The Core of Sense of Self and the Heroine's Journey

Photo by Lauren Krysti

Photo by Lauren Krysti

I've been thinking a lot lately about how the stories we tell ourselves need to be different, and that really starts with the stories we are told in the first place. This began when I was getting ready to launch the last Gray Matter Series collection. I had a major case of impostor complex, and was losing my marbles on the inside. I finally came out and shared with my cohorts how I was feeling, despite my attempts to intellectualize my emotions away. They collectively did the most amazing thing. No one told me not to feel it, but everyone admitted to feeling something similar when they were in my shoes. This did not make the emotions go away, but it shifted things. I still felt my emotions, but I was not alone. The difficult thing was seen and understood, and therefore manageable. I've known the power of connection for some time. It is why I have always been a promoter of community over competition. But what really stuck with me was this: "If we all feel these doubts, despite our successes and is nothing personal. It is not us, but the system we are in. It's not true. It's merely a story, meant to keep us safe or in line."

So as I have been navigating these "romantic" stories of myth and art history (Lady of Shalott, Ophelia, Persophone, etc) I revisited the concept of the Hero's Journey, a common story arc found in world mythologies in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, a book by Joseph Campbell. But I needed more. I googled "female version of the hero's journey" and as fate would have it, some women had been doing the work. Maureen Murdock, who was a student of Campbell’s work, developed the concept of the Heroine’s Journey as a response, as the adventure is somewhat different for women. It is more of an inward journey rather than an outward conquering. 

The Lady of Shalott was the subject of a recent painting I created for The Rourke Art Museum's 59th Midwestern InvitationalThe Lady of Shalott painting by Waterhouse haunted me at that time in my life when I did not understand the answers I was looking for. Trapped in a reality that I seemingly had no control over,  I was drawn in by the colors, textures, the desperate look in her eyes. It was as if this Pre-Raphaelite image somehow captured the ethos of my depression and anxiety that I had no vocabulary for yet. This woman dared to try look at the world directly, to demand her space, and instead felt as if she had done something terribly wrong. This now speaks to me of the dangers of isolation and the importance of community. If she had only realized that the crack (in the mirror that was seen as a curse falling upon her) had been a metaphorical death on her "heroine's journey" and actually a path to a deeper connection with herself, she would have been able to shed the shame she felt akin to Eve eating the apple; a casting out and shaming of women's desire for answers and higher understanding of our true nature.

I got a great perspective on Ophelia from the dear Mya Temanson: "Something that always bothered me when we read Hamlet in my AP literature class was how often Ophelia underwent ridicule and criticism from my classmates and even my teacher. She was characterized as weak, an emotional wreck. She had no idea what was going on and didn’t have a quick wit to figure out the court’s scheming or even do some plotting of her own. She was too busy weeping over Hamlet’s moodiness, his strange behavior, his rude and cruel rejection. In today’s society, Ophelia has every potential to be a strong, intelligent, independent woman. It is the character of the times she lived in, not the character of herself, that made her the weak-willed and fragile woman she is so often seen as. So many forces worked against Hamlet, but all the forces worked against her."

Persephone is essentially the goddess of the heroine's journey to me. As with so many women in Greek mythology, she was abducted/raped by a God who decided he was "in love" with her. These stories now enrage me to no end, as if the violation of a woman's will was just as much a part of the story as the "happily ever after" of (modern) fairy tales. But here's the thing. She became the Queen of the Underworld, an equal to Hades. Her decent into the underworld heralds the end of the harvest season, just as we go deep within our own selves at this shift in the season. When she ascends at the end of winter to reunite with her mother Demeter, she returns to the feminine and spring arrives. This cycle of decent/ascent and deconstruction/reconstruction is inherent to the Heroine's Journey. 

We all have stories we would love to rewrite. When we have a better sense of what is possible, we tell our stories with greater clarity and purpose. The artist talks in both Minneapolis and Fargo will essentially be a #workerbyworkshop on the Heroine's Journey; breaking down, allowing ourselves to fall apart, is part of our strength. It is part of the process. We decide how we will live, how we will be known, how we will be remembered.

I really hope you can join us.

xoxoMiss Anna Lee

anna lee