I was born a story, born of story, born to story. My legend precedes my being and will succeed me. Invoked only by those aspects of reality that contain the potential for legend, I am indifferent to that which evokes no story, which has no larger meaning.
A small, unimportant person embodying the epic of some fecund imagination, my life was conceived as a signifier, an allegory, an eidola. Crafted to encourage, strengthen & embolden, I am imagined as a kind of resurrection, a revelation and a reflection. A mistress of transformation. Not meant to hide in the shadows, but to lurk there, to commune in darkness and depth, illuminating brief glimpses of awesome shapes, stirring up whiffs of strangely reassuring stench. To lure you off the sunny mountaintops into shadowy valleys with hints of secret knowledge, divulging things long lost, loosening restraints.
But of course you can't encourage without first facing grave challenges. You can't personify resurrection with out death.
By worldly reckoning, I shouldn't even be here. The odds have always been against me. Most of the people I grew up with are long dead by now (from overdoses, violence, suicide, military combat, and/or excessively risky behavior); in prison; or living in trailer parks or housing projects, suffering from civilized-lifestyle diseases (obesity, substance abuse, etc.), raising more kids than they can handle. Add to that the fact that a large proportion of the people who share my bloodlines have suffered from a range of mental illnesses, regardless of their social station.
That I am healthy and well-educated, have borne & raised just one educated & functional child, am fairly sane, own a decent home, have been happily married for 20 years, and have had the degree of professional success that I have – none of these were likely. And though I have, for the past fifteen years, spent my workdays surrounded by people for whom those facts are not considered accomplishments, but the bare minimum to be taken for granted from life – take them for granted I do not. To me, that list, though in the grand scheme of things is pathetic (is that really what we should hope for, a happy, cozy, predictable bubble each? I got mine & screw the rest?), in my life it is evidence for a kind of grace.
Those (few) who know about my bucking the odds have asked me what made the difference, and while I prefer mysteries to reasons, the question arises enough that I finally have a response. It is not that I'm a better person, nor work harder, nor am smarter or more creative. I certainly am not a better rule-follower, but neither am I an extraordinary rule-breaker (well, maybe. . .). I believe I have sold my soul neither more nor less than those I grew up among (we'll leave my body out of this for now), nor am I more courageous, bigger-hearted, or more astute about the ways of the world. I AM most of those things, but not more so than many of those others.
What I do have, however, and I believe this makes all the difference, is my story-teller consciousness and my eternally emerging legend, a legend that grows out of the sense I make of my life. A legend that is alive, dancing in chaos in partnership with a living, breathing, evolving myth.
Maybe it was the hopeful projections my adults hung onto me that I internalized.
Maybe it was the many ways I was strange, separate, other and unfitting that forced me to make up stories about how my difference made me special.
Maybe it was the sheer pain of it all that sent me so far outside myself that I seemed like a character in a play, where I got to make up, if not the plot, at least the character's reactions as the story went along – so far outside of myself I felt able to interpret meaning.
Or perhaps it was the habit I learned,of watching all my inner workings without judgment or preconception, always looking for clues as to who I was on the verge of becoming.
I prefer to think it is my soul, sculpting with the hammer and chisel of narrative, the rough stone of this barely-civilized woman, revealing my true shape hidden inside.
My life has always been relatively solitary, but it has never been mine alone. Even if I don't know them and never will, I have a tribe (not necessarily human – but they could be), somewhere (not necessarily in this material world – but it could be), somewhen, (not necessarily in a dimension we recognize – but perhaps). These are my body and my truth, they want and feed my story, their reality sustains me.
In other words, though the shape of my being is revealed not by external events, but in imagination – I don't just live in my imagination. I belong to a universe that dances with my imagination, a universe that loves my stories, that keeps feeding me more material, a universe that collaborates with me in creating a life that means something, if only to it and to me.
My life has also been unpredictable, apparently haphazard, seemingly lacking a center, but that is only because it's center is not of civilization. In this time when our understanding of what a life is has gone so far into Darwin and Newton and Descartes, when we feel so separate from the sacred, from nature, from one another, from our own souls and bodies, the path of my life resembles that big craggy misshapen rock that the sculptor of my soul has been chiseling big chunks off of. To the civilized eye, it seems like rough raw material, as if no-one has worked it at all.
But my legend has a center and a shape which are only visible from outside the current story of civilization. It is a legend that reaches back into the mists of pre-history and is forever leaning forward into future possibilities, attempting to free the imagination from the tyranny of the collective story of today. It does not conform to expectation.
I can attest that healing always begins with story, and that story is crucial to creation.
Of course, I hope my story I can encourage, inspire, embolden (someone, something, somewhere), strengthen connections, and even change the shape of reality. If nothing else, the act itself adds a new chapter and creates a dramatic plot shift. And what I have so far already makes a good story. It is my life to spend, and right now I choose to spend it in telling.
This is a story of many things – identity, poverty, one woman's body, prostitution, authenticity, Eros, context, brokenness and healing, the feminine in civilization, magic, collapse, dancing with the Universe, renewal and the impact of secrets. And like most of the best stories, it began long ago.
My people were a sad lot, if you ask me, a sad lot all. Sad enough that one needs the distancing and sense-making of epic narrative to bear. Sad enough, each in their own way, that they projected their dreams onto me, invented me out of their collective imagination and suffering. I took their projections and reshaped them as my own, mangling their plots with unbidden twists and turns that threatened to cut the entire thing off almost before it began – screech of needle lifting abruptly off of vinyl.
Though they imagined a Hero, I turned more toward Hermes and Lilith.
Hermes – the one Immortal in the ancient Greek pantheon who hung out with mortals – messenger from the Gods to humans, said to be the god of travellers, of crossing boundaries, of commerce, of thieves. Some say he invented fire (I like fire). He was also a fertility god, and the father of the Hermaphrodite (that shocking marriage of opposites – Yin and Yang in human genital form), Eros (I think you've met him), and Pan (a god of nature and of rout, panic, overwhelming the enemy with fear).
Lilith – Adam's first wife, made from the same dust as he (not his rib), deposed by God when she and Adam quarreled (what did he expect?), replaced by a subordinate rib-made wife. Lilith, outcast for no reason other than being Adam's equal (let's think yin and yang here), becomes a powerful seductive angry demon.
A heroic path can still overlay my story with some semblance of success, but would mislead. In the end there are no heights, there is no glamour, no bright white enlightenment to glory and reward. And I sometimes fear there will be no warm welcome home after the long journey. Civilization threatens to cause my story to fade back into the night, quickly pushed from memory, like a bad dream. But this is my story, it does not bow down to civilization. If it is my time to fade back into the night, I will be the awe-inspiring nightmare you cannot shake in the morning. I will be the irrepressible.
But who were those sad people, and what story did they write me?