Who Loves You?

How are those New Years’ resolutions going? Mine went out the window in less than 24 hours. Life has been different and exciting and I haven’t really thought about why I can never stick to resolutions. Except every morning when I stepped on the scale I thought about that holiday weight loss one. And then I fixed that. I stopped stepping on the scale. Problem solved!

Those holiday pounds, despite my admittedly slapdash efforts, have stubbornly refused to move. I lost a few of them but they came back overnight. Then at the doctor’s office I weighed five pounds less than I did that morning at home. And I had clothes on! Winter clothes! So that lulled me into a false sense of security. Also, my new smaller sized wardrobe still fits. One pair of jeans pinch a little bit in the middle. That made me get on the scale again and then pull out my journals from October, when I bought the new wardrobe. I calculated my weight gains and losses from then until now.

I didn’t like those numbers. I knew I had to do more to change them. I have back-to-back vacations coming up and that means restaurant food and airport cocktails to calm the nerves and less yoga. Although today I tried “Happy Baby” pose and think Owen might like it! Then I mentioned to Al that I would dust the basement if he would vacuum with his man vacuum. (It intimidates me.) We never got around to it last weekend. So it was yoga and back to the Lisa Plan for food.

But Seattle is on the horizon and I need to walk. It’s too cold here and there’s ice and snow and things. After great trepidation, I steadied my nerves and went down into the pit of hell, um, basement, and set my treadmill to incline. That worked out okay yesterday except it wanted me to run instead of walk. Like the mind of the machine thinks the more you incline the faster you should go. No. That’s not how I like it. I want Ballard neighborhood sidewalks! They don’t have that setting on the treadmill.

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You know the treadmill was invented as a medieval torture devise for prisoners, right? True story.

This entry has a shadow component to it … I am an emotional eater. I eat to fill a hole in my heart. Also, I am lazy. I would rather exercise my mind with a mystery novel than my body with certain kinds of physical exertion. I had to admit these things but doing work with one’s shadow self goes a bit deeper. I always thought that hole inside was because Al didn’t love me enough. He put everything before me: work, gym, sports, friends…there’s more, but you get the idea. He doesn’t put those things before me anymore, but when I began gaining weight, that was the reality of our world. He was a bachelor adjusting to a wife and two instant kids. I was doing everything I could to stay married this time and didn’t complain about his always doing stuff without me. I just ate. Especially after he talked me into giving up cigarettes.

So anyway, all Al’s fault, right? Wrong. It is not Al’s job to fill that hole inside. It is MY job. I need to love myself enough; nobody else can do it for me. Lazy was hard to admit because I am very busy on the inside. Anything but lazy intellectually. Except, in shadow-speak, everyone has both sides of the coin. So I am full of plans and active and busy but my shadow side is lazy. What people do with the shadow is they avoid it, ignore it, or deny it. I did that for a really long time. Until yesterday when I said, yeah, okay, I’m lazy about exercise. I like yoga and destination walking. In Ballard you walk everywhere, but there’s a reason, a place you want to get to. That is not true of the treadmill. I don’t even like walking aimlessly around my neighborhood. And below zero temps plus ice, well, no, I just won’t do it. Walk to the cafe. Walk to the grocery store. Walk up the hill to the ancient ruins. (That would be Delos, not Ballard.) But walk just to move?

Well, yeah. Just to move my body so it can get the exercise it needs to feel good and maintain health. When put that way, it sounds like a loving thing to do. It sounds like I’m giving my body something it’s been needing. It sounds like I’m filling a hole. Listen, I’m not beating myself up when I call myself lazy. I just like looking at things all the way through to the other side. There’s always something interesting going on over there in the shadows.

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Sex and the Shadow

hawaii3Shadows are where danger lurks. Shame is in the shadow of every single life. And sex includes shame for so many of us. Makes sense, then, that one of my problems as a writer has always been with sex. Open the door or keep it closed?

Those who throw the door wide and step right through would argue that sex is the primal urge in life and drives most of our actions most of our lives. Why not just admit it and stir sex into the mix?

Those who would rather not say hey there are other basic human bodily functions we don’t feel the need to write about so why should sex be any different?

