In last week’s post I was intending to rip through a lightning tour of heroic myths, ancient and modern, and make the case that these are really worthwhile things to get into. I think I can summarise my reasoning as being along lines that:
I believe that the big, proper myths do not in fact celebrate one exceptional individual’s adventures and conflicts with mighty, often supernatural, enemies but are in fact:
a) Allegories about any individual’s struggle against internal foes to be overcome in order to aspire to mental equilibrium or health, happiness, wisdom, or virtue.
b) Far better guides to this than just some story dreamed up by some guy. Including many supposedly factual stories, as well as fiction. This is due to their long evolution, passing through the equivalent of a vast team of rewriters, editors, dramatists, and focus groups, all attempting to achieve the maximum resonance and meaning with the maximum number of people over centuries and millennia. And thence to “real world testing” in which other people will retell the tales that have inspired and guided them in their darkest hours. And therefore:
c) Damn good things for people trying to get off, or stay off, harmful substances to be reading. Or indeed, trying to enact any kind of significant personal transformation. And not least:
d) A lot more fun than a lot of self-help stuff.
The “lightning” aspect of the tour didn’t really work out, because I thought I’d better consider the Herakles story, and then got a bit stuck on it. I chose that one because it is a very old, and pretty well known example, that is very well documented and clearly lays out almost all of the elements that subsequently became standardised into the form that has endured until the present day. And then I realised that there was loads to say about it – 5000 words got me to the end of the first task, out of twelve. But I have decided to embrace my verbosity and roll further with it, because I started to find it very revealing indeed, in large part because of that word I italicised above – “almost”.
The major, glaring difference between this story, and most of the others that I would like to examine is the nature of the main actors. Herakles is the strongest man in all of Greece, and his adversary is Hera, the Queen of the gods. You really couldn’t find anyone better to undertake a bunch of difficult jobs, or a worse personage to have pissed off (except perhaps her husband, Zeus, but there are good symbolic reasons why it’s her instead of him, which I’ll review quickly after I’ve dealt with this).
Back then they seemed to feel that a big story required an A-list cast. Later developments in the form found that we usually got a more interesting and “relatable” story if the hero was someone more flawed, ordinary, or even inadequate-seeming. This person would then have to channel their own inner Herakles – the mightiest possible version of themselves – in order to rise to the challenge. Correspondingly, the usual adversary evolved from being a powerful supernatural entity hell-bent on deranging the hero’s mind, into another person, quite similar in some ways, but who embodies this possible outcome – by being already twisted and “gone bad”. They will be archenemies because obviously you can’t have two versions of yourself existing simultaneously. Not without tension, anyway.
The most clearly “by the book” rendition of the modern form that springs to mind from recent times is the Harry Potter canon, in which Voldemort pretty well is Harry, one generation earlier. Another talented half-blood wizard, orphaned, unloved, and raised among non-magical normies, who treated him as a despicable freak. Oh, and – they share a piece of their souls, just in case anyone hadn’t got the point yet. Not very subtle, but hey – it’s a book for children.
I guess that in the world of “grown-up” literature the form possibly reached its ultimate developmental point away from the Herakles/Hera duality with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in which the protagonist literally flip-flops between two personalities, and even bodies, by means of a potion. That’s quite a fun idea, particularly regarding how they then do battle with each other, but you wouldn’t want to pull a move like that every time – you would have to cut all those dramatically satisfying showdown dialogues (Fight Club was cheating)
In-between these twin peaks, many permutations have strutted their hour upon the stage. Some have hung around, and others gone to the great green room in the sky. There are presumably many more car-crash auditions and lead-balloons that never worked in this town again, and so we have never heard of them. Literature has preserved some transitional forms – missing links between Hery and Harry – such as Shakespeare’s inclusive “as above, so below” policy, in which dramatic situations between (usually posh) main characters are often mirrored by other, lower status, ones. So, if a lord and lady fall in love, then there will often be a subplot in which their servants fancy each other too.
