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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, November 18, 2005

life as adventure

It's a sunny day. I was just out running. The city was almost hidden in smoke-blue haze. The harbor water flared like white-hot metal beneath the low sun.

Last night, at teatime, I sat with my tea at the coffee-table, looking at the two stacks of books I've got on the go, and again did not feel like reading any of them. (I did spend a bit of time writing a review on Amazon.com for Peoples, Nations and Cultures; if you want to check out the link. My policy for writing Amazon reviews: I'll write one for any book I've read that doesn't already have a review, or if I disagree with the consensus of reviews. The main thing is to have a usable review there when someone looks for the book; I so appreciate that when I'm looking for one.) I came down again to pick up my copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces and read a little more of that. This morning I opened my new document based on Campbell's text and tunneled further into the question of my life.

As ever, the material hit me hard. I reread this extract:

The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives. And they may remain unsuspected, or, on the other hand, some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life--that is the lure, the promise and terror, of these disturbing night visitants from the mythological realm that we carry within.

I feel a cold clutching at my own heart. The "realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self" is exactly where I want to go. Or is it? Am I merely a lollygagger in the foyer of life? Am I deluding myself about how cemented in habit I truly am? A cosmic sofa-spud, willing only to watch others' adventures? It is an anxiety-provoking line of thought.

I wrote these notes this morning under the above extract:

Life is a gamble. Campbell stresses the adventure quality of it as that which we seek and yearn for. "The desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self": risk. Risk is about uncertainty, about the unknown quality of the future, and the recognition that life brings both pleasure and pain. We make choices, which is always a gamble, a speculation, an investment, in some sense. We're looking to make a return, to invest our time wisely.

For is this not what it's about? My recent thoughts have included ideas about how the finiteness of our lives has a fundamental effect on our thinking and behavior. Even in avoiding the thought of death, trying to deny it, we are giving it huge--even exaggerated--psychological importance. Time is the ultimate wealth, the ultimate currency. We exchange the minutes and hours of our lives for...what? That is our basic decision. What's the best way to spend our time?

We trade in each minute of our limited, nonrenewable stock of time for what? Right now I sit typing this blog post. In less than an hour I will drive Kimmie up to her after-work hair appointment. Thus I spend the currency called life.

The hero by definition is he who crosses the threshold of adventure--the adventure of the discovery of the self. And what is an adventure? My Webster's, once again:

1 a: an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks


There are levels of danger. As Campbell puts it later in his own book:

Typically, the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph. Whereas the former--the youngest or despised child who becomes the master of extraordinary powers--prevails over his personal oppressors, the latter brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of his society as a whole. Tribal or local heroes commit their boons to a single folk; universal heroes--Mohammed, Jesus, Gautama Buddha--bring a message for the entire world.

Later on, in his Masks of God series, Campbell goes on to say that the primary myth-makers now are not priests, theologians, or philosophers, but artists: the writers, dramatists, and filmmakers who are able to command our attention and move our hearts. That includes me. How I live and understand my own life makes all the difference in the kind of work I can produce, and its value for my fellow beings.

Peering down into the Aladdin caves...what is there?


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