Exhibit A: I’m hiking with my friend Kate, and we confront another pair walking toward us on the narrow path. As usual, I step aside to make room. I have to stop myself from saying “sorry” just for taking up space. The couple keeps walking, oblivious.
“You’re too nice,” Kate observes.
“I know,” I murmur. It’s true -- I’m terminally polite. I hold doors open. I say “Excuse me.” I’m the person who lets everyone else crowd around the exit doors and de-train while I remain seated, patiently reading my book and feeling just a tad smug for being so un-lemminglike.
But I have a dirty little secret. There’s one situation in which I’m anything but nice.
Exhibit B: I’m commuting to San Francisco by bicycle on the Golden Gate Bridge, where summer tourists amble four abreast and sprawl across the (very clearly marked) bike lane.
“Move! MOVE! On your left!” I shout, scattering frightened families like pigeons. Fueled by adrenaline and brain-rattling music, I slalom around bulky strollers and tiny, trotting dogs, ignoring the gasps as I take the hairpin turns around the bridge towers at speed.
On the city’s streets I shake my fist at cars, zip across three lanes of traffic without warning, admonish jaywalkers. I intercept a herd of Segways taking up space in “my” bike lane. As I pass, I hiss at the tour leader: “This lane is for non-motorized vehicles only!”
“Actually, that’s not true…” She calls after me, but to no avail: I’ve already reached the corner and blown through the stop sign. I like to go fast, and I need people to Get. Out. Of. My. Way.
If anyone — my friends, say — were to confront me, I’d explain that it’s not me; blame it on my shadow. This is a concept from Jungian psychology. In a nutshell, the shadow represents unexpressed elements of our personalities; the traits we're embarrassed by, ashamed of, or refuse to acknowledge. When I see these traits in others — take the Spandex-clad jerk who mowed down my boyfriend’s hairdresser on a crosswalk because he didn’t want to slow down — I’m appalled. Why can’t he be more like me? (The pedestrian me, that is.)
My bad biking behavior allows me to vent frustrations I’d normally keep hidden behind pressed lips and a bland smile. This is good, I’d argue, because the shadow suppressed can wreak havoc. I read about such a man. An earnest schoolteacher by day, he practically martyred himself for his students. At night this same man broke into people’s houses and stole things. Since he had no healthy outlet for his darker impulses, his shadow rebelled.
When preparing for a ride I dress like a ninja, all in black. Even my bike — no carbon fiber steed, but a ‘90s-era mongrel I dragged off a bike swap lot years ago — is the color of midnight. When I swing my leg over her and strap on my helmet, I feel instantly devilish. Frisky. And anonymous.
But it’s more than anonymity that unleashes my inner daimon.
On my bike I feel free, unfettered by the clumsy tons of steel and glass and plastic — those cars I like to zip around. As I scream down Alexander Avenue, I feel the same reckless joy that downhill skiers and heavy metal guitarists must feel. I experience the elements: warm sun and cold, pelting rain; the exhaust farts of buses; punishing wind that makes me curse. And pain — sweet, satisfying pain that tells me I made it up that hill on my body’s own fuel, not an expensive petroleum product that’s going to belch carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Did I mention how self-righteous I feel while cycling?) On my bike I’m not a writer or a teacher or a student or a consumer or a white girl or someone’s friend or girlfriend — just a human being at play.
Speaking of play, tapping into the shadow’s dark energy can supposedly yield all kinds of creative fruit. As a writer, I can appreciate that, but any student of Jung would also encourage me to incorporate my shadow side into my conscious self. I’d certainly like to reach the point where I can hold my ground as a pedestrian and yield some while I’m on wheels. Until then, if you see me pedaling, step aside and hear me roar: "Watch out! Coming through! On your left!"
I just hope my friends don’t recognize me.