The Myth of Sisyphus

“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”― Walter Anderson

Standing rocks and skyIf I had my drothers, I’d get up every morning and write until I couldn’t sit at the computer any longer. Then I’d go to the next thing that I love doing. But, that’s not the way life works. One thing I dislike to do with a passion, is house work. But, of course it needs to be done, over and over again. As I was beginning my spring cleaning chores this weekend, I was reminded of a long discussion in one of my literature classes when I was in undergraduate school. We were reading The Plague by Albert Camus, and during our discussion of the book, our instructor began talking about an essay Camus wrote about the myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was King of Corinth. One day as he was out hunting, he saw the largest, most beautiful eagle he’d ever seen. He thought it was carrying something in it’s talons. When he returned home, he was told that his daughter had been carried away by a huge eagle. Suspecting that Zeus was the abductor, Sisyphus asked him for his help in recovering his daughter. Now Zeus took offense, because no one was supposed to know that he wasn’t perfect, and liked to seduce young human women. So, he condemned Sisyphus to Hades, to roll a rock up the mountain, only to have it roll down, and then to go to the bottom to roll the rock up the mountain again. During our discussion, our instructor asked us to consider this quote from Camus’ essay, “The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I didn’t understand the quote at the time, but I decided to contemplate its meaning. It took me many years. How can we find meaning in seemingly meaningless tasks? One day, as I was washing the dishes, we didn’t have a dishwasher in that house, I was looking out at an old and beautiful tree in the yard across the street. It’s leaves and branches were dancing in the wind. That’s when I understood what Camus meant by his assertion that struggle is enough to make us happy. At the time I was doing a chore, which I dreaded doing, but I had the benefit of looking at that beautiful tree whenever I was in the kitchen. Every activity is a double sided coin. There are pleasant and unpleasant aspects to it. When we go on vacation, it’s a magical time. But, each day, there are fewer days to enjoy away from the drudgery of our daily routines.

When we’re engaged in doing things we love, there are also aspects of it which are not so wonderful. For example, I love to write. Yet, there are times when the words don’t flow easily. The ideas that want to come out are not fully formed, or they’re buried under lots of layers of unhealed stuff. Not to mention the length of time it takes to produce the work. I’ve been working on my novel for four years, and though I’m nearing the end of the process, I still have lots of editing and revision work to do before it’s ready for publication.

The flip side is true for doing things we dread. As I was cleaning our bedroom this weekend, I was thinking of how nice it was going to be to sleep in a clean room. I had the curtains open, and periodically, I’d look out at the beauty of the view and wildlife. The joy of life is not in the tasks we must do to keep our lives going. It’s in taking time to appreciate the ordinary moments of connection, and the beauty around us. It’s also in knowing that we’re still here; we’re still alive, and can find meaning in everything that happens to us.

Camus would definitely disagree with me, because in his philosophy, life is absurd as is our search for meaning. But, the way I interpret his quote, is that to stay alive and struggle, is the ultimate revolt against the absurd in which we live. Now, I can’t say I agree with him about the world being absurd and without meaning. However, there are certainly absurd aspects to life. Nevertheless, I can say that I agree that as we continue with life we can find happiness, if we look for it, even amidst the mundane repetitive tasks we must do everyday.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

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Leave Behind Something of Value

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. ― Napoleon Hill

“Most people take the limits of their vision to be the limits of the world. A few do not. Join them.” Arthur Schopenhauer

“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.” -Frank Stokes, played by George Clooney in The Monuments Men

Library Fantasy Books 

My dream is coming true. The novel I started fifteen years ago, then set aside for ten or eleven years, is nearly ready for final revisions and edits. I don’t know about you, but when I finish a big creative project, like directing a play, or finishing a semester of teaching, I like to spend a bit of time in reflection. So, even though my book isn’t completely finished, I’m already beginning that process.

