Most narratives, stories, books and films are based around the monomyth, or Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. A young, naive, nobody from an ordinary, boring world (think… Luke Skywalker) is called to an unknown world on a quest. He must slay a “dragon”, resist temptation, and eventually triumph over evil. He will then return home to bestow his wisdom on his buddies. It’s like Frodo or Harry Potter or Buffy or Batman. They are all the same myth. Every religion has its own version of it from Jesus to Buddha to Osiris to Moses, this myth is the basis for every story ever told. Even mine. Even yours.
I was watching the last Joel Fleischman episode of the best show ever, Northern Exposure. It’s called “The Quest”. As his final fling in the Alaskan Wilderness Joel (with Maggie) sets off to find the Jeweled City, somewhere beyond the Aleutian Islands. The episode is one part “Good-bye Dr. Fleishman” and one part “Hero Quest”. There are riddles to be solved, gatekeepers to be appeased and dragons (albeit metaphorically) to be battled on the journey. Joel’s life as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and Joel is self-aware, and smart enough to know it. He comments throughout the journey about the stages, calling Adam “gate-keeper”, for example. It got me thinking about my own life as the Hero’s Journey, and where I am in it.
There are 17 stages in the monomyth. I am pretty sure that stage one was when I left America and moved to Prague. “The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.” Yep. That pretty much describes my life just before I made the decision to move. I had to move out of my home in Oakland. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. I didn’t want to move back to L.A. because… it’s L.A. I didn’t want to stay in the Bay Area because I hated my job and I wanted to be far away from pretty much everyone I knew. I saw an ad for a TEFL program, and the rest is history. In fact, looking back it is VERY clear that this was “The call”.
In one of my very early blog posts I wrote about what led me to move to Prague. I had read my horoscope and it was eerily accurate. It told me the choices I make will shape my future. It said it I was beginning a new phase in my life that would have consequences for years to come. At the time, I thought it was weird, or at least that’s what I wrote. But I know me, and inside I was sure this was a sign. I was supposed to do this. I had that feeling in my belly telling me “This is it. Either you go now or you will stay here forever. Don’t be one of those assholes who looks back at their life in regret. You are better than that“. I knew it then. My friend Heather knew it, she told me I was on a Yoda mission. I was to do great things. I had a quest. I was the hero and this was The Departure. (Which BTW was the last movie I saw in America before I moved overseas. Just sayin’)
My mission was clear – to unlearn what I had learned. I wrote that in July of 2006. And sitting here in my living-room in Texas, in 2013, I can see each stage of my journey very clearly. My quest is almost over.
My “departure” was my flight to Europe, alone. I landed in London and met my “Supernatural aid”, or in my case, a friend named Zach who gave me tools to help me on my journey. He gave me shelter, a map, and confidence. He let me know it would be ok. From there I crossed “the first threshold guardian” (Czech Customs Officers/Passport control) at midnight in October, 2006. I was thrust into “the belly of the whale”, or in my case a tiny, cramped room with a single window. I sat there alone, staring at the drain on the floor wondering how I had gotten there in the first place. I broke down and cried. I wept. But I didn’t let it break me. I got my head straight and took control of my situation. Who else was going to do it? I’m the hero.
That was the beginning. Looking back it is easy to see the temptress and the dragon. It is easy to solve the riddles with the power of hindsight. My “Road of Trials” was long and arduous. I mean, if you think Frodo had a difficult journey, then you have never ridden a bus into Mexico in the middle of the night. In a thunderstorm. But I can’t go into that right now. Those are stories for a different day.
In my heart I feel that this journey, my quest to unlearn what I had learned, is coming to a close. I will have come full circle when we roll into the Bay Area and I begin my six month stay as a volunteer at Ratna Ling. (Hopefully! Fingers still crossed!) Maybe it’s the final step in this journey. Or maybe not.
I can’t figure it all out today.