Posts Tagged countdown

The Heroine’s Journey?

Stereotypical around-the-world trips seem to be undertaken by youthful backpackers eager to explore (and apparently party across) the world — those who just graduated from high school, those on college break, or recent college grads.  I certainly don’t fit this mold; I’m older, married, have career experience, mortgages, and car payments.  And most importantly, I’m at a crossroads.

The old model of “maid, matron, crone” for women’s lives was based on a much shorter average life-span.  Modern technology, over the past 150 years, has literally doubled the life expectancy of women in industrial societies (from 40 to 45 years to 80 to 90 years).  With lower birth rates, “matron” takes less of a bite than ever out of the prime years, and the debilitation of old age is pushed off for decades.  This gives instead a life structure of “maid, matron, 20-or-30-year-blank, crone.”  There are no historical social models for that second-maturity period.  It’s something our time is having to invent.

I am most definitely in that “20-or-30-year-blank” period, attempting my second maturity.  Hopefully, my 30/40 World Tour: Quest for Passion will help me usher in this next phase of life.

The Power of Myth book cover

Today Mr. HalfFull sees this defining book from his college years in a new light

I’m not a fan of ancient mythology, fantasy, or science fiction genres, but Mr. HalfFull recently suggested to me that perhaps our trip really is a quest.  Of course, we dubbed the trip a Quest for Passion, but it’s somewhat in jest and mostly because it sounds awesome! =)  Yet Mr. HalfFull now contends that I may be on “The Hero’s Journey,” which he learned about in the early 90’s (when I was a 10-year-old…haha) watching “The Power of Myth” hosted by Bill Moyers on PBS.

I begrudgingly watched that old interview with Joseph Campbell, and was pleasantly surprised to find that much of it resonates with me today as I ponder my upcoming trip.  Campbell asserts that there are two kinds of hero journeys — heroic acts and spiritual journeys.  Obviously, mine would be a spiritual journey, which is described as a death and resurrection, like the transition from childhood to adulthood.  This type of journey involves a going and a return, which is exactly my plan.  Campbell also discusses how spiritual journeys must be taken intentionally, rather than being conscripted.  The only thing certain in my mind is that I’m ready and willing to go.  As Mr. HalfFull would say, “Let’s light this candle!”

Chart outlining The Hero's Journey

Chart outlining The Hero's Journey

The basic outline of the hero’s journey comprises three major stages:  a departure (before the quest), initiation (adventures along the way), and return (with new knowledge from the journey).  The first stage in the departure is a “call to adventure.”  Mr. HalfFull and I have been thinking about our round-the-world trip for years.  Well, he came up with the initial vision, and I’ve been thinking (and stressing) about it for years!  My ISTJ nature persisted in channeling his ENFP energy, so together we could sort out the minutiae that renders a quest of this magnitude possible.  We have truly inspired adventure in one another.

However, I had my doubts about this whole heroine’s journey when I saw the next step of departure, titled “refusal of the call.”  Hmm.  Well, we have talked about the trip for years, but did we go?  No.  We considered going after our wedding in 2009.  We considered going last summer in anticipation of our 30th and 40th birthdays.  Whoa, twice we refused to heed the call to adventure in the past!  Thankfully, we have now been inspired by “supernatural aid.”  In our case, events in our professional lives conspired to lead us toward travel this summer.  Mr. HalfFull changed careers, becoming a teacher with summers off.  Meanwhile, I’d never felt passionate about my career, and my small company was sold twice, finally being absorbed into one of the largest companies in the world.  I don’t know what I want professionally, but I definitely don’t feel a meaningful connection to this revenue-fueled behemoth.  So here we are, ready to cross the mythical threshold in five weeks.

feet on the beach

Belly of the Whale? Nope, just Ms. HalfEmpty's feet.

The final step in the departure phase is the “belly of the whale,” which represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.  Campbell explains that within the context of the belly of the whale, water represents the unconscious.  Much of my trip revolves around water since most of my destinations are island nations.  So as I lay on the beach looking out at the water, I’ll have to try to figure out what my unconscious is telling me.

