Mythical Notions and Alligators

July 2021 | By Helen French

Mythical Notions and Alligators

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The author takes a moment to enjoy the view from atop Mt. Pisgah

I recently returned from a vacation in the mountains of western North Carolina. My in-laws have a house in Swannanoa which is just east of Asheville and my husband, two boys, our puppy Hans and I moved in with them for 2 ½ weeks. The mountains are my family’s “happy place” and we try to escape to them whenever we can.  

While I was away, I intentionally unplugged. I stepped away from all projects to focus solely on my family and our time together without work -elated distractions.

Stepping away from my creative practices and work obligations is difficult – there is a sense of guilt I feel about taking a vacation – and yet when I am creating and working there is a feeling of guilt that I am not giving enough of myself to my family, or that I am giving them the leftovers of my energy.

This guilt is often compounded because I LOVE my creative practice and somedays in all honesty would rather be in the studio making work than at home with my family.

The author and her sons on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I realize that being a wife/mother and artist does not need to be an either/or experience. However, there is only a finite amount of time in the day and rationing out my energy to meet multiple needs requires choice making.

The author’s son, Paxton, balances rocks in the Swannanoa River.

My husband often jokes with me that the best way to make a choice about where to put my energy and time is it to pick “the alligator closest to the boat.”

Over the years I have struggled with the idea of a work/life balance. Which I think is a rather mythical notion.

In dance, finding your balance is an act of staying in motion, of understanding that you can’t grip your muscles and hold on for dear life but rather the opposite – you must remain present to the concept of opposing energies in your body, you must think “up,” “down,” “forward,” “back,” “left,” “right” simultaneously and then renew that thinking with each passing breath. Your balance point is always subtly shifting.

In other words, balance is not static – it is very much an active process. There is work and effort involved and like life, it’s a dance, a constant work-in-progress.

As I reengage with “life after vacation” I am thankful for the perspectives on balance that dance has given me.

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Helen French is this year’s Creative Pinellas Artist Laureate


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