Novels of Feminine Transformation?

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bodhibliss
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Novels of Feminine Transformation?

Post by bodhibliss » Tue May 22, 2007 6:27 pm

Seeking guidance, I approach this sacred grotto, to sip the waters of the Wisdom Pool.

Recently a colleague - a teacher in her mid-to-late thirties - approached me with a question. She is just finishing her second year teaching English and Literature in seventh grade - and, alas, it seems this will be her final year.

This comes as no surprise to me. From Day One she has had difficult classes - all the lowest levels, including not just a multitude lacking skills and ability, but a dumping ground for all the behavioral problems as well. Her two years in junior high have been nothing at all like what she had anticipated. With neither the experience nor skill to face these challenges, this teacher ended up overwhelmed (the week before, I had to step into her classroom and take over during the standardized testing, as her hands were shaking and her mind had turned to jello from the pharmaceuticals her doctor prescribed to help her get through each day). The administration has let her know she is not returning next fall, nor is it likely she will secure a teaching position anywhere else.

One day last week, when we were passing in the hall, she asked if I could recommend any novels she could read where the heroine must make a life-transforming decision - a wholesale change of circumstance, change of career, picking up and completely starting over.

She said she felt I was the best person to approach about this - though, given the few seconds we had, my mind was a complete blank.

However, I believe she is reaching out for guidance, for help, clearly going through this change of life herself. But I don't know her well enough to put on the bodhibliss or saint stephen masks I wear in other venues (like among Deadheads & Rainbows); seems a work of literature could serve that function, by providing a tool for self-understanding, and perhaps an opening for dialog between us on this theme.

But I am stumped by the nature of the question. What is a good novel illustrating this heroic mid-life initiation and transformation from a feminine perspective?

There are some books I recommend to everyone. Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist is a favorite - simple story, easy to understand, yet oddly compelling, with a mythic quality to it - but the hero is male, and that's more of a coming-of-age story

- as is Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, though the protagonist is female. However, what my colleague needs is something more appropriate to her stage of life, which is well beyond the adolescent crisis.

Another Wally Lamb book that actually reflects this midlife transition is This Much I Know Is True - a well-told tale that includes a helpful psychologist enamoured of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung (how often do we come across a novel where the main character is advised to read A Hero with a Thousand Faces?),

but again, the main character is male.

I think I'll recommend this work to her anyway, as I recommend it to everyone - but what about other works of fiction that address the topsy-turvy night-sea change of circumstance from the feminine perspective?

I'm dropping a line into the Wisdom Pool, and seeing what we might fish up from the waters of the collective mind.

Thanks for your recommendations.

mythically yours,
bodhibliss
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Post by A J » Tue May 22, 2007 8:17 pm

Bodhi,

I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but when I read your post, I immediately thought of a couple of novels addressed in "The Magician," a chapter from Carol Pearson's book, The Hero Within. one of them, Madeleine L'Engle's Wind in the Door, is technically a child's book, but I did not read it until I noticed that my daughters' were reading it and decided I had better. I found it delightful and enlightening. It has to do with "the power of naming," and points out that you can have a degree of control over anything that you can put a name to. The next book Pearson mentions as having a similar theme, I still have not read, although I find it intriguing, even though it was not written by a woman(which is perfectly OK, except that in this context, one might assume that another woman might be more knowledgeable on this particular subject) is Tom Robbin's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. He tells the story of Sissy Hankshaw, who is ashamed of her oversized thumbs, until she learns they make her really good at hitchhicking. Robbins insists that Sissy has not merely transcended her "handicap," she has "transformed" it, since, "transcendence smacks of hierarchy, the class system, of a way of thinking that cannot see Sissy's innate value." At one point in the story, Sissy's husband takes her to a psychiatrist (whom the author Robbins give his own name) to be "cured," but instead, she cures the psychiatrist. Pearson explains, "Sissy so changes Dr. Robbin's life that he 'calls in well' and never returns to the clinic." If your friend has a sense of humor, it might work for her and her classroom.

AJ
"Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need. Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy."

A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
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Post by bodhibliss » Thu May 24, 2007 4:00 am

Ooh - good choice! Tom Robbins near his prime.

I'm open to other suggestions as well - but this is a place to start.

Thanks
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Post by jd101 » Thu May 24, 2007 5:18 am

your friend's situation sounds complicated, and it is hard to make suggestions without knowing her, however....

It reminds me of my third grade teacher who had a breakdown during our class...we drove her to sobs....then she disappeared....

this took place in new orleans, so I would rather have the soon to be ex teacher read "Jitterbug Perfume", another Robbin's classic, a great part of which takes place in New Orleans, and one of the heroines is Priscilla, who can't quite make it in the world of 9-5 jobs, but has the gift of smell....

