Embracing the Dark



I’m a reasonably well-adjusted person. At least that’s what I like to think. I manage to function as one of the herd in my day-to-day life. I’m generally a pacifist, I don’t even kill bugs in the house if I can trap them and let them go outside.  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve never been drawn to horror movies, or the kind of books Stephen King or Clive Barker write. I don’t watch splatter flicks, slasher movies, whatever you want to call them. Buckets of blood just aren’t my thing.

So why am I now trying to write a character with real darkness? What’s gnawing at my soul?

I don’t know where he came from, but he showed up pretty much fully-formed in my mind. I did have to tease a couple of his secrets out of him, a little at a time. He doesn’t like to talk about his past much, which is understandable I can tell now. Not that he’s inherently violent, or any kind of psychopath, but he’s been to the abyss, and fell into its maw, and came back out of it.  

I firmly believe that we each have the capacity for darkness in us, and I am no exception. But I’ve never courted it before, never brought it to the surface to examine it. It’s lain, if not hidden, certainly ignored, in the past. Now however, if I’m going to do this character justice, bring him fully to life, I have to not only acknowledge the existence of my dark side but bore all the way down to the bottom, with no hardhat, or headlight, and no canary to tell me if the air is poisoned.

It’s a little frightening to tap into a side of myself that I may not be able to pack neatly away again when I’m done with it, that I will go in so deep I won’t come back out. I am finding this difficult. I’ve spent my life trying to avoid living this kind of ugliness in the real world, as most people do. We like to take care of our responsibilities, keep our homes neat, our yards trimmed, wash our cars on weekends, share a laugh with a friend. We do everything we can to direct the course of our lives in a much sunnier direction.  However, those dark impulses that served our ancient ancestors so well are merely dormant, not dead.

But perhaps I worry needlessly. Perhaps the more closely we examine and understand that aspect of ourselves, whether we work it out in therapy or on the pages of a novel, the less we have to fear from it. Knowledge is power, and understanding the darker emotions: rage, hate, bitterness, maybe the more control we can have over them. That’s such a nice, pat, pop psychology answer, isn’t it? Along with all those other clichés we tell ourselves to reduce everything to manageable, controllable, compartmentalized size. Kind of makes me want to throw something.



28 thoughts on “Embracing the Dark”

  1. I know what you mean about bugs. They’ve never freaked me out. I grew up surrounded by them in Africa. If anything they fascinate me. You should see how I watch spiders (“Charlotte’s Webb”)–I’m just captivated by them!–I watch them transport on their silk “rope,” construct with their silk, hunt with their silk, sort of use their silk to store food (like building pantries?); I just love watching tarantulas
    –I can’t get enough of that. Other bugs that fascinate me to no end–I could watch them FOREVER–are praying mantisses (“Honey I’m home–what the–“), honey bees, lady bugs, stick bugs, to name a few. One of the things that I was surprised to learn is that not all lady praying mantisses eat their pookie honey bears (Cheshire cat grin). I saw so many funny Praying Mantis cartoons…don’t get me started. ROFL! Teenage boy praying mantises:
    “Dude, I think she likes you!” you can fill in the rest of the picture ROFL!!


  2. Hi Faith,

    I can’t say I share your fascination with bugs, but the idea of ‘squishing’ things kind of grosses me out. Everything has its place in the food chain, I just send them on their merry way back out into nature, and out of my bathroom!

    Ok, I’ll admit I have no qualms about smacking mosquitoes into oblivion.


    1. I avoid killing bugs, too, and I can only eat lobster if somebody drops in the pot while I’m out of the room, but I love a good gory murder mystery. My brother drumno5 – as goodhearted and gentle a soul as ever drew breath – loves ass-kicking vengeance flicks like the old Charles Bronson movies, and our sweet old silver-haired mom just loves the film “Single White Female.” Could it be, perhaps, that our fascination with these dark materials isn’t b/c we’re looking inward, at our own dark sides, but ‘cuz we’ve reached a point where we’re willing to acknowledge all the darkness that surrounds us? What if your creepy avatar is not about your bad intentions, Didge, but about your courage – maybe he senses that at this particular point in your life, you are brave enough to consider what’s scary and nasty and evil in the universe, and he’s pushing you to see how much you can handle? I say show him who’s boss: kick his ass and tell a good story!


