Metamorphosis

Author’s Note: This short story was inspired by a wonderfully, whimsically beautiful mixed-media artwork by Michelle L. Saxon. I am including an image of the artwork at the beginning of this post, with Michelle’s permission. Please visit her website, Teabags & Gardenias, LLC (http://www.teabagsandgardenias.com) to see more of her gorgeous artwork. I just love it and can’t get enough of the vibrant spirit that seems to flow from each piece. I only hope this story managed to capture even a teeny bit of this piece’s spirit and joy for life.

Metamorphosis
(a short story)

“Metamorphosis”: Mixed-media artwork by Michelle L. Saxon. Copyright Michelle L. Saxon and Teabags & Gardenias.

“Annalisa Maria, you are God’s special child. You are a wonder, and don’t you never let no one tell you different.”

That’s what Nanny Z always said. Annalisa Maria loved Nanny Z more than anyone in the whole, wide world. Maybe even more than anyone in the entire universe — although the idea of a universe felt scary and distant to Annalisa. She thought it was the kind of place where no one knew you, and where you would be lonely and cold because you had forgotten to bring along your favorite sweater and stuffed animal. It didn’t seem to fit Nanny Z at all. Nanny Z was lumpy and full of life. She smelled like peppermints and Ben-Gay, and she wore nubbly sweaters, even in the middle of the summer. She laughed at all of Annalisa’s jokes, including the goofy ones that didn’t make any sense. Her lap was soft and comfortable, and there was just enough room to curl up for a story before bedtime. Nanny Z always had time for Annalisa, and Annalisa always had time for Nanny Z. Annalisa couldn’t think up anything bigger or grander than the universe, and so, even though it didn’t seem warm enough or cozy enough, nothing else would do. Nanny Z was Annalisa’s whole world, and the universe was the only thing good enough to hold a love like that.

Annalisa loved it when Nanny Z told her she was God’s special child. “Say it again! Say it again!” she would demand, jumping up and down as her excitement bubbled over into the world around her. Nanny Z would laugh and call Annalisa a silly hopping frog, but she always said those special words — over and over again, as many times as Annalisa asked. This was one of Annalisa’s favorite things. It made her feel warm and tingly all over, like someone had opened her up and filled her, from head to toe, with the perfect mixture of warm honey and sunshine. Deep in her heart, Annalisa suspected those words couldn’t possibly be true, no matter how much she loved hearing them. No matter how happy and filled with love she felt each time Nanny Z said it.

Annalisa was trapped somewhere in the middle of a large family. She had three brothers and three sisters, and they were all good at something special. They all had normal names, too, like Toby, or Katherine, or Josh. Her oldest sister, Katherine, played the flute. Sometimes, she played for the rest of them at bedtime. Annalisa loved falling asleep listening to that music. It never failed to give her sweet dreams. Her next oldest sister and her oldest brother, Debbie and Toby, sang all the time. They sounded like angels, and that wasn’t just Annalisa’s opinion. Everyone said so, and they sang in the church choir. Annalisa tried hard not to be jealous of them, especially during church, but it wasn’t easy. She loved the way those choir robes swished and caught the light “just so”. She thought she would like sitting with the choir, too, because they got to be up higher than everyone else in church. Annalisa wondered if that meant they were all closer to God, but she was afraid to ask. Maybe she was afraid the answer would be “yes”, which, in a way, would be too painful. Her next oldest brother, Josh, was a great football player. At their team’s last game, Annalisa’s mom told her some scouts were coming to watch Josh play. If they liked him, he might get a scholarship to go to college. Annalisa wasn’t sure what “scouts” were, but she thought they might be people from the Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts. She looked and looked all around the stands that night, but she never saw anyone in a uniform. Or making the Boy Scout salute. Or even helping an old lady cross the street in back of the stadium. Her youngest sister, Clara, was a photographer. She spent every free moment wandering around town and the fields near their house, taking pictures of everything. And her pictures were beautiful, too. Annalisa thought Clara’s pictures were more beautiful than real life. And then there was Henry, who was the youngest. He was even younger than Annalisa, who was only seven, but he could already recite all his multiplication and division tables. His teacher told their mom Henry was a math prodigy. Annalisa didn’t know what a “prodigy” was, but just hearing the word made her want to be one, too.

