*author’s note: This is a narrative I wrote for my comp class. Blog will continue in normal fashion soon. I know it’s a little choppy, but it’s not due ’til Monday night, so throw out some feedback if you think I need it! Enjoy. ❤ H
I tell my friends that it’s difficult for me to date because I am 99% Athena, and who knows if the remaining 1% is even Aphrodite. Athena, the goddess of wisdom with her cool grey eyes, forced herself into the world through Zeus’ head to command over the realm of logic. She is wise and academic; she enjoys games with rules; she glowers at her more flirtatious family members, annoyed that their love lives interfere with their responsibilities.
I bought an owl necklace in Delphi this autumn, cementing this image, as though the Oracle herself sanctioned my self-concept.
For three years, I taught mythology to classes of chaotic fourteen year olds. One of the earliest units in the year, we struggled in the sweltering classroom over Greek family trees, Aphrodite’s true maternity, and the correct pronunciation of Hephaestus. My only previous exposure to the lore of Greece up until that point had been a particularly harrowing reading of The Odyssey my own freshman year of high school and my mother’s Big Fat Greek Marriage to my stepfather. Somehow the myths of the Olympians stuck with me, perhaps because I found both my world and myself in them.
We need mythology. We need archetypes and characters to help us understand the world around us. When I learned about archetypes as a high school senior, I remember feeling like the only student in class who didn’t quite understand. The others kept confident smiles glued to their faces, nodding at all the right moments, as I bit my lip and clenched my pencil nervously, names like “Jung” hanging confusingly in the air. Even in college, units on archetypes brought back those old feelings, the fear of being called on, the sense that everyone else understood some complex idea that lingered just out of my reach.
However, in my adult life, I have stumbled clumsily into archetypes. Much as I define myself in relation to that grey-eyed goddess, I create myths about other people. I think it’s a part of survival. Everyone should have the opportunity and ability to craft a previously sympathetic boyfriend into an evil ex, unworthy of any pity or understanding. We need personal myths to create an understanding of our worlds, and we need that understanding to negotiate through the difficult nuances of life.
In the past ten years, I have left for college, studied abroad, lived in a foreign country, settled in a new state, started and ended my first serious relationship, and thrown stability aside in favor of integrity and the possibility of fulfillment. I have yet to live in the same room for more than a year. My friends are a beautiful, jumbled group of people who live stretched across at least four continents. Sometimes I’m lonely. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed. Always I’m seeking clarity and understanding.
In the myth of my own life, I have met heroes and villains. I have kissed frogs, befriended “evil” stepfamilies, and changed the color of my once-golden locks so often I’m not quite sure how to fill in forms at the DMV. It’s fun to control the authorship of my own myth, but the difficult thing about myths is that other people have pens, too.
I know that for a couple on the east coast, I am the wicked witch of their myth. I gagged for years on this knowledge like Snow White on that poisoned bite of apple, grasping to erase an adjective or change an ending. I know that for them, I’m lurking like a demon just outside the frame of their cozy existence, plotting how I can invade their peaceful kingdom and spirit the prince away. As corny as it sounds, I had to brave the onslaught of anger that came along with that perception. I had to steel myself against the briars and arrows, the nasty emails and inflammatory Facebook postings, because they saw a calculating witch. For awhile, I believed their myth, and it’s only with time that I see myself less as a conspiring crone and more as a Fraulein Maria, dancing stupidly down the alps and into a new landscape, cloaking myself in optimism and old curtains, and suddenly finding myself too naive to escape becoming the object of affection. Unlike Maria, I had no sisterhood to retreat to, I only had my own loneliness pulling me further down the path.
That loneliness left me entrenched in someone else’s myth, seeing myself in an image someone else had fashioned. Where at least innocent damsels can pine for a rescuer, the lowly witch has to suffer. She has to accept audiences cheering for her destruction and bear with children grimacing at her visage. I thought that this bad ending meant that I was bad; I wasn’t sure how to see myself.
In the movie Becoming Jane, the character Jane Austen struggles with authorship. She isn’t sure how to write the endings for good and bad characters; she wants to believe that good people deserve good endings, even though in life, good people occasionally meet with bad ends, and bad people can manipulate situations for their own good. Life does not mimic fairy tales and myths, where it seems that innocent princesses and their rescuing princes always triumph.
I recently found myself again a character in someone else’s myth. I inserted myself into her story, though truthfully, I belonged in another chapter. And I was content with my chapter. I thought I understood its plot and smugly thought the resolution had been satisfactory if sad. Unfortunately, I found out later that the subsequent chapter had bled into mine, and events I thought I had written and understood were now tinged with foreign shades, confusing diction, and unfamiliar penmanship. Angry that my deliberate organization and understanding had been based on a lie, I stormed into the next chapter and found an ally. Two battered protagonists, together we created the ultimate antagonist, a scheming, pathetic, poorly endowed, evil little man who slunk through storybooks in search of sympathetic sweethearts. Though momentarily enraged and vengeful, my confusion soon turned to clarity, and I thought I understood. I held the pen firmly in hand, scrawled a quick “the end,” and nodded my head emphatically, certain that like Uranus and Gaia or God or any of the earliest mythological creators, I had fashioned order from chaos.
At some point, comfortable with my universe, I rested. Perhaps it was my 7th day and I had been through enough, but before I knew it, some other pen had scratched out my scrawls and begun editing. As the red revision marks sliced through my carefully chosen words, I found myself recast, my standing as protagonist wrenched from me. Suddenly, I was again the wicked witch, the antagonist, a selfish interloped hell-bent on causing havoc for personal gain rather than an innocent muse who had perhaps allowed herself to wander a bit too deep into the story.
It’s painful, admittedly, watching someone else create an image of who they think I am, watching foreign hands sculpt my self -understanding into a shape that fits the way they want to see the world.
The thing is, though, that for a moment I forgot again. I’m not a character in someone else’s story. I’m not a damsel or a witch. My story might not end with a pithy “happily ever after,” but I’m not looking for clean endings and seemingly perfect princes. In fairy tales, when the happy couple glides off into a “perfect” life, no reader ever hears what becomes of them. I can imagine what happens when the slipper breaks, the looks face, and the couple has to live through midnight after midnight after midnight. And the myths never even assert that couples enjoy perfection. The Greek gods and goddesses don’t pretend to live in perfect harmony; they cheat, they lie, they seek personal fulfillment at the expense of others. I don’t want that.
Instead, pen firmly again in hand, fingers gently clasping the owl necklace, it doesn’t end, it continues.
And she lived…