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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

Mothers, Myths, and Mascots

"If stories come to you, learn to care for them and give them away. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive." - Barry Lopez

I have always loved this quote by Barry Lopez, but never really understood the second half of it. Then my mother died, I lost my job, COVID hit, and I found myself free falling into questions that had plagued me all my life:

  • Why is money valued more than the lives of people and the planet?

  • Why do some have so much but care so little for others?

  • Why do we teach children to fear failure, judge themselves and others, and believe that grades are the measure of success?

  • What could I - an admittedly creative introvert (INJF) - do to give others hope?

By the time I found the way out of my funk, two long and lonely months had passed, but I had my answer. I also understood what Lopez meant. In order to find a way forward I needed a story that would inspire me and others to do heroic things - to think outside the box, fall in love with adventure, struggle with adversity, and work with others to create positive change. Think Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) re-imagined for the 21st century.

This story would have to be told in multiple ways - words, song, photos, video, sculpture, painting, audio, 3D immersive interaction - and on multiple platforms so that people could participate wherever they are. But most of all it would require an archetypal symbol that would embody the qualities we want to awaken and nurture in one another. Not an enlightened, perfect being passing judgment, but a flesh and blood creature struggling to come to terms with the contradictions of what it means to be human - a being whose wisdom and strength are born of empathy. In one word - an Avatar.

Enter the Dragon

The name I came up with for my story was Braided Lives. The image the name called to mind - braiding the individual threads of our lives together to create a strong and colorful whole - really appealed to me. But I still needed a central figure around which to build that community For inspiration I turned to old favorites - J.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Anne McCaffrey, George R.R. Martin, Mary Shelley, and Ursula K. LeGuin. I researched mythical beings - unicorns, fire wolves, chimeras, banshees, and winged horses - but none of them felt right. Then a chance encounter (assuming you believe in chance) with someone who creates 3D dragons gave me the inspiration I needed.

What if the Braided Lives mascot was a dragon? Not a ferocious, fire breathing dragon that wrecks havoc on everything it touches but a dragon that embodies creative passion, power, and compassion. A dragon that would be a force for good.

Meet Umamma

The name I chose for my dragon is Umamma - the Zulu word for "the mother." Umamma would be the mother of all dragons and the source of inspiration, insight, and empowerment for everyone whose life she touches. She is an avatar in every sense of the word - an incarnation of spirit in dragon form who knows what it's like to struggle in this world and will help us find and tell our stories.

The spirit of Umamma will be the thread that infuses and connects all parts of Braided Lives. As you can see from the images above, I have begun to create illustrations of how she might look and to put them shirts, hoodies, and even iphone covers we can wear and carry with us. But in the end, it will be her spirit - the spirit of love and compassion - that I hope will infuse all the work we do together on Braided Lives.

If you'd like to see what Umamma merch options, visit:

Copyright 2020 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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