Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why Are We So Polarized?

Once upon a time the world was a perfect union between two gods named Nut and Geb who were locked in eternal embrace but Shu, the god of emptiness, got between them and pushed them apart, creating an opening for the world to exist.

The story of the separation of heaven and earth is how an ancient people explained how the world came to be.  A division had to occur before people could exist.  Why is that?  What does that say about human nature and what light does it shed on what is happening right now in American politics where public opinion has divided and gone to the extremes?

Our tendency as humans to view things in terms of opposites seems natural enough.  In fact, discovery of the opposites – good and bad, odd and even, light and dark – was a major development in Western philosophy and is a necessary step in the creation of consciousness in a person.  When a child is born it makes no distinction between itself and its mother.  As it grows, it begins to realize that the mother is something separate.  The notion of an other is formed.  The encounter with the other “confronting one in enmity or attracting one in love” is the first and what psychologist C.G. Jung would arguably claim the ultimate experience of the soul.

In a surprisingly accessible book entitled The Mystery of The Coniunctio: Alchemical Image of Individuation, Jungian analyst Edward Edinger calls the opposites the “dynamo” of the human psyche or soul:
“The flow of libido, or psychic energy, is generated by the polarization of opposites in the same way as electricity flows between the positive and negative poles of an electrical circuit.  So, whenever we are attracted toward a desired object, or react against a hated object, we’re caught up in the drama of the opposites.”
In short, the constellation of opposites is what animates us.

Edinger observes that what occurs within an individual’s psyche is a process also going on between two people as well as a process taking place within the whole community.  If that is true, then Edinger’s description of how a person’s ego forms and asserts itself may shed some light on why politics in America has become so polarized:
“The young ego is obliged to establish itself as something definite and therefore it must say, ‘I am this and I am not that.’ No-saying is a crucial feature of initial ego development.  But the result of this early operation is that a shadow is created.  All that I announce I am not then goes into the shadow.”
In Jungian psychology, the “ego” is the conscious part of the mind, the one that says, “I am” and “I am not.”  The “shadow” is the unconscious part, which the ego does not recognize in itself.  It consists of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings and instincts.  The “psyche” is the totality of the mind, the conscious and unconscious parts.

When the emerging ego identifies itself with one of a pair of opposites – whether conceived as good and bad, black and white, rich and poor, left and right, male and female, gay and straight – it necessarily rejects the other of the pair as a possibility for itself.  The reason for this is that the immature ego is not yet strong enough to carry the weight of both possibilities within itself at the same time, the negative aspect being much harder to bear than the positive one.  (However, positive aspects may also be hidden in one’s shadow, especially in people with low self-esteem.) 

The same situation can be observed in our communities.  Groups have identified themselves with one of a pair of opposites and cannot bear the weight of insight into their shadows.  As a result, within the community there is very little perceived common ground – that open space in the middle where the virtues of tolerance, mutuality, sympathy and support thrive.  Consequently, these virtues are quickly disappearing from our cultural and political landscape.  

To make matters worse, those who seek to hoard the public good, dominating by power and wealth, exploit our weaknesses and blind spots using the oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer.

As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, convincing people that they have nothing in common with each other and should just take care of themselves is a good way to keep folks isolated, afraid and in the dark.

So how do we change as a nation and grow?   

Jung believed that the purpose of human existence is “to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

Sooner or later, if we are to grow, that split off shadow must be encountered again as an inner reality.  Nevertheless, how can we embrace something we are truly unconscious of?
Edinger suggests we look at the opposites:
“You find them scrutinizing whatever you love and hate.  That’s easy to say but exceedingly difficult to do.  The reason it’s so difficult is that whenever feelings of love and hate come upon us, they are not accompanied by inclinations to scrutiny.”
Ask yourself:

“Who do I hate?”

“What do I fight against?”

Whatever your answer is, know that it is a part of you. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Making Strange

"As the musicians started to play the bass horn and counter-bass, a large number of people in black mantles poured onto the stage from right and left. The people, with something like daggers in their hands, started to wave their arms. Then still more people came running out and began to drag away a maiden who had been wearing a white dress but who now wore one of sky blue. They did not drag her off immediately, but sang with her for a long time before dragging her away. Three times they struck on something metallic behind the scenes, and everyone got down on his knees and began to chant a prayer. Several times all of this activity was interrupted by enthusiastic shouts from the spectators."

