Beginning with the Mythic Cycle

Writers come to my studio, my workshops, my website, with the same question: How do I do it? How to I write my life to make it matter? What I endeavor in this monthly blog is to give my version of an answer.

I am a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and what I know best is structure. My doctorate and my teaching have focused on memoir and personal writing and essay, and what I love most is voice. This blog combines what I know of structure and voice, lighting a path for memoir writers to combine mythic structures with their own true voice—instructions to write their life and make it matter. The reason myth applies to memoir is because both are hero’s or heroine’s journeys, made up of the only three stories that truly matter: birth, love, and death. These are the three turning points when we open ourselves most vulnerably to growth and change. We all experience all three in some form. In essence, this triangle makes a human life.

Birth: we set out, new, young, raw, uncertain. We enter a woods, maybe of our own choosing, maybe not. We meet allies, enemies, challenges. We fall in love.

Love: love can be anything we move toward, a person, a passion, a metaphor for freedom. Whatever our love is, we grasp toward it—we try to catch it—we seek it, lose it, seek again. Once we have it (if we are so lucky!), we are secure from all things except death.

Death: the end of things. We suffer many deaths in our life, each time something or someone we love vanishes, each time an era ends.

Between our own physical birth and death, this cycle will repeat itself over and over. This is the mythic cycle, too. A hero or heroine sets out after something beloved and, if he or she is lucky, holds onto it until the end.

In this way, every life contains many myths, many fairy tales.

Try this: Write about a birth-love-death cycle in your own life.