LOST: We have to go back

On 9/23/16, twelve years after the premiere of LOST, my husband and I got to go back. The beautiful Ford Theater in Los Angeles was sold out to LOSTees from around the world. Listening to this orchestra perform live – with most of the original members who recorded the score with Giacchino for 6 years – was indescribable. The passion Giacchino had for this project is palpable. He’s as much of a fan as we are, and he explained that his score portrayed his emotional reactions to the scenes (which he saw only about a week before we saw on television). He never wanted to receive scripts or story info in advance, so he didn’t know what happened next until he saw the final cut of each episode and scored it! And because of such tight time constraints with filming, producing, and airing, the orchestra didn’t even have time to rehearse! When they recorded each track, they were reading the music for the first time! Absolutely incredible.

Highlights included a Q&A with Michael Giacchino and Carlton Cuse. (Damon Lindel was supposed to be there too but was stuck in Australia). Kevin Durand read an excerpt of the script for “Through the Looking Glass.” Cuse had explained that because the writer’s were off-site in LA with everyone filming in Hawaii, they made the scripts incredibly detailed. It was beautiful. And Mira Furlan read one of many letters that the writer’s had put together for all the messages in a bottle when the raft took off in Season 1.

And of course we all cried together. The concert opened with the opening scene of the pilot and closed with the final scene of the series. Though, thankfully, Giacchino played one encore song so we had a minute to dry our eyes after Jack closed his.

I captured some photos and videos throughout the performance. My videos are on YouTube and pics are below. I hope you enjoy them. Namaste.

Joanna Macy & The Pain of the World

Today I listened to an interview with  Joanna Macy from an August episode of Krista Tippet’s On BeingIt really spoke to me, and any time I come across something that resonates with me, I’m always eager to share it.

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© Myth Girl

Joanna Macy is a philosopher of ecology and a scholar of Buddhism. In addition to publishing her own works, she has also written translations of Rilke. I was surprised that she wasn’t on my radar before as I was exposed to all these topics in my Mythology graduate program, even taking a course in Buddhism, in addition to exploring it in my personal life. I am excited to find a new scholar to explore. Listening to her in this interview is a sheer delight. Even if you don’t study ecology, Buddhism, or Rilke, there’s something for you in this interview. Macy is an 81-year-old student of life. The experiences, stories, and insights she has to share are moving.

First I want to share this quote from Macy. I think it spoke to me the most. It’s a terrific response to the terrifying things happening in our modern world. Though it’s also a timeless reflection, as the human condition is always fraught with at least some pain, grief, or despair:

 . . . the kind of apathy and closed-down denial, our difficulty in looking at what we’re doing to our world stems not from callous indifference or ignorance so much as it stems from fear of pain . . . And so it relates to everything. It relates to what’s in our food, and it relates to the clear-cuts of our forests. It relates to the contamination of our rivers and oceans. So that became, actually, perhaps the most pivotal point in — I don’t know — the landscape of my life, that dance with despair, to see how we are called to not run from the discomfort and not run from the grief or the feelings of outrage or even fear and that, if we can be fearless, to be with our pain, it turns. It doesn’t stay static. It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.

There is so much that can be unpacked from this quote. It is profound, moving, and inspirational. Staying with our pain is the only way out. It makes sense. It’s not a new idea, but Macy expresses it poetically. And there’s such hope here: “it turns.” I also love the inherent positivity built into the outlook that the problems in the world aren’t because people stopped caring! What can look like humans turning a blind eye with indifference is humans covering their eyes like children who are afraid. That alone connects us with each other. We are on this crazy ride together.

I read hope in that quote in part because I think I seek to validate the hope I have in the world and for the world. However, Macy makes a very interesting point about hope later in the discussion:

I’m not insisting that we be brimming with hope. It’s OK not to be optimistic. Buddhist teachings say feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out. So just be present . . . The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful, or hopeless, or pessimistic, or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here, and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that.

That resonates for me so deeply as well! The emphasis on being present represents everything about Buddhism and mindfulness that I am drawn to, and something I find myself currently struggling to maintain as I try juggling all the balls I have in the air as a mother, teacher, wife, daughter, and human. In fact, and I’ll just be a little more personal and transparent for a minute here — what I am recognizing in myself is a great power struggle between two opposing traits/tendencies I possess: 1) to be proactive, organized and rather Type A. 2) to be relaxed, in the moment, in touch with nature, and with the side of myself that’s a little bit Buddhist and very much free spirited. I think I used to be much more of that #2 and something in my aging has made me way too much of that #1. Being proactive is good to an extent, but I think oftentimes these days I’m taking life a little too seriously. Meditation helps me, but I struggle to stay with the calm it brings. The monkey mind chatters away again shortly after I open my eyes. Except for when I’m with my daughter. When I’m with her, I am absolutely present. And there’s such a peace in that. But when I sit at my desk, surrounded by text books, bills, to-do lists, lesson planners, and unsorted piles, I can lose track of what’s the most important. So I struggle . . . but as Macy reminds us that the other side of pain in the world is love in the world, I remember that we live in a world filled with pairs of opposites. And we can’t have one without the other.

