Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Christmas Play

            The angels are crying. This is probably because Joseph has been pulling their hair. Again. I put him in time out. Again. I would threaten to recast him, but the show is tomorrow, and you can’t ask seven year olds to memorize new lines in a single afternoon.
Besides, no one else wanted to be Joseph. No sense in punishing some poor Wise Man who’s behaved perfectly all month.
Last year I was only helping with the play. Granted, this meant memorizing the entire thing and putting on a silly angel costume, clothes hanger wings and all, so I could follow kids around the stage and whisper the lines they inevitably forgot, but I’ve been doing that for years. It may be tedious, and occasionally embarrassing—imagine being the only seventeen year old on a stage full of toddlers, wearing a pipe cleaner halo. Now imagine your crush sitting in the front row, watching his baby sister play Mary. But at least I knew where I stood. I had my job, and I did my job, and I moved on. Someone else was there to handle all the real work, to tell me what to do, and to put a stop to wrestling matches between the shepherds.
Now I’m in charge—completely, single-handedly in charge—and if I hear one more sheep scream because his shepherd pinched him, I swear, there will be bloodshed. And it won’t be mine.
It is occurring to me that I may not have been the best person to put in charge of twenty three little kids. I’ve never been exactly patient.
And how seventeen children can collectively forget the words to “Away in the Manger” after four weeks of rehearsal, this year alone, is completely beyond me. Everyone knew it on Sunday. Everyone knew it five Sundays ago, before we even started practicing. But today. Today they forget.
Six children have also each grown or shrunk since the costume fittings last week, and I won’t be sleeping tonight. Why? Because I have to take in two angel costumes, lengthen the hem for one of the shepherds, swap two Wise Man outfits, take in the hem for one, and widen the collar of Mary’s dress, because apparently she can’t breathe. After that, I get to make new crowns for two of my three Wise Men, because they broke them this morning, make four new sets of angel wings for the same reason, wash the angel costume a little sheep threw up on, and find a new box of myrrh. Ours went missing, by which I mean Joseph probably stole it last week and left it at his grandma’s house.
Celebrating Jesus’ birth? Forget about it. I’ll be too busy praying the angels don’t set the church on fire with those stupid candles someone’s mom insisted they hold.
Christmas is my favorite time of year.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review

So, big news for the day: An absolutely awesome person has written an absolutely awesome review for my book Avalanche. She has like a zillion blogs, so I'm not sure exactly where to direct you, but I'll go with the blog where she posted the review: https://amandadbat.wordpress.com/

She is very, very cool and you should all go and see all of her many great blogs. Also, this one here: writingsiren.tumblr.com. This is a good one.

Anyway. There is a book review. It is here: https://amandadbat.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/avalanche/#more-1875

You guys should all go and read it. Then you guys should all go and buy the book. That one's over here: http://www.amazon.com/Avalanche-Portrait-Verse-Jenny-Prater/dp/1515305325/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450143462&sr=8-1&keywords=jenny+prater




Also, I know I've barely blogged in the last month and a half. And when I show up on here, it's mostly links. Like today. Sorry. But I am finally back home in the United States, so things are getting a little less crazy and I'm hoping for some time to rant about some fairy tales soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Did an Interview

https://kelworthfiles.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/nanowrimo-spotlight-jenny-prater/

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Selfies with Dead People

It’s been a few days now since the latest bombing in France, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I don’t usually think about things like that.

I remember 9/11 vividly, walking down the stairs on a morning in second grade to mushroom clouds on TV. I remember the moment of silence in a school assembly, and I remember the whispers and giggles I heard all around me in that moment. My classmates and I have been asked, nearly annually since then, to remember that day, and to write those memories down in various classes. So here is what I do not remember: the state of shock in which we apparently spent the rest of the day. Little girls crying for a thousand people they’d never met, dead in a situation they didn’t understand. The horrified five year old gasps as our principal explained. The moment when we all joined together in a perfectly silent moment of silence, united by our sorrow and fear. I think the people I know who say these things believe them. But I know they made them up, quietly and by accident, over the course of a dozen years. It’s a pretty story—as pretty as it gets went you’re talking about terrorists.