I used to be firmly in the “keep the door shut” camp until I signed a contract that called for a consummation scene and my editor called me on it when I didn’t write one. I think now that part of my issue with writing sex was shame. I’ve got some of that, but then I think most people do, especially women, especially women who have had men take advantage of them sexually. We carry our scars and some of us think it might be our fault it happened. We bury all that and we certainly don’t want to stir it up by writing about it.

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But sex is why we are all here. Literally. We would not be walking this gorgeous earth, not one of us, if somebody didn’t have sex with somebody else, and yes, that would be our biological parents. Also sex is beautiful between loving couples (or whatever combination you are into). Orgasm is the closest we will ever get to completely letting go of our thinking mind and entering into a state of bliss on earth. So why the shame? Why the secrecy? Why the guilt heaped upon me by wrinkled noses, poked out tongues, and suggestions that I give out page numbers for sex scenes so they can be skipped over?

And that’s just my family. Also, yes someone did stick their tongue out at me when they saw the cover of my latest book and the inevitable question arose (ahem) and I answered that yes, this book had sex in it. It’s about a single mom. She falls in love with the man of her dreams. She’s not a virgin. She has two little humans walking around that are part of her deal and central to her identity who prove that. So, you know, sex is an important component of the love relationship. Sexual attraction is what, if you’re lucky, leads to love.

A rational single man, I have heard, will not want to marry a single mom. No way. Kids are baggage. The actual kind you can see and must feed and care for along with this woman. But sex is not rational and neither is love. Also, they go with one another. I can’t be “in love” with someone and not want to have sex with them. They go together like cookies and milk. So yeah, my novel is sorta The Brady Bunch meets Sex and the City. And I’m coming out of my shadow to say I like it like that. It’s supposed to be that way. That is the way the story goes.

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There’s more to love than sex. Of course there is. I once had an emotional affair. You know, that thing where you’re just friends and then one day there’s more? But you can’t have sex because the divorce isn’t final yet or the spouse just doesn’t understand? Only your “friend” who you now love beyond reason understands. There’s no sex there. Not yet. But if the emotional affair continues, there will be sex. And in my case, there was no sex, but only because we both knew the timing was wrong. We stayed friends, too, but it was difficult at first. Because emotion almost took me under. Sex is a healthy release of that emotion we call love, which is why it deserves to walk out of the shadow and onto the page.

I have admitted before that, for me, writing is therapeutic. I can say now that writing sex scenes helped me face my shadow and the shame I formerly, wrongly, sadly, associated with the most awesome act on earth.

Shadows of the Night…with Veronica Dale

Every single person has within them good and bad. Carl Jung understood this and called our less pious impulses our “shadow” side. It’s only when we embrace the shadow that we can come into the fullness of our true natures and be at ease and whole. This doesn’t mean we have to rob banks or kill people. It means we have to accept that we may have negative personality traits we deny or suppress. Because guess what? We all do. Vernie Dale captures this idea exquisitely in her just-released book of short stories Night Cruiser.

Many of the stories in this collection have been previously published in prestigious literary journals or have won excellence awards, or both. Each is a jewel in its own right. The last story, about a creative writing class, was so rich in real detail (I have taught creative writing) that the twist, when it came, flipped me from reality to fantasy and horror and even humor with a few skillful shakes. Other standouts include “Persons of Marred Appearance” for its faith themes, startling characters (the “grieving deacon”) and intense language like “shifting, dazzling water-stars.” What is faith? Dale seems to ask. “It’s the human condition” comes the answer from a not-quite human source. “Within Five Feet” shows hints of Dale’s COIN OF RULVE fantasy series to come, with its increasingly terrifying and astonishing imagery. Dale shows signs in this slim volume of capturing the world-wide web zeitgeist with the zeal and terror of Kafka. 

And lucky me, I was able to capture her for an interview on some burning questions I had about writing and, of course, the shadow. Here’s our talk:

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How does a sweet Catholic woman come up with such frighteningly horrifying stories? What compels you to write in this genre of fantasy horror?

