This Dialogue is Dedicated to Maya Angelou, April 4, 1928 ~ May 28, 2014
Introduction by Giselle Minoli
t the end of February, I drove South from New York –– through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia –– to visit with Meg Tufano in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
As a consequence of my work, I drive interstate a great deal and pass the time studying the changing vista in as much detail as possible –– planted pastures, farm houses and historic barns, quaint hamlets, and grass airstrips watched over by crop dusters bedraggled from decades of service, all embraced within the gentle and glorious arms of the ancient Appalachians. The soundtrack playing on my car stereo is classical, rock, Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop balanced out with balladeers and crooners from Adele to Dylan to Amália to Mina to Aznavour.
I am a visually influenced person, and I absorb my journeys as though they are personal memory murals, the colors, sights, sounds and smells fueling my energy as I go. I often feel foolish for not taking advantage of the many photographic and video technologies I travel with, but I prefer the immediacy of the landscape unfettered by a camera between it and me. Besides, I derive a strange pleasure from watching a particular photo composition pass by, until the last hint of each memoryscape fades out of sight in my rearview mirror. Then it is on to the next vista, which will also pass in due time, replaced by yet another.
While some form of online life is an essential communication tool for every writer in this day and age, my response to being peppered by a string of never-ending selfiephotovideos on social media platforms is to retreat into the pleasure of direct sensory contact with life, preferring to see something as it actually is in a split second, gone almost as it occurs, and to allow the impression it has made on me to linger like the taste of wine on my tongue, or a lightly scented cream on my skin before the last trace of it sinks deep into my cells.
I am like this with people too. I need to sit face-to-face, eye-to-eye, shoulder-to-shoulder, voice-to-voice, expression-to-expression, my quirks, habits and gesticulations bumping up against those of another human being. I have a need to see, to hear, to smell. I have a need to personally encounter.
So it was with the intent of laying eyes on Meg Tufano, with whom I have been communicating online for almost three years, that I arrived in Oak Ridge late on a Wednesday afternoon, heading due West, the sun so low on the horizon and blinding that I could barely see. I could not have known that winding through rush hour traffic in Knoxville, struggling against the white glare of the sun, would mark the beginning of a weeks-long dialogue with Meg about the importance of seeing things clearly in order to know oneself.
Ah...but that is what journeys are for. We may know where we are going, but the person we are when we set out is often not the person we have become when we finally reach our destination.
GISELLE MINOLI, an early riser, works on a essay she is writing about women’s private and professional roles.
s more and more women move to the front lines of politics (Hillary Clinton, Wendy Davis, Claire McCaskill), higher education (Gwendolyn Boyd, Janet Napolitano, Drew Gilpin-Faust) and big business (Melissa Mayer, Gini Rometty, Mary Barra)––roles not suited to the shy, sweet or subdued––there are more and more public musings about whether or not women are naturally endowed with whatever qualities it takes to run countries, universities and business empires alongside men.
The knee-jerk explanation for the continued paucity of women at the top has always been that the demands of marriage and children conflict with the demands of positions of power, that children need full-time mothering and that women can’t have it all, and must, therefore, choose between a meaningful métier or a meaningful marriage. Many people believe that women settle for family life over a professional life because their biology predisposes a better match with breadbaking than with breadwinning.
This gender-driven contretemps seems to have served to put a definitive end to any discussion about whether this belief is in fact biologically, physiologically, psychologically or evolutionarily true, or if it is merely the result of accepted social habits beaten into the culture over a (very) long period of time.
If women were naturally predisposed to stay home, then most women would stay home, but we know that most do not. If it were not natural for women to be suited to the Boardroom, the Governor’s Mansion or the Ivory Tower, then they would arrive at those hallowed halls with fear and suspicion, but we know that women routinely take on high-level roles without much fanfare at all. Unfortunately, despite their proven abilities, less than four percent of CEOs are women (HBR, 2009) (USA, 2011).
By necessity we are confronting all sorts of entrenched beliefs about gender roles. One of the more deeply held prejudices is that pro football is a sport best played by heterosexual men. Michael Sam was the first football player to publicly announce that he is gay, which let loose a flurry of media discussion. When Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL draft and the emotional kiss and embrace between him and his male partner were caught on camera and publicized everywhere, the flood tide of emotional public response seemed to all but drown out the fact that he was pick #249 out of a possible 256. It almost looked like no team wanted Sam to play football for them, and it was anyone’s guess whether that was because he was openly gay, or perhaps just not that talented.
Another deeply held belief is that gay, lesbian and transgendered men and women represent fringe or unnatural behavior, even though such behavior is regularly observed in the animal kingdom. The transgender artist couple, Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker, whose photographic series “Relationship” was part of the 2014 Whitney Biennial (see video clip below), already live outside the realm of what many consider a traditional relationship.
Are people who live on the outside looking in –– those who do not do what is culturally expected of them, or what is widely considered to be culturally acceptable –– more free to take creative and professional risks because they have already become used to “not belonging?” In order to achieve creative expression with a partner, is it better to live on the fringe?
Whitney Biennial (2014) Clip
The reality is that men and women –– people ––are far more complicated than we seem to want to acknowledge. This complexity might be the most simple reason not to assume that all women are more naturally disposed to choose marriage and children as the focus of their lives, and why it is not appropriate to assume that a woman’s aspiration to a seat in the boardroom does not mean she is in any way anti-romance, anti-marriage, anti-children or anti-family.
Although a successful creative team, whether of the entertainment, artistic, or business variety, is not a simple affair, I would wager that mutual respect is de rigeur between creative partners, such as, for instance, film director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, or film producer brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, co-Directors (also brothers) Joel and Ethan Cohen, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, conductor Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, choreographer Pina Bausch and her Tanztheatre Wuppertal, and Steve Jobs and his Apple.
Therefore, I have always wondered why there are so few innovative and successful creative partnerships between romantically involved couples, of any gender pairing, considering that such relationships (the good ones) are already mutually respectful. I can think of only a few rare collaborations such as those between Bill and Melinda Gates and their non-profit Foundation, the artist Christo and his (now deceased) wife Jeanne-Claude, the film director Baz Lurhmann and his wife and production designer Catherine Martin, the architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, and the designers Charles and Ray Eames.
The rarity of such couples makes me wonder if it is de facto easier for two people who are not involved in an emotional relationship to do business together, to create together, to be productive. Do most men, in order to fulfill themselves, need careers that are ‘separate’ from their relationships with their partners? Do women also need creative, intellectual and professional careers that are ‘separate’ from their roles as wives, mothers, love interests? Is it possible to find completion in a relationship with one’s mate, but is it a matter of mere luck to be a member of one of those couples over whom the gods have chosen to sprinkle fairy dust mixed with the promise of intellectual, creative, emotional, spiritual –– and erotic –– fulfillment?
Starting in the early 60s, women who wanted to break free from their apron strings aspired to be part of the workforce, but it was a man’s drawstring, with its promise of a decent salary, that they then had to learn to loosen. Yet, in spite of the boldness with which women have learned to ask for equal pay for equal work, if a professional woman has children she still draws down only 72.5% of what a professional man with children earns (USBL, 2010).
My personal suspicion has always been that the reason there are so few female Senators and Governors and Congresswomen, so few female college and university presidents, so few women in the boardroom, is that our beliefs about women’s contributions to public life is reflective of our ideas about their roles in their families, where they are ever the supporting players, never the leading ladies.
Our culture tends to value a person based on their earning power and, therefore, at the family level, the breadwinner is perceived to be more important than the bread-baker. This provides the perfect go-to reason a wife is expected to follow a man wherever his career may lead him. And this expectation –– that her primary purpose is to champion and cheerlead other people’s efforts (including those of her children) –– accompanies her into the workplace, where it can be difficult to shed.
9:30 a.m. "Blackberry Eating"
MEG knocks on my door, then walks in with coffee and hands me a mug. I ask if she would like to listen to what I’ve been working on. She says:
We drink coffee and I read her some of what I’ve written.
MEG: Lots of ideas to talk about!
GISELLE: I’m hungry…
MEG: Hold please...
MEG exits, returning minutes later with a bowl of fresh blueberries and walnuts, which she puts on my nightstand.
She sits down, and I wonder out loud if it is even remotely possible in our image-obsessed world to really know who anyone else is, if men and women long ago stopped being authentic, if anyone really cares about authenticity, or if we prefer to fit into carefully crafted “images” of what it means to be a man, a husband, a father...what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother. I wonder if not caring is a response to men and women not feeling safe to completely be themselves –– at work, online, in their relationships.
I wonder if we have entered The Age of Pretense, where we cover up our true selves, because we really don’t want to be known. Plastic surgery used to be a woman’s helpful disguise, but now it is has become a man’s camouflage as well. So it is not surprising that we prefer highly Photoshopped images of pastoral landscapes rather than actual landscapes. We try to convince ourselves that virtual travel is as good as, if not better than, actual travel. We try to convince ourselves that online communication is just as good as in-person communication. We believe we no longer need to meet in person.
Meg says my musings remind her of the myth of Psyche and Eros –– that a man’s archetypal journey is to leave his mother’s house and perform deeds of derring-do in order to become his true self. But that a woman’s journey –– her path to independence and authenticity –– is much more complicated.
Psyche and Eros? My questions on this beautiful morning are really about Psyche and Eros?
I tell Meg that I think intense competition in business and so much of life lived online might be separating men and women instead of connecting them to a common purpose. Do any young men and women leave their parents’ homes to become their true selves? Are we discovering our true selves? Or covering them up?
“But that’s just it!” Meg counters. “In the myth of Psyche and Eros there is a whole lot of covering and discovering going on. You can’t have one without the other. That’s what the story of the woman’s journey with a man is all about.”
