Water’s Edge

3 November 1974

DINNERTIME. He should have been home by now. Sent out to look for for my little brother, I checked out his most likely haunts, asked around, until I found myself tiptoeing on the edge of the Old Pier thinking the worst. The tide was high, only a foot or so from the level of the stonework, the water so vast and grey. From that vantage point, I had a good view of the shoreline in front of the Dunollie Hotel and the Garage, but not a brother in sight. The temperature was dropping fast and my tummy was rumbling. Just as I pondered whether I had done enough to justify going back to the house now, an invisible pair of hands shoved me into the drink.

Feet first, I plunged into the dull ebb. Within seconds, panic had engulfed my senses, eradicating everything I had ever learned from Mrs Weir. The first ascent back to the surface seemed to take an eternity; every attempt to come up for air and scream at the top of my voice only increased the likelihood of being pulled back under. With every gasp, my efforts felt more and more futile.

Matchstick people streamed from around the Garage and the Dunollie. Voices. A loud splash. Then a pair of strong arms taking hold of me and pushing me into the waiting arms of someone else standing by the water’s edge.

I recognised my rescuer straight away. The owner of the Harbour Grill, still in his chef’s whites, had saved my life. By the time I was delivered to my parents, my brother had showed up. After dinner, I was treated like a princess and tucked straight into my parents’ pre-warmed bed.

What a way to start my birthday. Tomorrow I would be six.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020

Company of Me

MANY people are facing their demons for the first time. Those of us who have had a head start in this department can be thankful that to a degree, we were prepared for the solitude, anxiety and soul-searching that lockdown inevitably entails. I guess this is why so many fight tooth and nail for the right to hang out with the crowd, perhaps not so much because they are selfish but because it is the only way they know how to shut up their inner demons. They are literally afraid of ther own shadow. So much as it is tempting to judge, just remember what’s at the back of it when you see people flagrantly breaching COVID restrictions.

As for confronting your demons, athough it is not without pain, it’s not as bad as you think. Once you get to know them, it can actually be quite satisfying. At least that has been my experience. Think of it as a team-building exercise (Storming, Forming and Norming)!

Splash!

1973

AS A family, in those days we sometimes did fun stuff. Occasionally, we went on day trips to places like Dunvegan Castle or Armadale Castle. School summer holidays usually meant going further afield to Glasgow and Inverness, the former to see relatives, the latter to engage in a grand shopping spree for clothes. This Autumn, we might get to pick hazelnuts beyond the Faerie Knoll again. And if the weather was really nice, we might go swimming at Aiseag Beach.

My favorite swimming haunt, though, was the deep freshwater pool at Black Park, not an adult in sight. All the kids used to go there in the summer, armed with enormous rubber tubes procured from the guys at the local garage, who were only too willing to get rid of them. We could just as easily have swum in the sea but at least at Black Park you weren’t likely to be stung by a jellyfish.

Then, of course, there was Mrs Weir. Like a whirlwind, she blew in one day with her inflatable indoor swimming pool, to make way for which our classroom was cleared of desks and chairs. I knew I looked ridiculous in my mum’s ill-fitting blue rubber swimming cap but my self-consciousness didn’t last long. I was so at home in the pool, I felt like a mermaid. A water baby.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020



Shadow in a Nutshell

Imagine living in a world where mobile phones were non-standard, each one different from the next and using every functionality in ts very own instruction manual. Then imagine a world where the technology was surplus to requirements, for within the collective human psyche lay all the apps we would ever need.

* * * * *

In addition to all the hardware necessary for basic life, most humans arrive into the world with various components that allow them to process and store equally various forms of data. Not only do we usually incorporate a built-in camera, mic and speaker system, we have other cool sensory devices that allow us to taste and smell.

The human operating system comes complete with a range of awesome apps that enable us to survive, communicate with one another and hopefully thrive. However, the suite that we are born with is as unique to us as our fingerprints.

Some things come as standard, of course. If you imagine the file manager as your psyche, then the desktop, where we tend to keep all the programs and files we use on a regular basis, would equate roughly to the conscious part of your mind.

Just as we don’t know the half of what is available to us on our mobile phones, they say that we use only 10% of our brains and that was even before the technology existed. Could that be because most of our functionalities are languishing in the Recycle bin?

Dumbing down

Society is only interested in those apps that are of value to it, for instance mathematical, scientific, literary or linguistic ability. Where present, these are cultivated at the expense of everything else. The rejection of anything that does not support the prevailing economic paradigm is policed unwittingly, sometimes ruthlessly, by our family and our peers.

