Friday, February 13, 2015

The Shadow Self and the Mirror Image

"Some artists fear the judgement of failure: the manuscript unpublished, the painting unsold; and others the judgement of the marketplace: bad reviews, poor sales, disappointed fans. Some fear specific kinds of judgement: the lowered esteem of colleagues or certain critics, the negative opinions of family or friends. And for others, the harshest judge of all is the one who whispers inside our own head: You aren't any good. You don't know what you're doing. What makes you think you can write/draw/craft/compose/perform? You're mediocre. You're a fraud. You're a fool...

Only perfection will silence these critics -- or so we secretly believe, and since there's no such thing as the "absolutely perfect," we're damned before we've even begun..."

- Terri Windling from her blogpost When Every Day is Judgement Day , January 7, 2015

"Psyche has two main functions. It is both a non-material "hard disk" that stores memories as well as a non-material digestion organ that masters fear. Psyche can be of different complexity and can in this respect be compared to a mirror globe that has more or less reflectors on its surface. A globe with less mirrors gives a simple image of reality whilst a globe with many mirrors gives a highly complex image of reality. It is obvious that a highly complex psyche is able to represent reality more sophisticated but on the other hand is more prone to picture distorted images of reality."

- Gordon Praxis from Functions of the Psyche


I've just come back from a long, enforced hiatus from the internet recently. As it stands, operating out of the particular area of New Mexico in which I currently reside, reliable ISPs are hard to come by. But, that wasn't the only reason I avoided getting an internet connection; in the end, I just wanted to attend to my own projects without the added distractions cyberspace involves. In the past , I would've doubted that going cold turkey from the virtual world was even possible. But, I'm here to report that not only is it possible, it isn't a half-bad exercise.

For instance, within the past two months, I reworked and finished the first draft of a manuscript; a YA novel which had been sitting on "the back burner" for a period of over ten years. Had I been caught in the glare of that giant disco-ball we call virtual reality, this wouldn't have been possible...

That being said, while diligently writing my chapter-a-day, I was often trapped in that same mental miasma, Terri Windling describes in her January blog post (which I've only just read): When Every Day is Judgement Day (linked to above). 

In it,  she basically describes the perils of perfectionism; perfectionism being a disease which I, personally, often succumb to. She cites author, Laini Taylor, who writes:  "I have a stiflingly hard time moving forward in a project if it's not 'just right' all along the way. The trap I so easily fall into is rewriting and rewriting the same scenes over and over to make them perfect, instead of continuing on into the wild unknown of the story."

Yeah, I've dealt with a lot of this recently; all the while, wondering just why. Is it possibly part of some obsessive compulsive disorder? Am I  just kidding myself? Maybe I should just return to my fine-art imagery which, for me, is somewhat a safer ground. And, why is it safe? Because, generally, I don't give a rat's ass about outside opinions regarding my predominately automatic imagery. Take it or leave it... and art critics be damned.

When writing, however - and even with illustration, it's counterpart - one gets trapped in the web of an official, documented language and all its grammatical rules -  with the paralyzing element of an "audience" factored in. I've never been comfortable with the performance aspect of anything. And - especially in the writing game - this, my friends, is what separates the Emily Dickensons from the best selling authors.

Then again, is this always a predominately female complaint? I think it probably is, but, I don't want to go there. It's like trying to control the weather... a phenomenon so insidiously connected to so many other natural and artificial phenomena, it's best left to cultural meteorologists... i.e., the historians and scholars in the professional arena (in this case, hopefully, female).

But, while reading Windling's article, the thought occurred to me: what really trips up a creative person - keeping in mind that, essentially, every human is a creative entity - inside the context of a monitored "performance"? In the end, it's that unrelenting antagonist: the distorted image we find - and are confounded by - inside the frame of a mirror. That is, the same image we've been seeing for years and years, both literally and figuratively, whether in the mirror above our bathroom sinks, or the images of ourselves reinforced (or discarded) by those most intimate with us, or the reflections projected from the other flat surfaces we're confronted with every day: the TV screens, flow charts, bank documents, resumes, and anything that fits on a computer monitor. Despite how distorted these projections may be - and a mirror's reflection is a lie from the get-go, being an image in reverse -  we take them to heart. In other words, we allow the fear of our predetermined condemnation by "the jury" to cloud our truest visions; trivializing our work into masses of coordinates, characteristics, rules and statistics which have little to do with our actual intent.

A Remington mirror

But, if the mirror image represents the fears and falsehoods of putting "oneself" (the ego) on the line - confined, as it is, within its static perimeter - then where does one go to find the truth?

In the end, most truths being relative, we might have to attend to that most personal, intimate, and obscured part of our psyches... that is, the shadow self.

