Terza Rima

Human psyche is obviously odd

A daily secret stock exchange

Each wearing  a mask to hide his fraud.


But dirty dogs are prone to mange

Healthy, honest minds being so rare

Don’t neglect annual oil change!


Therefore most prefer noise, shout, blare

Drowning self in some shiny chic

Diving into a glossy snare

Buying their lies from a boutique.


The symbolic power of masks

greek mask

In the imaginative life of humans MASKS have always been powerful totemic symbols: Comedy, Tragedy, Vader, Boba Fett, Noh, Bauta, V, Stormtrooper, Batman, etc.

Masks both hide and resonate with energy at the same time.

They project symbolic power while hiding the individual personality underneath.

The names and faces of classic authors have also become masks, death-masks: Shakespeare, Hemingway, Kafka, Orwell, Beckett, etc.


They have ceased to be individuals and are represented by their work, what it represents. The ideas their work express are no longer attached to the individual but belong to the world.

What can new writers learn from this?


Gestalt Storytelling


I was recently thinking about the potential connections between Gestalt Theory and storytelling. Gestalt is a theory which suggests that the human mind places patterns and meanings on reality in order to make sense of it. One of its most well known terms is “Closure”.

Gestalt, I think, explains a lot of what is happening when someone reads a story. A story is an incomplete reproduction of a reality imagined by an author. No matter how detailed an author is in her descriptions there will always be gaps. Spaces left to fill in, like a join-the dots game. This is where the reader steps in to provide closure for the story. Hemingway identified and utilised this principle in his work, see his famous theory of omission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceberg_Theory
This thought led me to an interesting article by Peter Mortola where he explores the links between Gestalt and Narrative theory. Two quotes below highlight the usefulness of Gestalt to storytelling.

“Although the concepts within Gestalt theory and narrative theory are divergent in many ways, both sets of theories hold at least one thing in common. That is, the concept of a central, three-part, or “triadic” process involving a movement through equilibrium, disequilibrium, and modified equilibrium. In Gestalt theory, this movement is described as being central to the ongoing process of Gestalt formation and closure. In narrative theory, this three-part movement is described as being central to the process of telling a story and “making sense” of human experience.” (Peter Mortola) The triadic structure here is interesting. It probably goes without saying how important this movement from equilibrium to disequilibrium to modified equilibrium for anyone familiar with story writing, but still it’s useful to reflect on it. Most stories move in this way, showing a character changing through a new experience. The reverse can work too, I think, a character is faced with a problem but fails to change. Either way this movement shows how people make sense of the world and underlies a primary experience of life. In a sense humans are the creatures who tell stories. To be a human is to be a story in the process of creation.

Mortola suggests this too when he states: “the concept of “disequilibrium” is at the core of Gestalt theory […] The constantly revisited process of establishing equilibrium, losing equilibrium, and establishing a modified equilibrium is, in the view of Gestalt therapy theorists, nothing less than the healthy ongoing process of being alive. Latner (1973) describes an individual in need of water as an example of the creation of a need—or Gestalt formation—and the destruction of a partial equilibria. When the individual finds water, there is Gestalt closure—the fulfilling of a need and the organismic assimilation of something new. The individual is able to move on and address his or her next need as it arises. Latner argues that the process of being alive is the process of addressing needs and being changed by these encounters with the environment as one does so. In other words, one is constantly moving through the process of equilibrium, disequilibrium, and modified equilibrium as one grows and changes.

The concept of need is useful here for storytelling. Life is founded on the fulfilment of daily needs. Both stories and life are the process of meeting needs. Needs can be simple, like food and water or more complex, like love and acceptance, but they have the same underlying structure, like a story. We usually tell stories about what we have achieved or failed to achieve in life.

Anyway, both of these quotes show the potential usefulness of Gestalt theory for anyone aiming to write stories. I think stories are basic to our humanness. To sum up, the concepts are:
Closure: the reader completes the story:
Triadic movement: characters move from equilibrium to disequilibrium to modified equilibrium.
Need: Life is the endless process of fulfilling our needs.

For more on this read Peter Mortola’s fascinating paper below.

Click to access NarrativeFormationandGestaltClosure-HelpingClientsMakeSenseofDisequilibriumThroughStoriesintheTherapeuticSetting.pdf

The Jonah Complex

I came across this excellent article online by Marianne Williamson about Maslow’s idea of the Jonah Complex which is very interesting.

