Jung and Restless: An Interview with Micah Toub

Jung and Restless: An Interview with Micah Toub

(Photo by Lisan Jutras)

We all carry lessons, warm memories, and emotional baggage from our childhood but Toronto author Micah Toub is almost unique in having borne such a heavily footnoted and esoteric psychological cargo into adulthood. That’s because Toub’s parents are both practicing Jungian psychologists who shared their passion for the Swiss psychiatrist and visionary with their growing son from the time he could speak.

Toub has written about his formative relationship with all things Jungian in a new memoir called Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age As the Son of Two Shrinks, recently published by Doubleday Canada. He will be reading from the memoir at Type Books’ Forest Hill branch (427 Spadina Road) on Thursday, October 7 at 7 p.m. (FREE) and he recently took time to speak to Torontoist about his book.

Torontoist: How old were you when you realized what your parents did for a living? What was your reaction?

Micah Toub: I knew from a very young age that my parents somehow traded in dreams, based on the fact that they would ask me lots of questions about my dreams and would have me draw comic strips of them. The first dream I remember telling my dad was when I was four, though I made that one up because I was aware this would impress him. When I was seven, during my turn as “First grader of the week,” when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a psychologist. I remember my teacher’s expression very clearly when I said that—a mix of horror and confusion. (We lived in a very conservative suburb in Colorado.) If you’d asked me what a psychologist did at that age I would have said, “They help people solve their problems.”

Torontoist: How much was Jung, and his ideas, discussed in the house?

MT: I know that Jung or psychology in general was discussed often, sometimes at dinner. With one parent as a psychologist, this might happen a little bit, but with two of them bouncing ideas off each other, the effect was more than double. There were of course vast stretches of my childhood that were “normal,” but times like when my father explained Synchronicity—the idea that the mind can affect the world and vice versa—to me while we were playing basketball or when my mother told me over breakfast that I had been visited by an Ally—a shamanic spirit guide—in a nightmare definitely stand out in my memory! There was a certain magical quality to the Jungian discussions, which was hugely appealing to me as a child and which continued to be appealing on a more intellectual level into my adolescence.

Torontoist: When did you start writing your memoir?

MT: It was in 2004. I’d had the idea in the back of my head for a while. Then one day, I was on assignment to write a profile of an author and through some mix-up she failed to show up for the interview. I had been so anxious beforehand and had diligently prepared for days, so when I was stood up I decided in my frustration that I was going to finally just do what I really wanted to do and work on my own book. I headed to the Toronto Reference Library right then and began writing the memoir, pulling piles of Freud and Jung books from the shelves. On my way home that day, the Church of the Redeemer on Bloor had a quote from Joseph Campbell on its sign that said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Campbell was a huge fan of Jung and I thought my father would get a kick out of that Synchronicity.

Torontoist: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the writing?

MT: How much time do I have and how much are you going to charge me for this?

Hmm, one of the big challenges was trying to find the right tone for the book. Sometimes, I felt reverence toward the experiences that I had with my parents and the lessons I learned from Jungian philosophy, while other times I wanted to poke fun and I thought it all seemed absurd. I decided in the end to do both, to include both my scepticism and my earnest gratitude.

Torontoist: What did your parents think of the idea? Were they supportive?

MT: They were both concerned for their own reasons, but were supportive at the same time. One anecdote that I share in the book itself is the conversation I had with my father where he expressed his worry that I might be writing the book from my “Shadow.” This is what Jung called the part of our personality that we disavow, that we would even claim does not exist. In other words, I can say that I love my parents and value what they taught me, but underneath that I could be unconscious of the fact that I am actually expressing anger or hurt. So… they reacted to the book with the same intellectual reflection and probing discussion that was always a part of our relationship.

Torontoist: Do you consider yourself a Jungian, or did you ever?

MT: I think of Jungians as people who, at some point in adulthood, decide they really like Jungian philosophy and make it a part of their life. For me, there was never a choice—I was raised from infancy to some extent on the milk of Jung. So my own way of interacting with Jungian philosophy is wrapped into all the complicated tangle that makes up personality itself—my sense of humour, my intellect, my social self, my scepticism, my imagination and fantasies, my anxieties and fears, and on and on. Much like a Jew is Jewish or someone born in Canada is Canadian.

Torontoist: Jung does not enjoy the cultural relevance he did even 15 years ago. How do you explain the decline?

MT: It probably has something to do with the decline of The New Age, which co-opted Jung, as well as the fact that we now solve everything by taking pills. I think, though, that Jung will always be culturally relevant, even if people are unaware of it. For example, he coined the term “collective unconscious,” which is indelibly branded into our… collective unconscious. Also, there seems to be a little bit of a “Jung moment” happening. In addition to my book, Jung’s Red Book was published last year while next year David Cronenberg’s film about the split between Jung and Freud will come out. I can’t wait to see what he does with it. Keira Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein, the woman who once inspired Freud to remark in a letter to Jung: “The way these women manage to charm us with every conceivable psychic perfection until they have attained their purpose is one of nature’s greatest spectacles.”