Monday, July 30, 2007

Matt Daimon?

Last week, greenminute said something I didn't respond to, because I wanted to think about it. (I know, I know, what a concept!) Green said. . .

"I might. . .suggest that you were already a writer many years before you began writing, many years before you found or were clobbered by your catalyst. I would think you became a writer at about age 10 or 11, around the same time that eventual serial killers start torturing small animals they find in their neighborhood, and bridge engineers design their first birdhouse, and veterinarians rescue their first baby bird."

Do you think that's true? Does it happen that early? Or even earlier?

There's a famous Jungian analyst by the name of James Hillman who says we are like acorns, with all of our future talents and potentials curled up tight inside of us like our DNA. He calls that stuff inside the acorn our "daimon." He points out the obvious, that no acorn can grow into an oak tree without the requisite light, food, and water. Then he takes it at least a step further, claiming that sometimes the "bad" things that happen in our lives are that food, light, and water. In his book, The Soul's Code, he points to Hitler as an example of someone to whom exactly the "right" things happened to grow him up to be the mass murderer he became, things such as a father who beat him every day. Given different circumstances, Hillman suggests, that acorn would still have been packed with the right stuff to grow a sadist, but that particular oak could not have reached its full "potential" without the particular "nurturing" it received as a young twig.

I probably was "always" a writer, even before I could even read, much less write, and it did take a particular event to catalyze that into being. A lot of good things and people fed and watered me, but there were some "bad" things and people along the way, too. There was the college English teacher who read my first short story aloud to the class--to make fun of it, and to lead the class in laughing at it and at me. There were the editors who rejected me. There were people and events like that, which had the effect of holding off my attempt to bloom until the right time, the truly right time. I still don't admire people like that teacher, but I am grateful to him in a weird way, because he convinced me I didn't have any talent for fiction, which turned me toward journalism, which turned out to be a great training ground for a novelist.

So far, Hillman's theories sound pretty familiar. But now, here's where he takes it a big step further. In an interview, Hillman talked about how the daimon knows exactly what it needs and goes after it. . .

". . .this daimon is too big a burden for children to carry, too, and the daimon doesn't want to be treated as a child. For example, the Nobel prize winner in biology, Barbara McClintock, didn't want tools that were children's tools. She wanted her father to give her real tools. She was five years old and she didn't want a kid's hammer and a kid's saw. And Yehudi Menuhin didn't want a child's violin with metal strings, he wanted the real thing even though he was only four years old. Why? Because the daimon knows what it needs and the child is not up to the task. You feel that when you are a kid. You fall in love as a little child just as strongly as you do when you're twenty or forty. You have ideas of God and death and disaster and catastrophe fantasies of that sort that are just as strong as when you are sixty. I mean it's there. So much of it is already there. . . .

"So much of it is already there. . ."

Do you feel as if you've had a "daimon" within you, an inner drive pulling you in unconscious ways to where you needed to go? Were you born with a kernel, an acorn, of what and who you would become in this life? Or maybe you've seen it in somebody else?

Or, not? :)

I have no idea if Hillman's right. It could all be just a fancy name for "fate." (I'm just barely touching on his ideas.) I do like how he encourages his readers to examine the good and bad of their lives for "symptoms" of the nature of their daimon, and then to "grow down" into that rich smelly moist soil, instead of resenting it, or trying to rise ethereally above it. That advice has an earthy, non-resisting Buddhist feeling, and I like it. For one thing, a life lived like that would be a life lived without resentment. To resent that teacher of mine, for instance, would be like a plant resenting its fertilizer.

Allrighty then! Enough heavy pondering for one morning. Maybe we'll see who's got a daimon and who's just a little demon. :) I'll see ya in the comments, where the truly important stuff, like coffee and tea, is being served up!

41 comments:

Nancy P said...

My leave of absence was really productive. Thanks for your patience, and for coming back!

T'sup?

GreenMinute said...

Wow. Nancy, this is TOO MUCH for one day's thought. :-) But I love the "real tools" story. Just think how many young people NOW have the adult tools given to them that we use now. Pagemaker, Word, Adobe... This generation is going to kick our butts... hard.

AndiF said...

Completely off topic, congratulations on the Anthony nomination for Virgin of Small Plains. Are you tired yet of the book getting award nomination after award nomination? ;)

Here's a pic from vacation.

Beth said...

Very glad your weekend was productive - your absence is excused!

I like the "daimon" idea. I know that I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. And have dabbled in creative stuff late at night, while getting paid to be a wordsmith at whatever job I had (and I had lots!). I had a high school teacher who told me I was very good, and should pursue a writing career. So I didn't. :-)

But the seed (acorn?) was always there. The drive, the desire, the longing - I think I had to get some living under my belt before I was ready to put words on paper. Our past makes us who we are today, so I don't regret the delay. God willing, I have 50+ years left to become an oak...

