Writing, melancholy and my own hero’s journey

The beautiful Puglia countryside around Celle Di San Vito

From Brazil I’ve landed in tiny Celle Di San Vito, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village in Puglia, South Italy. I’m here participating in an artistic residence working on two writing projects and dealing with my Brazil withdrawal symptoms. 

I had all kinds of plans to work on my project this morning. To start reading, perhaps writing questions, creating a backbone for what I am so far calling ‘By Doing’. I’m collecting stories through interviews, videos, writings, about people who have really managed to integrate whatever they feel compelled to do (compelled is another possible title) into their life. And specifically the role of struggle in that journey. I want to create an online space where people can recognise themselves and hopefully understand themselves better through it. Where struggle can be looked at, appreciated for the information and development it brings.

This morning though, as I sit and type in the little sunny terrace of the Castello at Celle di San Vito, I feel that I first need to understand myself. I’ve been struggling with melancholy over the past three days I’ve been here and I have not quite been able to put my finger on exactly what this is due to.

The beautiful Puglia countryside around Celle Di San Vito
The beautiful Puglia countryside around Celle Di San Vito. My sunny working view this morning.

I’ve blamed it on the old house, the full moon, PMT, Brazil saudade (a kind of sweet longing for something that’s not there any more), feeling a little like a fish out of water and also the very real fear that I am unable to take the magic, the internal expansion and the wisdom I gained in Brazil with me wherever I go. It has been such a beautiful period in my life. One where I finally opened up to seeing myself, where I feel like I actually, really landed inside my skin, where I let myself be myself without worrying about what myself should be. And it turns out I really, actually, genuinely love myself when I am just me.

I am both more and less than I imagined.

It turns out I’m a lot happier than I thought I was. By myself, I found an ability to be happy even when I am sad, to feel a certain kind of alignment with myself that brings me peace and joy even through tough times. Not that I have not had many periods of agitation and difficulty. I have had many of those. I have felt lonely, I have felt heart broken, I have felt unable to get through to the deepest parts of me that give me a sense of home. I have felt homeless; I have felt unaccepted, unloved, judged, dismissed, cut out of and not having the tools to participate in the conversation, unappreciated, misunderstood, unseen. Going through this series of feelings has given me a much deeper sense of compassion for both myself and others as well as an appreciation for each state within me, knowing that it is a path towards more understanding, a deeper clarity, more truth.

I’ve also discovered a need inside me for deep connection with both myself and others. I find peace in depth, in openness, in creating a space where things can be explored jointly with interest and curiosity rather than filtered through expectations (both our own and those we expect others to hold). In diving deep with another I find myself. I understand parts of myself in these joint expeditions, I unravel my own mysteries in listening to others make sense of theirs; I get new insights as I share the winding, seemingly closed paths of my own experience.

The main road in Celle.The door to the Castello.

The ‘main road’ in Celle and the door to the Castello, the home for the amazing Carol Bernardes’ Open Oca project which I am participating in for the next month.

Writing for me is a way of always giving this space to myself. A place where I can pause and listen. Where I can wait for the feelings to come to the surface where I can translate them into words. Words that help me relate to them, understand them, share them; first with my own self, then with others.

It’s this very appreciation of how words help with this process of understanding myself that brings me to the second project I am working on over the next four weeks here at the residence. I will be exploring my curiosity about language, words. Finding out how the very act of thinking them, writing them, transforms our feelings into something that is both different yet also the same as what started. The relationship between the descriptive and prescriptive dimensions of using words. Their limits. How they relate and compare to more visual methods of expression and how the words sometimes signpost visual forms. How we can create words and images that encourage, facilitate depth rather than help us avoid it. It’s a wide net that I imagine will become smaller in the coming week.

Now sitting inside my favourite of the Castello’s rooms, the library; typing on the mini sofa under a striped sheepskin blanket, I can see how this is all going somewhere. Even during the many moments when I feel lost.

The library at the Castello in Celle Di San Vito
The library at the Castello. My favourite working spot inside.

This morning I was going though Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, outlining the steps of the story that keeps repeating itself in books, in movies, in real life itself. The story of the hero who starts off in the ordinary world and feels a call to adventure, first resisting the call and finally going for it with the help and encouragement of a mentor, sometimes a force within. The journey holds many challenges, tests, and difficulties, culminating in a huge ordeal that has the hero all but beaten. Yet he pulls though taking the spoils and starting the way back to his world. The road back is not without its dangers as the hero encounters the final challenges that bring death and rebirth of many things within. Succeeding the mission, the hero returns to the ordinary world with the elixir, mastery of whatever it was that sent him away in the beginning of the journey.

Reflecting on this, I can’t help but see the parallels with my own adventure, and that of many others around. I’m really unsure as to why this formula is so present in both fact and fiction, popular and obscure. Yet the thought of this particular phase being the bit after slaying the dragon where I must conquer the final monsters that stand in my way makes my eyes shine with adventure, perspective and the quiet knowledge that after all, everything will turn out to be just fine.


The Hero's Internal Journey
The Hero’s Internal Journey. From http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm