The Hero’s Journey: A Revision

K. sends me Jessi Klein’s article, “Epiphany in the Baby-Food Aisle.” Klein writes from her experience as the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old — her child the same age as my daughter Frankie. Klein describes an epiphany of sorts that occurred recently as she listened to Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert talking on Oprah’s Super Soul podcast about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The gist of it is that Gilbert thinks we need to reconceive the hero’s journey. “It’s not the exclusive territory of men,” writes Klein, “and it does not have to involve faraway lands.”

Instead, she argues, we ought to reconceive the hero’s journey in terms of motherhood.

“The article is powerful. It makes me ‘feel all the feels,’” writes the Narrator afterwards, wincing a bit at his use of that phrase, though he means it sincerely. The article really does trigger in him a wide gamut of emotions.

“Parenting is hard,” he adds. “We doubt our capacities. We rise to the task as best we can.”

In that sense, motherhood is heroic — undoubtedly so, notes the part of me committed to truth. Why, then, do I respond defensively?

“What about Alice and her journey through Wonderland?” wonders the child in me. “Why, upon imagining women’s journeys, must we rush automatically to motherhood?”

“My positioning as a subject,” writes the Narrator, “bars me from believing fully Klein’s account of motherhood as a hero’s journey that rarely gets its due. My sense, instead, is that that narrative is nearly universally adored; it plays on repeat throughout the culture, always to loud applause, my applause included.”

“Why, then,” adds the Narrator, “is there within Klein’s narrative this insistence that the story is neglected and isn’t getting its due? Its image of itself as victim is reminiscent of Christianity once the latter becomes the state religion of the empire: its priesthood amply compensated, able to walk proudly amid the halls of power. Christianity, in other words, when it is no longer the religion of the persecuted few, but still happy to paint itself as such, as it subjects others to its evangelical zeal.”

“And besides,” he adds. “The hero’s journey is of questionable worth anyway. In order for persons to write themselves as heroes, others must be written as villains.”

“And I am not a villain,” he insists. “Nor is anyone else in my narrative. If mine is to be construed as a hero’s journey, then the genre would have to behave other than it usually does. The tale’s villain, if it is to require one, would have to be something other than a person — not an agent so much as a structural flaw immanent to the system. A source of inner conflict.”

Friday June 18, 2021

I stare up at, gather attention toward a set of newly mounted tape racks. We’ve been busy with various projects around the house: repairing the AC unit, installing a shelf in Frankie’s closet. Frankie resents the distinction between meum and tuum, a distinction learned via conflicts over toys at the pool. But the pool works its magic: sun shines down, conflicts are forgotten, and baby is happy, happy, happy.

Tuesday March 23, 2021

Kids and I play in my brother-in-law’s back yard.

Geese swim up and greet Frankie and I on the canal, splashing, squawking loudly.

I build the kids a fort.

I drive my nephew to preschool.

Sarah and I see his brothers to the bus stop, send them to school.

It’s a day of many moving parts.

Sicilian pizza for lunch from my favorite pizzeria.

I return home with slices for Sarah and Frankie.

L. attends the same preschool I attended forty years ago.

Clear skies, sunlit afternoon.

I man the grill and prepare dinner.

A day of actions rather than words.

Sunday March 7, 2021

Grieving as I wander in sadness amid old records in my basement, or, while kneeling, I collect Crayola crayons and plastic mixers off the dining room floor. Frankie enjoys tossing these from boxes and jars. She also likes to make us pick up after her with her sippy cups. These she chucks from her high chair, big grin on her face, squealing with delight. I listen to Charlie Parker’s The Verve Years (1950-51) in the basement after she falls asleep. This has been my pattern of late. While listening, I read statements by a group called The Unseen Hand. On their website, the group offers retreats for those in need of its care. “The Songs of Creation,” they write, “are to humans what migration pathways are to monarchs or whales, warblers or the continents. They return us to true: true sound, true north, the position of prayer.” The group seems to be the work of alchemist-acupuncturist Laura Clarke Stelmok. Her words appear on the liner notes to Battle Trance’s Blade of Love, an album of tenor saxophones as opposed to Parker’s alto. Searching the stacks, I happen upon Jan Hammer’s The First Seven Days. I awaken to the album’s mid-1970s synthesizer wizardry by about Day 3, amid a track called “Oceans and Continents.”

Bored by what follows, though, I wander off into the stacks and peek at Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action, interest piqued by the latter’s chapter on “Kubla Khan.”

Tuesday November 17, 2020

I recovered a shoe of Frankie’s while out walking this afternoon. It had fallen yesterday along her walk with Aunt Jojo. There it was beside an odd property: a house set back in a patch of woods with an American flag and “private property” signs out front. Further along down the road past several other houses stands a weird Republican-seeming neighborhood of ugly stone-faced McMansions around a private lake. Not one of my preferred places to walk — though I admit enjoying it, particularly when a beautiful heron flew overhead. The bird appeared shortly after my recovery of the shoe. I paused and admired the bird as it flew past, sensing in its appearance a sign of good luck. Greetings, friend! My cosmology permits perception and experience of a many-voiced cosmos. Sarah and Frankie sit beside me, for instance, as I write. They play a game involving a toy sword in a toy stone. Frankie retrieves the sword and Sarah declares her a Queen.

