CosmiComedy: Impetuous Me
By Lavinia Plonka
“It is better to be impetuous than cautious, because fortune is a woman.” ~ Niccolò Machiavelli
In the Marvel Comics movie franchise, hunk Chris Hemsworth’s brash impetuousness as Thor causes his father, Odin, to deny him the power of the magic hammer until he can prove himself capable of restraint. The Japanese god of storms is called Susanoo, which is translated as His-Swift-Impetuous-Male-Augustness. The Hindu god Hanuman once thought the sun was a juicy mango and leapt into the sky to have a bite. His impetuousness was punished with a blow to the jaw from Indra. When I walk across the kitchen, my tiger cat Lucky will pounce from behind a plant, wrapping his body around my ankle, biting my foot, despite knowing full well that my leg will keep going. It is a Herculean effort to stay attached to my leg, but he won’t give up the battle with my shoe, even when it’s clear that the shoe is going to win.
The famous mythologist Jean Houston once said that it was time for modern people to re-write our mythologies to create gods and goddesses that reflect a changing world. My late father, Leo, could qualify for the contemporary god of impetuousness. Really, he would put Susanoo and Hanuman to shame. If, as Joseph Campbell has proposed, each one of us is the hero of our own journey through life, my father’s escapades and misadventures make for epic comedy. And Woman was his fortune and Miss-Fortune for most of that journey.
Hiding in Vienna, posing as a German officer during the end of World War II, he somehow missed the memo that Poland had been handed to the Soviets. So as soon as the war was over, he dashed back across the border into the arms of the Communist government, and there was no escape. Having spent years dreading the words, “Your papers, please,” he found himself without exit papers. He had a friend working for the new city government, so he and an attractive female friend went to visit him. While she flirted with the clerk, my Dad opened a window. A gust of wind began blowing forms out the window, including the coveted transit passes. As his friend scrambled to grab them, my father pocketed one and left.
Many hair-raising adventures later, he ended up in London, where he boldly decided to open a department store. After all, he had owned a fine store in Poland before the Nazis had taken away his property and installed German citizens there. He invested every penny he had in merchandise, décor and rent. Never once had it occurred to him that he could fail. He was Leo Plonka after all. But even though he had bought the finest products, no one came. Within months he was bankrupt and reduced to selling his designer handbags on the street, where of course, no woman would buy them, since they assumed they were either stolen or fake. To this day, the image of my father on the streets of London, hawking ladies’ purses, fills me with some odd empathic sadness.
It was Fortune as a woman who got him a visa to the US. He didn’t even question how, with a five-year wait for visas, he suddenly received one with a sponsorship from a stranger in Chicago. Singing the praises of the generosity of Americans, he hopped the first boat he could get to the land of opportunity. He tells a tale of his impetuous behavior on the boat. A handsome rake, he had many of the bejeweled dowagers on the boat in thrall. One night a wealthy widow challenged him to a game of craps. According to him, she lost miserably, and at the end of the evening owed him $3200, quite a sum in 1949. She wrote him a check. “But I’m not the kind of man who takes advantage of helpless females,” he declared when regaling my sister and me with the story. “I walked with her onto the deck, tore her check into tiny pieces and threw it into the ocean! That’s what gentlemen do!”
“But you won fair and square!” I protested, “Why would you do that?”
He gave a mysterious grin. My mother, ever the wet blanket, walked by and muttered, “I guarantee you there is more to the story than that.”
When he landed in Chicago, he learned that his sponsor’s generosity had a price tag. She expected him to marry her exceedingly unappealing daughter. By this time, Leo was an escape artist, and hid in Chicago’s Polish ghetto, where Fortune appeared as my mother crashing on a friend’s sofa. Without Leo’s impetuousness, I would have never been born. Not to mention his swift maleness 😉
In mythologies around the world, to be impetuous was considered a male quality, right up there with boldness and courage. Woman, as “Fortune,” was fickle, unpredictable, and sometimes cruel.
As we move into a new eon on this planet, where genders blur, men get in touch with their feminine side; women wear the pants; Dads stay at home; women join men’s basketball teams: what will happen to our mythology? 100 years ago both Nietzsche and Hegel proclaimed that, “God is dead.” They both called God, “he.” But what if all the gods are dead? What will be our next cosmology? How can we live without archetypes?
In his wonderful novel, American Gods, Neil Gaiman brings all the gods from all the cosmologies around the world to the United States. Forgotten deities, abandoned archetypes, living in a twilight world between ordinariness and magic trying to find a way to survive in a godless world. It is the human hero of that tale who transcends ordinary existence to renew our connection with the mythological.
My husband Ron regularly calls me Kali, a Hindu goddess that might be the closest to a female version of Susanoo. In one stroke she clears away evil, letting heads roll where they will, leaving destruction in her wake. I like to say she’s the goddess of making things right, propriety be damned. My parents used to accuse me of leaping first and then looking at the mess I’d made. I like to think my impetuousness serves as an inspiration as well as a cautionary tale for all who hesitate on their own mythic journey.
Perhaps the old gods are not dead. They just need new outfits.
When not impetuously putting her foot in her mouth, Lavinia helps others experience curiosity and wonder as they dive into the unknown via the Feldenkrais Method. www.laviniaplonka.com