Writing this book has taken much longer than I thought it would. There were times when I wasn’t sure I should stick with it. I mean, to commit to doing this project, my husband and I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices. What if my book doesn’t sell? Will the sacrifices have been worth it? My answer is an unqualified, YES!

Becoming an artist/entrepreneur was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life. Working for yourself, is completely different than working for someone else. First of all I had to get used to setting my work schedule. If you work in your home, there are so many distractions to keep you from getting down to the business of work. It took me a year or two to get into a productive routine.

For the longest time, I’d do all my teaching duties first. I teach online and face to face theatre classes at the local community college. In my mind, I was getting all the more mundane, routine tasks out of the way first, so I could concentrate on what I really wanted to do. I’d read that advice in a writer’s newsletter, and I bought into it. Unfortunately, when I did this, I never seemed to have much time to write. That was one of the things that contributed taking so long to complete my novel.

Not long ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. It’s a slim little volume, that is a must read for anyone who wants to create a business, or become an artist. Shortly before I read the book, I’d discovered that I had to devote myself to writing before I did anything else that day. I had to flip the paradigm of getting all the unpleasant tasks out of the way first. When I did that, my entire world changed. That realization, and Pressfield’s book helped me see that to make a difference in the world, I must commit to my calling first above all else. He calls it, becoming a professional, as opposed to being an amateur who just dabbles.

Another thing I’ve learned is that sacrifice is part of being a professional anything. Entrepreneurs don’t have an easy time of creating that business, or that piece of art. It’s normal to feel bogged down and depressed from time-to-time. Even though there is a tremendous amount of freedom in working for yourself, there are uncertain times ahead. Failure is a part of the process. You have to be willing to fall flat on your face, then pick yourself up and try again. Yet, I know if I don’t give up, what I create just might change someone’s life, and that makes what I do each day worthwhile. When I feel discouraged, I remember all the wonderful books, plays and works of art that have helped me throughout my life.

I can think of many examples of this from when Barry and I took our trip around the world. We made a point of seeing as much art as we could, partly because we’re both artists, though in different fields. But mostly because, you can’t really learn anything about a culture without seeing the artwork produced by the citizens of that country over the centuries. Art and architecture give vital clues to how people lived and thought.

When we were in Greece we climbed up the Acropolis. They were just beginning the process of restoring the Parthenon. Near it was a museum with many pieces of art from the Golden Age of Athens. They are many centuries old. I was inspired by it all. One particular piece I loved was The Charioteer of Delphi. Part of the reason I was drawn to it was because it’s a life size bronze sculpture with amazing detail. It has eyes that look almost real and even have eyelashes. Another reason I was drawn to it was because it comes from the era when theatre was born in Ancient Greece. I remember just standing and looking at it for a very long time. If you’ve never seen artwork by master artists, you’re missing something. They give off an energy that is beyond description. That’s how I felt time and time again during that trip. That’s how I feel when I read a great book or see a wonderful film.

The reason I mention this particular sculpture, is because I saw it again briefly in the movie The Monuments Men. The Charioteer was one of the millions of pieces of art that were stolen by the Nazi’s, and then recovered, and returned during WW II. If it hadn’t been recovered, I would never have been able to be touched by it’s immense beauty and detail.

Now, I’m not saying that my novel will survive for twenty-six centuries. We only have a fraction of the earliest Greek plays. Pottery, stone buildings, and sculptures last longer than the materials that the written word is recorded upon. But, again, my novel may help someone gain a new perspective, or pass some pleasant hours when they aren’t thinking about their problems. That’s good enough for me.

So, after working for other people, where most of the time I didn’t feel appreciated, I’ll take working for myself any day, because I want to create, and leave behind something of value.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Movies As Art – The Heroes Journey

“In our increasingly secular society, with so many disparate gods and different faiths, superhero films present a unique canvas upon which our shared hopes, dreams and apocalyptic nightmares can be projected and played out.” -Tom Hiddleston

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” -Joseph Campbell

“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” -Joseph Campbell

Iron Man Shane

Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes. He’s one of my heroes, because of his extensive work about myth. I’ve not read all of his work, but I loved the series of interviews he did with Bill Moyers back in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, “The Power of Myth”. That series helped me understand why I love fairy tales, myths and stories about people with extraordinary abilities.