    1. Or your Shadow maybe. That dark side of ourselves where we hide all the stuff we’re not supposed to do in regular society. When unfair situations arise or people piss us off and all we can do is smile and nod politely when we really want to bash someone’s head in.

      That’s why writing (and reading and watching movies) can be so therapeutic. We can do those things we’d never do in real life. Some people claim books and movies and music compel others to commit horrible acts. Maybe. The evidence is too chilling to completely deny it.

      But I’m more of the school of thought that posits that, perhaps, certain types of music, books, and movies keeps many of us from actually committing such horrible acts. In our imagination we can let the primitive run free, bloody and savage and wild. Then we can slip back into our 21st century, civilized selves and go back to being law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, the savage within us once again slumbering.

      The first time I wrote an all-out, full-fledged villain, I have to say, it was quite liberating. 🙂


      1. “When unfair situations arise or people piss us off and all we can do is smile and nod politely when we really want to bash someone’s head in.”

        Kind of like driving in rush hour traffic, and what you really want is a grenade launcher on the hood of your car…


  3. I take a fairly Catholic view of it – evil is a distortion of good. There’s even a constructed backstory for Satan, as one who once loved too much. Sometimes we’re just not strong enough, smart enough or holy enough to keep our virtues properly balanced, and evil is the result.


    1. Hi Edward,

      As an agnostic pagan, I don’t really subscribe to that mythology. I don’t believe in a devil to blame my bad behavior on, and I don’t buy it when other people use that defense. I think we each have the capacity for good and evil, and both terms are relative based on the structures of the society they’re viewed from. Rape was only made illegal in Liberia in 2006. In Brazil, until around 1986, it was an acceptable murder defense for a man who’d killed his wife to simply claim he’d caught her in bed with another man. Good and evil are fluid concepts.

      I don’t quite understand the idea of “balanced” or “unbalanced” virtues? Perhaps we’re using different definitions of the word “virtue”?


      1. Well, I don’t believe in blaming the Devil (whoever he may or may not be) for my behavior or anyone else’s, but I do believe in objective, inherent evil regardless of prevailing standards. Societies and legal systems may get things wrong, even our own (no, I won’t give the example I have in mind, lest I end up burned at the stake around here! 😀 )

        Rather than write an essay about keeping balanced virtues, I’ll cite a popular culture example – Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. Anakin’s fall was precipitated by his great love (surely a virtue) for his wife, which the “devil” in that story exploited. Things like love, pride, ambition are all rightly called virtues, but if carried too far or in the wrong direction, they can be the cause of evil.


  4. I’ll bypass all of the religiouse, femenist, quaintness of bugs in a Beatrix Potter Victorain woman does not stomp or sweat kind of way. I will run on my dyslexic sentences to make my visual point. We all contain the cappabilities of horror. The way we choose to contain our capabilities is an individual process. Fairy tales were once the containment vessel of choice. They were told without the dissection of thought by grammer. Memory without letters leaves a thought process that is more “whole” that is why most people prefer movies to books. I enjoy both. Anyway I do realize that grammar has the ability to “rope” those little thoughts. I have done much preliminary “roping” to understand my dyslexia. It now mostly affects spelling and sentence structure. I do not know how to put cutle little fences around any of my wild creatures.

    Understaning my own process has given me a different view of how we divide things. Yours as a grammatarian is probably very similiar. I am getting closer to assertaining the blocks that still stop my process.

