1. Describe your community. You may be a part of many communities: church, school, neighborhood, youth groups, town or social activities. Describe the community that you seem the closest to.
I tend not to be what many would label as a “joiner,” therefore I do not belong to many groups outside of my home; that made this a challenging thought to puzzle over. While I belong to a fairly “young” neighborhood, in a small town mushrooming too fast, in a state growing ghost towns of foreclosed homes even faster, I do not know too many neighbors outside of the circle of our cul-de-sac and the handful of families my grandchildren associate with. Our shiny new park around the corner, complete with its fanciful accessories for play and relaxation is rapidly changing that for the better, not just for me, but for many of the neighbors all around me… but change is still slow for me in that arena. In my narrower world, I belong to and share that “sense of community” with other students and faculty members of our local community college; some things there still capture me, even though I no longer formally attend classes on campus. I currently serve as a peer mentor in the English, ancient literature, and mythology classes of Sherie, a dear friend of mine who transitioned during a span of over six years from my instructor, to my mentor, to my friend.
2. What are the shared experiences and events in your community?
One is our creative arts journal, a publication of our college that highlights works from student and local writers, artists, and photographers. I had the privilege of having a written piece published in it several years ago, and through Sherie’s recommendation, I am now serving on the review board to select the new pieces to be published this semester. It has been enough of a good experience I can see myself being involved in it each year, either as a contributor or as a committee member (one cannot do both during a given publication term).
Long before I started on this committee, I took my interest in writing and story telling and channeled those energies into Sherie’s class on mythology. Through our weekly assignments I discovered the interconnectedness between mythology and our daily lives, whether we are aware of its connection or not. Our final project for the semester was to create something original from our learning experiences as long as it was connected to what we covered and discovered in our myth studies, and then we had to share it with the class at the end of the term. We had the latitude for a host of ideas such as writing an original myth, poem, or song, creating a magazine or newspaper, a poster, painting, sculpt, skit, or game… we had enough flexibility to let our imaginations soar! And we did; there was a little bit of everything as my classmates showcased how life inspires art, and art enriches life… and it was all laced together with myths. My project was a sculpted figurine with an original myth (in poetry form) explaining how the first butterfly came to be.
3. What common goals do you and the people in the community share?
Since that first class, I have been invited to return and participate as a peer mentor for budding mythology students who either come into the class already interested in the subject, or who were touched enough by the experiences of the coursework to want to study it in depth. In the beginning, when my own interests peaked, I did a lot of research to see what colleges and universities offered programs in myth studies (few do, except for stray classes under the guises of religion or humanities). Each semester students ask me where they can take more classes, so I share my “search-experiences” with them. We have even had suggestions from a handful of students about a possible myth club, but so far, not enough interest was there to make it a sustainable goal…someday, though.
4. What stories in your community need to be told?
One of the requirements for the final project is to do a write-up explaining how and why you “picked your topic” or “it picked you”… and the students who survived the rigors of the semester frequently feel rewarded with a sense of self-discovery on what they were able to accomplish; many of them have shared with us that completing the project was as valuable as the grade. I think the journeys they found themselves on can be as enriching to future students as it was to their classmates, and the ability to share the sense of energy (Or is it synergy?) to others interested in the subject of myth and how it permeates our lives would be a great gift. I have discovered the diversity expressed in the hows and whys of the projects is as diverse as the projects themselves. Sherie feels, and I share in the believe that the biggest loss would be for all the years of collected materials in her office and her home, gifted to her by these former students, to go unnoticed when they could be used to teach and inspire others that myth, like art, is within each of us and takes on many forms.
5. How might individual, group, and community stories be told through artwork?
The infectious aspect of this myth-journey comes through in Sherie’s enthusiasm for the subject and how enriching it has been for her to see the works of her students at the end of each semester… and for me to be given the gift of sharing in it as a tutor and as an observer, rather than me stopping at being one of the “ssshivering” student waiting to be called on to walk to the front of the class. Throughout the years, Sherie has had a dream and a goal of creating a book compiling and showcasing the efforts of these students, collected from over 15 years of projects presented… all on mythology. She feels strongly about how much insight these students are able to provide, and how so many of them presented their original works worthy of any artists and storytellers conference around. She also feels this book would be a potential textbook for future mythology, art, and literature students…a world of sociology and humanities wrapped up in one class. We already see their stories told through a variety of writings, music, and artwork… the goal is to share that with a much wider audience outside the classroom.
6. Is there a sign, symbol, ritual, or story from these questions that could act as a central metaphor?
I don’t think it is so much about capturing a single sign or symbol, but that Myth, itself, is the metaphor. Myth is a metaphor for living… past, present, and future… and it is rich in symbols, rituals, imagery… and it is timeless. Peoples and beliefs change over time and distance; places change over time and have a direct impact on the actions and beliefs of the people living in that place. Religions and politics have been globally influenced throughout time through the myths of their followers. Additionally, one of the core aspects of myth is the oral tradition of storytelling coupled with the way myths deliver meaning embedded in messages. Myth is so entrenched in cultures across time and space that there are examples of its influence on the vast expressions of art and architecture across the world and throughout the ages. We spend millions of dollars to visit these landmarks and art forms, and countless hours reading and researching the hows and whys of their existence and our own. Projects like these students have created shows us that myths do not die out, they are just reborn in infinite ways through people, consciously or not.
