An Experiment in Terror Vol 1, pt 2

I went to a workshop on creativity today.   I didn’t decide to go until this week, but I checked out the website ( Jill Bryan, who is the creative coach is also a singer/songwriter. She released a CD some years ago and created this event for women artists helping this international women’s group. I checked out the artists she invited to work with her and I just liked the whole thing.  I liked her music, and the artists she worked with were doing work I thought was interesting, so I decided to pay my fee and give it a shot.  There were mostly women, 1 man came with his wife, but willingly.  Jill had inexpensive art supplies all over the tables, watercolors, crayons, markers, colored pencils and the first thing she gave us was a permission slip to permit ourselves to take this time for our creativity.  Very non-threatening.  The people in the room had a mix of creative outlets – writing, painting, music.  I won’t go through the whole thing, but I did have a revelation worth the price of admission.

I have always had nightmares since I was a child.  They happen less frequently now – they are more disturbing dream than nightmare, usually. At one one point I had those waking dreams where you had sleep paralysis. And I was always convinced there was someone in the room. I would have these things several nights in a row.  Then they would stop for a long period and start up again.  I thought I was crazy, but these are actually not that uncommon.  I read a book around the mid-’90s called Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  I still have my copy of this book, although I think there are newer editions.  Estes is a cantadora storyteller  – a keeper of old stories – as well as a Jungian psychologist and she breaks down the female archtypes in folk tales and fairy tales in this book.  One thing she talked about was “Dark Man Dreams,” which were exactly the nightmares I was describing.  But she says they tend to come to people in times of stress, especially when we are making changes in our lives that maybe our brain doesn’t think we are ready for. So it “sends” the dark man dreams to scare us out of moving ahead.  Once I read that, I realized the timing of the dreams did correspond with big changes – like the summer before I left for college. So I stopped being scared of those dreams and I actually stopped having them.

Later, I had nightmares about doors. I was in a room and there was something on the other side, trying to get in and I knew it was something bad.  I have had an issue with doors since childhood.  In the house where I grew up, all the bedrooms opened on to one hallway. If I was the only one at home, especially at night, I would get so scared, that I could not walk down the hallway – and guess who’s bedroom was at the very end?  It wasn’t really the doors as what might be in the rooms, so I would walk down the hallway, making sure each door was closed and then crouch on the floor at the end, with my back against the wall, and watch all the doors until someone came home.

So, in my early 30’s I start having these door nightmares.  By then, I am in therapy for other issues, and we talk about the nightmares.  I am having a lot of trouble sleeping and I’m crying a lot and just seem to be hitting a bad point.  And my therapist decided that maybe I need some medication, but she’s only a social worker and sends me to a psychiatrist to get an opinion/prescription.  So I go to his office.  I open the door and there is a sort of waiting area and facing me are three closed doors with no names on them, no signs, there’s no area for a receptionist – just a couch and doors and I had my first and last panic attack.  A real one, not just the expression.  I ran out and sat in the hallway and cried until the doctor came out. He was very apologetic about the receptionist not being there – I guess one of the doors was where that person was supposed to be when they were in.  I then had to explain the whole door problem and he was really nice about it.  Not surprisingly, I walked out of there with a prescription for Prozac.

I finally figured out what I am pretty sure triggered the whole door thing. My parents separated when I was 9, but they were having problems long before that.  I don’t remember my parents fighting.  What they would do is go into their bedroom and shut the door and you could see Mom had been crying when she came out. The only time they shut the door (except sleeping) was when they were in there, arguing.  I think I knew something bad was happening behind the door, but I didn’t know what it was.

Cut to years later, I don’t really have door nightmares anymore, but I can still feel apprehensive in a room or hallway with too many closed doors.  A couple of weeks ago, I decorated a new sketchbook. I am trying to learn to draw and I have been intimidated of carrying a sketchbook around, although I feel it is necessary to be able to practice whenever I can.  So I decorated and personalized the sketchbook. I named it: “An Experiment in Terror: Vol 1.”  I pasted a picture of a hallway with closed doors inside the front cover to sort of make fun of my fear.  And then I started noticing doors around me and doors as symbols becoming more prevalent.  So now we get to today’s workshop.

The reason I went to the workshop is that I have supplies and I have more time, but I am still finding it difficult to make myself work at the drawing and painting I want to do. So Jill asked the question of all of us, “What is stopping you from being creative?”  And I listened to everyone recite the list I have read over and over in all these creativity books – Fear of failure, fear of success, not worthy, etc, and when it got to me, I said that “I can’t seem to find the discipline I need, but I know it is something beyond that.” Then, with no idea of what I was going to say, “it’s like reaching for the handle of a door and something on the other side pulls the door shut in your face.”  I had never had that image before when thinking about my discipline/self sabotage issues. But it suddenly sounded so right.  Jill said that was a good time to discuss what she calls “small questions”.  What is on the other side of the door?  Who might be on the other side? I started writing some things down and I wrote one question that was actually part of my scariest door nightmare.  In this one, a guy I worked with was in the room with me and there was something at the door trying to get in.  I thought I would feel better because I wasn’t alone, but then he said “How do you know it isn’t me?” And he vanished.  I still remember being terrified after waking up.

I wrote down that question today and then I remembered my therapist’s theory about dreams, that all the people in them are some aspect of you.  And maybe that was the answer all along.  These were my new “Dark Man Dreams.”  The scary person on the other side of the door was just me.  If I could no longer scare myself away from new things, then maybe I could just slam the door in my face.  I think all my awareness of doors, lately, has been my mind still trying to invoke fear about being creative.

I don’t expect my self sabotage issues to magically disappear from this, but having an image in my head for what is going on is going to be very helpful. The rest of the workshop was relatively peaceful, but let me leave you with my haiku about a clementine orange that left the room in stunned silence.

Jill gave us all a clementine when we took a short break.  We were to write all the words that came to mind as we ate it. (she did ask first, if anyone had an issue with clementines, so I’m guessing she had a backup option for those who were orange averse).  I went outside and wrote my words and then we came in and she asked us to circle or mark the words that could also apply to our “creative journey.” Next, we were to take those words and write a haiku. So most of the haikus were all about something fresh, exciting, juicy, fragrant.  But to be honest, my clementine had no smell. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t sweet. My thoughts were more about appearance and function.  Then we had to take one of our words and make it the title. I mentioned that mine might seem a little darker than the others.


Alien tendrils
Small world, explosion emerge
Pieces, shell, empty

No exaggeration, they all just stared at me.  Then one woman seemed to get it – she said “it’s about you eating it, the stages.  It’s not dark, it’s deep.”  I was grateful for that. I really didn’t mean for it to sound as if I felt empty regarding my creativity, I was just describing the orange. But I also think if you fully invest yourself in something to create it, you could feel (temporarily) empty.  It’s funny how people seem to want their art or “art journey” to be all the positive words. I don’t believe you have to suffer to create art, but I do think there is a lot of richness to be mined from acknowledging the places that darkness and fear have in your life.


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