I suppose that’s partly a tactful compromise – gently suggesting that perhaps the struggles of ordinary folk also matter, whilst reassuring aristocratic patrons that any stories worth telling would of course be about them. Also though, it’s another hint that the themes concern universal human challenges, and so we could waste a lot of time if we over-focus on the personal details of any one character when trying to figure out why all this stuff is happening to them.
And so right there is revealed what I consider a very useful quick field-test for whether a story might qualify for induction into the Hall of Myth – can you tell the same story about a different person? If not, then it may be an entertaining curiosity, but there is no particular reason why it needs to stick around for long. If you can, then it might be worth looking more deeply into. And if it has hung around for millenia, then perhaps you’d be a fool to ignore it.
Anyways, keen as I was to just fanboy over all my favourite stories, it seemed to me that the underlying symbols, conventions and meanings were just much more obviously laid out in this ancestral telling of the hero’s tale, to which all others, must refer, even if they modify or conceal some of the elements.
Speaking of which..
Alright, let’s do this gender thing. Zeus is the patriarch, he’s dad. He is the biological father of the other gods, so yes – he’s almost certainly straight and cisgender. He values order and discipline and civilisation. Hera is his wife, the matriarch, mum. She’ll be handling mainly creation and emotions and nature. Don’t worry; they are symbols, not people. Is anyone saying that women can’t organise anything? No. No more than they are saying that men are necessarily emotional imbeciles. Herakles may well be though – and I venture that this is kind of the point. Everyone has these two forces inside them, and they will not be able to become a whole and stable person until they have achieved some kind of harmony, maturity, and balance with both aspects.
Symbolically then, if Zeus were on your case it would probably mean you’re bad. If Hera, then you’re mad. That’s mostly how I read it.
This is on the whole, roughly how the gods and goddesses line up across chaos and order, or creation and stability – Yin and Yang. Not exclusively: the goddess Athena (who appears in this story, by the way) seems to be all about order. Pretty keen on learning and battle also – quite a multipurpose deity, but mostly over on that side of things that might be seen as stereotypically male pursuits, especially back then. Come to think of it though, she’s asexual in orientation, and even had an asexual birth – from out of a lump on her dad’s head. But not genderless – wears a nice floaty dress. Accessorized with a bronze helmet, though. The wine-god Dionysus, on the other hand, is sweet chaos all the way, baby. And often appears somewhat androgynous. And after a few drinks would sleep with anyone and everyone all at the same time. So there’s someone up there on Mount Olympus for everyone. But this story is about mum and dad. And using those words in the sense that grandma and grandpa would understand them.
Alternatively, though, I also find it perfectly possible to read it without placing any importance on the matter of gender, or what that might symbolise. If we intentionally blur out some detail, it is explicit in the story that Hera is simply the source of Herakles’ destructive madness, explained by an ill-defined personal antipathy, and just that sketchy information actually serves as enough of a set up to launch us into the main action – which concerns how to fix such a problem. I see value in such a “low resolution” reading, since it is my frequent contention that people often tend to over-focus on causes, and under-focus on solutions, to problems. It’s a great way to look busy.
Aaaanyway – he doesn’t have to be male, nor she female, and there are certainly pathologies of order, just as there are of chaos (see The Bacchae by Euripedes for a rather gruesome example, featuring Dionysus). To me the metaphors contained in the 12 labours mostly work just as well with, or without. Ah, yes – the labours:
Let’s refresh on where the story had got to, and take it from there.
After the first task of slaying and skinning the Nemean Lion, Herakles had to deal with the Hydra – a monstrous many-headed serpent with the most potent venom in the world. As if that weren’t bad enough, every time he cuts off one of its heads, two more grow immediately from the neck. Seems like a clear metaphor for cascading problems, with each apparent solution giving rise to more difficulties we hadn’t anticipated, and a rising panicky sense of being overwhelmed – a common experience towards the start of a new high-stakes undertaking.
