Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Year of Curing Sadness

"Red is the ultimate cure for sadness." ~ Bill Blass

I do this thing from time to time when, after I've finished writing a journal entry, I go back and look at that day of the month's entries for all the journal's previous months. In this way, I can see what's changed, and, hopefully, progressed.

Last night I did this for the first time probably this year, and was shocked when I realized how much my overall state of being has changed in the past few months. The final sentence I wrote in last night's entry was, "I am basically content." When I went back and looked at the entries from this past winter, (I started the journal December 26th, 2013, being that it was a Christmas gift), I was reminded of how utterly miserable and harrowed I was at that time. I wrote things in those months that amount to, "I believe I'll be miserable for the rest of my life; I dread the future."

My color this year, I had decided, was red, and shortly after I'd begun my geeky research stage into the significance of this color, I discovered the Bill Blass quote above. It seemed like a good sign and gave me a measure of hope, but the sadness I was immersed in was so deep and all-encompassing that I honestly couldn't imagine what it would feel like to be cured of it. To be healed and whole. To be content.

My 2014 collage, which naturally I titled, "The Ultimate Cure for Sadness"

And now, just a few months later, I am more healed, whole, and content than I have ever been in my life, than I believed was even possible for me. This is because I have experienced the loss of the thing I wanted and needed most, and genuinely moved beyond that want and need. But, it's also because, in another sense, I've experienced the thing I wanted most, and moved beyond it. For the first time in my life, at the tender age of 46, I finally reached the point where I no longer felt the need for a relationship, a romantic partner to prop me up to live.

"The miracle of the psyche's ways is that even if you are halfhearted, irreverent, didn't mean to, didn't really hope to, don't want to, feel unworthy to, aren't ready for it, you will accidentally stumble upon treasure anyway."
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Also in this past year, I stumbled upon the joy of reading comic books, and have been happily exploring this world of treasure ever since, to the point that I'm now writing a comic book series, and have realized that this is the medium for fiction writing that suits me best. My writing-medium soulmate, if you will.

That may seem like a strange and random topic shift, I know. If one of my students had written that, I'd probably tell them, "You need a transition there." (But that's the beauty of blogging; no one's grading me).

The thing is, there's actually a strong connection between my emotional healing and my newfound love of the comics medium. In fact, there's a process there that's worth describing, which is why I'm writing my first blog post in over a year.

"In [the Curanderisma healing] tradition a story is 'holy,' and it is used as medicine. The story is not told to lift you up, to make you feel better, or to entertain you, although all those things can be true. The story is meant to take the spirit into a descent to find something that is lost or missing and to bring it back to consciousness again." ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I have wanted to write fiction for a very long time. I did write fiction when I was a child, and again a bit when I took creative writing classes as an English major and grad student. But I have generally avoided it, and written in pretty much every other genre instead. Why? Because when I sit down with a fictional story to write, I get utterly consumed by it. All I want to do is write. I forget to eat, and worse, I forget to feed my kids.

When my kids were younger, this was a very bad thing, but about a year ago, it occurred to me that I had reached a point in my life where I probably could fit some fiction writing in, not just because my kids mostly know how to feed themselves now, but because I'm more disciplined and balanced these days, and could do it without completely losing myself in it.

The other thing that got me thinking about writing fiction again had to do with the relationship I was trying to get over, a relationship I had been obsessing about for years. What occurred to me last fall was this: I am obsessive by nature, but instead of obsessing over that tired old relationship story, maybe I could apply my outstanding powers of obsession to the writing of an awesome fictional story. The problem was, though, I had no such story in my head at that time.

Meanwhile, I had recently been told I was going to get to teach an English class I could design myself. It was October when I found this out, and I would start teaching the class in January, so I immediately began planning it. The class is technically "Expository Writing," but I would be able to organize it around a theme, and it didn't take me long to decide that the theme would be "the hero's journey," a la Joseph Campbell. I'm not going to go into detail here about all the wonderful things that class consists of (you can read more about it at our blog, here, if you so desire), but the important part for this discussion was that I knew I wanted to include a comic book or graphic novel in the reading material.  Because clearly you have to talk about superheroes in a class about the hero's journey. (And also just to mix things up and free the curriculum from canonical slavery.)

But it had been years since I'd picked up a comic book. (I should mention at this point that I was married to a comic book aficionado for 15 years, but in all that time of having those long cardboard boxes full of comic books all over the house, I probably only read about three. Comic books were "his thing," not mine.)

