It’s done the essays are done they are finished I don’t have to do them anymore and then I have FIVE MORE ASSIGNMENTS TO DO IN THE NEXT TWO AND A HALF WEEKS AAAAAARGH
But at least I’m not behind on any of them.
I would say I’m angry except that I don’t actually feel the emotional component necessary to warrant such a description. I’m just kinda beige. This situation is very beige-inducing.
Writing is not just about putting words on paper. That’s the material side of things, the corporeal element of the wider entity that is writing. It’s also about thinking and learning, and relying on the science of storytelling to enrichen our perspectives.
Mythology is something I’ve been thinking of for a little while – when the word comes up, I instantly conjure up images of the Greek pantheon, and if I consciously push myself to diversify I’ll think of the Norse and Egyptian gods, the Irish deities and heroes, the Maori and Chinese legends – or what little I know of them anyway – and that’s about it. I don’t think about, for instance, World War 2. I don’t think about 9/11. Or the American Civil War, or the French Revolution, or Tianmen Square. I don’t think about how I had a crush on Sailor Moon when I was 7 years old, or how the triad of Pokemon, Dragonball Z and Harry Potter more or less had the monopoly over my personal development between the ages of 12-16. I don’t think about how Disney, Sesame Street, David Attenborough and not even having a television for a very long time had the monopoly prior to that. I think about the word in its “official” framing, because that’s what the word is for.
But personal mythology is where mythology comes from. Intuition tells me that anyway; where else would these stories come from if not from the life experiences of those who told them, and those who passed them on? And what are these stories if not the first scientific theses? Creation myths outline a systematic process of how things came into being as they are now, and as time goes on these theses are replaced and modified by others – Christianity appropriated Irish mythology by turning the Tuatha De Danan into Leprechauns; Buddhism adopted Chinese mythology by turning Sun Wukong into a bodyguard for Xuangzang as he traveled to collect sacred Buddhist scriptures. Myths change to fit current knowledge; stories change according to who’s reading them, and what they see them for. What propels them to the heights of culture-defining prominence is contingent on who agrees with it, or agrees that this is the version of events that ought to be perpetuated throughout society. And when they’re criticised and/or disproven, there can be a lot of controversy.
Mythology is not just gods and heroes and monsters, is what I’m saying. Mythology is making sense of the world, a process of heuristic reasoning that sounds utterly un-scientific, but serves the exact same function. Mythology is the 12 labours of Herakles, yes, but it’s also how all women are attracted to assholes and bisexual, how all the good men are either taken or gay, the poor are lazy, the rich are amoral and both are greedy, how if you just work hard enough and believe passionately enough you can achieve whatever you want and there is absolutely nothing else to it.
Mythology is the explanation of how things came to be, and it is the thesis that tells us how things will continue to be, including ourselves.
Personal mythology is something that came up over lunch with my good buddy Viola the other day: we started talking about our teenage years and how hard it is to pull yourself out of that old mode of thinking and feeling when you go back and read, for instance, blog or journal entries that you made during that period. For me, my creation myth has been the story of my adolescence, specifically between the ages of 15 and 20. I chose that period to fixate on and make official, to disseminate throughout the civilisation of my brain, despite the fact that I’d had 15 years of life prior to that to draw on. There was also an appropriation of my life between the ages of 11 and 13, and then a dark period when I was 14. The only thing I remember about being 14 years old is that it was the first time in my life, I think, that I lay in a bed and stared at a ceiling and felt like my life was over. Neither the bed nor the ceiling were actually mine; we were having a family holiday at one of my mum’s co-worker’s holiday house. It’s a really nice house. I didn’t take advantage of it because I was too busy angsting.
Prior to that, I think everything was just too … different to be included in the official mythology. It’s kind of like what I hear about the really big, glaring divide between the Old and New Testament sections of the Bible, only in my case the Old Testament is a history defined by adventure, joy and togetherness, and the New Testament is a suppurating abscess of hysterical introspection and second-guessing every single thing I thought or felt, or thought I was going to think or feel. I think, looking back, that my current procrastination skills were most likely developed during the New Testament period.
The main reason that my adolescence became my creation mythology is because I continued being anxious and miserable, rather than reverting back to the more confident and unabashed person I was before I turned 11. But the division between childhood and adolescence, especially where childhood is a magic carpet ride and adolescence is a bag of rotting dicks, makes it so seductive to draw a line between those two states of yourself and say that one was better and then suddenly everything changed and it’s like you became an entirely different person.
It’s not that that’s not true, but it oversimplifies things. I find it hard to reconcile just how taken in I’ve been with exactly that romantic idea for the past … decade? About that long anyway; thinking that there was some ideal version of myself in the far past and entering into the whole Childhood Renaissance phase that so many jaded adults go through, when if I’m being honest I actually haven’t changed very much at my core. I was always vulnerable to anxiety as a child, and I was always acutely aware of how much more anxious I was than any of my friends: I wouldn’t go to sleepovers at my best friend’s house until I was about 8 years old; I was afraid of dancing with one of my girl friends at primary school at the Halloween ball when I was 5 or 6, to the point where I think I literally leapt into my father’s arms and he had to assure her that I didn’t hate her all of a sudden. And yet I was also completely down with running around naked except for full-body tiger face-paint at the same age, and writing the school play, which I am only now starting to remember being a thing that I did, which I guess translated into how my friends have told me, repeatedly, that I’m a completely different person when I’m on stage – and the fact that I’ll do pretty much anything on stage. I cleaved to my dad and a very select group of other people growing up, letting everyone else pretty much just drift in and out of my life without much of a care, and now I’m a hermit who inexplicably has something resembling a very frail social life.