Sorry to pause the action again, but I think it is just worth pointing out – this feature of the regenerating heads is one of the best and clearest examples of the myth-evolution process. The oldest fairly complete story of the labours is from the 7th Century BC, well before what is generally thought of as the “Golden Age” of Greek cultural ascendency in the region, and there the hydra does not have that power – it’s just very scary. Nor does it in any other known version until a couple of centuries later when Euripedes (that guy again) puts it in his telling of the Herakles tale. After that, nearly all versions keep this extra feature. Clearly it was “upvoted” by enough people as seeming to more meaningfully resonate with their own experiences of trying to sort their shit, and the story now seems incomplete without it. Let’s continue:
The solution, it turns out, was to apply fire to the stump as soon as he sliced a head off, but this meaning isn’t just a matter of being clever and thinking “outside the box”. I suppose it is, a bit, but we have already got that message in the first task, and with a cleverer example – no need to bang on about it. To me it seems that the important new symbolic element is that even a dude like Herakles can’t cut off heads, defend himself against the other heads, and cauterise the stumps, all at the same time. He will need help.
The burning is performed by his teenage nephew, Iolaus, who idolises him and has been following him around. Some tellings of the story get a few laughs out of showing Iolaus as a bit of an annoying fanboy, but I suspect there’s more to that than just comic relief. Again, I suppose we see the theme of humility, in being not too proud to ask for help, and perhaps from a far less impressive person than you think yourself to be. Perhaps even to risk shattering someone else’s illusion of you as competent, independent, and on top of things. I have seen many people remaining in the shit for far longer than they might have needed to – sometimes permanently – because of this very reluctance, so I think it is clearly a crucial lesson to learn. And always has been!
There are other elements in the Hydra story that suggest to me that it is a very important one. After succeeding in killing it, Herakles dips some arrowpoints in its venom, and these then become crucial to his success in some further episodes. This rams home the point of transformative experience, since the version 1 Herakles who was “only” the mightiest warrior in all Greece could not have achieved these later tasks, but the Herakles who had defeated the Hydra maybe could.
More than this though, something resonates with me about the imagery itself. Something I haven’t really got a full rational explanation of yet. I say “yet” but perhaps I never will, and perhaps I don’t need to. The many-headed serpent is an enduring image across cultures. It is certainly older than this very old Greek tale, since hydras appear in stories from the Babylonian, Assyrian, and Sumerian cultures, from which there is little that was written down, and before which nothing was. In the West, anyway – but we also see many-headed serpents appearing in Indian mythology, where they are called “nagas” and often have a strange, ambiguous role. They are often neither “good” nor “bad” in humanocentric terms, not exactly monsters – although they can certainly be very dangerous, but not gods either – although they can certainly be very helpful.
Nagas tend to be intelligent, learned and inquisitive, and will mostly only pay attention to humans when we are trying to do something extraordinary enough to captivate the snaky interest. A seven-headed naga king even makes his way into the mythologised telling of Buddha’s life, at the point where he isn’t yet the Buddha – but he is about to be. Prince Gautama, having practiced austerities and meditation for six years, but still having failed to achieve enlightenment, vows to sit under the Bodhi tree until he either does, or dies. Mara, the Buddhist devil figure, appears and makes concerted attempts to disrupt this by every means available to him – distraction, intimidation, temptation, and eventually violence.
Mara isn’t “real” in any literalist fundamentalist kind of sense. He is the self that doesn’t want to die, and clings to the stuff he is made of – anger, envy, greed, laziness, resentment, etc. He is in fact Gautama himself, all the parts of him that resist development, refinement, and liberation from the habits and views that obstruct the enlightenment of the seeker. A Mara springs into being every time someone tries to, or even thinks about, making some kind of positive alteration to the structure of their being. That’s the orthodox view of “evil” in Buddha Dhamma – it’s beyond any concept such as good and evil being independently existing separate forces, albeit somehow intertwined and interdependent. Good actually creates evil, because evil is the resistance, the foot dragging, or the sabotage that naturally accompany any notion of doing good.
