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The Hero's Journey, Revised

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Right now I'm in New York for the publication of Leap!. It's the first time I've lived here since the 70s, and it's teaching me that the classic model of life stages may need to be revised.

Joseph Campbell described the hero's journey as: the young person leaves the tribe or village to answer the call, to test him or herself in the larger world, and having done that, returns to the land to renew the soul. But since we're living a longer life cycle, we may need a more complex view. Instead of breaking life into three distinct parts--education, work and retirement--we may want to cycle in and out, alternating between periods of working, learning and retiring.

I grew up in the suburbs of California, sped like a moth to the bright lights of New York and later Hollywood, and by my fifties, when I moved to Colorado, I was broken and needed healing. In the sunny Rockies, with the muscular presence of mountains, trees and wildlife and the society of new friends, I was able to regain my zest. But after four years, I began to long for the stimulation of the city.

Oh, but the re-entry has been strange! It took me days to get with the rhythm... with people walking fast, jostling and bumping you everywhere, and there's not enough space in the grocery aisles for shopping carts to pass. People swarm across the street when the light is red, ignoring the honking taxis. In the subway, you hear drums beating, saxophones playing, and crowds are packed in the cars so tightly that a boy tells his mom, "You don't have to hold onto nothin', just lean."

My friend, Carol Muske-Dukes, the poet and author of Channeling Mark Twain, takes me to a party with Billy Collins, the former U.S. poet laureate, who shows me his new book of Haiku poems, "She Was Just Seventeen."

"Great title," I say.

They look at me, waiting for some other reaction. What?

"Haiku poems... have 17 syllables?" Carol says.

Mmmm, I nod, pretending I knew that. The poem was just seventeen.

The party takes place in a penthouse on the 90th floor, and because the night is clear, the views are spectacular. But the man next to me keeps eyeing the windows. "I'm worried about planes," he says.

The talk is fast, debate is sharp, the wit flies, and I'm tongue tied. Wearing my velvet slacks and shirt from Colorado, I feel like a hick. The other women are wearing low-cut dresses and stiletto-heeled boots, but it's not so much the clothes that daunt me as the attitude.

Then there's the shock, the following day, of paying $18 for a deli sandwich -- but it's at the Carnegie Deli and it's worth it. Hot pastrami that's peppery sweet and melts in your mouth, crunchy rye bread that's turning warm from the meat, Russian dressing, cole slaw, pickles... heaven. You can't get this sandwich anywhere but New York. It's taken me a month but finally, just when it's time to return to the mountains, I'm walking and talking fast and discussing books with strangers on the bus. I'm in a New York State of Mind.

~~~

Sara Davidson will be speaking in L.A. on March 8, at 7 p.m., at Dutton's Books in Brentwood. She'll be at the Boulder Bookstore on March 13, at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, visit www.saradavidson.com

Check out "At Home With Sara Davidson" in the New York Times.