Archive for the 'mythology' Category

Blizzards on top of blizzards

February 13, 2015

My back roof has been cleaned off of its ice and snow.  I’m not sure how Joe (my contractor) did it, but it involved a tall ladder, an ax, and a snow rake.  The ice dams and the interior leaks they produced are gone (for now).  The flat roof of the front porch Joe shoveled the other day.  So the house is sort of ready for this next onslaught of snow this weekend.

What I am wondering about at this point is the effect of the wind on the piles of snow.  If the high winds that they are predicting sweep the powdery snow in the huge mounds of shoveled snow back onto the walkways, steps, and driveways, that’s going to feel like a Sisyphean task to remove it.

My mother brought up Sisyphus when I was called upon to empty her apartment immediately after (barely) unpacking her into it (there were cartons to be put into storage still in the middle of her living room), while she was in the nursing center.

Call me Sisyphus, not Ishmael, I guess.  Maybe that’s the current theme of my life.  It’s certainly a vehicle for learning to stay in the moment and to perform the task with less regard for achieving a personally satisfying objective.


Tea caddy spoon

October 4, 2014

I was looking at an early nineteenth century silver tea caddy spoon shaped like a shell.  I’ve read that real shells had been used at some point for scooping tea and that that is why the shell is a familiar motif in the genre.

I got to thinking about meteors and wondered if they ever impart molten metal to what they impact when they hit the earth — I wondered if a shell has ever become encased in metal.  The idea kind of bothered me, a living creature with an outer carapace it was not supposed to have, maybe like a person living within a paralyzed body but also suffocating, too  —  I imagined distress.

But the tea caddy spoon was itself not horrible, it was graceful and sweet, just in need of a little polishing.

There’s the tag line, “The butler did it,” there’s the Monty Python schtick about “Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition,” one summer at camp, the running punch line was “Fuente Ovejuna” [a play the drama department produced that summer] did it.”  For me, my mind is always drawn back to a meteoric event, I’m not sure why.  It’s connected with my fascination with feathers on the ground and with leaves swirling down from the sky.  I can even hear echoes of it in the myth of Icarus and in the story of Lucifer’s fall.  And I apparently am reminded of it by a silver shell antique tea caddy spoon, too.


January 26, 2014

There’s a version in another culture of the story the Romans tell about Lucretia in order to explain how the reign of the kings got overthrown and the Roman Republic got established.

The Roman myth is known as “The Rape of Lucretia,” and in the Augustan Roman historian Livy’s version of it, Lucretia is coerced into having sex with Tarquin (a king) by his threat of shaming her more by making it look as if she had had sex with a slave.

In this version in another culture, the Lucretia character rebuffs a suitor on the grounds that she’s married, he says, “Well, I can fix that,” and kills her husband.  He then forces himself on her.  She’s now a raped widow with orphans.  In her culture, she should marry her rapist.  In one variant, she kills herself rather than do this, in another, he refuses to marry her because he doesn’t want two families.  I don’t think this culture thought in terms of divorce, but if it had, I think he would have said, “What?  I can’t do that!  That would have a negative impact on my family!”

How should the male character resolve the situation?  Clearly the train left the station when he figured he should have more sex — whatever went into that “decision” is the problem.  If he is that same person, it is doubtful he will do something helpful, even if one assumes a helpful resolution exists in theory.  If he develops some further insight into himself and others as a result of this situation — we could imagine a variant, maybe the operatic version, in which he is moved to compassion in a final scene with swelling music — maybe he will at least voice the realization that he has created a situation in which he has enriched himself at the expense of others, no matter what he does now.

In a situation in which it is unclear what to do, there is always the “Phone a Friend” option — ask the universe, pray to God, look deep within for insight.  That may well be a lesson of the situation, to present the male character with a problem he can’t solve on his own.

I don’t actually know what understanding of what to do this male character would develop if he did that — in the variants I know, no epiphany comes because he isn’t willing to ask the universe or God and he hasn’t developed his ability to hear what wisdom lies within himself.  Maybe his amend is to live a changed life going forward and arrange for substitute care of those he has made destitute in the present.

In this other culture, the story doesn’t usher in a new world order abruptly.  It’s more of an illustration of how we are stuck with an old flawed one when people don’t learn from situations in which they are challenged to do more than think and behave in their usual patterns.

Social Security Numbers

December 22, 2013

There was a time government and private businesses (like medical practices) routinely asked for and used our Social Security Numbers — for our drivers licenses, our university ID numbers, our identifying information in our files.  Then they were told not to, and they stopped, and life as we know it did not cease to exist on the planet.

