, it floated above me, mockingly. I was pretty sure of what I wanted to eat but I had yet to order it and actually ingest it.

Okay, enough metaphors. You get the idea. But for someone who always has to know the answer to everything, this uncertainty has been difficult for me to live with. So I simply didn’t. In the past 3 months since I’ve last posted, I’ve been quite busy. I held a fundraiser party, I went home for the holidays, I finally wrapped principal photography on my film, I started a writers’ group, produced and acted in a new comedy web-sketch, as well as started developing more web-sketches for PITtv. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to work full-time and go out with friends or on dates. I’ve been very busy. I’ve been barely home. I’ve been rarely alone. Because I’m hiding.

When my best friend suddenly died last June, all I wanted was to be alone. Grief was the most isolating experience of my life. I’ve lived quite an individual life so far, but the alone-ness was palpable. I couldn’t be around anyone, I couldn’t smile for anyone or make small talk with anyone. I just wanted to sit outside and listen to our favorite music and cry. Nurse my grief like it was the last drink I’ll ever have. I walked the streets of New York with a bubble around me, protecting me from interaction, from engagement, from life. I just mourned.

So when I finally came out, when the sun’s rays finally actually got to touch my skin again, when I looked up, it felt miraculous. I slowly started to feel inspired again, the need to be productive, to continue living. After a while, I wanted to see other people. I wanted to start working on my projects again. I would never be the same, but I was back. And once I got my footing, I took off running. I filled my schedule and took on new projects and set up meetings and dates and outings and laughed and talked and acted like my old extroverted self again. But I was hiding.

I was hiding because I was afraid of being alone again. If I was alone, then I would think. And if I thought, I would think about Matt. And if I thought about Matt, I feared I would slip back into that dark yet brightly-lit, stark, empty room of despair again. I still am. I’m afraid. I’m afraid to be sad. I’m afraid to let myself continue to grieve. I’m afraid I won’t come out of it again. It’s been 8 months and 17 days since Matt died and I’m not still fully healed. I’m not over it. That’s okay. I’m never going to be over this. People tell you about that deep loss. I know this. But I might not also fully heal from this.

Why do we look at wounds as things that need to heal? I kept trying to become this holier-than-thou totally enlightened wise being in the last several months. How pretentious of me to go on and on about how my best friend’s death changed me? I would wax poetic about death and the meaning of life like I suddenly had all the answers now that I’ve experience such profound, tragic loss. (My friends know exactly what I’m talking about. Thank you for not slapping me, but god somebody please slap me next time.)

That is total bullshit. Okay, not total, but I was missing the point, I see that now. That was me trying to tie everything up neatly with a bow again. That was the same Katie that pretended to give eloquent interviews about world issues to the mirror when she was 9 (okay 15… okay 21… okay fine, last night) but still – I have this need to romanticize everything in my life, to package it neatly and analyze it and understand it all, but the truth is, I really don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know anything at all.

Photo by danabooo
Photo by danabooo

I’m a mess. I’m a flawed, messy, emotional human being. Made of flesh and blood and bones and chemicals and weird shit like that and I’m trying to figure it out desperately like everyone else. I miss my best friend and I still grieve for him but also sometimes I don’t think about him. And yeah, I feel guilty about that too. I don’t always stick to my diet and sometimes I get drunk on weeknights and I date the wrong people and I can be flaky and I don’t call my parents nearly as much as I should. I make snap judgments and I say things sometimes just to get a rise out of people and I get secretly possessive over my food. I have hateful thoughts sometimes and I’m mad at my best friend for dying on me and I miss him so frickin’ much and I worry way too much and I really do want love and children and a family someday. I cry at the drop of a hat and I have dry skin and I don’t like to follow rules and I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m a human. I am not a saint, I am not the Buddha, I will not rise out of this like a glorious wise martyr. I am ugly sometimes, and I have ugly emotions sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. I’m allowed to be ugly. I’m allowed to be human. I’m allowed to let this wound fester a bit.

This all came to a head while I was listening to the Strangers podcast while at work.  I highly recommend everyone listen to this episode. When I first started researching about grief in the initial months after Matt’s death, I would scoff at those articles about broken hearts. “Who cares about a break-up? I f*cking lost my best friend – he f*cking died! We can’t ever see or talk to each other again because he doesn’t exist on this planet anymore!” But the fact is, a broken heart is a broken heart. Listening to these storytellers talk about their own experiences after a devastating break-up, it echoed exactly what I went through last summer. When Annie McEwen and Lea Thau said that even waking up is hard, realizing that this is the world you live in now, that’s exactly how it felt waking up every day last summer. And in Annie’s story, when the female character mentions just living with her lost love, not being consumed by it but giving it space and just knowing that she has to live with this feeling, without him, every day – it resonated with me.

Like these two women, my heart is broken. And I agree with Annie, I don’t think I’ll ever love the same way again. I don’t think losing Matt is something I’ll ever fully heal from. What Matt and I had was special, our friendship was truly one-of-a-kind. But I don’t think I’m necessarily a better person for having lived through this experience. I am a person. And it has deeply affected me. That’s really all I can say. But like Annie, I am more compassionate than I ever have been, and I’m finally going to start being compassionate with the one person I’ve been hardest on my entire life: yep, myself. Me. I’m going to do that by letting myself have flaws. By letting myself be messy. By letting myself grieve and cry and scream and laugh and dance and drink and eat carbs – and do whatever I need to do.

Death sucks. Break-ups suck. Having your heart ripped from your chest and stomped on really frickin’ blows. And I can’t tell you why. I have no idea why life is so unfair. I don’t know. I really don’t know. And that’s okay.