Annalisa wasn’t good at anything. She sang off key, and she wasn’t able to play any musical instruments. She had tried the guitar once, but three of the strings had snapped before she managed to play more than four notes. Once, Clara had loaned her a camera, and Annalisa had spent a happy day following a family of mice in the field behind their house. She had returned home full of stories about them, only to realize she had forgotten to take any pictures. It seemed photography wasn’t for her, either. Annalisa didn’t much like sports; in first grade, she had gotten a “U” in Gym Class. “U” stood for “unsatisfactory”, which Annalisa thought was a bit harsh, especially since she had tried her hardest. It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t run very fast or do any push-ups. And she didn’t even like to think about math, so there was no way she was going to be a “prodigy” like Henry, no matter how much she wanted it.

butterfly, niagara falls butterfly conservatory

Annalisa was shy and quiet, and it was easy for her to get lost in the hustle and bustle of her family’s busy life and noisy house. Often, her parents seemed to forget all about her, and Annalisa spent a lot of time alone or with Nanny Z. Annalisa didn’t mind all that much. Or, she tried not to. Sometimes, it hurt her feelings — like the time when Mom and Dad forgot all about her birthday, so there wasn’t a card or a cake or anything special. But, mostly, it wasn’t so bad.

Annalisa knew she wasn’t like her brothers and sisters. In many ways, she was a strange child. She lived in her own, imaginary world most of the time. She liked to spin and spin and spin in the sunshine, until she couldn’t tell which part of the world was up and which was down. She liked to follow the rainbows through the field behind her house after a big storm. Annalisa just knew she was going to find the end of a rainbow, one of these days. So far, it hadn’t worked out that way, but she kept trying. Annalisa loved animals. She made a little pair of ears, and even a tail, out of cardboard. On days when there was no school, she wore her ears and tail all day long. She liked to play hopscotch alone and pretend she was a cat or a dog or, sometimes, even a little pig. Annalisa loved pigs most of all. She couldn’t explain it, but there was something about them. Pigs seemed wise, in a way, like they understood all the best things in life, and Annalisa loved the way their faces always wore a smile, as if they had the most wonderful secret in the world.

So, how, Annalisa wondered, could she possibly be God’s special child if she was easily forgotten, had strange habits that no one else understood, and liked pigs? Annalisa was thinking about this the day she found the caterpillar. It had stormed the night before, and she decided to get up early to check on the family of mice that lived next to the big rock in the field behind her house. As she skipped along, hopping over mud puddles and enjoying the cool warmth of early morning sunshine, Annalisa tried to figure out what made her special. What was it about her that God might like? God was bigger than Annalisa’s mind could fathom. He was bigger than the ocean and the universe. Annalisa thought, maybe, He was bigger than the way she loved Nanny Z. But she tried not to think about that because it made her a little sad, and that made her feel guilty, although she didn’t understand why.

She was so lost in thought that she almost didn’t see the caterpillar. She hopped over a particularly large puddle and nearly landed on top of the poor little guy. He was stuck in the mud, half in the puddle and half out of it, and it seemed he couldn’t manage to break free. Annalisa crouched down beside the puddle and watched for a moment or two as the caterpillar struggled to pull himself out of the murky water and sticky mud. He wasn’t having much luck, and she realized one of his legs had broken off. Several others were stuck fast.

butterfly, niagara falls butterfly conservatory

“You’re not a very pretty caterpillar, are you?” Annalisa asked, poking at the hapless insect with a small twig.

