Cocoons: Then and Now

On cold winter days, I like to curl up with a journal and a steaming cup of tea, to sort through the mental keepsakes I have collected over the years. Even though I can indulge in this pursuit anytime, there is something about an overcast sky that brings out my tendency to turn inward and begin the act I call cocoon building.

Like the caterpillar that spins his cocoon in a particular season, certain events and situations often precipitate my inner work. It could be something specific, like a job loss or leaving grad school; or it could be something more nebulous, like the feeling of losing direction or recovering from a period of depression. Sometimes, I thrash around–literally and figuratively–for quite a while before I begin the cocoon-building process. But it is when I take that step that the healing taking place. Within my cocoon, I can explore the ins and outs of my pain. I emerge stronger, willing to take risks that lead me in new directions, often beyond what I thought possible.

cacoon拷貝The first time I consciously explored the cocoon idea, as I wrote in Cocoons and Coffee Houses, the process moved me across the country from Seattle back to Michigan. Twenty years later, another cocoon experience would lead me halfway around the world. This time, I was exploring options after leaving graduate school. A ready-made cocoon came in the form of a three month house-sitting stint. With many of our things in storage, I focused my creative energy on cooking and crocheting as I explored job possibilities, while preparing applications, teaching demos, and lesson plans.

While lining up my references, one of them suggested I come to Taiwan to teach for a year or two. While I appreciated the idea, I was quick to discount it, at least in my own mind. It was too crazy. It was too far away. I was too old to live in a foreign country. I had lots of reasons why it couldn’t work. I thanked him and told him I’d think about it.

I had been to Taiwan before, so it wasn’t totally unknown to me, but the idea of leaving my family, my friends, my country–seemed to be overwhelming. Eventually, the moment came when the only thing keeping me from this opportunity was my desire–a STRONG desire–for certainty. I agreed to a phone interview. And then a second one with several committee members. I talked to my family. I updated my passport. My husband and I made plans for me to go for a year to test the waters. I prepared for my new adventure.

Well, this is year four for me, and it’s the second year for my husband. Now it’s time to build a new cocoon. My time here has been filled with projects and activities that I never could have imagined. And while I love many of them, I now fly from one thing to another, with little time to think or create or just be. I need to slow down and think about what I really want; how I want to live my life in the next few years. Become intentional about what I’d like to have happen next in my life, rather than getting up each day and going from one deadline to the next.

This time, my cocoon holds new ideas about how to organize my time, ideas, and space. I feel a pull to move inside, an invitation to stay indoors, think about a way to channel my creative energy into my quilting, and work on a new cocoon. And fix myself a cup of tea.

The drawings in this post are done by Rena Chen. She has a BA in Applied English from Ming Chuan University in Taiwan. She enjoys arts, crafts, movies, and surfing the Internet. She is currently preparing for the government exam for cultural administration and hopes to one day work either in a museum or in a county cultural affairs bureau.   

Cocoons and Coffee Houses

My last post about containers as a place for processes to occur got me thinking about incubation again, and about eggs and other containers that occur in nature. After the egg hatches, its new container is a nest. Other natural containers include dens, marsupia,* and cocoons. Especially cocoons. They are about more than birth and growth; cocoons are about transformation.

In my cocoons, I don’t do such a literal transformation that my caterpillar self can’t even be recognized in the butterfly that emerges from her cocoon, but there are many types of transformation. In those quiet moments wrapped in the warmth and protection of my cocoon (made from a quilt, afghan, or fluffy blanket), many things happen as a result of just being present in the moment: the blending of ideas, the birth of a vision, the solution to a puzzle, a life-changing insight.

Lovely Beans, a coffee shop just around the corner from our apartment

One of the best discoveries I ever made was that coffee houses are ready-made cocoons. Although there are times when I meet friends for coffee and conversation, there is something transformational about heading to a coffee shop alone, armed with nothing more than a book or two, a notebook and some pens. Even a computer is optional. Cocoons and computers don’t necessarily go together. For me, it is the very act of getting away from the computer that lends itself so well to incubating ideas, transforming lethargy, and gaining a new perspective. The computer, along with all the other things on my to-do list, will be there when I come back.

What do I take to my coffee house cocoon? A very limited task list. I might take one or two projects that have been eluding me. Something that needs a creative breakthrough. A section of a chapter that isn’t quite coming together. A few ideas that need to be brainstormed. A journal. A stack of index cards. Pens in a few different colors.

I’ve never been in a coffee house with bad ambiance or with bad coffee, for that matter. The baristas are almost always good for a short, friendly conversation, but they also know when to let you slip away into your private space. They don’t bother people who are in their cocoons, quietly transforming.

And now the coffee shop becomes, for me, a container of sorts. A cocoon. It holds minimal distractions, but endless potential for discovery. Anyone for a latte?

*marsupium: the pouch where female marsupials (like kangaroos) carry their young. (pl. marsupia)