Quest Cycles Applying the Hero Quest to the crises in our lives Linda S. Griggs

Scenes from a Hero Quest - Part 3 - Hermit Phase

Details my pull back from a corporate writing career
to go within to reflect and study for a year and a half,
learning to value myself and my talents
and to listen to my soul's desire to get back to my own writing.


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Hermit Phase (Oct. 1994 -- March 1996)
Excerpts from Part 3

Hermit -- by Mary Ellen McNaughton

Virgo, finding one's own light, going inward, completion, harvest, resting in one's own center, wise guide.

The hermit has set out in search of internal fulfillment and has found the light within. . . . Heed your inner wisdom, and gather together with other people who will be supportive on the shared path. The goal of this path is to find the inner voice and learn to listen to it. Discover your inner guide and become well acquainted with your inner healer.

Gerd Ziegler, Tarot: Mirror of the Soul

Owning the Muse

Song becomes the manifestation of the shaman's transformed psyche and spirit, a soul that at one time has found itself vulnerable and wounded and is now healed and powerful. The sign of the human spirit's wholeness is its song.

Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices

January 13 -14, 1995

My writer friend is reading the poem she wrote for me at a local artists' association program. I entered it for her in their contest -- "the art of healing" -- and she is one of several out-of-staters to win. So now she's standing in the spotlight, breathing deeply, trying to pace her voice, staring straight at me as she reads. And I am breathing with her. My heart is vibrating in my throat. It's my voice that will not work.

The audience likes it. She seems to grow 2 inches with the applause. I feel myself sitting up straighter in my chair, trying to catch some of the adulation for myself -- as the subject, the inspiration for her art.

Listening to the others read, play, sing, dance their works, I compare my talent to theirs, wondering why I didn't enter any of my writing in the contest. I have several short stories in my drawer. Sitting here in the audience, my hands resting politely in my lap, I think they are as good as any of these -- and these are very good. Why couldn't I take the risk to put mine up to scrutiny?

Afterwards, she is mingling with the other artists who have performed. She is discussing her art with them. I am trying to slide in to the discussion on her coat tails. I am trying very hard to be an artist too.

She's talking with a man who wrote and performed some very interesting music. The program notes say he writes his music as a way to deal with his schizophrenia. He doesn't seem schizophrenic to me. He just seems artistic. He wants to put her poem to music. We invite him to stop by our house tomorrow night to discuss it.

When he arrives, on a bicycle, on this cold January night, we are eating dinner. He invites himself to join our table. We set another place for him. He has brought along some of his poetry for my friend to critique. It's full of stunning, alarming images: A woman chasing an antelope with a bleeding heart across the desert; a hat made of doves. The words are beautiful, melodic, but they make no sense. The images flow one into the next without any sort of logic. It is a string of nonsense.

He's noticed some books on our shelves about the artist Malevich and the dancer Nijinsky. He starts pontificating on Russian art and something he calls "quantum." He says his mother dropped him on his head when he was a baby. He says that's why he has trouble, sometimes, keeping things straight.

We are all looking at each other, trying to figure out what to do with this guy, what our responsibility as hosts is, how we can get him up from our table and out the door and on his confused way. He is inviting us to go to a dance concert with him, more of the "art of healing" program. We beg off as being too tired. My husband offers to drive him -- it's really snowing outside. We tell him his bicycle will be safe on our porch. He can maybe catch a ride back with someone to pick it up after the concert.

My friend and I settle in to discuss our art. She is critiquing a couple of stories I wrote a long time ago: " I want you to understand what your gift is, what your writing is giving us -- what's real, what's absolutely true -- so that you'll believe in yourself and do it." She gives me a list of books I must read -- on writing, on healing, on finding your true self. She is glowing before my eyes. So strong, so sure of her own art, her own path.

Then we go downstairs to watch a video of an very innovative production of "Don Giovanni." She is critiquing the voices; I am enthralled by the "theatre" in it. It is midnight. Just as Don Giovanni receives the call from the spirit, just as the spirit is reaching out to pull him down into hell with him, we hear the door bell ring. We stop the video. We know who it is. We know he wants to tell us about the dance concert. We know he wants to share his artistic vision with us. We know he has a gift for us.