I’m reminded of Campbell’s discussion of the dragon in the hero quest motif:

He [the hero] and the dragon are opposites, but it’s only when he has tasted the dragon’s blood and integrated the dragon character in himself that he hears the birds sing and knows what their song is saying. (Pathways to Bliss).

Right now I’m bubbling with a desire to re-read so many texts of mythology, depth psychology, and Buddhism. And I’ve got a keen interest to read some of Macy’s work! So before I decide what to go read next, I will leave with you two truly beautiful and moving poems that Macy shared during her interview.

From Rilke’s Book of Hours:

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

From Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus:

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

rilkeorpheus

Orpheus with Lyre and Animals, Virgil Solis (1563)

 

Cosmic Chaos & Individuation

WordItOut-word-cloud-1785835.pngI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the beautiful mythological creature the phoenix and all that it embodies symbolically about death and rebirth. This reminded me of a paper I wrote in my Alchemy and the Hermetic Tradition class in grad school back in 2011. I analyzed a piece of art through an alchemical lens and explored the symbolism of it in relation to depth psychology. I can’t remember now what led me to select this particular piece of art to examine, but it’s an exciting image that offers a lot of reminders about the experience of the underworld and the journeys we all undergo in our movement towards self-awareness. I struggled to wrap my brain around some of the concepts of alchemy, but the way Professor Evans Lansing Smith approached it from a perspective of depth psychology (a key aspect of our program at Pacifica) helped me interpret some of the symbolism. Ultimately, because the material in this course was more challenging for me, I was very proud of this paper, which is included below.


Cosmic Chaos & Individuation

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Figure 1 Tableaux du temple des muses by Michel Marolles. (Fabricius 21).

Through the branch of depth psychology, alchemy holds a significant presence in modernity. Though originally rooted in the quest for the elixir of life and the turning of other elements into gold, alchemy offers a wide range of metaphors and imagery for the psychology of the individual. Carl Gustav Jung revived the study of alchemy and integrated it into his own seminal work: “Through the study of these collective transformation processes and through understanding of alchemical symbolism I arrived at the central concept of my psychology: the process of individuation” (Jung, Memories). Individuation, “the attainment of the self,” is an important concept in depth psychology and in personal understanding and growth (Jung, Archetypes 106). The woodcut “Tableaux du temple des muses” by Michel Marolles (see fig. 1), duplicated in Johannes Fabricius’ Alchemy: The Medieval Alcehmists and their Royal Art, presents an image of the complex process of individuation (21). An analysis of this woodcut brings to life the various components contained in the process of individuation and allows for a richer understanding of the relationship between alchemical images and psychology.

The most powerful feeling projected from “Tableaux du temple des muses” (hereafter referred to as “Tableaux”) is chaos. As Fabricius’ caption indicates, the image depicts “the cosmic chaos unloosened by the initial procedures of the alchemical work” (21). This chaos is also representative of “man [being] overwhelmed by ideas and concepts from within, symbols and images” as they may appear in art and in dreams (von Franz 27). There are many significant symbols embedded in this woodcut, and close examination reveals the way they all work together to represent the early stage of individuation, which is akin to alchemical work. Though individuation is, by its very definition, something personally “unique” (von Franz 69), universal qualities that are always involved, and these are depicted in the “Tableaux.” Furthermore, although individuation implies “psychological totality” and “wholeness” (Fabricius 13), the steps to attaining it contain “the spirit of darkness” (Jung, Archetypes 251) akin to “real dangers of the alchemical art” (Fabricius 20).

The symbols in the “Tableaux” portray the role of opposites, signify the conscious and the unconscious, and present the four elements pertinent to alchemy. The wind gods, several animals (including the ram, scorpion, and scarab), Sagittarius the Archer, coniunctio, and the egg of the philosophers, each representative of alchemy and individuation, are also among the significant emblems depicted. Like the beginning of individuation, the initial foray into alchemical work “is characterized by feelings of frustration, bewilderment, dissociation, and disintegration” (Fabricius 20). The “Tableaux” visibly inspires all of these feelings. Furthermore, this “initial encounter” for the alchemist is involved with the “prima materia” (the primary material all things come from), which, according to the work of Jung, “may be conceived as a symbolic expression for an initial psychic situation he terms the ‘meeting with the shadow’” (Fabricius 20, 22). While facing the shadow is difficult, there can be no development, change, or rebirth without this opposition.

The primary goal for the alchemist is to find the elixir of life, to attain immortality. As von Franz explains “the hope for immortality . . . went at that time into alchemy, which explains how the imagery of the process of individuation got projected into this problem” (76). The psyche quests for rebirth and immortality as well, though not in such a literal manner. The process of individuation requires a certain type of psychic death, allowing the transformation from one form of self to a new form of self. According to Glen Slater, there is a certain “paradox in individuation: you are growing more into your uniqueness and character, but at the same time, paradoxically, you’re feeling more connected to the human story as a whole.” This connection to and participation in the interconnectedness of life is one way the individual spirit gains immortality.

