I had to share this wonderful image of Truth or Consequences. There’s a scene in Ghost Sickness that takes place right here, on this sidewalk in front of Passion Pie Café. And I wanted readers who haven’t been to T or C to get a glimpse of my town. I highly recommend the photography blog this came from, Always Backroads.
That’s the side I never look at. The side scarcely touched by my superficial housework. Where the dust is.
This week, I stuck the duster behind the books, though I didn’t bother to pull them out, and I encountered a slender volume that had shifted into the shadow side. I’ve always believed that if a book literally, physically jumps out at me, I may need to read it. This one had ducked back and hidden from me. I pulled it out. It was Jungian psychologist Robert Bly’s A Little Book on the Human Shadow. I’m Jungian enough to appreciate synchronicity.
I opened it at random and found a chapter that’s an interview with Bly and his editor William Booth. It starts with Booth asking Bly how some ordinary person, a hypothetical woman in a small town in Minnesota without access to a Jungian therapist, might find her shadow. (The shadow, by the way, isn’t necessarily the bad side of the mind, it’s the unacknowledged side, the aspects of ourselves that we have, in Bly’s imagery, stuffed into a bag we carry around on our backs.) In his answer, Bly suggests that this hypothetical ordinary person look where her attention is drawn. Does she tend to think too much about a member of her community that she sees as sexually loose and immoral? Does she find herself obsessing on a member of her PTA who she thinks is fake and dishonest? If these other two women dominate her attention, her shadow may be calling her to look at her own sexuality and at her own level of sincerity and honesty.
In essence, Bly says, to find your shadow, look at what you hate.
That’s different from what you disagree with. It’s quite possible—more so face to face than in social media conversations—to disagree without hatred. I find it valuable to talk with people with whom I disagree so we can stay in a constructive relationship. But I hate yappy dogs that won’t shut up. I’m an extravert, a talker, and I’m persistent as heck. Maybe I need to acknowledge my inner yappy dog. The other day during my outdoor yoga practice between the tennis courts and the college president’s house, the president’s dog objected to my presence exactly at the time I was ready to practice savasana. Deep relaxation. Quietness. What could I do? I focused on the spaces between the barks. Maybe I can do this with my own yapping thoughts. My tendency to object to things.
Back to the book. Bly chose Abraham Lincoln as an example of a well-known person who seemed to have incorporated rather than rejected his shadow. I agree. One thing I admire about Lincoln is how he handled anger. He would write his “hot” letter to the person he was angry with, then put it in a desk drawer. A few days later or whenever he felt calmer and could think more clearly, he would communicate rationally with the individual, never sending the angry letter. He felt anger and expressed it, but processed its meaning rather than lashing out. That’s my reason he seems integrated. Bly gives the illustration of Lincoln’s sense of humor, his ability to laugh at himself and not take offense.
A woman meeting Lincoln on a train told him that he was the ugliest man she had ever set eyes on. Lincoln asked her, “What do you suggest I do about it?” She said, “You could stay home.” He liked her answer and enjoyed telling the story.
Image: Shadow of a dune in Death Valley by Brocken Inaglory
My delight in reading the Pot Thief books never fades. As I dive into each story, I find something cozy and familiar and yet full of surprises, a quality much like pot thief Hubie Schuze’s happy hour conversations over margaritas with his friend Susannah.
This book has the best opening I’ve read in years. It sets the tone, revealing Hubie’s sense of humor, while introducing the instigating event for the mystery immediately. “I was trying to remember if I’d ever been blindfolded before. I didn’t think I had, but the cloth over my eyes felt vaguely familiar, almost nostalgic. I couldn’t imagine why. The only images I could connect with blindfolds were kidnappings.”
Hubie is brought in this mysterious way to appraise a pot collection. In that collection, he finds something that shouldn’t be there. And the appraisal fee gets sneaked out of his pocket on the return trip. The lengths he goes to in order to get it back are clever (and illegal) and get him into trouble for something he didn’t do: kill the pot collector. An unexpected new romance results from his attempts to sort out his situation.
Orenduff does something I’ve seen one other author do successfully (Martyn V. Halm, in his Amsterdam Assassin thriller series, which in all other ways is as different from the Pot Thief series as it could be, though just as good). He inserts interludes. These are short chapters which tell a story within the story, about a personal aspect of the main character’s life. These interludes are few, well-crafted and beautiful, revealing details about life in New Mexico and showing Hubie’s appreciation of old friends and of the place he lives. They aren’t unnecessary, though it may sound as if they are. The nature of these books is such that this is the pace. This is the personality. There is suspense, but it’s suspense from the point of view of a man who has some amusing opinions that he freely shares, and who savors the taste of life, from traditional New Mexican cooking and Gruet champagne, to friendships, the scenery on Sandia peak, and the unexpected companionship of a funny-looking dog.
