Sunday, November 27, 2011

Oberlin Conservatory Essay the Second

(Or rather, the first, but I posted the second first.)

(Scroll down when you finish; I posted three posts today, and two at roughly the same time.)

Write an essay in which you describe your hopes and plans for your educational and professional development during the next ten years. Include such aspects as diverse interests, career goals, and options you wish to explore.

When I am 27, I hope to be as open to new experiences as I am now, and more empathetic. Empathy means I understand where another person is—essentially, empathy is Applied Expanded Horizons. In ten years, I look forward to being somewhere I cannot seriously fathom being at the moment. Criss-crossing the country with a musical theater troupe by night and working mathematic proofs by day, or collaborating with someone who inspires me to write poetry, which inspires him or her to write music for it. Throughout the decade, I know I will be performing, and writing, and reading, and doing math, and finding new music, because I become snappish and withdrawn whenever I give up one of those things for any appreciable amount of time.

I plan to be performing in an environment large enough for me to have options as to what I might perform in, while not being so large that I feel overwhelmed. There is no difference between taking a role because it is the only one available and because it is the only one I have a chance of getting. At the moment, San Francisco seems a sufficiently friendly and properly sized environment, though that idea may change as I see more of the world. I also hope to be tutoring children, in music, mathematics, English, or some combination. I need to perform, and I genuinely enjoy teaching.

All my plans revolve around the hope that I will be happy. Wherever I go, I will be happy if I bring joy and knowledge to people around me. Whether that is primarily through performing art, writing, or sitting down to teach people, I would be happy in what I was doing.

If I were not able to play music anymore …

…my first reaction would be disbelief. Since third grade, I have been certain that performing music will be a part of my life, if only singing in the shower. Losing that would be terrifying, and require an overhaul of my life: every school I chose to apply to this year needed a music program. If a school lacked some way for me to pursue singing, I did not even consider applying to it. I imagine that listening to and critiquing music would become a much larger part of my life, as I would still want to interact with it in some form.

I would also look for schools with writing and mathematics, rather than music and mathematics. One of the reasons I love music so much is the fact that it is communication, and my main method of non-musical communication is writing. I would either settle into poetry or creative writing, or write in both, as I have been. The main difference would be that writing would be the core part of my life, rather than music.

After some time, I expect that I would write poetry to perform, and maybe even write songs for other people to perform. Writing without performing is particularly good for me when I am healing, because I feel relatively safe, but performing is something I love to do. Music or no, I would perform.


She washed her hair, carefully, running soap through it with her fingers, then combing her hair with it. Rinsing the comb, then brushing through again. Rinse, brush. All of the soap came out eventually. Then she started all over, soaping roots to tips, combing roots to tips, rinsing roots to tips with her comb.

"The first virtue is resilience," passed through her lips. Voiced or not, it hardly mattered. She was alone; she thought them. They were solid with or without her; that was the point. "Life will pick at you, slam into you. You cannot simply be hard enough; you will shatter. You cannot simply move with it; you will never make anything new. The first virtue is being."

Roots to tips. Rinse. It had been too long since she'd washed her hair, really washed it, and much had happened. Diet, stress. Hormones. Hair came out, enough to catch in the drain, enough for the soles of her feet to be warm in half an inch of water.

Her breath broke.

Soap. Roots to tips. "The second virtue is critique. It is easy to believe. You must pick at ideas. If you pick at all equally, the good ones will stand where the false ones fall. The second virtue is thought."

Rinse. Roots to tips. Rinse. No more hair was coming out by now. Her hair was still reasonably thick. Good.

She leaned her head under the current of water, hair falling in front of closed eyes, water touching her lips, her nose. "The last virtue is curiosity. We are born with this. We want to know." That was aloud, loud enough to bounce back to her above the sound of rushing water. "Resilience gives you the ability to ask; critique gives you enough knowledge to know what to ask. Curiosity is your drive.

"The last virtue is life. Remember it."

In her room lay sketches of patterns: squares within squares, fractal leaf veins. In her office lay papers she would come back to, soon, tomorrow. Because people needed her, because she could bounce back, because she wanted to understand.

For the moment, she allowed herself the luxury. One day. Showering with too much water, too much soap, and giving her life to the conversation. It had started with a mantra, too, a script that let you start somewhere when saying something no one ever wanted to say.

"Ms. Anderson, we regret to inform you that on the morning of the nineteenth..."

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The thing about writing on a schedule is that one has to write. And this has good and bad to it. Because you end up writing when you thought one had nothing to say, but, ah, you also end up writing when you have nothing to say.

I call to my heart; I call to my head
Three more steps and then I'm dead.

This could be an interesting one to analyze, once I'm sufficiently removed from this moment in time--I wrote the couplet on 11/19/11--because it was in my head sort of like a song that gets stuck there. There wasn't a feeling of working on it, really, my mind just happened to go there. I did consider changing the number of steps to be a Ragnarok reference (after Thor's bitten by a serpent), but three's plenty important.

