Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Self Image And The Tree of Life by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Self Image And The Tree of Life
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Many Paranormal Romance novels include the premise that Long-Lived or Immortal Beings walk among us.  Some are scary and some are yummy hunks.

There is something sexy about the Immortal, or near-immortal.

Check out the TV Series LUCIFER --

Here you have fallen angels, angels on a mission, certain they know their father's Will, then not so certain.  They have powers. They lose powers. They walk as mortals, get hurt, get confused, do wrong, experience remorse, struggle to complete a mission -- and just plain struggle.

Many viewers see Lucifer, himself, as the prime hunk - but others see some of the other Angel characters as riveting.

We find an Immortal, then wonder about ways to kill him.  In the TV Series Lucifer - a dagger is presented that can destroy body/soul/ -- even an Angel can be destroyed.  Uriel is destroyed by Lucifer using that dagger, and it is Uriel who brought the dagger to Earth to use, perhaps, on their Mother.

Vampire and Werewolf Romances often turn on the premise that the Supernatural beings strewn through our everyday world, hidden by subterfuge or magic or just human inattentiveness, are long-lived and/or Immortal.

The everyday reader is familiar with the idea that Souls (if they exist) are Immortal.  There is an "afterlife" -- and/or rebirth, reincarnation.  These are not within our everyday experience (except perhaps the Meet Your Soul Mate experience), so they make great "What If...?" premises for fiction.

The Tree of Life, in the Garden of Eden, is the source of fruit that confers eternal life.

Vampire and Shapechanger novels often explore the advisability or dubious value of "eternal life."

Which side of that argument you prefer to take, in fiction or in real life, may be a function of your Self Image.

What entertains us, and what writers put into their fiction, comes from deep in the unconscious -- sometimes of an individual, but often of our culture or even Humanity as a whole.

Artists depict
that non-verbal information about individuals and whole cultures (sometimes humanity as a whole) -- whether the artist knows it or not.  Usually, the artist does not know it -- at least before creating the work of Art, and often for decades afterward.

Reading what you wrote thirty years ago may reveal what you thought and felt back then -- but it also illustrates how you have changed.

Once you grasp that living a human life means CHANGE - you have a clue to what "Immortal" may mean, and why it might not be all good.

Your Self Image changes because your Self changes.

This is clearly depicted in your Astrological Natal Chart and the tools Astrologers use to evolve the potential at birth into the possibilities of today.  The "Self" changes.

If the Self Image does not change to match the Self's own evolution, psychological difficulties emerge.  Those difficulties will be externalized by each individual depending on how they are situated in "life" (e.g. waiting tables in a failing greasy spoon or sitting in the Oval Office).

Sometimes we become saner with time.  Sometimes we become less sane with time.  Sometimes we can handle everything life throws at us. Other times we cave in, get wiped out like a Surfer riding a tsunami.

The Art of Astrology is about figuring out which times are which, and what the available options are -- and how to update the available options list.

Writers don't have to know Astrology to use it in crafting a Character and the plot of the Character's story.

Here is the Index to Astrology Just For Writers.


Whether aware of it or not, all humans "know" Astrology -- we hear the still small voice prompting to do or not do; we feel great or depressed; we take risks or avoid them; we blurt out inadvisable remarks or keep silent.

Since your reader has had this experience, you must depict your Characters as either having and heeding that gut-feeling, still-small-voice, or being deaf to it.  There will always be Characters around your main Character who hear that voice.  We often call it Intuition - or other less admiring terms.

In March, we discussed an Interstellar War/Action series by Dave Bara

in which the main character (a Marty Stu type Character) is the most Intuitive around, and his Military uses a scientific method of measuring Intuition to rank people.

Intuition can be treated as a science fiction element, as can precognition (see Jean Johnson's series


In the Art which the writer creates, the writer's Self Image will be the key.

As in music, notes are selected to go together, creating a "key" and all the notes in a sequence have to be in the same musical key.

A novel is like a symphony -- and the novel composition is as formalized and set as the structure of a symphony.

The "key" you write in is your Self Image.  Your "Voice" as a writer is like a singer's voice.

Developing your writer's Voice takes exercise and training, strong breathing muscles, strong vocal cords (which get strong only by exercise), good vocabulary, command of grammar and syntax, and above all an "ear" for emotion, and an "eye" for reality.



We've talked about developing your writer's Voice for years on this blog, but have seldom touched on the elements of your self-image that you inadvertently reveal in your fiction.

Most of what you reveal comes into your fiction via Theme.


You may consciously think so-and-such is the theme of this novel, but the dialog and plot events speak of a different theme.

Likewise in the Worldbuilding that we have explored extensively -- how the fictional world you build has to be constructed of the elements of your target audience's real, everyday world.  This is especially critical for self-publishing authors.


Theme must be integrated into every element in the framework of a story -- every clever bit of dialogue or Character backstory, every detail of furniture or Alien Creatures, must be selected by the Theme.  Any stray bit that does not bespeak the Theme will jar the reader out of the story -- or get blue-penciled by a great editor.


