1. ABSENTATION: A member of a family leaves the security of the home environment
Picture: It’s a few years ago. I left for America. I love America. Except I wasn’t leaving home on my usual terms. I was feeling super run-down. I had been having nightsweats, bone pain, this insane fatigue that wouldn’t subside. The UK doctors told me it was just a “mono-style virus”, so I left for work & adventure. Except my boss in the USA was having none of me just waiting out the virus. She made me see a doctor, who made me see a haematologist oncologist, who then told me it looked bad & that I needed to go home & get it sorted ASAP.
I didn’t though. I thought that this guy is talking shit. I ran away from this statement. I suddenly felt the weight & value of time. I did a pretty amazing YOLO roadtrip visiting 3 coasts of America with friends, all with that thought in the back of my mind.
In my younger days, I studied Media Studies as one of my A-Levels (& got an A, of course). We looked at a crazy Russian Literary Formalist called ladimir Yakovlevich Propp who came up with something called Morphology of the Folktale which basically looks at breaking up fairy tales into sections and 31 functions/options of resolution and narrative. His elaborate categorisations of classifications pegs plots points: tricky, guidance, rescue, ect.
Propp claims that you can shuffle any of these into constant rearrangements. They mark a moment where an action takes us in a different direction. It’s a nice way to to look at disruptions. He says everything proceeds from us loosing our place.
2.) INTERDICTION: An interdiction is addressed to the hero
We’re out of order and we’ve hardly begun. I was instructed to not stay in the USA and wait out what was happening to me. But I did.
3.)VIOLATION of INTERDICTION. The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale).
The villain and hero here are both myself. The villain is an illness. A feeling of ill-health. A feeling that has slowly taken over and taken everything that was me. I was just in my early 20’s. I had never been properly sick. Sure I had colds and sore-throats, and sickness bugs – but this felt different.
I was a self-absorbed young adult with gritted determination to make it in the art world. I had learned to be different, to try harder – no matter who I left behind. I had started to get just a tiny-lil bit cock-sure of myself. Just a tiny-tiny-bit. I had just got a prestigious artist residency at Site Gallery when I got hit.
I’d arrived somewhere without being invited. Maybe I didn’t have the right to be in that place. Maybe that didn’t make it right that I fell ill, but maybe I wasn’t purely innocent either.
4.)RECONNAISSANCE: The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance. The villain (often in disguise) makes an active attempt at seeking information.
There was no tricky. But there was deception. For months and months, and months, this illness hid away. Making itself really hard to put a name to. To be recognised. But, it knows who I am. It knew I stayed up working until late, that I was fairly active. It fed on my inability to get rid of it.
8.) VILLAINY or LACK: Villain causes harm/injury
The illness took virtually nearly everything. I no longer can work all day and stay up. It made me work less, sleep more, which in turn made people forget about me, helped me to ruin my own reputation I had worked so hard to get. It made me bleed in places I never knew I could bleed. I have days where I literally feel like I might be dying, I catch myself looking super tired & worn-down in pain in a mirror & saying to myself: “I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok”. I’ve lost days, weeks, months of my life. I’m still having pain which no one understands. This makes me feel alone.
17.) BRANDING: Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf);
I was branded. I have no scarfs or rings but emotional scars & a few physical ones. Somethings have shifted under my skin. Emotions and lymph nodes. Things pressing on things which present as neuralgia or headaches or bone aches or passing outs. Swellings around memory, swellings around my intellect and pride which hurts.
14.) RECEIPT OF A MAGICAL AGENT: Hero acquires use of a magical agent
Through this struggle, my whole world view changed. I gained this whole new perspective, this whole new weight of the importance of empathy. Before, I now realise, I had little empathy – towards everything. I wasn’t a dick or anything, but I didn’t or couldn’t understand others plights – because I was so blinded by myself. I just understood the system that affected others, not HOW it made them feel & how that affects them.
I am more thankful. It’s just not in the way that’s immediately assumed. I am grateful for the pain, because now I understand it better. I am grateful for the struggle, because I can be of more use to those in the midst of it.
29.) TRANSFIGURATION: Hero is given a new appearance
I used to only work in art stuff. Now you can find me in both the art-world and in healthcare. I wanted to re-train myself to work in healthcare to both give back, and to be the person who understands because I felt (and still do) misunderstood on how the villain really affected my quality of life. The central question I now ask myself is “What’s the relationship between caring and understanding?”
When I think about my life in these terms I see all kinds of functions that I never asked for: struggle, challenge, trickery, frustration. There’s some fighting, and a lil bit of winning. The gold-dust comes in the realisation of personal-growth and amazingly supportive friendships along the way.
The materials of my life, as memory recalls and deforms them, will always involve the villain: the stranger, the illness.
When I casually drop into conversation to people that I’m studying radiation oncology, as well as still working as an artist, and still feeling shockingly poorly, they look shocked. They think it’s a huge turn, or that art must not be working for me. But it’s not really. I sit in class, reflecting upon my own life like text. I feel like i’m still constantly shuffling together pieces of a puzzle i can’t see the edges to yet.
There is no function designated for this last part. Where the hero turns to studying healthcare & medicine alongside art to try and understand her own hurt and use it to try and help her to understand others hurt.
23.) UNRECOGNIZED ARRIVAL
I could spend everyday like it was a holiday. I feel like I deserve to spend my life constantly on vacation. But you can’t. You have to return to normality. But this is hard. It’s hard to return to a familiar land, to return home, to do everything like you used to, when you no longer feel like yourself. Things have changed.