Mnemosyne

I am reading The Female Trickster: The mask that reveals, by Ricki Stefamie Tannen.

Regarding Mnemosyne, she writes: “The power of memory was recognized in Ancient Greece by the goddess Mnemosyne who ruled over the Elysian Fields. The nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus are the muses, with Thalia, the muse of comedy imaged with a Trickster’s mask as she playfully composed comedy and ironic poetry. The muses were women unto themselves. According to the myth, upon death a person makes a choice to either drink from the river Lethe or the spring of memory. If you drink from Lethe you forget your pain and all the lessons of your life and are reborn again on earth. Those who choose to drink from the spring of memory go to the Elysian Fields, where there is no strife or pain. The myth tells us that the path to psychological integration comes from a willingness to value and interact with memory. Those that repress memory are doomed to repeat it, over and over again.” (pp72-73)

This seems apropos both to my personal and professional life and also to US culture. Our President speaks like my stage IV substance abuse patients. He says things that are obviously lies, obviously not true, obviously refutable and yet to all appearances he believes his own lies entirely, even when he contradicts himself. He manufactures his own reality and just laughs when someone else disagrees. But my substance abuse patients crash: they eventually find that they are isolated with their own lies when they become so fantastic and bizarre that no one believes them any more. We are watching that play out.

Re my personal life, I think of my maternal aunt’s memorial. I wrote two memories for the memory book. One was about my father saying that she had perfect pitch. I did not know what perfect pitch was when I was little, but I knew from my father’s voice, the respect, that it was special and important. That he was envious. That he admired it. The second was about my aunt and uncle’s divorce, that I had seen them as a unit and liked both of them better when they turned into individuals.

My cousins wanted to use the first memory but not the second. They said that family wouldn’t like it. I thought about their request and finally said no. Use both or neither. They chose neither. And this pretty much illustrates why I have very little contact from a large part of my family. I want to remember the whole person, light and dark, love them all. And that is not what that part of my family wants. An old family friend has not spoken to me about my sister since my sister died 6 years ago. I asked her directly about it a few months ago. She wants to talk to me “only about happy memories of your mother, father and sister.” I respond, “Why don’t you ask me what sort of relationship I want?”

She was and is silent. So I am too.

It’s not a lack of love but it’s a difference in philosophy. I think it is crazy to whitewash the dead: how will our children understand their own dark feelings and impulses and mistakes if they think that their ancestors, grandparents, parents are angels? Why aren’t we honest as a culture? How can we expect our children to be honest with us when we lie to them? The curated lives on Facebook are an abomination, false, lies and look what we have in the White House.

I like the dark as well as the light. If we truly love everything in the universe, how can we not love the dark as well as the light? If each of us owned our dark sides, our dark impulses, the myth says that we will not enact them over and over each generation. Owning the dark, acknowledging our own dark does not mean that we have to act it out in the world and then lie to ourselves and others.

And now I want coal for my stocking: just a small piece, to remind me that I have not always, or will I ever, only be good.

2 thoughts on “Mnemosyne

  1. shoreacres says:

    “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.” ~ Annie Dillard

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