Sunday October 11, 2020

The semester demands a lot of us — time, care, attention — particularly now as we grade midterms. I wake up most days depressed, sleep-deprived, angry at the state of the world. But Frankie lifts my spirits. Before morning is done, we’re laughing, singing. She reaches out and explores an ever-expanding universe. Each day we follow schedules, hours blocked out for meals, sleep, work, baby care — though we also leave time for reading, writing, meditation, “self-care.” Part of me wants to blow off school for a bit and read Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology. Then again, maybe I should be studying the moon. Do moon cycles affect moods? Each day, Frankie and I read a board book called Kitten’s First Full Moon. Kitten thinks the moon is a bowl of milk and chases after it. Her chase is thwarted and dashed until she returns home to find “a great big / bowl of milk / on the porch, / just waiting for her. / Lucky Kitten!” All’s well that ends well. The moon also figures in recent thinking about werewolves. The werewolf tales that appeal to me are happy tales — comedies like Teen Wolf. I was a werewolf the Halloween after that film’s release. 1985: I was seven years old. There’s a photo of me climbing up the wall, wedging my arms and legs within the frame of a doorway. I was proud and wishing to show off this newly-discovered capacity of mine to brace myself in this way, suspended several feet off the floor. My mom made the costume by hand. What was the film’s appeal? For starters, it begins with the roar of a lion. Already, then, the presence of an animal within the machine — this being the conceit of all werewolf films. Oftentimes that conceit is a tragic one, as in one of the earliest horror films that I remember encountering as a kid: the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. But in Teen Wolf, it’s a happy conceit: the werewolf both assimilated into and victorious over his surroundings. The soundtrack at the beginning is also quite moving: an echo-effected streak of thud resolves after several echoes into the sound of a basketball. These are liminal sounds, the protagonist way into his own head, heart racing as he prepares to take a foul shot and misses, ball bouncing off the rim. Disappointment returns the protagonist to a humbled awareness of his surroundings, shame coloring his face. Before we’re separate from him, though, what we see at the center of the movie screen is a circular ball of light — a spotlight hanging from the ceiling of the high school gymnasium. The film will later replace this substitute light — an artificial, man-made thing — with the light of the moon. Before the moon shot, though, it maintains an “off” sensation through expressionistic use of sound. The sound effects suture listeners to the anxious spacetime of the protagonist. A sexual humiliation occurs, too, when we discover that the protagonist’s team is named the “Beavers.” Clearly this is a film about adolescence — the boy undergoing a fearful rite of passage in order to become a man. As Michael J. Fox interacts with the oddballs and mediocrities around him, I begin to note resemblances. Characters perform as dream-doubles for figures I knew as a kid. I re-watch the film through to the initial transformation sequence. It ends with the shot of the moon — the one we knew was coming ever since the opening shot of the film. And the movie itself ends with a moon song: Amy Holland’s “Shootin’ for the Moon.” The hero is human again, voluntarily free of enhancement — but his time as the wolf changed him for the better. It imbued him with the will to win.

Monday October 5, 2020

Toward evening I retire to the yard and sit beside a fire. The fire brightens as the sky darkens. Crickets and cicadas trade rhythms. Beside them ride the sonic traces of cars along the nearby autobahn. From the sky above comes and goes the sound of a helicopter. Sarah and I burn dry branches of rosemary. As night falls, I pull my chair closer to the fire and admire its warmth. The heat relaxes me. Afterwards I sit beside Frankie as she plays at her music table in the living room, awake a bit past her bedtime.

Sunday May 10, 2020

As parents, we become, undergo metamorphosis, transform into the worlds of our children. Through our actions, we model better natures, better worlds. Hopes manifest, consciousness redoubles upon species-being — and upon waking, sees before its very eyes a better state. We change by projecting upon the mind’s eye dreams other than those programmed into us by History.

Monday May 4, 2020

Sarah has had to hold the baby for much of the past few days as I work on the floors of the new house, preparing it for our move — and we’re isolated from our families due to the lockdown. Both of us find each other reunited each evening, busy boxing and bubble-wrapping items, though also finding moments of rest, relaxation, comfort, moments of peace and quiet, amid days filled otherwise. The physicality of each day appeals to me even as it pains me. The move is happening, though, and all is well.

Thursday March 26, 2020

A geodesic dome hangs from the double arched ceiling of the vibrant village. A child reaches up and grabs it, takes hold. The arches of the ceiling bounce gently each time she pulls. That was a few days ago. Today it’s azaleas, cottonwoods, dogwoods out and about, about to open up, baby laughing, all of us laughing: “She’s a beauty!” Spring is everywhere, profuse. Dandelions, clovers. Thick green moss. Amazing diffuse diverse sprouts of life.