Annalisa felt guilty almost as soon as the words left her mouth, even though there was no one around to hear … and she was only talking about a caterpillar. Still, she figured caterpillars might have feelings, too. It was true, though. He wasn’t pretty like the yellow, black, and orange caterpillars she had seen in the woods last spring. He wasn’t furry like the ones that crawled under the front porch in the fall. He was chubby and a little bit short. And green — but not a vibrant, bright sort of green. He was the kind of green a person might not notice at all, unless they knew to look twice for it. There was nothing outstanding or incredible about this caterpillar. He was plainly ordinary in every way. Annalisa wondered if the caterpillar knew how unremarkable it was. Probably not, she decided.

She sighed and poked at it again, gently, with her little twig. She hoped she could wiggle the twig underneath the caterpillar’s chubby body and use it like a lever to heave him up and out of the mud. After that, she figured the caterpillar could find its own way back to wherever it belonged. No matter how hard she tried, the caterpillar remained stuck fast. Even worse, it seemed afraid of the stick, so it shimmied and wiggled away from Annalisa’s efforts to help it. Annalisa squinted up into the sky, which was a clear, deep blue with no clouds in sight. It was going to be a scorcher of a day, and she knew the caterpillar would never survive.

“I don’t much like bugs,” Annalisa told the caterpillar. “Not to be mean or anything. Just … well, you scare me a little bit. You have too many legs.” She paused for a moment or two, considering her options, and finally shrugged in resignation. “I guess there’s nothing for it,” she continued, “That’s what Nanny Z says. It means there isn’t any other choice, and, if the thing you have to do is something you don’t like … Well, you just better get it over with. So, here.”

Annalisa held out her hand, resting it on the ground near the caterpillar. She was afraid, and her fingers shook at first. The caterpillar raised the front part of its body up out of the mud and rested some of its legs against Annalisa’s fingers. Its touch was light and gentle, reminding Annalisa of the way bird feathers felt against her cheek, and she knew she didn’t need to be afraid. She used her other hand to scoop the caterpillar into her palm. She thought, maybe, it was relieved to be out of the mud. If she had been a caterpillar, Annalisa knew she would be happy for someone to come along and rescue her. She hoped she had done the right thing, but, now that the caterpillar crouched quietly in the palm of her hand, she felt almost giddy with excitement. She couldn’t wait to show Nanny Z!

Annalisa ran all the way home. She found Nanny Z sitting outside on the front porch, rocking back and forth.

“Nanny Z! Nanny Z!” Annalisa gasped, leaning against the porch railing to catch her breath. “You’ll … never … believe … what … I got!”

“Goodness, child,” Nanny Z replied, “You look a mess and a half. Mud all over your shoes and dress. Hair every which-a-way. Did a monster chase you all the way back from the field?”

Annalisa giggled. She knew Nanny Z was teasing her. Nanny Z was the only person Annalisa knew who didn’t care one bit if her hair was brushed or her shoes were clean. Annalisa had overheard Nanny Z telling her mom, more than once, that kids were supposed to play outside and get dirty. It was good for them. Even so, Annalisa tried to brush some of the dirt from the front of her dress with her free hand. It wouldn’t be a good idea to let Mom see her like this.

“No,” Annalisa said, still giggling, “There’s no monster back there. Just mice. And maybe a skunk or two. But, really — look what I got! You’ll never believe it!” She bounced up and down on the balls of her feet, unable to contain her excitement.

“Well, come on, then,” Nanny Z said, smiling and motioning for Annalisa to come up onto the porch. “Let’s see this amazing discovery.”

Annalisa stumbled up the steps and leaned against the arm of Nanny Z’s rocker. Very carefully, she opened her fingers to show Nanny Z the caterpillar. She was careful not to breathe on it. Nanny Z leaned over, squinting to get a better look at the chubby insect.

“Oh my,” she muttered. “He’s a fine one. A fine one, indeed.”

“Really?” Annalisa asked. She frowned down at the caterpillar, suddenly doubting her own excitement. “I don’t think he’s all that much. He’s pretty ordinary. But he was stuck in a puddle, so …” Her words trailed off, and she finished her sentence with a shrug.