“Evading the Creative Impulse

To invent or create you must have the “arrogance of creativeness” which so many investigators [and researchers] have noticed. But, of course, if you have only the arrogance without the humilty, then you are in fact paranoid…Aldous Huxley managed it by perpetually marveling at how interesting and fascinating everything was, by wondering like a youngster at how miraculous thins are, by saying frequently, “Extraordinary! Extraordinary!” He could look out at the world with wide eyes, with unabashed innocence, awe, and fascination, which is a kind of admission of smallness, a form of humility, and then proceed calmly and unafraid to the great tasks he set for himself. – Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
Last night I bought Soul Prints after reading those two pages I shared with you as well as Abraham Maslow’s The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Startling, but I didn’t realize they both describe a recurring theme for me which I detailed in the “Tell Me What To Do – Except Think Big” post. In Chapter 2 of Maslow’s book, the chapter on Neurosis as a Failure of Personal Growth, Maslow calls it the Jonah Complex.

We have, all of us, an impulse to improve ourselves, an impulse toward actualizing more of our potentialities, toward self-actualization, or full humanness or human fulfillment, or whatever term you like. Granted this, then what holds us up? What blocks us? … In my own notes I had at first labeled this defense the “fear of one’s own greatness” or the “evasion of one’s destiny” or the “running away from one’s own best talents.”
We fear our highest possibilities (as well as our lowest ones). We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moment, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.

More startling than coming home with these two books is how much the Jonah story (I am not much into reading Old Testament, so I only know of the man-in-belly-of-whale part of the myth) mirrors my own life to a T; how I’ve evaded the siren call of my authentic tune and all its echoes. From Soul Prints:

Because of the risk inherent in responding to a call, we sometimes hear an authentic call clearly but simply do not want to respond. There can be so many reasons why. Two are predominant. The first is laziness and the second is fear.
By laziness, I don’t mean the too-difficult-to-get-out-of-bed kind of laziness…Like a drug, we are all under the influence of heavy inertia. It is always [I’d add seemingly] easier and more comfortable to stay where you are. A call always involves some degree of movement – of action…

The second reason for resistance is fear – the fear that the call will conflict with your agenda. This fear is the demon dancing between the lines of the Jonah myth. Jonah is the biblical prophet called to the task of reforming the great city of Nineveh. The complexity of Jonah’s story lies in the fact that Nineveh was the capital of Assyria – Israel’s archenemy. As no less than the leader of Israel, the last thing Jonah wanted to do was to go teach wisdom to the citizens of Ninevah. He had a competing agenda. The result? He ignored the call. He pretended, to everyone, himself included, that he hadn’t heard a thing.

Jonah promptly slipped out of the city, reached seaside, bought a ticket, and boarded a ship to set off as far as possible from his impossible call. But his calling pursued him, pouring down storms on his stiff neck and hard head. The waters raged – as they are wont to do when we ignore our calls [doesn’t imply this is “punishment”, it’s just we just don’t do so well when we deny our very own innate nature]. The whole ship was endangered – for unanswered calls can be treacherous [well, maybe not that drastic, but a lot of turmoil] to ourselves as well as those closest to us. Jonah asked to be thrown overboard, preferably to his death, but he fell right into the mouth of a whale. There in its cavernous belly his call finally caught up to him.

Perhaps it happened there because of the awful stench and the fact that he had no place else to run; or perhaps because the whale’s belly was a chamber of meditation where Jonah met himself. However it came about, eventually Jonah was deposited upon dry land and pointed in the direction of his destiny: Nineveh. Soggy but reconciled, he set off for the great city. His is a passionate story whose point, of course, is that the call can’t be calmed, can’t be conquered, ignored or escaped. Whatever we do, the call comes back.

We all have some degree of what human potential psychologist Abraham Maslow called a Jonah Complex. We all try to some extent to divert our attention, to look the other way, and to cotton our ears to the call.

The Jonah complex characteristics include:

an evasion of growth and fulfilling one’s best talents
fear of one’s greatness including the sense that it may be inherently dangerous
fear of the sense of responsibility that often attends recognizing our own greatness, talents, potentials
fear that an extraordinary life would be out of the ordinary, and hence not “acceptable” to others
fear that the process may be too powerful, too intense, too overwhelming (as in looking directly into the sun)
fear of losing control, of annihilation, or of disintegration by the experience
fear of hubris, or “sinful pride” leading to paranoia”

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” – Marianne Williamson
Posted by Evelyn Rodriguez on Sep 12, 2004 at 03:12 PM in Awareness, Innovators and Creators | Permalink