I feel that way about N.S.A. practices, that there has been insufficient attention to what’s really needed and to engaging in the least intrusive practice possible.

Maybe people who work in intelligence are actually more interested in demonstrating their power than their own intelligence, but that is one approach I could see taking to challenging the N.S.A. to come up with a better system:  this is really kind of crude, just grabbing everything, like a teapot collector trying to buy every teapot ever made.  They could be challenged on the grounds that this is not a very “smart” system.

I am also not convinced that even if it weren’t overly intrusive, it would make a lot of sense to engage in this system.  In some ways, it reminds me of doctors ordering tests in order to cover themselves in the event of a malpractice lawsuit.

Without knowing much about national security myself, I would say that preventing terrorist incidents looks to me like a modern-day reenactment of the myth of Sisyphus.  But maybe that’s the point, to help even more people see that our tasks are just tasks, not some sort of mission we can ever accomplish once and for all.  With that in mind, maybe we take better care not to damage others in the process on the justification that we will be able to claim, if we do, to have actually definitively accomplished the mission.

Versions of a story

October 3, 2013

I knew a story about a girl who couldn’t “get down” from a spiritual experience, couldn’t return to consensus reality, that is.  I’m not sure how or when I became aware of the story, but I even had dreams about it years ago.  In one particularly vivid version, the girl had had a way down, but she inadvertently “kicked it away” while she was coming out of her experience, distracted by a man chattering to her from behind her left ear.

Today I was looking online for an explanation of hawks in Incan mythology, because I had seen a picture yesterday suggesting that they had some sort of role. I came across this (non-Incan but Native American) story:  “The Girl Who Climbed to the Sky.”  It even contains elements I thought were from other, separate stories — marriage to an ugly and controlling husband and virtual servitude, and an issue with roots and not digging them up.

When I saw all these elements combined in one story, and one that I am not conscious of ever having heard before, I couldn’t help but wonder what that means.

Cupid’s sting?

August 26, 2013

I got stung on Saturday morning, as I was walking, on the back of my left hand.  I felt something on my hand, and as I brushed it off, its stinger got left behind, although not much imbedded in my skin.

But it was enough.  The site hurt, it swelled, my hand swelled, got hot and red.  I got some first aid from  a shopkeeper friend, and I continued with self-help remedies at home.  Clearly I hadn’t gone into shock, but my track record for getting stings to resolve easily and quickly is not great.  It did seem to get better on Saturday, but, it turns out, the improvement was only temporary.

This morning the red hot swelling was beginning to spread down my wrist .  So I got a doctor’s appointment, and after hearing my history, the doctor concluded I have what is called a “delayed allergic reaction.”

I have been trying to see a positive metaphor in this experience, and I’m wondering if people ever experience falling in love this way.  For example, I’m supposed to alternate treating it with cold packs and hot wet compresses; maybe that’s how people in love sometimes behave towards each other?

I don’t know, maybe I’m stretching this metaphor possibility a bit, but the area burns, and I would like to get something positive out of putting up with this.

Half and half

March 29, 2013

The other day I was being asked about whether I flush easily, for example, when eating spicy food or drinking alcoholic beverages.  I don’t think I do, but then I remembered a story my mother loves to tell about the first time I had a sip or two of wine.

I was probably about nine and the wine was probably left over from a dinner party my parents had had and they were probably finishing it up with dinner the next day.  It was red wine (that I do remember).  Shortly after I had drunk a little, my parents exclaimed that one half of my face had turned bright red (along a vertical axis).  They even sent me to the mirror in the downstairs hall to see.  I remember not being sure what they were seeing when I looked.

When I chose this picture

July, 2011

for this blog and as an avatar for other uses online, I chose it because it was recent and because I liked the expression on my face.  My dad immediately commented about my being half in shadow, which I hadn’t really noticed.

In geometry we can draw a line from two points.  I’m not sure I can draw one from these two things, but I could throw in the mythological associations with my first name.  The moon we see is half in light, half in darkness.

What would I then draw from this?  That there are states of mind that I have achieved that allow me to see both the darkness and the light, and that I have to be careful about keeping the two in balance.


Not being in Kansas anymore

November 2, 2012

I’ve been on the receiving end of other people’s insistence that a situation was less extreme than (a) it was and (b) I thought it was.  Being right is very hollow under such circumstances.  The underlying issue, big as it is, is still there to deal with, even after the “I guess you were right” part of the program is over (if indeed that part ever occurs).