A simple example – “I should call my mother” = good. “Nah – I’ll do it tomorrow” = evil.
Anyways, at this point the naga king appears. Floodwaters are rising around the meditating soon-to-be-Buddha, so the naga slithers underneath him, and coils his body to create a seat above the torrent. Storms and lightning are beating down, so he spreads his cobra-like hood to create a shelter, and Gautama continues in his task, which by morning will be completed. This naga is a guardian of wisdom, and an enabler of transformation.
Okay, so, a helper who shows up is very arguably a bit different from a hydra that must be slain. Or is it? If we squint our eyes a bit and look at this scene in “lower resolution” then we have the same elements: nearly overwhelmed + assistance needed + serpent image. And at a very similar point in these two stories – not at the start, but close to it. After the hero has begun, and shown commitment to the task, but before he has really got going on it. And then afterwards, things become possible that weren’t possible before.
I know what you’re thinking – “doesn’t Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets also feature a monstrous serpent – the Basilisk – that all-but does Harry in before he discovers the trick that neutralises its special power, due to a timely intervention from a third party; that being Fawkes, the pet phoenix kept by kindly Professor Dumbledore?” Why, yes it does. And it turns up in the second book of the series. Of course I can foresee your objection – “but doesn’t it have only one head?” And yes, I am forced to admit that it does, although of course it also has a power to turn people to stone with its gaze, which seems borrowed from another Greek mythological monster – Medusa – who had many snakes on her head, instead of hair. Which is almost the same thing as having many snaky heads…kinda.
Mind you, I do think that is a bit of a piffling objection (and an almost equally whiffling and lawyerly rebuttal). But while we’re on the subject – “having slain the basilisk, doesn’t Harry then immediately use its tooth to destroy the magic notebook of Tom Riddle, which resists destruction by normal means?” Yes! He does. Well spotted. Seems like a bit of a Nemean Lion move there, just to mix things up a bit – because of course it’s also clearly an “arrow dipped in the hydra’s venom” move. One that will be repeated in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when basilisk teeth will again be deployed, but against Voldemort himself. Funny, that.
Yes, it certainly seems that re-imagining these kinds of classic elements makes for a winning formula, just in case anyone is contemplating becoming the next J.K. Rowling. Obviously I’m referring more to the: being a hugely successful writer side of things than the Harry Potter and the Shitstorm of Tweets angle. If it was me though – just saying – I might want to read up on some of those more non-binary gods first, while in the research phase [ahem]. Aaaaand that’s as close to the wind of controversy as I feel man enough to sail right now, so – back to this naga/hydra thing:
Scholars may have attempted it, but it strikes me as a pointless exercise to try to formulate and “prove” any theory about whether these are two linear descendants of an even older story – presumably one from before the early speakers of what came to be called the “Indo-European language group” went their separate ways (whenever that was – but certainly a bloody long time ago). Or the alternative, which is that these stories just happen to resemble each other, while having been composed independently.
That might then seem less of a wild coincidence if an even more intriguing possibility is pondered – that such imagery and resonance may be hard-wired into our minds for some reason. It matters not, for practical purposes. What matters is that: From Lisbon to Tokyo, from the westernmost tip of Europe, to the furthest reach of Asia you will find these kinds stories of seven-headed serpents, and relatively few about five-assed monkeys, and that may perhaps be assumed to be for a good reason, whether we can form a theory about that or not. And we can actually leave it at that, which might strike some people as unsatisfactory, but personally, I’m fine with it. On two grounds:
Firstly, on evolutionary grounds – If there ever was a five-assed monkey then it’s as extinct now in story as it is in zoology. Bearing in mind how these stories are thought to have arisen, they are indeed a close analogue of biological evolution. Constant random mutations taking place across a large population, with unhelpful variations being eliminated, and good ones propagating, over large spans of time, is (mostly now) generally accepted to be capable of creating something as complex as the human mind. What is universally accepted is that such a feat of design and creation remains far, far beyond the capability of any human mind. Even with all the astonishing technology we now have to help us to think and calculate, we can only marvel at the efficiency of the natural process. Is it such a weird idea that a similar process might be able to – in fact might be the only thing able to – design the most advanced cultural technology for speaking meaningfully to that mind?
