I love the Arthurian legend

Mixed media painting of Celtic woman

“Ganieda” inspired by Annie Hamman, Life Book 2017, lesson 13

The prompt for day fifteen of the Artfully Wild Blog Along is to share something about myself that is not widely known. For most of my adult life, I have been captivated by the Arthurian legend. 

During my early teaching career, I was a certified exceptional children’s teacher. However, my undergraduate degree was in secondary English, so to earn extra money in the summers, I taught sophomore English in summer school, which lasted six weeks. Before NC changed the tenth grade curriculum to world literature, it was a survey literature curriculum and included selections from the Arthurian legend by Malory, Tennyson, and T. H. White and also had in the textbook the short novel by Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. 

I also showed clips from a half dozen or more films of the story, including Knights of the Round Table, The Sword and the Stone, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Excalibur, Camelot, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and an outstanding British film with very authentic costuming called The Legend Of King Arthur, which I found today on YouTube, although the quality is very poorI fell in love with this ancient story, which has been told and retold over so many centuries in so many variations.

I probably own close to two hundred books based on the legend. Most are novels, but some are history or literary criticism, and there are quite a few that relate to the story and its offshoot, the legend of the Holy Grail, as a path to enlightenment. Both stories are examples of the hero’s journey and are metaphors for the unfolding and development of the Soul as it gains knowledge/wisdom. There are even magical societies with rituals based on one or the other of the legends. The troubadours of the Middle Ages kept the stories alive throughout Europe, and even in countries far removed from Britain, there are versions. The Church might have liked to squelch the legends as too pagan or too gnostic, but it contented itself with Christianizing the primary elements.

If there was a real King Arthur, he probably was a Celtic warlord, perhaps with Roman ancestors, living on the western coast of Britain during the time the Angles and Saxons were settling the east coast. Roman influence still existed, but Roman soldiers had gone back across the channel to defend the continent against their own Germanic invasions. The best modern retellings, in my opinion, are set in this period of the late Roman/Dark Ages rather than the later Middle Ages when the stories became popular in the French court. 

I could go on and on about aspects of the legend. That I have this obsession and have read so very many books of all different types about the legend is something very few people know about me, and even fewer are interested in learning. Indeed, I miss having a classroom full of sixteen year-olds who are, so to speak, a captive audience. 

My favorite retellings of the legend are Marion Zimmerman Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s four-book Arthurian Saga, and Stephan Lawhead’s six-book Pendragon Cycle (I especially like the first book set in Atlantis). If you want a good story, give them a try or watch one of the many movies. There are several newer ones since my teaching days.

Defeating the Darkness Within

Collage of girl with flowing hair

Like my last post here, I’m behind on the prompt/daily nudge train. I read blogs written by other people in the “Blog Along with Effy” group, (which, by the way, is worth joining even if you don’t want to write, just so you can read the amazing blogs being produced in the group), and I suddenly start thinking about what I’d say to the nudge. So here I am on day six, discussing day five’s prompt: What is something you struggle with? What battles are you fighting that most people know nothing about? What’s something about your life that makes you feel weird, or different or isolated?

It was amazing to read a couple of other people say that they either often or occasionally had suicidal feelings as a regular part of their inner dialogue. They had no intention of acting on those thoughts, but the demon thoughts were there. What???? I am not alone??? I am not some totally strange (deranged) Pisces Enneagram Four INFP with suicidal thoughts who is relatively happy and has no real intention of offing myself. I just think about it a lot…especially when I get stressed and usually in the morning…I am not alone?

I never tell anyone about those thoughts. For one thing, I was a public school teacher for thirty years, and have lots of teacher friends. We were taught to take such thoughts seriously and to report them immediately when expressed. I’m not sure anyone would really understand the difference between the inner wimp who just wants to give up but is basically impotent and the real inner devil who can push one into the deepest despair and consequent action. Fortunately, I know the difference, and I know when I need to seek help.

So what pushes me to feel this way? Day four’s prompt was about stress, and I’m going to address that here, too, because usually I get those sucky thoughts when the stress gets too much to bear. Money stresses me out for one thing. I have a huge amount of debt, and I don’t seem to have the self-discipline to pull myself out of it. Some of that is hiding my lack of cash from others by charging, some of it is a certain OCD about books, art supplies, shoes, etc. You get the picture. I also have a rather weird self-defeating attitude that if I actually had money, my friends and family might only value me for what I could give them instead of for myself. I think that comes from of my earliest relationships with men, which is a whole different story.  Anyway, being short of cash can really send me into a tailspin of depression even though my finances always work out, and I actually have a very good credit rating. 