Wow, thanks for calling me “sweet.” But I don’t think the stories in Night Cruiser are true horror. They’re pretty dark fiction, but some are funny and some have a spiritual dimension. They weren’t written to scare, but to take a good look at what we’re afraid of and ways we might deal with that. I guess the compelling thing for me is exploring Tolkien’s idea of the “eucatastrophe,” the terrible catastrophe that can become redemptive. That’s a theme in Lord of the Rings, the Gospel Passion narratives, and many other stories in which the protagonist’s struggle with the dark side results in great good. I like to compare that to an eclipse: you can’t see the sun’s glorious corona until it is blocked out by that scary black moon. So—to invent a word for it—maybe I can call the Night Cruiser stories “eclipsic” rather than horrifying.

I like that, Vernie. You are working on Coin of Rulve, a four part fantasy series. Any idea when the first book will be out? Are all four books complete or do you have a draft of each?

All four books are finished, but the last two are in somewhat rougher form. I’ve just begun seeking agent representation for book one, Blood Seed, and don’t know how long that will take. If I find an agent, she then has to get a publisher to accept the book, and then comes the long process of the publisher editing, proofreading, developing a cover, etc. My plan is to submit to a certain number of agents and, if none accept the book, to consider self-publishing.

I’m interested in your interest in Jung and “the shadow” — could you explain what it is, how you first learned about it, and how it jibs with your faith? What are some good books to read on this topic, particularly books or articles by Jung that inspired you.

I became interested in Jung when I was studying for my degree in pastoral ministry and learned about the relationship between psychology and spirituality. The shadow, according to Carl Jung, is the unconscious part of ourselves that we’re ashamed of, afraid of, or don’t want to look at. It includes our fears, our nasty side, and our weaknesses. The trouble comes when we think “Hey, I’m not like that; but he or she over there sure is.” It’s like how Christ shook his head in dismay when he’d see a person with a big stick in their eye making snide comments about someone with only a sliver in theirs. The more we deny our own shortcomings, in other words, the easier it is to project them onto other people or groups. This can lead to racism, age-ism, and all the other “isms” that our society falls prey to. A good place to start learning about the shadow is at Thirteen Quotations about the Shadow  http://jungcurrents.com/quotations-shadow/ or an overview at  http://www.carljung.co/. Then you can branch out to writers like John A. Sandford, Morton T. Kelsey, or Edward C. Whitmont. 

What is your writing schedule like? Do you write every day? Morning or evening or whenever you find time? Do you need perfect quiet or can you write anywhere?

They say the most important thing about writing is to “put butt in seat.” In other words, sit down at your keyboard and click away. I love it when I can do that by 10 am, work to maybe 1 pm, start again after lunch for a few hours, take time to make dinner, and maybe get a couple more hours in after that. This hardly ever happens. Life, alas, gets in the way. So do the dreaded “technical difficulties,” like printers that suddenly don’t print, or emails that date themselves Dec. 31, 1967, or the doorbell box loudly demanding that someone “close cover!” All of which actually happened to me. Even the electrician didn’t know a doorbell box can talk. And yes, I really do need a quiet place to write.

Speaking of writing anywhere, I know you are a fan of trance music. Explain what it is, why it moves you, and if you think there is a connection between this form of music/dance and writing, specifically your genre.

More than trance, I like club or electronic dance music—a lot. I can hardly keep still listening to it. My favorites are Sandstorm, Café del Mar, and the music of Paul Oakenfold. Other favorites with a good, solid beat are Philip Phillip’s Home and Avicii Wake Me Up When It’s All Over. Summertime Sadness and Peace Sword in B Minor (from the movie Ender’s Game) are also so beautiful. I wish I had time to explore this whole area a lot more. This kind of music brings a deep-down joy to my body and heart; like writing, it takes me completely out of my mundane self.

 Let’s go dancing sometime soon! But back to Night Cruiser…this is your first book of short stories, although you’ve published non-fiction books in the past, is that correct? So far, how does it feel to be published again in a completely new way? I assume publishing has changed a lot since you first put out those early non-fiction titles. In your opinion, what ways are these changes good for writers and in what ways is it not so good? 

Night Cruiser is my first published fiction book ever. When I began writing fiction, I was convinced I would never get involved with “the vanity press,” as self-publishing was called back then. But then things changed. With the advent of self-publishing, writers could by-pass increasingly greedy contract terms, keep the rights to their own work, and get their book out in weeks instead of years. But you have to learn a ton of stuff in order to do that (which can be time-consuming, to say the least), and then you must become your own marketing and accounting staff (which absolutely no author I know likes to do). I think most writers would love to find an agent that would root for them and guide them through the maze of today’s publishing pitfalls. I sure would!