Nanny Z chuckled under her breath and gave Annalisa a quick hug. “Sometimes, ordinary things can be the most wonderful,” she said. When Annalisa gave her a questioning look, Nanny Z laughed and shook her head. “I can’t explain it, child. It’s just something you’ve gotta learn by living.” She heaved her body out of the rocker with a slight groan as she continued, “Come on, then. We need to find some food and a proper home for your new friend.”

tattered butterfly

Annalisa spent the rest of that morning happily trailing along behind Nanny Z as she meandered through the garden, selecting certain leaves and gathering up a bit of moist earth and a sturdy looking twig. Annalisa was careful to keep the caterpillar safe, shielded from the breeze and sun by her cupped hand. She still didn’t think he was much to write home about, but, if Nanny Z saw something special in that caterpillar, Annalisa was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Once they had all their supplies together, Nanny Z took Annalisa into the kitchen and told her to take a wide-mouthed jar out of the recycling bin. She showed Annalisa how to poke holes in the lid and how to place the dirt, leaves, and twig inside the jar so her caterpillar would have a safe and cozy home.

That night, Annalisa was almost too excited to sleep. She couldn’t wait to see what her caterpillar would do tomorrow. She placed his jar on her desk, right across from her bed. That way, she would see him first thing each morning. As she drifted off to sleep, she dreamed that her caterpillar grew into a friendly giant. And they had adventures with elves in the woods behind Annalisa’s house. There was even a talking pig, who ran the general store and was her caterpillar’s best friend.

The next morning, the caterpillar looked exactly the same. He had chewed on some of the leaves, but he still was plain, ordinary, and an ugly sort of green. Annalisa watched him for a while, but he didn’t seem to know how to do any tricks. And she was pretty certain he wasn’t going to grow into a giant and take her to meet a talking pig. She sighed in disappointment and went about her day.

This happened often. Each morning, Annalisa would wake up full of hope and excitement, expecting the caterpillar would have, somehow, learned a neat trick overnight. Or that he had changed into a more interesting or more active or prettier creature. But, each time she looked into the jar, the caterpillar was just the same: chubby, hungry, green, and ordinary. It happened so many times that Annalisa eventually forgot about the caterpillar. She would remember every other day to check his leaves and give him new ones if he had eaten through most of them. But, other than that, she hardly ever noticed the caterpillar. He was just a fixture on her desk, living out his quiet, gentle life in the transparent isolation of his jar home.

One day, Annalisa glanced into the jar and got the shock of her life. The caterpillar was gone! In its place, a globby green shell hung from the twig Annalisa and Nanny Z had put in the jar. Annalisa yelled for Nanny Z and, when she came into the room, she showed her the jar.

butterflies hatching

“He’s dead! My caterpillar’s gone and died, Nanny Z,” Annalisa said.

She held the jar up so that Nanny Z could inspect it. Even though she had found the caterpillar disappointing, Annalisa was sad now that it was gone. She had gotten used to it, and her room, somehow, seemed emptier. But that was silly. It was just a bug — and not a very pretty bug, at that. Still, the sadness was there.

Nanny Z smiled and hugged Annalisa. She took the jar and cradled it gently in her hands, tilting it so that Annalisa had a good view of the green shell stuck to the twig.

“He’s not gone, child,” she explained, tapping the jar right over where the shell hung. “He’s in there. Now the show starts. Now … we’re gonna see something special. You just wait.”

And so, Annalisa waited. And waited. And waited some more. Each day, she peered into the jar, expecting to see something extraordinary. And each day, she felt the bitter sting of disappointment. When she complained about it, Nanny Z told her Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the universe. Annalisa wasn’t sure, but she thought that meant she was supposed to be patient. But it was so hard! Secretly, she suspected the caterpillar had let her down. She suspected it had been nothing more than an ordinary bug, which meant nothing was going to happen. That was the way things worked in Annalisa’s world.

After what felt like an eternity to Annalisa, something happened! She peered halfheartedly into the jar, expecting things to be the same as always: no caterpillar, one ugly green shell hanging from the twig. This had become the routine over the past few weeks. But, today, things were different. Annalisa was so used to the same, old boring view inside the jar that it took her a few seconds to realize the shell wasn’t green any longer. It was clear, like glass, and she could just see different colors through its sides.

