Useful Advice I’ve Liked Referring To Lately

I) First, a poem:

Berryman, by W. S. Merwin

I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

II) From the New Yorker article “Hollywood Shadows,” about a Jungian therapist in L.A. treating screenwriters with writer’s block:

“Michels also told the writer to get an egg timer. Following Michels’s instructions, every day he set it for one minute, knelt in front of his computer in a posture of prayer, and begged the universe to help him write the worst sentence ever written. When the timer dinged, he would start typing. He told Michels that the exercise was stupid, pointless, and embarrassing, and it didn’t work. Michels told him to keep doing it.

Patients are told to visualize things going horribly wrong, a strategy of “pre-disappointment.” The tool for this, which Michels and Stutz teach to those who are hoping to win an award or who are about to submit a script for approval, involves imagining yourself falling backward into the sun, saying “I am willing to lose everything” as you are consumed in a giant fireball, after which, transformed into a sunbeam, you profess, “I am infinite.”

To help a patient avoid freezing during a pitch—a problem that Michels attributes to trying to hide your Shadow from development executives—he’ll tell him to reassure his Shadow with the words “I love you and I care more about you than I do whether this pitch sells.” That is step one. Then he must invite the Shadow into the conference room, so that together they can address a silent scream—“Listen!”—to the assembled suits. “What it does is assert our—me and my Shadow’s—authority and right to have something to say,” Michels says. The third step takes place afterward, when, regardless of the outcome, the patient thanks the Shadow for its time, so that it knows the ego wasn’t just using it to get money. For writers, the analogy is clear: give the Shadow the respect you long for.

By far the most common problem afflicting the writers in Michels’s practice is procrastination, which he understands in terms of Jung’s Father archetype. “They procrastinate because they have no external authority figure demanding that they write,” he says. “Often I explain to the patient that there is an authority figure he’s answerable to, but it’s not human. It’s Time itself that’s passing inexorably. That’s why they call it Father Time. Every time you procrastinate or waste time, you’re defying this authority figure.” Procrastination, he says, is a “spurious form of immortality,” the ego’s way of claiming that it has all the time in the world; writing, by extension, is a kind of death.”

I also like the advice about how to deal with something unpleasant by visualizing yourself pushing your way through a cloud of pain while screaming “BRING IT ON!” and “I LOVE PAIN. PAIN SETS ME FREE.” I find the article’s discussion of Jungian archetypes fascinating. Among other things it’s really made me appreciate the Tori Amos song “Sister Janet” in a whole new way.

Master Shaman, I have come
with my dolly from the Shadow side
with a demon and an Englishman
I’m my mother, I’m my son…

With your perfect wing, a wing can cover all sorts of things. Aaaaaah so good.

III) I went to a yoga class on Wednesday where the substitute teacher talked for a little bit about her past experience as a researcher at OHSU, studying the ways that blind people “see.” She talked a lot about wave lengths that people omit, about how the metaphorical language we use to refer to it (“I got a bad vibe from her,” “He and I are on the same wavelength”) actually has some scientific basic. People emit “wavelengths” or something that we can pick up on (I can’t remember exactly how this connected to blind people), and some wavelengths from certain people can be better for us than others. The main message that stayed with me, though, was how she emphasized the importance of “staying true to your center.” As in, not always letting other people’s wavelengths throw you off all the time, and dictate to you what to do and how to feel and how to orient yourself in life. Instead, STAY TRUE TO YOUR CENTER. Good advice.

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Filed under advice, poetry, quotes, yoga

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