This passage from Tolstoy's War and Peace is an example of what the Russian Formalists (a literary movement that flourished at the time of the Russian Revolution) called defamiliarization or "making strange," the artistic technique of taking a familiar object or situation and presenting it in a strange way so as to produce the strongest possible impression (the sense that one is experiencing something for the first time).

Tolstoy's description of what happens in the second act of an opera as if he's never seen one before (or Tyutchev's comparing summer lightning to deaf and dumb demons or Gogol's postulating a man who's lost his nose and has to track it down as it parades through the streets of St. Petersburg) are all ways of "making strange."  The purpose is to free art (and life) from what one of the leading figures of the movement, Victor Shklovsky, called the "automatism of perception," the tendency to overlook familiar things. 
"After we see an object several times, we begin to recognize it. The object is in front of us and we know about it, but we do not see it -- hence, we cannot say anything significant about it."
In his article "Art and Device," Shklovsky offers an excerpt from Tolstoy's diary to illustrate:
"I was cleaning a room and, meandering about, approached the divan and couldn't remember whether or not I had dusted it.  Since these movements are habitual and unconscious, I could not remember and felt that it was impossible to remember -- so that if I had dusted it and forgot -- that is, had acted unconsciously -- then it was the same as if I had not. If no one was looking, or looking on unconsciously, if the whole complex of lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been."
The purpose of art, then, is to make us feel alive -- or, as Shklovsky puts it, "to make the stone stony."  The way to achieve this is through certain artistic "devices" that when employed impede perception through their strangeness so that the object can be experienced in all its wonder (deaf and dumb demons) before the everyday word that we assign to it (lightning) is recognized. 

One device is to avoid the familiar word.  In the passage from War and Peace, the word "opera" is not mentioned once.  Nor is "actor" or "singer."  Instead, Tolstoy refers to "a maiden" and "the people." Another device is to use bold imagery and metaphor (Gogol compared the sky to the garment of God) or foreign words (Tolstoy wrote whole passages of War and Peace in French) or words out of context (in one story, a commentary about the institution of private property, Tolstoy tells the entire story from the horse's point of view).

The theater of Bertolt Brecht in which the audience was kept from losing itself passively in the characters so that it could reflect consciously on what was happening was grounded in the Russian Formalist notion of defamiliarization, but "making strange" was then certainly nothing new.  Long before, Aristotle himself had written in his Poetics that "impressive diction, one that escapes the ordinary, results from the use of strange words."  The other arts as well, such as medicine, have long employed the technique.  The shaman among certain Inuit tribes use circumlocution when conversing with the spirits, employing certain substitutes for ordinary words, such as "the one with the drum" for "shaman" or "that with tusks" for "walrus."  I speculate that the purpose here of "making strange" is to take the extraordinary proceedings of healing someone's soul out from the "ordinary" world into the realm where spirits reside.  We even see the device of "making strange" in children's fairy tales, where the hard task of turning away from familiar things and embarking on the marvelous journey is rewarded by the discovery of the self.

What then is in front of you, that familiar thing, which you constantly overlook that would come to life if only you knew how to make it strange?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Invisible Counselors

"In a dark time the eye begins to see."  

This is the opening line of the poem by Theodore Roethke.  But how does it happen in life?

In a dark time, when battling paralyzing fear (the fear of poverty, of criticism, of loss of love), I wrote down those words of the poet.  I had no idea how I would find my way out of the underground passage I found myself in, especially as there were no mentors or guides.

The idea that I could turn misfortune (which I began to write about in the form of a book that I would call The Red Coat) into a blessing was the thought that changed my life.

In his inspirational classic, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says that people end up where they are because of their dominating thoughts and desires.  Everything created in the world begins in the form of a thought inside your head.
"All thought has a tendency to clothe itself in its physical equivalent."
If you are a worrier, you get things to worry about.  If you fear criticism, you find yourself inundated by it. 

To address his own shortcomings, Hill conducted a thought experiment.  He called an imaginary council of historical figures whom he admired and who he thought would have a positive influence on him, such that he might in time and through interaction with them rebuild his own character.  Hill appointed himself the head of that assembly and addressed the figures one by one, requesting their assistance in his endeavors.  Soon, these "Invisible Counselors" began to communicate to him through the "receiving set" of his subconscious mind, granting him throughout his day the extraordinary ideas, plans and hunches that flashed before his mind. 

Here is my cabinet (with seating chart) and call to order.  Who's in yours?


NAPOLEON HILL (sitting at my right hand which is the strong hand of my will), I ask that you pass on to me the habit of directing my thoughts toward success, being ever mindful that thoughts are things, and powerful things when mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence and a burning desire for their translation into wealth.  