And my congrats added as well, Nancy!!

Nancy P said...

greenminute. . .yeah! I'm so glad you mentioned this generation. That's REALLY interesting in light of Hillman's ideas. Kids with Grown-Up Tools. Waaatch out.

andif!! Welcome home, and thanks for the cool photo. Where is it? What's the story on the logs? Amazing light.

Oh, and yeah, yawn. :)

Nancy P said...

Thanks, Beth.

If there's any truth to this daimon thing, then maybe yours and mine both "knew" we needed basic training as writers and then "went after" that by giving us the desire to reach for jobs that required us to write, write, write. But maybe all along it has been aiming toward: novelist. Even when we--or at least, I--didn't know that was the plan.

GreenMinute said...
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GreenMinute said...
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Nancy P said...

green, it IS scary, yeah! Also hopeful, since it supports the studies that suggest that the influence of even one good person can keep a "bad seed" from growing into a sociopathic oak. (Richard Rhodes wrote a FASCINATING and little-read book about this,btw.)

But that, now that I think about it, raises the question of whether it was an entirely bad seed, because if it was, why did it "seek out" a good influence. .?

Spooky taters within spooky taters with sour cream and chives!

Yikes! I must re-read Frost's poem!

GreenMinute said...

"Though as for that, the passing there Had worn them really about the same. And both that morning EQUALLY lay In leaves no step had trodden back."

"I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."

Like much of Frost, there's a meanness here that is startling and, when he's good, usually comes as a total undercutting surprise.

(Birches) "Earth's' the right place for love."

Ah. "I don't know where it's likely to go any better."

Too fun.

BTW, this is quoted from memory and I may have something a little off. I have never been able to memorize Birches. As much as I want to use that one for silent recital when I'm in the dentist's chair, etc.

AndiF said...

The picture is Sawtooth Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. The logs are because this is a picture of the outflow from the lake so the trees that fall into the lake eventually float to and stack up at that end.

Nancy P said...

Here it is. . .

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.


So he did take the one less traveled, but it was only slightly less, and not at all that morning. Giving himself airs? :)

Nancy P said...

They've never looked more "saw-toothed" than they do in your photo, Andi. Crunch the sky.

GreenMinute said...

Let me quote RF: "Perhaps."

:-)

Nancy P said...

lol, green!

Beth said...

Andif, you were in Idaho? The Sawtooths? The prettiest place in our very pretty state. Those mountains are incredible, aren't they? Where else were you in Idaho? I'm 8 hours north of that area...it's a big state. But you found the best part! Hope you had a great vacation...

Beth said...

Nancy, perhaps you're right. Even if the job didn't initially involve writing. Someone would discover that I had the ability to put words on paper, and I'd go from data entry to proofreading brochures to writing the brochures to running the entire Creative Department...

I guess I'm lucky I didn't start in the Creative Dept and end up in data entry - my daimon might have gone the other way, and I'd be editing a prison newspaper now...

AndiF said...

Nancy, they can and do look much more sawtooth than in that picture; I'll provide "proof" later.

Beth, we mostly hiked in the Sawtooths but we also did hikes in Lost River Range, the Lemhi Range, the White Clouds Mountains, plus a visit to Craters of the Moon. It was all gorgeous and great hiking. We've already decided we have to go back.

FARfetched said...

This makes sense. I was first a voracious reader and then started trying to write my own stories while still in single-digit age. I think I was about 12 when Mom gave me her Smith-Corona manual typewriter and the typing textbook she had (filched?) from high school, and I used it to teach myself the keyboard. Typing is a little noisier than hand-writing, but somehow the clack clackclack never distracted me. The rest of my family… well, they never said anything.

knicksgrl0917 said...
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Jen said...

From my baby book:

"Jennifer loves all books at 16 months. She takes good care of her own books and likes the books we got her for Christmas better than anything else.

Loves any type of story, 23 mos.

Can write most of her ABCs at 33 mos.

At 3 years Jennifer reads, writes, and belongs to Dr. Seuss Book Club."

Beth said...

Wow, Jen!! Guess that proves that you knew at a VERY early age where your passions would lie. How cool is that...thanks to your folks for keeping a book like that.

Beth said...

Andif, you've been to places I've never heard of! I'm envious - and glad that you had fun. There is so much beauty to explore out here. Well, parts of Southern Idaho aren't very exciting...but Craters of the Moon is definitely unique. Hopefully you'll get the chance to visit North Idaho - pretty amazing up here, too.

Remind me why I'm moving to Florida?? :-)

Jen said...

Yes, Beth, I am enormously grateful to have that baby book -- it is so cool.

