Monday, February 3, 2014

The Myth of Why I Write

    (Icarus when he fell into the sea; woodcut by Jorg Breu)

I am a great lover of myth. Not myth as in lies or fairy stories but real myths that speak of human truths, of what is important for us to pass on to each other, of what ancient cultures felt was important to keep sacred generation to generation.  I will give an example of the use of myth. One could say to a child, “Listen to your elders,” only to watch him roll his eyes and walk away. Or one could tell the story of Icarus and how he flew too close to the sun. The hearer may not even understand consciously what the story is about, but the story will stick like a hook in his mind and sometime later, maybe many years later, he may say, "Oh. Now I know what that meant.  Now I know the importance of that story.”

I come from a storytelling family. It seems many of my elders loved to talk about our ancestors. Maybe it is because we are part Native American that oral storytelling is in our blood. Maybe I like myths so much because to make a six-year-old sit down and listen to family history, my great-grandmother had to make it exciting. Now that I am older, I think of myths as the sugar that helps the medicine go down. When you are giving the cold hard facts of life (…One day you and I will die. There are bad people in the world. Bad things happen sometimes even when we have been very good. Mom and Dad are not perfect.  Do not be afraid…) to the young, the unfledged, the innocent, it is always best to couch it, to coat it in something palatable. The storyteller definitely doesn’t want to scare the bejesus out of her audience. So, as an act of kindness, the burning coal of truth is hidden.

Or perhaps it is a test to see if one day the listener will take the truth from its pretty wrappings. I see this gentle exchange as an act of hope on the part of the storyteller, hope that the listener will sometime soon be strong enough to pull back the filmy gossamer layers, and even though she or he sees something hard, something scary past the pink cotton of words that she will forge ahead anyway because she is not the same child who first heard the story. She will have hard hands and a tough mind and even when she gets to the last of the wrapping and something odd and squishy appears, something  a little ugly or dirty, she will still pull away that last scrap and find the pearl, the gem, the beating human heart, the truth that she was given.   This is why I write; this is why I wrap terrible truths in pretty flowery words and why I love myth.  

Myth lovers, what do you see as the uses of mythology?