SHIKO MUNAKATA (self-taught Artist born to a blacksmith), I ask that you teach me to see what is already there and to work with marvelous speed in getting it down on paper.

From you, DIONYSUS (God of Theater and Wine), I wish to acquire the freedom of Nobody and the gift of the Poets through whom speak the daemons of your house.

From you, INGMAR BERGMAN (Master of the Magic Lantern), I wish to learn how to express through word and image those chasms, heavens, eternities that we bear within us.

You, ERESHKIGAL (Queen of the Great Below whose dark forces when unobserved are felt as depression), I wish to keep in my circle so that you do not destroy me.

From you, POLAR BEAR (sitting opposite me), I ask that you let me put on your coat and be who I am.

From you, INANNA (Queen of Heaven and Earth), I wish to acquire all of the virtues: the virtue of war, of incantation, of truth, of dagger and sword, of fear, of lovemaking, of the happy song, of the lamentation, of treachery, of straightforwardness, of kindness, of deceit, and so on, so that I am a whole and sovereign being.

From you, ARISTOPHANES (Comic Poet of the Ancient World), I wish to acquire the audacity and skill to erase the world that is and create another.

From you, ARTEMIS (Mistress of the Wilderness), I wish to acquire the ability to talk to the animals and to hear the wisdom of the natural world.

From you, C.G. JUNG, I wish to acquire the ability and courage to overcome those strange resistances that hold me back, to let go of suffering and open myself to the possibility of all that I am, giving battle to the nursery demons at the gate and entering the causal zone of my psyche where I clarify and name the Eternal Ones who hold the keys to my life.

From you, JOAN OF ARC (sitting to my left, the little left hand of me), I desire to acquire the Movement of Faith, the resolute action that is needed to put in motion the extraordinary ideas that come to me in sparks of divinity. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Call to Adventure

When a pretty and kind-hearted girl is eight years old, her mother dies.  Her father remarries and the new mother is jealous and mean, foisting all of the housework on the lovely young girl while favoring her own lazy and spiteful daughters.  Toiling under this unbearable situation, the girl eventually loses sight of her charms.  Her journey then, as a young woman, is to rediscover the beauty that she lost. 

This is the story of Cinderella, one of the oldest and best-loved fairy tales in the world. 

According to Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, the journey begins with a crisis and a call to adventure, which is set in motion by the merest chance – a maiden loses her slipper, or a ball rolls into a pond, or there is a knock at the door, or someone loses his way in the woods – and the individual is drawn into an unfamiliar and terrifying world.

The figure that first appears to announce the adventure – be it a repulsive toad who offers advice or a benevolent fairy godmother who turns a pumpkin and field mice into a coach drawn by six gray horses – belongs to the realm where the hero must go.  To answer the call, the hero must turn away from familiar things and enter the dark forest or the underground way to grapple with the hidden and irrational forces of a place where one cannot see “to the bottom of things.”

The crisis has come about because the old ideals, thoughts and behaviors are no longer appropriate. 

In The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Marie Louise Von Franz suggests that, for a woman, the call may be to live more boldly and in line with one’s nature, as in the case of Cinderella who has been hiding in the shadow of her domineering step-mother and sisters – or it may be to get over hurt feelings as in the case of Snow White whose response to the deadly opinion about her is to sleep for a hundred years.  Or perhaps, Von Franz suggests, it is necessary to connect with officially rejected thoughts or feelings, as in the case of the sister in The Six Swans who must work for many years in the deepest introversion sewing shirts for her brothers who had been turned into swans by their unhappy mother. 

Failure to answer the call means the loss of “the power of significant affirmative action” and reduces the subject to a victim to be saved.  But answering the call, Campbell says, sends up all kinds of supernatural aid.

As in fairytale, so in real life.  Answering the call and following courageously as the path unfolds, we find all of the forces of the unconscious at our side.  

In moments of crisis, the unconscious sends up "living beings" that are concealed in the emotions but which sometimes appear to us in dreams.  According to psychologist C.G. Jung, these aspects of instinctive impulse have the power to destroy as long as they remain hidden or submerged in the unconscious.  Answering the call, then, on some level, is to listen to what is being asked of us in our dreams – that is, to embrace the quest for a new synthesis of personality that involves taking into account those parts of the whole that have been neglected.

 The way Jung himself responded to the call – and what he urged his patients to do – was to translate these instinctive impulses into images.  He urged his patients to draw and paint their fantasies, finding that this technique both helped them to rediscover hidden parts of themselves and also to portray the psychological journey upon which they were embarked.