I’ve heard this insistence in the context of attempts at encouragement through convenient wishful thinking, of attempts at dismissiveness out of self-interest and convenience, of failures to understand due to the listener’s being calibrated for people who exaggerate their report of a situation.

It’s humbling to experience the other end of this, which I did recently in a family situation in which one relative was concerned about the health of another.  I suggested the relative try to persuade the other relative to see their doctor — I thought the acute episode was due to something more self-limiting.  But when my relative tried and that suggestion failed spectacularly, my relative wisely called 911.  I could say that my relative at that point knew they had exhausted all their other and less extreme options, so maybe the doctor suggestion wasn’t such a bad idea (and I knew the ailing relative feared the 911 option), but I have to say I did think the situation was somewhat different from what it was — I connected the dots plausibly but incorrectly.  It is, as I say, humbling.

(On the other hand, the relative has been telling me since then how miserable the other relative is in the hospital, and when the hospitalized relative called me yesterday, they didn’t sound that way at all — they sounded appreciative of the care they are receiving, which they praised highly.  So it’s not clear how to process what I’m told — the algorithm is not so simple as believe or disbelieve particular relatives.)

I bring this up partly just because it’s on my mind, but also in part because it reminds me how damaging it can be to be on the receiving end of people who “don’t get” the dynamics of one’s own situation but think they do.

Related to that is what may be actually a more important point: that the attitudes and strategies needed to handle some situations may not be appropriate or adequate to handle others.  Using somebody’s suggestion of a tool or perspective that is inapt can cause a lot of damage, I think — it strikes me that it can sometimes be sort of like interrupting a dancer in a series of turns and suggesting that they shouldn’t be spotting themselves, or asking someone in the middle of performing an acrobatic trick whether it’s physically possible.

The lesson from the myth about Apollo’s son being unable to control the horses of the chariot of the sun is not, in my opinion, that he was the wrong man for the job but that his place in the pantheon meant that he approached the task without the relationship with the horses necessary to accomplishing the task (through merging driver with rider).  I think Apollo took for granted some of the components of how he managed his equine teammates.  We aren’t always aware of the details that distinguish one person’s situation from another’s, even if they superficially resemble one other.

Carl Jung’s “dead”

July 13, 2012

Carl Jung wrote about how we are the dead, the un-waked-up to our full consciousness.  I don’t know or remember whether he goes further to suggest that we build on earth, collectively and individually, heaven or hell, but I think we have that reversed, too, that we do build them here (rather than encounter them elsewhere).

The other myth I think we’ve got mixed up is that of Icarus.  I don’t think it was a human who flew too close to the sun, I think it was a dinosaur bird in flight when that meteor came crashing down like a ball of fire — like the sun falling to earth — and killed the bird, as its relative watched helplessly from a distance.

Juno’s wraps

April 27, 2012

I realized that the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is just a stop before the medical area where I was headed to hear Martin Guggenheim speak on reforming our approach to child welfare, so I got off a stop early and went to see Juno first.  I’m glad I did.

The statue is big, looks great from afar as you approach.  I got caught up in trying to understand her clothing.  The wall placards said she was wearing a heavy-ish mantle folded double and fastened with a pin at the right shoulder, and a filmier chiton underneath that pooled at her feet.  There also seemed to be another level of hem a little way up from the fabric that was pooling, and I was trying to figure out how to understand that.  The sculpture reveals her thighs and legs and breasts in places in a way that implies the filminess of the chiton, so it would be odd if this double hem was suggesting a double layer of fabric to the gown.  I don’t think it is the “mantle” (my mother wondered whether it was actually a stola when I asked her about it — her area of expertise is Roman art history), because it’s too far down, I think, at that place in the front — the mantle seems to drape down at the sides but not in front, and again, how would the legs be so revealed beneath its heavy cloth?  I’m thinking of showing my mother a picture of the statue when I go down to visit next month to see if there’s an obvious answer I’m missing.

I also loved some of the Asian sculpture I saw — a Buddha who looked like he was saying “Hi” and a Bodhisattva who also had a playful or mischievous expression around her mouth (and a posture like a child, with her stomach slightly thrust forward).  And some home furnishings from China long ago I liked a lot, especially the way they are arranged in the exhibit.

I doubt I’ll get back there again within the ten days my ticket, I think, is good for, but maybe, I’d like to.