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.

Magical Poetry: Publication News

The Magic Circle. John William Waterhouse. 1886.

Just in time for the magical Hallowe’en season (oh yes, it’s a full-on season at my house), I am happy to announce that one of my poems, “A Spiral Upward,” will appear in the upcoming fall/winter issue of Witches & Pagans Magazine. I don’t yet know what the release date is, but I’ll announce when it’s available for purchase online and at your local Barnes and Noble bookstore.

“A Spiral Upward” contemplates the central figure in the John William Waterhouse painting The Magic Circle (shown above). That painting has long fascinated and inspired me; it resonates with the part of me that is wild and ritualistic and magical. It evokes the earthy mystique of fairy tales and the strong, mysterious female figure that is the Witch in our collective unconscious. I connect with that, or want to. It’s that felt connection, as well as a moment of enlightenment, that serves as the subject of the poem.

If you can’t tell, I’m thrilled about this news. W&P is a well known, well distributed magazine with a great community of readers and contributors. I’ve been interested in sharing my work with the pagan community for a long time because I think my work — nature-oriented and fairly mystical — would find a wider audience of willing readers there, and I’m glad to be given the opportunity to do so. Hopefully, this isn’t the last you’ll see of me on W&P.

A Note On Understanding

 

Family. Kristin Vestgard, oil on canvas, 2006.

The following is an abridged version of an editorial I wrote for American Athenaeum Magazine’s “The Understanders” issue in Winter 2012.

The summer before last, a high school friend of my husband, who was also becoming a friend of mine, asked me one night, out of the blue, “How are you so nice to people?” I was surprised by the question and didn’t really know how to answer it, but I managed to say, “Well, I think I understand people.” He responded with a laugh and said, “I guess that’s the difference between you and me. I don’t understand people at all.” It was such a casual, in-passing kind of conversation that I would have forgotten it, except that that was the last night I ever saw him, and it was one of the last things he ever said to me. A little more than a month later, he committed suicide.

I realize this is a macabre, intimate story to share. I don’t mean to be confessional, and I certainly don’t mean to be macabre. But I think that memory is important here because it highlights a significant but not often enough considered aspect of the theme of this issue: the fundamental value of understanding for one’s own salvation.

When we speak of compassion and understanding, we often think of it as a kind of votive offering, a sacrifice, something we give of ourselves to others. And there’s truth in that. True understanding is deconstructive. It requires us to break down those presumptions and hard beliefs that act as walls to divide us from other people– especially those people whom we consider our enemies — and to reconsider our world and the events that happen within it from a perspective beyond ourselves. Doing so requires humility in accepting that our perceptions of the world and our understanding even of ourselves is subjective; it also requires a nimble imagination to go beyond our particular experiences and modes of thinking. Understanding is challenging and too often taken for granted.

Even so, understanding doesn’t have to be perfect to have its effect. Often, simply acknowledging that another person has a completely different frame of reference that we may never fully comprehend is enough to humble us, to make us reconsider (or consider for the first time) our sense of our own righteousness. What I meant when I told my friend that I think I understand people was that I understand, however imperfectly, that every person I meet has known pain and that pain is very often the cause of the hurtful, sometimes truly terrible things people do. It doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t often feel frustrated — even enraged — by others’ actions and words, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I haven’t sometimes hurt other people. But I do carry with me that glimpse of wisdom in knowing that there is a common thread that binds us all together and that this thread is, macabre as it sounds, pain. This unifying thread reminds me to be kind as often as I can, in whatever small or great ways I find. It also reminds me to forgive and move past the pain I experience. Understanding our common humanity — our sensitivity and frailty — makes us able to use that pain to heal rather than as a weapon.

Carl Jung’s first mandala

As I’ve said, healing ourselves through understanding is inherently a part of that forward movement. This is something that my friend unfortunately never realized. To him, his pain was unique and unbearable. He didn’t understand that others had felt similar pain before, that it was something we keep mostly hidden, as he had done. When we can’t perceive the suffering of others, we are left only with ourselves and our own heavy pain. We are engulfed by it, and it makes us feel supremely, desperately lonely.