Listening to Meg, I suddenly remember sitting by the fire in the home of one of the revered tutors at St. John’s College in Santa Fe when I was a freshwoman, listening to a reading by Galway Kinnell, whose poems about the immediacy of nature remind me of my journey to Tennessee. Weirdly, unbelievably, incredibly, that same college year Meg and I had lived in the same dorm –– a dorm named after Euterpe, the Muse of Lyric Poetry, with a mythical story of her own –– but we did not become friends back then.
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry –– eating in late September.
How strange life is, I think, meeting Meg online decades later and becoming fast friends, before discovering we had lived down the hall from one another for an entire year. In the long interim, we have each surely gone on our own “woman’s journey.” Surely mystical. Surely magical. I look out the window at the Tennessee sky and Meg’s personal slice of Appalachian wonder, the mountains shimmering in the distance. The sun is shining, the coffee is bountiful, and I can hear the Muses murmuring that we are about to embark on something of a mythical quest.
I listen in anticipation of what is to come, but I cannot remember the details of the Psyche and Eros myth, and I turn to Meg, who has my full attention now, and I say, “Okay, tell me all about Psyche and Eros.”
And so began the following long chat about beauty, marriage, mothers and mothers-in-law, husbands and lovers, sex, jealous sisters, the safety (and prison) of home, the fantasy of bliss, journeys to hell and back, love and rejection –– and, of course, the human psyche.
Meg Tufano Tells Giselle the Myth of Eros & Psyche
[GISELLE: I was on my computer and began typing when Meg began storytelling, intending just to take notes on the myth. But Meg did the same whenever I would respond, each of us (unknown to the other) having the peculiar ability to type as fast as a person can talk. We just went with the flow of talking and typing, not knowing that we would write up this dialogue for publication. After we parted one another’s company, and we each had a chance to review and proof the piece, we made the decision to include the various film, music, theatre and sound clips, as well as the lyrics and poems to which we refer. Those inclusions made it clear that we needed to expand certain parts of the conversation in order to illuminate those references for the reader. Thus, what began as an in-person conversation necessarily continued over the telephone, via email and in a Google Doc. Since there is not yet (to our knowledge) a word for this kind of multi-pronged and multi-media conversation, we are going to crowdsource: What’s a good name for this new genre? We're calling it a "Dialogue" for now.] [Note: The entire myth is read by Meg (later in the week) without conversational interruption, in its completion, and is on audio at the end of this article.]
MEG: (Speaking entirely from memory.) The story begins… <Meg switches to her story-telling voice> “...Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young woman named Psyche, who was SO beautiful that the goddess Aphrodite hears that she is the most beautiful of all human women, even more beautiful than any goddess! This, of course, would not be allowed to stand. How dare a mere mortal compete with the gods!
“So, to get rid of her rival, Aphrodite plans for Psyche to fall in love with Death. To accomplish that, Aphrodite orders Psyche’s parents to bring her up to the top of a mountain, where Aphrodite has tied Death to a stake. She orders her son, Eros (in Roman mythology he’s known as Cupid), to shoot one of his arrows at Psyche just as she sees the god of Death which Aphrodite knows will then cause Psyche to become instantly smitten with him. Then, at the very moment she is pricked by Eros’ arrow, Aphrodite will untie Death from the stake! And Thanatos and Psyche will tumble together off the mountain-top WAY down into Hades and Aphrodite will be rid of her!
“'Take that Psyche! Love and Death will take care of a mere mortal! Ha!' <Meg sounds a little bit like the bad witch in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’>
“Eros does as his mother tells him. He flies to the mountaintop at the appointed time (just before sunset) and sees the terrified Psyche (who has only just at that moment seen the chained Thanatos and is as frightened as anyone would be who is facing Death). Eros quickly takes an arrow to do his mother’s bidding, but –– Oops! –– he accidentally pricks himself instead, which causes him to fall hopelessly in love with Psyche. NOT exactly what Aphrodite had in mind!
“So, instead of causing Psyche to fall to Hades in the arms of Death, Eros swoops in to save her, and flies her off to his own private kingdom in a valley far, far away, just as night falls.
“Psyche cannot see Eros because it is dark. But, as the god of love, Eros knows a thing or two about how to make love, and Psyche enjoys the most exciting night of her life!
"The next morning, when Psyche wakes up, Eros has already gone to work, and Psyche discovers to her amazement that everything she wishes for, ANYTHING she wishes for, immediately appears in front of her! If she wants a banana split, voila! There it is! It’s delightful. It’s incredible...it’s heaven on Earth!
“At nightfall, Eros returns and again makes love to Psyche as only the god of erotic love can! Day after day Psyche is in a state of total bliss, doing anything she desires, and night after night, she is in a state of total bliss enjoying Eros’ sexual prowess. What’s not to like?
“Eros demands only two things of Psyche: ‘DO NOT EVER look at me. And DO NOT EVER ask me what I do!’”
GISELLE: That’s what Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) says to Kaye (Diane Keaton) in The Godfather!
MEG: Right! But, unlike Kaye, Psyche is fine with that, at least at first. I guess it seems to her a small price to pay for having everything she could ever desire!
<Back to the story> “So, the years go by and Psyche becomes pregnant with their first child. And she starts to think about her family, and she asks Eros if maybe her sisters could come visit.
“Eros doesn’t think it’s a good idea. But Psyche has gotten used to having her own way by now. So over and over again, she asks if Eros will let her talk to her sisters.”
GISELLE: So...while it may have appeared to Psyche that she had everything she wanted... she was sort of in a prison! She wasn’t allowed to actually look at her husband or ask what he did all day long! Sorry, but I can’t help free-associating again…to Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was inspired by a line from a poem called Sympathy, by Paul Laurence Dunbar. It’s about her journey to self-discovery, her quest for freedom. It’s about so many things…
Inspiration for "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
and dares to claim the sky.
his wings are clipped and
so he opens his throat to sing.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
~Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Back to Discussion of the Myth
MEG: Well it’s called a myth because it’s a universal story!
<Meg resumes her story-telling voice> “…Eros is totally in love with Psyche and wants Psyche to have everything she wants (or at least he thinks he does), so he eventually gives in to her. But...he only allows her to speak to her sisters across a chasm. Her sisters may not enter Eros’ kingdom."
GISELLE: Hmmm….Eros is more than a little bit of a control freak.
MEG: Well, Eros is a Greek god, after all! It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have issues!
<Back to the story>“When her sisters arrive at the appointed place, they figure out that Psyche has not been allowed to look at her husband. They see all the splendor of the palace and all the wealth and goods that Psyche is enjoying, and they yell out to her across the valley that separates them, 'The reason your husband does not want you to look at him or ask him what he does is because he is a monster and he is going to eat your baby!'"
GISELLE: A flip, in a way, of the Medussa story, the snake-headed (mortal) woman who would turn anyone to stone who looked upon her––
MEG: ––Except this story is not so much about a woman’s destructive power (it does touch upon that later), it’s more about the pair, the dynamic between a man and a woman who are in an erotic relationship. How they need each other, and how they hurt each other.
GISELLE: Yes. But...in a way...if a man doesn’t allow his wife to see him or to ask him questions, he is sort of turning her to stone, isn’t he? Because taking someone’s freedom away from them bleeds out their life-force. It turns them into living stones! But I’m with you...go on…
MEG: “Psyche does not believe her sisters, but her fears triumph over her hope, and that night she gets out a knife and a candle and hides them under her pillow. When Eros comes home and gets into their bed, they make love as usual, but instead of falling asleep in a state of bliss in each other’s arms, Psyche gets out of bed and gets the knife and lights the candle.
“But as she does so –– Oops! –– she accidentally trips over Eros’s arrows, which he has left on the floor. And she is pricked. At the very same moment she sees Eros’s face –– one of the two things he has asked her never to do –– and, instead of seeing the monster her sisters told her she would see, her eyes take in the most beautiful god of all –– the god of erotic love –– and she falls completely in love with him."
GISELLE: You mean really in love with him...because she’s no longer blind so to speak???
MEG: That’s a good insight!
<Back to the story> “She instantly realizes her sisters were envious, and that is why they lied to her. Just as she figures all this out, a drop of wax falls on Eros’ face and wakes him up.
“And what does he see? He sees his wife, with A KNIFE IN HER HAND, staring down at him! Not only does it look as though she is planning to kill him, she is also doing what he told her never to do! She is looking at him!
“He doesn’t wait even a fraction of a second. He grabs his arrows and flies away to his mother Aphrodite’s house on Mount Olympus.”
[Meg pauses. Giselle awaits what’s next.]
MEG: <sotto voce> “So, in an instant, Psyche goes from the total bliss of falling in love with her divinely sexy and gorgeous husband, to standing in the middle of nowhere. The palace is gone, she is dressed in rags instead of the lovely clothes she had been wearing since Eros carried her off. There is no trace whatsoever of Eros, except that Psyche cannot think of anything else except his beauty.
“She doesn’t even really even notice that there’s nothing around her, that there are no more beautiful things, no lovely distractions, that there is no food. That she is barefoot, alone, in love...and pregnant!”
GISELLE: How perfect. This is exactly the fear many women I know have of love, men, marriage and children...that you will give up your entire life and independence for a man and your children, and should something go wrong, you will end up on the street in rags, starving and having to shelter the children by yourself! It might be a myth...but it is unfortunately so like real life for so many women––
MEG: ––Myths are only ‘mythical’ in the 'just a story' sense to children. That’s why C.S. Lewis writes in his introduction to his Narnia stories that they were really written for when his nieces and nephews grew up. I first read them when I was eighteen! And cannot begin to tell you how much they have helped me understand –– well, too many things to talk about now or we’ll never finish this story.
GISELLE: You beat me to it by a few years. I read C.S. Lewis at St. John’s. I wanted to do my senior thesis on the power of fairy tales, because it seemed to me then, as it does now, that so much comes from them. That idea was swiftly rejected. But I digress…
MEG: ‘Digressions Around a Theme’ would be a good title to our conversations!
<Back to the story> “So, Psyche is alone and bereft of the man she is passionately in love with. There is only one goddess to pray to when suffering in the throes of love, and that goddess is...Aphrodite! Psyche’s mother-in-law! Talk about a tough situation!
