Jung At Heart blog

From my window

It’s kind of dreary here today. Chilly. Raining off and on. Weary of winter as I am, I am glad the snow has melted and it is rain, not snow falling. Down at the bottom of the hill, the remainder of the mountain of snow left there by the plows to keep sledding kids from running into the street is now a heap of dirty snow and ice and road dirt. No signs of green yet — that is at least 2 or 3 weeks away. This is mud season — the time between winter and spring. The time of pot holes and dirty snow piles and mud everywhere. Out of the Bay this morning I hear loons. 

The view from my window today as I get ready to do my taxes —


Life in the panopticon

“A woman is always accompanied, except when quite alone, and perhaps even then, by her own image of herself. While she is walking across a room or weeping at the death of her father, she cannot avoid envisioning herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others – and particularly how she appears to men – is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.” John Berger

No woman escapes this scrutiny, this policing of her appearance. Have you ever heard a man ask “Do I look okay?” before leaving the house? Neither of my husbands nor my son has asked me that. 

In my book I wrote of what it is like to be fat, to live every day under the scrutiny of others. No matter where I go or what I do, I am almost always surrounded by messages about the unacceptability of my body. The constant examination of the fat body by doctors, social workers and psychiatrists, teachers, lay people, comedians, journalists are in effect attempts to exert a societal discipline to make "docile bodies."  We fat people are meant to feel shame, to feel we are responsible for our weight. We internalize the judgements and endless indictments for our failure to have become slender, for being too lazy or hungry or weak to bring our wayward bodies under control. 

Every time I have hidden my eating from others, or felt too self conscious to eat in public something that I want, like dessert, or have avoided eating altogether, I have eaten the disgust others feel for my body. I eat their disgust and it becomes part of me. Every time I buy my clothes from designated retailers, ones who deign to carry clothing in my size and I accept that I should pay more for clothing generally of lower quality than is available in so-called normal stores, I am buying and wearing the revulsion designers of clothing feel for my folds of flesh and billowing hips and thighs. I worked at making myself be less self-conscious. I can use the word "fat" with ease.  I am able to talk about the assaults, large and small, to my dignity that I encounter every time I leave my house. I can do all of these things. But I can never escape the panopticon. 

Days of my life

I am a journal keeper. For the last 45 years I have started most days the same way I did this morning

IMG 1351

A cup of tea, a cat on my lap, my journal and my pen. I write the date, then any dreams I remember from the night before. Associations to the dream. The maybe just what I hear and see — this morning there was birdsong, and the water in the harbor calm and unruffled by wind. And it is not snowing! My journal is a container for my thoughts and feelings, wishes and hopes, dreams, continuing work in analysis. A reader would not learn much if anything about my outer life or events in the world around me. My journal is very interior.

I am a bit picky about my journals. I want unlined paper so that my handwriting can vary with mood and feeling rather than be constrained by lines. I want the blank book to be attractive so that it signals that it is something important to me. Others I know use spiral notebooks or loose sheets of paper or type on their computer. But for me, I am more inclined to write and maintain my journal keeping practice with the kinds of journals I hav chosen. I always write with a fountain pen. I like changing ink colors, the way the marks made by the pen appear on the paper. There is something tactiley pleasing to me in the combination of fountain pen and good paper. This is just what works for me and says nothing about how others should tend to their own practice.

The struggle goes on

Update on painting - 

I pushed and shoved myself yesterday to do one of the projects in my art course. Effy Wild encouraged us to copy her process even. So I did the first layer. I HATE it! 

Now the last time I hated something I painted, I took it with me when I saw my analyst and talked at length about how much I hated it. Then actually looking at it with him, I saw a great deal. I know that hating any expression of emotion, any creative effort we make is to hate ourselves, to crap on ourselves in a way that we would not want anyone to do to our children. So I know that i have to let go of hating this latest effort. It is after all only the first layer and even as it does not please me, it offers many options for further work.

Deep breath — okay, let’s say I like the colors as they are together less than I imagined *and* I’ll see where it goes

Slow Magic

"Exchanging words is the essence of psychotherapy." Nor Hall

I met with someone new the other day. When I meet with a new patient, I always have a slight anxiety before this new person arrives -- anxiety and also anticipation Will we "click"? What new doors will open through this person and our work -- because this process changes both of us, though not to the same degree. So there is that tingle of the new and unknown as I answer the door. And then, once in my office, whether in person or on the screen via Skype or FaceTime, we sit down and I ask, as I always do, "What brings you here today?" and we begin.

It is a curious process, therapy is. I have no visible tools. No questionnaires. No workbooks. No pills or potions. I bring with me 40+ years of sitting and listening in the same way plus my own life experience and a lot of reading. The journey is never the same with any two people. Which is why I never get tired of it, never weary of starting again with "What brings you here today".

On not being able to paint

My brother is a painter. He paints trompe l’oile - which means fool the eye. Here is one of his paintings. 


Not my style but he is good at it. Somehow that he is an artist and was also my mother’s favorite led me to avoid art, focusing instead on intellectual pursuits. Still something in me kept wanting to paint and draw. My brother once said that anyone could draw, which was not encouraging to me at all. I took the art classes in school that were required but once finished with them I turned away from painting or any kind of art for many years. I think the last thing I made was a paper mache dog that I meant to be a dachshund but looked sort of like a weird brown worm with legs and ears.

I lived in Portland, Maine for a long time. Portland is the home to a well regarded degree- granting art college. In the early 90’s I decided to take a drawing course through their continuing studies program. I hoped to find it a class for people who did not think of themselves as artists, a class that would support and encourage people like me who wanted to draw but were intimidated by the doing of it. I did not find that — the people in the course saw themselves as artists and then there was the critique of every assignment. I dropped out.

