I was listening to a discussion of avoidance on NPR. The speaker’s thesis was that we often avoid that which we aspire to, and that avoidance is attached to fear of exposing our “shadow self,” or revealing what is hidden.It was sort of new-agey, even for me, but I do get it. I avoid writing because I’m afraid that what I write will be crap, and that everyone will know that it’s crap.
I have a piece of flash fiction that I wrote a while back and submitted to a couple of outlets. One gave me a perfunctory no. The other gave me a “we liked the beginning and the end and the rest was weak.” I thought the piece was great when I submitted it, otherwise I wouldn’t have. But after rereading it, I decided that they were right. It was terribly flawed. I should have never submitted it. It was worse than bush league, and everyone knew me for the poser that I am.
Meet my shadow self. Guess it’s time for a rewrite.
But have I reworked it? Uhm. No. I’ve tried. Stared it down once or twice. It could only get better. What’s the risk?
I think about my son. He excels at avoidance. He puts off training and practicing, no matter how much I nag. He is, however, a responsible person. He’s the kid you want to water your plants when you’re away. He studies well in advance of his tests. So why the procrastination?
His behavior (and excuses), however, reveal a duality that goes much deeper than fear of failure. Strangely enough, it’s edged with hope. It’s Schrödinger’s cat all over again. That feline keeps cropping up again and again, pesky creature.
Before he tries, there are two possible states–awesome and awful. Afterwards, only one. Depending upon one’s faith in the outcome, there’s a twisted logic in maintaining the possibility of greatness, as if talent materialized overnight. The perfect idea, that extra burst of energy, that laser-like focus that allows us to exceed even our own expectations. As long as he doesn’t disprove it, he can still believe in it.
Denial and delusion are happy villages to live in, as long as you never leave town. Unfortunately, it’s a little overpopulated.
So the only way to solve the conundrum is to make a choice. I chose to know and move forward. Guess I have some revising to do.
It doesn’t make it any easier, or less painful. Inevitably, we all have to accept and confront that we are never as awesome as we would like to be. I learn, however, from each rewrite, tuning the balance between concrete plot and lyrical language that makes a description of events a story, and a shadow self a character.
Maybe I’ll give my own shadow self a hug, after I kick her behind and tell her to stop the whining and start the revising.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph by Helmut Klug © 2009 Creative Commons