 How long have you been at work on Coin of Rulve? Could you explain the basic story (not giving away spoilers of course!) 

What is now the four-book series Coin of Rulve began in 2003. The story is about twin brothers who are born in a land ravaged by the child slavery and addiction forced upon it by the Spider-king. The brothers are separated as infants to keep their existence hidden from the despot that hunts them. Growing up in the midst of violence and cruelty, wounded in body and spirit, they have suffered so much trauma in their nineteen-year-old lives that they cannot believe the Creator Rulve has called them to an extraordinary destiny.

In addition to being feared and reviled as a foreigner, Sheft is haunted by a murderous entity that is attracted to his blood. The village priestess wants to restore the old rites—and herself—to their former power, even if a hated foreigner must be sacrificed to do it.  In order to protect Mariat, the young woman he loves, Sheft must steel himself to leave her. Teller grows up in an underground stronghold, surrounded by ambitious mages just waiting to seize his power of fire. He gives up everything he has to rescue a young girl from a grisly fate, only to find he’s been betrayed. The beautiful slave Liasit begs him to save her people, but Teller is struggling to save his own soul. Another “character” in the series is the Seani, the small walled community the brothers call home. It is the only force that stands against the growing power of the Lord of Shunder, who has been hunting Sheft and Teller since the day they were born. With the help of the Seani, the brothers confront the shattering realization of what they are called to do. In order to buy back the lives of many, they must willingly pay an appalling price.

Readers, I will certainly alert you when Vernie publishes Blood Seed and the rest of this series. And Veronica, thanks for answering my questions!

Night Cruiser is available on Amazon in e-book or paper by clicking here.

And you can visit Vernie’s website for more news and links to Vernie’s social media circles.

My Writing Shadow

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These wild violets in my yard remind me of the surprising beauty that unfolds when I let go and allow nature to do its good work. A book called The Shadow Effect reinforces the same idea with human nature.

Yesterday, my first day after the semester ended, should have been a great day. It should have been time to relax, get back on track with my writing, putter around the house, work on home projects.

Instead I had a stressful morning. Even though I am not a fan of public speaking, and even though I really wanted to sink gratefully into my first day of vacation, I’d agreed to sit on a panel of writers talking to 8th graders. The lone fiction writer/teacher on the panel, I was there to balance out the newspaper journalists and magazine freelancers.

Well, I was supposed to be there.

Except I got the time and location wrong and ended up being really late. By the time I got there, the event was almost over. I am never late. With anything. I pride msyelf on never missing a deadline and never keeping anybody waiting. Also when I do rouse myself to speak in public, I like to look like a pulled-together professional, not a disorganized ditz.

I knew, in that moment when I realized I was going to be really late, that I had to drop my pride. I had to ride out events as they unfolded. So I arrived, apologized to my peers, made a joke to the kids, and did my bit. It went okay, because I was able to stop beating myself up, stop wondering if I was getting early-onset Alzheimer’s, and deal with what was needed in the present moment.

But after the event, I wondered if the episode was trying to tell me more than “let go of pride, the need to control, the need to appear professional.” Because it was so unusual for me, I wondered if there was something else my shadow self, the disowned part of me, was trying to say.

And so I went to the craft store and wandered the aisles, indulging my inner artist. Which is when I sort of got my shadow’s deeper message. Sometimes a writer needs to say NO. Sometimes a writer has to be selfish in order to fulfill her deepest desires, like finishing the book. 

Saying no, being selfish with my time, does not come easy to me. I like to see myself as a generous and giving person. And yet…in order to write, I need to be selfish.

The shadow is insidious (I still can’t believe I got both the time AND location wrong.) but it can also be a great teacher. My shadow was pissed and wanted my attention. The shadow will do that. It will sabotage things unless you pay attention to its demands, which really are in our own best interest.

What the shadow is really saying is “Own me; use me to your benefit.” In my case, that means owning the selfishness that allows me to get some writing done.