Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

A Jungian in Hollywood

My main work in the psychology field has been working with blocked artists of all kinds. It’s difficult work, not least because the block is so painful.

By the time most get to me, they have developed an elaborate system to avoid the pain — like drinking, having lots of sex and innumerable other compulsive activities.

A recent article in the New Yorker describes the work of a Jungian psychotherapist with blocked Hollywood people. The most interesting aspect of Barry Michels’ work to me is with the Shadow. I am always stressing to my own clients that nothing is going to change much if they don’t “embrace” the Shadow.

Of course, this is precisely the point at which many clients stop coming to sessions. This is so predictable that I try to bring clients to awareness of the Shadow slowly. It’s very difficult to convince anyone that by accepting their discomfort and pain, it becomes much more tolerable, even useful.

Here’s an excerpt from the article about nearly every writer’s problem:

By far the most common problem afflicting the writers in Michels’s practice is procrastination, which he understands in terms of Jung’s Father archetype. “They procrastinate because they have no external authority figure demanding that they write,” he says. “Often I explain to the patient that there is an authority figure he’s answerable to, but it’s not human. It’s Time itself that’s passing inexorably. That’s why they call it Father Time. Every time you procrastinate or waste time, you’re defying this authority figure.” Procrastination, he says, is a “spurious form of immortality,” the ego’s way of claiming that it has all the time in the world; writing, by extension, is a kind of death. He gives procrastinators a tool he calls the Arbitrary Use of Time Moment, which asks them to sit in front of their computers for a fixed amount of time each day. “You say, ‘I’m surrendering myself to the archetypal Father, Chronos,’ ” he says. ‘I’m surrendering to him because he has hegemony over me.’ That submission activates something inside someone. In the simplest terms, it gets people to get their ass in the chair.” For the truly unproductive, he sets the initial period at ten minutes—“an amount of time it would sort of embarrass them not to be able to do.”

Definitely read the article if you have problems with creative blocks. I certainly did in my early 30s, when I was given an advance to write a book I never finished. It was precisely exposure of my shadow that inhibited me.

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There are 3 Comments to "A Jungian in Hollywood"

  • Jesus Regalado says:

    Thank you for referencing this fascinating article, though I thought the excerpt you chose about procrastination was the least interesting part of the whole piece. My initial reaction was, “What is this, another crappy CBT prescription about how to overcome procrastination?” So I am glad I read the whole article.

    Procrastination is, of course, an element or symptom of writer’s block, but it is not the central problem. It has much more to do with the Shadow stuff. I am not a professional writer, nor even an avid amateur writer, but I do not imagine writer’s block as a solid wall which becomes less or more penetrable. My visualization is of a wall with an aperture which never closes completely, but which shrinks to a pinhole when the block is at its worst. The wall is, moreover, not so much just a barrier but a transitional plane between the thoughts in one’s head on one side and the written product on the other side. I mean, there has to be some sort of “constriction” (or process, if you like) in the middle, otherwise we would just be spewing our streams of consciousness into the world. But the longer we sit and stare at the hole, the smaller it becomes, and the more hesitant we are to sling anything through. I can imagine my Shadow standing between me and the hole, taunting me, perhaps even controlling the crank that makes the iris become smaller and smaller. It makes me doubt whether I have anything of value to toss over, while, paradoxically, I am aware that I am accumulating more and more here on my side of the divide that I really WANT to toss over. But the mocking Shadow continues to make me hesitate, and says stuff like, “Well, your opening has already shrunk to a pinprick. If you shove all that stuff in now, it is just going to be a big fucking splatter when it gets through.” The maddening thing is that, once we manage to shove the Shadow aside, or at least to negotiate with it, we realize (and later forget again), Dorothy-in-Oz-like, that we had control of the crank all along, can widen the opening at will, and did not even need to worry so much about what would come out.

    Plus we all know now, thanks to Barry Michels, that Charlie Sheen is an example of The X Gone Feral.

  • Cliff says:

    I don’t think your characterization of this as CBT is altogether wrong at all — and not just the treatment of procrastination. It all strikes me as a hybrid of CBT and Jungian theory. The screams, the slogans and even the pseudo-paradoxical interventions are all CBT-esque.

    I was disappointed that the writer didn’t ask about the effectiveness of this work with people outside the Hollywood professions. It is quite reductive and, of course, performative, so I wonder if that doesn’t make it especially attractive to people in showbiz.

    I was also curious why he doesn’t introduce the figure of the muse. It doesn’t seem to come up that blocks can be related to misdirection of creative energy. It’s not all about development of ego strength.

    Generally, I think Jungian theory is much more accepted in Los Angeles for the very reason that the film industry is there. It’s a city obsessed with images (and Jung said “image is psyche”). On the one hand, there is the image of film and art and then there’s the “shadow image” of relentless vanity and empty appearances.

    Your description of the block is interesting. One thing that it doesn’t account for — at least I don’t think so — is the way people often confuse “fallow” periods for blocks. These periods, which can be very frustrating, are essential to the creative process itself.

    I wish, too, that he had said more about the writer as “shadow figure.” I think that may appear so because writers are often the object of shadow projections, not just because they are struggling to hide their own shadows.

  • Jesus Regalado says:

    “Your description of the block is interesting. One thing that it doesn’t account for — at least I don’t think so — is the way people often confuse “fallow” periods for blocks. These periods, which can be very frustrating, are essential to the creative process itself.”

    Actually, my description of the block seems a little facile in retrospect, though I was aiming to present a visualization rather than a characterization. For me, the block feels like a stanching of a flow, a back pressure, a bottleneck, hence the pinhole image You are correct to point out that a LACK of flow can be due to a fallow period, and the distress caused by this interruption, or dormancy, can be perceived as a block by someone with a deadline. I agree that this is part of the creative process. Perhaps Michels should help his clients see the difference between blocked flow and stalled flow. Hollywood, however, is more about cranking out product than respecting the creative process. So let’s just do our CBT homework and squeeze out those creative juices! (Sorry, I am cynical about CBT. probably because I hate the homework.)

    Even if we are not talking about Hollywood writers, your distinction between blocked flow and stalled flow suggests another problem: how can we tell if we are simply recharging or actively blocking ourselves? Or, conversely, how can we tell if we are simply recharging or are facing a tapped-out well? The confusion of healthy fallowness here for creative frustration or even creative barrenness is another shadowy dirty trick we play on ourselves. The tapped-out well is another illusion, the converse I guess of the wall, but it is just as frightening and paralyzing. Maybe more so.

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