Annalisa could barely contain her excitement. She grabbed the jar and dashed out of her room, clattering down the stairs and almost tripping over the loose carpet on the bottom step. She ran through the front door, wincing as the screen banged shut behind her. Mama yelled from the kitchen, telling her she needed to come back and close that door properly, but Annalisa pretended not to hear. She didn’t have time to stop; she was in a hurry, but she silently promised to apologize later — even if it meant getting punished. As she had hoped, Annalisa found Nanny Z sitting on the front porch, rocking and watching the day go by.

“Nanny Z! Nanny Z! It’s happening! It’s happening!” Annalisa called, the words riding out of her mouth on a wave of giggles.

“What’s happening?” Nanny Z asked as Annalisa came to stand next to the rocking chair.

“I don’t know what, but something!” Annalisa replied. She held the jar up to Nanny Z as she continued, “Look! It’s all different!”

“Well, look at that,” Nanny Z said, shaking her head. “It is a wonder.”

“So? What do we do now?” Annalisa asked, giddy with excitement now that something — anything — was happening at last.

“Nothing for it but to sit and wait,” Nanny Z said, nodding. She laughed at the disappointed expression on Annalisa’s face as she pulled Annalisa into her lap for a hug. “I know. It doesn’t sound like much. But watching and waiting is an important thing. Otherwise, you miss out on everything.”

Annalisa didn’t agree with this, but she knew better than to argue. So she nodded and settled in, cuddling up against Nanny Z. She held the jar on her lap, and they rocked and watched.

Just when Annalisa was about to give up on the whole thing, the shell split down the middle. And, out of all that mess, came her caterpillar! Only, he wasn’t her caterpillar any more. Instead of a chubby green bug, there was a beautiful butterfly. He perched on the twig, and Annalisa marveled at how the sunlight came through the glass jar and caught the jewel-toned colors in his wings. He sat still for what felt like a long time, but Annalisa didn’t mind. She was lost in the wonder of it all. How could something so ordinary and plain turn into this?

blue morpho butterfly

“It’s time to let him go now,” Nanny Z prompted when the butterfly fanned its wings.

Annalisa hopped down from Nanny Z’s lap and carried the jar into the yard. She stopped next to her mama’s rose bushes, thinking that might be a nice place for a butterfly to start his new life, and unscrewed the jar’s lid. At first, the butterfly didn’t move. Annalisa wondered if he really wanted to stay there inside the jar, where it was safe. She remembered what Nanny Z had told her, though, and she waited. It made her feel special, because Nanny Z had said waiting was important. And waiting was something Annalisa could do. Eventually, the butterfly walked to the edge of his twig. From there, he climbed onto the jar’s lip. He perched there for a second or two before unfurling his wings and taking flight. Annalisa realized she had been holding her breath, and she let it out in one long sigh of happiness as she watched the butterfly flutter away. For a second, she thought he would head right for the biggest flowers on the rose bush, but the butterfly flittered back toward her. He perched right on Annalisa’s nose. She could feel his light feet against her skin, and she smiled as he fluttered his wings at her.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Caterpillar,” Annalisa said, smiling. “I guess you weren’t so ordinary, after all.”

“Annalisa Maria, you are God’s special child,” Nanny Z said.

Annalisa stood there watching the butterfly flutter away. She felt the warmth of the sun on her skin and the fizzy feeling of love that filled her when she heard Nanny Z’s special words. God’s special child. For that moment, Annalisa knew exactly what it meant.

Dudley Do-no-Wrong, Find Your Joy

My hubby and daughter are fond of calling Shiner, my Springer Spaniel, “Dudley Do-no-Wrong”. They say it’s because he’s the apple of my eye and, literally, can do no wrong. Ever. Not even if he tries, and, believe me, he tries and tries and tries!