So, since Self Image is the basis of all Themes you actually write (as opposed to what you think you are writing), that deepest self-image shapes everything in a story -- the World, the Characters, the Story, and the Plot:


And all of this integration, the nails that hold your fictional work together, come from your people-watching, critical observation of science, funding for science projects, politics, and every aspect of human behavior.

All of these elements you share in common with your target readership are filtered through the lens of your self-image and their self-images.

 The self-image quirks you have in common make your fiction "resonate" with your audience -- meaning they will recommend your novels to their friends.

So we've been discussing the components of a writer's self-image, where to get them, how to hone, define and strengthen those components, and how to discover which components the writer has in common with the target readership, for years.

Bit by bit, we've been building an image of self-image.

Self-image is the "key" you write in, sing your song in, and the color palette you paint your pictures in.

Know Thyself.

Are you an Immortal Soul on a journey through life, or on a vacation?

Do you inhabit your body -- or are you just your body and nothing more?

Do you have a Soul Mate?  Have you found (and maybe lost) your Soul Mate?

Have you been loved -- and known it at the time?

Have you experienced Life at its fullest?  Have you had the "time of your life" on some vacation, or perhaps at an awards ceremony where your triumphs were celebrated by people you didn't even know?

What moments have you lived that your readers also have -- or have not -- lived?

What do you know that your readers need to learn?

Where do you find out what your readers already know?  And where do you discover what your readers don't know that you can explain to them?

Many readers gravitate toward Science Fiction to meet "Alien" Characters, and to walk that mile in Alien moccasins, to feel what it is to be Alien (i.e. not human).

The closest we come to that experience is meeting someone from a different culture, a human who just functions from a different set of assumptions about Reality and the Human Condition.

Popular Science articles, such as appear all over the internet, explaining publications in Peer Reviewed Journals (and often misinterpreting those publications in order to get 'clicks') are one great source of discovering what your prospective reader knows is fact.

If you know that the reader's firmly accepted facts are incorrect, you can leverage your knowledge into Conflict and Plot that everyone will be talking about.

The art of contradicting is commercial art.

Does your self image include the archetype Skeptic?

Where does Self-Image come from?

Science is in hot pursuit of answers to questions about Human Behavior, just as other scientists are pursuing longevity, the Fountain of Youth, and even Immortality.

Here is a bbc.com article ...


...about the contrast between Eastern and Western civilizations, and the attitudes toward "self" that prevail in Collectivist Societies vs. attitudes toward "self" that prevail in Individualistic Societies, and how geography may play a part.

Each type of self-image, collectivist vs individualistic, produces entire spectra of political and philosophical systems, attitudes, and movements.  So maybe this is the master key to the essential dichotomy in human history?  Maybe there really are two kinds of people?

The Skeptic would view this article with the question in mind, "How do you prove that Collectivists differ from Individualists?"  In other words, what proof is there that these two concepts are mutually exclusive, either/or choices?

The non-critical thinker would simply accept this decree as truth -- after all, it is the result of doing science.  What idiot would question whether science is reliable (after all these centuries of it being proven correct?)

Here is a quote from the middle of the bbc.com article:

When asked about their competence, 94% of American professors claimed they were ‘better than average’ – a sign of self-inflation


Taken out of the context of this article - reduced to a factoid - this statement might be interpreted to mean that 94% of American Professors are self-deluded.  Some might conclude that being American means being deluded.

But think about it.  You get to BE a professor by being way-way-way above average.  You have to get a Ph.D. before you even start on a professorial career -- and "Ph.D." is defined as someone who has contributed something new and original to the sum total of human knowledge -- to the basic wealth of all humanity for all time.

The average person has not done that.  So professors are not "self-inflating" their importance.  Their importance has been hard won by impressing a jury of peers and producing something nobody has ever produced before.

Despite that shaky hole in the article's reasoning, there might actually be a usable point here, if your objective is to create a Science Fiction Romance story.

‘Weird’ minds
Until recently, scientists had largely ignored the global diversity of thinking. In 2010, an influential article in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences
reported that the vast majority of psychological subjects had been “western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic”, or ‘Weird’ for short. Nearly 70% were American, and most were undergraduate students hoping to gain pocket money or course credits by giving up their time to take part in these experiments.

The tacit assumption had been that this select group of people could represent universal truths about human nature – that all people are basically the same. If that were true, the Western bias would have been unimportant. Yet the small number of available studies which had examined people from other cultures would suggest that this is far from the case. “Westerners – and specifically Americans – were coming out at the far end of the distributions,” says Joseph Henrich at the University of British Columbia, who was one of the study’s authors.

-----------end quote---------

In other words, "science" the touchstone of reliable facts, was doing it all wrong.  Therefore, they got wrong results.  (Why? Ask yourself that? Why were they doing it all wrong? Remember: Follow The Money.)

Now the study has gone to look at Japan where a government decision caused people to move to a deserted island that Japan had claimed -- fearing the Russians would come snatch it if it were deserted.  So, the article points out, this island, Hokkaido, was Japan's version of America's West (remember this is a bbc.com article).