“But pray Psyche does, ‘Please help me, O goddess Aphrodite!’
“Aphrodite, enjoying the power she has over her mortal rival and daughter-in-law, tells Psyche that she will help her, but ONLY if she will perform a task.
“Psyche says, ‘I’ll do anything you ask, just please bring my Eros back to me!’
“Aphrodite takes Psyche to a entire mountain of mixed seeds. ‘Sort them!’ she orders. When Psyche sees the impossibility of ever being able to complete the task...she faints!
<Meg whispers> “While Psyche is unconscious, little ants see her plight and separate the seeds for her. And when Aphrodite returns in the morning and sees that all of the seeds have been sorted as she requested, she is incensed! How dare a mere mortal accomplish a superhuman task!
“Well, she’ll just have to do away with Psyche another way, so she tells Psyche that she will help her only if she performs another task.
“‘I’ll do anything you ask, just please bring my Eros back to me!’ Psyche pleads.
“Aphrodite now tells Psyche to go into a flock of rams and shear some of their wool and bring it back to her. Psyche knows that if she does the rams will kill her...so...she...faints!
<Meg whispers> “While she is unconscious, the bushes by the side of the stream see her plight, want to help her, and call out to the rams, ‘Come have a drink of water in the stream,’ knowing that as the rams pass by, they can use their branches to take a little fleece from each ram and the rams won’t even notice.
“When Psyche wakes up, the bushes call her over and present her with the fleece they’ve collected for her to take back to Aphrodite. You can guess what Aphrodite says next...”
GISELLE: ANOTHER FUCKING TASK! I smell an impossible to please mother-in-law! Many of them would prefer their sons never fall in love. And somehow magically give them grandchildren without having to take a wife!
MEG: <Laughing> Yep! Psyche will have to perform yet another task!
“‘I’ll do anything you ask, just please bring my Eros back to me!’”
GISELLE: The image of the desperate supplicant woman, begging for protection, willing to do the impossible in order to belong, to be safe, to be approved of, to please everyone, to be loved...
MEG: It feels like what being in love feels like to me! Remember Cher in Moonstruck? She tells her mother that she’s going to marry her fiancé, Johnny Cammareri’s, brother. And her mother asks, ‘Do you love him?’ And when she says, ‘Yes,’ her mother says something like, ‘Oh shit!’
GISELLE: <Laughing>: Actually, I remember the movie very well. What Loretta’s (Cher’s) mother says is ‘Oh, God, that’s too bad.’ Cause she knows the sorrow of being in love. It’s impossible!
Sound Clip from the movie, "Moonstruck"
Sound Clip from the Movie, Moonstruck
MEG: <Back to the story> “So, this time, Aphrodite tells Psyche to go to the River Styx and get just one cup of water in a crystal goblet. But Psyche knows that if she goes anywhere near the River Styx she will drown and die. So, guess what she does?
GISELLE: <Shrugs> Gee. Let me guess. She faints?
MEG: “And while she is unconscious, The Eagle sees her plight and wants to help her. So he picks up the cup, flies to the middle of the River Styx, carefully fills the vessel and sets it down gently by Psyche’s side. When Psyche wakes up, she gives her mother-in-law the crystal goblet filled with water from the River Styx.
“Aphrodite is in a terrible rage, and she decides to make the next task so impossible that Psyche cannot possibly do it!
“Again Psyche pleads, ‘I’ll do anything you ask, just please bring my Eros back to me!’
“Aphrodite orders Psyche to go down into Hades to a cave, which is protected by the three-headed dog-god Cerberus, to fetch a jar of beauty cream. Aphrodite doesn’t give Psyche any advice, but she does give her three strange objects –– two coins and a piece of bread. It is up to Psyche to figure out how to use them.
“This time, Psyche does not faint."
Psyche Descends into Hades
GISELLE: Ahhhhhh….She faints at having to do all three previous tasks because she thought she was going to have to do them all by herself! But this time, there is help –– two coins and a piece of bread –– it’s better than nothing, even though she doesn’t know how she’s going to use them. So she takes it on! No longer any reason to faint. No longer anything to be afraid of!
MEG: Yes! This time, she has a few gifts. Not sure all of what that means, but I have some ideas...
<Back to the story> “Psyche gives one of the coins to Charon, who floats her safely on his ferry across the dangerous River Styx to the edge of Hades. But as Psyche walks toward The Cave, she encounters a young man whose donkey is burdened by so many sticks they are falling to the ground.
“The young man calls out to Psyche, ‘Please help me pick up my sticks!’ Psyche says, ‘No,’ and walks past the young man toward The Cave.
“Then she passes a pond, where she sees an old man drowning. He reaches out to her and begs her, ‘Please save me!’ Psyche again says, ‘No,’ and keeps walking.
“When Psyche finally arrives at The Cave, Cerberus is a terrible sight guarding the entrance. Each of his three heads has a BIG mouth with SHARP teeth, and they SNAP at one another and GROWL.
“But Psyche does not faint.
“Instead, she tears the piece of bread in half and tosses one half toward the monster, whose three heads fight one another for the morsel. While Cerberus is distracted, Psyche sneaks into The Cave to find the jar of beauty cream, which is sitting in plain sight!
“Psyche quickly leaves The Cave with the jar, tossing the remaining bread at the growling dog heads, each monstrous mouth again snapping at the other so that the monster doesn’t notice her escape!
“She hurries back to Charon and gives him the remaining coin to take her back to Earth over the River Styx. Then she runs off to find Aphrodite to present her with the requested beauty cream.
<Meg uses a falsetto soap opera voice> “But, she suddenly slows down, and wonders, 'Wait a minute, why does Aphrodite want this beauty cream? What would happen if I used the cream? Would I be able to bring Eros back to me because then I would be the most beautiful woman in the Universe?’”
Tune in next week!
GISELLE: Oh, come on! What happens? Finish the story!
MEG: “Psyche merely starts to open the jar and literally all hell breaks loose. Lightning! Thunder! Hail! Sirens! What Psyche doesn’t know is that this is not a jar of beauty cream. It is a jar full of the spirit of Death!
“Eros, meanwhile, has been watching Psyche from afar throughout all of these quests because he misses her terribly. (Once one has been pricked by one of Eros’ arrows, one never falls out of love, even if it is Eros himself who gets pricked!)
“When he sees that Psyche is about to open the jar, he rushes in from on high, grabs her and flies her away. Psyche drops the jar, which falls back down the mountain, returning the spirit of Death back into Hades. Eros has once again saved Psyche from Death!
“And so Eros and Psyche return to their love paradise and live happily ever after. But I wouldn’t want to have to be at a family reunion in that palace!”
GISELLE: Neither would I! A little switcheroonie on the ‘mother-in-law from hell!’ But, Jeez...what a girl has to do to be loved!
MEG: The mother-in-law that puts you through hell!
Back to Discussion of the Myth
GISELLE: How could I have forgotten all of that? It’s fantastic. I know it’s a myth...just a myth...and yet every aspect of it touches on every conceivable element of relationships between men and women! Young, old, single, married, rich, poor, beautiful or not!
A man cannot trust his mother, and at some point has to completely separate himself from her rule.
A husband can never really trust his wife, no matter how much he loves her. I mean...how is it possible for a man to develop trust in the first place if he doesn’t allow his lover to really know him…to SEE him? He wants to be unconditionally loved, like his mother loved him, by a woman, which isn’t possible.
And a woman, no matter how much she loves her husband, cannot really trust him either... because he won’t let her know him, he won’t ever let her see him! Does any man really want to be seen? Or are men afraid that if they are seen they won’t be loved for who they are? Will she just love me because I’m divinely handsome? Because I’m rich? Because I provide her with a palace, nice clothes, delicious food, a chariot to go wherever she wants. I must impose restrictions! It’s like being punished for loving someone.
And then there’s the whole sister, sibling rivalry, thing. Not wanting someone you care deeply about to be happy, and actually attempting to destroy their happiness.
And the part about beauty, the ever elusive beauty. Here today, gone tomorrow. Will I be loved once it’s gone? Does he only love me because I’m beautiful?
And then there is the continual threat of death any time Psyche tries to do anything –– sorting a mountain of seeds, fetching a glass of water, or just collecting a bit of wool! Who wants to die? No one! <Getting breathless> Life is a test from beginning to end...whether induced by one’s mother-in-law or not!
Then there is the eternal conflict between blind faith and trusting our instincts. Was Psyche happier when she didn’t know what Eros looked like? Or what he did all day long? Actually, we still don’t know what he did all day long, do we?
Was Eros happier when his wife was in a state of blindness? Is that kind of hypnotic erotic love only possible when you can’t see the man? When he’s sort of…mesmerizing you? Mesmerized by you? Holding you hostage to some kind of fantasy?
Or were Eros and Psyche both in a kind of prison, because the truth will set you free, as they say? We seem to be compelled by deep inner conflicts to test love at every turn, and in fact, not only to want to destroy love, but maybe want to destroy ourselves? And thus free ourselves?”
MEG: Well, hold on there. Lots of destruction going on, but love does win out in the end.
GISELLE: Maybe...but Psyche didn’t know that! She wasn’t a god like Eros or a goddess like Aphrodite. She was a mortal! She couldn’t see what was going to happen. He watched her go through his mother’s trials and tests. Of the three of them, Psyche was the one who was put through hell. Ultimately no, their love wasn’t destroyed...but she was constantly afraid that it would be!
Psyche has a need to question, to know the truth! And her willingness to put herself in danger was trumped by her desire to survive. Her desire to survive is ferocious. But she also believed she could bring Eros back to her. And she was willing to suffer for love.
Eros, on the other hand, faces the same dilemma, but he sits on the sidelines protected by his mother while Psyche dukes it out with seeds, rivers, rams and dogs. I wonder what that is from the male point of view? Does he need and want his mother, but ultimately he needs and wants to be loved by someone other than his mother too? Not to mention the sex.
