Shadow Boxing

In all of the therapy I’m proud that I do, one of the hardest undertakings is Shadow Work. It sounds new age and strange but I promise you it is an absolute necessity to truly explore oneself. You aren’t just acknowledging the darkest parts of your personality, you’re accepting them so that you can manage, transform, and I suppose in rare cases and in the strongest individuals, exorcise some of them.

As a teenager and twenty-something, arrogance was always my darkest shadow. The fact that I was generally more intelligent, astute, and contemplative than my peers and even my elders was a source of pride that metastasized into aloofness and snobbery. I’ve been lucky though, as far as this particular shadow goes. Nearly, five years working multiple jobs (at least one always in retail) will humble anyone with an ego and a six figure education. My shadow’s appetite for superiority dwindled as I fell in love with the complexity of humanity and the understanding that behind our jobs and educations and familial/civic responsibilities, we’re all rich and complex beings seeking validation and witness.

That dark part of me, “Bitch Tara,” as my best friend refers to her, was excruciatingly honest and unforgiving. It was a defense and an outlet to show off the uncanny way I just seemed to understand people, their motivations, and their weaknesses without trying. By shedding this unnecessarily cruel utilization of such knowledge, I had in my mind, become a better person. Bitch Tara was banished because Shadow Work, as I understood it until recently, was black or white; there was no grey.

This past year has been one of the darkest in my life. Someone I trusted implicitly, from the very beginning, turned out to be toxic. There is no explanation for such uninhibited trust from day one, except to compliment the performance artist’s mastery in manipulation. That trust was eventually and relentlessly violated both in the way I was treated and the fact that I’ve come to learn that there was little truth in anything spoken to me. Instead, a narrative was created–complete with villains and martyrdom–that hid the duplicitous, dishonest, and dark true nature of a sick human being.

As a result of this dynamic, I spent a lot of this year suffering in secret. I began to doubt my own sanity and to believe that I lacked ego strength and that I was overly sensitive and that pleading to be treated, at the very least, in a civil and neutral way was selfish. I almost believed that yelling and pointing and insulting was acceptable and that my sensitivity to it was abhorrent. The key here is: almost. Along the way, I fought—in tears—to be heard. I called out the behavior at every twist and turn. I knew that ultimately my attempts at adult conversation would be futile and turn me into the bad guy and yet I persisted. Of this, I’m proud; my integrity and adherence to my own personal code of conduct was honored. Compulsive lying, emotional abuse and narcissism were confronted with their antitheses. This was black and white.

Until I had a moment of grey and “Bitch Tara,” nearly dormant and believed to be diminished, stepped into the light. She crossed the threshold and stared the sick one in his empty eyes. I told myself, in those long, drawn out seconds of fortitude that I stood before this person having done nothing more than adhere to my principles—a foundation of which he knows nothing as he lacks truth on a fundamental level. But remember, it was Bitch Tara who led the charge and I would be remiss to omit that she stood before the offender with an obvious and aggressive superiority; the same sense of superiority I wielded as a kid. He had confirmed for me what I’d chronicled all along and I was satisfied.

There, fueled by darkness, I set a new precedent in the relationship. There was no fear, no shame. I stood there clear-headed, with my healthy ego and my sensitivity intact. This time it was about me and the fact that I am no longer intimidated by the hollow and sullied.

I’ll admit that it’s a struggle now to put Bitch Tara away. Her appearance proved to be a seminal moment that rooted on many plateaus. She was useful in overtaking the darkness cast by someone else. But, attempting to quell her lust for devastating revelation has proved futile and will only happen retroactively. In that sense my integrity is taking a hit and it is clear there is still much hard work to be done. Thankfully, I do a lot of therapy.

Toward Dignity and Beyond

Over the past few months, I’ve heard the word dignity thrown around quite a bit. In most cases, the discussion was about poverty. On one hand, the poor needed to have or show some dignity by working harder, by “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” And, on the other, the working poor deserve a livable wage so that they can live with dignity. In fact, because I’m finally in a job that uses and tests my education, I now have a more dignified job.