What is being asked of you? 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Play To Lose

An actor can’t get an audition much less a part. “Why is this happening to me? What am I doing wrong?” he asks his coach.  He is afraid, confounded, desperate. 

The coach tells him, “Oh, you’re going to get an audition, very soon, in fact, and when you do – I want you to blow it."
The actor is alarmed.  “That’s crazy! Why would I do that?” 
“What’s more important,” the coach asks, “The audition or your life?” 

I witnessed this exchange many years ago at a weekly seminar in LA facilitated by life coach Breck Costin.  My mentor at the studio where I worked suggested I meet Breck after she’d walked into my office one afternoon and found me adrift in a sea of emotional pain.  I was far, far, far from who I thought I was or the person I wanted to be.  I was cautious and afraid of conflict, overly sensitive, stuck, low-paid, over-worked, depressed and always tired -- instead of bold, innovative, laughter-loving, bounteous and free.

“What’s wrong?” Nancy asked as she stepped into my office.  I was still getting to know her and didn’t want to go into the details of my unhappy life, so I just said, “I feel like if I were myself there wouldn’t be enough air to breath.”  Nancy smiled like a Cheshire cat and sat down in the chair across from me.  With that one look, all my layers of protection fell away and I felt completely exposed.  “If you were yourself,” she said, still smiling, “you’d be a forest.” 
I went back to the seminar the next week and the actor told the story of what had happened in the intervening days.  Unbelievably, he did get an audition – just like Breck had said – and for a pretty good role too!  He bravely went in and did everything you’re not supposed to do at an audition – he talked loudly in the hallways, chewed gum on stage, and after a couple lines into the reading he tossed the script on the floor and started to complain how the writing sucked!
The producers loved it and hired him!
Why did it work?  
Breck’s theory was that you can’t produce when you’re afraid of losing.  The reason people don’t fully invest in someone or something is because they’re afraid of losing that person or thing.  They do everything possible to avoid the loss.  Which means they can’t play or create in that arena (be it money, sex, career, parenting, partnership or whatever) and so they become petrified, literally.  Stuck in a block of cement.  
Breck said magic happens when you develop a full-blown relationship with loss – when you are fully invested and play full out to lose.  Unlike most self-help gurus who exhort you to be a winner, or those who trick you into winning despite yourself, Breck encouraged you to play to lose.  When you worked with him you had to give up the right to have a result. The purpose was to bring up all the feelings you avoided and to heal them.  Actually, the feelings never quite go away, you just learn how to live with them.
Joseph Campbell said “follow your bliss” but Breck believed that your calling will bring up feelings of more than just “bliss.”  Sometimes, he'd say, dealing with your life's work takes all you’ve got.
As for me, Breck thought my calling was "voice."  I had to give up the right to have one.  I had to take all the committed actions not to be a successful storyteller but to bring up all the feelings of loss, of never having been heard, of being shouted down, of confusion and making mistakes, of forgetfulness, of feeling invisible, dismissed, accidental, powerless – and not deserving of love.  Notwithstanding those feelings, I slowly began to speak up for myself, pipe up at department meetings, express my anger to a boss – and share my writing with others.   
That was a long time ago, and still, every day, I struggle to remember that my life is worth more than my fear.
What are you afraid to lose?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trash to Treasure

A man holds a lantern before an open door and enters.  That is the subject of a painting by William Blake entitled “Jerusalem.”   I found it in a book called The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism.  It was one of the many books I read trying to teach myself how to write The Red Coat.

The alchemists were looking for a way to turn base metals – lead, tin, iron – into gold.  For me, the challenge was first put forth by Oscar the Grouch in a book I bought my boy at the grocery story: From Trash to Treasure!  The idea interested me.  I had a lot of trash, and more and more kept getting heaped on me all the time.  So after a while, I didn’t know what was mine or where I stood in all of it.

Now this wasn’t real trash, it was psychic trash, and yes some of it was circumstantial trash.  Trash that came along.  Trash inherited from my ancestors, from history, from my parents.  Even friends and employers contributed.  Collective trash.  But for some reason, I seemed to have more of it than others.  Maybe I was a trash magnet?  Or I created trash?  I felt like I had it written on my face.  It was getting me down.

What to do with all that trash?

At the lowest point, when the weight of trash was unbearable, I began to make something out of it.  In 1995, when my son was four years old, I started to write The Red Coat.  At first, it was merely entries in a journal, fragments, images, scenes into which I’d project myself in order to get to the bottom of my problem.

