As a reluctant conscript in the American high school literary curriculum, the most dreaded text was always Homer’s The Odyssey – dreaded largely for its irrelevance to – well, anything. Capricious gods and tormented hero-figures, stranded so far from home – what is a pimply suburban high-schooler supposed to make of all that? But as the years go on I’ve come to realise more and more that ancient myths do live on – it’s in the way people tell stories about themselves; inherent in how they make sense of their experiences. We invent personal myths in order to make sense of our lives; to bring a kind of cohesiveness and overarching theme to the chaos; in the midst of choices that, individually seen, may be unbearably random. We use them to find meanings – also and to set goals.
From the New York Times:
Understanding personal myths is important, psychologists say, because they do more than reveal how a person sees his past: they also act as a sort of script that determines how that person is likely to act in the future.
From Ioana Cristina Casapu:
They tell us all these stories
About women who became unforgettable
Because they walked away.
Perhaps I, like many women of the world – spin stories to shield myself from a harsh reality (personal myths like this one, I suppose). Whatever the truth of the matter is, I am always running. Escaped to live in a ramshackle bus in the forests outside Stockholm – and then in a car, chugging around the lonely roads of Iceland. Less glamorous – a stint in the staid Midwest; sleepless nights in the city that never sleeps anyway.
A plane to Taipei, a plane to Hong Kong.
They tell us stories about the women who were unattainable
Because they vanished
I’ve been chased by megaphone-wielding religious radicals in Bangladesh, woke up to a strange man standing over my bed in a ramshackle beach town in Sri Lanka. Drove a car down a winding path in Iceland in pouring rain when the windshield wipers were broken. Had to stop every two minutes, get out of the car, wipe the window clean lest we crash into the strange, unending mass of volcanic rock that stretched out on all sides; not a person within miles to help. This year, starting in July, I will be in Taiwan for exactly 365 days, unable to leave the country even for a single day – as a necessary requirement in receiving my Taiwanese citizenship. And this scares me more than anything I’ve ever done.
They tell us to leave
In other words,
Because otherwise we will be forgotten
We will be just the shadow of a dream
And irreplaceable is just a word we fantasize
Because we cannot be the exception
But the painful rule.
This is the truth: I leave because I am afraid that if I stay, I will be forgotten. That it will be revealed, ingloriously – just how unremarkable I am. It’s a fear that the myth of myself – fed in casual anecdotes, in carefully filtered photos, in organic farms and towering skyscrapers, will bleed away quickly, until I stand naked, exposed, and found wanting. Because if I stay, I open myself up to the risk of being abandoned, cheated, rejected.
I will find out that I am not the exception. And so with this at my back, I board the plane, the train; the car. I get on; settle in, and breath a sigh of relief – my myths are still safe; my myths still hold.
Here’s one myth for you: The story of Lot’s wife – in the Bible, have you read it? She ignored the warnings given her. She looked back just once more upon her wicked city as she fled from it, and turned into a pillar of salt.
But I want to stay
Be the woman
And so, it goes: I looked back at you, that day, and saw a glimmer, as if perhaps (just perhaps) – you were looking back, too. That perhaps I was as unforgettable to you as you were to me. You were saying something; we were going around in circles. I wanted to flee – but my feet suddenly seemed anchored to the ground. Because for you – for once, I wanted to be the one that stayed.
And so I looked back, eyes full of salt – but you had already walked away.
photo by SamAlive, a newly discovered favorite