Mythology scholar Ginger Curtis gets her sign

Ginger Curtis and Suzy Farbman

From left: Ginger Curtis and Suzy Farbman

A diagnosis of M.S. in your 30s might stymie some. Not Ginger Curtis. The diagnosis motivated my friend to pursue her Ph.D.

Ginger couldn’t decide between mythology or depth psychology—the psychology of the unconscious mind. After months of mulling, she turned the matter over to the universe. She prayed for guidance. One summer day before the fall term would begin, her answer showed up in a form so strange she was forced to acknowledge it. A bat flew into her house. It was early afternoon in Petoskey, MI. The creature landed on a living room valance. Ginger scurried to a phone upstairs and called Bill, the handyman.

“Calm down,” Bill said. “Bats are nocturnal.”

The creature wouldn’t move, Bill predicted. He promised to come over that evening. (Not soon enough for Ginger.)

Back downstairs, Ginger saw the bat now clung to another curtain near the patio door. She fled to the library and thrashed through the Yellow Pages for an exterminator. She found a number, dialed, received a recording. As she left a panicked message, the bat flew into the small dark room with her. She clutched the phone and raced to the kitchen. Shrieking in a higher octave, she felt a tap on the head. Scurrying to the pantry, a tap on her back. The critter was following her. She hung up the phone and flailed at her long dark hair.

Scrambling back upstairs, she called Bill again, this time in tears. “Please come NOW,” she begged.

Bill relented and soon showed up wearing heavy gloves, armed with a large coffee can. He captured the equally terrified mammal and released it in the yard. Weak with relief, Ginger followed him.

This stubborn critter wasn’t quite finished with this freaked-out homeowner. Ginger stood at the opened garage, which must have looked like a cave. Freed from Bill’s control, the bat swooped down towards Ginger once more, then darted off.

Later, a relieved Ginger thought about the visitation. In mythology, she knew, animals are symbolic. Bats rely on an inner vision. They symbolize darkness, death, and the underworld. Ginger had her answer. She was meant to pursue mythology.

“I was literally hit over the head with a bat,” she says. “The divine universe always answers our questions, either with synchronicity in the external world or with inner flutterings.”

6 years ago, Ginger enrolled in a program of mythology with emphasis on depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara where famed mythologist Joseph Campbell’s archives are held.

Ginger and I were both friends of the late host, author and Charlevoix booster, nonagenarian Edith Gilbert. Edith had tried to introduce us, but we were each too busy. When, after several years of Edith’s prodding, we met at a Northern Michigan writers seminar, we realized Edith was right. We’ve been dear friends ever since, and I’ve been honored to share in Ginger’s doctoral process.

Uprooting her life in her beloved northern Michigan, schlepping back and forth across the country with boxes of books, two or three times a year, would be tough for a totally healthy person. Despite the physical limitations of her illness, Ginger has soldiered on. At lunch a couple of years ago, nearing the time for writing her doctoral thesis, my friend lamented that she couldn’t figure out what original thinking she could contribute to her field. At a later lunch, she agonized about writer’s block and the difficulty of beginning to say what she wanted to say. At still another lunch, she worried about how to restrict the many ideas she wanted to express.

I’m delighted to report that at lunch this summer at the American Spoon Café, Ginger was one chapter away from finishing her thesis on what she calls the Descendant Function. Her walking stick leaned against the wall as she shared with me the essence of her 200-plus-page paper. Dazzled by the determination, talent and insight of my friend, I shook my head and simply said, “That’s brilliant.”

Edith would be proud.

(To learn more about these under appreciated creatures, check out BATS: Superheroes of the Night at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, Bloomfield Hills, MI. Thanks, Ginger, for inspiring my first bat blog post. And thanks, Edith, wherever you are.)

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