I am on a hero's journey
And so are you.
Maybe you already read the excerpt from Jessi Klein’s new book, I’ll Show Myself Out, published on The Cut. Or maybe you were one of the people who sent it to me. (Thank you!) But MAYBE you haven’t read it yet, in which case, this one is especially for you.
No, just kidding. But I do suggest you read the excerpt—I’ll probably go for the whole book. In the meantime, I’ll share what has been particularly useful for me.
Klein, who is formerly the head writer on Inside Amy Schumer and also the author of the acclaimed essay collection You’ll Grow Out of It, calls this book a collection of “essays on midlife and motherhood.” I feel like I have to say at the outset here that HEY even if you are not a mom, maybe this will be relevant, interesting, or useful to you!
This speaks to something in Klein’s piece that really grabbed and shook me by the shoulders: her admission that she, a personal essayist and the woman who brought us the legendary “Last Fuckable Day” sketch, had a deep and strong resistance to writing about her own experience as a mother. She linked this, as you might imagine, to our society’s general failure to regard moms’ experiences as culturally relevant or important. By way of example, she cites her own distaste at the term “mommy blog”:
“I guarantee you if Ernest Hemingway were alive and writing an online column about his experience of being a father, no one would call it a ‘daddy blog,’” she writes. “We’d call it For Whom the Bell Fucking Tolls.”
Klein obviously got over this hump, since her book of essays about motherhood came out this week, and according to this excerpt she has mythologist Joseph Campbell and Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert to thank, in part, for this.
In short (again, just read this piece please), she learned from Elizabeth Gilbert on Oprah’s podcast about Campbell’s theory (stay with me) of “the hero’s” journey, which is basically the archetypal guy who leaves his ladies at home to go fight monsters/villains/evil and comes home, victorious. Gilbert posits that the hero need not be a man, and that the journey need not be to a faraway land.
Klein, intrigued, learns that Campbell described this destination as a “profound dream state … always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.”
She recognizes, as many mothers of young kids would, the place where she is. “Unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.” Joseph Campbell was a mommy blogger!
She goes on:
Every mother you know is in this fight with herself. The sword that hangs over her is a sword of exhaustion, of frustration, of patience run dry, a sword of indignation at how little she feels like a human when she so often has to look and behave like an animal. Mostly, it is the sword of rage: the rage and shock of how completely she must annihilate herself to keep her child alive.
Ultimately, the hope of impossible delight almost always wins out over the impossible torment. I know this because here I am, alive, writing this, and here you are, alive, reading it, which means our mothers did what heroes do: They kept us all alive to tell our own tales one day. And what I can tell you is that so much of the heroism of motherhood is the ability to swallow the sword.
So far, my experience of mothering has left me feeling sort of big-picture intact, as opposed to annihilated. (Both jinxing myself and knocking on wood here.) And yet, when I read that last sentence about the ability to swallow the sword, I thought: Oh.
I don’t think that kind of heroism is limited to mothers—I think it’s probably familiar to most women—but I’ve never practiced it so regularly as I have in the last 18 months.
So I think the real gift of the hero’s journey is just realizing that we’re on it. It sort of takes you—the hero!—out of the sword-swallowing martyr realm, and gives you back some main-character energy.
The day after I read this, my family of three piled into the car for an 8am appointment at the L.A. Federal Building to pick up our passports—for a journey that I hope involves very little heroism and very many margaritas. We found ourselves three lanes away from, and then passing, the entrance to the sprawling parking lot of the imposing place that we needed to go. And then we were suddenly under a freeway overpass, swept into morning rush hour traffic, unable to turn, and driving away from our destination. I said to myself, for the first time of many that morning:
“I am on a hero’s journey.”
And then I said to my husband Corey, “I think it’s okay if we’re a few minutes late.”
And it was.
Have a good day! x