The standardisation process begins at the earliest possible opportunity. By the time we reach elementary/primary school, we know all about what ‘it’ is to be a boy or a girl. We are subsequently introduced to a host of other opposites. Something is either good or bad, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, big or small, nice or nasty, smart or stupid – in-betweenness is viewed with scorn. We are trained to pigeon-hole even ourselves and this can occur in any combination of postives and negatives.

This is how some of the apps we were born with get deleted or fall into disuse, either because other people don’t ‘like’ them or we don’t. As we grow older, whole experiences join the ‘forgotten’ scrapheap. Over time our Recycle bin becomes so congested that our entire system slows down. Thing is, and this is the real kicker, these deleted files are still running and they’re more powerful than if they hadn’t been rejected in the first place …

This is why we’re all so f**ked up …

Welcome to the world of the Shadow, the term Carl Jung used to describe the repressed part of the human unconscious. According to his theories, in order for wholeness to be achieved, the psychic opposites must be reunited and resolved, in other words healed.

Factory Settings Plus

Nobody was born ‘weird’. The environment that we were born into made us that way. We are all unique, only the ones who are better able to standardise are rewarded and thrive.

If you discovered that a whole side of you existed that you didn’t know was there, only visible in thoughts, acts and feelings that you were hesitant to own, and if you knew that by reintegrating these discarded elements of yourself, you could restore your software to a higher-performing state, would you not sign up for the adventure of a lifetime?

Outer Limits

IN THE memoir-writing circuit, abuse is a recurring theme and writing the best form of therapy, published or not. The abundance of stories seeking an audience is a healthy sign of real cultural change. Less healthy is the sadistic glee when some abuse survivors refuse to entertain protecting the identities of their villains, regardless of the spectre of legal action.

I am of the view that the writer should never take responsibility for how others react to the truth and that wrongdoing should be exposed. However, if a memoirist cannot demonstrate the humanity that was denied to them, then they have learned nothing that will be of real value to their readers. A memoir is about how the writer handled their shit not what So-and-So did to them.

Both ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ are the products of a corrupt value system that first takes us prisoner in the classroom. By the time we reach elementary/primary school, we know all about what ‘it’ is to be a boy or a girl. We are subsequently introduced to a host of other opposites. Something is either good or bad, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, big or small, nice or nasty, smart or stupid – in-betweenness is viewed with scorn. We are trained to pigeon-hole even ourselves and this can occur in any combination of positives and negatives. The end result of this process, as we are ‘knocked’ into the right shape, is polarisation – some children become bullies, if not abusers, while others become the abused.

So in a sense both parties have been wronged. This way of looking at things creates an environment in which it is easier for the bully/abuser to accept responsibility for their actions and a basis through which some common ground can be achieved. Personally, this is a far more satisfying possibility than revenge.

When all other avenues have been exhausted and if an abuse survivor has no choice but to drop someone in it, a mature writer will show any redeeming qualities that they were aware of. Painting them in as balanced a light as possible will go a long way to reducing the amount of fallout and reduce the likelihood of being accused of being a liar. Intent is everything and karma is still a bitch.

It also falls upon the professing self-healer to shine a light on their own darknesses and failings. The idea that we are a bastion of all that is good and the ‘bad’ guy is scum is not credible and, um, quite frankly, boring.

Causing your outed villain(s) discomfort is inevitable and to a degree, desirable. After all, discomfort is a vital part of the self-healing process and both parties have a right to self-heal. Wanting them to suffer, though, brings you to their level. How can the teller of the story self-heal effectively if they add another layer of baggage by wilfully hurting those that have hurt them (and their families and friends)?

My motto is and always will be “Treat others as you would be treated, not how they treated you.”

********

Note: Yes, my memoir has a ‘villain’ (or two) but, for the avoidance of doubt, GB is not one of them.

Writing a memoir

WITH a pandemic in full swing and many of us having more time on our hands than we might like, there has never been a better time to write one’s memoir. And you don’t have to be famous to have a tale worth telling. They say that everybody has a story in them – if you can extract meaning from your life experiences, then the chances are that others will also find meaning in your words.

The whole point of a memoir is that it should be written with abandon, no holds barred – worry about reactions later. Many memoirs never see the light of day because the content is too sensitive but if a greater good can be served by sharing a universal truth, then upsetting people might be a price worth paying.

Memoirs are best written after the passage of time to allow for processing and absorption into the psyche. It involves the same level of craft as writing fiction. The storytelling devices used, such as plot arc and character development, are the same, even if they are formed from memory rather than imagination.