The second major state of a hero’s journey is initiation, which involves trials.  This scares me a bit, but I do realize that you can’t grow if you don’t challenge and test yourself.  Campbell thinks of these trials as losing yourself and giving of yourself in order to transform your consciousness.  I wonder what revelations await me…

Campbell also believes that the landscape and conditions match the readiness of the adventurer.  So the hero will not get more than he is prepared to handle — not what he thinks he can handle, but what the universe knows he can handle.  So at least I’ve got that going for me!

According to Campbell, as humans we all operate in relation to a system that is governed by our minds.  The key is to operate within our humanity, governed by our heart and spirit.  From a young age, we are conditioned to align with a programmatic life: sitting still in our school desks and raising our hands to speak, while learning to play by society’s rules.  I am particularly susceptible to this, and Mr. HalfFull often jokingly refers to me as a robot, while trying to bring me back to the human side.  [“Robot is a bit cold; she’s more of a cyborg,” says Mr. HalfFull.  Darth Vader would approve!]

Empty Coffee Cup

Nirvana? Maybe I just need a refill!

Apparently, the goal of this whole heroine’s journey is to find a place of rest and repose within myself.  To allow action to come from my center, so as not to create tension.  Campbell explains that ideas like Nirvana are not actual physical places, but rather a psychological state of mind where one is not compelled by desire, fear, or social commitments.  Sounds like a tall order for Ms. HalfEmpty, but definitely a worthy goal. Perhaps this suggests that my quest for passion might culminate within myself as well.  For now this heroine remains content with her current itinerary, searching for Nirvana with Mr. HalfFull along some of the world’s loveliest beaches or perhaps at the bottom of a cup of coffee.

Campbell mostly speaks to the hero’s journey; I’ve read that the stages of the heroine’s journey are similar, but the circumstances are different.  The journey of a female hero

…does not involve swinging a big, phallic sword like a man (or Joan of Arc), nor defying patriarchal oppression. She does not run away from her evil father, pretend to be a man, or move off to an Amazonian commune. Her struggle is to find her own way at a time in her life when all her previous duties and roles are gone, when she doesn’t know who she is anymore, and is in a spiritual crisis.

Wow, that last sentence really resonates with me.  Let’s break down my current existential crisis:

  • Struggling to find a path that works for me (check)
  • At a time when my previous professional role is gone (check)
  • While feeling like I don’t know who I should be (check)
  • Spiritual crisis (well, I’m more of an agnostic, but sure, check)

It has been suggested that the final return phase is also different for heroines.  Crossing the return threshold often involves a meeting with the heroine’s parents.  Coincidentally, my parents will probably be picking us up from the airport when we return in August.

Mr. HalfFull, perhaps I really am a heroine on a journey…

  • Where did you travel as a youthful backpacker?
  • Do you enjoy ancient mythology, fantasy, or science fiction genres?
  • Have you embarked on a hero or heroine’s journey?
  • Is Mr. HalfFull getting me swept up in his flair for the dramatic?
  • Can Nirvana be found at the bottom of a cup of coffee?
  • Is simply traveling enough, or does a framework of meaning add value?
  • Do you tend to follow your mind or your heart/spirit?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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The Countdown Begins

Ms. Butter is my good friend from college.  [She earned this name by consuming copious amounts of REAL butter in the dining hall and professing its health benefits.  Julia Child would approve.  My little brother had only met her once, but whenever I spoke of her by name, he would confirm, “Do you mean the butter girl?”]  Unfortunately, I don’t see her very often since she lives hours away, but we do communicate regularly via Twitter and email.  Recently, she asked me if I had a countdown going for my 30/40 World Tour: Quest for Passion.  Um…why do I need a countdown?  I have a calendar.

Ms. Butter suggested that I make a paper chain for my countdown, but I was definitely not sold on the idea.  I’d heard of and seen paper chains before, but never for a countdown.  I thought they were just for kids to decorate schools.  But Ms. Butter explained that her family always created paper chains at the beginning of December, and made a paper ring for each day left until Christmas. Then every day they would remove another ring, and as the chain got shorter, she had a great visual of how much closer it was until Christmas.

