The rich history found in myths and their geography can be mined for today’s stories because their emotional truths still apply despite the change in civilizations. In his book, Realms of Gold, Leland Ryken comments on myth’s enduring qualities.
“During his wanderings, Odysseus encounters approximately what anyone taking a journey away from home would encounter today: violence, sexual temptation, drugs (the island of the lotus eaters), the occult, physical danger, death, lost luggage, homesickness, getting lost, culture shock (for example, the overnight in the Cyclops cave and the spectacle of Odysseus’ seeing his fellow sailors transformed into animals as he arrive at Circe’s house), hospitality, the impulse to give up, inadequate transportation, a lost passport (Odysseus arrives stark naked and without identity at Phaiacia), and personal conflict with fellow travelers.”
Sometimes we go on a journey and experience the unexpected. It can happen through our travel plans where nothing is as it should be, or was promised, or is even there anymore. (Wasn't there a comedy where a family arrived on a resort island and found a broken down house?)
And the unexpected can happen in familiar territory like a walk around the block where suddenly we see an incident that impacts our lives and gives us an epiphany. We start off in one direction but when we come to the end we find we are different. The journey has changed us within. So regardless of genre, we almost have an internal radar to all journey stories, whether of quest or immigration or exile or discovery or mystery, and regardless of distance.
Exercise in Process
1. Take a walk down a street in your childhood. Write down what you see, hear, remember. Write quickly a free write, broadly spaced. (about ten minutes)
2. Now go back through your notes and add specifics: sound, taste, and smell. For example, not just a swing on the front porch or in a yard, but what kind of swing. Metal-wooden-plastic/size/sounds it makes.
3. Choose one aspect of your walk—a particular setting or character and highlight either by enhanced detail, or exaggeration. Draw an analogy. For example:
“And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.” Sandra Cisneros.
Share. Did some additional thoughts, feelings insights come with each layer?