Alternatively, I still love Clarissa's "women who run with the wolves",

but Robbins will heal you with laughter!

All the best,

john
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Post by creekmary » Thu May 24, 2007 4:00 pm

Poor girl. I feel for her. I've had my share of wild little country Indian "yea-who's" in Sunday Scool and different community centers. She probably thought it would be all "To Sir With Love" or "Stand and Deliver" instead of Custer's Last Stand.

So I have been thinking and thinking, with all the reading I do, and it finally ocurred to me this morning that maybe she doesn't need fiction, maybe she needs biography. Real woman who overcame real problems and went on to real accomplishments in spite of major setbacks. What's her name who started Hull House, Sojourer Truth. Even Hillary Clinton.

Here is a link to that sort of thing (I hope this works): http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/

The book list includes things like: "Herstory - Women who changed the world"; "Uppity women of ancient times (and medieval and renaissance); "Outrageous women of colonial history"; "Warrior queens". More modern women also.

Inspire her to be strong again and get back up on that pony and ride girl! Maybe just a horse of a different color, going in another direction.

There's probably a lesson in this for her somewhere that will help her (or help her help someone else) on down the line. She just can't see it right now. Next time she'll be tougher and know more. Wisdom.

Susan
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Post by Clemsy » Thu May 24, 2007 4:40 pm

Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run With the Wolves?

Seems somehow appropriate...
"Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species. Though the gifts of the wildish nature come to us at birth, society's attempt to "civilize" us into rigid roles has plundered this treasure, and muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls. Without Wild Woman, we become over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative, trapped."
My first impression was that i had nothing to offer, but then saw, in the mind's eye, a picture of Mrs. Clemsy curled up with this one, and it lying about the house for quite a while. Hope this helps.

Clemsy
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Post by creekmary » Thu May 24, 2007 5:17 pm

I like that quote! I ought to get that book. I think it would apply to men also: "Wild Men" losing their edge and becoming too domesticated and docile.

Sorry :) back to our regularly scheduled program...

Susan
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Post by A J » Thu May 24, 2007 8:23 pm

It's a wonderful book. I would have mentioned it, but it isn't a novel. Dr. Estes also has several CD's available, through Amazon as well as at www.soundstrue.com. My current favorite is "The Creative Fire," a three disc set on the relationship between myth, Jungian psychology, and the creative spirit.

AJ
"Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need. Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy."

A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
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Post by bodhibliss » Thu May 24, 2007 8:55 pm

Estes would have been my first choice too - marvelous work (Princeton asked Clarissa to pen the forward to their final edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the one they released in Campbell's centennial year).

Several of Marion Woodman's books come to mind as well - Leaving My Father's House is a powerful exploration into feminine issues.

However, I'm not sure where this teacher falls in terms of the reading evel she's comfortable with. Women Who Run with the Wolves is powerful, but both Estes and Woodman come from a Jungian orientation, and might be deeper than this individual is drawn to ... so I thought I'd look for novels that address these issues, since that's what she asked for.

I'll bring up Tom Robbins (Jitterbug perfume is my favorite work of his - Campbell's influence seems clear - and I believe Robbins participated in a tour with Campbell through Mexico and Guatemala about the time he was writing this, not that Latin America plays a role in the novel).

I'll also mention The Alchemist, which is a slender volume so not at first site intimidating. However, Women Who Run with the Wolves and Leaving My Father's House are two books I'll suggest if she's open to them, because both speak more directly to where she is.

Nothing will save her teaching career - not in the short term - but both these works will help her puzzle out where her bliss lies.

Thanks for the suggestions - though please, feel free to keep adding titles and recommendations, as this is a subject of interest to a multitude of women, and men ...

blessed be,
bodhibliss
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Post by creekmary » Thu May 24, 2007 11:30 pm

Maybe she won't be a teacher in the traditional sense any more, but not to be discouraged. In a bad situation "Do SOMETHING, don't just stand there. Even if it's wrong, you'll at least learn what NOT to do." She's learned something. Just like your wisdom is helping her now, her wisdom will help someone in the future.

Being around strong women who have overcome is helpful. Reading about them is kind of next best thing. I think of mom and grandma's serenity and strength and all they've been through. That must be where it came from, all their hard times. Most things become little when you've faced something big.

Next time she'll be smarter and stronger. She knows something not to do, and that's a step toward the other direction.

