It’s too easy and tempting to hero-worship.
It’s harder and harrowing (hero-ing?) to make a hero out of myself.
Is it impossible to achieve greatness when all you see is how great someone else’s greatness is? That is the problem I fall into. Hero worship can prevent me from achieving and knowing my own greatness. How can one break out of the cycle of falling in love with the Hero and giving him all the glory, when really one should set out on a quest of one’s own and achieve glory for herself?
This weighs heavily on my heart and casts a shadow over my dreams because I so badly love being in love with heroes. Ever since I was a girl I fell in love with the great legendary heroes I read about in books. Before I ever became a teenage groupie of rock musicians and comic book artists and horror novel authors, I aspired to become the kind of heroine (or damsel in distress, even though that role left me with a bad taste in my soul) who would marry the subject of one of the greatest epic poems, or I maybe I would grow up and be a muse for a great bard like Taliesin. At the age of 11, I read Beowulf, devoured King Arthur and his Knights written and illustrated by the great Howard Pyle, loved the epic poem The Faerie Queene by Sir Edumnd Spenser, and even made my English teachers’ jaws drop when I wrote a summer reading’s book report on the Odyssey and the Iliad! But then… I discovered Joan of Arc and Red Sonja and fell in love with swords. If I couldn’t be the beloved of heroes, I’d be a spitfire warrior woman, dammit! (But my desire for romance never, um, quite diminished, of course)
I even tried my hand at writing my own epic poems, one I called Zora the Sea Maiden but it was a silly daydream, full of forced rhymes and little more than a schoolgirl’s pedestrian effort to mimic her heroes’ greatness. This was cruelly pointed out to me by the time I was in high school. Even though I had learning disability complications that held me one year behind in reading comprehension, my writing and composition skills were superior, yet still I was no Homer or Dante, nor would I ever be as it was so pointed out by several of my high school English teachers. I attempted to write plays and songs, sang one of my own for an audition, and even though my peers thought me someone akin to Shakespeare, time and time again I was let down and rejected, my ego trimmed down to the thickness of a thumbnail. That criticism was necessary, not to hold any narcissism in check, nor to break my girlhood dreams, but to give me a dose of reality and force me to realize where my best talents lay.
I loved heroes, I loved writing, yet I could draw like nobody’s business. My drawings and paintings told stories. I made a small business for myself quite by happenstance and airbrushed other kids’ names and things on their jackets and jeans. I even did a little street art, but couldn’t stand the stench of spray paint, and the adventure of nearly getting caught was a bit too much for me, however having that experience… it made me feel GREAT. But it wasn’t something epic, nothing that would make me a hero, or make me a heroic companion, or even transform this girl into the sort of lady that inspires bards. Because, even though I sometimes used my art talents to impress boys, they were more interested in girls who were, I dunno… more demure, shy to the point of weak, or younger, less “equal (?)” to them than me. By the time I was 18, I thought that being great meant being too strong meant being no one’s girlfriend and so, discouraged after a boyfriend left me for a petite, skinny, illiterate girl he got pregnant, I wondered if getting stupid myself would make me less alone.
Because by the time I was of the age when drinking was the rage and freedom meant experimenting with every sin, I went through some distress. It was the only time in my life when I attracted a man willing to marry me, but only if I let him be the dominant partner in the relationship. I played along with it for as long as I could, yet… it never felt right. Oh, I eventually exhibited my intelligence, budded and blossomed into the Feminist I was born to be, and began to realize the greatness of what being a woman is, and even though I could be just as great with a man as I could be single, I had yet to really know myself for myself, undefined by anyone else and no longer hidden underneath the shadow of my girlhood heroes.
I squirmed away from the possibility of marriage and the conventions of what could have been a secure, yet un-greatness-fulfilling life. My fiancé wanted three children, a house, requested that it would be nice if I be a housewife, spend my days at home and just made art in my spare time. However, my talents did not lie in cooking, I am no Suzy House-maker, and when I am working on my art at home, it dominates every second of my time! I cannot be bothered by dirty diapers and screaming children, let alone a husband coming home demanding anything while I’m putting my visions to paper. Or maybe I could have… ? When I asked the ‘maybe’ and friends around me answered with ‘you should‘ that was it. I realized my greatness was not Valentina the Mom & Wife, it would be Valentina the Artist, however even that did not seem sufficient.