Few people living in Hokkaido today have ever needed to conquer the wilderness themselves. And yet psychologists are finding that the frontier spirit still touches the way they think, feel and reason, compared with people living in Honshu just 54km (33 miles) away. They are more individualistic, prouder of success, more ambitious for personal growth, and less connected to the people around them. In fact, when comparing countries, this ‘cognitive profile’ is closer to America than the rest of Japan.

Hokkaido’s story is just one of a growing number of case studies exploring how our social environment molds our minds. From the broad differences between East and West, to subtle variation between US states, it is becoming increasingly clear that history, geography and culture can change how we all think in subtle and surprising ways – right down to our visual perception. Our thinking may have even been shaped by the kinds of crops our ancestors used to farm, and a single river may mark the boundaries between two different cognitive styles.

-------end quote--------

And the conclusion is that Collectivist thinking is a survival trait acquired by those who grow crops that take large numbers of people to produce (rice), and Individualistic thinking is a survival trait acquired by those who grow crops that thrive with fewer hands (wheat).

The implication of this article -- really, go read the whole thing as I excerpted it out of order -- is that socialism vs the American Republic style of independence and self-sufficiency is an either/or choice based on which is more likely to produce survival and more children who survive.

It's all about The Tree of Life -- or survival of the fittest.  The fittest to survive may be determined by how vital dependency on others is due to environment.

But it is an either/or choice.

If you make such a choice, it becomes the keynote of your self-image -- both the fact of which option you selected, and the fact that you bought into the idea that the options differ and a choice must be made.

The determination that a choice must be made rests on a philosophical view of the universe which is very Aristotelian, very zero-sum-game.  The validity of the argument that something is "wrong" with society when some people are so much richer than others depends on the zero-sum-game model of life, of the fight for survival.  In that model of the universe, the only way to get that much richer than others is to suck all the wealth up into your coffers -- because there is a limit to the amount of wealth that exists.

In the Collectivist model base, the idea that there is a "pie" that gets "sliced" and "fair" means everyone gets the same size slice, proceeds naturally from the assumption that "you didn't build that" -- that whatever you have, you have it because of other people's hard work, and your individual contribution hardly matters.

In the Individualist model, if there isn't enough to go around, you just make some more, and if you make some more, then it is yours to keep.  The Individualist model means that you aren't dependent on the contributions of others, but rather you support others by giving 10% of what you make voluntarily.

Either you must depend on "everyone else" --- or you must depend only on "self."

That, too, is an either/or choice which is a false Hobson's Choice.

The article presents this view of the universe, which is vastly prevalent among your readers, as if it is a firm, and immutable fact of reality.

The Skeptic asks, "Is it?  Is it, really?"

Non-humans from way out in the galaxy somewhere may never have thought of this dichotomy, or even of the process of dividing the world into dichotomies.

As a science fiction writer, you should look around for other solutions to the mystery of why different human populations ascribe to different classes of self-image.

Through millennia, humanity has produced many answers to that question.

As I mentioned above, Astrology is based on a world view that is very useful to writers because, whether they know it or not, your readers are familiar with the Astrological model of the universe.

It is a model based on balance of opposites.  The zodiac is depicted as a circle, going all around the Earth (even to the night-side).  We are in the middle of a globe of stars.

The circle is divided into 12 sections or "houses" -- (the old, classic zodiac of 12 signs which isn't "real" anymore as the Earth and Sun have moved).

Because it is a circle with 12 sections, each section has an equal and opposite section.  They all meet in the middle, (Earth is the center point in a natal chart).  Each House has an opposite.

The meanings that have been experimentally discovered for each of the Houses shake down into 6 Houses representing the inside of the person (psychology or Story) and 6 Houses representing the world outside of that person (politics, world affairs, or Plot).

For example, the First House representing self-image is opposite the Seventh House representing other.

First House represents Self, Seventh House represents Spouse.

Fourth House represents Home, Tenth House represents Career.

It is not an either-or choice, but a choice of method of balancing and integrating opposites.

So by Astrology - well known to the Ancient Egyptians and probably even before that - Individualism (1st House) does not exclude Collectivism (7th House), but integrates and balances it.

Likewise, the current feminist issue of Work (10th & 11th House) vs. Home&Children (4th & 5th House) is not an either/or choice, but a choice of methodology of balance.

Astrology is an empirical science, a method of indexing and storage/retrieval of information gathered by experience over many centuries.  Like all old wive's tales and herbal remedies, some is worth paying attention to because it is correct, and some is plain nonsense.

Whether you know it is called Astrology or not, you already know most of the information codified in Signs, Planets, Houses, Cusps, Aspects, Progressions, Solar Arcs, and all the rest.

You learned physics by dropping your food off your high chair tray.  You learned astrology by screaming for Mom to pick it up.

If you found Math useful in understanding physics and falling objects, you will find Astrological symbolism useful in understanding human behavior well enough to write about it and convey your wisdom to the next generation.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Could our tendency to see reality in terms of binaries / dichotomies be related to the anatomical fact of our bodies' bilateral symmetry? (What if we were starfish?)

    1. An astute observation, Margaret. Is the either/or view of the world a property of the observer or of the observed? I'd love to ask a starfish!