Undergoing the parallel processes of alchemy and individuation on the quest for immortality essentially require a trip into the underworld, which is depicted in the chaos and darkness of the “Tableaux.” The individual must face this chaos and persevere or become trapped. The presence of opposites in the “Tableaux” reveals the struggle in this underworld battle. To begin with, images of both the conscious and unconscious are present. This is seen in the image of the moon eclipsing the sun, in the dominating presence of fire and water, and in the union of the coniunctio. Furthermore, art itself contains a union of opposites “because they [pictures] are created out of a collaboration of consciousness with the unconscious” (Abt 33). The conscious and unconscious are constants in everything we create, and in this particular image, they are especially formative. The image was created from the conscious and unconscious of Michel Marolles, it depicts the interplay between conscious and unconscious, and it is being analyzed through a method that inarguably is itself influenced by the conscious and unconscious. Indeed, all thought “[comes] from the unconscious, for without its cooperation you cannot produce anything” (von Franz 31). We cannot escape the conflicts in opposition or the power of the unconscious (and why would we really want to, for it is a great source of creativity and vitality), but an image such as the “Tableaux” can help us to understand and embrace them.

Symbols of the conscious and unconscious and of opposites in the “Tableaux” serve to demonstrate an important aspect of the hero journey, a motif demonstrated through the personal journey encountered in the processes of alchemy and individuation. As a part of this journey, “The hero . . . discovers and assimilates his opposite . . . either by swallowing or being swallowed” (Campbell, Hero 108). The “Tableaux” is filled with symbols that serve as reminders of this danger of being consumed by the underworld. The symbol of the moon eclipsing the sun in the image provides further representation of the underworld as the unconscious. In addition being representative opposites, the moon and sun also depict the unconscious and conscious, respectively (Abt 35; von Franz 100; Fabricius 25). This small symbol in the busy woodcut may at first be difficult to recognize (it appears in the top left quadrant of the image and above the lion), but the same symbol is clearly identified by Fabricius in M. Merian’s Emblema as “the new moon eclipsing the sun” (see fig. 2).

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Figure 2 Emblema XXXIII by M. Merian. (Fabricius 110).

Since the moon “governs the life of the unmanifest world” (Fabricius 25), it is appropriate that the moon in the “Tableaux” covers the sun, which has “no darkness, no death in it” (Campbell, Pathways 102). The sun has no power in this underworld realm of the unconscious. Furthermore, “it seems to be an archetypal event that the sun, the fireball, must go down or be dissolved in order that the renewal of the personality can become possible” (K.R.H. Frick, Splednor Solis qtd. in Abt 91). Night, darkness, and moon rule over this process of transformation seen in the early stages of the alchemical process and individuation. The presence of these symbols is further indication that we are dealing with an underworld realm.

Though the prominent moon is the primary planetary symbol in the “Tableaux,” the power of the sun, and the consciousness, is present in other symbols. The scarab (located to the right center of the image) is associated with consciousness, “the rising sun, and “resurrection” (von Franz 88). The rebirth of the individual at the completion of individuation is indeed representative of resurrection. In the “Tableaux,” the scarab faces a ram, another symbol of the sun (Fabricius 26). The symbol of the ram also characterizes the “primal fire and water, which may both create or destroy” (26); therefore, the ram itself is yet another symbol of opposition. The tension of opposition between the unconscious and conscious is maintained by all of the symbols in this evocative woodcut.

Through the “Tableaux,” fire and water surround the sun, moon, rams, and scarab described above. The water, which holds the alchemical representation of the “the prima materia” (Fabricius 226), is perhaps the most visually present symbol of the unconscious in the “Tableaux.” Furthermore, water itself is also another demonstration of opposites because it can “nourish all living beings” (von Franz 244) or “[drown people] in the unconscious” (101). Deep knowledge is contained in the unconscious (100, 101), and it is in undergoing this transformative process of alchemy or individuation that one can access it. The “Tableaux” truly captures the complexity of this process, and while the woodcut seems purely chaotic at first, each symbol is purposive.

Significantly, the “Tableaux” constantly reminds its viewers of the dangers in alchemy and individuation. This should not be discouraging for it also points to the profundity contained in undergoing such a transformative process. Although the unconscious is the dominating theme depicted through the images, it is important that images of the conscious are included as well, for if the individual is not conscious of individuation, “the individual [will become] cruel and hard towards his fellow creatures” (von Franz 264). It is only in being “conscious” of this “process” that one can attain “the philosopher’s stone” (264) or individuation. One must let a part of the self die in order to individuate, to be reborn.

Opposing the other ram in the top right quadrant of the “Tableaux” is a scorpion, “the only creature that can kill itself by a sting from its own tail” (Fabricius106). It is through this act that the scorpion activates a “power of regeneration” (106). This powerful creature “is endowed with the primal energies of creation,” something individuals can access if they surrender to the painful process. In the Rosarium, the scorpion is also identified as the “fiery form of the true water” (qtd. in Fabricius 106). The continual integration of elements in the “Tableaux,” primarily fire and water, serve as reminders of the power and presence of transformation. The scorpion itself can undergo a transformation wherein it becomes an archer, another “fiery sign” (Fabricius 121).

