WORDS: JENIFFER NORTON
Autumn being a season I associate with learning, personal growth, fruits of labor, and cuddling, I gifted the perpetual student within an online study course. It wasn’t difficult to decide, out of all of the mentors/intellects/creatives/coaches I enjoy observing, and voluntarily learning from, one in particular caught, and held, my attention in a very special way. She spoke of Authenticity in branding, as her eyes danced, light radiating from her, shooting out in every direction, accentuating her colorful living room and equally vibrant wardrobe; she offered a group of 52 female entrepreneurs a short-term opportunity for Empowerment, and I knew she was the one for me.
Five of our six weeks together had passed as if in a dream state, a gorgeous, loving, divine type of dream where everything I did made sense and was better than good enough. Sure, the homework was challenging, it demanded bravery and self love, but it was worth it. After completing each assignment, the women in the course would collectively share our results, admitting that after our initial fear, we found the homework to be stimulating and difficult, and absolutely worthy of our courage. The bonds I made with the other women were instantaneous, charged with respect and affection, profound, intimate, and pure. We’d come together with collaborative intentions, and with a clear leader; thus, almost immediately, we fell into Greek chorus formation, a collection of feminine voices from across the globe. We shared, and naturally, on occasion, we cried together. Other times, laughing from our bellies, we exposed deeper aspects of our true selves; I was thrilled by the experience and impressed by our capabilities, brought to light and acknowledged in a non judgmental environment; a powerful, rare, sensation I’ll not willingly forget, ever. Our skillset was immeasurable, our vernacular was rich and worldly, our hum a sort of fluttering, clicking, incessant, heartbeat that pounds and quivers, then comes back for more. I was right there with them, shining in my best qualities of being supportive and sincere, open and vulnerable, empowered and authentic, and that’s when the dream changed from technicolor to drab, from vibrating to immobile, from delirious fun to severe seriousness.
“Write your Hero’s Story”. The homework appeared innocently enough, as its predecessors had, inviting me to explore, play, and celebrate my wonderfulness in the company of the most inspired and eclectic group of women I’d ever been a part of. The Hero’s Journey, a familiar enough term in my chosen industry, where Joseph Campbell’s contribution is as valid as Aristotle’s.
“I got this. No problem,” the actor/writer/director/public speaker within gathered to self-convince, as I closed my computer; hence, not beginning immediately on the assignment.
And later that evening, as dis-ease threatened to disturb my much desired rest, the degree holder/professional storyteller/certified coach within calmed me with promises, such as, “I love self selected schooling. I love homework. I paid for this. This is going to be awesome… easy, even.”
One restless night of sleep, several cups of beloved coffee later, and… nothing. Well, not nothing. I had panicked thoughts about the course ending soon, my new-found community falling to the wayside, and me not having answers to very real questions about the Hero within. I was about to lose my window of opportunity, a fact that did little to inspire ideas, or cultivate any form of imagination, within my usually, excessively creative, being. What I got instead was brick wall resistance, and nothing less. While my little brain produced simple messages such as: ‘does not compute,’ ‘cannot conceive,’ and inevitably, ‘the seed is not taking’; my larger mind returned to a provocative, and at times unsettling, question it’s been playing with for years: ‘what the hell does the Hero’s journey actually have to do with me?’
In response, some form of a Hero within, earnestly grappling to stake his claim, began launching practical solutions my way: “My story should consist at least of an introduction, initiating incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution!” He shouted. “This is what I know. Yes, and this is what we’ve all learned makes for a good story, for a story that works! Tested and true, a formula, an equation, which functions extremely well!”
The list-making began: I’ll tell them about the time I was really heroic and had that massive climactic epiphany that lead to a sound resolution, like when… more panic: there were too many possibilities to choose from! I sifted through the story of my birth; several stories involving my various family roles; the survival tales, the tales of violence, the tales of healing, the tales of forgiveness, and a handful of “the best choice I ever made/worse nightmare I ever overcame” anecdotes. And the one thing any of these so called stories had in common was their undeniable lack of any linear, Hero story, qualities. Some of my experiences had major “initiating incidents,” others had stronger “rising/falling action,” yet not one of them had a clear climax, nor a final resolution.