Well, that kind of poetic logic is a bit wooly and unscientific, admittedly, so let’s go a bit more evidence-based, and I’ll speak from my own direct experience:
Secondly, on musical grounds. I think perhaps it’s easy to fall into a fallacy that, because literature is made of words, then it must be fully explicable in words. I have more experience of creating things in the musical sphere, where an artist, or band, might enter the recording studio with certain intentions, some of which may be explicable, and so we will probably start out according to plan. Once we begin though, it is not unusual to see the music start to take on a “life of its own” and that oftentimes things may happen that are far better than the plan (not always – cocaine is bad, m’kay?).
This could either be through an easily observable “mutation and elimination” process, similar to biological evolution, in which people just impulsively try stuff and erase the bad decisions, or sometimes even through a more mystical-seeming process, in which musicians can almost seem to be channeling something once they are in the creative space. In either case though, it be quite an extraordinary thing to behold when a very clear consensus emerges that the song has been greatly improved by something that was really quite unexpected, even after all possibilities had previously been extensively discussed, tried out, and agreed upon. It isn’t always the best decision (cold light of day is our friend here) but when it is, it very often defies explanation. It just moves us in a different and deeper way, and that is non-negotiable – it’s like a “gift from the gods”, in that it can result in an act of creation that seems far beyond our individual capabilities. Far better than anything we could sit down and imagine, and then try to painstakingly, professionally, reproduce.
So I think that the imagery component of literature can work in a similar way, coming close to the more purely abstract nature of music. Like the symbiotic interplay between music and lyrics, the images then prep the unconscious mind for the more overt and explicit verbal message, resulting in far greater compound profundity than could ever be adequately penetrated or explained. Or indeed, not infrequently the lyrics may be a mere town-crier for greater and ineffable sonic profundity. There are definite limits to the purely academic study of such mysteries. I may be wandering off the immediate point though, so:
I can’t remember what task is next, and so perhaps I’ll spin that as: No spoilers. I don’t want to impose my symbolic reading before you have had a chance to have some spontaneous responses, and perhaps alchemise some unique wisdom for your own unique task. Coming up somewhere there’s a Cretan Bull, and some very filthy cowsheds, and some flesh-eating mares.. but details escape me. I do however want to flag up a couple of points from nearer the end of the story, in order to cement my case that the whole thing is a mental health allegory and guide to healing, so – MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT – skip 2 pages if you want to keep your narrative virginity completely intact.
The ninth task is one that I think many storytellers aren’t too keen on. Because at a glance it can seem kind of like nothing happens, and so it’s very hard to make it dramatic, unless they slip in something of their own, such as a spurious love-interest angle, which really doesn’t need to be there. So, being a perverse and contrarian creature, it is my favourite. Here’s the synopsis:
Herakles is sent to bring back the sword-belt of Hippolyta. She is the Queen of the Amazons, and a daughter of Ares, the God of War. She’s going to be feisty, you might reasonably think. Beyond feisty, perhaps downright hostile because Amazons aren’t keen on men. They don’t take husbands, they just have brief liaisons and affairs in order to perpetuate the tribe, and judging by her mother’s standards, they’re quite picky about their designer-baby spermbank donors. And then they kill or cripple their sons and raise the girls to be very fierce indeed. Everyone is scared of the Amazons, and they rarely make alliances with any other tribes. You might further reasonably think: “Well – this will be exciting [especially since the story is approaching its denouement] she isn’t going to just like, give it to him, is she?”
