Tar baby is one of my favorite stories of all time. Decades later, “Please, please don’t throw me in the briar patch,” still makes me laugh. It’s become a stock phrase around our house. Thinking about the briar patch, I started wondering about mine. I suppose it consists of the leaves of books and thorny words and ideas supported by stout pragmatic branches; a place where I’m extremely comfortable, but many people aren’t. We all have our briar patches though, full of hidey holes and escape routes, places to take refuge in even from ourselves.
This is a story about the Trickster getting tricked! Tricksters, as the stories never hesitate to point out, are particularly susceptible to getting gulled. Br’er Rabbit is shadow boxing with the Tar Baby. Cockiness and self-righteousness have landed him in this pickle and pride gets him more deeply enmeshed by the second. Sound familiar? It does to me. The Jungians say annoyance with the character traits of someone else occurs because suddenly we find ourselves staring in a mirror and disliking what we see. The stubborn intractability of the Tar Baby is a part of Br’er Rabbit he doesn’t want to acknowledge. Being a Trickster he wants to be cool, suave and flexible, able to shuck and jive his way out of any situation with insouciant aplomb! Heaven forbid he should be seen to be stuck in his own shit, like all the other marks. But that’s exactly what happens. Nevertheless, our wily rabbit has at least one more trick up his sleeve and escapes into his first last and best defense – his childhood refuge – the place where he was “born and bred.”
This collage grew out of this picture of a tar-covered rabbit sent to me by a friend. It took me a while to track down the artist’s name. When I found Darla Jackson’s site, I fell in love/awe with her ability to render animals so faithfully. It’s obvious to me that she observes them carefully them, with deep respect and eyes of love. Isn’t it interesting how influenced we are by everything around us? Working with a picture of a sculpture, I unconsciously created a three-dimensional collage. I sliced up an old champagne cork and raided the button box to make Tar Baby’s eyes and ears. Adding a dimension to the collage made me think about layers. This story is layered in meaning – On the surface we’re shown the value and pitfalls of an elaborate social system of greet and respond that allows people to safely establish who exactly they are talking to and how far they can trust them (kinsfolk being more reliable in theory than strangers). Then there’s a lesson in the futility of emotion-based argument. At bottom we hit perennial wisdom “Know Thyself.”
In the same way I figured out what my briar patch consists of, it behooves me to ruminate a bit on the nature of my Tar Baby.