Where did I go?  What happened to me?    

A character appeared whom I would call Marla Piper.  Where did she come from?  I didn’t know but “she” allowed me to look at myself without the painful reminder that it was me.  Like an alchemist from a distant age, I would peer down into the murk of my soul and shine a light upon my “stuff” to try and deal with it.  I’d have to sift through a lot of junk to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of.

I found that some of the stuff had been projected onto me by other people as part of their own unwanted shadow (“you are worthless” was really how they felt about themselves).  Some of it belonged to the culture I lived in (“you are not beautiful”), and some of it was inherited from my folks (“you are doomed to fail”).  Those things I could try and jettison, whereas other things, things I myself had done or created (“you are judgmental” or “you are confused” or “you have abdicated power”) were facts about myself that I’d have to take responsibility for if I was ever going to succeed.

Bit by bit, I turned the pieces over in my mind's eye and still I could not find that mysterious, vital essence that instinctually I felt was my birthright but which had been taken from me or I had forgotten somewhere along the way and it was now lost, submerged like some priceless treasure thrown off a pirate ship and fallen to the bottom of the ocean.

Psychologist C.G. Jung saw the unconscious mind as an ocean and the ego (that part of the mind we usually think of as “me”) as a tiny boat bobbing in the midst.
Jung believed that the goal of psychic development is the integration of these two parts of the self, the unconscious and the conscious.  Shining a light on the shadow – those repressed shortcomings, emotions and instincts lurking inside us – is the way we come to ourselves.  The treasure is in the depths of things where insight prevails.  Paradoxically, when we are able to do this, to see and accept the awful, unspoken, hidden parts as well as the good, we lay claim to our divinity.

For Jung, and for the alchemists and the mystics, exploring the psyche (or soul) is a religious quest, and it is ignorance not sin that keeps us from God.  For the integrated personality, or “Self” as Jung called it, is the archetype of unity and totality, that immutable spark inside us that reflects the living God.

What is your treasure?  that immutable, rare, and desired part?  Where did it go? Is it hidden, sunken, buried, lost or stolen or is it like that lamp of old:
"No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl.  Instead, he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” - Luke 11:5

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Lyrical and the Epic

Men and women fall in love for their own reasons that oftentimes have little to do with the person that is loved. 

In his novel of ideas The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Czech writer Milan Kundera describes different ways that men and women love each other, pointing out that men who pursue a multitude of women "fall neatly into two categories."

On the one hand, he shows us Franz, the married man, who has taken as his mistress Sabina, the unforgettable woman with the hat, whom he cherishes as an ideal.  When Franz and Sabina make love, Franz always shuts his eyes so as to maintain his fantasy of her.  In this way he merges with her more easily.  This type of womanizer (who seeks his personal ideal in each woman) Kundera calls "the lyrical."  These lovers always run after the same type of woman, Kundera argues, for what they seek in women is themselves.  What propels them from woman to woman is their disappointment, since an ideal is by definition something that can never be found.  

On the other hand, we are given Tomas, the divorced man who has balanced his fear of women against his desire for them by devising what he calls the "erotic friendship" -- the relationship in which neither partner can make any claim on the life or freedom of the other, in short, one which does not allow for love.  Following his unwritten rule, Tomas pursues many lovers, relishing the particulars of each.  In fact, it is their particular oddities that he finds most attractive: an awkward gait, a large nose, an uneven set of eyes.  Having quickly tired of conventional beauty, Tomas is something of a collector, in search of that rare find.  This type of womanizer (who seeks in women the infinite variety of the feminine universe) Kundera calls "epic."  These lovers project no subjective ideal on women, he argues, and since everything interests them, nothing can disappoint them.  Their desire is not so much for pleasure as it is for possession of the world.

In an examination of his own work as a writer in The Art of the Novel, Kundera submits that the lyrical and the epic are two possible attitudes that a person might take toward himself, other people and the world, -- the lyrical being "the expression of a self-revealing subjectivity" and the epic arising "from the urge to seize hold of the objective world."

Which type of person are you?

For my picture, I chose an exquisite panel painting portrait from the Classical world to help explain why I endlessly search the dead past.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Silence of the Heart

When I used to go to see Firenze, we would fold our legs in our chairs opposite one another and close our eyes.  She always began her prayer with a thank you and what she talked about was always something on my mind, the reason I had come to see her (though I wondered how she knew the cause for my visit before I even said one word!).  Firenze always ended her prayer with me being the Beloved Child of God, the beautiful beloved child, perfect in God’s eyes.

