Happy best month of the year! October’s theme is “Cast of Characters,” which will be 90 percent DIYs for finding an old couch in an alley and getting passing strangers to help you use it to recreate a range of group poses based on the hit sitcom Friends. It is also inspired by the cast of characters that exists within each individual; the archetypes of the collective unconscious. It breaks my heart how often we stop ourselves from knowing an unexplored facet of who we already are—it’s there whether you acknowledge it or not—because “that’s not who I am.” Or when a friend keeps herself from trying something new, not because it’s mean or unethical or dangerous, but because it strays from the narrative of who she’s been thus far. Where last September’s “Multiplicity” was about making space for your many selves, this theme will explore the shared psyche from which they originate, and the fact—fact!—that, unless you find yourself engaging with the archetype of Murderer or Internet Troll or Guy Who Stands In Subway Doorway While People Are Trying To Get On And Off, a new facet to who you are isn’t a negative. It just is.
I first learned about these archetypes when I was trying to understand why I wanted to date the guy in my Infinity Diaries, for all his Big Man on Campus-bravado, and my therapist said, “You wanted to know what it would be like to be a Princess.” Another time, I expressed a desire to create in a way that is less thinky, more performative, and so potentially more attention-seeking, and my friend said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just your Magician looking to come out.”
This concept was introduced into modern-day mainstream psychology by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. He wrote that archetypes are “forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the Earth as constituents of myths and—at the same time—as individual products of unconscious. The [forms and images] are imprinted and hardwired into our psyches.” In tracing the earliest uses of “archetype,” Jung discovered they were first attributed to God, to the divine, to the holy fabric of existence. St. Augustine did not use the word itself, but pointed out our universally shared ideae principales, “which are themselves not formed…but are contained in the divine understanding.” Over time, the archetypes have been formed, built upon: from characters in religious writings, to the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck (in which the process of self-actualization occurs over the course of 22 archetypes), to Jung’s own list, which includes archetypes like the trickster, the hero, the child, and the mother. Jung was adamant that the naming of them, and the mythological images they evoke, only exist to represent the more murky, not-visual parts of the unconscious; we don’t draw upon those images initially, they just come later to help us identify what’s been presented. But I would make the uneducated argument that, at this point in time, after all this reduction and regurgitation, as inundated as we are by images and media and SNAPCHAT GOD DAMMIT, one may be so interpolated that the mythological image has inserted itself into the collective unconscious, too. So, he should come back from the dead and update all his books and lectures to account for the archetype of the Target Lady.
I regularly give myself Tarot readings—in periods of consistent panicked unknowing, as often as twice a day, which is probably counter-productive—and while the initial temptation is to ask, “Which one am I?”, a thorough reading insists, instead: “You’re all of them, at different times, in different circumstances.” It’s not “fake” to behave differently with an old relative than you would with a new friend, than you would with a teacher, than you would with a classmate. If anything, it’s an act of courtesy to acknowledge that these are separate people, with whole subjective realities that differ from one another, and whom you might connect with more effectively if you are not concerned with using them as an audience for the consistency of your personality. A Tarot draw is not a referendum on who you are deep down, not your fate or your destiny or your curse; it’s just the part of you that you’re having a moment with. Like, you might have to know what it’s like to be the spontaneous, impulsive Fool before you decide you need some time as the Hermit. Performance, dress-up—and this is the foundation of my interest in fashion and theater and being alive every day—can get you to a new place because your body doesn’t know you’re lying. The ultimate fake it till you make it. Lately I’ve been like, “Darn, my self-esteem keeps telling me I’m a Troll,” so I am trying to feel more like a Queen by asking myself, “Would Rihanna wear this?” and charging forth! Then the confidence I get from that style of dress is perhaps related somehow to what allows me to go out into the world comfortably and be, e.g., the Teacher for a friend in need of advice, or the Chariot in a scary professional setting. There’s so much to be said for following your instincts, not needing to put words to everything you do, not trying to choose one identity or decide how you “should” feel—I’ve been writing about that in these Editor’s Letters for months now. But I also think it’s an amazing tool to be able to go: “I’m at this social function with all these people I don’t relate to? I’ll try being the Spy.”
