Mythology is fun to read and teach. I’ve always thought that. However, often the mythology that I feel the most connection to is fictional (I’m skipping over to what degree all mythology is fiction). When I think of mythic worlds that have most engrossed me, they are the myths of Tolkien, taken from “real” myths but changed to an accessible form. They are the myths plopped into modern day England in Harry Potter, where myths were hidden in plain site from the oblivious muggles. They are the time after time retelling of the hero who begins small and comes to be the most important person in the world, perhaps sacrificing himself in the process. The myths that most speak to me are the ones that are taken from our world, changed in the process, becoming less complicated so that they can be wrapped up, identifiable but accessible. Is that bad?
I taught “Going to Meet the Man” yesterday. While I respect this work so much, I also hate it. Or, more specifically, I hate to read it because it is so incredibly gruesome, in the description of the protester being beaten; in the description of Jessie’s sadistic arousal by violence; and even more so, in the description of the lynching at the end. I have never read the final scenes at the lynching without cringing and without wanting to stop reading, turn away, close my eyes to the horror. Yet, I purposefully assign this story every semester, partly to force myself to read it again and again; keeping myself from turning away from horrors of the past, just because they make me uncomfortable.
I was shocked the other day to realize that a couple of the early stories in I, Robot are set in 2015. And yet in Azimov’s fictional 2015, humans have energy harvesting and beaming space stations, can visit other planets in our solar system, and, not to mention, HAVE ROBOTS!!! I’m reliving my “Where’s my Hoverboard?” depression of not too long ago, which on the one hand points to the problem of setting a story in the future, when eventually the future is sure to arrive. On the other hand, I have to respect the choice to go out on a limb and predict that this is what the future may be like, even if the prediction is for over 70 years into the future, and you may not live to see it. And still, despite my yearning for awesome tech, nearly all of the robot stories seem to develop unforeseen problems that can come from advanced technology, so that in the end, the machines might just fulfill one of the deepest fears of sci-fi, when they take over the world. At least when Azimov’s machines take over though, we can rest assured that they’ll follow the first law and have our best interests at heart.
Sure, it’s a little banged up, but then again, so am I.
Revision is one thing, but rewriting entire sections is a daunting task! I have recently been working through some sections that I am re-imagining and beginning each one feels like jumping off a cliff. Changing small details or even adding large sections to previously written chapters has not been very difficult, perhaps because it gives some structure to work within, but it is painful to delete whole sections that I liked. Walking through the writing process to redo those parts isn’t easy either. Each time, I stare at the top of the chapter dreading what is to come. And each time, I have to force myself to jump in with both feet, cutting what needs cutting, no matter what. Tapping my imagination again, trying to come up with something better than before.
Tans abound, bathed in
reflecting, radiating, vibrating
softly, glowing fluorescent light.
Worn carpet rests under;
never-in-style patterns surround
as ideas are tossed lazily about.
Some have merit,
some do not.
Some are young and vibrant,
most are not.
Reflected, radiated, vibrated
in lifeless fluorescent light,
surrounded by worn tans,
trying not to stand out.
I recently taught Willa Cather’s My Antonio, and it reminded me why I have a dog named Willa. The large scale portrayal of Western settlement in this novel was captivating, and the description in the early chapters of the hardships faced by immigrant families moving to settle a plot of land in Nebraska was astonishing. What do we do today that is on this scale of difficulty? My implication there is that, for most of us, nothing is on this same scale. And it makes me think that something is missing in not having a big national purpose. At the same time, national purpose could be said to have been behind the atrocities that accompanied western expansion too. Still, though, I find in myself the desire to do something big, and it is to that desire that My Antonia speaks. The desire to settle a new land, explore where no one has explored before. The desire to do something different than the ordinary. The desire to have a dream.