Okay…with this last batch, I promise that I have officially run out of photos of birds (hehehe) from my trip to Washington, DC…but they’re so beautiful.
Engaging the Feminine Heroic
In a follow-up to her very popular Transformational Arc talk of previous years, Dara Marks took us through another aspect of character development, something she calls the feminine heroic. A counterpart to the well known hero’s journey, the feminine heroic completes the hero’s character and thus is not necessarily tied simply to female heroes. Rather, it encapsulates the feminine side of everyone’s natures.
She explains, as writers, we are constantly trying to understand the narrative in which we are living, but we experience that narrative from a very personal perspective. Thus, in her canonical transformational arc, there is both an outer realm, where external forces act upon the hero, and an inner realm, the more personal influences. We grow, she says, only in relationship to demands on us to grow, and the external realm stimulates the internal reckoning.
The union of the feminine and masculine brings about wholeness in the character. It is a combination of the masculine spirit, which represents all that we can be, and the feminine soul, the deepness of our authentic self. Marks offers the example of a tree, which may reach toward the sky, but is only as strong as the root system that provides it nutrients.
Everything we are in life is what comes from deep within ourselves.
Marks presented this relatively complicated diagram that illustrated the hero’s external and internal journey (and in many ways, reflects our own journey through counseling or life itself). To the left, we find the Ego Self, where the onus is on my aspirations and beliefs of me. To the right is the True Self, which is understood after reflection and denotes my understanding of myself in the universe.
Ego Self: All early development, even that of a child, relies very heavily on the development of the Ego, a sense of will and determination. We believe that we’re in charge, despite all evidence to the contrary.
So if we start the journey in the Ego Self realm, we can look at the External or Masculine side and the Internal or Feminine side of ourselves.
Masculine Ego: In the top left quadrant, we have the Call to Life, the external mission that demands we strive or ascend to a greater level. We assert the force of our will on the universe. This area therefore is associated with a youthful and energetic quality. We have to move forward. We cannot let fear hold us back. To do this, we must sacrifice our feminine side, pushing those feelings down, or we cannot move forward.
Marks suggests that the tragedy of Hamlet was that he couldn’t get beyond his feminine side when he needed to move forward. She also gives the very literal example of Agamemnon, who was forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia before the Greek ships would be allowed to voyage to Troy.
Feminine Ego: In the lower left quadrant of the diagram, we see the influence the masculine decision has on the feminine ego. We suffer a wound because part of us is no longer valued. We are literally abandoning a key part of our self and this will have a lingering effect. While we appear invincible externally, we are very vulnerable internally.
Thus, the feminine side needs to be rescued by the proverbial knight on a white charger. Marks is quick to point out that this is no time for political correctness as at this stage in our development, we just don’t have the internal skills to rescue ourselves.
She goes back to Greek myth to show how this works, focusing on the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, the latter of whom was abducted to the underworld by Hades to become his wife. Demeter was distraught at the loss of her daughter and journeyed to the underworld to bring her back to the surface.
The underworld experience may be difficult, but it is educational and we need to journey through it to come out more whole in the next stage.
Marriage of Death: The combination of the masculine and feminine ego is what Marks calls the Marriage of Death. Anytime we strive to become something new, it means the death to other aspects of our being. We just can’t strive at all things at the same time. But this marriage is not designed to last.
As Marks points out, the problem with striving is that it is doomed to failure. We can’t be rich enough, strong enough, famous enough, whatever enough. And it is at the moment of realization that our dreams are doomed that we have a Crisis of Faith (masculine side), which leads to an Awakening of Potential (feminine side). We move closer to the discovery of our true self, the right hand side of the diagram.
Masculine True Self: As the masculine ego passes through its crisis of faith, it suffers a fall from the unattainable heights, which converts the Call to Life into a Battle for Life. For self-renewal, it is essential that our delusions and illusions are shed during this descent, such as the belief that we are in control of our lives. And thus, at this stage, it is the masculine self that needs rescuing.
Marks offers the example of Odysseus (a popular subject at TSC this year) and the knowledge that his journey home was his great undoing as he loses more and more of his ego self (including his ships, crew, etc). The second half of his journey is literally the journey homeward toward his true self.
Feminine True Self: And who rescues the masculine true self? As the masculine side becomes more vulnerable, the feminine side becomes emboldened. We heal our wounds and reunite, turning pain and suffering into love and creativity.
The way out of our self-imposed purgatory is through compassion. We have to hear the story and then feel and acknowledge the pain. And it is only when the pain is given voice that it can move back from the underworld into life.
Marks exemplifies this aspect with the myth of Inanna and Erishkegal (which I do not know as well and so simply provide a link).
Sacred Marriage/True Self: It is at this point, through the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine that we finally achieve the true self.
NOTE: All images and illustrations are property and copyright of Dara Marks and are used here without permission.
Writing a screenplay or novel is a lot like being in a long-term relationship as you largely go through the same steps.
At first, you’re unfailingly passionate about your partner, flush with love for an incredible idea. You dive into her with a zeal you have never felt before and are certain you will never experience again. You embrace every inch of her, her very essence and when finally forced to surface, you just want to show everyone how happy you are.
As time goes on, however, the initial zeal diminishes, if not in scale, at least in monomaniacal focus. You become more comfortable with her. You spend more time contemplating her rather than just diving in. You are caring, loving, nurturing. And even if not everything proceeds as smoothly as it once did, those are just the little maturities that slip into life.
Eventually, you grow into each other. There is love, there is care, but it’s mellower, more set in its ways. She isn’t as all-consuming as she once was, but you’re both okay with that. You might spend time with other couples, sharing common bonds and then making fun of them on your way home. Life is good, it’s right, it’s comfortable.
Now, if you’re fortunate, this goes on for the rest of your time together. You mature with each other. You fulfill her needs until that fateful day when she passes on to the other side. You’re wistful, but satisfied that you had a good life together.
Not every couple is so fortunate, however.
Sometimes little inconsistencies or minor difficulties can inflate in importance. What was once just a tiny tic, becomes this really aggravating feature that just drives you up the wall. Oh, you try to work through it. You try to convince yourself it’s nothing, that you’re just being paranoid, but after a certain point, she just seems to do it all the time and damn it, on purpose.
You soon find yourself coming up with excuses to go out for a little bit to clear your head, but the moment you leave the house, you find your mind wandering off to sexier screenplay ideas. You’re fantasizing and you can’t help it. And damned if, the minute you walk back into the house, there she is, staring right at you like she can read your mind.
“What do you expect?” you scream. “You knew I was an artist when we started.” And she just lay there, letting you stew in your self-incriminating guilt. It’s the silence, the inertness that just gets under your skin.
If you’re lucky enough to calm down, you may decide that you just need a little time apart. Both of you. A little time to remember why you came together in the first place. A month, six months, a year later, maybe those petty little problems won’t be so big. Hell, you might even have found a way around them. But right now, you just need some space.
Time goes by and maybe you do get back together to solve your differences. But maybe you don’t. It’s tough, but you realize it’s over. It’s time to move on.
It’s okay. You’ll live. You can’t beat yourself up over it. You tried and it just didn’t work out.
You may not think it right now, but there’ll be others. You’ll try again and maybe that one will work out differently.
You didn’t fail. You’re not a bad person. It just wasn’t meant to be.
You have to know when it’s over…but nothing says you have to know any sooner than is absolutely necessary.
PS If screenplays and novels are long-term relationships, I guess that makes sketch comedy a quickie in the alley. No wonder they’re so much fun, but rarely fulfilling.