|From Carsten Witte’s ‘Psyche’ Butterfly Series|
MOST ELUSIVE BUTTERFLY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
The Greeks likened the human soul to a butterfly and called her Psyche and made her the beloved of Eros. He took her as wife under the condition that she would not look at his face during his nightly visits. But Psyche, prompted by her sisters to suspect that he was an ugly monster, was persuaded by them to light a candle one night, wherefore she beheld a most beautiful being.
Alas, Eros, awakened by a splash of molten candle wax, discovered that his command had been disobeyed. He vanished, leaving Psyche to suffer many trials and tribulations until she, thus purified by suffering, is reunited with him forever.
The metamorphosis of distrustful Psyche from blind Lust to enlightened Agape (the ultimate union in loving friendship) has its apt analogy in the metamorphosis from lowly cocoon to the angelic butterfly. Therefore the struggling soul or fleeting mind is referred to as an “elusive butterfly.”
That old Greek myth, derived from an even older folktale, survived the centuries because it expresses the truth of the existential contradiction between “reality” and “imagination” which moves life expectantly forward to the wedding of mind and body in passionate embrace. Along the way there are many high peaks and low valleys for the “over-sensitive” soul who rises from depression to mania, where she is relieved of her burden at the glistening peak for a brief moment, but then the Stone rolls back down into the dark pit where she must, like Sisyphus, follow the Stone to take up the Stone yet again. Sisyphus, who cheated Death and was therefore sentenced by the gods to the repetitious Task which he performs willingly to spite the vigilant gods, is the model prisoner. The Stone he rolls up and down is the Sun, therefore the performance of his Task enlightens all who are free of his most onerous burden. But Sisyphus has hardened to the Task over the eons. We mere mortals rarely enjoy his resolve, nor do we in our habitual rounds illuminate many of our fellow creatures.
Now everyone has experienced the ups and downs of life; but a few people, driven to extremes, feel them even more, as if the gods were angry at their defiance of gravity and exaggerated the heights and pitfalls in these ecstatic/melancholy souls for man’s own damned good. Most of us have some sanctuary in massive normality where we are allowed the comfort of the middling road; a few others are given a roller coaster ride and made to suffer even more for human willfulness; the wax affixing their wings is melted by the Sun during their grand imaginative flights, plunging them into the abyss of despair. Whether all this is by material accident or divine design or both, we shall leave the doctors of science and divinity to decide in their laboratories and oratories.
In fact, the nosological doctors have long been doing their best to sort out the different species of elusive butterflies in their respective precincts. Learned men have always noticed a marked propensity for gifted prophets and poets to be quite mad at times; even uneducated laymen have noticed mental abnormalities in many of our most gifted artists.
I prefer my artists a little mad, don’t you? For their inspired art has more feeling and originality, something refreshingly sincere and insanely novel about it, as if it were inspired by the gods who are quite arbitrarily mad themselves, or at least not quite rational when we merely moral mortals reason on them and their immortal immorality.
I think many artists are enthused or “god-possessed” men or women who need to practice their art to overcome their high flying contempt for mundane reality and their grave depression. Art hopefully allows them to level off their flights of imagination and curb their steep declines by being somewhat “normal.”
By normal I mean engaged and employed, being at least creatively useful in order to participate as “productive members of society.” I believe art keeps many artists out of mental hospitals, prisons, and morgues, and otherwise serves the community well by providing a vicarious life to those engaged by other occupations. Indeed, the spirit of art is the inspiration for all human endeavor. Therefore it disturbs me when I see talented artists unable to develop or pursue their novelties for lack of real social support. Grants are all too few and too little, and there are too many fortunates who look to the costs rather than to the benefits of supporting artists with what they require the most: ample time to appropriately respond to their respective muses.
Now I do not speak of every Tom, Dick and Harry who fancies himself a painter or writer. Tom, Dick and Harry are content to dabble in the arts as hobbies, thus they are blessed with a well-balanced life. I speak of those who are possessed by the Urgent Idea, those whose psyches have been fatally struck with the abiding urge to create yet who suffer imprisonment in regular jobs that do not afford them with the time they need to pursue their higher calling to the end it demands. To add to their woes, many of them despise the normal, bourgeois pursuit of money and curse the hands that clutch it, so they never get the wherewithal from business or appanage from patrons to buy their freedom. I recently found such an artist, a young American writer who happened to be sorting pig semen files for a prestigious Iowa law firm.
I speak of none other than Amy Hillgren Peterson, an author whose first published book is Elusive Butterfly.
