Thursday, 27 March 2014

The handless maiden, or how a fairy tale comes alive

               I don't usually get deeply personal on my blog.  However, this year I have had a deep experience with a fairy tale, which is still moving through my life.  I have been thinking on this for a while, and wanted to share with you one example I have found of a fairy tale being true.  I don't have all the answers for what it means for me, as it's a work in progress currently.  As we go through this Once Upon a Time challenge with Carl, I thought it would be fun to share how powerful fairy tales and myths can be.

 As many of you know, Terri Windling has an amazing blog over at Myth and Moor.  She writes about everything from the daily walks she takes with her family's dog Tilly over the moors near her home, to folk music every Monday, to writing and art, to exploring fairy tales and their meaning.  Last spring, she posted about the fairy tale The Handless Maiden, which I read at some point.  I don't really remember being moved at all, or particularly drawn to this fairy tale, even then.

Then, later last spring, I had a dream. In my dream, Angelina Jolie was cutting my hands off, and I had to have another woman's arms attached.  My family - husband and children, the real ones I live with, not dream ones - were waiting for the new hands to go on.  I was okay with it.  I woke up as the knife cut through my hands.  I wrote it down, which I do when I can remember my dreams, and wondered why Angelina Jolie was in it.   Beauty? She is beautiful.  Intelligent, interesting, yes. I don't watch movie stars though I see all the headlines at the checkout at the grocery store.  Then about a month later, I was thinking about the dream on and off, and something about it finally pinged in me.  Something about my hands.   I went back to reread it. And suddenly I thought, my hands were cut off!  The Armless Maiden!  and I ran back to Terri's blog to read what she had written about it in her post.  This time I went through it more carefully, and I was able to see what my dream was telling me:  my arms were being removed because I need to find a new way to care for myself.  In my dream, another woman's hands (anonymous woman, no one I knew) were being attached.  What I realized in the summer that I needed to do, was to grow my own, again.

For me, this has meant looking at how I care for myself, in almost all aspects of my life.  From getting enough sleep (do I?  don't I?  why or why not?) to how I eat (and I am overweight, I'll be honest here), and why do I eat so much?  When do I eat?  To how I care for myself in other ways: how often do I do things for other people because I should?  What do I really want to do?  Why do I struggle to know what is really true for me?  And almost all of it comes down to me living through other people's rules, which we pick up as we grow up.  It's easy to adopt ways of doing things because that's how they are done.  The real purpose of growing up is to choose a way and a life that is true to me, so that living every day is a reflection of me, and what I value most.

In the fairy tale, the handless maiden wanders until she comes to a dark wood, where she finds an orchard and the trees which bear pears, which she is able to eat off the branch.  I have been eating pears for months now.  Every time I eat one, I think to myself, I am the handless maiden.  What do I need to learn?  How am I caring for myself?  Is this me, or someone else I am doing this for, in my life?  And as I eat the pear, I think of taking its nourishment, which represents the feminine strength, according to Marie-Louise von Franz in the Handless Maiden post.

I am middle-aged, and I would think too old for fairy tales, except fairy tales don't work in our ordinary time.  They come when we are ready for them in our souls.  Being 50 is nothing in fairy tale time.   When I went to Clarissa Pinkola Estes' book Women Who Run With the Wolves, which is like my bible for when it comes to understanding how fairy tales reveal women's souls to us, she says the Handless Maiden tale is for women of all ages.  That the fairy tale is about a voyage undertaken several times during a woman's life, for as she ages and changes, so does how she needs to live  changes. 

Particularly relevant to me in that same post is this passage quoted in the post, from Midori Snyder:
"To follow the example of the armless maiden is an invitation to sever old identities and crippling habits by journeying again and again into the forest. There we may once more encounter emergent selves waiting for us. In the narrative, the Armless Maiden sits on the bank of a rejuvenating lake and learns to caress and care for her child, the physical manifestation of her creative power. Each time we follow the Armless Maiden she brings us face to face with our own creative selves."
As many of you know, I am a writer, and a poet, and have struggled with balancing my family, working full-time, with finding energy to create anything, for most of my adult life.  What this fairy tale is bringing me is the opportunity to create my own life, with writing more central to it.  One of the questions I have also been asking myself this year is, what supports my writing? 