So, it’s only when he finally finds love that he can finally reject his mother?
MEG: Well, Eros seems perfectly willing to let Psyche suffer and he stays under the protection of his mother. But only up to the point where he sees he’s actually going to lose Psyche in a way there’s no interpretation and guessing going on. I mean, she’s unknowingly opened herself up to death itself. She’ll actually die. That’s when he swoops in.
GISELLE: That’s like someone who doesn’t stop smoking until their doctor tells them they have cancer!
MEG: The psychologist Yates says that the unconscious does not pay attention at all to death. When dealing with the unconscious, according to Yates, death is something relatively unimportant, perhaps because the unconscious seems to be generally uninterested in the individual person. It’s interested in universals –– there are all of those strange universal symbolic images in dreams (Yates, 1999).
But eros –– with a small ‘e’–– the erotic life –– really is the core of the human life force, wouldn’t you say? I mean, ain’t no people going to be born without it!
GISELLE: Well, I don’t know about that. Sex isn’t the same thing as eroticism. Lots of people, sadly, have children without the experience of having the blissful love making you described between Eros and Psyche! And I think that the unconscious does not pay attention at all to death, but yet our consciousness does...which is what leads us to be afraid!
MEG: But people have to have sex to have more people! Just sayin’! Sometimes with all the trimmings, sometimes not, but without sexual intercourse, there are no more people.
GISELLE: True enough. But the instant the love is threatened by the reality of death, it’s no longer magical, no longer….what, exactly? No longer a storybook love? He does go back to save the real Psyche because he wants real love?
Eros leaves Psyche the instant she disobeys him, the instant she refuses to be under his control. And he runs back to his mother. In the end though, Eros opts for Psyche, not his mother. He chooses Psyche. It is as though when he first saw her it was an accident, but this time he sees her clearly. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I didn’t forget the once pricked always pricked part! This is the beginning of the eros with a small ‘e’?
Man, I think we really are covering life, the universe and everything today!
What I hear in the myth is that we have to risk Death, so to speak, we all have to cross the River Styx and go down into Hades in order to get back to ourselves, in order live, in order to find out what we are made of. Or, maybe, If we don’t take the risk and get back to ourselves, we can’t have true love.
At the same time, if we don’t light the candle and we can’t see the man clearly, will we ever be free? I don’t know.
What does seem clear is that Eros cannot stay with his mother or else he will never be free. But look what it takes to get him to forgive Psyche! Literally, she has to go to hell and back!
MEG: Margaret Mead says in Male and Female (Mead, 1949) that civilization begins when women entice men into the project of raising children.
GISELLE: Interesting that in the myth Psyche hasn’t had her baby!
MEG: Didn’t think of that. Good Lord! What a lot of work Psyche’s gone through already! Just to get together with Eros! Like you said, she’s gone to hell and back to get back to him!
'The cost.' What is that line in the poem? ‘Love is not love until love is vulnerable?’ I forget the author. Emily?
GISELLE: We can look it up later. So Psyche has to reject her own sisters, leave her own family, leave the safety of what she thought was a blissful happy palace, and be willing to be completely alone in order to be free. And dress in rags. How so like life.
MEG: I don’t think it’s ‘like’ life, I think it IS life!
"The Dream" by Roethke
I met her as a blossom on a stem
Before she ever breathed, and in that dream
The mind remembers from a deeper sleep:
Eye learned from eye, cold lip from sensual lip.
My dream divided on a point of fire;
Light hardened on the water where we were;
A bird sang low; the moonlight sifted in;
The water rippled, and she rippled on.
She came toward me in the flowing air,
A shape of change, encircled by its fire.
I watched her there, between me and the moon;
The bushes and the stones danced on and on;
I touched her shadow when the light delayed;
I turned my face away, and yet she stayed.
A bird sang from the center of a tree;
She loved the wind because the wind loved me.
Love is not love until love's vulnerable.
She slowed to sigh, in that long interval.
A small bird flew in circles where we stood;
The deer came down, out of the dappled wood.
All who remember, doubt. Who calls that strange?
I tossed a stone, and listened to its plunge.
She knew the grammar of least motion, she
Lent me one virtue, and I live thereby.
She held her body steady in the wind;
Our shadows met, and slowly swung around;
She turned the field into a glittering sea;
I played in flame and water like a boy
And I swayed out beyond the white seafoam;
Like a wet log, I sang within a flame.
In that last while, eternity's confine,
I came to love, I came into my own.
Definition of Depth Psychology
GISELLE: Okay...wait a minute...back tracking...what is depth psychology anyway? Is it Freud? The Oedipus complex? Penis envy?
MEG: <Laughing> All that, too. But my favorite definition is that it’s where philosophy, religion and psychology meet. I mainly studied Carl Jung. His basic psychological principle says that, in our lives, unconsciousness is never accepted as an excuse. You can’t say to the speeding car coming at you, ‘Sorry, I just wasn’t thinking.’ You actually die, no excuses allowed.
In fact, there are very severe penalties for being unconscious at the wrong time. Jung says that all unconscious nature longs for the light of consciousness, BUT, at the same time, it frantically struggles against it (Jung, 1951). His theory is that we are not left without help because something, something he empirically demonstrated in his psychological experiments and research, comes to our aid from the depths of our unconscious nature.
We see it in action all the time. I think of that book, Blink (Gladwell, 2007). We don’t know what the hell to do and then –– all of a sudden –– we do! I have yet to read all the things that Jung studied. No one even offers a graduate program in it anymore.
GISELLE: Then how did you get a Master’s in it?
MEG: I went to Antioch University where you could create your own graduate program.
GISELLE: They let you do that?
MEG: Yes. It’s called the Individualized Master’s Program. You design your whole graduate program, you hire your own professors, all of it. Dan [Note: Meg’s husband] has a Ph.D. from Princeton in psychology and he says I did more work just getting ready to take my courses than he ever did in his courses...and I only got a Master’s out of it!
GISELLE: OK. So, the unconscious. What you are talking about –– the penalties for being unconscious, the help that is just around the corner that we cannot see, not knowing what to do, then suddenly everything is clear –– that seems like Eros to a T! Psyche is Eros’s light, but he wants her to be blind!
But it’s also Psyche to a T. She thinks she’s left without help –– always doing her fainting thing, like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (Williams,1947). Wow...Tennessee Williams must also have known the Psyche and Eros myth, but he sure put an interesting twist on it. It is Blanche who doesn’t want to be seen in full light...always a dimmed lamp, and then along comes Mitch, her suitor, who insists on seeing her in full light...and her true age is revealed. And it destroys her. Stanley, who hates her because he can’t stand her pretentiousness and high falutin’ ways, and Mitch, who wooed her and I think wanted to love her...they destroy her.
In the myth, Psyche and Eros survive...but in real life I think the truth is often painful, and sometimes very destructive. In another twist, Stanley, because of his penchant for digging up the truth, whatever it is, about Blanche, who is his wife Stella’s sister, destroys his relationship with Stella…and he’s left with nothing. Absolutely nothing. <Funny imitation of Marlon Brando voice> ‘Stella! Stella! Stella! Come back to me!!!!’
MEG: It’s odd you should bring up Blanche! The year before I went to St. John’s, I went to Carnegie-Mellon University to study dramatic arts and my audition was Blanche! <MEG speaks in an over-accentuated Southern accent> ‘He was a boy, just a boy, and I was a very young girl.’ I can’t believe I can still remember the lines!
GISELLE: I can believe it! Tennessee Williams wrote about lies and deception...covering up and then being dressed in rags! I think we remember these mythical and fictional characters because there is so much in them that rings true for us. From the time I was very young, it has seemed to me as though I were living a mythological test. My father died when I was a little girl. My mother was faced with How do I survive? I was constantly worrying about survival –– because my mother was constantly worrying about survival. It just got transferred to my shoulders.
Then as I grew up, and became a woman, there was the question, which I am sure my mother had as well –– doesn’t every woman worry about survival her whole life? And then there is that other question: How do you find and keep true love?
And then the beauty part, that is a whole other subject –– because I’m convinced no woman ever thinks she is beautiful enough to keep her man!
Maybe...because men want women to feel insecure, which is what they think keeps women tied to men. Which is reflected in the low salaries women are paid. Lack of financial independence keeps women...well...dependent! Don’t tell her she’s beautiful! She might leave! Don’t give her freedom! She might leave! Don’t let her see! She might leave!
Maybe...because a man does not believe any woman will ever have the capacity to really love him for who he is, and so he feels he has to keep her in some kind of prison.
Male and female –– different genders but they have the same dilemma, don’t they...the one the opposite reflection of the other?
MEG: The depth psychologist Robert Johnson interprets the first part of the story when Psyche is being set up by Aphrodite to marry Death as a real experience that young women have when they first realize that their gender is going to limit their freedom. In fact, many poets use the term ‘a little death’ when talking about sex.
GISELLE: There’s that great Stephen Sondheim song, "Every Day a Little Death..." from the musical A Little Night Music.
MEG: Is it about sex?
GISELLE: But of course! And infidelity. And intertwined love affairs. And trust. And reality. And aging. And mothers. ‘Every day a little death,’ sing Charlotte and Anne in A Little Night Music:
"A Little Night Music"
Every day a little death
In the parlor, in the bed
In the curtains, in the silver
In the buttons, in the bread
Every day a little sting
In the heart and in the head
Every move and every breath
And you hardly feel a thing
Brings a perfect little death
He smiles sweetly
Strokes my hair
Says he misses me
I would murder him right there
But first I die
He talks softly of his wars
And his horses
And his whores
I think love’s a dirty business
So do I
So do I
I'm before him on my knees
And he kisses me
He assumes I'll lose my reason
And I do
Men are stupid
Men are vain
A humiliating business
Oh how true
Every day a little death
Every day a little death
In the parlor, in the bed
In the looks and in the acts
In the curtains, in the silver
In the buttons, in the bread
In the murmurs, in the gestures
In the pauses, in the sigh
Every day a little sting
Every day a little dies
In the heart and in the head
In the looks and in the lies
CHARLOTTE & ANNE
Every move and every breath
And you hardly feel a thing
Brings a perfect little...
