March 10, 2020

La danse (second version) (1909-1910) by Henri Matisse

Dear Tribe of Readers, Seekers, and Imaginers,

Yesterday, on the outskirts of Santa Fe, I stepped into a used book store bearing the irresistible name, Books of Interest. The store was a small space off the main drag, crammed with floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The owner sat at a desk in a bright sunny corner doing paperwork. When I entered, he looked up and smiled. Four other people were browsing the aisles. Thank goodness people are still reading hardcover books, I thought.

Soon I found myself facing a shelf of philosophy texts. I had just been listening to a Great Course lecture on ethics and values, which in these dark times, has gotten me thinking about how we make decisions as individuals and as a society about what is right and good. With that in mind, I ran my finger over the dusty spine of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and then the works of other greats—Aristotle, Hume, St. Augustine—but the book that jumped out at me was not a weighty discourse. It was a paperback with the alluring title, Exuberance: The Passion for Life by Kay Redfield Jamison. I pulled the book from the shelf. Aren’t I here in New Mexico to restore that very quality after a difficult year? Exuberance feels like the sickly child hiding in the basement of my psyche, waiting to be found. I bought the book.

Jamison says that exuberance is an essential human trait, and I would add, one to be cultivated as an antidote to the feelings often triggered by today’s news: treacherously infectious gloom and fear. We know viruses can be contagious, but so is exuberance.  It is joy unrestrained. Exuberance is joy’s energetic sister, fizzy and bounding and overflowing. Exuberance is the great naturalist John Muir lashing himself to the top of a hundred-foot Douglas fir in the middle of a winter gale so he can join in its rocking wild ecstasy, or Georgia O’Keefe’s ardor for the desert landscapes she painted until she died at ninety-eight. Surely, temperament and hard-wiring and a hundred other reasons account for the intensity of one’s exuberance, but dear friends and readers, when terrors of plague and apocalypse swirl through your dreams, please remember exuberance abides and only needs to be re-ignited.

Let me segue here to share a few of my own nuggets of joy. I am delighted to announce my new novel is just now completed, and I will keep you updated as the process of publication unfolds. This April, my essay, “In Extremis: Jung’s Descent into the Language of Self,” will appear in Volume Four of the Chiron Press series Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul under Postmodern Conditions. I’m honored to be included with distinguished thinkers and analysts in exploring the meaning of Carl Jung’s theoretical work as it pertains to our postmodern world. One doesn’t have to be a scholar to enjoy the series; anyone interested in the great man’s life and work will find something worthy in this collection.

It was Jung who clarified and brought to our attention the power of the collective unconscious in shaping history and culture. He saw how archetypal and unconscious patterns repeat in myths and fairytales across time and continents, but also how shadow or repressed elements in the collective unconscious of a people could stimulate panic, hatred, and war. From 1913 into early 1914, he experienced prophetic dreams and visions that predicted the blood bath of World War I. After the Great War, he warned about the Volksgeist  (nationalist “folk-spirit”) building in pre-Nazi Germany and envisioned an eruption of shadow elements among the country’s despondent people. I write this to you now as the words “pandemic” and “existential threat” circulate in our daily speech. Giving a shout-out to exuberance may, I hope, temporarily alleviate some personal moments of despair, but it’s not a cure. Taking action, however, does seem to lessen anxiety. For inspiration, I turn to another writer, James Baldwin, who should have won a Nobel in Literature. In “As Much Truth As One Can Bear,” in 1962, he wrote:

One must be willing—indeed, one must be anxious— to locate, precisely, that American morality of which we boast. And one must be willing to ask oneself what the Indian thinks of this morality, what the Cuban or the Chinese thinks of it, what the Negro thinks of it. . . . We are the generation that must throw everything into the endeavor to remake America into what we say we want it to be. Without this endeavor, we will perish.

I end by offering my gratitude for your continued good citizenry and your support of the arts and my own work. Please feel free to reach out at any time.

With kind regards, always,


P.S. You are receiving this TinyLetter email because at some time we’ve connected over subjects that matter to both of us. If you are interested, you can read some of my previous TinyLetters and invite others to subscribe here and find my monthly blog posts either on Psychology Today.or on my website.