I am a codependent person. You may have deduced that. I can worry about my friends, and I can really obsess about family.  I am much better now that I used to be, thanks to Al-Anon, which I really credit with saving my sanity. I am now able to set boundaries and walk away from the most toxic people. When I don’t though, I can start feeling life isn’t worth living, especially if I start taking criticism too much to heart or thinking everything is about me. I can also do it when I start thinking I can fix other people instead of making them responsible for themselves. Those are red flags for me. It shows that I am really stressed and I’m reverting to earlier, self-defeating behavior instead of taking care of myself. It’s a message to me to step back and regroup.

I’ve got lots of ways to deal with my stress and my depression. I love reading both fiction and non-fiction. I go on spiritual retreats, and I live only about an hour away from the Blue Ridge Mountains (roadtrip to Boone or Asheville). I love watching old movies and reruns of old favorite TV shows. Painting has become more than a hobby, it’s a necessary part of every day, and I draw, art journal or paint something every day. I enjoy genealogy and have traced both sides of my family back to the 1700s when they came to America. I get a massage every two weeks and go the the acupuncturist monthly. I used to go to an energy healer monthly, but she moved, so I am looking for someone new. When all else fails, I lie in the floor with my dog and cry. Then I call a friend and cry. Then I call the doctor if I still need help. I know if I wait it out, I will be okay. I alway am. Always. And in the end, I always get up and want to live. 

So What?

Girl with andy Warhol quote

If you’re reading my blog, chances are you are participating in the September blog challenge begun by Effy Wild. I’ve read some incredible posts as a result of her prompts, and the one she posted yesterday has really challenged me: “Write about something you used to believe that you no longer believe and how that shift in belief has changed things for you.”
I used to believe that I had to have a man, or more accurately, to be in love with a man, to be happy and fulfilled. Indeed, I thought I wouldn’t be a whole woman without a man. In my teens, it was a near obsession. Girls often got married right out of high school where I lived. Not having a boyfriend felt to me like being totally rejected as a female. It created real fear and panic that I was unworthy of love.

I’m not sure where that kind of thinking came from. My parents loved me. I wasn’t abused or mistreated. I had friends. I made good grades and did things with other kids. I just thought if I didn’t have a man, I wouldn’t be worthwhile as a woman.

I was born in 1951, that generation which grew up with the Cleavers, then James Bond and Star Trek and finally The Sensuous Woman and the Equal Rights Amendment. To say we received mixed messages about a woman’s role would be an understatement. I also grew up in the South with middle class parents and in a middle class community. My generation was the first in my family to go to college. My parents and my cousins’ and girlfriends’ parents were overprotective and expected me to marry and have children. About half of my cousins and family friends did exactly that.

I did get married while I was in college to my high school boyfriend. We should have broken up instead of getting married. He was a fun boyfriend, but he was not a fun husband. Four months after we married, my mother died. Then I had to go back to college for my senior year and student teaching. It was no way to start a life together. We actually lived together a total of eight months, and that was off and on. There were lots of fights. Some were violent.

After we separated, I continued to look for love. I really thought I would find “the one” and then everything would be okay. I’d get married, be a good wife, have children, keep the perfect house, take great vacations, etc. etc.  In fact, I did fall in love again, really  in love, but I think I knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t work out because he didn’t want to get married. I was caught in a dilemma: stay with the man I loved and miss out on the life I wanted or leave him and maybe get neither. I was too afraid to take the risk to get the life I wanted. The irony is that in the end, he left me, and I still ended with neither.

After that, I had other relationships, but I began to realize that I couldn’t depend on someone else to make me happy. Some of that was because I had begun to do a great deal of inner work, and I faced some of my fears of abandonment and being less than. Some of it, maybe a great deal of it, came because I began to see myself through my own eyes and not through someone else’s.  I stopped putting up with things that drove me crazy just so I wouldn’t be alone. I set boundaries and felt good when I maintained them. I found I actually enjoyed doing my own thing on my own terms.

The really odd thing is, I think I have more love in my life now than ever before. I think about the people I love without constantly worrying they will stop loving me if I don’t live up to their standards. In fact, I wonder how I could have ever have loved someone who demanded such a thing.

I still believe all you need is love, but I don’t believe you have to have another person to make you happy. Oh, certainly, certain people can bring you indescribable joy and satisfaction, but if you aren’t able to find happiness within yourself, it is unfair to lay that burden on another person. It just won’t work. I enjoy the people in my life, but I also enjoy my solitude and independence. Even during my occasional bouts of depression, I am more apathetic than unhappy.

Let me be clear though, it isn’t that I don’t have people in my life that I love and that I need and would miss if I lost them. Likewise, there are people I’ve lost whom I miss. It’s just that my happiness is not dependent on some other person in my life. There is an inner core of strength inside me that just wasn’t as available to my conscious mind forty years ago as it is today. For that gift, I am thankful.