We let the bell ring. We picture him finally pushing his bicycle out into the snowy night and pedaling precariously away into the falling whiteness. We know we're turning our backs on a very special visitation. But it's just too scary, too disconcerting, to contemplate sitting down again with this spirit of creativity who chose our house to drop by for a chat, and not be able to gauge just exactly how much of his strangeness we are obliged to accept for the sake of his art.

Retablo and milagro

Retablo art -- folk paintings that tell the story of a healing -- are given in thanks for a successful recovery. . . . In these paintings, the cause of the illness is revealed.

Terri Hardin, Frida Kahlo: A Modern Master

Upon entering a church in Latin America one often sees the dressed statue of a saint curiously festooned with hundreds of tiny gold or silver arms, legs, animals, plants, or praying figures. These votive objects have been hung on the saint by the faithful to remind the saint of the supplicant's injured arm or leg . . . or in petition of a special favor. These prayer offerings are commonly called 'milagros' or miracles.

(Explanatory notes accompanying a milagro form)

February 10, 1995

I love how she turns everything into metaphor, mixing up time and place and symbol.

And how most of her work is self-portraits -- more than two hundred in all.

And how, regardless of the symbolic details -- a monkey peeking over her shoulder here, her lover's face staring out of her forehead there, a necklace of thorns pricking her throat over there -- they all have that same great black bird wing flapping across her brow.

I almost don't get this book on Frida Kahlo. I remember a film I saw about her and her art 20 years ago. At that time, I was merely fascinated (who wasn't?) by the circumstances of her life: a right leg weakened by polio at the age of six; a body impaled on a metal rod in a freak bus accident at the age of 18; that same body immobilized for two years in a series of body casts designed to straighten out her mangled spine, during which time she starts painting; marriage two years later to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera who, over the next 30 years, is famously unfaithful to her, with her own sister even; an affair with Leon Trotsky; divorce and remarriage to Rivera; surgery to fuse four vertebra and, ironically, insert a metal rod to strengthen her spine; increasing immobility and excruciating pain; gangrenous right leg amputated below the knee; death at the age of 51; cremation rather than burial, because, having spent so much of her life flat on her back, she refuses to spend eternity that way.

Back then, I didn't care that much for her art -- which depicts all this, in fantastic retablo metaphor. Back then, before I had lived very much, I thought her paintings were grotesque, sensationally violent, artlessly graphic.

So when my husband picks this book up off the remainder shelf at the book store, at first I just laugh: "A little Frida goes a long way." But it's only $4.95. Less than I paid three years ago when that tiny painting of her -- decoupaged into the middle of a tin heart, surrounded by tiny tin milagro figures of a goat, a woman's torso, and a breast -- jumped off that Arizona store shelf and into my hand. What the hell, I think, for that price, I can read it and throw it away.

I do not throw it away. Here I sit, mesmerized by this passionate chronicle of a life. Yes, some of it is raw, even gory. When Frida uses red, it is blood red.

But most of it is intricate, metaphorically exact, honest.

To show the cultural conflict of her childhood, she brings two sets of grandparents (one set a mix of Indian and Spanish, the other European) and her parents (one dark-skinned, one light) on their respective wedding days into a picture of herself as a four or five-year-old standing naked in the courtyard of her childhood home, and also as a fetus in her mother's womb, and also as an egg being fertilized by her father's sperm.

In another, she is an infant suckling at her Mayan nurse's breast, her own head adult-sized, adult-faced, staring dully ahead, her nurse's face the pre-Columbian mask of a cihuateteo, the malevolent spirit of a woman who has died giving birth.

To show the consequence of her mixed heritage, she joins two images of herself: one dressed in a Victorian white wedding dress, the other dressed in Mexican peasant garb, both images staring dispassionately at us, holding hands, sharing two halves of one anatomically correct heart exposed in each chest, the two Fridas connected by one thin artery, the Frida in the white wedding dress trying to clamp the severed artery that lies bleeding in her lap.

To show the pain of Rivera's infidelities, she paints herself as a deer, antlers growing out of the top of her human head, her sad dark eyes staring straight at us from under that heavy brow, her animal body shot full of arrows.

I cannot take my eyes off these scenes.

And then I am writing my own little "scenes" -- starting with how it feels to be doing chemo -- and I'm thinking how if anyone ever asks me why I think people will be interested in the chronicle of my journey through my cancer, in my series of little retablos, I should just hand them this book of Frida's incredible paintings, saying, "Do you find this at all interesting?"

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