The other day I jumped back into The Soul Tells a Story
by Vinita Hampton Wright. If you've been hanging around here awhile you might remember me talking about this book, its beautiful discussions of the way art and spirituality intersect,
the way it poses soul-searching Hard Questions that dig way deeper into your motivations than most other writing prompts you might encounter.
I'd left off on it just before a chapter called "The Beauty and Danger of a Creative Life: Why the Wonder Brings Darkness With It," which may have been WHY I'd left off. I've been having serious fear-induced blocking issues with my creativity, after all: the last thing I needed was MORE reason to be wary of it. But as it turned out, the chapter told me nothing I didn't already know intimately. I'm IN the Dark Stuff already! If anything, it was further proof that I am, actually, a creative person.
I found myself utterly tickled by a paragraph explaining that artists tend to fall in love easily because the artistic mindset and the-emotional-side-of-being-in-love are both heightened ways of experiencing the universe, and I fell so deeply in love with that concept
that I woke up the next morning intent on writing a post about it. Only I got so distracted by breakfast and children and the Internet that hours went by and I found I'd lost the desire to blog. So obviously my best bet was to procrastinate further, by searching for tips on how habitually-procrastination-prone EnneaType 9s like myself
can stop procrastinating. Mostly I just found lots of evidence that, yes, we are really good at procrastinating.* I didn't think the blog post could happen in this state, so I went back to the book to reread a bit to see if it put me back in the mood. After all, I hadn't even READ the Hard Questions for the chapter yet.
Wait. HAH. In typical Type 9 fashion, I'd gotten so excited about the Beauty of a Creative Life that I'd managed to forget entirely that this chapter had actually focused on the Danger
of it. I'd even forgotten why I called the Hard Questions "the Hard Questions" (hint: they're not actually called that). And these Hard Questions? There was a list called "Worst-Case Scenarios":"The phrase or sentence I most fear writing down..."; "The secret I most fear coming to light"; "The emotion that frightens me most"; "The location associated with my darkest moment"; "The failure that would shatter me most"; "The biggest mistake I could make"; "The cruelest thing I've ever said or done"; "My greatest regret so far"; "The one thing I dread more than anything"; "The possibility I worry about most"; "The thing I need to do but can't"; "The one person or event that can make me angriest in the shortest amount of time"; "The grief that won't let me go."
Those are the SHORT questions. The big one was "Write a three-page essay that explores the darkness you have either found in your creative work or feared you would find there. Write quickly and don't edit... [after a few days go back and] make sure it flows well and would be understandable to someone who knows nothing about you....Come up with some sort of structure and revise accordingly."
That, oh Best Beloveds, is what you're reading right now. The revised, moderately explained edition.
See, the thing about 9s is that we're actually pretty good at DEALING with the world's Darkness, push come to shove. We're good in a crisis, should we happen to be dropped into the middle of one. But we're not so good at FACING the Darkness. We'll go out of our way to AVOID dealing with the Darkness. We're a bit like the Wizard Howl, having to trick himself into being brave because otherwise he'd slither right out of it.** THESE QUESTIONS WERE ASKING ME TO LOOK MY OWN DARK SIDE RIGHT IN THE EYE AND DESCRIBE WHAT I SEE. That's the DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL for a 9!
But having journaled since my early teens, and being a rather 4-like sexual-instinct 9, I'm a bit more introspective than the average 9. I CAN DO THIS. Maybe it'd be more the Long Dark Tea-Time than the actual NIGHT of the Soul.
Never mind it's taken me five paragraphs and two footnotes to get to the point where I actually DO discuss my Darkness.
If you were to ask me, flat out, to give a name to my own personal Dark Side, I'd tell you I've always identified with Wednesday Addams. She is the living-- okay, fictional-- EMBODIMENT of the Dark Side of Me. On the surface I may be this painfully nice, sweet, quiet, innocent girl-- on the inside is Wednesday, a morbid, snarky, sullen witch who's utterly unimpressed by what anyone else thinks. But I love
Wednesday! I love secretly BEING her! I wouldn't MIND-- and probably SHOULD BE-- letting her come to the surface more often. So somehow I don't think that's the answer. That morbid, snarky side of me is NOT actually the Inner Darkness I need to face.
