Once upon a time…
A princess took her favorite toy, a golden ball, into the woods. Sitting by a well, she repeatedly tossed her ball up into the air and caught it. After several tosses, she missed the ball which fell into the well, disappearing beneath the water. She began crying.
“Why do you cry so, Princess?” a voice asked. The speaker was a frog sitting at the edge of the well.The frog offered to fetch the ball for the Princess if she would promise to take him home with her, let him be her close companion and sit by her side, eat at her plate, and sleep in her bed.
Thinking the stupid frog couldn’t leave the water of the well, the princess promised him his reward. So once the frog had given her the ball, she ran happily home without the frog.
But the frog followed her…and her father, a wise and just king, insisted that the Princess make good on her promise… So she had to let the frog into the palace, and then onto the table next to her to share her plate, and then into her bedroom. But when he insisted on sharing her bed, the Princess, now totally disgusted and frustrated, threw the frog against the wall.
Whereupon, he turned back into the Prince he had been before an angry fairy cursed him. The Prince asked for the hand of the Princess and they lived happily ever after…
That’s the Grimm version of the story. In other versions, the Princess has to let the frog sleep in her bed for three nights. And in still other versions, for those who don’t like sexual undertone of those three nights, the Princess has to kiss the frog.
The lessons here for you as a writer or other creative?
- Sometimes what seems to be the best treasure often leads to an even better one. Just like the Princess loved her pretty, fun-to-play-with golden ball, we love those initial inspirations you and I have for a book or a painting or composition. They are so shiny and sparkly when new. But often, those initial inspirations appear only in order to lead us deeper into the woods of creative instinct and the discovery of something even more magical.
- What emerges from the depths is not easily left behind. The Princess thought that ugly frog couldn’t possibly leave the well. How could a denizen of forest and well, of instinct and intuition, follow her home and survive in the light of day? So often, when in the midst of a novel or a painting or any other creative act, the shadow aspects of the work are what demand attention and respect, warts and all. But what appears ugly and unlovable in the work is often where the power is, even though the urge is to run away from it, escape back into that place of light and naiveté.
- Creative commitments must be honored and even slept with. Oh boy! Really? Wouldn’t it be easier to just abandon this project and start work on something else? Something prettier, lighter, happier…more fun? Sigh! No, this frog of a project with its warts and muddy feet, must yet stain my pillowcase, or make me so angry and frustrated that I throw it against the wall. Haven’t you felt that way? Only in honoring my commitment to the project I thought was a pretty golden ball, but is actually a deeper, more challenging muddy frog, can I finally reach the prince of a project that is fully revealed and integrated.
The golden ball is just a plaything.
But that frog…that frog is a challenge and a gift, a burden and a guide to a deeper awareness. The frog is part of me—and you—as a creative.
How you interact with it is up to you. Kiss it, sleep with it, or throw it against the wall.
Just don’t run away from it.
(PS: No frogs were cursed or thrown against the wall in the writing of this article.)