“A mythological order is a system of images that gives consciousness a sense of meaning in existence, which, my dear friend, has no meaning — it simply is. But the mind goes asking for meanings; it can’t play unless it knows (or makes up) some system of rules.” — from Campbell’s, Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation

I like hanging out with people who ask themselves, on a regular basis, what is the point? And by point I mean all of it. What is the point in waking up each morning, slogging through the day, maintaining relationships, keeping house, making money, spending money, even putting words on a page, going to school, learning for the sake of learning? Why bother? I have yet to come to good answer, one that I would stand by from day-to-day. Yet, I continue to get out of bed, dress, eat and create as if I know why I do any of it.

Campbell’s quote made me laugh. He’s a funny guy. Watch his interviews with Bill Moyers or read his texts and you’ll find a man who has come to have a good sense of humor about life and it’s meaning. What I love about the above quote is the way in which he states, so matter of factly, and as if he is talking to a young child, that there is no meaning to life, but certainly he understands why we must look for one none the less. He seems to believe that a person can hold both realities — that there is no meaning and that finding meaning is the ultimate human journey. Sigh.

When I think about this quote in relationship to the guys in the group at Monroe I feel like it sheds light on why they bother to come at all. Imagine the struggle to find a point to day-to-day life in prison. How could you not ask yourself, what is my value? what does it matter if I get out of this bed or not? what is my purpose? Yet if they are to survive their time, and perhaps if they are even to play by the rules of the prison system, they must create a meaningful reason for their existence. Not easy to do when most of society has already deemed your existence to be of lesser value, if any value at all. It is making more and more sense to me then why a man serving time would turn to creating story. Of course he would. Story writing and story telling link us to those who came before, who survived their own trials and sufferings and who celebrated their own victories. Story connects us to the larger world conversation, the one taking place all the time in cafes and living rooms and churches and bars all over the world. If you have a story to tell then you have a purpose, you have meaning.

In prison I imagine you come right up against the reality that life is, more often than not, tragically without meaning. If you can find the beauty and wonder of that fact, however, then you can begin to shape your story out of a truly deep and ancient collective wisdom. Campbell would likely not be surprised at the interest in mythology at Monroe. He would perhaps say that of course a prisoner would be drawn to myth for who else needs to find a new meaning for his life more desperately than one who has been cast out by his society? Myth brings people into a society, into a culture. Myth makes one a part of something that has come before and that will continue on after any given life has come to an end. To be able to think about something so big in a place that is so small — prison — must be part of what is of value to the men in our group.

  1. Michael McHale says:

    I teach writing (language arts/history/poetry) at a level 4 California State Prison. I would love to have permission to use some of this material with my inmate students only. Thank you for your consideration. I can provide credentials immediately. Sincerely, Michael McHale

    • islandwriter says:

      Hi Michael,
      So glad you were in touch. Gloria Kempton and I run our program as volunteers. We are just finishing up our first full year teaching the hero’s journey and writing at Monroe. It’s been an amazing year and the program seems to have had a positive impact on the guys (not to mention Gloria and I). We are in the process of developing our own materials to accompany the workshop, but for now we have been using Chris Vogler’s Book, “The Writer’s Journey”. Our suggestion to you would be to start with Vogler’s text if you want to work with the hero’s journey with your students. We’d be happy to be in touch, however, if you have questions, etc about using the hero’s journey with your students. We’ve had certainly done our fair share of trial and error in figuring out a way to work with the material that seems to work best for our group.

      We’d also love to know more about what you are doing. Part of goal is to take the hero’s journey workshop out to other prisons and teach other volunteers or prison staff how to use it. Your request just comes a bit before we are ready to do that. It would be great to stay connected with someone else working on the inside, especially if you are going to try and incorporate the hero’s journey.

      So, all this to say, we highly recommend Vogler’s book and we’re happy to help you get started from afar.

      Please do be in touch again. You can email me directly at erikag.sanders@verizonmail.com or be in touch again here through the blog.

      All the best,

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