It is important to stress that memoir is not autobiography, which charts an entire life from the beginning. Instead, it homes in on an aspect of someone’s life or a period of it in depth.
Memoir is less bound by formal expectations of chronology or factual accuracy. However, it is universally understood that, aside from some tweaks here and there, often in the name of confidentiality or simplification, in essence the story is true. Where factual deviations occur, events and people are more likely to have been removed (or fudged!). Fortunately, for writers who wish to embellish, there exists a form of memoir known as autofiction. Here the reader cares less about what is fact and how much is fiction. What is expected though in the former is a degree of candour and authenticity that might not be found elsewhere.

For the writer, irrespective of whether publication occurs, the benefits of such honesty (even with oneself) are immeasurable. The very act of organising one’s life into a coherent whole is the best way to make sense of it and even the most chaotic life looks less so when viewed through a the widest possible lens. Airing painful experiences that have hitherto been hidden is liberating and cathartic. Writing your own memoir is in my opinion the most effective source of self-healing and it costs nothing.

And the healing can be extended to the whole of humanity. Often one person’s life experience can showcase universal truths that need to be shared. Particularly when dealing with ‘difficult’ issues such as childhood sexual abuse or modern slavery, memoirs bring them into public consciousness, emboldening others to share their stories and from where real attitudinal and social change can occur. They also become a valuable part of the historical record.

Having gone about writing my own memoir, making up the process as I went along but realising later that despite some rookie mistakes, I had largely gone about it in the ‘right’ way), I have attempted to compile this guide. It combines my own direct experience, along with a handful of sources. As my own memoir is still in mid-flow, I still have much to learn but if you’re thinking of writing a memoir, then this is as good a place to start as any. At the end of the day, writing your memoir is your journey and this page only a guide.

Getting started

– If you aren’t already in the habit, start a journal. At the very least, it will allow you to keep track of any new material (thereby making writing the sequel much easier!). Also, keep your journal, or a separate notebook, with you when you are out and about or travelling. This is often when memories pop up, so you need to ‘catch’ them before they’re gone – poof!

– Whatever you do, don’t start at the very beginning! Whatever memory or insight prompted you to think of writing a memoir in the first place, start there.

– Don’t hold back. Tell the truth and be damned. Think about the consequences as they relate to other people after you’ve written it.

– Brain dump what you already know about that part/aspect of your life (and other related areas), as it comes and in no particular order, until you can’t think of anything else. You’ll be staggered at what pops up. Add dates where you can, even if they’re only approximate.

– Record as much detail as possible:
– sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, smells
– intuitions, perceptions, personal insights, realisations, aha moments
– emotions, inner as well as external conflicts
– any dialogue/phrases that you can remember
– every association you can possibly think of.

– Where your story has a strong psychological or spiritual theme, look for metaphor, archetype, symmetry, synchronicity to add more depth. The more opposites (and harmonies) you have to work with, the better.

– Don’t overthink. Even if your conscious mind doesn’t know the first thing about how to structure your story, your unconscious mind does. Let it do the heavy lifting, just concentrate on getting the raw ingredients onto paper.

– Type your notes into bullet points.

– Approaching it as you would a CV, organise your notes into chronological order.

– Use external reference points as necessary, for instance, a movie that you saw the day a significant life event occurred. Googling the release date for that movie on IMDB will refine your timeline.

– If random details pop up that you cannot place, write them down anyway along with a question mark. Similarly, some details might be superfluous but rather than delete them, put them to one side, on the off-chance that their importance might become apparent later. Contradictions and ‘holes’ early on are not uncommon.

– Home in on key bullet points and repeat the process as many times as is necessary until your timeline reaches saturation point and a story structure (and your emotional journey) becomes discernible. From this point onwards, you can start to think about removing anything that doesn’t serve the story.

– By now, you should also have a clear idea of where your story should start and roughly where it ends. The best stories start with a hook that draws the reader in before going ‘back’ to the beginning. The ending should see you prevailing somehow in the face of all odds, even if it isn’t quite the happy ending you were hoping for. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt to structure the middle too much until after you have written it. Get as much detail out of your system first, then cut later.

– You can also start to think about splitting it into sections/chapters. You may want to stick to a chronologically linear storytelling structure until you have a better idea what style suits your story best. Memoir has a life of its own, so be open to your story letting you know how it wants to be told. The most appropriate way for me to structure THE LOST SECRET was through a present and a past timeline running in parallel.

– I do not recommend attempting to flesh your memoir until you have constructed the bones. Now is a good time to read up on the craft of storytelling, which I have purposely not covered here.

