Today’s post is called “Poetry Monday” only because it’s inspired by a chapter of the same name in The Poet’s Companion by Addonizio and Laux.
According to Carl Jung (although the concept is really much older) we all have a part of ourselves which we reject and deny, a part he called the Shadow.
The poet Robert Bly calls the shadow, “the long bag we drag behind us,” explaining that as we learn what others don’t like or accept in us we start “bag-stuffing.” By the time we reach adulthood, Bly says, there is only a “thin slice” of us left — the rest is in that long bag…. The problem is that while the shadow is necessary to the formation of who we are, we end up denying its existence, or at least fearing it. And that denial causes problems, because the dark side of ourselves contains not only what we consider negative traits, but also our undeveloped talents and gifts.
For me it’s not a bag, but a closet, a la Berke Breathed’s Bloom County, but it’s still where all the unacceptable thoughts and emotions are stuffed. And as Laux and Addonizio observe, it’s where some of the most powerful emotions a writer has reside.
It’s not easy to look inside the closet, let alone rummage around in there, but I think it’s the only way to write something that’s authentic, that resonates, that goes beyond the superficial.
Not too long ago I took a look inside the closet and saw something I didn’t like. Suddenly I understood the imagery of Jekyl and Hyde on a visceral level. Why all those shapeshifters whine about being afraid to take a mortal lover because they might lose control.
Now all I have to do is get it down on the page.