Over a year ago I was walking around in World Market, texting with one hand sporadically and picking up, examining, and putting down items with the other. Life was so different then, just over a dozen months ago. I was a grad student getting my Master of Fine Arts in Creative writing—thinking about poetry, art, global political issues, mythology, novels, class schedules, thesis edits, and word choice. I was swept up in days of long assignments, more pages to complete, and late nights of black coffee. Now, all at once, my head is full of job applications and financial stability. Adulthood, entering like an avalanche. It’s really amazing how much the quality of our lives is dependent on our thoughts, isn’t it?
Anyhow, I was distracted, looking at hand-carved Dutch salt and pepper shakers, turning the weight of them over in my hands, and my mind was turning over my most recent writing subject; mermaids.
Of Course men would come up with this creature with immobilized, bound legs, who spends her days sitting on rocks humming temptress songs, singing men to their rocky death—
In the midst of that thought [that I still wrestle with] my heart shifted from rant into a sort of prayer. An instant curiosity, God, what do you see in the mermaid myth? I felt prepared for the re-appropriation.
As I strolled through the rest of the store, browsing heavy wine glasses and Moroccan wind chimes, I began to view the tail of the mermaid less as a binding and more as a tool to reach and explore the deepest parts of the ocean—to sink into mysteries and enter darkness. Mermaid tails began to not represent captivity but the capability women have to experience depth in their lives in creativity, spirituality, motherhood, romantic relationship, thought, friendship, and freedom. The part of ourselves we call our ‘gut’—where our intuition lives and deepest questions are born, where poems and songs rise up from, where that fierce mama-bear voraciousness paws its way up from, the idealist, the painter, the adventurer, the explorer, the romantic, our hope, our dreams, our prayers…all these are our ‘tail.’
Now enamored with mermaid tails, waiting in the check out line with a bottle of wine and picture frame, I began to think of the torso of the mermaid that seemed so… average. If the tail was depth then the torso seemed shallow, dry, boring. In charge, perhaps, of scheduling, picking up the kids in the van, vacuuming, list-making, grammar correcting.
In that season I was living in a bubble, a fine arts grad school bubble, where art and creativity were central to everything I did. The idea of the mermaid tail gave weight to what I valued, what I was good at. On the other hand the idea of the torso pointed at something I was increasingly fearful of, graduation. Where ideas and passion wouldn’t be enough, I would need a plan to find sustainable work, financial stability, a schedule I could live by, etc. I knew that my grad school bubble would soon pop, and I wasn’t sure I had the torso muscles to handle the change.
On the drive home, I continued to let my mind wander into this prayer. It began to become clear that what makes successful women so incredible, is the mixture of these two parts. That we need the torso of the mermaid to communicate in friendships, to manage time wisely, to make good decisions about jobs and finances, to not just be ruled by our appetites and longings, but to live with intentionality and purpose. One of these “parts” will come more naturally to each us, one will be harder to hone. We’ve all met women who are all torso with color-coded day-planners and phone calendar apps that ding every ten minutes with new tasks. Or the ones who are all tail in paint-splattered t-shirts and full of big ideas, never quite focused enough to complete a project much less change the oil in their cars on time [I have personal experience in this category].
However regardless which one comes easier to us, the two parts of a mermaid function best together, the tail lets the everyday tasks of life become crusted and laced with holiness and wonder and the torso allows the deep ideas of the tail to rise up as tangible projects that can effect the world.
I refuse to subscribe to a worldview that says one or the other; artist or organized, creative or productive, ideas or output. I am writing this blog to chronicle my journey towards mermaidom. To help me remind myself to value creative pursuits, to live intentionally with more structure and discipline toward the places I want to end up. I’m also writing to invite you along on the way—because I hope that no matter if you are 14, 64, a student, a grandmother, a mechanic, a lawyer, or a tree-hugger you pursue the things that make your heart come alive; cooking, rock-climbing, travel, medical-missions, reading stories to your grandchildren, painting, making films—I hope you pursue these things with great tenacity, discipline, and passion right in the middle of your busy life. Because whether you realize it or not, the world needs you and the gifts you've been given. The world needs my poetry and your new business model, and her new song, and a million other gifts. So we need to not only dream and conjure ideas, but do, live out, pursue... for your soul's sake, and for the world's.
Over a year after that shopping trip to World Market, I am still thinking about the revelation I drove home with [along with a great bottle of Pinot Noir]. I haven’t gotten this all figured out, I’m aware that this analogy or metaphor or idea is messy , but I hope that you see what I am getting at—
I'm seeking balance between creativity and productivity, travel and growing deep roots, global engagement and quiet methodical moments, flourishing passion and simple peace, and I’m inviting you on the journey with me. Join me?