Writing

– Embellishing or bending the truth will catch you out so don’t even think about it.

– If you have done a thorough job of structuring your memoir, you should already have a series of bullet points that just need expanding and be able to get through the ‘writing’ phase with relative ease.

– You can pick and choose which parts you want to start writing. If there are iife experiences you can’t quite stomach writing just yet, you can come back to them when you feel ready.

– As you write, keep a note of any new memories that crop up but belong elsewhere.

– Establish your own unique writing voice. Stick to one point of view (for instance, if you’re writing about your childhood, are you speaking as the adult or the child?).

– Choose your tense carefully, bearing in mind that it is possible to use both past and present (though don’t mix them). Keep your dates as headings. Even if you intend to dispense with them in your final edit, hang on to them for navigational purposes.

– Put readers in your shoes.

– Pace the story. Don’t ramble but don’t rush a highly dramatic moment either. Establish a rhythm..

– When sharing traumatic experiences, avoid victimhood and the language of blame. While you do want to crank up the emotional impact, your story is about you and how you dealt with what happened to you, not the people responsible. If for instance, you have an abusive ex-partner, humanise, don’t demonise them. Try to remember their redeeming qualitiies as well as the bad.

– When dealing with death, avoid being maudlin.

– For more complex works and memoirs with a ‘message’, you may need to contrive signposts along the way, so the reader gets a chance to digest any takeaways.

Finally, not only will you get out of your system that which you already know, you will learn so much more about yourself. You may well be shocked at what ‘new’ memories crop up and how the version of events you’ve remembered ‘clearly’ for years is out of sequence. By the time you’ve started fleshing out your memoir, you may even notice repeating patterns (aka lessons!). As the penny drops that your chaotic life wasn’t quite so random after all, it is as if you really knew what you were doing all along …

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Additional sources

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/6-tips-for-writing-a-memoir
https://thewritelife.com/how-to-write-a-memoir/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/dec/14/the-naked-truth-how-to-write-a-memoir


The Inner Journey

During the writing of my memoir, THE LOST SECRET, I didn’t have much time or mental energy to research the psychological processes I was going through. That came later and even then, there was a limit to how much time I could devote to study, given that I have more to offer by allowing myself to experience the reality first hand.

Although I have sought to detach myself from belief systems and existing theories, it so happens that the work of Carl Jung best describes my journey, even if the specifics are entirely unique. I also draw on the work of Joseph Campbell and James Hillman. Although coming at it from their own angle, Jung, Campbell and Hillman all point in the same general direction.

It also has to be said that some of my experiences may challenge these theories, for instance, the way Jung differentiates between the Shadow and the Animus. This is to be expected given the evolutions that have taken place since his time. Jung said himself that it was up to future generations to build on what he had started.

While it is my intention to stick to what I know to be true for myself and leave the explanations to others, I do occasionally ‘break’ this rule. However, where I do, I merely dip my toe in the water. I avoid statements of ‘fact’, erring instead in favour of perspectives based on personal experience and insight. After all, the whole point of all this is that we are, and should always be, a work in progress. Your experience may bear different results.

To some of you, the ideas I touch on will be already familiar. Many of you will never have heard of indivduation/psychosynthesis or archetypes. Some of you might already be in the throes of your own personal journey and like me would benefit from some sort of explanation for the bewildering changes you are experiencing.

So I felt it would be useful to signpost readers in the right direction should they decide to undertake their own research (regardless of their level of exposure to the ‘real deal’). My Resources page is also a work in progress. It includes a handful of articles I wrote on key elements of Jung’s work. These are not in-depth and are intended only to whet the appetite.

Resources page at https://mkmacinnes.com/resources/

Please feel free to suggest amendments or additions.

See-saw

WITH all this talk of a new vaccine, i can’t help but feel a little disappointed that things will eventually ‘get back to normal’. So, what, we’ll just act like nothing happened and swing back into a state of excess to make up for lost time, making us sitting ducks for the next pandemic.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat …

This isn’t the first pandemic and it most certainly won’t be the last. Why waste an opportunity to make some of the behaviours we have adopted to combat the virus more permanent and moderate our extremes in order to soften the blow when the next one comes along?

I for one like the idea of maintaining a one meter default setting. And handshakes seem so outdated when other gestures do the job just as well if not better.

What habits developed during Coronavirus would you like to keep post-pandemic?