How does a young woman who grew up worshiping heroes discover her own greatness, anyway?
There is no manual or set of instructions for it except the double standards out there deeply conditioned within our society that tell us otherwise how to behave. We play into them even when we think we’re being strong and independent. Especially when we tell ourselves we are kicking ass and getting things done our way without anyone’s help. I still get weak in the knees whenever I see how great someone else is achieving their greatness. I ache to celebrate their achievements. I rush up to the front row and scream out their name. Tears run down my face when I look upon their face and I want so badly to see a God there looking back at me…
When I worship a hero, I am inviting the Gods to come out of an ordinary person. I think that because an ordinary, mortal person has achieved greatness this must make them worthy to channel God, or that they have a God living within them all along, and so therefore worshiping them is akin to worshiping the Gods within. The Gods make the Hero possible. The Hero could not achieve greatness without the Gods. If I can touch the Hero, I can reach the Gods through Him. The Hero becomes a demigod just by right of achieving Greatness. Yet does this, in turn, hurt any ordinary person’s chances for Greatness? Not everyone becomes the Hero, so therefore the largest percentage of Us ordinary folk are incapable of reaching greatness and communing with the Gods. Hero worship then becomes a poison, the quest for greatness just another selfish excuse for seeking the wrong kind of fame, making yet another individual no less closer to communing with the Gods than I am talking to the stars in the heavens. When I cease to pay homage to the Hero and invite the Gods to come to me without achieving some great or special deed worthy of hero’s fame and glory, do I then make greater my chances for greatness in my own way on my own path according to what only I can achieve ?
Again, I feel heavy. Not in sadness or anger, but in guilt for having worshiped my hero. I no longer look up to fictional or historical heroes. No celebrities push my thrill buttons anymore either. What inspires and fascinates me now are the stellar mortals I am blessed to know in this life, people who make me want to achieve greatness so I can be their equal, catch up to them, and share some awesome adventures together. Gone are the girlhood fantasies of wanting to become married to a hero or become the muse for a hero bard, and gone, too, is my desire to become great in order to become famous or rich. I just want to be as great as my friends! Their opinions matter to me like no one else’s, if they think when I express my admiration of them is wrong, I feel like a total idiot, or like I’ve been demoted to a self-depreciating groupie. Or that they just do not see me as one of them.
Admiring my friends makes me very happy, sometimes it keeps me going, inspiring me to go to great lengths to achieve my own greatness. I have a friend right now who is achieving a Great Adventure — *laughs* it’s all his fault that I push myself a little harder because while I sweat in the sun, I think about how he is feeling biking and walking for many miles in this summer heat, and I think how much I have it easy in my climate-controlled drawing-room, how spoiled I am only having to worry about paying for laundry this week — ! I think of him when I go to bed, wondering if he’s sleeping outside in his hammock or if he’s found shelter tonight while I cuddle up with my cat, all safe and sound in my cozy apartment far away.
I was once homeless and know VERY MUCH what it is like to live like that. I feel guilty staying in my own home while he’s out there. Even though he has chosen his adventure, any adventures I’ve been through were not of my chosing. I never had a large group of people cheering me on when I was struggling to make ends meet, surfing couches, and sleeping outside without a tent and sharing a cement bed underneath bridges with gutter punks. That was my life at age 30. My friend at age 30 has it better, has it all together, has the advantages of a supportive parental unit, and a network of friends to rely upon. In some ways I am jealous, but what out-trumps that is I’m so damn proud of him! He’s out-doing the challenges and struggles I went through at his age.
What our mutual friends do not know is that he helped me during some of the most difficult times when my life was most unstable. When no one else stood up for me, he was there, and even though he could not fix my problems, he did what best friends do: HE STOOD BY. That’s the best you can do — the GREATEST thing you can do for someone — just stand by them while they make it through their troubles. It may seem like you’re doing nothing for your friend, but just standing by is everything, is all there is to do, and doing it is what matters the most because when I went through my hardest times I lost the friends I thought mattered.
When I compare my life to his right now, well, I just CAN’T see my life being anything great compared to his. Perhaps this is due to my perception of his Great Adventure right now. He’s the one doing all the greatness simply because he’s taking risks and being bold and pushing fast forward towards his goals! The relief of just simply being happy because he’s happy for doing that frees me from feeling stupid and lazy for not doing something as grand and crazy as his Great Adventure.
I think of him as my ordinary hero. I’m not really worshiping him like a God, I’m just talking and bragging about him because he’s my friend doing something great that I cannot do. Yes, I can ride a bike (he taught me how!) but I would kill myself doing what he is doing. We once took a seven week trip and attempted to bike a teeny-weeny 13 miles and that put me in so much back/groin pain, well, need I go into gory details about that? He has the stamina, endurance, skills and talents I simply do not have. And, in contrast, I have strengths he lacks. I know he admires me for those, so why not indulge in a little mutual appreciation? I think we should all do that with our friends! I do not think we do that enough with each other. I think that when we do, sometimes people are under the impression we do it because we have some ulterior motive. It’s hard to reassure each other that our worship of each other is genuine and the expression of it is not “I’m putting you above me” kind of thing. It should be this patting each other on the back ritual, right?
Hero worship itself can become a trap for some of us. I struggle with not letting it get too big of a habit. It can carry me away back into acting like a 14-year-old girl again, but instead of copying her heroes or wanting to marry them, at some point reality seeps back in, I think of my love for my friend — the one who is not a hero but working toward living the Heroic Life — and I remember I am walking my own path to greatness. My path is not the same as any of my friends, but like everyone else’s, we each have our own to define and chose as our own, and mine is simply a Witch’s Path; one of independence, creating beauty, caring for other people, activating change, standing up for justice, living in devotion to my Gods, and living by my own set of virtues.
But hero-worship can also be a welcome escape from trouble, often a way to rescue ourselves out of boredom and out of thinking that all there is to life is drudgery. Hero worship should be the very thing that works as an elixir against conformity, yet with right ingredients mixed with the wrong elements, it is used to create tyranny that manifests in the form of cults, dictatorships, fanaticism, fascism, stalkers… *shivers* Those things scare me. Hero worship can turn into the poison that is so dreadfully yet beautifully addictive, it stunts the soul by the thousands. I believe that anyone who finds that they have become a hero may or may not realize that their power is given to them by other people who are willingly giving up their freedom to belong to them. When fanatics force that kind of obligation upon the hero they look up to, it becomes sick. We might as well be asking our heroes to become assholes just to prove to us that we have placed our love and faith into the wrong living being.
My policy now is to NOT follow my pop culture heroes. I refuse to meet them at conventions. I don’t ask for autographs. I am not thrilled by the idea of getting the chance to spend any amount of time with actors, authors, or celebrities. Most of whom I have met by accident and enjoyed short, sweet, ordinary exchanges of word with that left me feeling comfortable knowing that we did not bother to bother each other with the usual fanfare that goes along with fan-meeting-star. Why do I not go out of my way to meet my heroes at comic-book conventions? Because every time I have met them, they turn out to show me their asshole side. Everyone who sits through hours of signing their name millions of times for billions of lines of hungry, determined, crazy, starry-crossed-eyed, adoring fans ends up cranky and exhausted while all of it is going on. There is only so much of that crazy one can take. A friend of mine who “made it” in the business described it to me as “spending the entire day with your heart in your throat” so by the time you get to your hotel room, all you want to do is be quiet and do nothing. When a fan goes out of their way to catch you unaware and manages to charm you into going to dinner with them or whatever, their perky attitude, no matter how sincere, becomes exasperating and, um, I often have been that fan.
I will not name the big names here, but one well-known author completely disillusioned me to the point of making me want to slit my wrists for worshiping him in the first place. My best excuse for it was I was young and naïve and that put me on his most annoying let’s-fuck-with-this-silly-ignorant-girl list. I don’t think I deserved it, however, his cruelty it taught me a lesson. Our heroes are not always what we make them to be. We must be careful in our selection of heroes. Chose the wrong person to believe in, it can devastate us to discover they are an asshole. Our Hero-turned-Asshole we then make into our Nemesis because he becomes the antithesis of what we worship as Great. Yet even our nemesis is our teacher and worth our thanks because they can make us strive towards greatness that they will never achieve. When my author hero humiliated me in front of his other fans, it put me on a war path to prove him wrong about me. But that was not why I was an artist, so I exited the comic art industry and chose instead to just be the best artist only I am known to be.