She just like, gives it to him. He sails to their land, requests an audience, explains his situation, and she pretty readily agrees to hand it over. I guess she thinks that he seems like a decent guy who has had a rough time that isn’t all his fault, he doesn’t have a choice in the matter, and hey – what’s the point of being a queen if you can’t get another belt? No big deal. The End? Not quite, but let’s hit <pause> here, because there are perhaps a couple of minor points that we could tease out:
Firstly, there could be a quite encouraging message that: If you are sincere, if you have done some work on yourself, and if you approach people straightforwardly – without any of the craftiness we have seen in some previous stories, laying your cards on the table, and giving them a free and informed choice to say “yes” or “no” – then you might be amazed at how easy things can be. How generous people can be, even some who you might expect not to be. There’s so much manipulation and half-truth in so many human relations, that sometimes people (cool ones anyway) are utterly charmed to be approached in such a manner. If you have the guts to do it, and if you can accept the possibility of getting a “no”.
Secondly, it might also possibly indicate [back to gender-binary stuff again, briefly – sorry – but I think it’s quite hard to avoid here] that Herakles has come a long way in getting down with the feminine and unifying his psyche, since this obviously über-feminist separatist militant character seems to be responding to this über-bro as like – just another troubled human, whom she can empathise and be chill with. That sounds like progress! There’s more though. Let’s hit <Play>
So the task is completed, and he’s going to head home. Hippolyta steps onto his ship to say farewell, and at this point things go wrong. Hera is annoyed about how easy this has been for him, and how close he now is to being free of his penance, so she decides to spice things up a little. She magically disguises herself as an Amazon, and appears in the crowd at the docks, spreading a rumour that Herakles is planning to kidnap their queen. Amazons aren’t going to stand for a bunch of hairy, toxic MEN pulling a stunt like that, clearly, so a fierce fight breaks out. The ship gets away, but with significant casualties on both sides, and Hippolyta herself is killed in the crossfire.
It still isn’t obviously great drama just on the face of it, is it though? A misunderstanding leading to an unfortunate incident that mars an otherwise tediously pleasant and simple interaction, but doesn’t change the outcome – roll credits. No wonder this episode has often been “improved” in some versions, particularly filmic ones, either by deciding that Herakles actually was going to kidnap her, or that she was going to voluntarily elope with him. The former is just boring and unnecessary, since we already have Hera to make narrative sense of why a fight ensues, and in a more interesting way. The latter is clearly questionable (and even offensive from a feminist angle) suggesting as it does, that nobody would settle for being a proud and mighty semi-divine warrior, pre-eminent among their tribe, and renowned among nations; when they could have a chance to be the girlfriend of a proud and mighty warrior. After all, respectable Amazon convention allowed for – or even encouraged – a cake-and-eat-it option of having a pleasant fling that stays in the honeymoon period when everyone is still on their best behaviour, and holding in their farts. And wouldn’t require giving up being the queen. Or emigrating to live under the patriarchy.
But this is baseless speculation – whether she was into him or not– and drawing further conclusions about that would be iniquitous and unscholarly. I mean, we don’t impose judgments about the value of an ancient and timeless text based on our own ephemeral socio-political leanings and agendas, do we? Maybe don’t answer that…
None of that matters to me. As a reader, as a seeker after applicable wisdom for slaying my own lions and hydras and mares (oh my!) I find the bare-bones story as I first told it to be completely satisfactory, and to make perfect sense. Because it makes psychological sense to me. And this, more than anything, informs my conviction that we are reading a symbolic mental-health allegory, where such logic takes precedence over any more conventional, action-movie/rom-com requirements, informed by test-screenings and market-research. This is how it works for me:
Herakles is doing well. It has been several years since the big crisis moment that propelled him into this quest for redemption, and he is observably not the same guy we met at the start. He has developed many skills and strategies you might not have expected to find in a blokey geezer like him – he is far more sophisticated and mature. He seems pretty credible, and worth taking seriously. Even a tough cookie like Hippolyta, who is not generally well-disposed towards dudes like him (ie. dudes) receives him courteously, listens to him, believes and trusts him, sympathises, and wants to help him out. This turns out to be a fatal mistake.
