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.)
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
by Hannah Roveto