THE MYTHMAKER author Mary Harrell, talks with LITERACY IN THE CONTENT AREA's Sharon Kane about myth from a depth psychological perspective.
SK: Since THE MYTHMAKER Is based on your real life story, where does the truth stop and the fiction start?
MH: : I think that’s the most important question you could ask me. My story is all true, even as part of it is fiction. I know that at first, this seems to be a contradiction, but hold on. By this I mean that the family tragedy happened; the isolation that came with mother loss was real; the requirement to grapple with my unwanted identity as “the girl whose mother was no longer present” became the central task of living. Ask any girl or boy who’s lost a parent and you'll find similarities. But each of us plays out those unwanted realities in different ways. And as life goes on, some of us find a way to imaginally re-connect with our lost parent; some of us actually heal. We might create rituals, might celebrate the most tender moments that live in memory; we might live a commitment that allows our parents’ lives to mean something more than a life “cut short,” as the saying goes.
I reconnected with my own mother—and myself— by becoming a mythteller. It was through developing a poetic sensibility that I could re-imagine my mother’s very real, but non-physical presence in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters. So in this sense, the end of THE MYTHMAKER, as well as the end of my particular story of mother loss, are different versions of the same true story.
I learned from Dennis Patrick Stattery, one of my mentors, that the truth of our experience is in the myth we live daily, in our fantasies, perceptions and dreams. At the risk of contradicting myself, I’ll answer your question another way, using language that Dennis might use: personal myths are tales, stories, fantasies, and fabrications, pointing us closer to what is true. In that sense, everything in THE MYTHMAKER is more true than if I were able to mine every scrap of “real” detail, exactly as it happened. What else is true, is that discovering one’s own myth, through imaginal retelling, can become the re-membering (the re-connecting) of a life shattered by the death of a parent.