MEG: Yes, it’s about sex! <Laughing>
GISELLE: I told you so. Isn’t everything about sex?
MEG: But that’s the point! Depth psychology began with Freud saying everything is about sex. The act of sex. And he insisted on reducing every single thing in life, in the universe –– in everything –– to one thing: SEX. What do women want? They want a PENIS!
Women. Check. Figured out. That’s that, then. Turn off the light and go to dinner. Problem of what women want solved!”
GISELLE: I’m sorry to tell you that a Penis ≠ Sex!
MEG: Jung was Freud’s protégé and was supposed to inherit Freud’s practice. But Jung refused to agree with Freud that everything was about sex. Freud, by the way, would have hated the entire term ‘Depth Psychology.’ Not scientific-sounding enough. He took the term psychoanalysis because it SOUNDS like science. Man, he would have gone crazy if he had known that he was right about one thing.
MEG: Resistance. People REALLY do not want to see themselves…
GISELLE: Aha! That’s why Eros didn’t want Psyche to see him!
MEG: Eros did not want to see himself! What I said before, how Jung saw that the unconscious resists being conscious! So much so that even universities do not want to see their ‘hangups.’ I’m convinced the reason universities do not care about Depth Psychology is that they do not want to examine their conflicted inner lives. They LOVE science because you can do experiments your whole life and never have to examine your own inner demons! But Freud AND universities are missing Jung’s main insight, that you can run, and you can try to hide, but the unconscious wants to be conscious. It’s a psychological principle that creates a conflict in a person’s life that is similar to Freud’s idea of our inner conflicts, but not exactly the same.
Freud really wanted to be a scientist among scientists. In his day, science was booming! What did the Theory of Evolution do in biology? It ‘reduced’ all life to a simple rule: Survival of the Fittest. This is what Freud wanted to do with human behavior. Reduce it to our conflicts about sex. And so we’ve figured human behavior out! Check! Let’s go out to dinner!
But Jung refused to stay neatly within the lines of Freud’s coloring book. He was insistent that everything is NOT about sex. I think it might have felt that way to Freud because of his times and where he lived. He was living in Vienna during the end of the Victorian Age. So much repression of the sexual. ...I got to see his apartment when I was there, by the way, quite an experience. They reconstructed it exactly as it was when Freud lived there. It was claustrophobic, actually. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Meanwhile, Jung grew up in Switzerland, and he also had a scientific bent. Like Freud, he was also a medical doctor. But he was stuck taking care of patients in a hospital for the insane before there was psychology. Imagine how frustrating –– he literally had no therapies to help those people.
Jung's Archetype Experiment
But he did this really cool experiment. He made up a list of unemotional cardboard-feeling-like things (grass, milk, wood, etc.) and asked his patients to give him an association, ANY association. He had a nurse time how long it took for the association to be spoken. He didn’t care what the person said, just how long.
Then, the next day, he went back to the patient and asked him or her, What were you thinking about at that exact moment (when it took them the longest time to come up with an association)?
And, what to his wondering eyes appeared? The archetypes: Death, Love, the Self, the Shadow, the Feminine (Anima) (Latin for psyche), the Masculine (Animus) (NOT the Latin for eros), the Father, the Mother, the Child, the Wise Old Man, the Hero, the Maiden, the Trickster.
Because it took so long for any one person to get an association, he called these ‘complexes’ in the same way you might be late for dinner because you had to drive around a complex of apartment buildings.
Not all of these archetypes appeared in his first experiment, but he did the experiments over and over and over again. And that’s what got him looking at myths: because myths were usually about Death, Love, the Self, etc. And then he made the connection between timeless stories and dreams. The more he studied dreams Freud was studying them too, but Freud came up with only one interpretation––
MEG: Right! For Jung, dreams seemed to use images that were maybe rooted in sexual longings but ALSO connected to the archetypal forces (which we cannot see by the way, we can only see the images of the energies, the energies are beyond our ken.) And, well, I won’t go on, but you can see why Jung did not agree with Freud that EVERYTHING is about sexual intercourse.
GISELLE: Okay, so for what it’s worth, that whole 'Freud likes psychoanalysis because it sounds more scientific,' as opposed to 'depth psychology' –– so far depth psychology is sounding so much deeper to me. Just sayin.’
<Commanding voice> Back to the beginning of the story!
MEG: OK! So, when you’re a twelve year-old girl –– okay when I was a twelve year old girl, I was free! I could do or be ANYTHING!!!! I remember that time well. My parents knew I was responsible so they let me do whatever I wanted. I walked into Washington, D.C. from our suburban house in Maryland –– not the dangerous part –– I was responsible! I FELT free!
So, as a young girl, you are free, to make your life about playing baseball, or about the Girl Scouts, or about skating, about anything and everything. The world is your oyster. And then the day comes when –– Oops! –– you fall in love. Or in lust. I don’t know. And then it’s suddenly all about boys all the time.
I had a little break from that because I went to an all-girls’ high school.
GISELLE: Not so fast. It does depend on what kind of family you grew up in –– the oyster part ––– there are many girls whose world never becomes their oyster. I mean they know there are oysters. But they will never taste them. For many of them, they have sex and children early in life to feel connected to something, and especially if they never got a chance to have any kind of voice. They have children to have someone to love –– because no one loves them!
But I would agree that sooner or later, for better or worse, one way or another, in Blondie’s words, you know, the singer? Everything does become about sex.
Carol Gilligan wrote In a Different Voice (Gilligan, 1993), bear with me because, like you with the myth, I’m doing this from memory, but I think she says that the awakening comes earlier than that. At the age when the cultural structure –– the way our society works –– needs to, wants to, has to –– socialize girls, to civilize them in a way, in order to control them.
Suddenly, a self-possessed young girl who felt fully expressed and speaks her mind –– at a certain age a girl feels perfectly comfortable telling her brothers to shut up at the dinner table –– all of a sudden she no longer says what’s on her mind, not at the dinner table, not anywhere. Nor is she truly her authentic self in school or in social circumstances. She silences her own voice because of social pressure. Society just cannot have all these wild, free, fully expressed girls running around doing and saying whatever they want. So a young girl becomes demure. I dislike everything the word ‘demure’ implies. Okay, I confess, I hate the word ‘demure.’
MEG: Again, I was protected from a lot of that because I went to an all-girls’ school, something I think (and this is from memory too), Gilligan suggests is a good idea for girls.
GISELLE: That’s what I mean when I say it depends upon what kind of family you grew up in, whether you had a strong family foundation, a psychologically healthy mother and father, whether you were financially secure, whether you were encouraged to learn, to grow. I went to an all-girls school, and it is a good idea for girls –– not to have boys sticking their noses in your business all day long, but even though we were pretty self-possessed, the presence of boys became pretty hard to ignore the higher up in class you were. You know, there is always the dreaded Prom, even in an all-girls school. Girls do tend to become concerned whether they are liked, whether they are pretty, or thin –– or in some cultures –– fat enough!
I remember a conversation with a friend of mine years ago, a mother whose daughter wanted a nose job ––there had been a boy who made a comment about her nose and I questioned it because to me her daughter was simply beautiful the way she was. All throughout my professional life I have known scores of women who have been told at various times, <imitating a man’s voice> ‘Be brief! Don’t speak too loudly. Watch the tone of your voice. Always be sexy but also be demure at the same time. Be careful not to criticize a man in public or appear to be smarter than a man. Do not ever talk about politics. Always smile. Always laugh at a man’s jokes!’ And it goes on and on and on, and on!
Meanwhile, the men are screaming and yelling at one another behind closed doors! We women can easily see that men are not prone to being brief, are hardly ever soft-spoken, are rarely uncritical, would never aspire to be demure or stupid to get by in life, and dare I say I’ve never met an apolitical man, nor have I ever met a man who wakes up in the morning and orders himself to smile and be happy!
Okay, maybe Bobby McFerrin...but he might be the only one and it was for a hit record. But I digress…
Music Clip of “Don’t Worry. Be Happy," by Bobby McFerrin
Back to Discussion of the Myth
MEG: I suspect that’s a modern experience that even the myths cannot explain. I cannot think of any myth that covers the experience of a woman trying ‘to make it’ in man’s business world.
Wait, I take that back. That’s not true, there is the fainting when Psyche is supposed to go in among the rams, and Robert Johnson in his book, She, interprets that what that’s all about is women trying to go head-to-head with men about intellectual things. Women can’t do it in a direct way: if they go head to head with a man, they’ll be destroyed. They have to find the power in their unconscious (Psyche’s fainting spells are calling out her unconscious powers in his opinion) so she has to count on her inner ‘branches,’ her ability to argue without going head-to-head, so she can subtly gather the male fleece, and get the intelligence.
GISELLE: Do you have any idea how much talent and creative energy women have wasted trying NOT to appear to be talented and creative???
But let’s talk about the whole myth. The beginning is so full, I almost can’t take it all in! But first let me just say that I think being saved and carried off to Eros’s Kingdom is perhaps the very definition of the mythical version of ‘making it in a man’s world.’ There was a time in the women’s movement, and I think we’re actually still there for the most part, but few people want to admit that we haven't gotten very far, when most men behaved as though they were doing women a favor by employing them: they were ‘saving them’ by giving them paying jobs. And they also sort of wanted you to feel grateful. That whole, you know, ‘You are so lucky you have this job, because if it weren’t for me no one would give you an opportunity, no one would save you from your life.’ It’s that.
MEG: O.K. That’s an entirely new interpretation of Eros! And I would never equate a corporation with Eros, no matter what The Supreme Court Says!
GISELLE: You wouldn’t? I honestly think power and money turns most men on! It’s very erotic to them!
MEG: So, next time I want to seduce a man, I’ll tape a hundred dollar bill on my forehead?
At the beginning of the story, when Psyche is saved by Eros from Aphrodite, her world is completely changed. She experiences bliss and her husband wants to give her everything she wants. He only asks, ‘Do not look at me. And do not ask me about my work.’
GISELLE: Yep. Al Pacino in The Godfather! Except that Michael Corleone does not ask Kaye not to look at him, just not to ask about his business. But really it’s the same thing, isn’t it? Don’t look at me. Don’t see me. Don’t know what I do. Don’t even ask! If a woman doesn’t know anything then she has no power in the relationship, right?
Scene from "The Godfather"
Back to the Discussion of the Myth
MEG: This myth is maybe 6,000 years old I think I remember. It wasn’t written down for centuries after it had been handed down orally. What is Eros’ reaction when Psyche does look at him? He sees not a woman who has just fallen in love with him, but he sees a woman with a knife!
Depth psychologists often say they need to teach women that they have much more power than they realize, that destructive power that you talked about earlier, for example like Medusa. They say that when women are arguing with a man, or revealing to a man something about his own self that he does not know about himself (something about which he is ‘in the dark’), women often do not realize that the man is taking this information in as a serious violence. The woman does not understand why the man does not appreciate the light that she is shining on him. As Jung says, the psyche (small ‘p’) (which includes the conscious and the unconscious) is in conflict, wanting the light, but resisting it too. And of course the male person is not all that a man is! Jung sees our core selves, our souls, as male and female. The psychological goal is to develop both ‘sides’ because that will bring the greatest authenticity, potency, life.
Back to the feminine. All through history, in any language in which wisdom can be given a gender, wisdom is always female.
GISELLE: Well, sadly, we seem to want wisdom (the female) around us, and we want beauty around us too, but we don’t want that wise female to express herself or to make herself visible, and we don’t want to share her with anyone else, and we certainly don’t want her to get old.
So, this is a real issue for our society, for women. I’m not sure past societies treated women this way. Or even if all societies treat women this way. Not sure. But it sure feels as if our current culture is doing that!
In the myth, the woman needs to go down into Hades, into the cave, to find the jar of beauty cream that she thinks will make her life perfect. At least she thinks it will get her the love of a man! But what she really needs to do is stare into the face of Death and fully accept it in order to be free on her own. No man required?
This is also a great Buddhist lesson –– that we cannot really live life well until we have accepted the fact that we are going to die. A great book to read on that is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. In the West we don’t understand the concept of accepting death in order to live fully in the moment. But so many families want to keep their girls safe and secure (translation: stay at home) so that they can’t really go on journeys of personal discovery, and will therefore never really have full lives, will never be fully expressed as human beings.
I wonder...is the message of the myth that life is really, really dangerous? Look what can happen to you if you ask questions and turn on the light! You might just end up alone and in rags! And all that about Depth Psychologists needing to teach women that they have more power than they realize...it can really be interpreted as a kind of warning...a kind of warning NOT to light the candle...not to ask questions, not to go on a journey…<Thinking>
MEG: Well, it is interesting that a woman can remain pretty unconscious and have a reasonably good ‘feminine’ life, according to Robert Johnson anyway. Why? Because she can identify with her mother, remain in her mother’s care as it were, and have children and live a life that can be comfortable and rewarding. I’ve met those women. Talking about their kids, what’s for dinner, everything about the house and family, and really not interested in much else. I like their choice. It can be very beautiful and admirable.
But every psychologist and myth agrees that a man can never do that and be happy. A man cannot even begin his life as a man until he can leave his mother. That would be Freud, Jung and every myth throughout history!
Freedom for women? That is clearly a modern kind of issue. Freedom from. Freedom to. All of that really seems to me to have come on the scene when women could have sex WITHOUT having to have children?
If Margaret Mead is right, civilization should fall apart right about now because women can pretty much take care of themselves WITHOUT a man! Maybe not as well as with a man (certainly not as well financially), but it’s possible to survive. Survival. So interesting to look at all these developments from distal evolutionary theory of mere survival.
GISELLE: I, too, have met those women who focus all of their attention on their children, and I think they give very conflicted messages to their girl children and their boy children, not to mention their husbands. I do not think that children should learn that a mother’s life –– her independent goals and journeys –– are sacrificable...ever. I mean, back in the days of gods and goddesses, did parents drag their boy children up to the tops of mountains to be strapped to stakes and sacrificed?
And, maybe I shouldn’t make this public, but I don’t think that a couple’s children should come first. I think a man’s wife should come first. I think the mother should come first. And I think a woman’s husband should come first. I think the father should come first. It’s kind of that pilot thing...put the mask on yourself first before trying to save anyone else, because if you run out of air, you’re not much help to anyone else! Women who sort of brag about sacrificing themselves to their children, I have never understood why that is good modeling for children.
So interesting that Psyche, on her journey, is pregnant –– a state of high vulnerability –– but also a state of considerable power. So here she is carrying a child who will have to go on his or her own journey of self-discovery. Makes sense that in so many repressed societies the male child is given so much respect. Having a man by her side is a woman’s only way to experience a larger life.
Why don’t more women demand freedom for their daughters? That whole, ‘I went through it, so you will, too, nonsense?’ I sacrificed myself and you will too? Sort of like an initiation into the club? I don’t know. Actually, I do know: mothers do not want total freedom for their daughters because if their daughters taste freedom they will leave them! They will leave their mothers, their mothers who chose to give up their own goals in order to have children!
If you go on the journey, you face death. Real death and the consciousness of death. And then you also face the possible loss of the thing that matters most to you, the love, the bliss, the security, the happiness.You might even get lost in hell! Drown in the river! Lose your coin! Get run over by a herd of rams! Have to drag the old man out of the muck! Get stuck helping the fucking kid with his damned sticks! Get eaten by the dogs at the gate! You might have to give up your life for everyone else and no one will notice! Argggghhhh…
If you don’t go on the journey, you will die anyway. Aphrodite, refusing to help her daughter-in-law. Psyche had to go on her journey. She had no choice! It was 'Stand Still in Rags and Die,' or 'Go Forward and...Maybe Die...or Maybe Live!' She had to prove to herself that she could do it. To hell with her mother-in-law!
MEG: And, of course, she had just fallen in love with Eros. And being in love is itself a kind of journey, a trial by fire, I’m not sure of all the things it is, but it sure gets your attention!
I have taught this myth in hundreds of classes, the most interesting was at an all boys’ school. At the point where Psyche is barefoot, pregnant and in rags and she is given all these tasks, the boys were very curious about what are these tasks that define a woman’s journey.
Strangely, when I would teach the male myth, they weren’t nearly as curious about what the male tasks are. Resistance? I don’t know.
I would explain to them that Psyche’s first task, sorting the seeds, is interpreted by many as the experience of a woman running her own home for the first time. It seems insurmountable –– rooms and clothes and socks to match, and dishes to wash and stack –– there are so many things to do. Ask any woman how hard it is to achieve ‘house harmony.’
I can hear in memory my father shouting to my mother, ‘WHERE ARE MY SOCKS?’
GISELLE: Ha! I can hear your father shouting to your mother ‘WHERE ARE MY SOCKS!’ It’s a universal cry! And I don’t have to ask how hard it is to achieve ‘house harmony.’ I think it’s virtually impossible! My husband knows that the seed-sorting in our house is part and parcel of my sanity. I do think it is mythical. I do think it is female DNA. I do think it is some part of an ancient pull that, in fact, takes a woman deep into the heart of being female. The thing is we all hate housekeeping. But without it, life becomes a three-headed dog named Cerberus who will eat you alive!
MEG: Again, the men are always fascinated by this. I think because most of them enjoyed a household as children where someone matched their socks. They got to enjoy the orderliness and the harmony of knowing where stuff is. And as adults they want their wives to give it back to them. If there is anything that I could advise a young married couple about, it would be a warning: you are going to fight about this! Be prepared!
GISELLE: Fight about it? How about get divorced over it! Every single woman I know feels like the Orderliness and Harmony Police in their relationship and house.
I think the tendency of men to turn their wives into their housekeepers is a kind of Death to a woman, to the marriage, the relationship.
Neil Young wrote a song that is one of the the few male poet/writer/man/performer admissions about this subject in lyrical form that I know of. The song is called, ‘A Man Needs a Maid.’
MEG: <Laughing> You are kidding me!
GISELLE: I’m totally serious. And Neil Young sings it absolutely sincerely, as though he’s wounded by it. It’s almost a plaintive cry for help. I have to play it for you. He sits at a piano and it’s just heartbreaking. It’s about a man who cannot function without the things you described –– the order, the matched socks, the nice bed to sleep in, the dinner cooked for him –– of course there’s much more to it than that, the suggestion that maybe he didn’t give enough love, but, unfortunately, he only discovers the real importance of this harmony when his relationship has fallen apart and he is alone.
Music Clip of “A Man Needs a Maid,” by Neil Young
Fix my meals and go away.
A maid. A man needs a maid.
It's hard to make that change
When will I see you again?
I fell in love with the actress.
A maid. A man needs a maid.
When will I see you again?
GISELLE: But I say a woman needs a maid, too! This isn’t just me, there are a lot of women who feel the same way. This is the reason it is said about women that their work is never done. They go to their day jobs, then come home and turn themselves into maids, cooks, laundresses. But if a man turns his wife into his maid, he turns his wife into his mother.
MEG: I had a maid long before I got married (and did so because I worked 60-hour weeks when I was single). But I also got pretty good at housekeeping so even though I had a maid, I certainly did not need one every day, or even every week! Then, when I did get married, it was sort of a habit. And no big deal. I don't know if I'm lucky or good, but my husband and I do not expect each other to do chores. I will admit that I have never washed my husband's clothes and we have been married for decades. (Maybe that's why we've lasted?) <Smiling>
GISELLE: Maybe the boys in your classes were fascinated by this because their mothers did this for them when they were children, but they somehow know that they need to learn that their lover, their beloved, their wife, their partner, cannot be their mothers! Because it hurts the sex. It hurts the relationship. It hurts the love. No one teaches little boys this. Don’t turn your partner into your mother!