The shadow self is the one that stands outside the arena. The self that, in fact - like any literal shadow -  stands outside of ourselves, but, somehow, and at the same time, is most profoundly integrated within us. This is the unconscious - and/or deeply conscious - self which has the ability to reach outside the boundaries of convention, because, it alone existed before any one individual became consciously aware of "conventions". This is the self which inspires an individual to create to begin with. (It certainly is the force behind my own "automatic" work.) It's the uncelebrated partner, who, regardless of all those times you've tripped over the various mirrors lined up along the way, encourages you to continue... insisting that you, in spite of all the obstacles, just "get it done."

Of course, a psychologist might say that the "shadow self" represents all sorts of dark desires held over from infancy. And, this might be true. Which is probably why and when a strong mirror image can be useful. It puts the brakes on a shadow self which may have become so thwarted, and its needs so unacceptable, it borders on the deranged. But, in the end, this description also arises from a mirror-world mentality; the sort which is forced by convention to compartmentalize all similar phenomena into one preordained set of trends.

But,  ultimately, isn't it the shadow selves of this world who ultimately pull the strings? Think about it.

So, maybe, it'd make sense to translate whatever ones own shadow self attempts to convey; the "wild unknown of the story"...

The again, maybe the true key to success - regardless of your understanding of the word - is the ability, and the audacity, to break a few mirrors.


  1. Replies
    1. Hey there!

      Actually, not art, exactly... just an old photograph of mine. It's actually an image of a shadow, but something about the quality of light gave it a very 3-D appearance.

      BTW, I just put a couple samples from a band I recently discovered (on the Jools Holland Show) on the side-bar you might like. The name of the band is alt-J, and I can't say enough good things about them! :-)

  2. Very very interesting that you break the conflict down into 3. The self, the mirror self, the shadow self ...

    1. Hmmm... yeah, sort of the "holy trinity" of the corporeal self. Mirror-body-shadow. In this sense, the shadow is the "Holy Ghost"... and the mirror becomes the patriarch or matriarch.

      The transdimensional reality, however, would be far more complex... more like the disco ball! ;-)

    2. Heh you will like my Chinese New Year post, I hope. Stay tuned.

    3. Looking forward to your post!

    4. Ah, it's the lunar year of the goat! Well, in lunar astrology I'm a reptile, but your post is very informative regardless! :-)

  3. For me, perfectionism always equated to the representation of a frozen universe. Gregory Bateson said “Whenever we pride ourselves upon finding a newer, stricter way of thought or exposition; whenever we start insisting too hard upon "operationalism" or symbolic logic or any other of these very essential systems of tramlines, we lose something of the ability to think new thoughts. “ Social scripting or having an audience dictate every orientation makes for a situation where we cease to exist, an indelible invisibility the results from paving over nature with asphalt.
    The best rationale for creating anything I came across was it was necessary to let others know they are not alone. Your post accomplished this. Sometimes I think the process is more important than the effect in a finished “product”. As soon as anything is finished, we are already a hundred miles away looking for another door.

    1. Thanks, Bruce, and thanks for your support!

      "Paving over nature with asphalt" - that's a great metaphor for perfectionism. Because, really, while some revision is always necessary, if you kill the original spontaneity and flow - the vital spark - that's effectively what you're doing...

      I'll have to remember that the next time I'm spending hours re-working a paragraph! ;-)

      Oddly enough, I just listened to some of your conversation with Greg on Radio Misterioso. Fascinating!

  4. A most intriguing post, Dia.

    The self, the mirror self and the shadow self....and the intrigue that goes on behind the closed doors of the mind. I think this ...mmhmmm.....process plays out in all introspective artists. It is because we have, in our minds, a solid representation of what we are trying to create or what it SHOULD be, then we have the actual result before us and we are constantly comparing it to other creations we have seen before by others. It is the same trinity in a different perspective.

    If one is to succeed and produce, then one must come to terms with all this and merge it to a satisfactory reality. Or, at the very least, a reality that does not make us cringe when we look at it.

    Fascinating. Welcome back!

    1. Thanks, Bob!

      Do you actually have a solid representation of what you're trying to create beforehand? I can't say that I do. I have to sort of dig my images out of the aether, discovering them as I go along... kind of like a sculptor chiseling away at a block of marble with only a vague preconception of what might be found.

      So, I guess, realizing that my images have little relationship to the bulk of what's out there, I never compare them with anyone else's. I'm wholly given over to the shadow self during these times... and, for the most part, am content with this arrangement.

      Writing, however, is another ball of yarn... a whole other set of logical references are involved, and the hall of unholy mirrors begins to unfold. But, for sure, one hopes not to cringe while rereading the fruits of ones labor... as I, invariably, do! ;-)