Tuesday, October 9, 2012

...light and shadow

If you don't have any shadows, you're not in the light.
Lady Gaga

He dismissed the post - and me, as well - with a single word. "Sweet", he said. Sweet. The word rankled. All sunshine and preciousness, I'm not. It's not as if I'd never been dismissed before. Truth is, I struggle daily not to dismiss myself and I know all of the circumstances, the for-better-or-worse truths, of my life. But a lifetime of experience that runs the gamut from "here" to "none-of-your-business" distilled to one word?  One that misses the mark by a long shot? I think not. I'm not without shadows.

Consider this passage about shadow from Spirituality and Practice: "The spiritual practice of shadow encourages us to make peace with those parts of ourselves that we find to be despicable, unworthy, and embarrassing — our anger, jealousy, pride, selfishness, violence, and other 'evil deeds'. This practice aims at wholeness by unifying the dark and the light inside and around us. Start by looking closely at yourself, especially your flaws. Take responsibility for your actions, especially those that have had unfortunate outcomes. By owning your shadow, you embrace your full humanity. Shadow is a corrective to any tendency to make spirituality into simplistic feelings of sweetness [Aha! That word again.] and light; it balances Pollyanna thinking. People do terrible things to each other, sometimes because of their beliefs and in the name of their religion. Individuals, even those who are deeply spiritual, go through dark nights of the soul when depression and not-knowing take on terrifying dimensions. Nature, the source of so much inspiration, also has its shadow elements — hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, floods. By honestly acknowledging these aspects of life, we move toward a more rounded view of reality and build the foundation for personal wholeness. Practicing shadow means you reclaim all your flaws and gifts, accepting yourself in all your complexity."

Flaws and gifts, light and dark: the stuff of a personal inventory. Gratitude and amends follow. And acceptance, haltingly...two steps forward, one back. Freedom, too. No longer a need to drag a heavy chain of accumulated denial, with new links added daily. Two quotes come to mind. The first from Sam Keen: "I feel as if I live in a haunted house." The second from a t-shirt I bought in New Orleans many years ago: "Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water."  The truth clears cobwebs, busts ghosts. The quest is a daily discipline lest the haints repopulate. Nature abhors a vacuum.

An article on CNN.com called "Everybody Has a Story - But Is It Worth Telling?" looks at that hot genre, the memoir. Author David Shields is quoted: "The books' themes [boil down to] "I survived; you can, too." But he also is skeptical because he feels that, all too often, "The moment you open up the book, you know the pain has been resolved. They're too much founded on a notion of resilience and triumph, which forces them into false resolutions...not the uncertain realities of life."

Prof. Patsy Vigderman cites 17th century Japanese poet, Basho, who wrote, "It is deep autumn. My neighbor...how does he live, I wonder."  And adds, "After all, a curiosity about our fellow human beings is as old as mankind itself." She "believes there are parallels between the memoir's popularity and the rise of reality TV."

Some of my best friends my favorite books are memoirs and biographies. I dislike formulaic, disingenuous writing...period. So here's what I ask when I dip into a book. Is the storyteller honest...or prurient? If a memoir: does the writer blame others or take responsibility for personal decisions?  Revel in drama and center stage and cast an unflattering light on the rest of the cast?  If a biography: does the author have an agenda...for revisionist history perhaps or to vent a grudge?  Rather than list the numerous books I've closed before the end of the first chapter, let me offer a positive example. I anticipate writer Cathy LeGrow's book-in-progress about her grandmother, Minka Disbrow. Cathy's blog, Windows and Paper Walls, is a personal favorite. For now, read her post about Minka (click HERE) that led first to a story picked up by the AP and then to a book contract. This is memoir at its best. (See the postscript below.)

I also invite to ask yourself these questions: Am I willing to look closely at my own life, rather than focus only on others? To face my shadows? In his book, Dialogues with a Modern Mystic, Andrew Harvey writes, "The very things we wish to avoid, reject, and flee from turn out to be the 'prima materia' from which all real growth comes." Can I tell my story to myself, unvarnished, unedited? And choose to share it with discretion and regard for those who are companions...without exaggeration, vanity or self-promotion?

Cathy LeGrow wrote this comment below her post:

"I am thinking of the last lines of Ulysses, by Tennyson:

...and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

"People like my Grandma," she added, "never yield."

The true "voice" is born in silence, in light, in shadow. Soft but firm, honest, respectful of others. Weaves a story with depth, gravitas and laughter. This, our last word, is also our legacy. A worthy quest. Yield not.


Postcript: Cathy LeGrow's book, The Waiting: A True Story of a Lost Child, a Lifetime of Longing, and a Miracle for a Mother Who Never Gave Up, was published in May 2014. Minka, her grandmother and the subject of the story, died a month later, in June. 


Cathy said...

Thank you, sweet friend...you gave me goosebumps!!

I have queried a bunch of agents...got a few requests for samples...now waiting to hear back. SUCH a slow process. Prayers are appreciated. :-)

Grandma flies up here next month for her 101st birthday (!) I will spend a couple of days with her, talking and taking notes.

You are a blessing! Have a beautiful day. XO

Celeste Bracewell said...

Prayers always. Keep the faith. Getting published has always been a challenge. Now, with the shift to e-publishing, the process is less direct. From self-promotion (not my favorite) to outright begging...when's a girl to write? But you have a great gift meant to be shared. At sixty-one, I try to enjoy each step - and misstep - of the journey because I know that I could run out of time before any results come to fruition. Every day is also gift.