    Victorian women learned to supress their female monsters. The monarch was a woman. I believe it started earlier. Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth “duked” it out within the restraints of their femeninity for about 20 years. Of course Mary staired at her executioner with her red hair, oh but when he grabbed her by her locks, guess what it was a whig. Her head litteraly rolled for all to see. I think this might have been the time that most evil fairies and oggers and giants were found only in the land of the celts. England was planting gardens that would produce cuteness in all fairy realms.j Beatrix Potter had no problem with evil Farmer McGreggor being tossed of fhis land. If cute rabbits were being fed like the cute little girls tucked in in their cute little nightgown. All darkness had been cast to other lands. Wow hopefully we don’t have Inuit people starving for the sake of little girs and their white gloves and nightgowns. In my house we have a mondern volgarity for this situation: fart and blame it on the dog Understandidng our cappacity for darkness allows us to properly “vessel” it. I can rant like a banshie and have finally been banished to paper. I promised my almost 16 year old daughter that this would be the land of “rant”. All stink would be let out of said containment unit before entering the land afforded to all ladies that are expecting to be saved by the prince or kings queens that govern it! Perhaps this is why we need to be saved! We all need to own and recognize the smell of our own farts! The biosfere even demands the counting of cows and their gaseous nature. Energy is energy; this is science. You must look at it and see what it realy means. Those old stories of “mirror mirror” have much more relevance when you see yourself developing within the mother that you grew up with or the daugher that you raise. I am quite sure I could write a few mother in law tales of horror right off the cuff at any given moment! And please Catholic man, suppression for religious reasons. I am a former Catholic that is really funny! The stuff of late night comedy, unless you happen to be the victom of said repression yourself. I have been repressed and will tolerate no more of your “bread” thankyou. It sticks in my throat like the memory of something I will not tast again. I now prefer “Raven’s Bread” Talk to the Pope about tales of Pinnochio he actually has invested shares in Viagra. I’ll leave out the Pope on a Rope rant. I don’t want to offend your last commenter too severarly. I am sure he can pray for whatever evil thoughts I evoke in that small dark box when he speaks to his priest.


    1. Hi Sharon,

      Ok, I’m not quite sure what point you’re trying to make here. I get that you have issues with Catholicism, and as an ex-Catholic myself I can understand that. I would like to keep the conversation on topic, and not veer off into denigrating others’ beliefs, please.


  5. You have great company in your policy about bugs. A reporter friend of mine once interviewed the late Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, and he wouldn’t let her kill a cockroach that had turned up near her tape recorder. Singer told her she must “never” kill cockroaches.

    A thousand thanks for putting me on your blogroll.

    Jan Harayda


  6. Hello, I returned after lunch with a few more thoughts. I also was once an agnostic pagan. This is a very large vessel to fill. It is very watery in its realms unlike grammar. Water and sand are difficult to divide. Thus the new divisional space of the new testament. Small space transformation is best for hurding the mind set of any creatures that might need fences. They may be human or animal. The same system applies. Psycology and advertising have been around for a very long time.

    Perhaps you have seen the old version of the movie “The Fly”, on the surface it is a horror no one would want to entertain. It therefor becomes hard to see past the “vessels” and understand what this story was saying. Obviously Mary Shelley did not “seek” the monsters to be made, she only observed and was able to intellegently create a vessel of transformative thought that spoke to her time and has still much relevance.

    The Fly is a story about “vessels” about our need to create, our need to live as persons of flesh and our need to die as persons that will be consumed by the offspring of flies. Whenever the balance it getting out of order, it seems more art in the line of story, movie, visual art (which has been my staple of creative choice until Physical changes pushed me into the newness of “words”)

    I would question where your querry is comming from. What part of your being is afraid to see the compartments of life and death. Perhaps if you go back to the “safe” place that childhood religion offered, you will find it. I am not suggesting you completely embrace what ever this was. I have done that for myself and it has helped heal many demons (as metephor) I noticed you didn’t post my last response. That is OK some peole won’t take the “visuals” that I paint or write as truth very easily. It is much easier to contain truth in fiction. Shakespear, Dickons, Harper Lee had many layers in each single story they wrote. They have not lost their relevance. Someone has to point to the emporer and his “nakedness” As we know from the Haulacaust, doing so or even suggessting it may cause a very different outcome than was intended. Most people do not wish to see the emperors nakedness. They do not take ownership for stopping injustice. Political correctness has become a new way for people to turn their heads or “Fart and blame it on the dog” Jewish people were scattered like rats during the height of a strong creative time in our history. I beieve had the Holocaust not happened, we would easily see the Genious that was developing reflecting in every mirror. Sadly the story was different. I personally know how much it takes to heal from “real” horror. I also know that society and the individual are conected. Society is asking us to look in all of our mirrors. Wright your truths as story or fact. Both will be told and both will be relavent. I have no idea of your place inside the grand theme, only you can know that. The term “Raven’s bread” comes from the old testament. It is a confusing story about a man that is “waiting” to be a vehichle of transformation. He is fed by ravens as he hides out near a trickle of a stream. This is our next introduction to water and ravens, the last occured during “the promise” of upcoming storms or exactly the lack of them, ie the story of Noah. I do not take any of these stories as literal in their meaning. I read them as poetry that has hidden individual gems for each to intrepret. I have embraced many religions. Most clothes necessary for all of them, are designed by emperors! I do not wear uniforms, I choose not to be naked, however, I design my own clothes. I have best learned this by looking at the “Divine Texts” we have lost so much that our brains cannot hang on to. Hebrews had laws about divisiveness to understand the “whole” I do not believe it is either or. All traditions have similar stories. I must say I am a little surprised that you can not easily find a “capsule” for your darkness. Maybe thinking of it like a Genie, or Jin as the Arabs call it will help you keep it tethered. After looking at your other posts, I do not expect this will be published, thats OK, it was meant as a little bit of “Ravens Food” we all need some now and then.