Whatever else we may deem Hera to represent, it is explicit in the story that she is the source of his madness, which is in turn the cause of his destructiveness. She represents his root problem and this is not yet conclusively dealt with, although it has lain fairly dormant for quite a while. She has stuck her oar in a few times in previous stories, but this is where she really starts to set the cat amongst the pigeons, as she will again in the next story – the tenth and (supposed to be) final labour of Herakles.
In Buddhist mythological terms, Hera’s spite acts like a Mara being spontaneously generated by the possibility of good. Here he is within sight of what he thinks is the end of his penance, when he can rejoin the “normal” people with his sin expunged, and can hold his head up high. Here he is beginning to be welcomed back into society – enjoying calm and friendly, easy relationships with people he meets, rather than suspicion, opposition, and exclusion.
What happens then is that “rubber band syndrome” I described in the previous post – a late-stage sudden relapse to the former pathological state, perhaps all the more catastrophic because it was unexpected, and so nobody was on their guard. All that work, and yet it can seem as if nothing has been gained – again, someone had faith in him and died for their trouble, because he is still bad news. People close to him have been hurt because destruction still haunts him. It can be kept at bay, but there is still some final transformation that must take place – something more fundamental that will tear up the roots – before we should ever feel relaxed in his company. Even offering simple, easily granted, kindness incurs some risk (it’s just a belt for crissakes – where’s the harm in it??? – Ohh).
This factor can be a particularly bitter irony for the almost redeemed – the almost-ex-addicts, or almost-former anythings. Someone at this stage can appear especially worthy of sympathy and compassion, and to deserve a few breaks in life, and a chance at happiness. We may feel deeply moved to offer kindness, friendship, or even love. But being fine ninety-nine times in a row may not be good enough if there remains a 1% chance of an H-bomb going off. Not for anyone that is going to stick around, certainly. For those around such a person to adopt an appropriately self-protective stance can feel harsh and cold, and even to be cruelly denying them sources of positive motivation to continue and complete the necessary work, affirmation of what they have already done, and appreciation of how far they have come.
“Rubber band syndrome” sounds quite friendly, almost fun. Perhaps it isn’t the best expression for that reason. There’s a lot of sad stories in this game – well, in this world. Many of them are just small sad – tried half-heartedly, didn’t get far. Or sordid sad – tried insincerely, same old shit. Ordinary stuff, c’est la vie. It isn’t high drama, just a nondescript soap. These ones however, often aspire to the tragic kind of sad, because there’s a story-arc, and the death of hope, as well as people. Perhaps it’s more like some kind of evil bungee-cord, designed by some psychopathic genius murder-nerd like the one in the Saw movies, to smash you into the ground, making pâté de flesh and dreams; instead of whisking you to giggling safety, and just when we were all having such fun. Actually I really can’t figure out how that would work at all…
Very bad authorial form – bailing on a metaphor is, I think, a sure indication that I am becoming slapdash and should wrap up for the time being. Sorry to leave it on such a downer, but the story’s not over yet. Darkest before dawn, eh? I’ll try to get these myth pieces out in quick succession, to keep the continuity, so I hope to rendezvous again next week in the belly of the beast. From which we may then try to plot a course out.
P.S. 9/2/22 Interesting article here, that includes a concept from greek philosophy, “akrasia” which I gather means roughly “addiction to making bad choices” https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/feb/08/alcoholism-and-me-i-was-an-addicted-doctor-the-worst-kind-of-patient