The lack of punctuation at the end of the first line is thoughtful, by the way.
My child,
My daughter,
My son--
There's much in you that yet is blood-wild
And so much in you that's yet to come

"Blood-wild" linked to several things essentially simultaneously. One is childbirth: though not all of us come out screaming or crying, we do all come out bloody and wild--"wild" in this case as the opposite of "civilized" or "domesticated". Another is battle, which, often, means returning to one's body, one's senses, anoesis. This is why people have to train so hard: you either keep your forebrain working well--an astounding feat--or you don't, but you can do your job anyway, because your body knows what to do.

The lack of lack punctuation is actually my favorite part of this one. When I read a sentence that ends a paragraph and has no ending punctuation, it feels like a little bit of a jerk. The simple fact that's it's poetry removes the complete, "You didn't resolve that sentence!" feeling, to my mind, but it's still important. What's yet to come never ends, after all
Soon you will not wander in my wake;
In truth, you were never mine to take.

This would be connected to the above poem if I could figure out what comes between that stanza and this couplet. What it's talking about is the fact that, despite how much energy a parent pours into a child, the child is a person in eir own right. A youngling may follow for almost two decades, but it's not like sculpting, where one has a statue one owns at the end. The final creation can survive on its own--that's the point.

...Speaking of interesting to analyze once I've got some perspective, this'll be interesting to look at if/when I become a parent.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Heroine's Journey

Suggested reading: Love and Love, Power

The Hero's Journey is monomythic, but I think this post is mainly about how it is in my culture. Strictly speaking, the Heroine's Journey is one expression of the Hero's Journey, because a Hero is just a strong/courageous/etc. Good Person.

I realized while writing that I was using male/female as a shorthand. A Hero is standard: he represents the positive qualities of the majority population. A Heroine represents the positive qualities of a minority population. A Heroine could just as easily be black, or aboriginal, or poor as she is female, though I will use the shorthand in this essay.

My views are developing--hence this monster of a note--but if I wait for them to not be, then I'll never post anything on this subject. Feel free to aid in their development: i.e., comment.

A group of friends and I recently-ish read Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.* In one story, a woman complains that all the stories that were told within that story had been boy's stories. The obvious question was, "What makes a man's story?" followed quickly by, "What makes a woman's story?"

The first thought that came to mind was that, since we are dealing with archetypes, Hero=masculine and Heroine=feminine. The capitals are important here--one can have a feminine or androgynous hero, and one can have a male Heroine. This didn't quite satisfy us, but if this is the definition one wishes to use, then Cluracan's story is a woman's story: Cluracan is a clever elf, and his power comes from his words.
* If you haven't, you should. Go on. I bet it's at the library.
One archetypal story is the Hero's Journey, and many interpretations include an interesting moment: Encounter with the Feminine. That event assumes that the Hero is male, and requires that he be masculine--if you are feminine or androgynous, then what, precisely, are you encountering? Your Shadow? But that's another place on the Journey.

We discussed this, and decided the Encounter boiled down to, "You can't fight your way out of this one." The Hero cannot simply punch out the diplomat--or rather, he can, but it will solve no issues and cause additional ones. The feminine, as used, is subtlety, trickery, diplomacy, tact, etc.*

Encounter with the Masculine--that is, trying to gender-flip the Hero's Journey--leaves you with a different instruction: "Stop being pretty." This isn't to say that attractive Heroines would fail this test, but that one needs to stop worrying about appearance. While Encounter with the Feminine would require a culture, Encounter with the Masculine would not. Its purpose is perhaps best served by an inhuman force--a thunderstorm, a fire. If it is a culture, it is one that only cares for survival, not form. Either Encounter, then, requires assimilation--the Hero will remain strong but gain diplomacy; the Heroine will remain clever but gain a direct way of acting.

The reversal does not quite create a woman's story. A man's story turned inside-out is not a woman's story; a man's story turned inside-out is a man's story turned inside-out. What they are, then, to me:
The Hero's Journey: A tale of societal rejection.

The Heroine's Journey: A tale of self-rejection.
Or, for those of you who like complete sentences: In a Hero's story, either the Hero decides that he needs to leave his society-by-birth, or the society decides the same thing. Either way, the Hero sets out due to unsatisfying surroundings.

The Heroine's Journey is similar, but has an important mental aspect: The Heroine does not (merely) reject the society, she rejects a part of herself. This happens to be due to the fact that the society is rejecting her at a very basic level--"No, you don't exist, so go home you silly girl"--but that is not the conflict of the story. The Heroine has internalized the belief that she cannot be both. She sets out due to an unsatisfying being.

At the heart of her conflict, the Heroine has decided she cannot be herself.

