(a wild collection of mixed metaphors)

To the city yesterday for an eye appointment and about a gazillion errands: lunch, gift exchanges, sundry bits of shopping, car wash, all accompanied by non-stop chat with my husband. Back home late in the afternoon; whip together supper, do dishes, do laundry, talk to kids.... Normally I've got at least a start on the week's piece by Friday: some small chunk of reality that's been handed me to fool with, and some vague idea of how I'm going to fool with it. But sometimes I don't even get started till Saturday morning. Then it's rather like hauling out the old writer-magician's hat and fishing around for a rabbit.

So: comes Saturday morning, and I'm tired and foggy from all the running around on Friday. I boot up the computer, grab the old magician's hat and start groping around for the rabbit, and lo and behold, no bunny. Not so much as a leveret. Not even a wisp of angora. Not even a rabbit-shaped vacancy. Okay, well, that's not going to work. Let's look around and figure out some starting point: what about snow? we've got lots of snow. This is a landscape totally unlike Palestine. Dimly, I can see a possible theological point there, if I push real hard... Two paragraphs in, I hit the delete button. I know a bunt when I feel one, and this is a bunt.

Out, then, to run still more errands. Sometimes a writer can sooth her soul and find something to fool around with by wandering around the grocery store, a peaceful occupation unless, as today, everyone else in town has decided to do the same thing. Mad pileups in the bakery aisle; gridlock by the freezers; chaos among the veggies. Inspiration nowhere to be found. Argh. Bleagh. Mild panic.

It was at this point that something occurred to me that hadn't really crossed my mind before.

Back to the story of Rumpelstiltskin and the miller's daughter. The dwarf Rumpelstilskin lent the girl a hand in her imposed task of spinning straw into gold, if you remember the story. Now, any writer (read artist) has to pull off this transmogrifying act, spinning straw into, if not gold, at least Lurex. The spinning part is no big deal; it's just a knack, like being able to pop your thumb out of joint painlessly or doing long division in your head or growing really, really good hair. The hard part is getting the straw: first getting hold of it, and second getting it into fit shape to be spun.

Of course what I'd done over the last day or so was the most elementary sort of dumb-assed failure: I'd gotten so wrapped up in Getting Stuff Done that I hadn't taken any time or quietness to do my straw-work--the necessary slow-minded trolling around the landscape for something to write about and even slower-minded fooling around, looking for meaning in that something. I'd just expected my nicely pre-processed straw to arrive from nowhere, all ready for the old authorial spindle. But it doesn't work that way.

And it doesn't work that way with real life-straw either. Life tends to hand a person straw--sometimes a handful of prickly wisps, sometimes whole big bales. Life is, all too often, Extremely Interesting. And then somehow we've got to try to make some sense of what we've been handed--have to figure out what this stuff is, and what we're supposed to do with it next. The figuring out is the hardest part of all. Am I supposed to forgive, or to stand up against injustice? Am I supposed to be patient, or am I supposed to go after those moneylenders in the Temple, yelling like a banshee? What do I do with those memories? What about the pain? Does any of this make any sense at all? It seems to take forever, working away at this straw, and the straw itself seems to lose not one bit of its prickliness, however hard we work at it. It can be a most discouraging business.

But the neat thing is that ultimately, God does the magical part of the work for us: turning this stuff that we've struggled with not into Lurex, but pure unmatchable gold. It always seems to happen when we're preoccupied with other matters, but suddenly the straw's gone and the gold's there, some so swiftly and unobtrusively that we have no idea, really, what went on.

It never seems to happen while we're watching. I can stare at an event in my life for years; I can analyze it, chew it over, comb it with iron combs and soak it in cold rainwater, like flax being made ready for spinning: but grace take the thing and gives it that special twist, letting it slide heavy and graceful, looping in brilliance down--but only when I'm not looking. The ultimate in "watched pots never boil" is staring at our lives waiting for God's grace to do the transformation bit. It does, of course, but not in ways we know about at the time.

Or so, at any rate, it seems today, as the afternoon starts to close in and the snow takes on that strange electric-blue tinge. Time to give up trying to make any sense of all this and go make a pot of tea instead.

May it go better next week. And I'll remember to keep Friday more quiet.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 30 Dec 2000
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