I'm also from Florida, originally (grew up mostly in Miami), and honestly I don't know why anyone would move there either. ;) Seriously, my very best wishes on your new place.

Nancy P said...

I deleted a comment that appeared to be spam trying to get us to go to a website. First spam we've had here.

Nancy P said...

Jen, I'm so glad you hauled out your baby book. You have reminded me that mine has a similar "daimon-ish" quality. When I was 10 (just the age that greenminute guessed), I wrote in it that I would be happy when I grew up if I could solve mysteries, have horses, help people, and be happily married. Twenty-five years later I was married to a rancher, and writing mystery novels. And now I'm writing mystery novels set partly on ranches. With horses.

Jen said...

Aww, I bet you were adorable at age 10.

I actually have two of your books sitting on [what passes for] my nightstand right now. You're next on my reading list, and if I'd known there were horses, I'd have bumped you up. ;) I KID!

Nancy P said...

I feel nervous when somebody I know is reading or getting ready to read one of my books. I hope they're two of the good ones. :) I am more fond of some of my children than I am of others--who Could Use More Work.

AndiF said...

Beth, I hope you're going to Florida because the Thai restaurants are better because if that isn't the reason, it would be a shame to leave Idaho (I guess you can tell I'm not a beach person).

Beth said...

Andif, it's gorgeous here in the spring (if you like rain), summer and fall. Winter (at least in Coeur d'Alene) is gray, long, dreary, dark and gloomy. No sun. Sporadic snow. Just - gray. For months. And months.

Right now, the beach is where I need to be - where my muse waits with a margarita and a sand chair. And hopefully Thai food! :-)
I'll return to my mountains in the spring.

I'll send warm thoughts to all of you Northerners this winter!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Anyone read the beyond-comparison Phillip Pullman books? YA but also for adults--the first one of the triology is The Golden Compass. (I promise you this has a relevant point.)

It's fantasy, marvelously written, evocative, imaginative, amazing and I love all three of the trilogy.
Here comes the point.

He has each person in one of his worlds be connected to a "daemon"--which is the animal incarnation of their spirit. This daemon is always with them. You see them, just as you see the person. (Hank, for instance, always has a neurotic tortoise shell cat on her shoulder. Like that.) They can never be separated by too many feet--a sailor who has a seabird has to live at sea or by the shore.

The daemon changes as the child grows--and then is set forever, when the child is around 13. (Something like that--anyone remember?) So you can tell their personality by the animal that's always with them--a leopard. A tiny money. A seagull. A bear.

(And ASML'ers, if you try to choose one for yourself--and it's kind of irresistible--it's very revealing.)

It's different than the daimon/acorn theory, in that Hillman sounds like sort of the "child is father to the man (with tools)."

But both seem to agree that some essence of something, some nugget, appears and is available as soon as we're born.

(My first words were: Please, sir, may I have some more words?)

Nancy P said...

Hank, I haven't read Pullman, but I love the idea of the animal daimon for each child. Is it anything like a witch's "familiar," or totally different?

"the animal incarnation of their spirit"

Very nice. Nice cat on your shoulder, too. :)

Jen said...

That's the third reference to Pullman's books that I've run randomly across in as many days. I have a superstitious belief: twice is a coincidence but thrice is the universe trying to get my attention. They were given to me for my birthday last year by someone I respected who has now passed on, so I shall put them in the nightstand queue. HPR, you've made them sound wonderful.

boran2 said...

These observations have the sense of undeniable truth to them. There are things that I started doing at a young age, things that needed no prompting. I still do them now only on a larger scale.

Man Eegee said...

But Jen, what does four references make? I just started reading The Golden Compass

[insert Twilight Zone jingle here]

Nancy P said...

boran2, was painting one of them?


ManEegee. . .woo woo, indeed!
Four times, Jen. Not only do you have to read them, you may have to marry them.

Nancy P said...

A very funny quote from farfetched's blog tonight. . ."that which hits the fan will not be evenly distributed."

Chortle.

katiebird said...

(Late to the show)

Nancy,
This is a lovely post. And it has my brain thinking in all sorts of wild directions.

Because while I certainly knew about computer programming as a child -- that's what my father did -- few people would have dreamt that we'd so soon have computers in homes for 4-year-olds to use if they required.

And I know when I finally took my first programming class I felt like my brain was snapping into sharp focus for the first time.

It's been loads of fun to read though yesterday's conversation.

Jen said...

What?! I can't hear you guys over the shouting of the universe! ;)

Nancy P said...

lol, Jen! (VERY loud, so you can hear it.)Do let us know if you like the books. :)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, Jen. Do let me know if you like them. I wish I hadn't read them before so I could read them again for the first time.

No. Thinking again. I don't wish anything. It all turned out just the way it should.