When I lived inVancouverI took a semester on autobiographical writing in 2004. One advice that stuck with me from the teacher was the importance of the writer taking care of their body in the process of digging up the bones of the past. I particularly like the word exhume because of the origin of “hume” coming from humus or earth. Our bodies are like the earth that stores everything. When a writer exhumes the buried memories of the past there is a literal tearing up of the grounds that we stand on.
There are elements of exhuming the past when writing about fiction also. Though a story may not be specifically about me, it is about someone else who is going through or has experienced the elements of the story. The phrase “our biography is our biology” is something I read in a book by Caroline Myss. It was only last year I read her book “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can”; and it has been over 8 years ago that I took that course on autobiographical writing. There is a truth that both teacher and healer are connected to: We are a sum of all the smaller parts ~ like the calculus course I took in university of integration and derivation. The findings of both metaphysics and the hard sciences mathematics and physics/biology/chemistry and their offshoots are beginning to converge. Each generation of scientist and mathematicians are creating better and more sophisticated tools to measure the universe. We are the sum of the physical, the mental and spiritual composites.
The advice to take care of my body when exhuming the past hit me hard and fast yesterday while I was at work. I had to excuse myself early because I felt ill. My body had slowed down to almost a faint heartbeat, figuratively speaking. I wanted to throw up. I couldn’t eat. My bowels were sluggish. I’m generally a fit and healthy person, and so the state I was in scared me a little. I went home and slept for hours hoping my nerves would calm down. In a relaxed state then maybe my internal systems will start to function normally.
What created this state of chaotic deadness? Well it was a series of events that began with reading “The Heroine’s Journey” by Murdoch. (I don’t want to do the book injustice by summing its message into one or two sentences because it contains so much wisdom.) I was taking a journey with the heroine in my play “Original Sin”, without separating the me from the we. I had dreams of diving into the water and my legs entangled in the snake like arms of giant kelps; I was drawn to stories in the news of women enduring assaults, particularly those exposed by Eve Ensler in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (See the end of the blog for excerpt of short interviews with 7 victims of rape in DRC in 2008.)
The introduction of the book describes an interview Murdock had with mythologist, Joseph Campbell.
My desire to understand how the woman’s journey relates to the journey of the hero first led me talk with Joseph Campbell in 1981. I knew that the stages of the heroine’s journey incorporated aspects of the journey of the hero, but I felt that the focus of female spiritual development was to heal the internal split between woman and her feminine nature… I was surprised when he responded that women don’t need to make the journey. “In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to. When a woman realizes what her wonderful character is, she not going to get messed up wit the notion of being pseudo-male.” – Excerpt from “The Heroine’s Journey” by Maureen Murdock
In each chapter of the book Murdock describes in detail the experience of the cycles of the heroine’s journey. In doing my research for the play I think I was in the phase of “Initiation and Descent to the Goddess”.
The characteristics of this phase involves heaviness like moving through mud with boots that are loose at the ankles. It’s like diving to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve a lost treasure. The deeper we go the more pressure weighs down upon us. As explained by Murdock, most people find it hard to sustain bearing the weight, and the instinct is to resurface. Without the guidance of someone who’s been there before then the novice treasure hunter will quit, perhaps to never return to that place; and never to heal the rift between the self and the feminine.
A woman moves down into the depths to reclaim the parts of herself that split off when she rejected the mother and shattered mirror of the feminine. To make the journey a woman puts aside her fascination with the intellect and games of the cultural mind, and acquaints herself, perhaps for the first time with her body, her emotions, her sexuality, her intuition, her images, her values and her mind. This is what we find in the depths. – Excerpt from “The Heroine’s Journey” by Maureen Murdock
The premise of “Original Sin” is broadly defined to be the separation from the self that is created by the indoctrination of the man-made organizations and hierarchy in a world that is mostly ordered by patriarchy. If we agree with Joseph Campbell that the woman’s mythic journey is not a journey but “the place that people are trying to get to” then I’m feeling more confident that I can find a story that will resonate truth in both men and women.
The healer, the teacher, the playwright and the artist are crying out to respect the feminine that live in all of us. There is a call to respect mother nature because the womb of the earth and our mothers are our sources of physical origin. When we separate from the feminine then we lose respect for our origin thus creating a separation from the self and from others and the outcome is a rape of the land and violence towards each other. In exhuming our past with wisdom then we have the hope of healing and breaking down walls that separate. Desmond Tutu used the word ubuntu to describe the unity of human kind. It translates to “me-we”.
Excerpt of interviews from Democracy Now! with survivors of sexual violence in the DRC.
In 2008, V-Day worked with UNICEF to organize events in the DRC, where survivors of sexual violence publicly spoke out against violence and about their experiences for the first time. Seven women told their stories in front of community members and government and U.N. officials.
SURVIVOR 1: [translated] When they took my husband and hit him and tied him and tortured him and took him I don’t know where, they went and killed him wherever they had taken him. And then all seven men raped me. Then the neighbors heard what happened and found me unconscious. They looked at me and saw all my insides outside of my body.
SURVIVOR 2: [translated] They started taking the clothes off my children, and I told them, “Please, excuse me, you can’t do that. Instead of raping my children while I watch, just kill me first.”
SURVIVOR 3: [translated] A woman is supposed to be respected. We are not objects. Women get pregnant and breast-feed you. How come you disrespect me today in public?
SURVIVOR 4: [translated] The authorities of this country, how do you look at this rape issue and remain silent?
SURVIVOR 1: [translated] We are suffering because of rape. Rape should stop. It must stop.
SURVIVOR 5: [translated] I am speaking so that women who are hiding and others who have AIDS can come out, so they can be taught how to live.