Tunes for a Monday Morning
Rock, water, and thoughts about failure

Frogs, toads, and days of gold

The Frog Princess by Gennady Spirin

In her beautiful memoir A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L'Engle explored the murky subject of creative struggle and failure by drawing on the fairy tale "Diamonds and Toads":

"Just as we are taught that our universe is constantly expanding out into space at enormous speeds," she wrote, "so too our imagination must expand as we search for the knowledge that will in its turn expand into wisdom, and from wisdom into truth.

A detail from The Frog Bride by Virginia Lee"But this is violent, and therefore frightening.

"Children are less easily frightened than we are. They have no problem in understanding how Alice could walk through the mirror into the country on the other side; some of them have done it themselves. And they all understand princesses, of course. Haven't they all been badly bruised by peas? And then there's the princess who spat forth toads and snakes whenever she opened her mouth to speak, and her sister whose lips issued pieces of pure gold.

"I still have many days when everything I say seems to turn into toads. The days of gold, alas, don't come nearly as often. Children understand this immediately; why is it a toad day? There isn't any logical, provable reason. The gold days are just as irrational; they are pure grace; a gift."

Gennady Spirin

Arthur Rackham

Warwick Goble

Thumbelina by Lizbeth Zwerger

Now me, I've always liked frogs and toads, and I want to tell you my own little story about them. There's a tiny pond outside my studio door, but it was mud-choked and rank when I first moved in, housing nothing remotely so interesting. I cleared out the trash, the dead vegetation, stocked it with plants to re-balance the water, and then asked a friend, knowledgeable in these matters, how I might get frogs or toads. 

"You don't need to 'get' them," he told me, "just create the environment for them, and they will come."

Weeks passed. Months passed. The frogs didn't come. What was I doing wrong? I asked.

"Just be patient," my friend told me gently. "These things take time."

Froglessness, 2011

And yet time, I'm afraid, was not on my friend's side. He died the next winter (too soon, too young), my little pond remained stubbornly empty, and I wondered if his advice had been right. He'd been a folklorist, after all, and perhaps this was just an old wives' tale.

Buddha and frogs, 2014

Another summer passed. No frogs. No toads. In deference to my friend, I did nothing more than tend the pond, keep the pondweed in check. I could say I was patient, but really I was busy and distracted and I stopped thinking about it.

Then one day I looked through the studio window and saw my husband crouched by the pond. I put down my pen and notebook and went outside to see what he'd found.

The Frog Prince in my pond

A frog? Oh yes. Not one, but dozens. Frogs and more frogs, everywhere we looked -- hiding in the weeds, sunning on the rocks, bobbing together in the golden pond water. How had we'd never seen them before? And how could one tiny pond hold so many? Big frogs and small frogs, brown, red, and green, all looking like they'd lived there forever.

The little faces that greet me each morning

Frog companions

Now the frogs re-emerge in the pond every spring, grinning up at me from the water and weeds, watching the studio's comings and goings from their sun-dappled kingdom nearby.

I wish I could tell my friend he'd been right. Create the environment and they will come. He'd also been right when he answered every inquiry with, "Terri, just be patient."

Frog King and Queen

I believe it's the same with creativity. Feel dry, uncertain, empty of ideas? Then create the proper environment: a space you can work in, the right tools at hand, and good work habits, regular and steady. Inspiration will come. Be patient, and it will come.

It's pure grace; it's a gift.

Why, hello.

The Frog Prince by Arthur RackhamArt above: "The Frog Princess" by Gennady Spirin, a detail from Virginia Lee's "The Frog Bride," "Darwin's Frog" by Gennady Spirin, "Alice and the Frog Footman" by Arthur Rackham, "The Frog Prince" by Warwick Goble, "Thumbelina" by Lizbeth Zwerger, and "The Frog Prince" by Arthur Rackham.

Comments

Lovely, felt very moved. Thank you.

I've recently rescued two frogs from our voracious cats, and yet we have no pond, and as far as I'm aware none of our neighbours have ponds either. We also have beautiful, jewel-like dragonflies constantly hovering outside our windows and herons flying over. Obviously there's a secret body of water somewhere nearby. Perhaps there's a lady in it hand aloft in readiness to receive, or deliver, a sword.


Just because not all fairy tale endings suit me.


Frog Prince

So I took him by his little leg, I did,
so cold, slimy, jumpy (that last was me).
I w=should have thrown him out the window,
but he spoke in a frog-in-the-throat
kind of voice. It caught me by surprise,
speaking frogs not being every day occurrences.

"Take me to bed," he said, a little short
on charm, a little long on chutzpah.
Then he winked. Maybe he'd read about that wink
in a frog novel. If they can talk, I bet they read.

But what kind of a girl did he think I was--
easy, a pushover, one of those fairy tale princesses
cozened and confused by ruthless amphibians?

I flung him against the wall where he splattered.
Even as a prince, he was small, unappetizing,
overeaching, uninteresting,
and green.

©2014 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I almost spilled my coffee laughing. Excellent!

As a small, green, unappetizing and uninteresting individual I must protest! Furthermore, I'm told my wink is developing nicely!

Great post, thanks, and the frogs look so happy! You've given them a perfect froggy studio. :)

Oh go soak your head, Mr. Hill! (Said jokingly.)

Jane

This was so needed today. Thanks, Terri.

Marinating as I type!

The solemn: this made something move in my heart. Thank you, Terri.

The silly: and then Jane's poem made me giggle!

Beautiful. Love you, Terri.

Shveta said it so well! And then Stuart's protest. Thank you all!

Wondering now where to place a little pond in my dream garden....

Tsk. Don't you know? A watched pond never frogs.

I like to hear them sing, and of course there's always that wonderful deep boom, boom.

This post makes me very, very happy. Thank you for writing it. And, yes, it is the perfect metaphor - all the better for being a True Story.

When someone dies, we say "his memory for a blessing." In this case, it is very, very true: the thing you held to to honor his words to you created something beautiful for all of us.

Whenever I went to write at my friends' house in Northampton, I'd always spend time with the frogs in their little pond there, too.

"When someone dies, we say "his memory for a blessing." For that kind man of which Terri writes, it makes it true. And I I prepare for a memorial day for my Brother, I will keep that saying in my heart as we do same for him. Thank you, and to the frogs, they have been a heart song for a long long while.

My pond is also very small and yet filled so full of frogs that I occasionally want to urge them to practice restraint. "Surely you cannot all fit!" I tell them.

But in spring they still slime the water with eggs, attach them to plants, and generally frog up the place. I love them very much, and wonder if I should build them a second pond, or if they would fill it just as ridiculously full.

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