    PS, I will learn to tether these thoughts by grammatical leashes, or fences or little cities or towns, I just havent found a way to permanently harness creatures of the sea! I wish you good luck and will not direct my thoughts at your “evil brain monkeys” or what ever skin you give them. I may check back to see how you have constructed their containment. Good writing


  7. All my life, I’ve loved things associated with the “dark”. But my every day personality is anything but gloomy. For the most part, I’m a lot more easy going and cheery than most people I’ve come across. Maybe because I don’t bottle or try to hide my shadow side?

    Go where you fear, DD. Seems this character popped into your head for a reason.


  8. I feel a lot stronger since I quit trying to deny I had a shadow/dark side. But I also feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of it, and it really does merit more time and attention. I, too, tend to be very cheerful, laugh easily, and have even been called (*gasp*) ‘perky.’ That was a low point 😉 It took a long time to undo the religious programming of my youth that taught I was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person for having wicked thoughts and falling short of ‘perfection’ however that’s defined. Since I rejected all that I’m a lot more at peace with myself.


    1. I’ve never gotten “perky,” but I’ve occasionally been described as “goofy,” as in one student evaluation that read “she’s kind of goofy, but that’s OK b/c it makes you want to come to class.” I don’t do it on purpose, but I think acknowledging the dark sides – mine and those of others – helps me find a balance and actually keeps me from complaining.


      1. Just as a point of interest, your comment was the 1000th comment on my blog 🙂

        As for being ‘goofy,’ you’re probably one of the few instructors they will remember for having some personality! And if it makes them want to come to class, it’s all to the good.


      2. Beside, it makes ME want to come to class! One of the reasons I like this job is that I can do it effectively w/out feeling like I’m running a prison or a funeral home or something.


      3. My kids ALWAYS speak fondly of the profs/teachers who are a little wacky. Maybe some of them are just a little quirky, but I think the motivation to pay attention reults from the unpredictability: you keep paying attention b/c you don’t want to miss what happens next.

        Regarding the light/dark sides of ourselves: I am most comfortable with the Buddhist view that we all have the seeds of good and evil inside us, but we choose which ones get watered and brought to fruition. Tapping into your evil seeds to get some creative juice out of them seems to me both a way to be mindful of them and put them to good use. Have at ’em, DD!


  9. Jung has always fascinated me, with his talk of the subconscious and our shadows, and I believe this is what you are talking about here. His point of view – if you don’t pay some attention to your shadow, it’s likely to sabotage you every time you turn around. The healthiest people are those who are aware of what they’ve chosen to suppress or repress, and work to accept even that which is socially repugnant. Have you read Ursula LeGuin’s a Wizard of Earthsea? The absolute best metaphor ever for embracing our own darkness and becoming stronger because of it.


  10. I’ve never actually read Jung, although I am familiar with some of his concepts. I did read the The Earthsea Trilogy when I was a kid, but I’m sure most of that aspect of it went straight over my head as an 11-yr-old. I still have the books though and periodically consider rereading them. I remember I loved them, maybe I just need a refresher visit with Ged.


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