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  • Writer's pictureThera Barclay

Caterpillar Soup: Transformations, Transitions, and Everything Goopy

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Usually I write about something tangible and instructive - something methodical with a clear takeaway. Today is not that day.


The life cycle of a caterpillar is not as straightforward as it might seem. After it builds its chrysalis, it doesn't magically sprout wings and then fly away as a beautiful butterfly.

No, while inside the cocoon, this little masochist releases enzymes that dissolve it into a pile of amorphous goo, sometimes affectionately referred to as "caterpillar soup". Then, bit by bit, this goo (which is actually highly organized) builds itself into a whole new creature - a butterfly or a moth - which then emerges from the chrysalis completely transformed.

It's a nice (if not slightly disturbing) story. And gosh, don't we all want to be the glorious butterfly, emerging triumphantly at the end: fully-formed, ready to fly away into the world.

Right now, though, I'm firmly trapped in the goo stage. And while it feels uncomfortable, unwieldy, and uncertain, I know it's a painfully necessary process, one that is beginning to yield small rewards.

The beginning of Fall was not super kind to me. Without getting into grisly details, I experienced not one, but two profound losses, the kind that seem to suck the breath right out of your body, that scoop a part out of you that you're not sure you'll ever get back. It was a couple of months of what seemed like endless tears, too much bourbon, and prescription sleeping pills that seemed to do everything except help me sleep. Most unnerving of all, though, was the feeling of my larynx being caught in a vice grip every time I had to sing: turns out months of crying, the swelling and dehydration from alcohol, and sheer muscular tension from stress and grief can do a real number on your voice.

I managed to press forward with applications, auditions, and concerts. I knew I wasn't singing my best, but it was enough to be passable, enough to get some second-round auditions, enough to still perform and receive positive feedback.

But then, I was scheduled to go on tour for two months for a contract - singing a dream role, sure, but a very vocally and physically taxing one (turns out Marie sings a LOT in La fille du régiment). We would be driving across Québec and the Maritimes from hall to hall, hotel to hotel, with undoubtedly not enough sleep and too much coffee. How the heck was I supposed to pull THAT out of my ass when I could barely collect myself enough to shower and go to work in the morning?

Turns out, it was exactly what I needed.

Day by day, with lots of music, many distractions, and many laughs, the heaviness slowly began to lift. Bit by bit, the goo has started to organize itself into something more tangible - something curious, something that envisions a future, something that focuses on gratitude rather than grief, on what I've gained rather than what I've lost.

I have had a few moments of glorious singing, and a lot of really, really terrible ones too. Every audition I have sung so far has been mediocre at best. But as the mind starts to accept and process life's pitfalls, then the body follows - including the voice. My instrument is stronger and more resilient than I could have ever imagined.

Don't get me wrong - in many ways, I am still a puddle. Practically caterpillar soup. But the healing that comes with throwing yourself into a new adventure - in this case, one of full of singing, travel, and new friends - has been a lesson to me in how to remind myself that choosing this career path has been one of the best decisions I've ever made, one that has been integral to my personal growth and healing in ways that I can't describe.

And finally, I've been able to become curious again, curious about what lies outside of the cocoon. Grief is by no means a linear process, but I can't help but feel that there's a moment, or several moments where I'll know I'll have emerged from my cocoon as some sort of fluttery-winged creature - maybe not a butterfly, but at least one of those annoying moths that eats your expensive clothes.

For now, though, I embrace the goo. I have auditions to sing, roles to learn, and more music to explore. This Humpty Dumpty-esque stage of putting things together, piece by piece, to witness something new and exciting emerge on the other side is exactly where I need to be, and it's a process that is revealing wells of strength, gratitude, and new beginnings. I can only hope that if you're reading this, and if you too are feeling like caterpillar soup (I'm noticing that Fall 2023 has not been kind to a lot of people!), that you too can wait patiently, trust the process, and know that you can, and will, emerge. As the days get shorter and the darkness gets longer, I hope you can have the courage to throw yourself with full force into exciting projects and new ventures - you never know how much healing they can bring 💜.

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Nov 25, 2023

I needed this. Thank you ❤️

Thera Barclay
Thera Barclay
Nov 30, 2023
Replying to

Of course! Glad I could help in my small way. Wishing you peace and healing and all good things 💜.

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