The Magic Potion

potion

THERE once lived a man who imbibed a skinful of whisky and fell asleep in his armchair. His wife had long gone to bed, leaving all three bars of the electric fire on. When the man spluttered himself awake in the wee small hours, he became aware of an excruciating sensation in the inside of his left shin and found that his jeans were singed. When he removed them, he realised that although they had not been set alight, they had conducted enough heat to leave a huge burn. In one place there was a dead dark patch where he felt no pain at all, even when he poked it with his finger. Though still groggy from booze, he had enough wits to know what had transpired. He had cooked his leg.

The following morning, his wife persuaded him to get it seen to.

II

THE DOCTOR informed the man that he would require a course of antibiotics and a skin graft as soon as one could be arranged. This was unavoidable and the replacement tissue would be taken from his backside. He should come back in a week.

On leaving the surgery, the man decided no flamin’ chance. And so he paid a visit to the other place. But he was not so stupid as to reveal to the vet why he was asking for a bottle of horse liniment.

III

THE MAN took the antibiotics as directed. And every day his wife was subjected to the foul stink of horse liniment. After a few days of faithfully wrapping his leg in bandages soaked in the odious compound, it looked as though progress was being made. Within a week, well, it was nearly but a scabby indentation and some of the feeling had returned.

It was quite out of character for the man to return to the doctor’s surgery without being pushed but he was keen to gloat at the success of his own ministrations. When he pulled up his trouser leg for the doctor to examine what evidence remained, the latter was close to speechless.

It stuck in the doctor’s throat to admit that he could no longer see any reason for an operation. When the man told him how he had achieved such a miracle, the doctor just said “You cannot be serious”, before suggesting that he could perhaps continue doing whatever he was doing and come back in another week.

The man had no intention whatsoever of letting on that without the antibiotics, his leg would have become so infected from such a rapid healing that it would surely have killed him.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2015

Questing and the Ego

FOR WEEKS it has been my intention to pull together all my Carl Jung notes on the ego into a semi-erudite article, to follow on from my earlier attempts on the Shadow and the Heros’s Journey. However, my overthinking quota is up for this week, so I’ll stick instead to my own observations.

The ego refers to that part of the conscious psyche that deals with survival and how we fit into the world. As we grow from childhood into adulthood, it generally becomes corrupted by the banishment of undesirable traits into the unconscious (the Shadow – I deal with this elsewhere). I suppose this is why the word ‘ego’ has such a bad press – it has come to be associated with unhealthy egos (dickheads).

In eastern philosphy, the ego is regarded as something that must be transcended in order for us to become enlightened. We are but specks and life is but a meandering river of infinite possibilities. Not everything is knowable.

Western philosophers, on the other hand, gave us the idea of the questing hero. Now it’s all about pursuing – and winning. Life is there for the taking, if you’ve got the self-belief to do it. The wealth of infinite possibilties resides within you and anything that is not knowable does not exist.

Both schools of thought are unrealistic because they cherry-pick (they are also not comparing like with like). Transcending the ego is nigh on impossible for most folks and overemphasis on control and self-determination takes no account of the fact that our lives are mostly dictated by the random and unexpected. Neither will equip us for the road ahead.

There is a time and a place for both ways of being. Even the I-ching recognises that there are moments in time when it is appropriate to act and others where you must sit back in the knowledge you have done all you can. It’s about knowing when to ride the waves and when to let oneself be carried by them. The problem with today’s culture is that the ‘answer’ often lies in putting the sea in a more convenient place.

It still amazes me how religiously some philosophers stick to one camp or the other. From personal experience, I would agree with Jung that in the transition to psychic wholeness, the ego becomes integrated with other parts of the psyche rather than killed off (which only creates more shadow anyway, so what’s the point?).

A healthy middle ground is achievable.

Being a self-professed Quester, I am keenly aware of the pitfalls of taking a ‘hero’s journey’ approach to life, such as taking it or myself too seriously or using it to set myself apart. If an element of ego were not present at all, then literally I would not be able to achieve the level of propulsion required to do something that goes against the grain (how much worse would my procrastination be without it!). As long as I am able to hold my hands up and admit to my mistakes, then at least for now I regard my own ego as being in a healthy balance with the rest of my psyche (there’s plenty room for improvement, believe me). This also involves knowing when it’s time to take a break, slow down and acknowledge when it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Dealing with the unknown and making things up as you go along is a lot of fun when you learn to let go of controlling the outcome.

It is only when operating from a position of protectionism and fear that the ego becomes unhealthy. For me a healthy ego is able to stand in its own power, while acknowledging and respecting the ability of others to do the same, on the understandng that all are equal in the service of the Whole. For want of a better word, this is Love.