Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Talismanic Object Essay: Phoenix

HiLoBrow recently ran a contest for their Talismanic Objects Series. They put out the following call for essays:
Describe your object’s significance — what you think about when you contemplate it, what emotions it provokes, why you cling to it — and explain exactly how this ordinary object came to possess such extraordinary significance. Write no more than 400 words! Please note that your narrative must be nonfiction; we’ll trust you not to inject any fictional elements into the mix. Snap a non-blurry, well-lit photo of your talismanic object.
I submitted an essay. It didn't win, but along with several others it received a very brief mention in HiLoBrow's announcement of the winning essay. So, here it is, as submitted, unedited, for posterity.


Every day, I carry a small yet symbolic reminder of how much "The Dark Phoenix Saga" has meant to me.

If may seem hyperbolic, but the seminal X-Men story changed my life, and on more than one occasion. Reading it as a boy opened my eyes and expanded my imagination. Chris Claremont's story of young Jean Grey's startling transformation into the Phoenix, and later the Dark Phoenix, was intricately plotted and perfectly executed, with Claremont incorporating elements of renewal and rebirth inherent in the phoenix of Greek mythology. I reread it repeatedly, until it merged with my own consciousness to such a degree that I didn't know where I ended and it began. Jean's struggle and ultimate sacrifice left a lasting impression.

For years I've carried a trusty messenger bag everywhere. Stuffed with books, notepads, sketchbooks, pens, and pencils, it's also adorned with several pin-back buttons on the shoulder strap. Sometimes I switch one out for another, dependent on my mood or current obsessions. One button that is never replaced, though, features Jean as the Phoenix. It's a classic John Byrne illustration: her arms outstretched, legs splayed, about to unleash her world-consuming powers. It is, simply, my talisman.

Surviving cancer changes you. It reveals the possibility of a renewal of self, one that carries the remnants of the past but with a desire to become someone new, someone unafraid to hope again. The Phoenix button symbolizes that hope. When I was a child, this hope was for an unknown future that might, with the help of stories like "The Dark Phoenix Saga," open new and exciting paths for my own imagination and creativity to travel. Today, hope flourishes from simply having lived during the years since that young boy first read Uncanny X-Men—experiencing life's full spectrum of emotions, from overwhelming joy and elation to devastating loss and grief.

When I look at Jean today, I'm reminded of this hope, tagging along through life, by my side, with me at nearly every turn. I gently slide my fingers over the button, tangibly experiencing that hope through my finger tips and into my soul. Like the power of the Phoenix flowing through Jean, it's equal parts intoxicating and unnerving. In other words, like life itself, it contains worlds of possibilities, all within that one small button.

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