Scrim Down


scrim: (noun) pronunciation /skrɪm/ Theatre: a piece of gauze cloth that appears opaque until lit from behind, used as a screen or backcloth: “a plain scrim for backcloth and good lighting are all that are needed.”

We all live in our own personal cinema. Much, if not all the time, the way we experience and interpret the world is based on the familiar script of how we view ourselves; played out against the cast of characters with whom we are surrounded. Sometimes the hero, sometimes a victim; it is often supremely hard to see beyond the daily soap opera which occupies our heads.

The late American psychologist Donald C. Klein has some interesting things to say on this, in his 2004 paper ‘Appreciative Psychology: An Antidote to Humiliation’:

“The scrim is a transparent curtain on which theater people paint scenery. When illuminated by footlights and spotlights from the auditorium to the stage, the scenery appears opaque. 

That scenery and the actors playing their parts on the stage in front of the curtain constitute “reality” for audience members. The curtain no longer is perceived as transparent. 

If, however, the scrim is lit from behind, the scenery fades or even disappears. The curtain now appears transparent and the audience can see through the curtain to a whole new vista of objects and people, that is, a new reality. 

It is as if each of us has a ‘mental scrim’ on which, from earliest childhood, we have been painting the scenery of our lives, literally millions of thoughts about ourselves and the world around us. 

When we are an ordinary state of being, we take these ideas very seriously and treat them as the only reality that is available to us. Under ordinary circumstances, this is the only reality of which we are aware. 

Under special circumstances, however – as, in my case, when I witnessed a beautiful sunset and experienced the awe and wonderment – our mental scrims become transparent. The clutter of thoughts about ourselves and the world fade or even disappear. We see through and beyond our mental scrims.”

It’s a lovely concept. If (to paraphrase Klein) you can regularly get beyond:

  1. how one imagines one appears to other people; 
  2. one’s imagination of other people’s judgment of that appearance; and 
  3. emotional reactions related to one’s sense of self…

…you are metaphorically, and sometimes literally laughing; as I was yesterday with a great friend, as we laughed and laughed at each other’s French phraseology.

If you feel the ‘mental scrim’ of the ‘millions of thoughts about ourselves’ and the soap opera of ‘one’s imagination other people’s judgements’ coming down, all you have to do to escape, is concentrate hard for a moment on looking through it. 

Reality is often full of little-appreciated beauty, joy, happiness and love which is simply masked by the vivid, all-consuming but largely psychological ‘light show’ playing out in nearly all of our heads, nearly all of the time. 

Donald Klein’s ‘mental scrim’ is worth thinking about; and regularly seeing through.


Aristotle is always refreshingly plain on a subject. So when I read him, I find it easy to think he’s simply making a useful summary of a well known issue. But often he was creating the entire discipline; the first known thinker to frame or classify it. This makes his clarity and brevity all the more remarkable. And all this in 350 BC.

Among his intellectual inventions was the first setting out of the principles of ‘Poetics’, covering drama, tragedy and a lost volume on comedy.

Here he explains the origins and evolution of poetry:

Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated.

Imitation, then, is one instinct of our nature. Next, there is the instinct for ‘harmony’ and rhythm, meters being manifestly sections of rhythm. Persons, therefore, starting with this natural gift developed by degrees their special aptitudes, till their rude improvisations gave birth to Poetry.

Poetry, myth and tragedy played important roles in Ancient Greece. According to Nietzsche they were instrumental in maintaining the vitality and optimism of Greek culture. Poetry, myth and tragedy also captured the essence of Ancient History. As Aristotle said:

Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history. For poetry expresses the universal and history only the particular.

Perhaps, like philosophy, poetry is less central to modern culture. But it’s still takes the same courage and skill:

Constantly risking absurdity, whenever he performs above the heads of his audience, the poet like an acrobat climbs on rime. (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1958)

It also connects the sublime with the ridiculous in the human condition:

Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. (Carl Sandburg, 1928)

But philosophy and poetry can still bring happiness, fulfilment and an opportunity to develop our natural gifts – till our ‘rude improvisations’ give birth to our own poetry.