One of the advantages of coming from a fucked up background is that we have a capacity to dive deep. I was fortunate to have had a very good therapist when I was younger. Because of her, I learned how to go psyche spelunking. The mind, it seems, has an affinity for metaphors. Metaphors help us deal with our mess. They also feed creativity, and support and nurture our life process.
Over the years- and as money or insurance premiums allowed- I sought out other therapists when needed. But each was a bust. Maybe it was just my high expectations, and I was admittedly rather self-protective, but I found all of them either antiseptically peevish or pathologically patronizing. I left sessions quite sure they were more fucked up than me. Frustrated but still determined to heal, I learned what I needed along the way. I did this through a good amount of intuition and “self-help” books. My main sources were Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie, and John Bradshaw’s The Family and The Shame that Binds Us. They contributed greatly to my self-knowledge and therapeutic process. They also informed my intellectual world view.
When I returned to school in my forties, I thought I would go into psychology: a natural choice given my dedication to and proclivity for self-healing. Being the conservative-liberal, Vermont hippy chick that I am, I wanted to circumvent the superficial, allopathic approach to treatment I had encountered in my previous experiences. But, I was also pragmatic. I can’t tolerate esoteric fluff. Yet I had, by then, developed an intense inner knowing that there was a place, a real place, between the sterilized clinical approach to the human condition and the cultish mentality of guru Goddess worship.
Burlington College, at the time, was a small, funky college in Vermont housed in a single peacock blue building with about eighty matriculating students. The dean was a big, round, strong man with farmer hands . His white, hairy face and pate left me in no doubt that he was THE hippy Santa Clause. I was in the right place.
BC was a progressive institution of higher learning. I was expected to co-create my curriculum with my professors. I enrolled in the transpersonal psychology program and was happier than I could ever remember being. I ate up Freud, Adler, Jung, and Maslow. I devoured clinical psychopathology and Shamanisms. I read Hillman, Perry, Turner amongst others. I read of logical and intelligent people from different cultures and backgrounds doing their own psyche spelunking into the deeper places of the human condition that went way down below the surface of the simplistic diagnostic labels found in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders).
The thing about this kind of education, though, is that it is a process of self-transformation for the student. I was about halfway through my degree when it happened to me. I came out of the closet and declared that I wanted to be a writer. When I write, I am home. When I write, it is like being in love. Why would I not choose to pursuit it openly?
The dean worked with me in changing my major into an independent degree which allowed me to continue my studies in transpersonal psychology while pursuing creative writing. It was a leap because I knew I was getting a degree with even less practical value than a BA in transpersonal psychology. My mother made that quite clear. But the urge to follow this specific learning path and apply it to my life and my writing was a klaxon sounding from the deep. One that I chose not to ignore anymore.
I was fortunate to have had several prophetic professors who knew their business and understood my fumbling intellectual reachings. They introduced me to Campbell, von Franz, Estes, Carter, and Lee. There is nothing quite like the experience of not only discovering that your intuitive and intellectual undulations have footing, but that others have already gotten there before you. It is the ultimate validation. I’m not a freak, and I’m not alone. Hurray!
BC was where I learned about the transpersonal nature of myths and fairy tales and that they are more than just stories. I now understood why I had always been drawn to them, thought in metaphors, and why this helped my own healing process. I now also understood why I loved to read stories, especially good genre, and why I wanted to write this kind of story ( genre). I discovered the desire to infuse genre: horror, sci-fi, fantasy, romance -whatever – with transpersonal substance. To create a balance between the experiential and the entertaining. To express psychological process through popular fiction. After all, myths and fairy tales, in the folkloric context of when they were told, are popular fiction.
For me, story is medicine. And good story- any kind of good story- comes from the inside out. It comes from the metaphors of the mind. The language of the soul. Let your fuckedupedness be your psyche spelunking guide and mine those metaphors!
Thanks for reading.
Note: Burlington College is no longer in existence. It is the college that was inadvertently destroyed by the president, Jane Sanders ( yes, Bernie’s wife), and the Board of Trustees when they made the attempt of turning the college from progressive to mainstream education. This transition occurred while I was attending. It was heart rending.