To avoid a total meltdown, and in an effort to escape the impending doom I felt lurking, I went online, reaching out to my peers for a sense of wellness, sure they’d have the answers I clearly did not. What I discovered was a hole. My sisters were reporting a level of difficulty with the assignment that hardly seemed coincidental: nailing down the one story, the one epiphany, the one resolution, was like wrestling with a bed of eels. Frustrated tones mixed with laughter, humble arguments formed new curiosities, the need for a better truth reverberated through my cherished community’s offerings as they shared versions of their Hero’s story. And that was the instant my Heroine was born. I sensed a need within my friends, and true to form (conditioned female) that was enough for me to drop my concerns and focus on the needs of those around me. Before I could apply make-up or even brush my hair, my laptop camera was rolling and I finally had something to say.
Hopeful that it might reassure some, or even become a useful exploration, as we search for ways to tell our stories, throughout life, I wanted to share the research I did when writing a TV Series with a female protagonist.
Feeling unfulfilled with having to find just one climax in your story? Noticing a resistance when asked to summarize your unique journey? Searching for your single epiphany or your black/white resolution, and coming up with too much to sort through in infinite shades of gray?
Because we’re all female, and struggling with similar ill-fitting solutions, I offer this food for thought: The feminine journey is circular; it’s ending provides a cyclical, or episodic, structure. The heroine proves herself to herself, and, her rhythm being multi-climactic, she is prone to several epiphanies, not just one. She travels the path of allowance to obstacles after awakening in the first act to the fact that she is powerless, thus beginning her journey into “self”. Just because your life’s experiences aren’t as celebrated or as explored as the Hero’s story doesn’t make it any less valid. Perhaps the Heroine’s journey, given 10,000 years of attention, could also develop into a viable formula.
The hero’s journey is a great structure, it’s tried and true, it is efficient, functional, and very familiar, and still may seem somehow untruthful. But if we look at life, human life, we see that it is not a linear experience. The hero’s journey is simply a mastered formula for a story, it is not true to life. And forcing ourselves to squeeze our existence, our experiences into a such a tight confining dogma, we are practicing an unconscious act of violence against ourselves. I don’t tell jokes well. I tell stories. I speak in circles, I don’t always finish my sentences, but you can trust there is an underlying through-line and inevitably it is me: the common theme in all of my climaxes (experiences) is me, the protagonist, the lead, the main character. And that is good enough. My existence in itself is a valid story. And so is yours.
I posted my video.
The response was joyous, enthusiastic, curious, and led to more questions than answers. In the simple act of acknowledging a shared truth, we birthed self validation, self acceptance, and empowerment. It gave us permission to shine, to tell our story, even if its shape is yet unpredictable. True acceptance and celebration for who we really are, making peace with our fears, releasing judgement, cultivating the wisdom of awareness and the profundity of kindness: these things all create trust in our selves. I believe in telling stories, in giving ourselves permission to find, and use, our figurative, and literal, Voice. When we feel free to shine, to share our life experiences with confidence, joy, awareness, and enthusiasm, we understand the value of truth in story as applies to a healthy society, all of society, Heroine’s included. When doing so, most of us, gender aside, realize that there is no one deciding experience, there is little final resolution, living is a ‘work in progress’, and we don’t have all of the answers. Perhaps better than striving for such a limited encapsulation of one’s life, (a single defining moment), we can admit our infinity, our vastness, and permit the telling of a thousand stories that make you, you and me, me and us, us; all humans, all together, each one unique and valid. Select one, for the telling, from your myriad of experiences, and, as if a chapter in your life’s book, focus on its gifts… and then apply a structure. Instead of one experience, inevitably, we find a collection of Heroic behaviors, ideally including acts of self love.
The course now complete, yet the bonds we founded live on, as our stories continue to unfold. I realize I’m a valid protagonist, I’ve liberated my Heroine, and my super-powers truly are for assisting others to do the same. I’m here to help people love and live their stories, realizing their greatest potential, keeping their hearts and minds open, facilitating genuineness, cultivating courage and fearlessness. I encourage us all to embrace our true selves, and to create from an empowering place of honesty, availability, and authenticity. I offer friendship, sincerity, and unconditional support to people who want to remain loyal to themselves, who crave a sense of balance and self, true human vulnerability, and the courage to sustain that choice, as a sensitive and creative entity.