They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I can say first hand, yes it is.
My descent into the underworld began with a story. It seemed simple enough, until it became muddled with cross-cultural ideas. I plunged ahead anyway, eager to at least complete the manuscript, to prove to myself that I was capable of actually finishing something I had started. And I did finish, for better or worse.
But something was nagging me about the story. Something didn’t feel right, no matter how much I loved this little baby I had brought into the world.
So I asked for help. I sought out beta readers of all walks of life, wanting to know if what I had written was offensive in the wrong way. (The story itself is offensive, but in horror sort of way.) I got mixed responses. Some thought the story was great. Others, not so much.
I was faced with the dilemma of cultural appropriation versus appreciation. Where do we draw the line? Is there a line? Is there a way to share cultural ideas and values without causing harm? It is a very polarizing debate, and as a white person, I do not get to decide whether or not I am coming across as racist or offensive. If I cause offense, I must accept that, apologize, and work to never do that again.
I don’t have any answers regarding that issue, but I do know that as I looked at the broken and bleeding carcass of my story, my years of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, lying in a pitiful pile on the floor, something inside me broke.
I should have seen the signs. The Morrigan and Lord Shiva, hanging around, waiting their turn to take me to places I couldn’t imagine. To slay the parts of me that needed to go, that were keeping me stunted and small. To prune the dead and decaying limbs from my trunk so I could sprout new growth. Eventually, I relented. What else was there to do?
Our society, as a whole, has lost its soul, and we the individuals feel the repercussions in our daily lives. We don’t know ourselves. We don’t know why we’re here. We feel a void, a deep longing for something more, but don’t know how to fix it. Instead we fill it with consumerism, drugs, alcohol, sex, cheap thrills, anything to numb the pain of a meaningless existence. But there is another way. We could choose to dive into the depths, to face our shadows, to uncover our souls, our true natures that were buried at an early age because they didn’t fit into societal norms. It is through this deep soul work that we can discover our meaning, our purpose, and begin to live in a way that brings true change to ourselves and our world.
Soul work is not easy. It is dying. My ego was ripped apart. It was in the way, it was keeping me from seeing the truth about the world and about myself. It was a brutal, slow, and painful death. Just when I thought I couldn’t go any lower, we went down into another level, peeled back another layer, dove deeper into the abyss.
My guides dragged me through the underworld, showing me the aspects of myself that had been frozen in ice because they were “not safe” by societal standards. They were the non-conforming, feminine, wild parts of me that were threatening to the patriarchy. They were my true self that needed to be accepted, embraced, and integrated back into the whole. I learned where my true power lies, and it is not in the preening and prancing of my ego. It is in my soul. It is in the words written on my heart from the beginning, the words whispered to me by the Lady Morrigan: “Your words are your sword.”
After a literal week of hell, I asked for completion. “Finish it. Just destroy me. Get it over with.” And the next morning I received the final blow in an email. I had caused hurt. I had caused offense. And this was just a rough draft, seen by less than a dozen people. My ego did not jump to my defense, but rather accepted it was wrong. I humbly apologized, though it doesn’t seem to be enough.
The story is not dead. It can be re-written. I suppose that is the beauty of art, the beauty of our lives. They can be changed if we allow ourselves to be malleable. We don’t have to be stuck in our unyielding ways, digging in our heels and refusing to change our opinions, because dammit, it’s mine! What has died is my unhealthy ego and its need for adulation. I am not a hero. I’m just a person fumbling through this life as best as I can. I see things around me and I want to point them out to others. I want people to see, really see, each other. I want to knock down walls and quell shouting matches. But I can’t do that by shouting, too. No one will hear me.
So I sit quietly and munch on my humble pie. I contemplate the new ways to tell the same story. I listen to the people and the world around me, and I take note.