When Heroes Die

Embracing Death

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

I visited my sister shortly after Marilyn Monroe died. A neighbor of hers in her twenties was a fan of Marilyn’s. The neighbor had long blond hair, was quite pretty, and had a husband and a small son. Within a week or so after Marilyn died, this young woman killed herself. I don’t know whether she was imitating Marilyn or couldn’t bear life without her hero. This death freaked me out. MM was a Romantic Enneagram type. The young mother probably was, too. My fantasy of what went on with this woman is that her dream of becoming Marilyn died when Marilyn died. I wonder…

When did you first learn what death was? When you heard about someone you knew who died – someone in your family or an acquaintance? Someone famous? When you witnessed the death of an animal or a person? From TV? Or did you intuit what the word meant without any experience of knowing something or someone who ceased to exist?

We had goldfish and turtles that died. Of course, flies died in our house, too. My mother showed those flies no mercy. Then Raid came out and we sometimes got caught in the crossfire. I gathered up a baby bird fallen out of its nest when I was around 5. No other bird could be seen anywhere around. I fed the tiny bird, made it a nest in a box, and tried my best to nurture it so it would grow strong and I could release it to nature again. But in a few days it died. I was crushed. Around the same time, my grandfather died 700 miles away. I had known him, but I don’t remember him. My father left as soon as he could but he couldn’t get there soon enough to attend the funeral.

I must have been only three years old when I saw the movie Bambi. It was the most awful experience I had had and I cried. Bambi ran really fast with his mother to escape monstrous hunters and she told him to hide, then she disappeared. This movie was tailor made to torture little children. I felt as sad about Bambi losing his mother as if I had lost my own mother. Maybe that’s why I felt like not growing up for a couple of years after that. I remember being more clingy than I wanted to be in those years, acting young while I really wanted to grow up. Maybe I was still afraid of losing my mother and didn’t quite know it. Maybe my confidence in nurturing myself weakened with the defeat of nurturing the bird. I wonder…

I introduced my new book, The Enneagram of Death, at the International Enneagram Association conference last weekend. I think people are interested in having conversations about death, bringing it out of the shadows as much as possible, trying to spread healthy attitudes about a subject our culture tries to deny.

At the end of Bambi he becomes a hero by fighting off dogs and saving his girlfriend. Then he gets shot by Man while jumping over a ravine. Eventually he escapes a terrible fire and goes to an island to take refuge with the other animals. He stands watch on a hill while his girlfriend gives birth to twins and the “Great Prince” man slinks away.

Our heroes inspire us to accomplish things. to practice succeeding, and to feel strong by identifying with them. Any type can be a hero, but the Asserter has probably internalized the archetype of hero more than most types and might try harder than most to be one. The Perfectionist, the Achiever, the Questioner, and the Adventurer would be heroes if given the opportunity. The Helper would love to be a hero. So would the Romantic and even the Observer could be a hero, not to mention the Peace Seeker. We’d all like to be a hero but have different fantasies of our favorite context for our heroism.


What are Breathy Baby-talk Voices For?

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe by E. Wagele

I wrote  A Career Fit for a Romantic. Elizabeth Taylor’s. http://bit.ly/psychtdy in my Psychology Today  blog of April 5, 2011. A reader called Crimson responded with this:

“My mother was obsessed about Elizabeth Taylor. When I was a child during the 60s I would watch Elizabeth Taylor movies with my mother. While watching Liz I saw an overly dramatic, over-made-up woman with almost no acting talent. My mother saw the most beautiful woman in the world. I always wondered why Elizabeth Taylor was so enticing to this particular generation of women. I came to a few conclusions. Elizabeth Taylor was able to maintain the persona of an innocent ingénue while getting exactly what she wanted out of life: money, men and fame. The women of my mother’s generation were under intense pressure to appear subservient and submissive to their husbands, be nice, kind and almost childish at all times. Taylor played this role to the hilt. Behind the scenes Liz was busy drinking, drugging and changing up her men like she changed clothes, but that was never what the public saw. All they saw was a woman draped in expensive diamonds and being adored by her man du jour, while she spoke in her little breathy baby-talk voice. She couldn’t act in a movie because she was so busy acting in real life. I never told my mother the way I felt about Liz. My mother is currently in a month-long state of mourning over Ms. Taylor’s demise. Maybe one day she’ll snap out of it.” Thank you, Crimson!

Marilyn 2

Mariyn Monroe 2

Elizabeth Taylor died March 23, 2011 at age 79.

Liz Taylor

Liz Taylor by E. Wagele

Marilyn Monroe died August 5, 1962 at age 36, a probable suicide.

In the early ‘60s I used to visit my sister in the suburbs of Sacramento. I met young neighbors of hers—little boy of two or three, a husband, and a blond wife interested in making herself beautiful. Her idol was Marilyn Monroe. Within a week after Marilyn Monroe apparently killed herself, this young woman also killed herself. That someone so young, in her twenties, could do such a thing leaving a child behind, shattered me. I was a little younger than she was, expecting my first child in a month.

When I was in high school, Marilyn was the fantasy of many of the girls. Oh to be Marilyn and to have that body, those clothes, that fame, that money! The 1950s were a time where women were not equal to men. It was not a good time for women.

I’m still trying to figure out that little girl voice that both Liz and Marilyn adopted. I would think men would prefer a sultry, low voice as sexy, but what do I know? Obviously, men do like something about little girls for their love life. Elizabeth/Betty/Betts on the TV series MadMen, which is set in the 60s, has a little girl voice too. My mother would talk to me with a breathy baby-talk voice when I was very small, too, earlier than that. There was something incestuous-feeling about it. I didn’t like it, though inappropriate behavior never went beyond her voice.

Through my life every now and then I notice myself acting like a little girl—too late to stop myself. It doesn’t feel good. It feels a little like a last resort reflex of some kind. If you’re young enough you can’t be blamed? If you’re young enough you can be excused for showing off? If you’re young enough maybe you can pretend you’re innocent of any wrong-doing and you can’t be ashamed of anything.