Your Hero’s Journey and Mine

I’m from the Northeast. But my hero’s journey played out in the South. My family is middle-class, but my journey was strictly blue-collar. Why? Something impelled me to that part of the country and that stratum of society.

Larry McMurtry has said he thinks of himself as a herder of words, across a prairie of pages

I drove tractor-trailers, I worked on oil rigs, I picked fruit as a migrant laborer; I lived in hellholes without electricity and running water; my friends were mechanics and roustabouts and body-and-fender men. Why? Had I been in control of my journey, I could have selected any one of hundreds of other places and people and odysseys. Something made me choose this one. What? I had no idea. I didn’t even know that choice was involved. Something simply compelled me.

The hero’s journey is a metaphor for our artist’s life-to-be. It’s a foreshadowing, an adumbration of the Artist’s Journey to come. The passages are parallels. One prefigures the other.

Before my hero’s journey, I couldn’t write. After, I could. I write like a truck driver. The virtues that sustain me are blue-collar virtues, Southern virtues, workingman’s virtues. Everything I learned on my passage that I thought was useless has proved to be fundamental, indispensable.

Larry McMurtry says that he thinks of himself as a cattle driver of stories. He herds words across a prairie of pages. I like that.

Have you ever seen the video of Ana Forrest, the yoga instructor, doing unbelievable stuff in a handstand? Ms. Forrest, I understand, was a drug addict. There’s a connection. The dark, criminal, single-minded focus that the addict needs to survive (her hero’s journey) becomes the disciplined, single-minded will to master her own body and to surrender to the imperatives of her art.

Listen: no matter how crazy or down or preposterous your current state, it remains a passage toward the light. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t feel crazy.

Trust me. When the lights come on in the darkroom, what looks to you now like a negative will develop into the photo you’ve been searching for all along—a photograph of yourself.