“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”
“I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.”
She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.
“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
From Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
In my freshman year in college, I discovered Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. This was a long, long time before I would do something as stupid as try to write books. Campbell’s work resonated with me because it reflects how my mind operates, spinning stories to make sense of problems. I always have one foot in reality and one foot in some fantasy world in my head. Campbell (and Jung) to some degree blueprinted the dreamscape. Yet personally, I always found something wanting in Campbell’s work as far as how he defined the heroine’s journey. In one book, which I can’t remember the title, he essentially says that to reach manhood a boy must venture out, meet beasts, slay things, be victorious, and come back. Of course, this journey is a mental and spiritual representation whether there be an actual physical journey or not. It’s all symbolism, ritual, etc. But Campbell went on to say that womanhood just happened to the female. I guess he is referencing menstruation. I think that’s rather anticlimactic.
A few years later, I discovered Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I was enthralled. She dives deep into old fairy tales, pulling out the female psyche. Yet, Estes explores the singular “Wild Woman” archetype and the dark side of the female archetype. I can’t pinpoint exactly why Estes’ work doesn’t reflect the stories in my head. But for one thing, my stories have happy endings (always a courageous act) and there are two archetypes working with equal dynamism.
Then one afternoon, I was sitting on my friend Laura’s comfortable couch as she explained her studies of the heroine’s journey. First all, Laura is extremely academic and when she presents an idea she pull can from almost every piece of surviving lore from the beginning of human existence. She believes that the female journey is more circular that the male counterpart’s and has more facets, which she illustrated but by now I have forgotten. Her conclusion was that the female journey is about connection.
This morning, I was battering around my ideas with my friend Abigail. I said the male’s journey is very physical and violent as it reflects the evolution of the hunter man, going out, killing something, and coming back. The threat is “out there.” Yet, on an evolutionary level, women survive by sticking together. Childbirth and child rearing are all very vulnerable activities and need, in the words of Hillary Clinton, a village to do properly. Raising a child requires more than just the mother and father, but grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, younger siblings and neighbors. (I chuckle as I write this because I think to back to Slaughterhouse Five which I recently read. The main character is told by his alien friends that to make a human baby requires a man, woman, gay man and post-menopausal woman. And that these additional sex organs are in another dimension and can’t be seen. ) The point I’m trying to make is the female psyche is connected to society. If conflict happens in society, our survival and the survival of our offspring are at risk. The threat is from within as easily as it is “out there.”
This is going somewhere, I promise.
Since the beginning of time, in my case, the 1970s, when I first saw Lee Majors as the Bionic Man, I have been weaving romances with the gods (or 70s celebrities) in my imagination. I feel that I’m a writer whose work is placed in the romantic genre because it is about two people who fall in love. Yet, it more than falling in love; it’s falling in love despite an active obstacle or problem which if not stopped would have painful ramifications for the characters and their social networks. My romance journey is twofold: the removal of an obstacle requires the combined and equal effort of the male and female characters, and the subsequent resolution heals both them and their community. I’m focusing on the core of the social unit, two people, and the moving out to the greater social fabric.
So, while most hero journeys require a separation from the society that while ultimately benefit from the hero’s actions, my heroines and heroes don’t leave society but work within its threads to resolve conflict and strengthen the bonds between themselves and their community. Belonging. Connection. It’s all rather like a soap opera *wink*
That is until I break my own theory and write part II.