Memory and Magritte

I first saw Magritte’s “La Memoir” or “Mnemosyne” on a book jacket 20 or more years ago. She is an arresting image, Memory with a wound to her head. Is it memory bleeding out? Will memory be lost if the wound is not bandaged and the blood flow stopped? Or does she show the wound to the head that any of us has from one or another childhood insult or injury? Does the effort to re-member heal the wound and thus stanch the bleeding? Save the memory? And what about the bell and the leaf -- are they bits of memory? Has she forgotten? Did she ever know? Are we all surrounded by artifacts of memory that if we can only see them will allow memory to heal?

magritte-la-memoire 1

With Magritte’s Mnemosyne, we can consider the possibility that the blood is an image, a  memory, memory sticking the colorless face of the woman, the only sign of life we see of her.  As mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne would give birth to spontaneous impulses toward speech, song, art, dance, poetry, and other manifestations rendering the numinous visible and experiential -- not just spoken of but enacted, enacted here in the splash of red on her head.

Knitting and Memory

An excerpt from my book, The Fat Lady Sings

I am a knitter. We knitters come in two basic types. The project knitter buys yarn and pattern for a specific project and knits that and only that until it is finished. Process knitters knit to knit. We love to look at, touch, and acquire yarn and usually have several projects going at the same time. The finished project is nice but it is the process, the knitting itself, that is engaging. Sometimes the project is never completed or it is unravelled and the yarn used again for something else. I love the feel of the yarn as it slides through my fingers as I knit. I stop frequently and pull the fabric into shape and touch it and look at it and enjoy the color and shape. Knitting a sock, knit from top to toe with a single thread which is never broken, I marvel at the genius of the first person who figured out how to "turn the heel" and change the sock from a simple tube into something which hugs the form and shape of the human foot. These days I knit a lot of lace, knit with fine thread on small needles with intentional holes, for lace without holes is not lace at all.

What is the myth?

It is often the case that at midlife and beyond  life calls us to look again at who we are, what we have done, what we believe in. This is prime time for discovering what is the story we have been living; as Jung put it — 

I asked myself, "What is the the myth you are living?" and found that I did not know. So...I took it upon myself to get to know "my" myth, an I regarded this as the task of tasks...I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me."

Human beings are narrative makers. We remember ourselves and our lives in stories -- stories we tell our friends, family, strangers, ourselves. When a new patient comes to me, I say "tell me about yourself" and await the story of this person's life and how it has brought her to me. And if we work together for some time, that story will change so that the story she tells at the end will be recognizable as hers but different in some ways from the tale told at the beginning.

"The universe is made of stories – not atoms" --   Muriel Rukeyser

So, we swim in a sea of stories -- our own and those of the ones around us. And we shape our lives around the story we tell ourself is ours, the story that we live. Think of a person you no doubt know whose life could be summed up in the song title, "I would do anything for love" -- can you begin to see the story he or she is living? And how might that person be able to change the course of the story, write a new chapter if only she knew it was what she is living?

Bringing parts together

I used to havre a section of this blog devoted to knitting. I am an avid knitter and always multiple projects in process. Then someone suggested to me that I should focus just on professional material. So I took down the knitting portion. 

I have often thought about this quote from Marie Louise von Franz on knitting :

Everybody who has knitted or done weaving or embroidery knows what an agreeable effect this can have, for you can be quiet and lazy and also spin your own thoughts while working. You can relax and follow your fantasy and then get up and say you have done something! Also the work exercises patience...Only those who have done such work know of all the catastrophes which can happen -- such as losing a row of stitches just when you are decreasing! It is a very self-educative activity and brings out feminine nature. It is immensely important for women to do such work and not give it up in the modern rush. (The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Spring Publications, 1972, p. 40)

Making it clear to me that knitting, like painting or writing, has its place in this process of self-discovery that I am so much engaged in, for myself and with my patients.

Along the way I ran across this poem:

Vision begins to happen in such a life

as if a woman quietly walked away

from the argument and jargon in a room

and sitting down in the kitchen, began turning in her lap

bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps,

laying them out absently on the scrubbed boards

in the lamplight, with small rainbow-colored shells

sent in cotton-wool from somewhere far away,

and skeins of milkweed from the nearest meadow —

original domestic silk, the finest findings —

and the darkblue petal of the petunia,

amid the dry darkbrown lace of seaweed;

not forgotten either, the shed silver

whisker of the cat, 

the spiral of paper-wasp-nest curling

beside the finch’s yellow feather.

Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity,

the striving for greatness, brilliance —

only with the musing of a mind

one with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing

dark against bright, silk against roughness,

pulling the tenets of a life together

with no mere will to mastery,

only care for the many-lived, unending

forms in which she finds herself,

becoming now the shard of broken glass

slicing light in a corner, dangerous

to flesh, now the plentiful, soft leaf

that wrapped round the throbbing finger, soothes the wound;

and now the stone foundation, rockshelf further

forming underneath everything that grows.

~Adrienne Rich, “Transcendental Etude,” in The Dream of a Common Language, 1978

I love the poem. It helped me to see that knitting, among other things, is one way I understand my work and my life. My office is at home, in the middle of my domestic life. I have a basket of yarn in my office -- because I think it is beautiful. I also have there art supplies on the table I use when I attempt to paint.  I used to fantasize having a house that had a big kitchen with a fireplace and I would see my patients there, in front of the fire, sitting at the table and drinking tea. Because for me the kitchen is the place of transformation.  There are things in my professional life that I want to explore more deeply. But those things have grown out of ordinary life -- aging, figuring out what it is to be a woman, working at my story, embodiment, all of it. 

© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.