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Several years ago, my mother gave me a t-shirt with a saying on it: When my gut says, “No,” my mouth says, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” Mother’s observation proved more and less useful: more because upon occasion I did have two minds, one thinking and the other speaking, and less because I didn’t know how to pull my split-self together.

In Jill McCorkle’s The Cheer Leader, the main character Jo Spenser rummages through photo albums, TV shows, pop songs and memory – images of a persona. When Jo runs into things she cannot control, situations without rules, her actions take on a split personality. The straight-A, May Queen, cheerleading people-pleaser doesn’t know how to speak the truth and ends up doing things she doesn’t really want to do.

About mid-way through McCorkle’s novel, the story became contrived, at least to this reader. But I couldn’t help thinking about Jo Spenser in terms of Richard Rohr’s Four Splits: self & others, life & death, body & mind, persona/image & shadow self.

How many of us spend our growing up years concerned about how we look to others and too busy to think? In these first-half-of-life years of juggling family, home and job, I thought about what was acceptable. I didn’t have the time or the ability to integrate and focus my mind, to see patterns and create new meanings, to discover the truth about my unacceptable, shadow self. This was the self that betrayed the “acceptable” Jo Spenser, and her split almost killed her.

The “unacceptable” shadow is the curious, creative self I uncover through memoir and personal writing. In so doing, I reshape myself, intertwining the person I want to be with the person I really am – thinking and speaking, one and the same.

What do you like to focus on?

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