A Five-Minute Game of Jungian Analysis

My husband Eric found this article on a friend’s Facebook page, and loving self-psychoanalysis as much as we do, we had to play it. Our answers were pretty compelling and spot-on, so I thought I’d share mine here. (If you want to play the game, too, click the link before reading below; if you try to play afterwards, you’ll know too much and won’t be able to!)

The promise

(Photo by Henrik Johansson)

My answers:

  • The cube is about 2-3 square feet in size with a blue-black gunmetal surface and sits directly on the floor of the desert.
  • The ladder is a 12-foot aluminum lean-to type that rests against the cube at an estimated 75-degree angle.
  • The horse stands to the right of the cube, and it’s a strong, sturdy Clydesdale breed. Its coat is dapple gray, and it has a white mane and tail and black eyes.
  • There are four or five flowering plants, all of them dahlias in creamy-bright shades of hot pink, peach, and pale yellow. They’re close to the ground with about two to three blooms on each plant, and they surround the cube, horse and ladder.
  • The storm is far-off, hanging over a ridge of great, gray-blue mountains in the distance. It’s a big, swirling storm, but with no lightning.

The interpretation:

  • As my ego, the cube is fairly small but not tiny. I’m a little insecure and unsure of myself, but not completely lacking self-confidence. I’m a grounded person, and the dark, shiny surface suggests that I’m reflective and engage with my environment, but not transparent — perhaps not easy to get to know, keeping parts of myself hidden.
  • The ladder, representing my friends, is lightweight but sturdy — perhaps suggesting that I view my friends as capable people without a lot of baggage to carry around. Even so, I feel that they lean on me for support and remain close to me.
  • The horse, representing my husband, is sturdy, emotionally and financially supportive, and dependable. He’s my right-hand man and a reliable, equal partner and companion — he isn’t bearing the cube like a weight, nor is he bearing down on it. He stands beside me. The dapple gray coloring is (to me) elegant, almost otherworldly, and suggests a kind of contemplative reticence, which makes sense because my husband is introverted, reserved in public, and intellectual in nature. We have great conversations.
  • As a representation of children, I imagine having a small number (definitely not as many as four or five!), and I view them as grounding (being close to the ground), warm and enlivening (dahlias represent warmth, vitality, and happiness to me, and the colors reflect this, too). There aren’t not too many of them, and they surround me and my husband (with their love!). I didn’t mention this above, but they’re also very healthy-looking — I guess I’m pretty confident that we can bring up our son and his future sibling to be healthy, happy, confident people. I really do view my son as this little ray of warm, vital sunshine — he has so much energy, and he’s such a happy, good-natured baby. Playing with and taking care of him keeps me in the present, which is good for me. I’m sure that my subconscious was expressing my perception of him when I thought of the flowers.
  • The storm, representing threat and risk, suggests that I’m aware of risk, but it’s far off in the distance and hedged by barriers (the mountains) that catch the brunt of the storm so that it’ll dissipate before reaching the scene. I feel secure in my life because we’ve taken good measures to hedge risk, and I don’t worry too much.

All in all, a pretty good summation of my perceptions of myself, those around me, and my environment.

Share your answers in your comments below! I’d love to hear what you come up with.

An Early,Vivid Memory

Photo credit: Andrew Wilkinson via Flickr

Midsummer in a town outside of Nurnberg, the sun golden and warm, so bright I squint through my eyelashes, a slight breeze tickling my skin. My friend beside me, showing me a blackberry bush, reaching in and pulling out a berry and eating it. I reach in, too, eat a berry. It’s cool from the interior shadows, and sweet.

First lesson of its kind: where lie sweet things, pain lies, too. I reach in for another berry and feel a quick, burning sting. I jerk my hand back, pull out the stinger from my already pulsing, swollen fingertip. The bee died, I think at some point, either right then or on the short walk to the small apartment my family lived in — just my mom, younger sister and me then; my dad was at war in Operation Desert Storm, and my brother wasn’t born yet.

Back at home, my mom is frantic.

“Where have you been? I called the police because I couldn’t find you.”

I don’t remember what I said or did, but I remember thinking, “I don’t think I was gone that long.”

I wonder now how long I was gone. It felt like a few minutes but may have been an hour. Time is strange in childhood, stranger in memory.

The Life Acrylic: Alexa Meade’s Painted People

Rather than painting realistic images on canvas, taking surreal photographs, or painting renditions of well-known art on human bodies, 24-year-old Washington, D.C., artist Alexa Meade has brought the three together, painting her subjects as artistically rendered versions of themselves and then snapping photos of them in a variety of painted and unpainted settings. It’s a fresh mix of acrylic painting, performance art, and photography that asks us to reconsider the relationship between art and reality.

One piece, Transit (above), features an elderly man standing in a subway car, looking entirely convincing as a two-dimensional image, and I love the reactions of the unpainted people around him, who aren’t sure what’s going on but are trying to seem indifferent. The painted man, on the other hand, seems isolated, almost like a cardboard cut-out. The photo asks: “What if art really lived among us? Rode the subway with us, like anyone else?” It takes art off the wall and goes for a walk with it, just to see what happens: how it interacts with its environment, or doesn’t, and how its presence alters our perceptions of everything else.

Meade has also made several self-portraits. Of these, Alexa Split in Two (right) has perhaps the most to say about the give-and-take between art and reality as we compare the unpainted self with the painted self: there’s a kind of textural movement in the stillness of the image that we likely wouldn’t have noticed without the paint; we can better see the play of light and color on her skin and the contours of her bone structure. Visually, it’s the left half that has more life and it enriches our impression of reality. The image shows us how Meade views the world — with sharper, more sensitive and sensual eyes — through her versions of herself as both art and artist.

What do you think of Ms. Meade’s work? How does it affect your views of reality and art?