Out of this, I am learning things about myself I didn't know.  I'm looking at how I value my creativity, and what place I give it in my life.  Questions I was afraid of asking before, I'm asking now, because I feel a re-awakening of the pull to write, the call to be conscious that I am a writer, and I write poems, and I need to make a real space for this in my life now.  If I am going to be true to myself, and live a life that fully satisfies me every day, then I need to incorporate space and time to be creative every day.  It sounds simple, and it's a sign of how far I have been from myself, that I have to undo so much unnecessary other things I do that keep me from writing.  Most of these are demands that I place on myself, not other people, though much earlier in my life they were placed on me by others.  Or just rules that I assumed for everyone, or really underneath, the fear of being different, which has haunted me every since grade school, when I didn't want to be different from others, even though I was.  I am still learning how to undo that one!

Fairy tales are real, in a way that our souls recognize, some deep wordless place inside us that is connected to the soul of the world around us.  When I think of my dream, I say to myself," no I don't want another woman's hands, I want to grow my own now."  It's not easy, though it is interesting, and fun, and mysterious.  I don't always like what I find, though I do like that I can be more freer in my life, and recognize what I need to create my art (a little bit, at least, now).  The things I craved - silence, being still, listening, solitude - I am beginning to give to myself more.  I am happy to say that my family are very supportive in this also.  If I'm happy, they are happy!  Just so long as I want to be with them, which I do, and it bothered me that I was always waiting to get some time to myself.  It's tricky, learning to balance everyone's needs, and along the way I put mine lower, at the end of the day, or not at all if we were busy.   I am able to be with them in a truer sense now, not always longing  for the time to be quiet, because I know I already have it.  It's not perfect, I still wrestle with when the best time is to be creative, and long for more time to dream, and wander in nature, and let things come to me. 

Have you ever had a dream that had fairy tale elements in it?  Do you recognize themes in your life that resemble any fairy tale in particular?  Has any fairy tale really resonated with you? 


Trish said...

This is a beautiful post Susan. I don't remember many of my dreams but I do think that our subconscious is trying to send us messages through our dreams and I love this interpretation of your dream. I mostly love that it has shown you that you need to place your needs and desires at the forefront. This is something that I struggle with as a new(ish) mother and sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not just a wife and mother--I am also a woman with very real interests outside of being a wife and mother. And while those two aspects are likely to come first, I cannot forget about the rest. We need time to be ourselves and to take care of ourselves--as you said. Hugs to you Susan!

Susan said...

Trish, thank you so much. I'm happy you understand the dream and what I think of it! or interpret it I do think that women as mothers do struggle in general with balancing life, work, and kids, and our dreams can help us find our way through life. It's hard though, sometimes when I take time for myself, I end up feeling guilty I'm not doing something with the family. Hugs to you too, Trish, thank you!

litlove said...

What a fascinating, beautiful post. I'm so glad you got more personal, Susan, because for me this is what books are all about. They trigger deep responses, and that makes them precious to me as well as intriguing in their own right. I had written half a book on fantasy and dream in French literature when I gave up being an academic, so it will never get finished now, but dreams were absolutely fascinating to study. I like Winnicott's idea, that everyone who appears in a dream is an aspect of the self. That means that Angelina Jolie represents some part of you, which might be worth thinking about. I also think that dreams are deeply tied into our creativity, that they are in fact a form of raw creativity.

Most of all I'm glad that you were provoked into thinking about how best to care for yourself. We never do enough self-nurture, not when we have families who need us too, and writing to give ourselves away to. If we don't nurture ourselves, though, we end up with nothing to give to others, and that's no help at all. Keep looking after yourself as much as you can - you are your only resource!

Susan said...

Litlove: I have been looking at Angelina Jolie representing a part of myself, for Winnicott's theory is one I firmly believe in. All the parts in the dream are aspects of the dreamer....I can't quite get what she means for me, or is me: I thought it was about cancer - she had had her breast operation around then, to prevent getting breast cancer, and I had to face that I needed some testing done to reassure myself. I like the creative aspect though, and will think on that. Thanks! Plus that dreams are about creativity and the state of it. That's an interesting view that I've not seen about dreams. I'm going to think on that too. You've given me lots to consider in your reply, thanks so much :-)

I agree with you on how books can be personal, how they can reach right in and trigger something and become more than just a book. That is part of their draw for me, as well as being entertained and learning.....

I have to admit that book on fantasy and dream in French literature sounds interesting! lol

And yes, I am looking at and for better ways to look after myself, what I really need to do this. Such as solitude, time to dream, more time to write, more sleep, etc.

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