We were eight. It didn’t exactly touch us. The aftermath has, of course, for every moment of the last thirteen years. But that tragedy was not my tragedy, and in the years since then I have not spent much time paying attention to the real world. Fairy tales are happening, you know. So this, watching Paris live on an Irish television, Paris where I was staying a month ago, is the first time that terrorism has ever been quite real to me. And after a few minutes discussing the attack, the newscasters switched seamlessly to local sports and the question of whether or not the Northern Lights will be visible in Ireland.

And, okay. Paris is far away, and Ireland has its own stuff going on. But sports? Really?

I’m not actually mad at the Irish news station or anything. It’s not a big deal, probably, in the long run. They switched back to Paris as soon as there was something new to report. But it’s something I’ve been thinking about, and being bothered by, a lot lately.

The summer after my junior year of high school, I went on a class trip to Italy and Greece. And it was quite a trip. I have a lot of stories, some of which I’ve promised never to tell. But the one thing that has really stuck with me, in a quiet, insidious way, is the day we spent in Pompeii. The city itself was fantastic. But we ended our tour at the plaster casts of the people killed by the ash from Mt. Vesuvius. And people were still laughing, joking, having a good time. They took selfies with the casts.

Repeat, they took selfies with the remains of innocent people killed in a horrific tragedy two thousand years ago. And I was seventeen, and I was really shaken up about it. I’m still really shaken up about it, actually, but there were a few years there where I didn’t have much reason to think about it. And then I came to spend a semester travelling around Europe.

It started in France. We were studying poetry from World War I. Absolutely beautiful, absolutely heartbreaking. So we visited a few battlefields, a few war memorials. I walked through trenches, and I climbed down into craters left by bombs, and I thought about the poems we’d read, and how stupid and pointless the whole war had been. And people took pictures. So many pictures. Trenches, monuments, bunkers, gravestones. I didn’t. It felt weird. It felt wrong. We were walking on the ground where men had died, and we were talking and laughing like it was any other tour on any other day.

I did take one picture. The landscape around the trenches was fascinating, and I thought I might use the image as reference for a writing project or something later. But it didn’t really turn out, and I’m kind of glad. It was beautiful, but they still find bombs on that ground. I’m not sure it’s right to make it the backdrop of some fantasy.

About a week ago we were at the Titanic Museum in Belfast. And the actual museum was tasteful, tactful, and generally well done. But it shared a building with two Titanic restaurants and a Titanic gift shop. They were selling Titanic teddy bears. Hats with the name of the captain. Cheap plastic replicas of that one piece of jewelry from that movie.

“My Parents Went to the Titanic, and All They Got Me Was This T-Shirt.” Kid, be glad they got themselves back to you. There’s a Titanic studio across the street. Titanic cafes, Titanic nightclubs, guys. Everyone was freaking out, I guess because of the movie, and it was just weird.

We were in a gigantic monument to death and failure. I’m not sure the gift shop was sending an appropriate message.

So forget about the Irish newscasters. That doesn’t matter. It’s just what got me writing. Imagine people pausing, a week after 9/11, to take a selfie in the rubble. Imagine the outrage. The fact that a tragedy took place a hundred or a thousand years ago doesn’t mean that you can just stop regarding it a something worth dignity and respect. Dead bodies are not good selfie partners. A war memorial is not the place to have a photo shoot. The sinking of the Titanic does not need to be commemorated with teddy bears and bobble heads. People died here. People died. And you just photographed the gravestone because you thought the last name was spelled funny. Just stop, okay? Just stop.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Princess and the Pea

So I’ve been a little absent lately. A lot absent. Sorry. Well, a little sorry. But it’s NaNoWriMo, and I don’t have time to write anything else. So enjoy this little version of “The Princess and the Pea” that I wrote like a year ago.