In alchemy, the archetype of the archer is depicted in Sagittarius the Archer. (Fabricius identifies this symbol on page 121 of Alchemy). The symbol of the Archer also “embodies a profound dualism and tension” through the “duality” of its human and animal nature (121). Sagittarius is positioned in the lower left quadrant of the “Tableaux” just above the image of coniunctio. The Archer seeks change and new ideas and is fulfilled simply by the “very act of striving”; he presumes that sublimation, yet another transformative process, “is its own goal” (121). Sublimation is also another attribute of the moon (110). The Archer and the moon in the “Tableaux” both symbolize that individuation is its own goal.

The key themes of transformation and opposites are further represented in the “Tableaux” in the symbol of coniunctio, the practice of coitus that is another necessary alchemical component. Coniunctio itself is a union of opposites with “two possibilities: either the unconscious swallows consciousness . . . or the conscious destroys the unconscious with its theories” (von Franz 164). The danger of the process of alchemy and individuation is a very real one, but so are the rewards. When one perseveres through the difficulties, individuation and rebirth are possible. The position of coniunctio under the Archer possibly represents the Archer’s “desire to transform instinct into spirit” (121) continuing to place emphasis on the spiritual and transformational components of alchemy, indicative of the individuation process. Finally, coniunctio brings “warm and cold together [where] fire has to be put out by fire” (von Franz 251). The continual presence of both fire and water points to the transformational capabilities in these elements: “by parting with the dry and cold qualities, fire and water can become air; by parting with the hot and fluid qualities, the same elements can give rise to earth” (Fabricius 8). The symbols in the “Tableaux” continually denote opposition and transformation. Though all four elements are not present in the image, the possibility for each is contained.

The wind gods in the “Tableaux” may be encouraging this development of the elements as they each blow on the fire and its smoky clouds. There are four wind gods featured, and this number holds an archetypal significance that Jung designates as representative of the Self (Abt 129), the key figure in the chaotic descent pictured. According to Abt, “the number four can . . . point to a need for a union of divergent opposites by the act of becoming conscious or it can point to the realization of the inborn unity of the opposites” (129). Perhaps the four wind gods here represent both. The image, wrought with opposition, especially through symbols of the conscious/unconscious dynamic, is pointing to the importance of gaining consciousness of the unconscious and accepting the unity of opposites. It is suitable for the symbolic representation of four to point to two opposite meanings in this chaotic underworld image.

Another significant number depicted in the “Tableaux” is the number nine. The other symbols (excluding the four wind gods) appearing within in the fire and water essentially create nine different scenes (including the ram and the scorpion, the ram and the scarab, the archer, and the coniunctio). This “temple des muses,” therefore, brings to mind Apollo who “was accompanied by the Nine muses” (Abt 50). They “represent the totality of human knowledge,” an important aspect of the unconscious discussed above. Furthermore, the number nine is indicative of a “creative, transformative and unifying dynamism that seems to be mysteriously connected to the development of human consciousness” (50). As discussed, the symbols present in the “Tableaux” continually focus on the conscious and unconscious, and the analysis of the symbols reveals the importance of being conscious of the unconscious in the development of individuation.

In position above the archer in the “Tableaux” rests the egg of the philosophers, the key to surviving alchemical endeavors and individuation. So small in the scope of this multifarious image, it can easily be missed, but it is an important component as “retrieving the philosophical egg is . . . equivalent to reviving one’s primal state” (Fabricius 94). This primal state, a part of the unconscious, is activated in the underworld, in this beginning stage of individuation, and in alchemical transformation. When the egg reaches its perfect stage, it “contains the whole scheme of creation in potential” (131). The egg is representative of the positive outcome that can be achieved if one pushes through the fires of the unconscious to access renewal and rebirth.

In Jung’s analysis of images collected in his The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, vol. 9, he examines other illustrations representative of the beginning stage of individuation. He explains that “[i]t would be desirable to know what happens [after the beginning stage] . . . But, just as neither the philosophical gold nor the philosophers’ stone was ever made in reality, so nobody has ever been able to tell the story of the whole way” (617). Powerfully, the presence of the egg in the “Tableaux” alludes to what is next: rebirth of the self.

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Figure 3 B. Schwan. (Fabricius 271).

A woodcut by B. Schwan (see fig. 3), also reprinted in Fabricius’ Alchemy, depicts “an alchemist cutting the white stone and releasing its winged creature of rebirth” (129). Through its potential to create, the egg contains alchemy’s powerful symbol of rebirth: the phoenix. It is important to remember that in beginning of the process of individuation, the self may be temporarily lost. However, von Franz indicates that this process that “begins in chaos . . . ends with the birth of the phoenix (the new personality)” (271). The presence of the egg in the “Tableaux” is the greatest image of reassurance and rebirth; it offers a glimpse at what comes after one survives this frenzied underworld experience.