The Heroine as she is has found within herself both woman and warrior, but she sees only simpering women, so assumes her "woman" side is her weakness. Or sees only uneducated women, so assumed "woman" is her stupid side, what must be shucked off to become a scholar. She lacks a role model, so, of course, stumbles through as best she can and makes several errors.

A Journey can be tragic in two ways: It never starts or it never ends.

There's an episode of Star Trek with time-travel where Picard is saved from a nonlethal accident, but the accident was what inspired him to go out and be who he was. The episode has several painful moments that boil down to, "Well, you're...mediocre." He is not a Hero, because he never started his journey.

A Hero's Journey that never ends means never coming home. Home isn't there, or it's just out of reach. There are ways to extend this, make it no longer tragic, but just the idea of, "Sorry, you learned your lesson too late and anything you could have come home to is out of reach," is awful.

In a Heroine's Journey that never starts, the Heroine decides to be what she thinks she was born to be. The woman grows up passive and uneducated, hiding behind false smiles because a proper woman does not burden others with her pain.

A Heroine's Journey that never ends also means never coming home, but this time it's a self-imposed exile. She believes she could not come home and remain a warrior or a scholar, that she would have to be just a woman. And when she thinks of "just a woman" she thinks of others' lives, but projects her desires onto them. She sees only the choice between never going home or becoming the Heroine who never started her Journey.

The completed Journey means assimilation.

The Hero comes home--though home is not Home, any more than this Hero is the man he was--and brings back his wisdom. The society accepts him enough for his purposes. And, in my favorites, he becomes a wise old man quite similar to the one who helped him in the first few pages...

The Heroine also comes home, but in a different way. She is odd in the society, unless the story is incredibly idealistic, but that wasn't the issue. Had she needed society to accept all of her, she would never have started her journey.

She assimilates her self. They are no longer her selves, the woman or the warrior/the scholar/the whatever else; she is her self. The Heroine becomes a role model, a mentor, a guide. She broke a path.

At the end of the story, the Heroine is the role model she lacked.
* Since that conversation, I've read more books on the subject and now believe that the Feminine is part of what the Hero is not because it doesn't fit with the Hero's self-image. The feminine is, in Jungian terms, his Anima.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thought to Page

Between the previous post and this one, this blog hit 3,000 hits.
There once was a wolf.

(There once were many wolves, mother-storyteller. What kind of start is that?

Hush, apprentice-child.)

The wolf was packless.

(Because he had nothing to carry?


Yes, mother.)

In the tradition of his people, he had been sloughed from the pack when he reached maturity. Some wolves found packs soon after, temporary or permanent. This wolf had not.

Winter was coming.


The wolf was no great hunter among wolves, but had enough skill to hunt the plentiful rabbit, and humble enough to take advantage of what luck came his way. But as the seasons changed, the rabbits were growing rarer and quicker. He stopped hunting as much for meat and hunted instead for a pack, but found no wolves--not even the ones who had thrown him out. But, the wolf's luck helped him once more: he found a pack.

(Did the wolves--

What wolves?)

The pack was an odd one. They walked awkwardly, on two legs, and changed their fur much more often than the wolflet had ever seen. But still, he saw them play, and saw them hunt, and knew they were pack.

A little child, too young even to apprentice, saw the wolflet. He waved and laughed, then ran over to a mother for attention. She gave him meat--the wolf sniffed the air. Burned meat was different from blood-hot meat, but he knew it. Rabbit. The little one enjoyed it; it seemed a treat.

The wolflet was very hungry. But, though his mind was poor for hunting, he knew well enough how to work within a pack. He killed a rabbit, carefully--he had seen this pack use the fur, and the only marks the kill left were a ruined throat.

He took the snow-white rabbit in his jaws, lightly, so lightly he did not pierce the skin, and trotted back to the house of skins where he had seen the child.

(What kind of house is made of skin?

And what is your house made of?


The wolf-child sat again in the bushes where the child had last seen him. The child scurries off, towards him, though the wolf knows he crouches too low to be seen. He knows it better when he stands and the child starts.

"Pup!" the child says, for the wolf is a runt. The wolf does not understand, but takes it for a greeting, and drops the rabbit. He nudges it toward the tribe's youngling with his wet wolf nose, then waits. The mother would fear wolves too much, but perhaps, if the little one trusts him...

The child moved forward, innocent of any danger, and then the mother rounds the side of the tent, calling the youngling's name.

Pup does not know what the tribe would think of offering one's belly, does not yet trust them not to hurt him. He crouches in on himself, as when his mama-wolf would catch him somewhere he shouldn't be.

"Mama! The pup brought rabbit!" The young one held up the meat for inspection. The mother sees the teeth's mark, sees the thin, careful wolf, and sees tribe.

(What then?

You have a wolf-pet. What do you think?)
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart