The Myth of After
…or, how to live in the Afterlife
In case you haven’t already read this, when I turned 50, I lost 70 pounds, had a breast reduction from a L to a C cup, and became a runner. My physical (and as a result inner) world changed tremendously. Where I was curvy, I was now straight. Where I was large and luscious, I was now little and lithe. Where I was by nature an artsy introvertish sort of writerly-type person with progressively worsening backaches that made me progressively more reclusive, I was now pondering exactly what I’d missed in the Big World out there whilst encumbered by all those ponderous back aches.
All of a sudden, I was living smack dab in the world of After.
“After” is a myth, by the way. An abstraction we humans tell ourselves to order the chaos of existence and name each cycle of living with a delineated beginning, middle, and ending.
Every one of our words to describe the experience of time—before, until, during, later, yesterday, tomorrow—are also myths. Time itself isn’t false, but it is inherently mythological. A construct created to order external phenomena in a relatable and transmittable pattern, our way of turning events into a story and imbuing our lives with meaning to fend off the uncertainty of it all just a little bit longer.
There is only ever really now.
Once upon a time is the most honest summation of humanity’s single-minded ordering of the unknown ever written.
Our experience of time comes not from what is around us but from what is within us, as we decide something is either a particle or wave based upon our subjective viewing of it rather than the truth that it is actually both equally (and probably quite a bit more). What we attempt to describe with the concept of time is in reality tenseless, as all points are equally “real,” and so that future and past are no less real than the present.
Change is real, but time is not. Time is only a reflection of change, an illusion based in our own meager relativity.
A world of unfolding and becoming. A progressive context of story in which to place perceived occurrences.
So, back to my Myth of After.
After the happy ending?
After the weight is lost?
After the goal is achieved?
What happens After we get the job…
marry the partner…
lose the battle…
win the war…
After the mythological story we tell ourselves
to motivate our quest
and you sit in your tower of
In the Afterlife
Twiddling your thumbs as you
Sing eternal hallelujahs to
The Start of it All?
Myths may seem like lies,
But they’re really just the stories we tell others
To make sense of the disorder of All the multitudinous
muddling each and every actuality.
The Power of Now vs the Myth of After.
The Old Myths have tried to tell us
about the Afterlife, be it
But most of us have rejected the Old Stories, and now we are left with
our own singular mortality and the Myth of After.
What is there for a woman after she sheds the rules of her childhood and the dreams of her youth—loses the lies of what she’s supposed to be, both what society told her and what she had hoped for?
Does “After” ever truly come?
I was raised on the myth that “they lived happily ever after”—perhaps you were as well.
I love the second act of Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods” because it confronts this very aspect of life—what happens AFTER “happily ever after”?
Everyone wants hope—hope is believing in the possibility–but all we actually have is the truth of our own existence…
…and the longing for we know not what.
On the other side of 50 years, I am now convinced that living is not a series of endpoints, but a series of cycles. Not a series of things you obtain so that you can be something, but a cycle of things you recognize you’ve already become through the act of living—of standing in the order you were born into and reaching as an individual spark into the chaos of possibility to bring forth something vital and true.
I’m with Joseph Campbell and Jordan Peterson on this one: Without truth you don’t have the adventure of your life. If you tell the truth, you’re revealing your being. When you reveal your being, you’re living in the world, you’re present—that’s being. That’s you. If you hide from your truth, you’re hiding from yourself. If you’re not living your authentic life, then you lose your life and your soul, too. The truth of our own existence is ultimately all we have—everything else is just myth.
There’s a reason the heroes in our movies, books, and TV shows are constantly facing problems and never seem to remain in the Myth of After. Everyone is chasing something, but enjoying the having of it is only fleeting—and nobody really wants to stay there, anyway, as is evidenced through the stories we watch, read, and tell. We are always becoming in our stories—we love trilogies and series because the process of becoming is really the good part. It’s not the ending, even though we act as though we all love a happy ending.
What we really love is a positive increase, not a blissful endstop.
I mean, what is a happy ending really? Other than myself, I don’t know anyone else who’s chronically content and I cannot even really tell you why others aren’t generally as contented as I am. My husband has watched my contentment during 20 years of marriage, and he finds it mildly annoying, actually. I’m happily married, but I haven’t always been—AT ALL. Nothing in my life is, or has ever been, perfect. Perfection is a myth based on that selfsame myth of “After”.
Adversity and Lack and Loss are powerful Monsters in this world, and therefore powerful motivators. But Happiness…Contentment…Satisfaction…these are another sort of Beast entirely. The sort that wraps you in a blanket, tells you to close your eyes and go to sleep like a good little girl or boy.
This is what I realized this morning—I’m one of the only people I know who’s pretty much always been okay. Hasn’t gotten me much externally, other than more happiness. A series of cycles unfolding within me of which others only see the remnants.
So why am I writing these words, taking you on this meandering tale as I wander around this Myth of After?
It all started with four women gathered together to watch Susan Pierce Thompson (the creator of the Bright Line Eating Movement, the way that I lost 70 pounds and something I will tell you all about if you want to know more) ask us: “How are you Bullshitting yourself?” And I realized that I’ve been bullshitting myself about the Myth of After. I’ve been bullshitting myself that I know who I am on the other side of losing 70 pounds and having a breast reduction and becoming a runner and shedding every single one of my excuses for not really living. So the weirdest thing happens: I’m sobbing as I sit on my skinny little ass. I’m surrounded by three women who are all searching in some way and not yet at their own Myth of After. They know what they want—to lose weight and find their own approximation of what Susan and I have, but I’m the one crying. Because I don’t know who I am as a skinny girl with no boobs. Not because I feel sorry for myself—I fucking love my transformation—but I don’t know what to do with it. What to do next. I’d almost given up, and now I’ve been given everything I ever wanted and used to protect myself from the world…
Wait, protect myself? Fat protected me? So cliché. Try again.
Fat gave me something to fixate on to justify my lack of success financially. Naw, that, too, is a tired old story that only has a bit of truth. Sure, I didn’t prefer my fatness, but I loved many things about it too. And once again, I’m making a point about what’s not the point so that I can fabricate a point at all.
Why am I weeping in this Myth of After?
I grew up believing I had intrinsic worth and value and was loved regardless of my mistakes, even if the world didn’t see it (bravo mom and dad).
I eat well (even when fat I NEVER followed the frightfully unhealthy Standard American Diet—no wonder they call it SAD). I was always a health nut or a hedonist who ate only the very best of the best, and nothing in between.
I’m okay with dying, because I’ve no doubt I’ve lived. Matter of fact, I’ve lived so damned much that my own midlife crisis was thinking maybe there was nothing left to do and so I might as well die and go on to the next grand adventure.
I’ve had PLENTY of restarts and crises of faith. I’ve lost my faith and wandered in Sondheim’s woods so many times I have favorite vacation spots and scenic views I enjoy when I travel there.
But changing my body so significantly when I wasn’t seeking significance—when I didn’t want to live more great stories, left me sitting on a couch, sobbing on my skinny little ass, scared shitless as I stared into the Abyss of the Myth of After.
If you know Tarot at all, you’ll know what happens to that happy dancing lady who has it all on the World card if she comes back to earth with her Holy Grail…
She becomes the blasted Fool all over again, and has to step off the cliff, and write a new Story.
So what I’m saying is—every Myth of After is really just another Once Upon A Time.
So, here’s goes the free fall:
Once Upon A Time…