Edisto Island, a place of uncommon natural beauty, is poetry. From the twenty miles of serpentine highway to the sea, through Tarzan-and-Jane jungles of dark forest, past the genuine Serpentarium, the land speaks to me of Parzival and the Medieval legends of the Grail.
Even the nearby Combahee River, the first one visited by the Spaniards in the year 1520 was named the “River Jordan” by Vasque de Ayllon. The story is that the Native Americans always considered the river a sacred one even before that.
To begin this new year and new decade, I began an in-depth study of metaphor, a principle that is fundamental to the life of an artist. Metaphor makes life meaningful, and is the practice of seeing things and places and ideas as more than they are, as symbolic. It enriches my everyday existence and is the basis of poetry and most of the world’s religious texts, and in the South, the classic Gullah stories of Brer Rabbit, the trickster.
Metaphor is the basis of humor – and our ‘funny bone’. And we humans are uniquely attuned to see this ‘under glimmer’.
To look at metaphor, who better to study than the life of the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who cracked the world open with his original thinking about myth and spirituality, and he taught us to search for the sacred in the everyday.
Religious texts (The Bible) he said, will mean MORE to us if they are looked at as metaphor rather than history which “turns them into mere newspaper accounts”, which, besides not meaning anything to us personally, could not always stand up to science. That was a fairly radical view in the religious South where I grew up where the historical Bible was undisputable. Now I hope to see my own faith from every angle. The world got to know Joseph Campbell through the interviews he did with Bill Moyers for PBS in 1988. His writing influenced the creation of George Lucas’ film trilogy, Star Wars. He was a man who also believed in the power of art which he also defined as the creation of your own artful life, one of vitality, and true calling. “Follow your bliss” was his teaching, simplified.
How do you do this? He writes, “When skies get dull with no prospect of clearing, run away, change your home town, your name, your job, change anything. No misfortune can be worse than the misfortune of resting permanently static. Take a chance. If you lose you are scarcely worse-of than before; if you win you have at least experience and a new thrill or two gained.” He continues, “Never get into a rut. Never do work that does not help you achieve an ambition worthy of your talents…it is the dull routine where happiness becomes merely a matter of torpid vegetation.” Not making the change and continuing the life that is static is the waste land, Joseph Campbell reminds us, The Waste Land about which T.S. Eliot writes. Campbell, quotes the last line of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbit, in the interview with Bill Moyers, and recites, ‘I have never done the thing that I wanted to do in all my life.’ Joseph Campbell sums it up with, “That is a man who never followed his bliss.”
I stand evidence of this principle today. Just about this time last year, a little brown rabbit repeatedly appeared in my path, at my house in North Carolina. It was the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, saying, ” Follow me. The adventure is awaiting. Follow me down the rabbit hole…”
Well, I did just that. I rented my house and down I came, to Edisto Island, to write, to paint, to live in my little RV named Rosy, to take my chances making the dream come true in this place that had called my name. I (metaphorically, of course) jumped into the river.
The adventure is four volumes of journals and life lessons, my own version of Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert being one of the bright lights of my summer, whose books I deliciously encountered for the first time. My adventure, of course, included some not so easy life lessons I would not have dreamed of asking myself to learn.
It was my battle with the minotaur, the task of the hero. Today, though somewhat embattled, I know that the creative spirit of the universe, in my life, is alive and well. And like Edna St Vincent Millay said about love, “I would not trade this night for food”, I would not trade all I’ve gained for anything in the world.”