There are things that men and women give one another that are pure and they have to keep it pure. You said that Eros takes Psyche to his kingdom and wants to give her everything. That’s interesting because he’s away from his mother. There are no children yet. And they are happy together, in a state of––
GISELLE: Ah, bliss...it doesn’t last very long, does it? The instant a woman has to become the seed sorter, the goblet filler, the fleece collector, in her own house, bliss is in trouble and fighting for its life.
MEG: And yet, questions remain. The first question I have for you: Why does Psyche faint?
GISELLE: Well, you said earlier it has something to do with her unconscious power. Let me think about that. She sees the amount of seeds, and it’s impossible! She knows she doesn’t have the ability. Is she going to sleep against reality and wanting to stay in the fantasy?
MEG: Well, actually, the fantasy is already over by then in the myth. Psyche is facing what Maggie Gallagher in The End of Eros writes about, the reality of needing stuff because you need to take care of your kids, but you have to work, and you especially need a lot more stuff when you have kids, and this isn’t just Psyche’s problem, it’s the human condition. We are all in need of stuff AND a maid to keep it all clean and orderly!
GISELLE: And we’re not going to get one...so––
MEG AND GISELLE: <In unison> ––I think I’ll take a nap! <Laughter>
MEG: And there is another interpretation, which is that women possess what used to be called intuition, but I prefer to call it unconscious power (men have it too, of course). If you have ever watched a woman who has conquered the sorting of the seeds, you will watch a kind of ballet in relation to ‘things’ that is truly awesome. It looks so easy, everything stays neat, the woman never looks as though she is working. Serenity reigns. Things seem to magically always be in their appropriate places and everything is peaceful but colorful like a painter’s palette. One has space to create good conversation, write, cook, live...because the canvas has been appropriately prepared.
GISELLE: Except that a woman like Ruth Madoff seems to have been so very good at napping and housekeeping that she (claims she) never suspected Bernie was up to no good. Never wondered where all the money was coming from. Never suspected he was running a massive Ponzi scheme. Never questioned their (beyond) lavish lifestyle...how their personal fortune(s) could have soared so high. Did you see the 60 Minutes interview with her? I personally find it absolutely impossible to believe that she never asked him where the money was coming from. She never lit the candle!
"60 Minute" Clip of Interview with Ruth Madoff
Interview with Ruth Madoff ("60 Minutes")
Back to Discussion of the Myth
GISELLE: If Neil Young, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Sondheim, Carol Gilligan and Maggie Gallagher were to meet, they would have a lot to talk about! Francis Ford Coppola could film it! Virginia Woolf wrote that in order for a woman to be a creative person, to be her own person, she has to have a room of her own and 500 pounds a year. A private personal space leads to personal expression. Money + time + privacy = independent (and often creative) expression.
MEG: But her story about that [A Room of One’s Own] does end with the man and woman running to meet the taxi and going off together.
GISELLE: Well, I think a woman needs a room of her own and her own money not so that she doesn’t need love or a man, or because she wants to spend all of her time alone in that room of her own. But so that perhaps if her innermost self is fulfilled, so can finally have a healthy relationship! Neil Young knew what he needed. In order to be a musician? In order not to get buried in the mundane? In order not to be destroyed by the insurmountable tasks associated with just living?
The importance of creating order, that ‘ballet’ that mothers and wives do so well for everyone else. That order is not necessary just so that someone can go off into their life and concentrate on their true work, their creative work, their self-work, but because in the absence of order, there is also an absence of love.
How is it even remotely possible that love can exist where there is no freedom, no order...no light?
MEG: In the Bible, right after God creates light, he gets the universe in order and creates human beings, the one thing Adam is told not to do in Genesis, is not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sort of like God saying, ‘Do not look at Me, and do not ask Me what I do!’
And, many translations miss this, but Adam’s standing right there with her while Eve picks the apple and he let’s her take the rap, ‘That woman you made!’ (Genesis 3:13) They are thrown out of paradise together (we just saw that scene in the Eros and Psyche myth because Eros is no longer in his happy home either), thrown out of perfect bliss onto the hardscrabble.
Interesting that the man’s task is to earn his livelihood by the sweat of his brow, but it’s also not well known that neither of them are ever cursed. The Hebrew makes that clear. Remember God said to Adam he would die if he disobeyed, but, instead he’s given work and a ‘helpmeet' –– to sort the rubble!
So, man is given work to do, a blessing, instead of being put to death. And here’s my point: Eve is given a blessing too! Having children at that time was a big blessing! And the whole thing about women being cursed with pain? The WORD is the same as for Adam’s sweat! In other words, they are given even-handed blessings. Essentially, work and life and children (more life).
GISELLE: In the Bible their work was equal! There was no equal pay for equal work in that scenario. They didn’t need to worry about that. They were valued equally! But...Eve eats the apple because...she takes risks! She crosses the River Styx. She goes into Hades to find a jar of beauty cream and bring it back to her enemy. Obviously, I’m not a depth psychologist––
MEG: –– I’m an academic depth psychologist, I’m not a practicing therapist. Just sayin.’
GISELLE: ––but I have long thought, because it’s something I’ve witnessed and experienced over the course of my life, that the root of the ‘Keep ‘em barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen’ motto is that if a woman’s life is so busy she can’t breathe, if a woman’s life is so shackled with the unfathomably boring organizational tasks of housekeeping, which are never-ending, like a mountain of seeds that can’t ever be sorted, the endless socks that will never be matched, the dishes clean today but dirty yet again tomorrow, the never ending shopping, laundry, chauffeuring...then she will never have the time to sit down and write a poem, paint a painting, compose a symphony, start a business.
Because if she did, and she becomes successful at it? Well, she just might leave...she just might leave the family, the children, the sanctity of a socially accepted and defined fully lived life...and run off and write a song called A Woman Needs a Maid!
Men, on the other hand, are always leaving. Every day for centuries they have been leaving their houses in the morning, and they always come home to an organized home at the end of the day, a home organized by someone else...the wife, who is often also a mother. But as soon as their house is UNorganized? They go away for good. Like Eros goes back to his mother when his marriage is in trouble.
MEG: Or...when he has to grow up. When he has to see who he is in the light of consciousness. When he has to bravely relate to another real person.
But instead of entering into that difficult process of a committed relationship, he reverts to his childishness and, metaphorically, returns to his mother’s arms: ‘She just loves me no matter what.’
GISELLE: Yes! It’s that unconditional love thing. Love me no matter what I do. I’ve never quite bought that theory, by the way, because I don’t think it’s humanly possible...
‘My mother loves me more than my wife does!’ Ah, Ye, the ultimate and inevitable failure of a wife…
MEG: Hmmm. In my own marriage I think I love my husband WAY more than his mother ever did. She liked babies, not children. Maybe that’s why it works!
But, no one loves anyone like they were loved when they were a baby.
GISELLE: No adult woman loves a man like his mother loves him, nor should she! And it’s easy to love someone who is helpless. A helpless person needs you. Need is not the same thing as love. I think choosing a person –– a woman, a man –– to be in your life because you want them, who they are as a human being, in your life with you, not because you need them, is a powerful love.
MEG: Fascinating because the entire project of marriage, in Jung’s view, is the highest form of becoming conscious –– it is the opposite of remaining a child.
To him, the equivalent to marriage in other spiritual practices is the effort for right thinking, right speaking and right action in Buddhism; or enlightenment in Zen. But Jung didn’t think that meditation alone would ever work. He saw, in the dynamic of the male and the female, a coming into consciousness that was rare to achieve, but that is the prize of holiness/wholeness. We become who we really are by seeing others as they really are, and accepting ourselves as we really are. And it takes the erotic part to give two people the energy to achieve that kind of consciousness.
All the fighting going on in a marriage is that they’re in this kind of container (the marriage) and neither one of them wants to be conscious, but they also BOTH want to be, and it is, unfortunately, the feminine (not always located IN the actual woman) that is the part of the couple that says, ‘Hey, let’s talk,’ ––the greatest downer line in a man’s life––!
You know the Woody Allen joke, the man thinks his relationship is going great because they never fight; and the woman tells her friend that they’re going down the tubes because they never talk!
But, seriously, there is something real about the dynamic in a marriage forcing both the man AND the woman to become conscious.
But the Jungian concept sounds a hell of a lot easier to achieve than it really is. I think he’s on the money regarding how people become conscious. I honestly do not think we can do this consciousness thing in a cave by ourselves saying ‘Om.’ I do think that’s a male wish-dream! Consciousness without conflict!’
Hey, we could write a book by that title!
I really haven’t studied the Buddha story all that much, but I do remember raising the point that it seemed really nasty to me that the story begins with him LEAVING his wife and child! I mean, what is that supposed to teach humankind?
GISELLE: But why would any little boy whose mother loves him unconditionally –– no matter what he does, no matter his behavior, no matter his words –– ever want to really grow up and be awakened in the middle of the night by a woman standing over him with a bright light? I’ve never met a man who wants to be awakened from his nap!
Ah...the darkness is so peaceful. The shades drawn against the light.
MEG: Don’t forget the knife! A woman looking at a man feels like a violence!––
GISELLE: ––saying, ‘I SEE YOU for who you really are.’
And then, why would any little girl whose skin was once soft and unblemished and her hair golden ever want to grow up and be with a man who will one day see her beauty fade? This to me, is the courage that it takes for a man to grow up, and the courage that it takes for a woman to grow up. For both...for each...it really is about see me, touch me, hear me. 'This is love. Is that a fantasy?'
MEG: I think it’s the opposite. It’s the task of being a human being met and matched!
Remember, when Psyche goes by the young man with the sticks and he asks her ‘Will you help me pick up my sticks’ she says, ‘No.’ She chooses her Eros, her husband, over helping the young man (in symbology, perhaps her own grown child).