This examination of “Tableaux du temple des muses” reveals the roles of conscious and unconscious processes in alchemy and individuation, the risk of undergoing these processes, and their potential reward. Certain symbols were the focus of analysis in consideration of the scope of this project. Further research could reveal the significance of other alchemical symbols present in the “Tableaux” including the lion, the sheep, the bear, and the snake. The chaos represented in the “Tableaux” is, as discussed, only representative of the beginning of individuation, not the outcome. Von Franz reminds us that “self-knowledge is a bitter experience at the beginning” (90). The alchemical process and individuation are not simple tasks, and they should not be. Without pushing the self to the edge of its limits, down in the depths of the unconscious and the underworld, there is no room for growth. The images and ideas presented in alchemy perhaps had their most profound effect in deepening Jung’s awareness of self. Through this, he identified the process of meeting the conscious and unconscious in individuation, itself a significant development in the field of depth psychology. Jung’s developments have maintained a lasting impact, and his incorporation of alchemy has provided insight and rich imagery that is vital to understanding of the complexities of individuation.


Works Cited

Abt, Theodor. Introduction to Picture Interpretation According to C. G. Jung. Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publ., 2005. Print.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1972. Print.

— Pathways to Bliss. Novato: New World, 2004.

Fabricius, Johannes. Alchemy: the Medieval Alchemists and Their Royal Art. Great Britain: Diamond, 1994. Print.

Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Vol. 9. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1980.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Pantheon, 1963. N. pag. Google Books.

Slater, Glen. “Class Lecture 1.” Jungian Depth Psychology. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria. 13 Apr. 2011. Lecture.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy: an Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Toronto: Inner City, 1980. Print.

The Little Prince

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I’ve eagerly been waiting for The Little Prince to hit Netflix today. When my daughter woke up bright and early , I decided it would be the perfect start to our day.

The film is beautiful. I loved both animation styles that were used. It really worked having a different style when we were immersed into the Prince’s tale, and I think that embedding his narrative within the larger story of The Little Girl and The Aviator was a wonderful choice. It stayed true to the theme of Saint-Exupéry’s original story while also making it more relevant to the new generations in our fast-paced, competitive world.

I was delighted that Jeff Bridges voiced The Aviator. I have great respect for him as an actor and a human being. As an artist and a father, Bridges strikes me as someone who must really appreciate the depth of The Prince’s story. Awesome to have him as part of the project.

I’ve been a fan of the original book for some time, and I am eager to read more reviews from other devoted fans. It was interesting to see an interpretation of what happens after the book itself ends… For the film, I definitely think it worked. As an adaptation? Well, personally, I was so deeply pained at seeing the grown up version of The Little Prince that I’ve yet to decide if it “works” as a follow-up to the original text. This was a future I never imagined for him. It’s hard to accept that he would have forgotten (though I suppose he was technically forced)… but I know I’m too emotionally connected to it, and the viewing is too fresh, for me to sort out whether or not this maintains a reasonable continuity and tone to the original. It was certainly powerful though. And when he’s reunited with The Rose, and she essentially turns to dust, there’s no denying that I cried my eyes out. The visual was stunning. The emotion was poignant. And I don’t see another way that the Prince’s story within the film could have truly resonated for The Little Girl. Her initial reaction to the end of the story from the Aviator’s retelling was akin to my reaction the first time I read The Little Prince. I think I almost felt betrayed, and she certainly did. In what other way could she, at age 9, have been so impacted? We often have to experience things ourselves to come to a deep understanding.

I also wonder how non-readers connected to The Prince’s story in the film ; after all, we got a bit of a Cliff’s Notes version of it. The message was definitely made clear, but given how little time we spent with The Little Prince himself on screen, I wonder how moved newcomers were. (Side note: I really loved how the message “what is essential is invisible to the eye” was delivered with the fade-to-white technique). For example, we had a beautiful montage of the Fox and the Prince together, but their dialogue was minimal. Was it enough for someone who didn’t already love these characters? I found it breath-taking and mesmerizing, but these are “old friends” of mine whom I already know so well.

The power and popularity of the original story is undisputed, and, ultimately, I think this film captures the heart of it in a way that is particularly meaningful to our current cultural emphasis on planning, success, and achievement. The film, rated PG “for thematic elements that portray modern life as a nightmare that cannot be avoided,” offers a powerful reminder – visually and verbally – of how we must avoid these traps to maintain our child-like wonder, which is really at the heart of our humanness. Within that, of course, comes other pains: “One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets oneself be tamed.” Yet as The Prince, The Aviator, The Fox, and The Little Girl all remind us, we are never truly separated from those we love.

What’s Your Story

Stumbled across these lecture notes from last year. My students were working on an autobiography essay where they wrote about one important event from their life. The night before assigning it, I felt moved to tell them about the importance of storytelling. I jotted this down before I went to bed. Here it is, unedited. Really expresses some of the ideas so important to me about myths and our individual stories. Enjoy.

