I’ve shed a few skins in my lifetime. Some were seamlessly discarded. Too many came off one ragged piece after another. And others were ripped away.
Like a snake, we continuously out-grow our ‘skins’ – the personas that we show the world, and the person we believe ourselves to be. The snake sheds skin after a growth spurt, as the old one no longer fits. In a similar manner, as we grow, we leave behind the ‘skins’ that no longer fit. I’m not referring to physical growth but to personal development and the nurturing of the creative self; something familiar to writers and artists of all types.
Whether consciously or not, we change many times within one lifetime. We have the capacity to take on a wide range of tools and talents; to develop skills; to learn how to interact with others in a more meaningful way; to discover what motivates us, and how we limit ourselves; to reflect on, and be driven by, our values and beliefs; to harness intuition and release our creative powers; and to choose what paths to take. As we meander on this journey of being human, we leave behind personas, the characteristics and beliefs that no longer fit who we have become. We all shed skin. How we shed is up to us.
As a child, my skins came away often and without much effort. Hungry to learn, finding excitement in the simplest of happenings, eager to race out into the unknown, the child-self gave hardly a thought for the skin that lay discarded on the ground. With barely a glance either behind or ahead, I would step out of my too-tight membrane. In a new skin, the one which allowed more movement, I could again live for the moment.
Born of a growing awareness of the outside world, fear set in and the wonderment of childhood was replaced by the half-baked awareness of youth. Other sheaths came and went; constantly changed on a whim or ripped away in pain. Shedding occurred regularly and with a fair dose of unnecessary drama. With adulthood came many more skins; and just as quickly, they were cast-off. Some came off following times of loss, grief and hardship. Then there were the ones that I took off slowly, whilst walking consciously towards personal growth. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say there has been many casings and much shedding.
Perhaps with the passing of time, the process of shedding has become less eventful and more enlightening; as I move further along my haphazard life-path. Although I have stepped out of these skins of my past, pleased to be donning a fresh one, they have not been tossed away. For I have the spirit of a writer. While many people are content with keeping only the memory of their lost or discarded skins, the writer is not always so sensible. The writer cannot toss away their outgrown castings. A writer uses everything: minute moments of experiences, snippets of over-heard conversation, every emotion ever felt, every scene that flashed by, and the last tear-drop from every relationship. A shameless opportunist, the writer will recognise both their own and others’ coatings for their creative potential. So I have stored my skins away, packed them safely in a sealed trunk – until they are needed.
When I write, when I am in the midst of creating story, I often unlock this treasure chest of skins. Reaching in, I might take out a skin or two; whole or in tatters. I hold it up to the character I am attempting to give life to. One skin after another, until I find a suitable pelt to dress my emerging character. As objectively as possible, I peer at the character that is now adorned in my castings, and I consider if I have breathed enough life into them. I do this carefully, full of thought. It’s important that they do not resemble me too much. Best not to expose too much of the writer, even for the sake of art. Luckily, I have such a diverse collection of shells to rummage through, enough to enable me to tell stories for many years.
One of the original storytellers was the snake of ancient times. As it wove across the land, under waters and through the skies, Snake left many stories behind. In Australia, her path is clearly seen and felt in the landscape. Snake is the creator of life, the first teller of story, giver of many gifts. Perhaps she gifted us the ability to shed as a means of recognising our growth; to clearly see the story of who we were and who we are.
Being able to treasure past skins, to read their imprinted stories, is not just for writers.
We are creators of our own stories: past and present…..and future.