            Once upon a time, there was a princess with really sensitive skin. Like, really, ridiculously sensitive. But that’s not where this story starts. This story starts with a prince who had really, ridiculously high standards. He was looking for a bride, but it was kind of slow going. No one was good enough.
            And, okay, let’s be real here—we all know the prince was short and pimply and pudgy, with gross pasty skin and terrible eyesight. He probably only got good grades in school because he was a prince, and then went around bragging to everyone about how smart he was. He probably dropped out of college because he was “smarter than all the professors.” He probably got friendzoned all the time. Maybe he wears a fedora. Yeah, let’s give the guy a fedora.
            But I digress. The prince wanted a really hot girlfriend. His mom completely backed him up on this. His dad was not in the picture.
            So one night they were just hanging out in the palace, you know, commiserating about the difficulty of finding pretty girls and all that.
            And suddenly, there was a knock.
            As there were apparently no butlers in this kingdom, the queen went to get the door. Standing outside in the rain was a damp, bedraggled, poorly dressed young woman. Instead of letting her in, the queen asked the girl, “Are you a princess?”
            “Why yes,” said the girl, “I am.”
            “Harald!” called the queen. “Come and have a look at this one.”
            The prince came to the door and thoroughly examined the princess, deciding that with some makeup and a new dress and hairstyle, she might have some potential. They permitted her to come in out of the rain, and left her dripping on the floor as they made plans to test her suitability.
            Finally, the queen went to prepare a guest room for her, while the prince showed her to the bathroom and very considerately tossed her a couple towels to dry herself off.
            When the princess, clean, dry, and just a little confused and apprehensive about this whole set up, went up to her bedroom, she found herself face to face with a mountain of mattresses. We’re talking, like, five or six hundred of the things. (I wonder what poor person had to set them all up. We’ve already established that there are no butlers here.)
            So the princess used the expandable ladder, conveniently propped up against the wall, to climb up into bed. She didn’t even question it.
            And this is where that little skin condition of hers gets to be an issue. You see—and don’t tell the princess about this—the queen had stashed one little uncooked pea beneath all of those hundreds of mattresses. The idea was that a proper, suitable princess should be really fragile, or delicate, or sensitive, or something. Who knows? We’re dealing with crazy people here. Anyway, this princess was definitely sensitive.
            Not only was she completely unable to sleep all night because of that tiny little lump six hundred layers down, but when she got up the next morning, she was actually black and blue.
            Yep.
            Well, the prince was so thrilled by this result that he proposed on the spot. And the princess, sore and sleep deprived as she was, agreed to marry the complete stranger with the weirdest sleeping habits ever, and I guess they lived happily, or something.
  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Leave Them Kids Alone

As many of you know, I am spending this fall and winter studying in Europe. Obviously, my car couldn’t come abroad with me. This means that my little brother has a car to drive for his senior year of high school. Which is great, of course, but I went with my mom to pick up the forms from his school, and it honestly made me feel a little sick.

First of all, forms? You have a license. You have a car. You drive the car into the parking lot and park it. A few hours later you drive it home again. It’s not that complicated. Why would you need paperwork?

But you know, whatever. He had to pay for a parking pass, so maybe it’s just receipts or something.

Nope. You put your parking sticker on your car. You can only drive that car. No one but you can drive that car. If your car is broken down one day so you drive your dad’s, bam. No more parking. If you’re home sick but you let a friend or a sibling take your car to school, bam. No more parking.

No picking people up or dropping them off at the door, never mind that parents and school buses do that every day. No loitering in the parking lot. No leaving in your car, under any circumstances, during school hours. You got a dentist appointment? Your parents are at work and your little brother needs to go home sick? You just finished literally puking your guts out, your parents are at a retreat up north for the weekend, and you need to go home sick? Too bad. Say goodbye to that parking spot, kid. And say bye to your locker and your friends while you’re at it—you just might get expelled.

This is what I hate—what I have always hated—about schools. When I was in fifth grade, one of the boys decided to decorate the bathroom. For the rest of the year, any time a kid wanted to pee, he had to bring along a teacher to supervise. When I was in eighth grade, all the teachers defaulted to considering us bad kids, because eighth grade had been a rough year for the class above us. When I was in ninth grade, you could get expelled, and possibly arrested, for bringing in a plastic butter knife. My high school used to have microwaves, but we all lost them because a couple kids left messes in them.

So here’s a helpful tip for all you educators out there: Students, kids? We are human beings. We are smaller and less experienced than you, but we are all complex individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and if you think you can invalidate that by treating us like one collective mass of mindless mess-makers, honey, you are in the wrong business. Go work at a zoo or something.

Two forms of discipline that have never once been actually successful: 1) Punishing an entire group for the crimes of a few. 2) Rewarding one person for doing something that everyone else is expected to do every day.

