Nimbus series by Berndnaut Smilde
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Dusk was beginning to close its eyes and retire for the night. I'd just finished watching a sunset from the back deck, the peachy hues reflecting off the dangling banana blossoms in the yard. This time of the day has a way on entrancing me into a peaceful lull. So naturally I jumped when out the corner of my eye I saw the hairy, moving limbs of a huge huntsman two metres away from me on the ground. I turned to look at her, and she paused. I froze.
Don't get me wrong- I respect spiders as a species- but they do petrify me. I prefer they keep their distance, and they usually do. But this one, she had a distinct look of defiance in each of her eight eyes. She knew I knew... before I could protest, she began her assault, running at full speed directly towards me. She was too fast, I knew I would never get away in time. All I could do was scream for mercy. And just as she propelled herself off the ground and onto my body... I awoke with a terrified startle.
This is a recurring dream that I've had haunting my sleep for as long as I can remember. It plays out on average about once or twice a week, and while the scenes change, the characters (spider woman and I) and the plot (having a face-off where I lose) never changes. It's rather unpleasant every time, but to some extent I've just come to get used to them.
A few years ago I decided it might be telling me something, so I became interested in different cultural myths around the symbolism of spiders. In the Cherokee tradition Grandmother Spider was said to bring the light to a dark world by capturing the sun with her web, storing it in a clay pot, and bringing it back to the land of perennial night. In Ancient Egypt, Neith was a spider goddess who wove the world into being from primordial waters.
Within my own ancestry there is spider mythology too. There is a well known folk tale that originated in the Ashanti people of Ghana about Anansi, the spider trickster. He is said to have brought all the stories from his father Nyame, God of the Sky, down to the earth, and is therefore the keeper of storytelling and wisdom. The Celts also have their creation stories. The Druids believed that the spider was responsible for creating the alphabet. The Ogham (early Irish alphabet) was developed in her web, and this is how writing came to enchant readers, the 'spelling' of words created imaginary worlds and left audiences 'spellbound'.
Palace of Tears performance, 2001, Nelly Agassi.
"A word after a word after a word is power."
Now to anyone interested in symbolism and dreams my fear of spiders could be read in a multitude of ways, the most obvious being that I am afraid of truly coming into my own as a weaver of words. Indeed, I am afraid of spinning my dreams into a reality because it means facing my shadow spider woman. It's a large leap from imagining a life to living that life. There is a part of me that doesn't know any other way of being in the world, and to some extent has grown comfortable in that routine.
I've watched numerous films in the past few weeks (La La Land, Ella and 500 days of Summer) that each explored the plight of creatives who pursue their dreams, and the obstacles they face along the way. Each story highlighted that going after what you want often means juggling your work with other day jobs, facing fierce competition, and pushing forward despite criticism from others. But perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is a lack of self-belief.
As I was watching these characters struggle with their constant self- doubt, it dawned on me that while it's true that in order to become successful in your craft you must get to the point where you believe in yourself, this generally only manifests through the process of putting yourself out there while you're still unsure. Every time you get a 'no' from the world, whether it's from a publisher or a casting panel or a choreographer, your own 'yes' that resides within you speaks back with more volume and more conviction.
Entrapment, 2010, by Tanapol Kaewpring
“No matter what, your path is yours. Devote every moment of your life to improving your dreams. Love your world. From a little spark, may burst a mighty flame.”
But until that voice rings out loud and clear, it's the architecture of your dreams that propels you forward. The faith in knowing what you want, even if you don't know how to get there, is what pulls you over every hurdle. It has taken me years to get to the point where I begin to have some belief in myself as a writer. But I knew in my deepest of hearts that I have a picture of the kind of life I want to be living.
It's a life where the work that I'm doing is creatively fulfilling for me and helpful and inspiring for others. It's fuelled by sharing my stories and creating platforms for the once buried stories of others to emerge, because to me, it is our stories that make up the bone and marrow of who we are. When someone sits across from me and trusts me enough to tell me their dreams, tragedies and loves, it is as though I've been given a gift from their soul, and I keep all of them tucked away like treasure. Sharing stories around the fire by weaving worlds with words is something we have been doing since time immemorial; it is an essential part of being human.
I've never given up on that dream, even though there are moments where it feels impossible. It reminds me of an old tale about King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. The King hid out in a cave for 3 months after being defeated in a battle in the 1300s. Everyday, he would watch this spider weave her web at the entrance of the cave. As the story goes she fell down, time and again, but she persisted, and eventually she completed her creation. From that King Robert learned that if we want to create anything in life, we need persistence as our ally. After this point King Roberts decided to rejoin his men and brought his newfound wisdom to them- "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again".
The moral of the story is to continue spinning your web. Allow it to hold you in its strength until you believe that you have everything you need to bring your dreams into reality. You just need to keep going- one foot, one beat, one thread, one word in front of another.
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