Because many of us don’t often share our pains with each other face-to-face — perhaps we’re ashamed to; maybe others discourage it, finding it uncomfortable or even frightening; or perhaps the opportunity never really comes up — it is often through art that we learn to understand and find understanding in others. James Baldwin wrote in The Price of the Ticket: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” Reading opens us up to a larger community — however remote in space and time — that is always there, and through it we realize that we are never truly alone. Reading makes it possible for us to experience the pain of others, helps us begin to understand experiences that may be far removed from our own and otherwise inaccessible to us, and to find the common threads between our own and others’ stories. This connection through words is what Baldwin relished. …

It is a gift to ourselves to understand — to see the humanity in others, to see ourselves in them and, reflexively, them in ourselves. This is how enemies cease to be enemies, how strangers grow close and become part of a growing sense of a human family. It allows us not only to become kinder to others but also to ourselves. Understanding makes it possible for us to persist in spite of our struggles, in spite of our pain, because we know that others have been before where we are now.

I hope that the stories and poetry in this issue help us all to do just that: to be challenged, to be seized and opened wide, to take in alien thoughts, emotions, and experiences, to be made freshly vulnerable to pain, and therefore to be transformed, made greater and more understanding, and to be healed. Because we can be healed by understanding, in recognizing and accepting the pain that lies in others and in learning to identify and love the humanity revealed by that pain. Through that, we can be re-made universal and whole.

To purchase the issue, click here.

For Your Reading Pleasure

Subprimal Poetry Art, Issue 2 cover art

As promised, I’m announcing the release of my latest published poem, “Snake River 1986,” in Subprimal Poetry Art’s Origins and Destinations issue. The poem is a semi-mythical, earth-centered take on the theme of belonging/foreignness that runs through some of my work.

Growing up in an Army family has always made the answer to the question, “Where are you from?” sound a lot like a Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated. I often want to respond, “What are you really asking–where was I born? Where did I grow up? What place do I call home?” I was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho; I did most of my growing up in Augusta, Georgia, and would consider that my hometown; but, to be honest, I get just as homesick for Germany (where I lived for a total of five years as a kid) as I do for those other places. I feel deeply connected to each of those places but, at the same time, detached from them. I am from many places and from nowhere. Which I think is why the Japanese concept of ukiyo, “floating world” — the sense of impermanence and detachment from a place — strikes me so strongly. While the Tokugawa-period term refers to pleasure-seeking societies detached from the real, natural world, it’s expanded for me as I struggle to attach to places that have defined me and yet do not, in some ways at least, belong to me.

Don’t misunderstand — I don’t regret the lifestyle of my childhood, even if it has made me feel lonely for a sense of rootedness from time to time. It was a gypsy kind of life, one that gave me an opportunity to meet many kinds of people and see quite a bit more of the world than most of my peers. It has allowed me to be fearless when faced with change and the unknown, to be eager to confront Otherness and being an Other. I feel more alive when I’m in a strange place, and I get restless living in one city or town for too long. It’s made me adventurous and strong.

Still, I sometimes find myself yearning for a place where I belong, where the culture is intimate to me and embraces me, that expresses what Wallace Stevens observes in his poem “Anecdote of Men By the Thousand”: “There are men whose words / Are as natural sounds / Of their places / As the cackle of toucans / In the place of toucans.” I don’t know where my words are natural. Maybe they are in some place. Maybe not.

The theme for the issue, Origins and Destinations, addresses “places we come from or are going to… work that deals with traditions, transitions, trials, tribulations, things that are part of our all too human identity, legends of the past, visions of the future.” There’s a lot of strong work in this issue, and many of the poems (including my own) include audio of the poet reading with complementary light, ambient music. I am proud to have my work displayed there, and I hope you’ll check it out. There’s a comments section at the end of each poem — leave a note! You can also leave your thoughts here.