My response, sometimes vocalized, was one of confusion. Is being poor or working a job that doesn’t require a degree or a particular expertise, exclusive of dignity? According to the aforementioned paradigm, yes.

In both instances, a lack of money and capital equates to a lack of dignity. Consciously, subconsciously, and culturally, this language suggests that our bank accounts are intimately linked with how much honor and respect we are given and with which we view ourselves. Yes, living comfortably on the salary of a single, 40-hour-a-week job is a luxury everyone should be afforded, but not living such an existence doesn’t necessarily make people feel less worthy of respect. I hear stories about a middle-class that once existed in this country, a middle-class that prided itself in working hard and earning a living. As those people continue to tumble down the tax brackets, now it appears that they had only dignity in numbers of the populist kind.

It’s unfortunate (though hardly surprising) that something as subjective, personal, and unique as respect has been usurped by a symbolic practice. And until money ceases to be the token for succeeding at life, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If even the deeply altruistic believe dignity is bestowed with cash, then even the good guys are cogs in a system that must, at the very least, be re-calibrated. Honestly, we’re all just rats the maze. But seeing the dignity in others should have nothing to do with their bank accounts. Unless, you truly believe a person can be paid their worth.

Memory Billows

You know, Jeanne D’Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen.  There’s a cathedral shaped like billows of smoke where it happened—and a cross.  Oh, I see the dull incessantness of the train has put you to sleep.  Perhaps it is better that way; a sacrificial lamb who knows not, cries not.  I read somewhere that she died before she really suffered.  The fire was built to smoke and she was suffocated before the flames began licking at her flesh.

I was born in Rouen.  Well, really I don’t know where I was born, but most of my first memories are there, so I tell people I was born there.  I remember standing under the Gros Horloge with my little cup and smiling as hard as I could.  The more you smile, the guiltier people feel about you standing there.  That didn’t make sense to me then, but that’s what Marguerite was always saying, so that’s what I did.  Once, this old man put his hand on my shoulder and bent down so we were face-to-face.  He smelled awful and his smile revealed yellow, rotten teeth.  He said a little girl like me shouldn’t stand under such a big clock.  And then he laughed.  And then he said it might eat me.  Then he left.

I was so scared after that, that my poor little girl legs struggled to support me.  I didn’t want time to swallow me whole.  So I started to run away, back to Marguerite, but I tripped on one of the cobble stones in the road and all of my coins jumped out of the paper cup when my elbow bumped the ground.  I was more upset about the coins than I was about bleeding.  I just lay there crying.  I was dirty, bleeding, and crying.

I’ve been that way a lot of times.

It’s the strangest sound, you know, the sound of coins on cobblestones.  It’s hollow and prickly.  I never found Marguerite.  I never saw her again and so I just assumed that time had swallowed her after she put me under that clock.  I had to clean up my own scrapes that day.  That’s when I became a warrior.

I wasn’t in Rouen much longer after that.  After that, I met Robert and he took me to Paris.  But, I won’t tell you about those things.  You get used to the sounds of coins on cobblestone, though, and you get used to scraping them up.  I believe that if more women knew what that was like, they’d raise better sons.

I suppose that in the end, in different ways, time swallows everyone.

The train’s stopping.  We’re here.  You know, I know girls who just smother their babies and stuff them all sorts of places.  The Seine is full of all kinds of broken hearts, not just that of a saint.

I’m glad you won’t remember any of this.  You’ll have only the newspaper clippings and playground taunting to remind you.  I’m sorry for that, but that’s not the worst life can decree.  When I leave you at the doors of the billows, I’ll pray that you’ll never understand why.  I’ll pray that one day you will understand that I can never remember any of this.  Because, I’ll never forget it.