These are both things that schools thrive on. Three kids don’t do their homework? Whole class has extra reading tonight. Once I had a teacher who told us we didn’t have to turn any homework in until the end of the semester. The one time I actually put my work off, having been told it was okay, everyone else had the same idea for that assignment, and suddenly it wasn’t okay anymore. She singled me out, and she made me cry. One kid never does his homework? Offer him a nice dinner or something from the vending machine, and he might come through for once. But the people who always do their homework? We get nothing, except maybe yelled at for one little failure. I missed one assignment between sixth and twelfth grade. The guy across from me finished one. So where’s my free ice cream, huh?

Schools don’t treat students like people. Not usually. They only notice us if we do something spectacular, whether it’s good or bad. And if it’s good you get singled out, maybe, but if it’s bad you’re all lumped together, and everyone suffers. So you know what? Run through the hallways. Scream at the top of your lungs. Homework? Forget about it. Go ahead and decorate the bathroom however you like, and leave all your food in the running microwave until it explodes. I mean, why not? If you’re getting punished either way, you might as well have some fun first.

Okay, don’t do that. But seriously. If you’re an adult in a position of authority, especially over children, let them commit the crime before you make them do the time. If people are going to get blamed for something no matter what, they’re gonna be a lot more inclined to actually do the thing. And we’re children, not terrorists. Just chill, okay? If you don’t treat me like a monkey, I won’t throw poop in the bathrooms. If you stop rewarding kids for rare displays of homework, I’ll stop doing mine so rarely. I’m not going to slit your throat with plastic cutlery, and who on earth is going to suffer if I drive my mom’s car to school one morning?


I’m a person. My needs are just as important as yours, and my thoughts are just as valid. But if you want to treat me like some kind of chaos demon, you can bet I’m going to retaliate by acting like one. Sometimes I think teachers get so caught up in things that they forget they’re dealing with fellow human beings. Don’t forget that, okay? Because I’m really sick of seeing kids treated like prisoners instead of students. Don’t treat us like that. Please.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sleeping Beauty Part II: The Other Woman

Note: This blog post is about the second half of Sun, Moon, and Talia, an Italian version of Sleeping Beauty. You can read about the first half here.

You are a queen. You have no children. And what is a queen good for, if she’s not producing heirs?

Your husband travels a lot, these days. You see him seldom. After all, what could he be expected to do with you, as useless as you’ve proven to be?

You used to love each other, you think. Things were better than this, at least. But you are too old now for children; even if you had been useful in your youth, it would all be over now.

One day your husband returns, after a journey of many months, with a young girl and two infants in tow. The children have his eyes, his nose, and the girl is a child, fifteen at most. She is small and frightened and confused, but she looks at your husband like he hangs the moon.

You could feel pity for the child. You should, perhaps. She still has baby fat of her own, as well as the lingering traces of the pregnancy. You ask her how it happened, between her and your husband. She tells you she doesn’t know, she was asleep at the time.

You should feel pity.

But you have lived too many years alone, and this is not the first time your husband has chased after children to give him what you can’t. And this one, this one he brought into your home, sat her across the dinner table like it was nothing, her own gorgeous suite of rooms, a thousand beautiful jewels and dresses. All the things he gave you when you were young, as if you were not still here to stand by his side. He leaves your marriage bed cold to visit her every night. You should feel pity. Instead you feel anger. Instead you feel fear.

Perhaps you go mad. Women in your position often do; stories of it date back to the Greek tragedies. Perhaps you go mad. Perhaps you are simply evil. Certainly you are jealous. And this is Sleeping Beauty’s story—there is no room for you as anyone but the villain.

You decide to boil the children, and feed them to their father for dinner. (All right, so you’ve probably gone mad.) The cook is kinder, saner, less invested in this drama than you are. He hides the babies away, and serves your husband lamb.

For the girl herself, sleeping little girl who stole your husband’s heart, and your whole life along with it—for the little girl you take matters into your own hands. The water boils. The child screams. Foolish, selfish girl, her children have been missing for days, but it is only now, as the heat rises around her, that she thinks to be afraid. She screams; your husband comes running.

You burn. You boil. You die. Perhaps the little girl eats you, as you intended to eat her. You don’t know; you’re dead.

You’re dead. You’re dead, and your husband marries the little girl. He raises a family with her. She’ll live happily ever after, perhaps. She doesn’t know any better.

More likely, ten years from now, her husband will bring home another pretty child to replace her.

You burn, you boil, you die. She marries the man who raped her, because what else does she know to do? At least this one can bear children to keep him happy.