Susan
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Post by Clemsy » Fri May 25, 2007 11:53 am

Bodhi, I hope she received the proper supervision before having the rug pulled out from under her. All too often, this doesn't happen.
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Post by Robert G. » Sat May 26, 2007 7:05 am

The first thing that came to my mind was The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Quin, if your friend doesn't mind something that's both fantasy and children's literature it is certainly evocative of a woman in a career that's not really working out ....
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Post by bodhibliss » Sat May 26, 2007 7:13 pm

Robert G. wrote:The first thing that came to my mind was The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Quin, if your friend doesn't mind something that's both fantasy and children's literature it is certainly evocative of a woman in a career that's not really working out ....
Robert - Was this part of the Earthsea trilogy, or something else. It sounds very familiar - and if it is from the Earthsea novels, I recall I loved it, though details are hazy now. Can't go wrong with Le Guin (her Left Hand of Darkness was a revelation to me, challenging my gender-locked perceptions - and The Lathe of Heaven bent my brain as well. I can't say I've read much of her recent work - but I understand she has headed in a wonderfully mythic direction.

Oddly enough, what first drew me to her was the libertarian vision of The Dispossessed.

Clemsy - No real support for this teacher from the administration, but she was embraced by several teachers (as well as being assigned a mentor teacher by the county). We opened our cabinets, so to speak, and our book of tricks - but she never really got it. She seemed to expect her 3-period section of low-skill students to come in to class and read her instructions for the day - several long paragraphs, hundreds of words, scribbled on the board - expecting them to decipher these instructions and pretty much teach themselves. Add to that an inconsistent approach to classroom management and behaviour, particularly in terms of lack of consequences and continually changing rules, and her classroom has been an accident waiting to happen. Students call her "bitch," and her response isn't to inform the office and ask for help, but to self-medicate.

A very sad episode ...

but often it takes major failure for us to start looking inward - which is what she is ready to do - so there is hope ... there is always hope.

Thanks to everyone for your words of encouragement and your suggestions. I love this forum! Your reaching out to help is in turly in the spirit of Joe ...

I bow to you all,
bodhibliss
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Post by Clemsy » Sat May 26, 2007 9:53 pm

The Tombs of Atuan is the middle book in the Earthsea Trilogy, and Robert's recommendation is interesting (but I would never shelve it in the children's lit section).

Your taste for leGuin runs with mine, Bodhi. Lathe is an ultimate mind bender and The Dispossessed should be required reading.

Unfortunate about your colleague. It takes a particular kind of teacher to deal with the students you describe. Not the best AP level master teacher could get away with it without that certain 'something.'

Unfair to do this to a rookie.
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Post by bodhibliss » Sun May 27, 2007 1:37 am

I was thinking second book in the trilogy, but it has been so long (I found the recent miniseries novelization on the SciFi channel entertaining, though pale in memory compared to the books - and didn't seem to reach the ending I remember).

Le Guin's intense sci-fi works are certainly deep and hardly aimed at children - but I'm not sure I'd quibble with Robert's description of the Earthsea novels. In our school district they're classified as juvenile fiction, and are allowed to be taught at the Y or Z level in 8th grade (on tracks of Z, Y, X, and GATE/Honors classes), and, come to think of it, I first ran across the trilogy in the school library at age 13 (no wonder the plot is hazy!).

A quick glance at Wikipedia offers a clue to the reason Robert suggested this novel - and brings back a memory of momentary consternation when the adolescent me realized the point of view was that of another character, not the hero of the first book. Indeed, the protagonist is female, one who grows into her own strength - which was rare for 1971, save in the genre of fantasy (Andre Norton comes to mind).

What struck me about the Earthsea trilogy (and Wikipedia tells me there was a 4th book published in 1990, set a few years later) was that there seemed to be something more at work than just the obvious plot line, something I couldn't quite put my finger on at that age, but what today I would call a depth of character and imagery that, in Campbell's words, "opens out behind."

As for my colleague, yes, it is unconscionable - but then, does the system have a conscience? Teachers are dropping like flies, at least in California - I just had lunch with a good friend today who has taught Social Studies and Math, who pointed out teaching has become just a job. He has too many years invested to begin a new career, but the spark has gone out of it for him - and for his students.

That's not because he's suddenly lost his gift - but the gift no longer applies. Teaching is no longer a Calling - instead of teachers, the system demands educrats trained to administer canned instruction. Soul is abandoned in favor of data and stats demonstrating the standardization of mediocrity.

Certainly tempting for teachers to tell the powers that be "We've upped our standards; now, up yours ..."

A period of literature, a period of English, and a period of directed reading for these low level students, with an attention span even shorter than the average adolescent, trapped in one classroom with one teacher - doomed to failure from the start!

No compassion for teacher or students - to the technocrats in charge, they're just ciphers - the aggregates charted on the graph.

You can only teach the "Thou" ...

tat tvam asi,
bodhibliss
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