As always, the story is full of fascinating information about what Hubie is studying. The book he’s reading on Einstein and quantum physics plays a key role in the plot and in his thinking, as he struggles to understand the uncertainty principle and figure out who really killed the pot collector.
If you haven’t started this series yet, begin at the beginning and make friends with Hubie in The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras.
This isn’t about writing dialogue in fiction, although it’s related in a way. In fiction, an author has to sustain conflict. In real life, we have to resolve it. Keeping the drama up can be engaging for readers, but it can be destructive when people actually need to hear each other. Contrived and exaggerated conflict is the meat of reality TV, but that’s not reality. And we’re not on TV.
My college, like many across the country, has a Dialogue Club. Students are trained to facilitate conversations on difficult topics. These conversations give students a method for expressing their experiences, opinions and feelings without attacking, blaming or accusing. The participants learn to listen without arguing back. The purpose is not to persuade anyone, but simply to understand each other.
I had already planned a Dialogue Club activity in my freshman seminar this week, and the timing was right. We talked about the topics my students had chosen in advance: Black Lives Matter, and athletes who kneel during the national anthem. And then, once we had practiced our skills in civil discourse, I asked if they would be willing to share their thoughts on the election in the same way. They did. It was amazing. My class found this dialogue process valuable enough that they want to do it every week. This is so promising, I’ve volunteered to part of an upcoming campus-wide dialogue about the election results.
The origin of dialogue clubs, to my knowledge, is with a group of women in Massachusetts who had pro-life and pro-choice views and were tired of the anger and even violence that had arisen in disagreements about abortion rights. Their purpose was to hear each other, and they found that there were not just two sides. If there were ten people in the room, there might be ten sides to the issue. Venting to our like-minded friends is a relief, of course, and we all need to do that. But then, we need to move out of our comfort zones, our echo chambers. Reducing our stress often begins with raising it—by doing what makes us uncomfortable. Getting involved in anything controversial (in a role other than audience) can make most people uncomfortable, unless they are the type that thrives on conflict. The rest of us need to be as engaged, or even more so, than the people who enjoy being angry.
Dialogue clubs have been used not only on college campuses. They have been effective working through national conflicts, in places like Rwanda. Talk doesn’t replace action, of course. What it does is do is give people the courage to become part of the public conversation, the first step toward peaceful, constructive action.
This week my college’s entire faculty and the president and the provost got together and discussed a major change in the academic calendar, a change which some support and some oppose, and we worked toward a compromise. Though we didn’t solve the problem yet, we agreed to keep talking. If we didn’t keep cooperating and communicating constructively, the institution would cease to function and it would fail the needs of those we serve, the students.
A few days ago, I finished reading an eight hundred page biography of George Washington, which I reviewed at length on my Booklikes blog. Washington was flawed, as all of us are, leaders and unknowns alike. He was successful because he listened and took time to think.
Here are two of my favorite quotations from his letters (also quoted in my review):
In this one, he was writing to his adopted grandson: “Where there is no occasion for expressing an opinion, it is best to be silent, for there is nothing more certain than it is at all times more easy to make enemies than friends.”
The following is an excerpt from a letter Washington wrote to a Jewish congregation in Philadelphia. Note that the word “demean” back then related to one’s demeanor and didn’t have its modern meaning of debasing. It meant comport or behave. “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunity of citizenship. It is now no more that tolerance is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.” He found religious tolerance to be too weak a concept, too condescending toward religious minorities.
Between two classes today, I took an outdoor yoga break. My route out the side of my building passes under a walnut tree and then across a lawn beside the tennis courts. Earlier in the fall, it was hard to tell a walnut in the grass from a tennis ball. A closer look at the bright yellow-green spheres revealed either the smooth texture of a walnut pod or the fuzzy skin of a tennis ball. Now the walnuts are yellow, resembling golden delicious apples, and some have softened open or been punctured by squirrels for the nut inside. The tennis balls, of course, are still firm and green. I place them on the wall of the court or toss them inside, in case they can be used again. Once they’ve been hit past the fence and left there, though, I wonder if they can serve any purpose in the game, or if these wild shots can’t be reclaimed by either the tennis players or the earth.