My soon to be nine-year old neighbor, Olivia, brought over her big find of the spring: a tent caterpillar . She had found an old glass fish tank and lined it with dirt and leaves, put her new friend in and then “asked Google” about the critter. She and Google must have had quite a conversation, because Olivia was there to tell us that he was an old caterpillar, and look, there he is beginning to spin his web. “Where does it come from?” she said, looking at the creature. Her mother and I squinted. “It seems to be coming out of its mouth,” her mom said. I told her spiders spun their silk out of their tummies (probably the limit of my great repository of knowledge about the physical world.) We sat and watched the tent caterpillar do its thing. “Google said it turn into a moth and only lives three days,” Olivia said gravely. We all wondered at this. My husband added that tent caterpillars are despised in this part of the world, their large webby cocoons festooning trees obliterated by the animal’s hunger.
Today I was talking with a friend, a painter, who is going to teach painting at a seminary, where all the seminarians are required to take classes in all the arts. What an idea! I told her about my interest in medical humanities, and we compared notes on teaching seminarians and med students, often young people who have had only limited exposure to the arts. “I’m not trying to make artists out of them,” she said, “but bring them into the flow of the process, let them get lost in the process.” I told her of often having people in my classes who had had little or no previous training, and how, once they got past fear and inhibition, they often produced powerful work. “Creativity is part of us,” she said. We talked about how creativity grounds us, heals us, quite contrary to the popular idea of it being the purview of a select, esoteric few. It is, indeed, our birthright. What teaching art to these students does is simply give them some tools to explore themselves, their life situations, their feelings. It comes out of us naturally, just like the tent caterpillar’s cocoon.
I’ve always felt a great love for the “writing spider”, the large black and yellow spider that, if you are lucky, graces a summer garden. Just as the spider must weave her web, so to I must write, others must dance, make art, sing their songs, knit, design bridges, solve equations. I met a wonderful artist at the Hambidge arts colony once who said the how wasn’t the question, it was the why. She could figure out how, but she didn’t know why. She just knew it was what she had to do to be whole.
Olivia’s caterpillar is making great strides on his cocoon.