THE SPIDER AND THE AERIALIST

I love to dance. I’m not a trained dancer but I don’t have to be; just getting up and dancing always improves my mood. I was reminded of how much I love to dance when I read Jules Evans’ post ‘The Dancing Cure’ on his amazing website, Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations. Evans blends his vast knowledge of philosophies drawn from a range of different traditions, with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I read his book last year and was impressed by how he applies insights gleaned from his research, and his life, to all he does. As I read Evans’ post I was struck by the following:

rationality fixes things into concepts, whereas dance understands things are always moving and turning into something else. Consciousness is more of a dance than a concept.

As Evans points out, dancing relieves anxiety, stress, phobias and nervous tension. It also reconnects us to our body, to the experience of having a body, and being a body in the world. Like writing, painting, poetry and performance art of all kinds, dance is a form of therapy, because dance is art, and art is therapeutic.

I have also been listening to a series of podcasts created by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of, among other things, Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things. These aural gems of wisdom have inspired me to keep going with this blog and I urge you to listen to them; Gilbert brings a sense of joy to the topic of creativity and each episode is packed with wisdom. In the podcasts, Gilbert chats to women struggling with their creativity and she suggests ways to overcome the problem. She then contacts experienced writers and artists and asks them how they deal with blocks or problems that impede their creativity. During one poignant interview Gilbert points out that art helps overcome our tribulations then adds,

Art is not enough, but it’s as close as we can get.

Neither Gilbert nor Evans’ insights are new to me, but being exposed to them in the same week set me thinking. Why are these somewhat disparate but connected ideas important to me, and what do they have to do with reflective and therapeutic writing?

Most of my life I have been like a spider who, not quite confident in casting her web, cast two threads and tried to spin two different webs, or two different lives. One of the webs was my profession; I’ve been a teacher since 1973. That is forty-two years of service to the education of others (with time ‘off’ caring for my babies). I have, most of the time, loved my job, which is saying a lot; I only became a teacher because it was what my mother wanted me to do.

The other web connects me to my (to use Jules Evans’ words) ‘divine madness’: my writing. I’ve tried to weave that web since I had a story published in my High School Year Book in 1965. It was called ‘The Kite’, and the opening line reads: ‘My father’s face was bright and merry as he told me he was going to make a kite.’ I have only just noticed it was the first story featured that year.

I have been a writer, therefore, longer than I have a teacher, but although the thread to my writing sometimes pulled at me so hard I thought it, or I, would break, the web of teaching was where I spent my energy.

Recently, however, writing has begun to reel me in and I struggle to get up in the morning, drive to work, fight for a car park and find the strength to get through my classes. But here’s my conundrum; money is tight and my job is well paid and part-time. The rational choice would be to hold  both lines. After all, I’ve been doing it for so long a year or two more won’t matter? Or will it?

The Greek word for spider is arakhnē or Arachne. In ancient times Arachne was known as the rival of another Greek Goddess, Athene, and they were locked in battle over who was the best weaver. Athene won and Arachne was turned into a spider. I’ll leave it to you to decide who benefits when women are portrayed as rivals instead of allies, but the point of the story is, according to Barbara G Walker, Arachne and Athene were once the same entity.

Anne Baring and Jules Cashford tell us, in The Myth of the Goddess; Evolution of an Image, that Athene was an unvanquished virgin warrior, the guardian of ancient Athens, and the Goddess of wisdom. This, they say, creates a

fundamental inner tension in the figure of Athene that complicates any simple reading of what she embodies.

As the Goddess of both war and wisdom Athene epitomises the unbridled, ill-considered tendency to battle against those we imagine are our foes, and civilized restraint, considered strategy, and the capacity to reflect and learn. This battle works on an inner level as well. We are either ready for action, eager to defend our lives and our choices no matter what, or circumspect, calculated and reflective when it comes to how we choose to behave. All of which leaves me hanging; do I break the thread tethering me to a lucrative part-time job or do I yield to the impulse, one my mother thought was foolish, to grasp with both hands the thread of my creativity?

To combine the wisdom of Jules Evans’ and Elizabeth Gilbert, maybe my art was not  enough but if my consciousness, my being, is ‘more of a dance than a concept’ then I was never a hapless spider swaying in the wind, I was an aerialist. But I am no longer as agile as I once was and the urge to write is too strong; it is time to bow out of teaching. It is time to leave the safety of that web and embrace the ecstatic uncertainty of the other. That is why I want to tweak my blog’s focus a little; as well as sharing my knowledge of therapeutic writing I am going to share some of my stories. Who knows, I may even share ‘The Kite’, once I have fixed the first line.

Do you feel you have cast two webs and tried to attend to both at the same time?  Are you an aerialist, and how do you manage to look after all of your webs?

References
Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (London: Penguin, 1993)
Barbara G Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (New York: HarperOne, 1983.)

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