I Googled something like "best graphic novels" and this is how I discovered the brilliance of Alan Moore's Watchmen, which I ordered because it was on Time's "ALL-TIME 100 Novels" list, and because I read a review that said something to the effect that it was a subversion of the superhero genre.

Did I mention it's fucking brilliant? And it made me fall head-over-heels in love with superheroes, comic books, and Alan Moore, all in one fell swoop. From there, I went on to read the supremely helpful and informative Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (sort of a "The Glory That is Comic Books 101"), the first volume of the original Invincible Iron Man comics that started in 1963, V for Vendetta (also by Alan Moore), and a really good, surprisingly scholarly book of comic book literary criticism called How to Read Superhero Comics and Why by Geoff Klock. It was this book that showed me the way toward what to read next, so after that I ordered The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis and all five books of the Promethea series by Alan Moore (my absolute favorite so far).

Being that it was October when I read Watchmen, naturally I decided I needed to be some kind of superhero for Halloween. It was still my gold year at that point, and I had this long flowy gold skirt that I had planned on using as the foundation of some kind of gypsy-fairy-princess costume. But the more I read about superheroes, the less interested I became in gypsy-fairy-princesses. I realized that my entire life I had been aspiring to be a gypsy-fairy-princess, dressing up as some variation of that for Halloween, waiting around for some gypsy-fairy-prince to kiss me awake, and now I was thoroughly sick of the whole thing.
The version of the costume I wore
to Denver Comic Con this summer

Thus, I turned the skirt into a cape and made up a superhero. I bought leggings at Wal-Mart for $5; they were black with bewildering gold applique zig zags all the way down them in rows. I got a gold mask and shiny black high heeled zipper boots. I decided my superhero's name was Ora, and that her superpower was the ability to remove evil from people with her special gloves. So I bought long shiny gold gloves from a costume shop in Santa Fe. 

That is how The Fantastic Fortune of Ora Moore, the comic book series I'm now writing, was born. The story began to form in my head, plot points tumbling themselves into being in my imagination before I ever wrote a word.

And guess what? My hunch about replacing one obsession with another was right; it totally worked.  For the first time since I was four (I'm not exaggerating), I wasn't obsessing about a relationship. But furthermore, what dawned on me with a dazzle and velocity equal to the flash of Ora's cape, was that maybe, just maybe, the reason I'd spent my whole life obsessing about relationships was because I had been trying to fill a void that only writing stories could fill.


  1. Always an intoxicating thing when new fiction takes hold of one's imagination, in any medium. Comics! I'm so excited! Welcome to the geekdom, traveler!

    1. Thanks, Postie! Is comics a medium you enjoy, and if so, what are your favorites?

    2. I do enjoy comics, though I don't need them nearly enough -- between reading (and writing) novels, I have to outside and get some fresh air once in a while, you know.

      My first and foremost would be Hellboy, by Mike Mignola. Published by Dark Horse Comics, my favorite comics publisher (though Red 5 is a close second). I also like One Piece, which is a Japanese manga, and a major inspiration for my own series. I have an e-reader now, and I want to download a comics app so I can begin reading Atomic Robo, Neozoic, Elephantmen, Strontium Dog, Transmetropolitan, and Dinosaurs vs. Aliens.

      Gawd, I'm such a geek...

      What is Promethea like?

    3. Wow, I've never heard of most of that stuff, including Red 5, which I will now have to go look up. Have you checked out Comixology? You can read comics on your computer and even your phone, and they have a bunch of free ones you can download.

      Promethea is great for several reasons, or on several levels. The story is great, being a celebration of the power of story itself. The artwork is amazing. And it utilizes the comics medium in a way that maximizes it; it does things (brilliantly) that only comics can do. Plus it's sort of an Esoterica 101 textbook.

  2. Why did I write "need them enough"?? I meant "READ them enough."

  3. Comixology! That was it -- the very app I was thinking of. Comics on computers and phones, and hopefully Nooks as well.

    I love those comics that are paens to powers (rather than being an endless parade of a character's self-pity and crosses-to-bear) as well as being Esoterica 101 classes. I was hoping that's precisely what I'd do if I ever became a creator. We're peas in a pod, madame. I might have to look Promethea up. The title alone's got me curious.



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