Those visits long ago always filled me with happiness.  They were a respite from the larger goings on in my life.  I was in trouble and Firenze knew it.  

I had been seeing a married man who swore that he loved me, had loved me ever since we were young, but now that I’d come back into his life he couldn’t just pick up where we left off as kids.  He was married now and couldn’t leave his wife and family.  I was so desperate to be loved I didn’t know how to turn away from him, but the relationship was causing those around me anguish and was ruining my life. 

What could I do?  

I loved him and knew that I could not be “just friends.”  How could I have a relationship with him without betraying myself?  On the other hand, how could I walk away from the source of my happiness?  Everyone I dared consult about my problem, understandably, had a strong opinion or a judgment. My closest friends watched me, sadly, as I blundered along.  Firenze was the one who finally helped me figure out what to do: it was simple.  She said look inside yourself, the answer is there.

That is the message of The Silence of the Heart, a book that Firenze’s god-daughter gave me.  The answer always lies in the silence of your heart.

Look inside, the book prompts, and you will see that the source of your unhappiness is your own self-betrayal.  Reading it, you come to understand that what you were looking for in someone else can only be supplied by you.  Happiness and fulfillment flow from the commitment you make to yourself, and only when you love and honor yourself can you love and honor others without judging or trying to change them. 

But how to honor yourself when you don't know where to begin?  The way the book prescribes is simple and yet profound: 
"Ask for what you want and do not accept what you do not want."  
How many times we thought we were unworthy and accepted less!

Here is a little prayer from the book that helped me through that crisis, deepening my connection to my self and helping me to offer my gifts more authentically:
"I know what feels good to me and what does not.  I will say what I need.  I will speak my truth and I will be firm in my commitment to my own healing.  I will no longer betray or violate myself in any relationship.  I will communicate how I think and feel honestly, with compassion for the other, but without attachment to how he or she receives my communication.  I trust that by telling the truth and honoring myself, I am in communication with the beloved.” 
That last line may have saved my life.

For my picture I chose a vine that I found hanging from a tree that was tangled in a knot.  It was a surprising fact that I happened to notice when I let the rest of our party go on ahead and I lingered there awhile by myself alone in the woods.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Funny Feeling

The last time I sat down to write I scratched my pen across the paper and pushed away the tablet.  I couldn’t start.  My mind was elsewhere.  Writing was the last thing I wanted to be doing.  It wasn’t a question of hunkering down.  I had been working hard all year long.  Right now I had a deep need to do something else.
What I really wanted and felt I needed to do was to nest, to fix up my home, especially the bathroom.  I felt oppressed by the leaking shower door, the cracks in the plaster around the tub, the dirty paint, the unfinished floor.  It made me unhappy to go in there. I knew that it would make the last big push to finish my book more bearable if I fixed up that room, so I set down my pen and gave in to my urge.
A friend cautioned me.  She told me my time was too valuable and I should just hire a handyman.  She said her guy could probably throw down some tile and paint the walls for 500 bucks, but I couldn’t justify spending that much money right now.  Moreover, I had an inexplicable need to tackle the job myself.  Consulting my Woman’s Hands-On Home Repair Guide, I was determined to learn how to do it myself.
I spent a total of 75 dollars and the next four days of my holiday time off that I “should” have been writing doing nothing but re-caulking the tub and shower door -- twice (the first time I did it wrong!) -- cutting out moldy plaster, re-plastering the walls and washing, priming and painting the walls and ceilings and doors.  I cleaned out the fan too and learned how to reassemble a locking doorknob.  After two days of kneeling in the tub and two more days bending backwards with a soapy sponge or a sopping roller brush as enamel paint splattered my face, I had swollen hands and feet and could barely stand up straight!
Was it worth it? 
I don’t know yet exactly what it is, but I have a funny feeling I learned something important.   
It feels like the time when early on writing “The Red Coat” I had a deep urge to take on a sewing project and I let myself do that and I discovered in the process the truth about my main character:  she would sew the red coat herself instead of having someone else do it for her.   
How does one ever finish a book if one always lets ones impulses get in the way?  They caution writers about giving in to the urge to do housework as a way to avoid the work of writing and, yet I also read somewhere that instincts in unconscious people are the manifestation of the Self.    
Do you know where your instincts want to take you?  Do you dare let them?
For my picture, I snapped a shot of my old bathroom floor.  I decided to keep what marble I had because it's hard to destroy and beautiful, filled with strange hieroglyphics that are fun to decipher.