GISELLE: But of course! Most women say Yes to helping everyone else before they help themselves because that is what they are expected to do! The expectation and definition of a woman is self-sacrifice, to youth (her children), to family (her desire for career), to age (her parents).
The instant she says ‘No, I will take care of my own mission and my own life before I take care of yours,’ she risks being alone, cast out without a palace, with rags on her back, with nowhere to go.
MEG: Well, that’s not the story. She gets kicked out of her bliss when she insists on seeing the man for who he really is.
This story’s ending is the happy-ever-after part.
IF she says No to the right people in the right way –– and we haven’t even started talking really about her ability to do so much with the paltry gifts she is given –– then she gets to be conscious of death, she can walk through Hades, but also saved from her own (immediate, real) Death and gets to have the love she desires ––even if she some stupid idea crosses her mind that being beautiful is all that matters to a man!
Eros teaches her that that’s not true!
I think that’s a grown up reality of love. Love MAKES us beautiful in each other’s eyes.
GISELLE: I’m looking beyond that myth for a moment. Shining the light could mean many things and result in the woman being alone. But a woman has to be taught that love makes her beautiful by someone who loves her, else there is no way for her to really trust it. A woman needs to be told by her mother and father that she is beautiful as she is, but she needs to learn that it isn’t only skin deep. There is a lot at stake in convincing women not to take the journey at all. The WOMAN staying in her parents’ house keeps her dependent and therefore infantalized. And it keeps men and children dependent and therefore infantalized, too.
Hmmm...instead of giving young women sex education, maybe we should be giving them candles and knives. <Laughter>
But I’m sort of serious. In real life and virtual life, it’s so easy to hide –– behind a title, a brand, in a beautiful suit, behind the wheel of a fast car, in a gorgeous dress, high heels..behind a perfectly retouched photo, a well crafted profile…
You can shine a light on someone in real life, but not online. I’m not saying that no one is authentic online. Of course there are plenty of people who are absolutely who they are from the moment they wake up until the time they go to bed no matter where they are and with whom they hang out. But there are also Bernie Madoffs. He appeared to be saving lots of people –– with the promise of a secure financial life –– but in the end he destroyed a lot of people who trusted him.
MEG: I’ve been teaching philosophy online for almost fifteen years and I can totally disagree with you, but I’m not saying social media doesn’t have that going on big time. Or, at least, people think they’re hiding, but quite often we can 'see' who they really are, but that’s an entirely different subject!
GISELLE: Should we trust anyone? Is part of the message of the Eros and Psyche myth that we should question everything? If we don’t question, how, as you say, can the unconscious become conscious? Maybe we are meant to take risks, to cross the River Styx and confront crazy three-headed dogs. But I’m sort of back where we started, wondering if modern life and technology are making it easier and easier NOT to become conscious, pulling us further and further away from connection...from real landscapes...further and further away from love!
MEG: Oh my God! We’ve talked the whole day! That’s Dan coming home from work! YOU have to make dinner! I got all the ingredients yesterday before you arrived.
GISELLE: Okay. You have a storytelling voice. Now I have to go find a chef’s hat!
Oops –– one more thing…
MEG: <Laughing> What’s that?
[Meg’s husband, Dan, enters. He can see there’s a conversation going on and just listens.]
GISELLE: You know that part at the beginning of the Eros & Psyche myth...when Eros saves her at the mountain top and prevents her from falling in love with Death?
GISELLE: That’s the part I’m most intrigued by now. A common fantasy for women is the rescue fantasy...that whole damsel in distress, Dudley Do-Right, Don Quixote, Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman and Pretty Woman thing.
But Eros actually saves Psyche FROM HER PARENTS, who thought her life wasn’t worth fighting for. ‘What are we doing today Dear? Oh, I don’t know. How about let’s sacrifice our daughter. Drag her up the mountain and tie her to a stake. Shouldn’t take long. How does that sound? Does that work for you? Then what say we catch a movie? You know, The Godfather is on AMC...’
MEG: But it was a goddess that told the parents to do that. I wonder what the symbology is for parents of girls. I don’t have daughters, but I can tell you that not even God could get me to take my nieces to be killed! Hey! And there’s the whole Isaac and Abraham story where the son is supposed to be sacrificed. And he’s saved by––
“The Dinner Party,” by Judy Chicago
GISELLE: ––And how is it exactly that we have had this entire conversation, and I’m in the art world [Note: Giselle writes for the Chairman Emeritus of Christie’s Americas] and I haven’t even mentioned Judy Chicago’s work of art called The Dinner Party, which is permanently installed in The Brooklyn Museum. It consists of a huge triangular table with place settings for 39 women, some mythical, some real, but each representing an important and influential place for women in history. Not that there have only been 39 –– another 999 names are inscribed in tiles on the floor.
MEG: Never heard of it.
GISELLE: "The Dinner Party" is Chicago's permanently honoring the trajectory of important women through history, something that is often forgotten. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it because the first place setting is for the Primordial Goddess, and the second place setting is for the Fertile Goddess, which of course is Aphrodite in mythology! Virginia Woolf is the 38th place setting, followed last but not least by Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe, as we all know, all but left her marriage to photographer Alfred Stieglitz and went on her own journey to claim her life for her own art. Stieglitz lived in New York and O’Keeffe moved to the desert in Northern New Mexico...and lived and painted in what is now the famous Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico. She could not have created what she created without having done that…
But this is a whole other conversation. And I have to fix dinner. Because I believe in rituals. And friendship. And good food. And love!
MEG: Good Lord. We’re going to be up all night––
DAN: ––Sounds like you guys are going to be up all year!
<Meg and Dan exit and head for the kitchen>
GISELLE: Wait wait wait! We also forgot to talk about Sondheim’s song Happiness, from the musical Passion! It starts, “I’m so happy I’m afraid I’ll die here in your arms.”
So much to talk about. So little time… Ah, me… What’s a woman to do...
<Giselle runs down the stairs after Meg and Dan singing> “What would you do if I died like this. Right now. Here in your arms. That we ever should have met is a miracle….”
"So Much Happiness" by Sondheim sung by Bernadette Peters
<Fade into Wine and Chicken Piccata>
Giselle's Recipe for Chicken Piccata
Giselle’s Chicken Piccata
4 organic chicken breasts, filleted to half thickness
2 Meyer lemons (preferably) juiced, or regular lemons
1 c Gewürztraminer white wine
1 c organic low sodium chicken broth
4 Tbsps. (or more) capers, drained
2 Tbsps. crème fraîche
½ c chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground Sea Salt and Black Pepper & favorite herbed poultry seasoning
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Peperoncino flakes (optional)
Stainless Steel or Cast Iron Sauté Pan
PLACE SETTINGS (optional): In honor of the men and women who exemplify the spirits of Eros and Psyche in your life.
In a stainless steel or cast iron sauté pan heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan over medium/high heat. Dredge the eight (8) pieces of chicken in the flour, shake off excess and place on a sheet of waxed paper. Salt and pepper both sides of the floured chicken. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, place only as many chicken breasts as will fit in the pan to sauté with space around the edges. Brown on medium to high heat until golden brown, sprinkling the top with an additional light herb seasoning to your personal taste. Flip the breasts over and brown on the other side until equally golden brown. When done, if necessary, add more olive oil, reheat the pan and brown the remaining breasts. Transfer browned chicken breasts to a platter.
Add one half (½) of the wine to the pan and thoroughly deglaze the brown bits clinging to the bottom and sides. Add one half (½) of the chicken broth and one half (½) of the lemon juice. Cook over medium/high heat until the juices start to blend and smell fragrant. Add back in the chicken breasts, turning them over in the broth until well coated. Turn the heat down to medium. Add 2 tablespoons of the capers. Stir gently with a wooden spoon.
At this point, begin tasting and add more wine and lemon juice for a more tart and picante sauce, or more chicken broth for a more mellow sauce. The chicken should not be floating in a watery broth. It should be well coated in a broth thickened by the flour. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover and cook gently for another 20 minutes or so. Finish with the remaining capers and the crème fraîche, gently stirred into the pan. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Pour out onto a serving platter, top with the fresh parsley and sprinkle with a few flakes of peperoncino if desired.
This dish is fabulous with fresh steamed asparagus, a garden salad and either red or white wine.
Audio Recording of Meg Telling "The Myth of Psyche and Eros"
Back to the Table of Contents for Spring 2014
Giselle is a dancer, actor, theatre director, designer and writer, and has worked as an executive in music and fine art. Influenced by those historically rich and diverse storytelling disciplines, she communicates about issues that matter to her creatively, intellectually, personally, politically, socially, and spiritually.
In the world of fine art, Giselle is the senior writing consultant for the Chairman’s Office at Christie’s New York, before which she was the Vice President, Senior Business Development Liaison and Writer for the company's Chairman Emeritus.
Giselle is at work on a book inspired by her father's Italian homeland, and their shared passions for flying small planes (she is a private pilot), conversation, writing and journeying into the unknown. She lives and works in New York City.
Meg is originally from Washington, DC, has lived all over North America and just recently returned from four years of living in The Hague, The Netherlands. She is married to Dr. Daniel R. Tufano, Sr., a scientist, and has two sons, Julian and Danny, Jr. She completed her undergraduate degree at St. John's College and The University of Toronto and her Master's at Antioch University, Midwest. (Meg describes her education in Part III of her Critical History of the University in the spring 2013 issue of The Journal.) Her favorite city (so far) is Florence, Italy, the background to her picture at left. She has just had her first novel (which won The Tennessee Mountain Writer's award for Best Novel) published by S+™ in their fiction imprint (See "Our Books" link at top of page). She loves new writers and encourages submissions on social era topics for The Journal. She is always happy to discuss publication by authors of both fiction and non-fiction articles and books for S+™. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
(The photograph of the woman in the introduction audio/video of Meg telling the myth is Meg's late mother, Ellie Ewers O'Neill.)