I’ve been revisiting “Xena: Warrior Princess” on Netflix. In an episode called Paradise Found, Xena and Gabrielle find themselves in an isolated compound where they each become more themselves.
Gabrielle — the storyteller who often serves as Xena’s moral compass — finds yoga, cleansing, and stillness.
Xena gets more jumpy and agitated, wounds appear on her body, and she keeps envisioning herself hurting or torturing Gabrielle. Once Xena loses her mind, she wanders through the gardens killing songbirds and bunnies. It’s as horrific and goofy as it sounds. If the darkness in you lives, no one is safe, not even the people you love, says their mysterious guru.
Facing one’s demons is a massive part of my books. If every writer has one theme that permeates their work, that one is mine. Every character has to go through it, whether it means reconciling a relationship or — literally — fighting a monster born from their own fear or shame. Another line from that episode of Xena goes: Goodness going to waste in peace, without evil to keep it alive and fighting.
I, and my characters, need both to be whole.
I’m convinced that our inner demons are on our side. They’re part of us, after all. We get into trouble because we speak different languages and we’re too afraid of them to try and bridge the gap. When you have dark or selfish impulses, that’s your little demon-voice telling you that you have an unfulfilled need. Hear its intention, but don’t listen to its suggestion. It doesn’t understand what consequences are — only that it loves you and you’re not happy.
The same is true if you go deeper. When your inner demon tells you to off yourself… it’s responding to your unhappiness. It knows you’re in pain and has no concept of healing. It loves you, and wants to help. It doesn’t realize it’s not helping. Your demons only understand you as much as you understand them.
What I love about Xena and others of her archetype is her willingness to learn that language and investigate what others are afraid to see. Some speak the language with compassion and understanding; while others only learn enough to hear what they want to hear.That journey, and what they do with that understanding, is how an archetype transforms into a person.
“Do not look upon this world with fear and loathing. Bravely face whatever the gods offer.”
– Morihei Ueshiba, father of Aikido
“I hope they cannot see
the limitless potential living inside of me
to murder everything.
I hope they cannot see,
I am the great destroyer.”
– Julius Robert Oppenheimer, father of the A-bomb
It’s interesting to note that as much as I make a lot of noise about writing and warriorship, I don’t much mention war on this blog. Or fighting, or technique or research… I’ve been awfully remiss on that score.
It doesn’t much redress the balance to put up this link. Except that it does.
A warrior’s path is a constant struggle. We love it. We challenge ourselves and grow. We seek out our fears in order to track them down and annihilate them. We want to know our enemies as well as we know our lovers. It’s a never-ending uphill battle to be better… whatever one’s definition of “better” is.
Part of that struggle is a well-rounded education. As proud I am of my darkness, I seek, with equal enthusiasm, teachers of peace. I want equal access to compassion and cruelty. I want to be ready when I need to defend myself, and I want to know what peaceful folk know: as complete a feeling of love as can be accessed on this mortal coil.
The link below is a [lesson? Sermon? Storytelling?] that was written and spoken by my godmother, KAOS. I know it was uploaded by her younger son. I don’t know the prompt or context.
KAOS once told me that Irish families gave one child to the church. That is, most children go on to marry and have children, and one of them goes off and dedicates himself to a spiritual path. My brother and sister have children, and I’m off doing my thing. Her son, the one who uploaded this, is who she was talking about when she told me that legend.
Please give it a listen, especially if you’re feeling down or isolated. I downloaded it so I can hear her whenever I miss her.
My heart to yours.
“Intuition, intention, imagination.”
I have more than one critique group — I’m a hussy like that — and I put my precious baby up for review at both of them this month. I was surprised to find that, after numerous other reviews and feedback sessions, anticipating these results had me nervous, anxious and (to my surprise!) prematurely defensive. This doesn’t usually happen, so I sat with the feeling and tried to figure out what was causing them. I realized what the stakes were.
The feedback I received at this stage would determine whether I fix this story or shelve it and move on. I had psyched myself out. I am definitely not the smartest person in the room in either group, so their semi-pro and pro opinions would make or break me and this story. I mentioned this to some of my fellow writers, and they reassured me that everyone goes through this experience.
So, bracing myself for the avalanche of problems, unresolvable questions and general distaste, I loaded up on wine and chocolate, pulled out my notebook and took it.
There were problems. Of course there were problems. Fortunately, they were fixable and my fellow writers very generously supplied me with handouts on grammar and point-of-view. Free classes! Woohoo!
Almost all of the unanswerable questions did, in fact, have very fleshed-out answers; but they were in my head and not on the page. That’s the neat thing about going through multiple drafts — the more you get to know your world, and the more notes you take, the more comfortable you feel cherry-picking the relevant details for the book. It’s much more natural than dumping a two-page history lesson in the middle of a narrative story.
We tend to remember our fuck-ups more vividly than our successes. At first, I was concerned that they had softened their answers because I told them I was nervous; but the pre-printed feedback notes told me otherwise. To beat back the doubts and anxiety, I mark here some of the things they said I did well.
“[The book’s] flaws–and there are some–are technical ones, and quite easy to fix. If I were offered this in my capacity as an editor, I’d jump on it.”
“The prose, with one exception that I’ll get into later, felt very polished and downright poetic in places.”
“There were two arcs that needed to be closed, I liked that one ended happily and the other ended sadly.”
“You mention a lot of really cool stuff, but there’s no payoff (or it’s subtle/implicit in other interactions) make sure those answers are in the text.”
I can’t express my gratitude to this group enough for their patience and support. I’m constantly learning from their examples and perspectives. They are a truly brilliant and dedicated group. Thanks guys. You rock.