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There is an element all people share, regardless of any other differences: storytelling. The forms vary in oral and written traditions, and they are becoming ever growing today. Stories are all around us: in ads, blogs, newspapers, television shows, films, song lyrics and personal communications, to name a few. We experience stories every waking minute, and also in our sleep when we dream. We tell our stories, share our stories, cherish our stories. This goes back through all time, in all places. And this is something you are working on in your autobiography: you are telling a narrative. All cultural traditions have ancient mythologies that were, in one part, narratives to explain the world around them. Unfortunately, today the term “myth” has becoming synonymous with “falsehood.” However, it does not matter if the stories told in myths were something that historically happened. The truth myths hold is a psychological truth. They are stories of human experience. Your autobiography will also hold a psychological truth. In class last week you responded to a question that asked if you felt your memory was reliable. Some of you insisted on perfect memories of important events. And it certainly feels that way for all of us. On the contrary, research shows our memories are quite fallible. This does not mean your memories are false, but that each time you re-member an event, you are re-writing it. Regardless, your memories hold deep psychological truths for you. As myths did for our ancestors across the world. Furthermore, your memories, your stories, and whichever story you choose to tell in your autobiography, holds two important elements: you will tell a story that is on level profoundly personal, and on another level universal. As many of you identified in your in-class writing last week, writing your remembered event is important on both of these levels. It allows you remember and reflect upon something important to yourself, and sharing your stories with others helps you to connect and learn from one another.

Review of BIG MAGIC

CaptureI have so many good things to say about this book that I don’t even know where to start!

I enjoyed Gilbert’s conversational tone. I felt like I was sitting down with a friend who had some solid life advice to share. And I was hanging on her every word. I also liked the short, powerful chapters. She gets right to the punch, every time.

One of the key ideas is that we are ALL creative:

If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers – these are our common ancestors.

The arts do NOT belong “only to a chosen few.” She makes the book so accessible for everyone. And what I really loved is that even if you wouldn’t necessarily classify yourself as creative or even if you haven’t found your particular creative form of expression yet, there’s still plenty in this book for you. It will motivate you to get out there and get in touch with those descendants! To find the part of yourself that is open to and able to create good old fashion PLAY. Such a critical thing that we all need time for in our lives. This book is as much about creativity as it is about outlook, openness, honesty (“to thine own self be true”), and perseverance.

I also adored the section where Gilbert shares her mother’s old advice: “Done is better than good.” It was essentially the same advice I received my advisor in grad school: Writing/editing is NEVER finished; you just have to get to a good enough place where you’re ready to let it go. One thing that worked so nicely for me as a reader is that although Gilbert is speaking to all creative types, her examples are, of course, so often about writing, which happens to be my creative endeavor. Anyway, in speaking of her mother’s advice, she reminds us: “There are only so many hours in a day, after all. There are only so many days in a year, only so many years in a life. You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.”

And alongside these notions of play and letting go, Giblert addresses the so oft accepted image of the starving artist, making it clear that our art does NOT have to come from pain. To boil it all down to the simplest terms, she concludes: “Love over suffering, always.”

One of the final chapters is a great little one called “The Martyr vs. the Trickster.” Since the trickster comes to us from mythology, I was immediately excited about where she was going with this. And what she hit on was something that, again, is so important not just to creative living but to healthy living: we need to come at things with the perspective of play – in every sense of the word. Yes, take your art seriously. But also? Don’t! And find a way to live with that paradox. Which is brilliant, because guess what? Life is full of paradoxes.

As she continues her discussion on our friend the Trickster over several chapters, Gilbert introduces us to fellow writer Brené Brown, explaining how Brown was able to invite the Trickster into her creative life. There were two quotes from Brown that were so telling and moving to me.
1) “academia…is deeply entrenched in martyrdom.”
Wow. Yes, yes, it is. The starving artist image chased us right into the universities and the ladder climbing can often hammer out the play, especially on the tenure track. I love education, but the system is broken. I want to “play” more with this idea as I continue to reflect on my role as a college instructor and academic.
2) In discussing the difficulties Brown had in writing one of her books, she expressed: “never again will I write about the subject of the human connection while suffering in isolation.”
Another loaded idea, and one that greatly reflected where I have been. This was something that impacted me heavily in graduate school. When I got to a point where I felt I was spending more time with books and computer screens, so often writing (ironically) about the human condition, I started to get crushed by the very thing I loved. And I’m imagining this is a difficulty that many artists – particularly those whose form is writing – have struggled with. More food for thought I will be coming back to! And I will probably be picking up Brown’s book, Rising Strong

As Gilbert moves to her close, she shares a story (that I will oh-so-briefly summarize) about some dancers keeping their sacred dance in the temples until the creative dances they conceived moved into the sacred space, and then some changes were made that pleased everyone involved from tourists to monks…..and Gilbert concludes the anecdote by reflecting:

Everything was in its place – tidy and final.
Except that it was neither tidy nor final.
Because nothing is ever really tidy or final.

As a recovering perfectionist struggling to refocus on mindfulness, I found that this statement perhaps stayed with me the most. Nothing is ever tidy. Or final. And it doesn’t need to be. That’s not the goal. My Type A personality can simmer down. The joy is in the process. In the creation. In the life lived. And this, of course, is not a new concept. And we’ve probably all heard it before in different places and in different ways. But the way Gilbert is able to deliver it, as a fellow artist-in-arms, is striking and well-earned. It resonates. It reverberates. And it motivates.

