Tangled Keys: A Tale of Self Discovery


I don’t get a lot of time to myself, so when I do I try to make good use of it. As a time-oriented, structure-loving person striving to nurture her creativity, I need to spend a few hours in a row of full immersion in abstract, intuitive, random musings for the creative me to get going.

Today was a good day.

And when my time alone was nearly done, I took my dogs for a walk. My creative juices would have one more chance to stew.

Chip and China are my rescue dogs. They’re doing well but they get overly excited when it’s time for a walk, and they need to exit the house in an orderly, disciplined fashion…or all hell breaks loose.

We left the house and when I turned to lock the door, my keys had gotten tangled so that the house key was jammed inside one of the metal rings. I smiled, believing I was calm after my hours of meditation and creativity. I jangled the keys lightly, expecting them to miraculously untangle themselves, in keeping with the general mood.

I shook the keys again; my dogs lost their patience and began to strain at their leashes.

“Sit,” I said, with the calm assertiveness the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, so expertly advocates. They sat. I jangled the keys with more force. Several times. They didn’t untangle.

rescue dog

China barked at a passing leaf, one of autumn’s left-overs. This got Chip barking, too. I tugged at their leashes and shushed them.

When the dogs were back in control, it occurred to me: This is a test. After a morning of unbridled creativity and at-oneness with everything, this is a test.

The thought popped into my head that I should try to lock the door with the house key as is, that there might be enough of it poking through the ring, enough for it to slide into the lock. And it did!

Another thought popped into my head. There’s a reason the keys got tangled and I should try to relax during the walk and allow the message to get through.

We hadn’t been walking for more than ten minutes when I realized something awesome: I could use the key even though I hadn’t untangled it. I took this to mean that I can move forward, make progress, create despite disorder. That I shouldn’t try to control the creative process with my ego intentions.

I was feeling mighty proud of myself until my critical mind butted in with the notion that my interpretation was superficial. But then I began to focus on the dogs, the puddles, and the potential for being splashed by passing cars. And then I bagged some dog poop.

I wasn’t aware that I was picking up dog poop from a place on the path where it forked, until I stood and began walking several feet in the wrong direction. I always take the dogs to the right. I began to head back so we could take our usual route.

But isn’t this day about doing things, seeing things, differently?

I didn’t want to take the left path because it went past a location where my children danced for many years and where I used to work. We had good times but it’s full of noisy emotional memories. Also, if the dogs and I kept going, we would eventually pass the home of a woman who is no longer in my life, an unstable person who put her need for creativity ahead of the safety of others, in my opinion.

And then it hit me. The woman I turned my back on represents something I fear: that by giving reign to my creative self I’ll be at the mercy of unconscious forces similar to the histrionic, abusive ways of my mentally ill mother.

There, I said it. Today, because of the tangled keys, I took the left path and faced one of my worst fears.

I’ve worked hard to live an ordered life. I took a degree in mathematics instead of literature or wildlife biology because I craved an ordered world after a childhood of chaos. I deferred to logos, over mythos, for most of my life. Now, it’s time to go in a different direction.

dirty dogs

When the dogs and I returned home, I jangled the keys and found they were still tangled. Nevertheless, I unlocked the door.


The dogs had a bath.

And I had another hour of solitude ahead of me. I made good use of it, I’m proud to say.

And this criatura is always a creator-hag, or a death Goddess, or a maiden in descent, or any number of other personifications. She is both friend and mother to all who have lost their way, all those who need a learning, all those who have a riddle to solve, all those out in the forest or the desert wandering and searching.                                                   —Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves