Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mythology of your own life

All semester, we have been talking about the ways Tolkien uses visual art, music, bits of mythology from other world cultures, events and characters from his fiction's "history" to build his own subcreated, mythological world. Although Tolkien was a master at this, I would like to posit that all of us regular human beings also engage in mythological subcreation within our own lives, even if we do not write fiction. Remember that, in Tolkien's frame of reference, this type of mythmaking or mythopoeia is not false or dissembling; it is a way of embodying the truest kind of truth in one's heart and soul (I know it's corny, but humor me for a bit ;-)  )

For instance, in my own life, I have memories of a fall with golden trees, re-reading The Lord of the Rings, and being deeply in love for really the first time in my life. An old special song by Enya (whose title escapes me right now) and one from Elton John (Your Song) are interwoven with that time. Although that love didn't last much beyond that one fall, my memories of it are sharp and clear and ring truer in my heart than many others. I theorize that this may be because I have created a mythopoeia of that time in my memories-- perhaps partly fictional in the wonder and joy of it, but no less true and real in my heart.

So, in what ways have you engaged in your own life in mythopoeia? In other words, what works of art, books you've read, music you've hear, sights, sounds, smells, feeling have you put together in a way that represents something meaningful in your own life? Does this subcreation of a small bit of mythology connected to your own life and its events matter differently to you than other kinds of memories or events? In what ways does combining such elements into a mythology make it feel or seem more true? Or does it?

If you choose to respond to this post (and I sincerely hope you do!), please feel free to disclose as much or as little personal information as you wish. Also, feel free to breach your pseudonym, because after all we are at the end of all things now...


Nessa said...

I’m not sure if this exactly fits, and it seems like something small, but every time I hear “Kangaroo Cry” by Blue October or see Manga by a certain author, I am sucked back into seventh grade—a version of seventh grade where school and other friends and family feel foggy and separate. Three of my friends had just committed suicide, so all of my memories are of the healing process that my best friend Rebekah and I went through.

Rebekah healed through invention. She imagined a demon that shadowed her everywhere she went; he told her to follow her friends into the afterlife. He told her that she was betraying them by living. She angelified me and heard my voice when she lost hope; I told her that she still had many things to live for. I told her that remembering them was the best way to honor them.

Her demon became real to me, and I can still vividly picture his face—childlike and disfigured—and it frightens me that I forget he was only imagined. He even had a name that lingers on the edge of memory. Likewise, I remember dedicating so much time to comforting her and reminding her to keep breathing, yet I do not know how much of this was me and how much was the “me” that she imagined and told me about. I feel like that year of my life was taken up by her, mythologized, and given back to me differently.

Because of this web of myths that have been wrapped around that year, it has adopted a special characteristic that no other year of my life has. It should have been the most painful year of my life, but in memory it is a beautiful time of growth and imagination—even if our imaginings were dark or frightening. The myths that Rebekah and I created made those memories less painful and more beautiful. At the end of the year, she gave me a jar with two origami birds, folded so that they could never be detached. She told me that they were just like us; we could never be separated, and now, though I have not seen her in many years, I find that it is true. We shared too much in that year. She is a part of that part of my life—a part of who I am.

Vana said...

I have a really bad memory, so a lot of what I remember from being a kid actually comes straight from pictures or home videos. I grew up on a farm where my family took care of the landlord's eight thoroughbreds. Everything I know about those seven years is surrounded in my mind by a soft glow, and I'm convinced nothing bad ever happened. I was seven and we had five acres and eight horses. I was eight and we had a tire swing. I was nine and my Christmas present was my own horse. I was ten and I hid in stacks of hay in the big red barn. I was eleven and climbing cottonwood trees. I was twelve and doctoring goats and chickens because I wanted to be a vet. It was year after year and memory after sweet memory of a childhood I hardly remember myself except in vague pictures and a sense of dejavu.

Tulkas said...

My memories of my grandparents' house in Indianapolis seem mythic to me. They lived in this enormous, 200 year-old farm house. The white house with red shutters. Each summer my cousins and I would spend two weeks there without our parents. I spent every Christmas Eve for the first 7 years of my life in one of the tiny upstairs bedrooms. Our time there was filled with ghost stories told by my grandpa, rides on the bag swing (like a tire swing but with a burlap sack stuffed with hay), and explorations of the darkest corners of the cellar.

My grandma died when I was eight, and nothing was quite the same afterward. My grandpa moved out of the house. Summers were spent at home. Instead of giant family Christmas, we had a smaller Thanksgiving with just my mom's five siblings (still pretty big, 12 adults and 18 kids, but nothing like the 70 people that would show up for brunch cooked by my grandma).

The last time in was in Indianapolis I drove by the old house. It was a mistake. The red shutters had been painted a pale shade of yellow, and many of the old trees had been cut down (including the bag swing tree). In some way, seeing the house like that took away the mythic proportions of my childhood memories there. Even so, there are many things that can stir up those memories and make them real again. Old Disney movies with my cousins (even though we're all in college we still watch our old favorites). The smell of my grandma's bread baking. Even the smell of exhaust on a cold day can take me right back to Indiana (my grandpa had a construction business). These things help to rebuild and restore the mythology I had created of those days. But on the whole, rather than restoring those days I try to create new memories whenever I'm with my family. Of course we bring up a lot of stories, scary, funny, and embarrassing, but for the most part we are content to move on.

Nienna said...

My father died when I was five years old. The memories of that time are strange and my childhood mind constructed them in an interesting way that I would call mythopoeiac. My memories of the night before his death I have cherished and will always carry with me. It's slightly odd how the simple acts of that night were so memorable, almost as if the world knew that everything was about to change. I suppose I needed the simple events to latch onto when everything got rather dark.

The night before he died we went out to eat at my favorite restaurant. My parents didn't want to go out to eat, but somehow we ended up there. Afterward, we went swimming. We used to have this big above-ground pool. I was ridiculously proud because I had learned how to swim on my own and insisted on showing him. He put me to bed and told me he loved me. That was the last time I saw him.

I remember this night vividly, though over time the memory has begun to fade, which is sad in its own way. I remember staying at my aunt's house while my mom was with my dad in the hospital. I remember the look on her face before she told me he was gone. I remember thinking she was crying because she was happy to see me. And then, I remember nothing. Until after the funeral that is. I know it happened, but I couldn't tell you anything about it. Some people have told me that it's a way the mind deals with grief. I never thought of the night before his death as my own personal myth, but I suppose it has profoundly shaped my life. A good deal of it could be idealized, but I wouldn't want it any other way. It is a beautiful memory that I believe I needed in order to move on.

Ossë said...

I was born in England, and my parents and I often took weekend trips to Scotland. I think I’ve mythologized my memories from growing up in England and from our vacation in the U.K. in 2005.

My memories from the first three years of my life are mostly snippets: listening to bagpipers in the dazzling sunlight, feeling very small beneath the stone walls of castles, looking out and seeing a submarine periscope in a river on a rainy day, eating “candy floss” at a festival, feeling and hearing the brisk wind whip at my face as I look out at a green patchwork countryside. I’m not sure why these little memories are so important to me, but they remain some of my most vivid childhood memories.

My family and I went back to the U.K. in 2005. Over the two weeks we were there, I got to see our old house and the hospital where I was born. We toured all over England and Scotland, and the world came alive to me in a way I didn’t experience as a child. I felt like I had entered a story. I probably had a secret hope that all my favorite books would somehow be real, that Narnia would be in the wardrobe at the hotel, that I would somehow come across the Leaky Cauldron while we wandered the streets of London.

Though my memories are probably grossly romanticized, they’re some of the best I have. I feel nostalgic when I think of my time living in and exploring Britain, but I also remember the joy and wonder I felt when I was there. Sometimes, I still get some joy out of things I associate with those memories. Rainy days, old buildings, tea and scones, and certain songs all remind me of those times. I think the fact that these memories are so mythopoeic for me is what makes them so vivid and special.

Ulmo said...

I think that my love for books has always been my own personal myth, bland as it may seem.

When I was in middle and high school, I always felt that my parents were harder on me and stricter than they should have been (they weren't) so I'd go to books to escape them and try to find my own world that I could explore more freely. Over the summers in middle school and the beginning of high school, I'd go to the library and check out 7 or 8 books per week and finish each of them by the next week. The librarian knew me by name. I'd devour each book, sometimes 2 in a day, and separate myself from my family while I did it. Reading was a silent, one person activity. I thought that my parents and eventually younger siblings were holding me back, keeping me from living and exploring as much as I had wanted, so I turned to books. Looking back, this wasn't true. In fact, I think that maybe I spent so much time entranced with my latest treasure that I forgot to look up and see what was happening in the real world. There were memories to be made that I lost the chance of making because my mind was elsewhere or my nose was in a book.

I like reading, but I get the sense of lost time in books now. I can't ever get that time spent with books back, and I'm lucky that I even have family to spend this time now with. The best books draw me in, but I now have to separate myself from the story and remind myself that the real world still exists.

Vairë said...

My mythology stems from a deep desire for things to make sense. When I was about seven or so, my mother had said or done something that had made me very angry, and I had thought up a little universe of my own to make myself happy. I had, at the time, started with the idea that I was born to different parents (an idea that I later realized was a lashing out at my mother and was probably very painful to her, but some good things came out of it, as I will tell) and that I was an alien. I devised what my parents were like, why they sent me away in my own spaceship (which I drew) which looked like my real body (think naga mixed with cat and some humanoid features) and responded to my psychological commands. I spent the rest of the day trying to make it appear from the invisibility I had put on it, but it had been so long (I devised) that I couldn't get it to respond. Interestingly enough, in my devisement of why my mother was being "so mean," I built a little of my alien's world and beliefs. At first, I devised that even numbers were better for the balance of the universe, and I had to step on an even number of sidewalk cracks and walk over an odd number of lines. Then, later, odds became best and I tried to walk over and step on any lines an even number of times after one initial step for each. I still do that to this day. It was a bit of a foundation for respect for superstition, tradition, and repetition, and also questioning and theorizing the big idea of WHY? I would also make the conjecture that this initial step was responsible for my love of geometry and of things that make sense in a logical fashion :). -Sam

Lórien said...

For me, my years in elementary school are the most mythic. They seem like a lifetime ago even though it isn't that far back in the grand scheme of things. I spent much of my time at my Grandmother's house in Santa Fe, with my cousin Oliver. The house was old and quite large, it had two stories, an attic, and a basement with multiple rooms. A cobblestone path connected the front and back porches. From that path there were a number of smaller dirt paths branching off in all directions. The property seemed enormous to boy of 10 years old. We spent many hours exploring the woods, the mountains, and the valleys; fighting orcs and trolls all along the way. Every time we went out on an expedition we mapped out new areas and named new locations. I've long forgotten all of the names but the locations are fresh as they day they were discovered. The arroyo behind a great canyon, parched by the sun and lined with thousands of miles of gold mines, long since abandoned. The Skeletons of men who died of dehydration littered the ground. The only shelter from the sun could be found under the ruined gate of the deepest mine. Across the canyon, deep in the forest an old tree house became a mighty watchtower. Rangers could always seek shelter there from the enemies all around, the inner sanctum had never been breached. A valley surrounded by rock gardens became the pit that opened into the demon world. All manner of evil things crept out and we bravely defended our home from the top of the walls. Ever since then I cannot help but think back to my Grandmother's home when I am outdoors. I've explored much since then, I discovered far greater locations, spent weeks among real mountains and canyons. No matter how incredible the spectacles before me, my imaginary world in the woods of Santa Fe somehow seems grander.

The essence of mythology is that a small seed of an idea or a story can grow to define an entire culture and perhaps even a world. Without realizing it, I undertook the act of sub-creation with my cousin. The world we began with imagination and a little help from nature took on a life of its own. It grew in our minds and became much more than we had initially intended. In some ways it went even further than this, I have ceased pursuing that particular act of sub-creation, but it has not ceased to define me. I am the person I am today in part because of that mythic time period. The things that I like to do, how I view the world, and how I decided what is important to me has been permanently shaped by that time and that place. Based on my limited experience, I cannot even begin to fathom the degree to which Tolkien's lifelong sub-creation shaped him. My mythology is small, contained, and personal. Tolkien's, on the other hand, ascended beyond this and allows other people into it's fold. It has become a mythology that everyone can experience and relate to, but oddly enough it began in the exact same way for me and everyone else here.