Big Magic

After a 2 year hiatus, I’ve reopened my blog. Thanks for stopping by!

I plan to write a detailed review soon, but Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic was a great inspiration to me and has brought me back to the blogosphere (which I originally took a break from after I completed grad school and had entered my next big adventure: pregnancy).

A lot of what I used to write here centered around what I was working on at school (a Master’s degree in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology), which, for me, overlapped with a lot of my interests in popular culture. I haven’t done any academic writing now for two years and would like to return to it. Additionally, at the beginning of the year, I had set a goal to both read and write more.

Earlier in the year, I started a completely anonymous blog to write openly about my experiences as an adjunct teacher. I paired it with a Twitter account and found a whole network of other adjunct teachers. At first I was delighted… until the persistent negative tone permeated what I was writing and how I was feeling. There’s a lot to say about adjunct work and the current state of the college and university system, and a lot of it isn’t positive. But it’s not all negative either. And though it can be good to vent about the frustrations, my overall experience with that blog wasn’t offering me any benefits. So I deleted it.

I’d been toying with the idea about coming back to this blog, but I knew I couldn’t be consistent and I wasn’t really sure what my overall “theme” would be. That’s one place where Elizabeth Gilbert helped me:

Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart.

Share whatever you are driven to share.

As she wrote about writing/creating for yourself, I realized my blog doesn’t have to have a purpose, a theme, a steady stream of frequent postings. It can just be for me. And if other people stumble across some of my ideas and enjoy them, it’s a great bonus. I’ve been writing in one form or another for the better part of my life because enjoy it. So that’s what I’ll be doing here. This won’t be a personal blog delving into the adventures with my feisty, independent toddler (though she is the greatest joy of my life), but a place to explore my passions and interests and write about the other things that run through my mind between all the lesson planning, diaper changing, dog walking, podcast listening, tv viewing, baby rocking, reading, grading, and sleeping.

Here’s a small list of topics I’ve blogged on before and ideas I’m likely to return to:
Joss Whedon, Comic Con, Buffy, Mythology, Herman Melville, Joseph Campbell, psychology, photography, mindfulness, meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, books, film, nature, zombies, popular culture, children’s lit, writing, banned books.

If any of that sounds cool to you, stick around.😉

 

Thank you & Good night!

I have decided to let the domain name for this blog expire when its time is up in March. So, to the handful of you out there who will see this, thanks for following my writing!! It’s been great sharing and dialoguing. I’ll still be around, mostly on Twitter for now, and might get another blog up and running a little later when life is less busy.

Peace and love,

Nikki Faith

Appearance, Perception, and the Fe(male) Body Image

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I’m 32 years old. I’m 5″6, with a relatively slender frame. I weigh 143 pounds. And last week I felt disgusted with my body.

I don’t have anything new to add to the body image issue that plagues North America, but I think it’s important that we all start to maintain a more open dialogue about it. I know that I’m not “overweight,” and I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I’m no stranger to feeling uncomfortable in my own body. I think it’s important to acknowledge that and share it. I wish I could say it’s abnormal for me to have such concerns about my figure when I fall in the “normal weight” scale on the BMI index, but I know that it’s not. I think it’s important to keep in mind that body image issues don’t just affect those who are overweight or those with eating disorders. On some level, whether we care to admit it or not, I think we all struggle with these images… the images in the media, the images we have of ourselves, the images we create/imagine/distort.

My body image was greatly distorted over the holidays. I felt I had indulged in a few too many goodies, and by the beginning of January, I was convinced I’d gained extra weight (even though my clothes weren’t actually any tighter). The image in the mirror was lying to me – telling me I was chubby and over-indulgent. I hadn’t stepped on a scale since before Thanksgiving. The longer I waited, the less I really wanted to know what those numbers said. I’ve bounced back and forth between 110 and 154 pounds over the last decade. Where I had landed this time?

Last week when I finally summoned the courage to step on the daunting scale, I learned that I had gained… not one single ounce. In fact, I was 1.6 pounds lighter than I had been before Thanksgiving. All this disgust I felt with myself… was completely in my head. I had maintained a fairly decent routine of walking over the holidays, and I don’t think I actually ever overate. Yet somehow, I had create an image of myself that was negatively unrealistic. And it was difficult for me to admit – even to myself – how much I have really come to care about my physical appearance.

When I was younger, I truly was less concerned with image. I didn’t even start wearing makeup until I was in my early 20s. I never worried about what my weight was – though it was easier then too because I was always lean and trim. As a young adult, I was an athlete, and when I was in my peak condition in my early 20s (with a lot of muscle tone I miss), I weighed 130. I didn’t care what the scale said though because I knew I was healthy and fit. And that’s all I want my desire to be now – healthiness and good condition. I don’t think the numbers on a scale should hold power over us. They fluctuate and don’t truly define any aspect of us. I’m relatively healthy right now, so why do these numbers – these 10 extra pounds – plague me so much?

