by Marilyn Brant
My brother had a fire-bellied newt that lived for over 20 years, so I had a lot of opportunities to admire the little creatures. Thing is, amphibians have a number of very interesting qualities that have grown more intriguing to me as I've aged. They're small, relatively helpless beings who've developed certain survival mechanisms: some have the ability to camouflage themselves, others to puff themselves up to look fiercer than they are, and most can move freely from land to sea (or vice versa) as needed. Many go through an involved process of metamorphosis, which never ceases to fascinate me. And their sensitivity to their environment typically makes them good indicators of the health of their habitat. If the amphibians aren't doing well, there may be big problems afoot in the ecosystem.
But of all the parallels I could draw between these small, soft-bodied creatures and all of us writers, it's an amphibian's skin, which is permeable to water, that compels me the most. This odd similarity has haunted me for years because, of course, we humans do not really have that kind of skin but, metaphorically, the humans who choose to become artists of some kind do need to have something like it.
You know how novelists, poets, musicians, painters and actors are always told that we need to have a "thick skin"? Your work is going to get criticized -- hell, you are going to get criticized -- so you'd better learn to deal with it and get over it, right?
The longer I'm involved in this amazing, frustrating, incredible and ever-changing profession, the more I'm convinced that any sense of satisfaction we have from doing it at all comes down to our willingness to be more vulnerable, more permeable somehow than the rest of the population needs to be. To everyone else, writers may look like we're fully human, but I'm fairly certain that our skin belongs to another phylum, and I don't think we should be so quick to forget this about ourselves...
On this subject, I have a video clip that a good friend shared with me last week: Brené Brown, Ph.D., a researcher who studies vulnerability, courage, shame, worthiness and authenticity, did a TED talk on "The Power of Vulnerability" that has now been seen by almost 5 million people. Maybe you were one of them. If so, you know how good it is! If not, please check it out:
Did you like it? And do you think writers/musicians/artists need to have any particular adaptive traits to both survive in this world and, also, create? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
A Summer in Europe, was the B&N General Fiction Book Club read for May (check out week one!) and much virtual gelato was consumed during the month-long discussion. There were also many mentions of fabulous travel locations, weird family dynamics, hot foreign men and an S&M Club. (That would be "Sudoku & Mah-jongg" -- what did you think I was talking about?!) Not surprisingly, the subject of amphibians never came up...