This isn’t strictly true, of course. In true Springer fashion, Shiner is stubborn and curious and a little bit vain. He lets his nose and whatever fancy strikes his attention at any given moment lead him into situations that, typically, would be better left alone. So, it’s not that he can do no wrong. It’s more that I have a habit of, after a bit of scolding, laughing off most of what he does. He is fluffy and bumbly and a bit of a doofus. And, he is also quite handsome and cuddly and affectionate. He makes my life a richer, funnier, happier place. He brings me joy and fills up a spot inside me that had remained hollow and empty after the passing of my previous Springer. When something brings you that kind of joy, it’s pretty hard to stay mad at it for any length of time.

Tonight, though, Shiner put those bonds of love to the test. I changed out the cat box, leaving the bag of icky, used-up litter next to the stairs on the second floor of my house. I had a few chores to do upstairs, so I thought I would take everything down a bit later to put it out on the curb for trash day tomorrow. Shiner was supposed to be locked up on the stairs, unable to access the tasty temptation that is used kitty stuff. Unbeknownst to me, he managed to slip out; I guess the siren song of the cat box is just too strong. It can’t be denied. And he spent about thirty minutes or so amusing himself on the second floor with one very full bag of dirty, used, icky cat litter.

You know how, sometimes, you go to the beach wearing a suit that, perhaps, is a bit too small for you? And you come home to find sand in places you’d rather not mention — or think about too closely? Yeah. It was like my house had attended a nudist convention on a cat litter beach. It was EVERYWHERE. I spent an hour and a half cleaning it up, but, even so, I’m sure I’ll continue to find it all over the place for weeks to come.

Art Journal: But here’s the thing that’s so great about Shiner — that’s so great about all dogs, really: they find their joy in every little moment and in every little opportunity possible. Here I was, standing at the foot of the stairs, faced with about ten pounds of yucky cat litter scattered all over the room, and I couldn’t help but notice the obvious signs that Shiner had had a very, very good time. There were piles of litter in spots and other places where it had been scattered about, as if he had jumped right into the midst of it all with gleeful abandon. There were drag marks and paw prints and little “swooshes” that told me he had run and jumped and chased his tail and played for all he was worth. To me, it was just a bag of used cat litter. But, to Shiner, it was joy. Stinky, smelly, absolutely unexpected joy — and he didn’t pass up the chance to jump in there and give it a go.

I think I could learn a lot from my dog. I find I often get bogged down in all that’s expected of me. There’s a never-ending list of things that I am “supposed” to accomplish each and every day. Such a long list that I tend to start out each day already feeling overwhelmed, weighed down by the knowledge that it’ll never be possible for me to do everything. I don’t stop to notice the beauty around me. I don’t pause for a simple pleasure or a small bit of joy during the day — watching an episode of a funny show, perhaps … or a cup of tea and a favorite book … or just sitting quietly to watch the sunset.

But you know what? I should. I should stop for a while. Not a forever kind of stop, but just a little pause here and there in the midst of my busy day. Because life is short, and I’ve got to  jump at every chance to find my joy. I’ve got to run after it with gleeful abandon and seize hold of it with both hands. I’ve got to laugh and love and just LIVE.

Dudley Do-no-Wrong taught me that. With a bag of cat litter.

 

Snow Day

Today is a “waiting day”. It’s gray and overcast, with the clouds hanging low in the sky — fluffy but also solid. They seem to wrap around the world, a cosmic afghan inviting the earth to snuggle in for a bit. All day, it has felt as if all eyes and thoughts turn upward, searching the sky as we all wait for what might be our region’s first “real” snowfall of the season.

I’ve found that opinions vary on the whole snowfall thing. Some folks hate it with a passion. They hunch their shoulders against it and hurry along their way, retreating into overcoats and fuzzy hoods like grumpy turtles. Others love it. They revel in the daintily lazy way each flake floats down to earth, and can’t wait to be out there in the midst of it all, embracing and enjoying each and every frigid moment.