News and Thoughts on Poetry

The Omniformalist Manifesto

I came across a blog post by poet Annie Finch on her website a little while ago, and it’s stuck with me. It reflects many of my own feelings about the poetry community, its relationship with the rest of the world (or the lack thereof), and my personal poetic inclinations. So, en lieu of rehashing what has already been said well by poets more experienced than I, I figured I’d just send readers to the blog post itself. It’s a quick read and well worth the time: Omniformalism Revisited

Annie Finch is one of my favorite poets, partly because of her bold, unique perspective (as an earth-centered, feminist Wiccan poet who is well-respected by the poetry community at large — how rare is that?) but also because of her deep knowledge of poetic forms and her use of them in her work that avoids sounding cliche or stiff. Most of all, I love her fascination with and respect for mystery. I’m glad that formalism has reemerged in the poetry community, not because I dislike free-form poetry (the grand majority of my poems are, in fact, free form) but because I enjoy seeing the new expressions that old forms can take in a modern context. I like play with structure as much as I like deviation from it, which is what Omniformalism is all about — celebrating all forms of poetry.

Upcoming Publication

In May, a poem of mine will appear in Subprimal Poetry Art, an online journal based in Mexico that “looks toward poetry, flash fiction, music, and art work that takes the reader / viewer / listener out of the ordinary and into a place altered from that which they normally experience. In an enjoyable, thought-provoking way.” The next issue will feature not just the text of my poem but also a recording of me reading it. I’ve never done something like that before, so I’m excited about it and look forward to hearing what readers/listeners think. I’ll provide more details when it’s published.

I’ll end with a quote from the above-mentioned manifesto:

We have a madness for poems that pound in the blood, that are moved into three dimensions by the immanent necessities of their form, that know the stubborn patterns and rhythms the world keeps.

March 20

In honor of the March equinox/first day of spring  (at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere), here are a few things that look both forward and backward — fitting for this time in which dark and light are momentarily in balance and things begin to wake or make their return.

“The Current”
by Wendell Berry

Having once put his hand into the ground,
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.
His hand has given up its birdlife in the air.
It has reached into the dark like a root
and begun to wake, quick and mortal, in timelessness,
a flickering sap coursing upward into his head
so that he sees the old tribespeople bend
in the sun, digging with sticks, the forest opening
to receive their hills of corn, squash, and beans,
their lodges and graves, and closing again.
He is made their descendant, what they left
in the earth rising into him like a seasonal juice.
And he sees the bearers of his own blood arriving,
the forest burrowing into the earth as they come,
their hands gathering the stones up into walls,
and relaxing, the stones crawling back into the ground
to lie still under the black wheels of machines.
The current flowing to him through the earth
flows past him, and he sees one descended from him,
a young man who has reached into the ground,
his hand held in the dark as by a hand.

From “Rising”
by Wendell Berry

6.
Ended, a story is history;
it is in time, with time
lost. But if a man’s life
continue in another man,
then the flesh will rhyme
its part in immortal song.
By absence, he comes again.

There is a kinship of the fields
that gives to the living the breath
of the dead. The earth
opened in the spring, opens
in all springs. Nameless,
ancient, many-lived, we reach
through the ages with the seed.

It’s our first spring at our (first) house, and it’s exciting to discover the flowers and plants we didn’t know existed when we bought the place late last summer. We’ve planted strawberries and lemon thyme in the front yard around the mailbox and more strawberries in the backyard near the porch, and the seeds we’ve ordered for our vegetable and herb gardens should be coming in any day now. So, for us, it’s a time of surprise and anticipation, of eagerness and hope. It’s also, as with other things, a time of returning. As my husband said while we were preparing the soil around the mailbox, “It’s like being a kid again — digging in the dirt outside.”