What is keeping me from greatness now? I fear greatness because I do not want to become the kind of hero who tears down and belittles the people who admire her. I’ve learned that some heroes abandon their friends once they achieve greatness. They conveniently forget names, cut down and ditch people out of their lives like one does no-longer-needed items donated at Goodwill or rummage sales, and once you’re out of the entourage, there are no more reunions, just drive-by hellos and byes. Yet this is not an attack against heroes, just an expression of the fear of the way that fame that goes along with being a hero can change a friend into stranger.
I fear greatness will tear me away from people I love. I will do everything, no, ANYTHING in order to not break the hearts of the people I love because I know how that feels. In many legends, heroes sacrifice their lives to save people, often leaving behind their lovers, wives, families… but oftentimes today I don’t think it always necessary, depending upon what kind of greatness one is achieving. I think when a person chooses to become the kind of hero that goes off to risk their life, and before they risk it all they chose to have a family, they are causing pain. It’s well and good to sacrifice one’s life to save people you love, but… can’t there be a better way? I like to hope so!
I sometimes fear the way my hero worship wells up a passion in me because it allows me too much of an escape from reality and when I wake up from the daydream world of the epic Hero, it makes me think ordinary men are not to be trusted, nor are worthy of love and greatness. When I read the epics, the legends, I often shook my head and got angry with my heroes. I did not always understand the need for sacrifice. I also sometimes resented the glory that was bestowed upon them for their deeds when it was the women and children, the families left behind who often were the ones who suffered the most after their loss. I especially wept for the ladies who were never to be reunited with their lovers, the ones who wasted away, took their own lives… what good comes from that? And, oh, how I fancied to do that myself at times. How pathetic! Such tales made me want to, not because some silly boy broke my heart, but because THERE ARE NO HEROES IN THIS WORLD LIKE IN THE LEGENDS OF OLD TO WORSHIP and therefore no men living are worthwhile for me to date *slides into a fainting chair* Oh, woe, for me!
The kind of fictional heroes I’ve often fell in love with were rogues that women loved because, well, they’re the best! Who doesn’t want to make love to the best, even if the best can’t stick around, because, hey, maybe they’re woman enough to match the best? Those heroes were, let’s face it, womanizers, not really worthy heroes, no matter how great their deeds, because their ideas about women were based on nothing truly real — there were no heroines in those heroes’ world, only whores, damsels in need of rescue (then they were de-flowered by the hero, of course), and temptresses (basically whores who were spies and killed for money, yet despite eventually falling for the hero and displaying their true heart of gold, get killed anyway — hurrah! ugh). Like the song goes “rulers make bad lovers” however heroes make great lovers but make bad husbands and always end up being the death of their wives because heroes always need a dead beloved to avenge in order for there to be a great story. I’ve read the legends both make-believe and historical (yet sometimes it is hard to tell which one is real). I watch the news. I read the papers. It’s all true (or so we’re led to believe). And even the heroines — the “SHEro” — isn’t always the greatest wife or lover because she’s so busy, she doesn’t have the time to spare for love, or she’s basically a male hero in a woman’s body. What’s that all about? Now I’m starting to get the comic book fiction mixed up with real life. Sorry. Typical mistake of my imagination.
Better to just be myself. Be an artist. Stick to one’s craft. Don’t let anyone make me a hero. Stay being this Witch. Make magic out of nothing. Let those people who can hack it, do something drastic. I’m content to wait til all the excitement is over. I’ve had my share of it and I like to watch it. I’ll be here to write the stories and poems. I’m now the poet who is most happy to compose the praise. That’s where my passion lies. If some friends match this passion, they’re welcome to come join my party, yet I do so want to knock on their door and be a part of their cool adventurer’s club! It is like I am the odd girl out again wishing to hang out with the awesome kids.
To answer the question that is the title of this essay:
No. Hero worship comes and goes with me. My perception of Greatness changes as my heroes change. Even when they cease to be heroes , long after the glitter in their crowns of laurel fades, and they return as men, as other women, as friends, as the people only I know and love, I will still think them great long after others think them not. That’s my way. Perhaps that’s the key to my Greatness, the kind I like to give to them… and there is no wrong in that. Leave me with that kind of Greatness, the one I’m most comforted by, the most loved, the one you can see in my eyes as I shut them to say good-night and dream of you.