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Shadow Selves

June 14, 2017


Today I returned to an old favourite text, Susan Wooldridge Goldsmith’s inspirational poemcrazy:


The psychologist Carl Jung suggested that when we’re about seven we separate from and then bury or repress whatever parts of us don’t seem to be acceptable in the world around us. According to Jung, these unacceptable parts become our shadow … To become more fully who we are, it’s a good idea to invite our shadow to speak now and then.

Find a quiet place, sit down, shut your eyes and ask your shadow to appear … Begin a conversation with your shadow. If you’re willing, invite him or her to become part of your life … Ask what your shadow needs from you to have a positive role in your world. Where can you meet? What would your shadow like you to do together? … Let your shadow write a poem.

My reason for choosing this exercise was that my own ‘shadow’ visited me the previous morning; while I lay in bed still half-dreaming a character sprang fully-formed into my mind. I got up and wrote page after page about her.

The experience reminded me of another classic inspirational book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Like Wooldridge, Cameron advocates writing as a  ‘pathway to a strong and clear sense of self’. Here she describes her daily practice of ‘morning pages’, three pages of stream-of-conscious journal-writing  – a practice which I’ve recently taken up again after a long lag: 

Living in a small adobe house … I sat at the wooden table looking north to Taos mountain and I wrote … the mountain dominated my view and my morning pages as well. What did it – or anything – mean? I asked page after page, morning after morning. No answer. And then, one wet morning, a character named Johnny came strolling into my pages. Without planning to, I was writing a novel. The morning pages had shown me a way.

I don’t know whether I’ll use my new character in a novel, or anywhere else, but today during my class I wrote a poem that distills her essence. 


my shadow knows

My shadow sings
like Patti Smith in a gritty
thrash-pop band. Like me,
she’s a brunette, but she
bleaches her choppy bob
platinum, then lets the dark
roots grow. She eats bloody
steaks, smokes Marlboro
Reds and drinks Wild Turkey.

My shadow has a tattoo of an eagle
on her right shoulder. She loves
rollercoasters and dreams
of one day

My shadow drives a cherry
1984 Holden Commodore.
She can read a map
and change a tyre.
She never went to uni
but she can read between
the city streets.

She never needs
to fill a silence
with nervous chatter.
Instead she leans back
in her chair, blowing smoke rings, and lets
people come to her. My shadow knows
how to walk in stilleto boots
without stumbling. She knows
how to ask right out
for what she wants
without apology
and straightaway
get it.








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