Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Maybe You're Just Molting

by Hannah Roveto

I might be identifying too closely with my son's hermit crabs. Why I shouldn't is clear: they are very low on the evolutionary scale, although I feel that way at times. They are scary looking; first thing in the morning I might come close to their appearance. Like today, for example, when I was woken up at 5:30 because one of the crabs was in the water dish naked.

The initial concern was that it was dead. No, quite the reverse. The crabs are molting. They've been sloughing off their exoskeletons, hiding for days down in the gravel with only their painted shells peeking up into the light. (Smaller Dean had Spiderman on his back, Crabby a more mature and elegant metallic green.)

During this time they peel themselves out and are at their most vulnerable. Thanks to Crabby's foray into the (empty) water dish to refresh himself with water held in the sponge, we now know their back ends look like oversized grubs with small claw-like legs sticking out, the better to hold onto their shells once they get back inside. Ugh. Their front ends look like miniature crabs, yes, but without those formidable and surprisingly strong pincers we have all come to respect. Our cat stared past the chicken wire screen longingly, inches away from a tender, defenseless treat. Why do the crabs put themselves at such risk? Simple: they will die if they don't.

I was going to blog today about why some writers take so darn long to become writers. I read something recently in which an author noted she came to the art of writing as an adult. In interviews for this blog's Author Spotlight series, Hallie Ephron said she took on fiction once her children were grown and she became unafraid of what her creative family might think of her efforts. Mameve Medwed said she was a short story writer until a good friend told her to write a novel; she said she was petrified, went at it "kicking and screaming."

Jonathan Franzen, speaking at Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace, said he believes many great writers are women who come to it later in life, or at least, not straight out of college or grad school. He said women have other things in their lives that demand attention; once women start to focus more on themselves than on the external in their lives, they find their writers' voices. I think this is true -- and applies to some men, too.

Some writers need time, whether it is to experience enough to generate a full story, or to overcome the terror of putting ourselves out there. The transformation does not take place overnight; it takes time, agonizing months and years. We know what we are about to do, and that knowledge alone could stop us in our tracks. But it doesn't. Maybe we don't really have a choice. So we pick at our old selves, get uncomfortable with the shell we have wrapped around our soft cores. We burrow and peel that shell off, a dangerous, delicate operation. We develop the courage to walk around exposed, if need be, as we form a new way to present ourselves to the world: a bigger, stronger, better us. Molting is important to humans, but perhaps it is required of writers -- at any stage. It's scary and exciting and dangerous and essential to our beings.

(Update: Dean seems to be back in his original shell, although burrowing again, and Crabby is out of the water dish and checking out an upgrade to a larger soccer-motif number. The cat is sleeping in another room.)


Sustenance Scout said...

Thanks for this, Hannah! K.

Anonymous said...

Hi Hannah,
The molting process is so true! There's a bit of our selves in all our words, and for the writing to be complete, we have to be willing to expose it, layer by layer, draft by draft, query by query, revision by revision.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Something about that ugly bugger's exposed underbelly got to me. Molt or die, maybe not quite, but to slough off the old and be vulnerable and allow myself to grow, is everything I am trying to do right now.


Anonymous said...

Hannah, what wonderful words! It's easy to see why you write. The hermit crabs reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful essay High Tide in Tucson. I love how your analogy to "later" women writers fits with her ending words: ...High Tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.

Thanks, Hanmnah!


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I adore Small Wonder; why did I never get to High Tide? It's on my list now. The glorious debris, indeed -- every funky little bit of it!


Larramie said...

Ah, the evolutionary process for some female writers might be the need to take more time to find their voice and express their thoughts/feelings. However it will be interesting to note if that changes with this generation who appear more comfortable in their skin.

Lisa said...

This post is so true and so beautifully written, yet I have to tell you that I almost never literally "LOL" when I read; nevertheless I did today when I read your first sentence and then again when I read, "I was woken up at 5:30 because one of the crabs was in the water dish naked". And then I read the whole post again. This is superb.

Kate said...

As a recent college graduate, I feel like that intensity within me that forces me to write is often repressed . I watch everyone I know starting stable careers or going off to graduate school and I question my ability (and even my sanity). I live in constant fear of someone "ripping" my shell off my back and revealing me as a phony--a "writer" who has nothing of importance to say. As you described the molting process and compared it to the process a writer goes through as he/she develops "the courage to walk around exposed," I realized that I need to slow down. I need to just keep writing, first for myself, and allow my writer 'voice' to mature. I must make the experience internal rather than drown my voice in external pressures. I will no doubt keep "Crabby" in mind as I struggle to look failure in the eye and slowly peel off, layer by layer, everything stifling my core. I already have a new lightness of being just gaining this reassurance that this process doesn't happen overnight. Thank you for such a playful, insightful entry.