To see more of Alexa Meade’s work, visit her website or her Flickr page. And feel free to comment below.

Such a Thing as a Thing to Say

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Begin to wonder what you do write about. Or if you have anything to say. Or even if there is such a thing as a thing to say.
-Lorrie Moore, “How to Become a Writer, or Have You Earned This Cliche?”

These are the thoughts that plague me, not only in my fiction but in writing this blog as well. Perhaps more so with this blog because there’s no story in which to gradually reveal meaning; I have to be as concise and direct as possible. Every time I consider making a post, I run the topic through the gamut: Is this something obvious that everyone already knows to be true? If not, would anyone care? Is this a significant contribution to the blogging community? Do I have anything significant to contribute at all? Is there anything I can say that I feel is absolutely true, without exception? Should I even bother?

Taoism is largely to blame for this impotence in writing. As written in the Tao Te Ching, “To use words but rarely / Is to be natural” (23.1-2). The Taoist sage does not presume; he or she says and does as little as possible. Listening is valued above speech and silence above noise. This is because the sage realizes that human perception is limited; one can’t see all the facets of an issue and one can’t foretell exactly the outcome of any given action or decision. I’ve had a lot of foot-in-mouth moments in my life and I know exactly how it feels to make a statement half-cocked and come to regret it later. It’s in the interest of self-preservation for one to be silent, to listen rather than speak. During the Warring States period in China, where Taoism was born, one’s life could be saved by keeping silent because change was rampant and one’s enemy one day might turn out to be one’s leader the next, and one’s leader could just as quickly become one’s enemy.

My situation isn’t so precarious, but self-preservation is still valuable in terms of dignity and peace. Aside from human rights issues, I can’t pretend to know the value or outcome of any law or political decision, so I veer away from blogging about politics. And there’s so much that I don’t know about religion, or art, or literature, or people in general that I hesitate to make any hard-and-fast claims about any of that, either. All I know is what I see before me, and I know that my sight can only travel so far. I don’t know that anything I see or feel is valuable to anyone but me, or even correct.

So how should I presume? Why have a blog? Why write at all? Why not just stay silent? I’m not sure, really. Part of it is vanity, a desire to be heard and praised. Another part is a desire to create something beautiful for the sake of beauty. It also comes from a desire to express myself, to take those sparks within me and make them manifest. To make myself vulnerable and, through that, connect with other souls who have the same questions and preoccupations. Communication is about connection, after all. And perhaps my hesitation stems from a fear of not finding those connections, of further alienation. I think it’s also about the desire for meaning, but not the meanings that others create. It’s to construct and discover my own meanings, to find truths for myself. Silence is good for contemplation; expression makes those contemplations solid, real, allows me to test them out. And still another part of me writes — creates — to exorcise those demons that lie within, to put them to good use, to turn them into something beautiful and valuable, if only for me.

Whatever the reason, I continue to write. I still don’t know if there’s value in anything I have to say, but that doesn’t quell the impulse to speak. So I waver between doubt and hope, fumbling in and out of whatever spotlights I make for myself, searching for answers and meanings hidden in the shadows.

Appearances Are Deceiving

Last night, I took my puppy, Darcy, outside to go to the bathroom before bed as usual. It was dark but the porch light was on and, as we walked out the door, I saw a grasshopper in the corner of the doorway, swaying side to side as Darcy passed close by. I thought it was trying to ward us off, like I’d seen other insects do when they felt threatened, so I led Darcy away, onto the grass. When we came back to the door, it was still swaying side to side between the light and shadows. I thought it was strange that it hadn’t left, but I left it alone and pretty much forgot about it.

I took Darcy out again this morning, and when we came to the door to go back inside, my eyes passed idly over the corner where I’d seen the grasshopper. It was still there, but it wasn’t moving. It was attached to a spider’s web and the spider stood on the grasshopper’s wing, eating it. It struck me then that what I’d thought was defensive posturing on the grasshopper’s part was most likely the grasshopper’s efforts to free itself from the web. Or it could have been that the grasshopper was already dead and the spider was the one making the grasshopper sway as it moved along the web, unseen in the shadows. The grasshopper may not even have seen us as we passed through the doorway.

I can’t help acknowledging that, once again, nature has proven that what I think I see, and what I think I know, may not be the whole truth in any given situation. I only saw the half that was in the light; the rest was in shadow. And I made an assumption based on that. It’s really not any different in human interactions. Or in our perception of reality, for that matter. It’s easy to assume that the surface — a person’s appearance, the way they speak, the opinions they share — are all that there is because it’s all we can see in the light. We forget that there’s an entire world within them that we may never see, maybe because it’s comforting to imagine that one’s individual perception is objective and total reality. But it doesn’t mean that this other, shadowed world doesn’t exist.

I think that’s perhaps the greatest function of storytelling, if I were to ascribe a use to literature (something I always hesitate to do): to reveal the shadows in a character, real or fictional. I don’t mean “shadows” in a sinister context, as the word often implies; I mean the fears, the inner struggles, the vulnerabilities of people who would otherwise be passed over. To fully humanize them. Because what defines us are not just those traits that are revealed in the light, in our day-to-day interactions, but also that secret, interior world that isn’t often (or ever) revealed to anyone else. Stories are there to entertain, yes, but they also offer an education. They teach us to realize the humanity in others, no matter how well we think we know them. And that’s what makes stories so important, so difficult to write, and so wonderfully rewarding to read.

This isn’t a new idea, of course, but it’s easy to forget. It’s something I struggle to realize every day with each new person I meet, as well as with people I’ve known for years. The reminders come in many forms and I hope that, some day, I’ll be able to integrate those reminders into my being so completely that when I meet someone knew, I’ll no longer see just their surface, but the hint of shadows within as well.