October 15, 2009

Fear of Spiders

I'm not certain if this post belongs on the "Open Your Hearts with Pets" blog or the creativity blog--like a lot of things in life, topics, musings, lessons overlap. One thing leads to another and before you know it, a real story emerges. Watch how I tie Halloween, spiders, Artist Trading Cards and David Sedaris all into one posting!

I have been afraid of spiders since the tender age of five. At that time, my parents and the parents of my friends who lived next door decided to take the irresponsible step of having a night out. The two girls next door came over to our house where my 9-years-older sister was assigned to babysit. While moms and dads were enjoying child-free moments at the local steakhouse (I assume, remembering my dad's idea of taking a risk was going to a new restaurant), Joyce tucked us into bed.

As I was drifting off to sleep in my big bed with my white pillowcase, a crack of light coming in from the slightly opened door, I opened my eyes one last time before entering the Land of Nod and there, right in front of my face, was the biggest, scariest spider my little-girl eyes had ever seen.

Screaming for my sister, who came running I'm sure from American Bandstand or a whispered conversation with her boyfriend, I flung myself out of that bed and proceeded to grasp a phobia that has hung around through decades of old houses, musty basements, camping trips, ceiling corners, and the sliding glass door on our house where daddy long legs hang out.

Joyce picked up my pillow, hastened to the kitchen, and sent the 2-inch wide spider on a journey down the drain. I was sent back to bed...but sleep took a long time coming.

For months afterward I woke in the middle of the night convinced that Hoardes of Horrible Spiders (hey, that would be a good title for a kids' book!) were waiting for nothing more than the chance to terrorize a little Ohio girl while she tried to get some shut eye. A preference for tight tucking of the blankets occurred around this time, as well as development of a strategy for handling fear. Rather than talk to my parents or older sisters, I decided to abandon my bed and start sleeping on the Early American couch in the living room. Once there, Grandma's afghan was tucked in on all sides, my pillow was checked one final time, and I would fall asleep.

My odd sleeping habits lasted quite a while, until a fear of spiders was replaced with a very real fear of earaches that plagued me with searing pain long before "tubes" were inserted into the ears of small children. I spent nights with my head on a heating pad and found another thing to dislike, the disgusting Dijon mustard-colored medicine I was given to ease the pain of "bealed" ears. My pillow was not covered with spiders in the night, but with liquid seeping from my ears. Perhaps this was some odd way the universe was preparing in me a sympathetic heart for the hearing impaired child I would one day parent, as I can clearly remember not being able to hear well during those flare-ups.

Any-hoo.... I'm tracing my anachraphobia to seeing the outline of that very large, very black spider on my very white pillowcase, while my parents were out on the town.

Fastforward to 2009 and the comfort I find in the sound of David Sedaris's voice as he goes on, with perfect inflections and pauses, about life in France and his office where spiders take up residence in the windows. I've got two of his books on my iPod: "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and "When You Are Engulfed in Flames." I believe the spider monologue was from the former.

Sedaris talked about how he named the spiders and viewed their intricate constructions, as I listened to him I thought of something I had done just two years earlier.

I'd moved from 100-year-old house to modern condo with my marriage to Mark. One morning, when taking the dogs out, I noticed the most interesting spiderwebs in the grass and on the shrubs. The webs were not like those often seen descending from trees, but were more like lacey trambolines or the white, peaked canopies artists use at craft fairs. It was the first time I realized, or thought about, the fact that different spiders produced different types of webs. These webs might have been built by spiders I could not be afraid of... I grabbed my digital camera and clicked, or rather pressed, away. (Don't you miss the satisfying click of an old-fashioned camera?) I ended up with several really cool photos of these spiderwebs, none of which I can locate now...

Back to the present... a few weeks ago I got up around 6:00 to make coffee. Standing and staring out the kitchen window, giving thanks for sunrise delivery of the Columbus Dispatch (arrival in Columbus: 7:30 a.m. arrival in Athens, 2 hours away from headquarters: 5:30 a.m.--go figure) I noticed a good-sized spider and a web adhered to the bottom corner of the kitchen window. But I wasn't afraid of it...mildly put-off, but not really fearful. Why?

Because of a book. About spiders? No, a book I'd been proofreading and designing for a client-author, Jeanne Webster. Jeanne has written a great book entitled "Strays." It's in the genre of "inspirational fiction" and uses wonderful stories from a Native American background to teach universal truths. One of the stories involves--you guessed it, a spider! Grandmother Spider to be exact. (for more information visit http://www.straysthebook.com/ or click here to see the book on Amazon.) (That's our family's wonderful now-deceased dog, Buster, on the cover...)

In Jeanne's novel, Grandmother Spider dispenses advice to the main character, a young woman named Jane. When I read the story I was not one bit put off by the presence of a spider and I realized that between photographing the webs the previous year, and listening to David Sedaris's book this past year, I was perhaps OVER my anachraphobia! Could it be?

The test was right there in our kitchen window.

"Hello, Grandmother Spider," I said, my voice not even quivering.

She tucked herself back into the rather large, energy-inefficient crack between window ledge and window.

I didn't feel that was the place for her to be (not that enlightened yet, was I?) so I took the sprayer on the sink and sprayed the window casing, hoping to flush her back outside "where she belonged."

The next morning, she was back again, having rebuilt her web in the face of nearly insurmmountable odds.

Grandmother Spider never ventured, that I could tell, beyond the window. She didn't explore the countertop, marvel at Mark's expresso machine, chide the stainless steel mixer. She may have tiptoed her way to the sink for a sip of water, but I never saw it. I realized I didn't want to kill her, I wanted to catch her, but how?

I took a jar that I'd had set aside to return to The Village Bakery (best peanut-soy dressing this side of heaven is made there), and placed it over her most recent construction. Perhaps, I figured, she'd make a web inside the jar and then I could flip it over and take her outside.

Each morning, for a good week, she greeted me with a mixture of pride and deference, I thought, from her web just under the glass jar. But when I advanced my hand in the direction of the jar, she'd retreat to the crack in the window frame. Mark read the sports' section of the paper while I provided spider updates.

After a few days of this, I managed to slide a paper towel along the crack, preventing her escape and enticing her further into the jar. In this way, I was able to capture her and take her outside to the nice row of bushes growing on the far side of the house, far away from said kitchen window.

"Go on!" I said. "Make a new home." (I've said that to myself more than once, as well.)

It took her a while to release her eight little legs from the jar, but eventually gravity and a good shaking won out, and she disappeared from my sight. "How far I've come!" I thought proudly. "I'm no scared little girl anymore." (about time, you might think)

The next morning, like a co-dependent person fascinated by fear, I kinda missed seeing Grandmother Spider. But a reminder of her soon showed up in the post office box of all places...

Which brings in the creativity part of this posting...

I'm in the ATC Connection and Artist Trading Card groups on Yahoo. One such trade, ongoing, is the Alphabet ATC trade. "A" cards of course were first and my "A"s arrived that day. I opened it up, and there was a card featuring "AFRAID" with a woman in a fearful pose and a black plastic spider glued to the front of the card. It was created by Vicki Bettencourt, who had no idea what her card might mean to me and how it'd end up in this post.

So, now my spider saga has gone full circle. From fear, to curiousity, to information and appreciation, to conversation, to documentation... hey, this might work for all sorts of misconceptions I face. Thank goodness life affords the opportunity to work through them.

Postscript: Here is a recent (11/29/09) article on Spiders in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch.