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.”

 

It ends today.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I can’t stop crying.

I finally watched the video of Eric Garner’s arrest and death and I can’t stop crying. Just like I had resisted reading about Bill Cosby’s rape allegations, I had resisted watching that video. I knew about it, I had read about it, but watching this man’s last moments was too much for me to handle. But we all must face the facts, no matter how unpleasant or upsetting. We owe Mr. Garner that much.

Yesterday, the grand jury refused to indict the NYPD officer who tried to subdue Eric Garner (unarmed) in an illegal choke-hold, then pushing his face into the sidewalk, all the while him repeating, “I can’t breathe.” He died while in custody moments later. Just two weeks ago, a grand jury in Ferguson, MO, refused to indict a police officer for shooting an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Just a few days ago, manslaughter charges were dropped against a police officer who mistakenly shot and killed a 7-year-old girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was sleeping on the couch. They were searching for a murder suspect. The officer now faces, at most, a misdemeanor charge for “accidental firing of a weapon resulting in death.”

Last month, a Cleveland police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a park. We now know that the same police officer was recommended to be released from duty back in 2012 from a different town before he resigned and then was hired by the city of Cleveland.

All of these victims – these human beings – were of Black descent. All of the police officers are of White descent. These are just a few examples of excessive police brutality, but this is not new news. We are just all aware of it now because of social media and technology. But this has been going on for years.

I have resisted posting about this because I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said. The tensions are palpably high in this country. But I can’t be quiet about it anymore. I’ve been feeling such sadness about these events in the past few weeks, but now I’m angry.

This is about race. These police officers acted illegally and their crimes need to be punished.

I am not against police officers in general. I do not think the anarchist anger is helpful in this situation. But we need to do something about this. We need a system overhaul. We need accountability and we need to address the blatant racism that exists in our country.

From left to right, top to bottom: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Look at their faces. Remember their names.
From left to right, top to bottom: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Look at their faces. Remember their names.

I am not Black. But I see and acknowledge the centuries of systemic oppression and discrimination that this country was built on. I’m not sure which is worse, those supporting the officers and blaming the victims, those who are just out-rightly racist and believe the victims deserved their untimely deaths, or those (who are usually very young) saying they agree this is wrong, but they don’t see what it has to do with race.

The fact is, if you are not a Black American, then the most you can do is sympathize with the Black American experience while admitting that you do NOT know what it’s like. Because you don’t. And neither do I. But I see what my friends and fellow citizens go through everyday and it pains me. It goes way, way back – deep into the roots of this country. Do not discount 500 years of forced enslavement and treatment of an entire group of people as property. It was not that long ago. We still have a long way to go. Schools and public property were desegregated just about 40 years ago. My father was a teenager then.

I could go into the extensive sociological history of racism towards Black people in this country but to keep things brief and approachable, let’s just do an experiment.

I am not Black. But I am a woman of color. I live in New York City. Say, for example, I was in the exact position that Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, or Aiyana Stanley-Jones were in. I am willing to bet you a lot of money that I would have not been shot and killed in any of these situations. Even if I had acted exactly as they each had.

The universal frustration of the Black Man is evident in Eric Garner’s video. His speech before his death broke my heart. He said, “I’m not doing anything, I’m not selling nothing. You guys are always giving me trouble and I’m tired of it. It ends today.” And he’s right – the racial profiling of Black men (and women) as criminals and thugs is deeply ingrained. I see it everyday in New York City, as I walk by, unsuspected and not bothered – just an innocent-looking Asian female. I know we’d like to believe that he must have done something wrong to deserve the special attention. But in truth, what he did wrong was be born Black. Just like the victim-blaming that happens during a rape and sexual assault case, we are all terrified to believe that something terrible can happen to us for absolutely no reason or fault of our own. That loss of control is paralyzing, but it is a daily fear for many. And yes, it can happen to you. This may be a race issue, but it involves all of us.

It doesn’t matter what any of these victims were doing when the shooting occurred, they were all unarmed. The police officers only feared for their lives because of their fear of Black people. The Fear took over, they shot off their guns, and innocent people died. And when I say innocent, I don’t care if the toy gun didn’t have a red tip or if Michael supposedly bullied a store clerk. That does not justify their deaths. I mean that none of them had been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death by a judge and jury of their peers. None of them threatened the lives of those officers. Their deaths were unjust, illegal, and unconstitutional.

This is scary, people. We should be scared – and not because of possibly damage property during protests. We should be scared for the system, for our government, for our police, and what that means to us as citizens. What does that mean for our children?

We are upset, we are angry, we are sad, we are fed up. Not just because these people died. But because the law is letting policemen shoot and kill whomever they please without repercussions. There are other ways to detain a suspect that should not involve shooting to kill. Those who lecture about how to “just behave and avoid getting in situations like this” are blind and in severe denial. Wake up, everyone. You may find yourself someday in an unfortunate situation with a police officer. And even though you may be a law-abiding citizen and unarmed, what these non-indictments are saying is that, he or she can still shoot and kill you if he feels like it. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

Except be heard. So march. Protest. Peacefully – of course – I don’t believe that violence is the answer. But stand up. Speak out. Talk about this. That’s the least we can do for Eric, Michael, Tamir, and Aiyana. Where are you marching today?

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller

Inspired during an early evening commute home…

Every single writer, poet, filmmaker, musician, and artist who has ever lived in New York has tried to express how much they love New York. Or how much they hate New York. It can be the most magical place on earth or it can make you want to jump into the tracks of an oncoming train. The skyscrapers and glittering lights can inspire and enlighten or it can feel as though you carry the weight of many tons of steel and iron upon your shoulders. However, one thing can always be said about New York: there is so much life here. It’s every where, at every block, every building, stoop, subway platform, alleyway, and corner- there is so much life. At any one time, there are over 5 million stories happening.

Most of those stories are right out in the open for all to see. The woman crying on the phone as she walks east on 52nd st. The homeless boy in the blue coat with a bent cardboard sign on 8th avenue. The 30-something woman whose pink jogging jacket match her purebred chihuahua’s little boots on 6th avenue. The smiling man with large boils on his face sitting on the Canal st train platform. Life is every where you look here. No matter the time or day, life is happening here. Stories are being written here. For any artist, it’s absolutely thrilling. But in a place with so much life, there is so much death – so much decay. Sometimes the amount of life and death is too much for one human to withstand. It can overwhelm, like a cacophony of disheartening news reports that grows so loud one cannot hear anything but the din of sadness and suffering. For life is suffering, as the Buddhists believe, and for a city full of so much life, it is also filled with so much suffering.

Imagine being acutely aware of ever single moment of emotional and physical pain in the world as it is happening. To be so sensitive would surely break one’s heart so completely so many times. It would drive any normal mortal to end the pain as soon as possible. But why is it a bad thing to feel sadness? Is a typically “happy person” more in tune with the universe and more generous? Is a mostly “sad person” selfish and a pessimist? Or is the happy one merely in denial and the sad one more intuitive? Maybe it’s more complicated than that. No one likes to feel sad. Many try to avoid feeling sad as much as possible, whether that means diverting and distracting feelings, emotional strong-holding, or resorting to substances to dull the senses and pain. Is this healthy though? Is there a way to stay with the pain, accept the sadness, and not want to kill oneself every waking moment? Can you feel sadness but not become sadness?

There are many institutions that have formed over the centuries to help alleviate everyday sadness. Religion, spirituality, sports and exercise methods, the arts – they all serve to give us a greater sense of purpose. Without purpose, our egos start to flail and our sense of self begins to spiral. Religion gives us an explanation of the sadness and suffering. The old books of old prophets tell us why and what’s next. It seems we humans have a very hard time functioning with the knowledge that life could just be random chaos, that our suffering was senseless and never-ending, with no reason or goal to look forward to. But what if there was no sense to it at all? Perhaps that’s what the Buddhists meant when they said that Life is Suffering. It is not a means to an end or even something to be explained, but rather it just is.

I myself cannot begin to even pretend to know the truth behind what we feel and what we are. The only supposed “truths” I can begin to understand are as follows:

1) I am here.
2) I feel pain. I feel happiness.
3) Things that seem and feel awful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
4) Things that seem and feel wonderful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
5) But no matter what happens, it is my judgement that deems it “bad” or “good.”
6) And regardless of all of the points above, everything is impermanent. Nothing is forever and everything changes.

It can seem hopeless to think that one could spend years and years building an empire or creating a work of art or nurturing a family – and in one instant, it all could be destroyed and cease to exist. But that thought can also be incredibly freeing. It doesn’t necessarily mean one shouldn’t strive for anything or the human race shouldn’t progress and evolve, but like the rhythms of the city – the way the garbage and snow will pile up and then seemingly disappear within a day, the way real estate here can seem to change ownership every month – it might just be worth it for us to continually try to be conscious. Conscious that we are all part of this life, this suffering, and even more so, this impermanence.