Amy received her BA cum laude in English. She has worked as a public affairs specialist, Spanish translator, private investigator, legal assistant and freelance journalist. In 1999, the law firm where she worked as a high-level paralegal assigned her to a case involving a dispute over techniques for artificial insemination of pigs with genetically engineered swine semen. Her task was to create a filing system and to organize swine semen charts, a clerical task far beneath her skill-level. Although there were several people handling hundreds of boxes of files, Amy was accused of losing or misplacing crucial semen charts, whereupon she flew into a rage and was fired.
Amy threw herself into her book. I encountered a sample chapter on the Internet. I was charmed by her passionate intelligence. She is obviously a “street-wise” intellectual, a rare butterfly nowadays, just the sort of author I emulated when I was a young man with high hopes for a creative writing career. I was a bit surprised to see such sensational yet idealistic work from Generation X. Amy is, according to her bio, “sensitive, arrogant, kind, bipolar, intelligent, passionate, resourceful and cool.” I believe she is right on all counts, with one reservation regarding cool, when she loses her cool.
Elusive Butterfly is Amy’s novelized memoir. It has not gotten the attention it deserves. It has received much favorable criticism, although several complaints were voiced about production and editing quality. Only one critic, an anonymous Internet identity using ‘The-Doc’ as his handle, trashed it, and in such a rude manner that his virtual reputation as both medical doctor and literary critic was utterly ruined. He castigated the author in lewd terms for the revelation of her college escapades and for her romantic characterization of bipolarity. He took umbrage with and quoted the following excerpt from Elusive Butterfly, one which I personally find to be a beautiful expression of the Eros and Psyche dialectic:
“(We) make love at midnight and again at dawn. I know, even as I lay beneath him, that I’m letting sex masquerade as love, but inside the parenthesis of the moment, I make them one and the same. In the half-light of early morning with adorations whispered in my ear, I can convince myself that when two bodies merge together in an act to produce a third, if only his can sink far enough into mine, we can create a perfect whole: me.”
To that, ‘The-Doc’ said: “It is this insipid romanticism of casual sex and idiotic female neediness that really disgusted me about this book!”
Then he went on a rampage of disparagement to which the Internet writing community responded vigorously in defense of Amy.
A commentator who identified himself as Leonard Marks, PhD., castigated the bad critic as follows:
“Your obvious obsession with ‘slutiness‘ defines you as a monogamous misogynist, and begs for a therapeutic deconstruction of your social conditioning. The possession of one woman as private property is a crime against modern humanity. Not until women are factually loved regardless of their superficial characteristics will the monogamous misogynist (who is in his self-deprivation; i.e., self-hate, really a misanthropist) be freed in LOVE. In fact, calling this marvelous woman a ‘slut’ works against your vile intent, as it makes her even more attractive to true men of genius. I suggest that you approach as many ‘sluts’ as you can with a repentant heart and engage in promiscuous discourse with them. As for Peterson’s writing abilities, judging from what I have seen she is the best author around, with exception perhaps of the Bald Guy.”
In his review of Elusive Butterfly, ‘The-Doc’ also took Amy to task for her saying, “…bipolar disorder provides a mixture of the transcendent and the trashy in one soul. It has been described as a cycling from kaleidoscope to pitch darkness and back again. But within even a manic episode there is the experience that pushes the limits of the soul…”
From cocoon to butterfly: so what is the hostile critic’s problem?
He says it is because “Amy makes bipolar disorder look like fun.”
As if those who are bipolar do not know what it is; as if those who are bipolar have a choice, as if those who are not bipolar will want to be bipolar and have the chemist make it so!
We all have our butterflies which are at once abilities and disabilities. Amy has her butterfly. I have my kite. You have your own contraptions. So let us use our wires and waxed wings, levers and pulleys and strings and other things to fly anon. Writers, pick up your pen and write.
But just as Amy was really beginning to rock and roll with her writing, she ran out of money and had to take a job. She wrote a pained article as a consequence, entitled ‘Failure: The Gravesite of Dreams.’ It was not a masterpiece by any estimation, but it pierced the heart of all obsessed artists who have experienced or who fear the experience of a brutal, time-stealing, soul-crushing day job.
“I had to do this (take a job). I’m no longer a writer. Sure, it’s seared into my soul and as I cry into my keyboard I miss it like a dear friend, or a twin. ‘You can still write for fun,’ they say. ‘Do some writing on the side.’ ‘Writing can be your hobby.’ Oh, sure, okay, I could do that right after I request a public flogging. Or I could slice out my heart with a spoon. It would be less painful.
“I have failed as a writer, and since it once defined everything I am, I don’t know anything anymore and certainly have no purpose in further prevarication. Rest in Peace, soul of mine.”
2004 Heart of America