7. Are there opportunities for you to support and expand upon local craft traditions?
Invariably, each semester a handful of shell-shocked students will come up to me or to Sherie after reading the instructions for the assignment and ask for ideas for that final project. A common thread runs though their introductory comments, “I can’t ___” (write, paint, draw, sculpt, stand/speak in front of a group…) just fill in the blank. I try to remind them it only sounds or feels like they cannot do it because it is still early in the term, but as they learn about the different myths and characters, they will most likely experience that one moment when they feel inspired and will have that missing connection come alive from within. I then share my own story about the project I chose. Mine started out one way, based on a character from an existing favorite myth, yet ended up quite different on a subject near and dear to me. The materials chosen were less than cooperative, and the finished piece was not what I planned, but it was what I wanted to express just as deeply. In the process of drafting my write-up explaining how and why I created it, I ended up with a four-page poem instead, and then still had to do the write-up. During my reading of my poem, I unveiled the figurine at just the precise moment called for in the poem, making it both a visual and an auditory experience for the audience, and I could see and feel the connection the audience felt to my presentation. Sherie always tells her students to let the project pick them because they will ultimately feel more connected to it and do better because of that connection. In my case, I could not argue even if I wanted to! That classroom project was a stepping-stone to an invitation from Sherie to work with her on her book so we can breath a public life into her collection of student works.
8. Discuss the idea that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What aspects of the community environment do some members of the group find beautiful that others do not? Can those who find something ugly see it in another way?
One of the big questions we discuss on a regular basis in the myth class is the concept of opposites and how societies define or measure opposites, now and throughout history. If someone were to make the statement that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” Sherie would not hesitate to ask the class the next question: “how do you define beauty?” If a student replies with “something that is not ugly,” she will then ask them to define ugly… that is when the round of discussions really gets going, and students see fairly quickly it cannot be easily defined. From infancy we are taught the language of a concept but not as much about the deeper meanings that give power to the words we use to express a concept until we are much older. We are taught to qualify and to quantify through language but often miss the subtle differences between the two terms. For instance, “good” versus “bad”… or in the case of our previous assignment, “beauty” versus “repulsive”… are little words that represent illusive ideals that are taught to us based on our family or social frameworks. But… how and why it is defined that way… what makes it good or beautiful compared to what makes it bad or repulsive is less concrete. Before a thing can be adequately labeled good or bad, we must come to a consensus on what good means… or what bad means. We can say a “ rock is a rock because it is not water” because it is a concrete object defined by the words of our language… we can quantify its existence. But when we say “water is good because it is not bad,” we must define what attributes would cause it to be seen as good. Likewise, if we say “a rock is bad because it is not good,” then we must first decide what attributes make it seem bad… we must qualify those nuances of difference within the confines of our collective languages and social structures. When we look at qualifiers, we suddenly are looking at an illusive aspect of language… the subjective, feeling aspect of words and how and why we give them the powers they have to help or to hurt. Often it is through the symbols, rituals, signs, and metaphors of myth that guide us in assigning qualities to the power of our words, the power to our language. That is the key reason beauty will always be in the eyes of the beholder.
9. Who could you partner with for this project? Youth groups? Friends or family? Civic communities? Religious communities?
I have already been invited to partner with Sherie for this book project and to participate with other students of this shared interest. From this we have also discussed the possibility of creating, at least to start with, an on-campus opportunity for the myth students to showcase their talents and ideas. To do this we would need to expand the partnership to include the “powers that be” on campus to bring it into reality. As much as all of the students have been challenged to do their projects, Sherie and I face our own big challenge in bringing this book and these myth exploration opportunities into reality. The goal is growing closer as we gain momentum in getting this book underway. My part in this book, so far, centers in an on-going independent study course in mythology, where I have been cataloging her collection of students’ works, and comparing them to traditional myths that have stood the test of time while she mentors and monitors my progress. As she patiently tries to gain permission forms from past students from another campus she taught at years ago, we believe having something for our current students would be beneficial…. We believe that the ones we have collected forms from at this campus should not have to wait for the past to catch up to us to share their works.
10. Where could this event take place or displayed at? Church? Public library? Bank? School? Community center? Park? Other public place?
This could be set into motion as either an event or a publication centered on our community college campus and expand outward to our multiple-campus district as the project grows, and eventually out into the community at large. Baby steps rather than no steps would be the path to follow here: Instead of just the students of the single course as an audience, it could be made available as an open-house event within the classroom or the department where the students would have a larger audience for their hard work. Another idea would be for a presentation done in conjunction with another campus-wide event where it would be open to the entire campus community… not just to the in-class students… or a booklet/magazine similar to what I have seen some colleges offer for students in their creative writing programs. It would not be much different than some of the other courses and programs on this campus (and others) where the culmination of efforts are showcased, such as seen when the art department has their students’ works in big window displays facing the hallways of the art department complex; the theater students being able to participate in public and private presentations of their talents; the music department performing recitals on campus and in public venues; and journalism and photography students having presentations of their works. I think whenever a campus can offer an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned in a setting outside the classrooms, it further validates the efforts and costs put into their education.
11. Who would you like to reach in this project? Who would you like to [have] see this project or be educated about [it] [in] your community?
I would like to see a diversity of people be reached by this because it is something that touches our lives when we are not even aware that it does. I think the more people see how myths are intertwined in our daily lives they will see just how much we are more alike than unalike; I feel that can have a unifying affect on many people’s sense of community and to what communities they see themselves in.