I wish the emphasis in our culture was on health and fitness. There’s so many schemes and purported quick fixes. The truth is that the only weight to lose weight and be healthy is to work out and eat well. Now the other thing that changed since my 20s is my ability to work out. I live with chronic pain from an injury I sustained, so I can’t have the body I did a decade ago. (Though I’ve also realized that, injury or not, the bodies we all have in our 20s are only a limited time offer). I can’t exercise with the vigor I used to or in the ways that I used to. That has compounded any body issues for me. For years, I felt I was trapped in someone else’s body. As I have finally come to grips with my injury (after years of tears, counseling, love, prayers and support), it’s time to face the “surface level” issue of what my body looks like. My injury didn’t scar my physical appearance, but my desire to have a lighter weight and a stronger muscle tone than this current 30-something body can manage is my next obstacle to overcome.

So I just wanted to write about it, open it up for discussion. This isn’t an attempt to get friends to say, “Oh but you look so great!” or otherwise pump my ego. This is an expression for an honest desire for open dialogues about body image.

The attention that body image gets from the media, as I said above, tends to focus on the struggles that underweight and overweight individuals face. Furthermore, it tends to focus on the struggles for females. And it so terribly important to emphasis that this isn’t particular to males or females. In fact, I think it may be even more damaging for males because it’s not being as openly discussed or identified. I know I can only speak to the female experience, but I’m fairly certain it’s the human experience. May we all embrace our awesome shapes.

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S.

This is my initial, emotional response to finishing JJ Abram’s new novel, S.

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!!!

Do not proceed AT ALL if you haven’t finished the novel.🙂

I don’t remember the last time I found a book SO compelling. I was totally emotionally invested in SoT and Jen & Eric’s margin notes. I read it less than a week. I couldn’t put it down… which made the anti-climactic final chapter all the more disappointing.

I read the book by reading a chapter of SoT and then going back and reading the margin notes (and it was really hard not to cheat and read the margin notes!) (This is how Abrams himself recommends reading it). So I finished SoT first. And I was okay with the shaky nature of Chapter 10 because it worked in-so-far as knowing that Filomena made alterations, made it her own, lived out the fantasy she never could with Straka… So when Sola and S. drifted into the sunset and the emphasis was that the mystery didn’t matter and that love was the answer… I thought that made sense for Filomena to do… Though I was disappointed that SO MANY QUESTIONS about S. were left unresolved!! Who was he before he lost his memory?? Was he already involved in all this madness? Who was Sola before that night at the bar? And why did time move different on land and at sea? And really, what was the deal with the monkey?? (Did I miss something there?) I will say that I did start to find SoT a little less compelling once S. became an assassin. Up to that point, I really empathized with him. Once he really seemed to lose it, my interest in his story lessened and I found myself rushing to get back to Jen and Eric in the margins.

Let me say that I am a profound hopeless romantic and I love sappy films and happy endings… in their right place. While I loved that the emphasis of the final chapter of SoT was on love, I can’t deny my disappointment in not knowing all the answers – which is ironically the thing so many fans of LOST were disappointed by and I WAS NOT. Loved the ending to LOST. Didn’t need all the answers. But there was SO MUCH emphasis on all those characters and relationships and so many deaths and loses and loves and reunions that it all felt earned. In SoT, it felt trite. And even more so in the margin notes…

I was rooting for Jen and Eric from Chapter 1. And the first margin note I saw that indicated that they met in real life made my heart flutter. I felt like I was falling in love all over again as I read their story. And wow was it so beautifully done. With the handwritten margin notes and the inserts – it felt SO real! I was truly hanging on their every word. And the mystery of reading it non-chronologically was fun, and those pieces did start to fall nicely into place… mostly. Until Chapter 10. With so many threats looming over them, it seemed too easy that they suddenly just ran away and were happy. Again – this is what I was rooting for! And I was desperately afraid in earlier chapters that one of them was going to die for all this… but I felt like it tied up too quickly, too easily. To me the final chapter of their notes didn’t even jive well with previous chapters because there were hardly any other notes from all the other times they passed it back and forth. Like it was just reserved for this happy ending.

I am as equally as frustrated with myself as I am with the book. Why am I not happy with a happy ending?  It’s what I wanted… but like I said, it just didn’t feel earned. It felt trite, contrived, anti-climactic, and unearned.

I didn’t take the time to figure out the eotvos wheel. Wondering how much of the mystery I might have missed there? I’m looking around online right now… looks like there’s some different websites and twitter accounts that might be cannon… and of course fan pages are popping up. I’d like to look at a well put together wiki for it, but that doesn’t seem to exist yet. This page looks like it will have a lot: http://sfiles22.blogspot.com/ I find it sucking me back in… But I don’t really want to have to dig around on a bunch websites. I like that the book is a love-letter to the written word, and I want it to be self-contained. Let’s forget the viral stuff? I’m assuming any other cannon material is just for fun, not to really an answer to significant questions beyond what we can find in the primary material itself…

On a final note, I really did love the way the book is put together, printed, written. Dorst is a great writer – I couldn’t resist underlining some of the more beautifully written lines in SoT. Additionally, the mystery of it all and the multiple layers were incredibly fun. And the fact that Jen and Eric were English majors (and one was a grad student)? Great icing on the cake for me, a near perpetual grad student, English major and English teacher.🙂