My point is that mythology is misleading, and when it serves the same purpose as science in terms of how we justify things to ourselves, that’s worrying. But it’s also a testament to just how powerful storytelling is, and why it’s important: it creates the world we know, and it includes our blind spots, tells us that they don’t exist by virtue of excluding them altogether, and when something that doesn’t fit out mythology rattles us and reminds us that we don’t actually have the definitive version of events – it’s really quite unsettling. Not always in a bad way, but unsettling nonetheless.
Telling stories is not even second nature to people: telling stories is the foundation for every goddamn thing we ever do. We have a mythology for who we are, for what the world is and how it works and the moral judgment on that state of affairs, whether it’s fair or not, whether it should or even could be better.
And it changes. The fear of “getting sucked back in” with regards to old journal entries, of being transformed into the “old me” that, as mythology dictates, has been cut off somehow and relegated to the Old Testament, pretty much tells you all you need to know about how and why storytelling is so important in people’s personal development – if I can get “sucked back in”, then that tells me that I was never “out” to begin with. It’s the same underlying issue of choosing – or, perhaps more accurately, identifying – a cut-off point for what “counts” in the mythology of your life, of the world, that explains why things are they way they are now – if it doesn’t fit the story you’re trying to tell to the world, it’s easy to leave it out, but you can never get rid of it. It threatens to overwhelm your edited version of events and reveal The Truth, which is that there is no cut-off point, there is no point at which Everything Changed. It’s just a straight line, the trajectory of your existence – the story of your life. All of it.
Storytelling is just taking that process and actively manipulating its mechanics. I think something like The Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of this because of the vast appendices that Tolkien wrote to back up the mythology that he wanted people to recognise as official: he even changed The Hobbit to fit his official version of the story of Middle-Earth. The Necromancer in Mirkwood wasn’t Sauron originally; he was just a Necromancer. And yet there’s not a lot of outcry about this executive meddling, because the creator is the one who’s doing the meddling. And if the creator says X is true, even if Y was true before, then surely that’s Word of God and, well, there’s nothing we can do about it?
The thing is, then you have stuff like J.K. Rowling saying that she wishes she hadn’t made Ron and Hermione end up together and the massive fan backlash, and the tension between canon and “fanon” mythologies, and the issue of the degree to which the creator actually owns their own story when it also “belongs” to their fans. Never mind the vast millions of Potterheads around the world; even if the series only ever reached a few thousand people that tension would still be there, and perhaps just as intensely because of the smaller group of fans who might feel more intimate and directly involved with the story, because they’re the proud few who have stuck by it. It’s like building an identity for yourself when you’re growing up and then running into a childhood friend who knows you from back in the day and kind of kicks down your tower of Babel, probably unwittingly while trying to re-establish some familiarity with you so that things won’t be totally awkward. Ironic. Also like having parents or other older relatives treating you like you’re still X years old when you’re trying so hard to identify as Y years old instead.
And the thing is that it’s still a part of you, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. That’s not to say that I agree with people imposing their reading of you onto you or that it’s your obligation to indulge them; who you are is your business, end of story. But it is a messy business, or it can get that way, and it’s important to be aware of that so that you can do it healthily. Viola and I both did the typical teenage thing of thinking we had to be a certain way, and deciding that we just were a certain way, that we were going to be a certain type of person because that’s who we really were, or should have been, to the point where even nowadays I’ll sometimes feel upset about not feeling upset about something, because I’ll think that feeling upset is the correct response and I’m about to be found out as a fraud. That’s also mythology, the “should”, the “there’s something wrong with me because I’m not like blah”, the “no the Necromancer was totally Sauron I fully planned that all out from the very beginning DON’T QUESTION ME I AM IN CONTROL THIS IS MY STORY ANYWAY”.
And it is. It is your story and you can tell it however you want. But, as with The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night Time, as with sectioning off entire years of your own life because they don’t fit the current story of it you believe in, it pays to be aware. To be honest. I think it’s healthy to shut things out sometimes, simply because a lot of the time there is no other tenable option. I still think it’s healthier to get it out in the open though, if you get the chance.
And with storytelling, in the conventional sense of the term, we get that chance. With fiction, we get to tell a whole, honest story without leaving anything out. To draft and revise and say “that doesn’t count” and not have to worry that it’ll come back to bite us for denying its existence later on when that pesky childhood friend pops up, because this is something that everybody knows we made up. Because it doesn’t count, not until we say it does. It’s frustrating and it’s blissful and, above all, it’s always right.
(That’s part of why it’s so frustrating. Which right choice is the right choice? Ugh.)
There are the stories we grow out of as well, the ones that we don’t think we can write anymore because we’re not the same person anymore. The same mythology doesn’t apply to us anymore; we’re not the story of Athena and the golden apples anymore, but the story of Hua Mulan pretending to be a man so she could join the army in her old father’s stead. It’s all a matter of what we’re willing to cast off and what we’re willing to keep carrying, and sometimes what we’re willing to pick back up.
I think there’s this big myth around “reverting” or “regressing” by poking around in our past, a myth that we can somehow undo all of this progress we’ve made by daring to remember a fuller version of our story. Sometimes it’s just not safe. Sometimes we do have to make up a new story, just for our own survival. There can’t be any moral shame in that. But sometimes it is safe, or it becomes safe, and we can look back and realise that not only are we still moving forward, but there was nothing that could have stopped it in the first place, and our past never went anywhere, and it’s ours. And nothing can, or could, ever take it away from us.
And that it is now currently 2:14 a.m. and it’s raining outside, and I should probably go to bed.