10º below zero this eve of 2018. Like an oddly magical gift, I woke from a dream of visiting a woman with whom I’d had conflict, conflict, and I lay as the day’s light slowly trickled into the room, rubbing a happy cat and thinking I could release that piece of worrying.
One more year slipped by, my younger daughter officially leaving the terrain of babydolls for the mountainous terrain of adolescence. Here’s a good thing I fostered: ice skating.
If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see the world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.
— Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
When I was in graduate school, a popular bumper sticker read Follow Your Bliss. That Joseph Campbell line has followed me for years, and it’s only now, in my forties, that I realize I terribly misunderstood this line. I was hung up on the notion of bliss as a static state, this misguided notion that happiness is something you might be able to square off and define, that happiness might be a finite destination.
Follow Your Bliss seemed to imply a life of milk and honey, where children are always chubby-cheeked and houses never burn down. When I read Campbell, I didn’t stop to realize that doors opening also means there are times when every door appears slammed shut, and the way out impassable. I think now I would rewrite this line to Work hard, have faith, and laugh. Keep your eyes savvy and don’t forget to stretch your hands out for others. All that’s in Campbell, slow learner that I am.
If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.
A bit of advice
Given to a young Native American
At the time of his initiation:
As you go the way of life,
You will see a great chasm. Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.
– Joseph Campbell
Photo by Molly S./Hazen Union parking lot, early morning
A few days ago, I inserted Lucille Clifton’s “The Lost Baby Poem.” In graduate school, a professor passed around copies of this poem at the beginning of one workshop. We all sat there, silently, and then a friend of mine began to cry, tears streaming down her face, soundlessly.
My professor cleared his throat and said sadly, Nothing said about this poem is enough said.
My house of females has a lot of talking, but sometimes I remind my daughters that silence can be just as mighty, the absence of words as powerful – for good or ill – as speaking or writing. That sometimes enough is really enough.
To underestimate the appeal of art is to underestimate not only poetry but also human nature. Our hunger for myth, story, and design is very deep…. If we are not in love with poems, the problem may be that we are not teaching the right poems. Yet ignorance of and wariness about art gets passed on virally, from teacher to student. After a few generations of such exile, poetry will come to be viewed as a stuffy neighborhood of large houses with locked doors, where no one wants to spend any time.
–– Tony Hoagland
Part of this day I spent rewriting an essay on myth, beginning:
The first day of eleventh grade, my daughter returned in the afternoon, dropped her backpack on the floor and sprawled at the kitchen table, her upper lip curled in that dissatisfied way I recognize as disgust for the adult world. We’re doing myth this year in English class. Myth, she repeated, who needs that old junk?
Rewriting this essay made me realize, again, how fundamental is logos – story – to us. My ten-year-old daughter is busily creating the story of her child life these days: lacing up new high tops, the adventure books she reads and swaps with her friends, an attack of flying insects the other afternoon, soccer practice and watermelon for snack and what, exactly, her big sister is doing. Her life is imbued with meaning, her Story of Being Ten writ real and lovely. The old junk is us; but it took me years to realize that the word made flesh wasn’t just a poetic line, that we are, in fact, our own stories.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
–– Mary Oliver