My friend, Dave Robison, spoke recently of creating his own mythology and it got me thinking. As writers, when we’re feeling happy and healthy, we often find that our thriving state is reflected in our impulses toward fiction as well. Stories spring up all around us, big and small, sometimes elaborate, sometimes simple. Mileage will vary, but I find more stories come to me when I’m happier, when some of the anxiety of daily life in our flaming shitstorm of a world is assurged in one way or another. And sometimes the act of telling stories soothes that anxiety, a beneficial feedback loop.
Stories are always there, close at hand. We tell stories on a daily basis, creating a mythos around our own lives and its participants. One for that woman we see every morning on our walk, another for the gargoyle that sits on a neighbor’s lawn, another for the birds at the feeder – attributing emotions, motivations, thoughts, on a level that reflects our own internal reality much more than the actuality of the world around us. We make sense of the surroundings we move through by figuring out their stories, perhaps even incorporating them in our daily actions.
I moved cross-country at the beginning of 2022, into a 99-year-old house, and as I sort boxes and arrange rooms, I engage in that storytelling, building a relationship with the house and my new life in it. A friend told me my house is haunted by a child’s ghost, a little girl, and pointed out the place on the stairs where, he said, she used to sit, hidden by the banister, and listen to her parents. I don’t know that I’ve felt the ghost myself, but I don’t step directly on that spot and sometimes, passing up or down the stairs, I think hello at her. It makes the house feel friendlier, more of a character in my life.
Many of us have luck rituals, things that start the day as it should be started, with a particular cup of a particular coffee, a few moments caught in a quiet spot to think about what lies ahead, a text exchange with a loved one. It’s important, I think, with these to make sure they’re not possible sources of derailment, discouraging things that can spoil a day. Our stories should roll with the punches and help keep us going, rather than standing in our way.
We are – or should be, imo – the heroes of our self-authored mythology, the champions of our journey through the ups and downs of our lives. If we think of ourselves in that light, we may well do a little better, living up to that heroism. Instead of what would (so and so) do, perhaps the question should be, what would the hero version of me do? Because I might as well try to be that hero version, which is not so much an unrealistic version as one willing to go a few extra steps when necessary, in a way that I find inspires me to do a little better myself.
You have no choice whether or not to move through this world, but you have some control over how you do so, how you react to events and others, what pattern or patterns your narrative assumes. That is the power of storytelling, and it is a mighty one, particularly when it is used for benign purposes, when it is employed to create our hero self.
We speak to our cores, that hero self, from moment to moment, and we should do so with kindness and encouragement. I used to be bad about beating myself up verbally before a friend passed along a tip from a therapist – would you speak to a child that way? Or any other being, for that matter? Then no, absolutely, you should not use language of recrimination, blame, and shaming when dealing with the being you should be encouraging more than any other – yourself. Tell yourself what a champion you are, and celebrate it. Because, honestly, just being alive in these weird times, just being willing to continue, is an act of heroism, and how much more heroic to be willing to write in the face of that?
But our mythology does not just affect ourselves but the world outside those selves as well. Do we expect a benign universe or a malign one? I believe that our mythologies should always slant in the former direction, because I know a magic thing: expectations often – though not always – affect the way events flow. That’s especially true when dealing with fellow human beings – the attitude, the energy with which we approach the interaction helps determine what shape it will take and how the other person will react to us. Expecting the best of others so often seems to evoke that best, and even more so when it’s an attitude we’re willing to apply to ourselves as well.
As writers, we are hyper-aware of story, extremely apt to find meaning in the fragments that make up the daily life of the world. And this is a good thing, both in terms of helping us finetune our storytelling as well as helping us cope with the realities of our lives, and never more so than when those lives are leading us in unexpected directions. So I urge you to explore your mythology and use it to help you navigate not just writing, but the world as large at well.