The Hero's Journey -- "We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned..."

I’m the nervous sort. Put it down to ADHD; Attention Deficit, Hyperactive -- something or other. The more scientific acronym is NEAWINI; Not Enough Alcohol When I Need It. To that issue, my doctor suggested I cut down on sugar, so I am excluding all sweets and only drinking whiskey for dessert.

Where was I, oh yes, I am the nervous sort, always moving my hands, fidgeting, can’t sit still, it’s impossible to pay attention. If you tell me your name, I forget it almost before it fully comes out of your mouth. I am easily distracted, and have severe abandonment issues. Yet despite those mild handicaps, I manage to produce novels.

I even gave a speech on it recently at the State Library to some very attentive and patient folks. It went something like this.

Hemingway, when asked what it takes to be a writer answered -- "A lousy childhood." Well, I’m not so sure I had a lousy childhood, but if that is all it takes to be a novelist,  I reserve a collective review of my work to determine how lousy it was.

It takes imagination at least, and a lot of hard work. Writers are like gods, we have to make rock out of loam, diamonds out of decomposed organisms. With our hands sticking out of the clouds on our worlds, we get to determine who wins and who doesn't.

Before I was published, I reached out to over 30 agents and publishers before landing one and that was by chance. And persistence. When I was single, I would always go after the very beautiful women. My friends would always tell me that I was out of my league. To which I said, “It’s a numbers game," and sooner or later I scored and the payoff was monumental.

The same persistence applies to any sort of sales, and yes, writers are in the sales business.

Oscar Wilde said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Ø  Henry Ford went bankrupt 5 times before making it.

Ø  Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he lacked imagination and good ideas, and he went bankrupt before hitting on the Mouse.

Ø  Churchill failed the 6th grade, and was 61 when he became Prime Minister.

Ø  Colonel Sanders went belly up multiple times before KFC came to him in his 50’s.

Ø  Van Gogh sold only 1 painting in his lifetime—to a friend.

Ø  Charles Schultz was rejected by Walt Disney.

Ø  Stephen King had 30 rejections and threw his manuscript in the can when his wife fished it out and urged him to go on.

Ø  This last one makes me feel anything is possible if you put your mind to it; Jack London had 600 rejections.

Ø  600.

Persistence pays off. What all these people had in common was what Joe Campbell called “Following your bliss.” Joseph Campbell was an American philosopher, Mythologist, writer and lecturer best known for his work in Comparative mythology and religion. His work covers many aspect of human behavior besides mythology.

Myth,” he writes, “is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human manifestation…”

Studying this man has opened my eyes to a brave new world.

His best quote stands to this day as a bastion of truth over adversity. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

There is a pattern, he writes, hidden in every story ever told,” and he called it, “The hero’s journey.”

So that we should be able to find this journey he challenges us to “Follow our Bliss.”         

 Every story had this theme. The hero, for whatever reason, is faced with a challenge he must complete, or die trying. In Fiction, the hero never dies.

The difference between life and fiction is fiction has to make sense. In fiction, the hero takes the challenge so that we have a story. Think of Star Wars, the classic battle between good and evil.

 Better yet, think of Tolkien’s Trilogy, “The Lord of The Rings.”

What Campbell found was that we all have within us this challenge. He uses the Dragon.  In Frodo’s case -- Mount Doom. He climbs mountains, must choose the correct path, and avoid temptation, in order to fulfill his challenge.

Frodo taught us that if we persevere, if we fight our way to the end, to stand in front of the dragon, the fiery pit of DOOM, Joseph Campbell assures us that we will find not the dragon, or Sauron, but ourselves.

All Frodo had to do was throw the ring into the fire of Mordor, and he’d be free of his burden, free to go home to the Shire and live his life as before. But it was HIS evil that kept him from doing this, his personal dragon – Sméagol. Sméagol had to die so that Frodo could triumph. So he could have the life that was waiting for him. And be sure it was not the life he left behind.

We face no dragon, no external force, but only ourselves. Sméagol was Frodo’s inner dragon.     

Albert Camus in “The Stranger,” speaks to the absurdity of life. His character suffers from ennui, and mindlessly murders a man on a hot Algerian beach, and faces his consequences. Camus called it, “The nakedness of a man faced with the absurd.”

I would rather have my characters face what I call, “An ordinary man thrust into extraordinary situations.”

In the end, Frodo found what all heroes find, that it is not the dragon, the Mordor that fights us and keeps us from our life that is meant for us, but our own feelings of insecurity, doubt, failing. And once we overcome those feelings, once we allow our Sméagol to fall into his own fearful self, then and only then can we find the Bliss.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”