Once I went on a tour of a butterfly sanctuary. Jewel-bright insects of all shapes and sizes meandered through the air beneath the glass ceiling of the habitat as the tour guide explained the facts of the butterflies’ brief lives. He pointed out a chrysalis.
“Everyone knows that caterpillar makes a cocoon, and after a while, a butterfly emerges,” he said. “What most people don’t know is that, in order to become a butterfly, the caterpillar’s body LIQUEFIES.”
Here he paused for dramatic emphasis, but he really didn’t have to. My eyes were already bugging out of my head (no pun intended) as I stared at the hard and withered-looking chrysalis. I was horrified and delighted in equal measures. I spent the rest of the day repeating this fact to anyone who would listen to me. It’s still one of my favorite nature facts, just because it really doesn’t seem like it should be possible at all. Complex bodies shouldn’t be able to disintegrate and reconstitute into something else entirely, should they? Yet the evidence was all around me, wings flexing lazily, no trace of the gooey mess they had once been.
I’ve thought about the liquefied pre-butterflies a lot this year. Obviously, their behavior is driven by instinct, and I know better than to anthropomorphize bugs to the point where I project existential angst onto them. Still, the whole liquefaction deal can’t exactly be pleasant, can it? You spend all that time chowing down on leaves and either camouflaging or looking poisonous (successfully, if you’re lucky), then suddenly: bloop. Life is a weird time for caterpillars is basically what I’m saying here.
I sympathized with this weirdness in 2015. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a bad year. It was just kind of bizarre. I spent a lot of time feeling as muddled and discombobulated as caterpillar soup. “Quarter-life crisis” became a fixture of my vocabulary. It was the first full year of my life not spent as a student, and with that structure gone, I felt strangely diffuse. It was a year of impermanence: I started it in the middle of Hermit Life, then moved home for a month, then became an AmeriCorps member. That chapter of my life will end in two months, too. In that way, I’ve ended 2015 the same way I began it: without knowing what comes next.
A quick consultation with Google has informed me that some cells survive the liquefaction stage of metamorphosis. They’re called imaginal discs and they are the foundation on which the adult body will be built. This is almost unbearably poetic and I can’t resist running with the symbolism for a moment here. Those of us who are lucky will have some imaginal discs of our own, the constants that survive whatever unforeseen changes we’re forced to go through.
Good family and good friends are the most important constants a person can have, and I’m grateful to say I have both. Even if I’m flailing about in a sea of existential confusion, they’re never confused about who I am. I hope that they would count me among their constants, as well.
Another imaginal disc that is as hardwired into my being as a butterfly’s antennae is my writing. There have been plenty of times this year when I didn’t really feel like a real writer. I’ve been pretty isolated from the literary world, which is something I want to work on this year. I’m no longer attending degree-mandated workshops and readings. Meanwhile, in the “hurry-up-and-wait” career path of a writer, I’ve been squarely in the “wait” portion all year. Which is normal. Which I’ve always known is how things work. Which I accepted a long time ago.
Which is still hard sometimes.
However! I grew so much as a writer this year. Werewolf story and I continued wrestling one another until finally we were dancing. I tackled the challenge of being a writer with a non-writing 8-to-5 job and, even though it proved to be predictably exhausting, I got some pretty great work in during my lunch breaks, if I do say so myself. Even if my passion was invisible to most of the people around me for many months, it was still there. It was becoming something.
I’m so goddamn proud of werewolf story. I did right by my monsters. I let them become something, too.
The caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly metaphor for growth is very old and tired, but once you know the gruesome biological details, it seems even more appropriate. That in-between stage can be very disorienting. But this year, I will continue building myself around my imaginal discs, the parts of me that always were and always will be. That way, whatever emerges from my uncertainty will be a self that I will recognize and like. Anyone else who had a weird 2015, and I know a lot of you did, I believe that you can do the same!
So that’s enough navel-gazing for now. (It’s New Year’s, I’m allowed.) Another one of my resolutions is to blog more, so hopefully this dusty old page will see a lot more of me in 2016. I hope there will be some exciting things to report!