I decided to start with whichever of the Worst-Case Scenario questions I came up with an answer for first. The Location Associated With My Darkest Moment popped into my head immediately: I saw myself sitting in the Oak Grove at college trying to process what, looking back, I see now was a genuine Dark Night of the Soul moment (although it was morning), when I had to face a horrible truth about myself and what I'd thoughtlessly done to someone I loved. It had taken a long time-- years-- to fully recover from that. God help me, I wouldn't have to go through THAT again just to answer these QUESTIONS, would I?
But it opened up the tap-- literally, it made me cry for a moment, but I pulled myself together and quite calmly started answering more questions-- and more of my fears and regrets and demons poured onto the page. My fear of being wrong (that's a product of my 1-wing, since we're on the Enneatype stuff), because it's like every added wrong thing is more negativity in the world (which, yeah, is a 9's problem with having a 1-wing). Fears of anything bad happening to my kids, not just because they're my babies whom I love more than anyone else in the world, but also because I fear having to FACE anyone SHOULD they have (even unwittingly) caused harm to my kids, because I don't think I could forgive them-- I'm not sure I forgive myself for all my failures as a parent and how they might manifest in the future. The regret that I never did anything daring with my life BEFORE I had a family. The dread that I never WILL, that my life has gone stagnant. The deeper dread that the only way I CAN ever learn to live life fully is to give up my family and strike out on my own.
Now, none of these things were a surprise to me. Even if it might be hard to make myself sit down and write them, I've written about them all before. I've written SO MUCH in my journals-- and even here on my blog-- about my battles with chronic depression, which I even refer to as The Darkness-- because it IS, it's a cloud that settles over everything, blocking out light-- you can actually see a difference in the colors when you're depressed and not. I've written about this stuff so often it seemed pointless to write it again for the sake of this exercise.
So what about the darkness I FEARED I would find in my work? That would be more revealing. I KNOW it's fear that's causing my writer's block. I KNOW I'm slithering out of it just like Howl slithers out of his
dangerous responsibilities, even as I feel called to DO it. I pondered, and the answer hit me: it's not so much what I'm afraid I'll find there. It's what I'm afraid I WON'T find. You know the Fear of the Blank Page? It's that. But it's more than that. It's the fear that even if I DO put something on the page, there will still be nothing there. I've filled dozens and dozens of notebooks FULL of blank pages, but have I written anything there, really? Anything that MEANS something? Anything with a POINT? What if I write and write but I never write anything that needs to be said? That's really the driving obsession (in the clinical, totally negative sense of the word) during my depressive periods: what's the point? What is the point of MY EXISTENCE?
Maybe I'm afraid of that known liar, Depression, proving itself right in my writing, and I'll never find in it a point, or meaning, or a happy ending, or even God. I fear finding the chaos of nothingness instead of the logos
Let me explain. If I had to sum up what I believe in
in one word, it would be logos,
a Greek word which, in the Gospel of St. John, is usually translated as "The Word." But logos
actually connotes something bigger than just words: order, logic, meaning, sense. Cause and effect.
My whole world-view is founded on these things-- that there's an underlying meaning that holds the multiverse together into a story. No matter how bad I might be at following a religion,
my faith in The Word-- God as logos
-- is so ingrained that I have trouble understanding what it's like to think without it.***
But, if THAT's what I fear I'll find-- a lack of God-- certainly there's a way to get past that. There are thousands of people who manage to be atheists without having existential crises. Me, I don't know how. HOW, oh atheists out there reading this (and this isn't rhetorical, I really want to hear your answers. I'm trying to LEARN here!), do you answer the questions, "What's the point of me? Why am I here? Why don't I just go die?"