Which brings me to this week’s post. I’m going to examine the genre of superhero movies and why they’re so popular. I lump into that category, fantasy films like Harry Potter, and SciFi, like Star Trek and Star Wars as well. All of those movies revolve around characters who have a specific purpose, which is to be a hero. I think it’s safe to say, that these movies are so popular, because, as Joseph Campbell said, we’re all on a heroes journey.

My husband, Barry, and I’ve been watching a lot of the newest superhero movies lately, because our six year old nephew loves them. Of course being a good aunt and uncle, we want to keep up with what he likes.

I was getting tired of the plethora of this type of movie, so when my sister suggested we watch The Avengers, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the story. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I’m not into stories about blowing things up. But, I am a Joss Whedon fan, so Barry and I decided to give it a try. In the movie, each of the Avengers has to learn to put aside their egos, and work together to save the world. That one movie started us on a Superhero movie watching spree.

In each movie, the hero or heroine must go through a journey of self-discovery. Most of them have some kind of character flaw, or inner demon to overcome before they’re ready to take their place as a superhero. None of them have an easy time of it. I think that’s why these genres of movies are so popular. The heroes, like us, have to figure out who they are, and what it is they are meant to be. We each must learn to accept our faults and talents and use them for the good of others. Since that’s the case, It wasn’t surprising that Barry said, “I’m getting into these superhero movies.” I feel the same way. Their message is clear. Don’t give up figuring out who you are, because the world needs your talents.

There are so many other movies with this theme. Harry Potter is one of my favorites. So, it was interesting the other day when Harry Potter came up in an episode of Super Soul Sunday, with Panache Desai. Oprah asked him what his favorite book was, and without taking a breath he said, “Harry Potter, because we all have the lightening bolt on our foreheads.” And that’s true. We all feel like we don’t fit in, or like there is something wrong with us, or we feel the pressure of how other people see us. We almost all feel like we have a demon to overcome, so we can live the life we were meant to live.

The thing about these fantasy and superhero films, is that watching them helps make it easier for us to cope with our more ordinary lives. Looking back at recent history, we’ve suffered a great deal of trauma, from assassinations, to civil unrest, to terrorist attacks. Many people are fearful, wary and suffering from the constant barrage of bad news we see everyday from all around the world. This distress shows up in our public debate about every societal issue, and it shows in our relationships, and work lives. Before the advent of mass media, people were unaware of what was going on in far away places. They weren’t subjected to so much distressing news day after day.

Maybe that’s why movies, video games and other forms of escape are so popular at present. Something about being just a little removed from, but also connected to the story, helps our subconscious mind work out the issues we’re faced with in our every day lives. When Earth is saved again, even though poor New York City is trashed over and over, I feel relieved. My problems are so much smaller than the ones the characters face in the movie. Mine are easier to cope with. After the movies is over, I say to myself, thank heavens I’m not the crew of the Enterprise, and have only minutes to save the ship, or stop the bad guys from destroying a planet. Thank heavens the characters were brilliant enough to solve the problems in the movie. At the end of the movie, I feel like things will work out for me too. Hope is a powerful tool.

I’m glad that one of the ways our modern myths are told is in these types of movies. They help us examine our private fears. They give us clues about how to build courage. I believe they’re important for that reason. We need a way to remove ourselves just a bit from our own problems and get a new perspective. We need the reassurance that humanity does have people smart enough to solve our problems, and as we watch we think, “maybe that smart person is me”.

Lucinda Sage-MIdgorden © 2014

Movies As Art – Ripples in Time

“This world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts.” Spoken by the character Robert Frobisher played by Ben Whishaw in Cloud Atlas

Sunrise for Skin

For several weeks I’ve been struggling with who I am as a writer. Writers write what they know. That’s why in this blog I write about my spiritual journey, my creative life, and about movies. I’ve learned a lot from these aspects of my life. But, I’ve been examining what it is I’m trying to say with my writing. What is my message?