Maybe we feel extra accountable to our established identities because it’s all online, and there have been many times when I’ve wanted to just ERASE EVERYTHING BECAUSE I CANNOT CO-EXIST WITH WHO I HAVE BEEN BEFORE. Recently I was telling a friend that I felt like an impostor when people would say they connected with something I wrote ages ago but which I no longer agree with, because I’m not any of those people anymore. And he was like, “You’re right, you’re not. You’re better. But you had to be all of them first.” Which also reminds me that “Cast of Characters” can pertain to when you feel you play a certain role in your friend group, family, class, et cetera: What do you do when you find yourself growing out of that role and fear you’d somehow be letting people down?
I once worked with a theater director who told us all to stop saying “my character wouldn’t do that.” He was like, “Sometimes I say ‘your character is a pussycat!’ and then later that same day I go ‘your character is a tiger!’ and that’s because they’re all many things, in different moments. We’re not contradicting another scene, we’re just adding another color. It’s like a mosaic, like we all are in our real lives.” I went to our vocal coach and lamented that I didn’t know how to reconcile the character’s lack of self-awareness with her astute observations of others, or make a bunch of childlike direction—jumping on a bed, screaming of joy!—coexist with jadedness. Her reply was so meta. “She’s all of them,” she said. “She’s a multi-faceted disco ball. That’s why I love teenagers—at any given moment they could be acting 10 years older or 10 years younger. But when you stop defying description, that’s when you’ve gotten old. I see it in friends who start to talk like their parents. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just another form of growth. But it’s why theater actors stay young; they have to keep changing and discovering where new characters live inside themselves.”
Acting is a very literal example of engaging with different archetypes. So many of my favorite musical artists did it, too—consider the many transformations of David Bowie and Prince. Bob Dylan changed so often and so drastically that his biopic needed six different actors. Joanna Newsom told me in our interview that every album cover is a way of depicting the narrator of those songs, and the narrator is different every time. It is her and it isn’t. A perfect example of choosing an archetype and then trying it on. Getting it out of your system. Growing to the next stage. I often listen to her song “The Things I Say” to reconcile the lives, past and present, that have now accumulated within me.
If I have the space of half a day,
I’m ashamed of half the things I say.
I’m ashamed to have turned out this way,
and I desire to make amends.
But it don’t make no difference, now,
and no-one’s listening, anyhow,
and lists of sins and solemn vows
don’t make you any friends.
There’s an old trick played,
when the light and the wine conspire
to make me think I’m fine.
I’m not, but I have got half a mind
to maybe get there, yet.
When the sky goes pink in Paris, France,
do you think of the girl who used to dance
when you’d frame her moving within your hands,
saying This I won’t forget?
What happened to the man you were,
when you loved somebody before her?
Did he die?
Or does that man endure, somewhere far away?
Our lives come easy and our lives come hard.
And we carry them like a pack of cards:
some we don’t use, but we don’t discard,
but keep for a rainy day.
Which brings to mind this part from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando:
For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may have many thousand…and these selves of which we are built up, one on top of the other, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own…so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there…and some are too wildly ridiculous to be mentioned in print at all.
There is nothing catastrophic about switching out one plate for another. None of them are ever too far away, and living with the mindfuck of their coexistence instead of scrambling to somehow resolve it can feel really good. It’s one of the gifts of being alive. Getting to take yourself seriously enough to examine what’s wrong and celebrate what’s working, but not taking yourself so seriously that any of these moments define you or make any of us all that special. Jung again: “Life is crazy and meaningful at once. And when we do not laugh over the one aspect and speculate about the other, life is exceedingly drab, and everything is reduced to the littlest scale. There is then little sense and little nonsense either.”
In honor of all our sense and nonsense, please mosey on over to our submit page for more ideas on the kinds of writing, artwork, photography, illustration, comics, and more that we would love to see this month! Also, HALLOWEEN!!!!
Lots of love, with many plates,