Tuesday, December 19

The Crane Wife


One of the first stories I ever told is an Asian (it is found in several traditions) story called the Crane Wife, or another version is called the Crane Maiden. I've told it as the Crane Maiden. The basic premise is that a man does a good deed fr a crane and is repaid when the crane turns herself into a woman who comes to live with the man as his daughter or wife. However, the man breaks her one rule and she must then leave. It's kind of a sad story.

After I told it two years ago at a benefit concert, I had the good fortune to be able to sit with David Novak (a fantastic and innovative storyteller from Asheville, NC) and discuss the story. It sounds stupid to say now, but I had never really realized how much this story was about the inner life of any woman. David said he thought that it was very much about the need a woman feels to hold a piece of herself secret so that she could give the rest of herself sacrificially to her family/husband/parents.

The longer I'm married the more I think that his interpretation holds a deeper truth about relationships that I'm only just now starting to understand. I've made it a goal, this year, to find balance in my life. While I think that this might be a life-long search, I have found that my efforts to balance everything have led me away from the creative life I have been used to. My creative endeavors have been more work-related, and not just with my job. Even as I was working last night on something I am creating for Christmas, I found myself enjoying the creative process far less than I expected.

In many ways I believe that my creative urges are related to my true self- the one that only shows herself when no one else is around, and can fly- and trying to balance my life has become muddled because I am trying to merge my creative self with the rest of me.

What can I say- I'ma woman. I remember my mother making 16 pairs of shorts one summer just before summer camp, so we would all have new shorts to take with us. I wonder sometimes how she managed to not get completely sick of sewing. She sewed all the time.

Next year will begin with an inordinately large amount of change-and that's scary to me. I'll start a new job doing something I want to do, but I'm terrified. What if I'm really really bad? Who's bright idea was it for me to teach math, anyway?

Too late to back out now.

My friend Stephaie has a blog called "Middle of the Beginning" I've been thinking about that title for a long time now. I know what it means to her (or at least I think I do) but it always draws a different connotation to me. We are alwqays in the middle of the beginning, because life is not cut and dried like a story. There is not a "happily ever after" that we sit back and imagine as being a long lovely, stable period of life which slowly fades to obscurity. Life is more like reading a very long book, which you must constantly put down so you can go about your real life- full of abrupt and unfinished endings, which may be picked up later if you are lucky enough not to lose your place. Or like a tide, constantly picking up and easing back. Wave after wave.

So sometimes I sit alone in my house, before my husband gets home from work, and after I get off work, and I turn into a crane. I don't pluck out my own feathers to weave for the good of my family...that comes later when I do the laundry, or the dishes. I do what cranes do...

The Story Tsunami Benefit Concert: Chara Watson telling The Crane Maiden


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You probably know that there is a very similar Celtic story tradition, the Silkie Wife (or Mermaid Wife). It has a darker edge, however; in it the human man finds the silkie woman's skin (a sealskin) and hides it, thus more or less enslaving the woman. She is beautiful and dutiful; they have children; but as soon as she finds the skin, she snatches it up and returns to her true life as a silkie - in some versions, without even a look back. Interesting to think how *that* ties in with a wife's personal identity and creativity.

This story is part of the movie "The Secret of Roan Inish" - a nice magical story if you haven't seen it. -SharpI

Chara said...

That story has always sort of disturbed me. Sort of in the same way that another African story (I've forgotten the name... Gwenda Ledbetter tells it) about a man who captures a woman who came form the sky and had been stealing the milk form his cows. She becomes his wife and agrees to stay as long as he doesn't look into her basket. She places the basket on a high shelf and leaves it there until he can't help himself and he looks. When he looks, he sees nothing and he laughs (he laughs!) and she sees him and tells him that what was in the basket was hers and he should not have laughed at it- and she leaves him.
I did a horrible job teling that, but I think it's the same idea... that the people in our lives can't be forced to stay- that we have to have respect for their true nature, or thier soul, or their essence, or we'll lose them.

I saw part of that movie "The Secret of Roan Inish" many years ago, but I was much younger and didn't know what it was about. Maybe I'll have to see if I can't find it on netflix.

Meredith said...

I seem to find that I'm more real about who I am when I'm around my husband (but then I've always been a little different).