With rare exception, I find myself firmly encamped in the second group. I am one of those overly enthusiastic, ecstatic folks who celebrate every second of a snowy day. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a place where our seasons tended to be a few weeks of “HOT”, followed by months of “REALLY, REALLY HOT”, but, whatever the reason, I look forward to snowy days all year long. And I feel somewhat cheated when those frosty beauties get lost on their way to my house.

Art Journal: Snow / Mixed MediaSomething about sitting next to the window in my cozy house, watching those white flakes dance down from above, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And being out in it is just as heavenly. I turn my face to the sky, hold out my arms, and spin and spin and spin until I am out of breath, giddy, dizzy, and laughing. I feel just like one of those snow flakes that fall onto my face, melting into a chilly wetness that must be what magic feels like. I love the laughter that breaks the frigid air as I chase my daughter through the swirling white, flinging snow at each other with every step.

But I think my very favorite part is what comes before all the fun and hijinx — and that’s the waiting. Feeling the air turning colder and colder, until my breath turns to fog with each exhalation. There is a peace and a calm about it, and I find myself holding my breath along with the world around me. We pause together for a few precious moments, poised at the edge of something dazzlingly magical. And, together, we savor the hush.

 

SHHHHHH …

Creativity is an amazing and beautiful thing. She’s a bit wild and a lot mysterious, and I’m not sure any of us really knows or or understands how she works. Or why. She’s a little fickle, too — like trying to taste a sunbeam or catch a dancing dust mote on the tip of your littlest finger. Creativity comes at the most awkward times: When you’re in the shower … or late at night, when you’re exhausted and just want to sleep away the yuck and cares of a bad day … or during that important, oh-so-serious meeting with your boss, when you can’t focus on anything he’s saying because all you can think about is how the coffee stain on his tie is shaped like South America. I think Creativity delights in being inappropriate and in making us feel awkward and uncomfortable. She dares us to step outside of ourselves and what society expects of us.

Even so, for all her playfulness and fickleness and taunting and teasing, I think we all love Creativity and her sister, Inspiration. I know I do. I feel happy, fulfilled, and blessed when these dear ladies choose to grace me with a visit, no matter how unexpected. There’s something organic about the creative process. It’s full of heady relief and the sweet, clear tone of that moment of release — when you know, in your heart of hearts, that everything is good and right with your little section of the universe. But Creativity can hurt, too. Immediately, I know I’ll be looking for that next idea: a junkie in search of that next creative high, and there’s no rehab in the world that can save me from it. I love it so.

I want to nurture Creativity — cuddle up to it and wrap myself up in all of it. Yes, even those painful bits that make me feel like something awful has crawled in under my skin and died.

Shhh! Mixed Media Art JournalBut I find the world has a habit of getting in the way. There’s so much noise in my head and in my life. People want this … My family needs that … There are errands to run and laundry and meals to cook and houses to clean and appointments to keep.

And, even worse than all of that extraneous noise, are the times — more than I like to count or admit to — when I get in my own way. The doubts and uncertainties crowd in on me: This idea is stupid. No one will like it. I’ve never been good at any of this. I’m not the talented or artistic one in my family; that’s not my place. People will laugh at me. This will be the worst idea I’ve ever had. This will be the last idea I’ll ever have.

Some of it is borne from past experience. I didn’t grow up in an environment that nurtured or encouraged Creativity. Especially the kind of Creativity that doesn’t necessarily fit into a neat, preconceived idea of what “creative” is supposed to be. The whole point of Creativity is that she devours the box. I know this as an adult; I didn’t when I was a child. Still, it often feels safer to fall back on those hard-learned lessons.

The rest of it, though, is just me. My fear. My timidness. My … whatever. And so I distract myself with silly cat pictures on the Internet (even though I’m a self-admitted dog person). I watch reruns of old TV shows that I’ve seen hundreds of times (as if the ending will magically change on this, the 101st viewing). I chat on the phone or message people through Facebook. Because I can’t let my mind sit still long enough to think and revel in the silence. I’m too terrified to let myself create.

And so, I’d like to say to the world … to the doubters in my life … to my own fear:

SHHHHHHHHHHH. Be still, and let me go.