I have enough trouble answering those questions even WITH the fallback answer of "God loves and has a plan for each and every person, even me."
If I DIDN'T have that answer, I'm not sure I could get through
my Dark Times.
The irony is, this makes sense even WITHIN my spiritual worldview. Most atheists pride themselves on basing their beliefs on only hard evidence, which is, when you think about it, exactly what a Type 9 is supposed to be incorporating MORE of into her life. My challenge in growing into an actualized human being is to learn to ground myself, in my body, here and now. To an atheist, the here and now is all that EXISTS. But I'm out there drifting in the numinous without any substance-- I need to reconnect with substance--in a sense, cultivate my atheism!-- in order to actually DO THE WORK of God. FURTHER irony: the word logos
I identify with? Being that it means logic and reason, it is sometimes used, philosophically (less so in theology), as the opposite of the emotional.
So in other words, it's ALL ABOUT being grounded instead of dreamy!
It's also strange, but facing the fear of meaninglessness by accepting it is weirdly liberating. Like, if nothing really matters, then it doesn't matter what I write,
so I can stop FREAKING OUT about not knowing what to write and JUST WRITE ANYTHING. Which is, of course, the only way the bits that DO mean something will ever make it out onto paper in the first place.
Thing is, I'm not an atheist. The theme of church today was Trust in God and good will follow. We sang one of my lifelong favorite church songs, "Be Not Afraid,"
and my faith was THERE and fully participating. My faith will ALWAYS be there, it's just the way I am. But I have faith in the irony of my need to be more atheistic-- to stop expecting things to Just Happen, to get more involved in the here-and-now-- in order to live truly as a child of God.
Now the question is: did I successfully pull my Dark Side up and put it into words here, or did I just distract myself from true introspection with philosophical ironies that are fun to discuss?
Well, it's interesting, either way.
*My favorite sentence was "9w1 [that's me] has a kind of refinement and poise, because of the one-wing's desire to be perfect. But 9w1 is more likely to lie down and take a nap than the more workaholic 1w9."
What, that isn't how everyone deals with perfectionist moments?
**Howl, a 9, gee. Seeing that vanity is considered a hallmark of 3s it might be tempting to put him THERE instead, but no way. He's too much of a slitherer-outer to be a 3. Maybe a 4 with a 3-wing. But what with the slithering-out, and the maintaining multiple identities, and the falling-madly-in-love-until-it-gets-too-
REAL-then-abruptly-running-away... yeah, quite likely a 9. HUH. And I always identified with SOPHIE.
***My original "three-page" freewrite of this topic here took a tangent into ranting about Philip Pullman. When it came time to form this into a Proper Essay for the Consumption of Others, I realized my musings on Philip Pullman didn't really fit, structurally, but I enjoyed it SO THAT'S WHAT FOOTNOTES ARE FOR. If you're new here: I've always had a PROBLEM with Philip Pullman. Oh sure, he's a great writer, but somehow, whenever I read an interview or an essay written as HIMSELF, it ALWAYS rubs me the wrong way, even when I AGREED with him.
Sure, he IS a sometimes controversially-outspoken atheist, but quite a lot of atheists say things I agree with just fine, and even where our beliefs seem to differ I often get the feeling we merely define a few words differently, or have different understandings of what God or religion IS. Philip Pullman doesn't even allow me THAT much. But writing this I realized that, unlike most atheists, it isn't merely a matter of not believing in an Old Man Creator In the Sky-- Philip Pullman doesn't believe in logos
! It's not that our worldviews are DIFFERENT, they're OPPOSITE. They CLASH! Weird story though-- some weeks back I took a "Which Fantasy Author Are You?" Internet survey, one that was quite long and in depth and therefore you'd expect it to be more accurate than usual. GUESS WHO MY ANSWER WAS. Maybe Philip Pullman is my shadow self. Maybe HE'S my Dark Side! Sorry, Wednesday! You've apparently been supplanted!