In the midst of this self-examination a couple of things happened. The first was, I attended my women’s book club group. As always, the conversation turned to what’s going on in the world. On more than one occasion I’ve put my two cents worth in that the events we see on the news are just one level of reality. There’s another level that most people don’t see. I appreciate the ladies in my group. They don’t think I’m crazy when I talk like that. They struggle to understand my point of view. It’s nice to have friends who accept me as I am. Bless you ladies.

A few days later, my sister reposted a portion of Wayne Dyer’s new book, I Can See Clearly Now. When I read the excerpt, I knew what my message is and how to express it.

Since I was a young girl, I’ve understood that there are two realities. There is the normal, everyday world of going to school, work, church, doing chores and the like. Then there is another, more ephemeral reality. One we can only feel. When I’ve expressed this point of view, many people don’t understand what I’m talking about. To help you understand, I’ll share a movie example. There have been many movies that have tried to express this dual reality. The one I’m going to write about today is Cloud Atlas.

The movie got mixed reviews. Some critics got the point others didn’t. Granted, it is a movie you have to pay attention to. In fact you may need to watch it multiple times, because there are six intertwining story lines, with the actors playing multiple roles. I love what Roger Ebert wrote about the movie. “Any explanation of a work of art must be found in it, not taken from it. …Maybe it’s just the telling of itself.” He went on to write that he had no explanation for what the movie meant. And to my mind that’s the point of the movie. Do we ever know the meaning, or impact of our lives as we live them? Maybe mystics, or philosophers, or poets, or artists do, to a certain extent. But, most of us are just drifting through life in what Carlos Castaneda calls normal awareness. Only a small amount of the population is aware of other forces, or other realities affecting our lives.

Cloud Atlas, is a work of art that expresses these two competing realities. Sonmi-451, a character in the movie says, “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” If we take that one quote, and feel it’s impact, we’d understand that everything we do reverberates throughout time. We feel the reverberation of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, and Buddha. On the other hand, we also feel the shock waves of powerful politicians, princes of industry and science. Some of those shock waves are good, some not so good. But, my question is: Do you ever think about the smaller ripples you make by your choices? I do, and a movie like Cloud Atlas points out the importance of every single person’s contribution to the unseen reality. Every action we take, moves us in a direction. The movie suggests that the direction is toward higher awareness. I agree, and feel that everything that happens moves us in a positive direction. What looks like a tragic event, can be the awakening moment for a person, or a group of people. In fact this happens in more than one of the story lines in Cloud Atlas. As an example I’ll use the 1849 storyline.

A man, Adam Ewing, goes to secure a contract for slaves for his father-in-law. He becomes the victim of a greedy doctor who wants the gold he knows the man is carrying, not to mention every single thing of value Adam has. Dr. Goose says, “There is only one rule that binds all people. One governing principle that defines every relationship on God’s green earth: The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.” He states the mantra of those living in normal awareness.

Fortunately, Adam is saved by choosing to help a slave who stows away on his ship home. He had witnessed the slave being brutally whipped earlier in the movie, and was appalled by the brutality. He helps the slave gain a position as sailor on the ship. Because Adam rejected Dr. Goose’s philosophy, he’s saved by the slave from being poisoned to death. When he arrives home, he confronts his father-in-law about his inhumanity. He and his wife move north to join the abolitionist movement. In a later story line, they are again revolutionaries working to change the world for the better.

Cloud Atlas is a movie that shows us there is more to our lives than our short physical lifespans. Ephemeral reality is trying to help us to expand and grow. The question is, do we feel the gentle push, and follow, or do we wait until our lives fall apart before we wake up to the bigger and better possibilities we can experience in our lives? It’s up to you to decide what impact you’re going to make throughout time.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014