Hum…ok, I get the idea, but is this really something I need to do?  Who has time to cut strips of paper and assemble them into a chain?  Where would I put such a thing?  What if I forgot to remove a chain one day and lost count?  Do I really need another project or to-do item?  Why would I spend the time to create something if I was just going to rip it up in the end?  I was definitely half empty on this project.

strips of paper

Strips of paper cut from an old map

Despite my negativity, Ms. Butter was persistent…

Ahh, I think a paper chain is in order. 🙂  This is totally good fodder for your blog!  There is the whole question of whether you are going to view its getting shorter with each passing day as “ruining all your work” (half empty), or… getting you closer to the REAL and exciting goal of going on the trip (half full)!

Ms. Butter checks the calendar

Ms. Butter counts the days on the calendar (after we finished the bottle of wine)

Ms. Butter and her husband were in town last week and joined us for tapas and paper chain making.  Ms. Butter had previously cut strips of paper from an old topographic map.  (Coincidentally, it was a map she got from our college and had saved all this time to bring full circle!)  I found myself starting to get excited about the project after seeing the multicolor paper strips from a map.  How perfect for a travel countdown!  Perhaps this wasn’t as bad as anticipated.

Ms. Butter links the first two paper strips together

Ms. Butter links the first two strips of paper together to start the paper chain

To make sure the paper chain was completely accurate, we broke out the calendar and Ms. Butter began to count the days.  Of course, I asked her what would happen if I couldn’t remember if I had removed a link or not.  She knows me well and was already armed with an answer — that I would write the actual date on the inside of each link.

Paper Chain

The paper chain grows longer

So we started our assembly line with me writing dates on the back and Ms. Butter linking the strips together with tape.  We had an efficient system and the chain began to grow longer until it was finished.

Complete Paper Chain

Finished paper chain displayed on top of our world tour map

I found the perfect spot for the paper chain — on top of the world map tacked to our bulletin board.  We originally posted the map to help us plan our trip and it now has tacks for all our trip destinations, as well as ribbon to connect the various legs.

Each morning as I leave for work, I remove a link from the right side of the chain.  I randomly hung up the paper chain as I was holding it and didn’t realize the earlier dates (remember that I wrote the actual date on each ring) were on the right side.  At first this bothered me since our world moves from left to right.  But as I thought about it’s placement on the actual map it made a lot of sense for the flow of our westward trip.  Right now, in the early part of my countdown, I’m on the right side of the map with the early trip destinations.  By the time the countdown is done, I will have moved through the whole map and all the destinations to be back in the US to start the actual trip!

One of my concerns with the paper chain was destroying it after all the work that went into fashioning it.  Mr. HalfFull already pokes fun at me for the way I open wrapped presents, carefully removing each piece of tape at the seams.  He and Ms. Butter joked that I’d probably undo each link delicately at the seam and maybe even preserve them in a box.  But after using Ms. Butter’s cool tape gun, we realized that the paper was too stiff and thick to be held in place by a small piece of tape on the inside.  So Ms. Butter started using tape all the way around each ring to make sure it stayed intact.  This had the added benefit of forcing me to actually rip each ring off.  It wouldn’t be so easy to daintily unroll each ring.

At one point while writing the dates on each paper strip, I got distracted and wrote the wrong month.  So I had to scribble out what I had written.  Ms. Butter made me save this one for a test run.  So I put the current date on it and she added it to the chain.  My first test was to rip it off and discard it as a half full thinker moving toward a goal.  I did rip it and throw it out.  But that was pretty easy since I had already messed it up.  I’m not sure if I’m half full on the countdown since the chain is starting to make me nervous about having fewer days to plan and prepare.  But I became half full on the project, probably because of Ms. Butter.  Lesson learned:  butter fills you up. =)

  • Have you ever used a paper chain as a countdown?
  • Do countdowns make time pass faster or slower?
  • Are countdowns more useful for adults or children?
  • How do you open presents?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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