You die. It isn’t fair. None of it is fair.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fanfic and Folklore

I like folklore. You’ve probably already noticed that.

What you may not have noticed, because it’s never really come up so far, if that I also love fanfiction. Fanfiction, you ask? That stupid thing teenage girls do where they write stories about their favorite TV shows so they can make things go exactly the way they want?

Yeah. That thing.

We’ll talk more about the stupid teenage girl angle later. For now you may be wondering why I opened with the folklore.

Well, they’re basically the same thing.

Here’s why I like folklore: it’s all about the idea of the collective story. Story as a conversation, a huge one, between all the thousands of people, over all the thousands of years, who have ever had anything to do with it. When I sit down to read a “Beauty and the Beast” picture book to my cousin, I’m not just communicating with her, or even just with her and the author and illustrator of this particular book. It connects me to Madame Villeneuve, who wrote the book that led to the story in this picture book. It connects me to Madame Beaumont, who adapted that book into something more recognizable today. It connects me to Robin McKinley, who’s written two beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” retellings, and to Disney, the influence of which is inescapable. It connects me to the other French writers who influenced both Villeneuve and Beaumont, to dozens of people who recorded similar fairy tales, to the people they heard those tales from, and to the people those people heard them from.

Stories work differently, now that most of the oral traditions have been written down. They tend to belong to people now. And that’s fine. It’s great. I write a lot; I understand how connected you can get to the characters you make up, how uncomfortable it might be to see another writer making them do something you know they never would. It’s why, when I’m reading fanfiction, I tend to focus on fic from TV shows rather than novels, or at least novels that have become a part of the collective consciousness, like L Frank Baum’s Oz books. I know people have strong feelings about it, and I try to be respectful. But when the author is cool with it, or long dead, or when the story is already a collaboration between several writers, as in the case of movies, TV shows, etc., fanfic is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful thing.

Let’s take the show Supernatural, for example. You start off with a show that’s already based on myth, religion, folklore, and urban legends from a wide variety of cultures. We don’t even have to talk about the Supernatural fans: the show itself is already fanfic. But let’s talk about those fans anyway. They write their fic. A whole lot of fic. Now this particular fandom is especially useful in this conversation for two reasons. Firstly, it’s very vibrant and active, and contains a lot of great writers who are influencing each other. You can actually find fanfiction of fanfiction of the show. Secondly, it’s very vibrant and active while the show is still running. Fanfic and fandom have, on multiple occasions, been incorporated into the show itself—basically the writers writing fanfic of the fandom. And then people write fic for those episodes, and you end up with fanfic of the fanfic of the fanfic. I think. Admittedly I’ve gotten a little lost at this point.

What it comes down to is this: people hear a story. They tell others that story, but they change it a little. Make it their own. Someone hears their version of the story, and changes that version a little to make it their own. And it goes on and on. Maybe someone who had a hand in an earlier version comes across a more recent one, and changes that one a little, too. And people see that, compare the two versions the one author touched, and notice new things about the story. Things they want to emphasize or eliminate, things that will influence them the next time they tell the story. And everyone has had a chance to make the story their own. So in the end it belongs to everyone.

That’s what folklore is. That’s why I love folklore, aside from the talking animals and people in pretty clothes. And that’s why I love fanfiction. It fills a role in our society that would otherwise have faded away. It turns stories into conversations again.



(Stay tuned for a rant on public opinion of a)fanfic, and b)teenage girls, coming soon to a blog near you.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Snow White

Here is the German version of Snow White. She is seven. She is seven, her mother dead, her stepmother cruel, her father gone or indifferent. She is seven, and she is the fairest in all the land.

This suggests things rather disturbing—is it a kingdom full of perverts? The unspeakably ugly? Why would a woman grown have such jealously for the beauty of a child?

But jealously she has, and plenty of it, enough to send the child fleeing into the woods, turning to seven strangers for protection. And is it any wonder, then, that she welcomes to her door, three times, a kindly old woman with death in her hand basket?

She is a child home alone. She learned to read last year, perhaps. She has already found kindness in seven men who gave her a home; why not in three women who give her gifts, as well? No one claimed she was a bright girl, only pretty.

And why, after near misses with the belt and the comb, would the dwarves leave her alone to accept the apple?

Here is the German version. She bites the apple. She dies. One day a prince comes. He does not kiss her—thank God for small mercies—he does not kiss the little girl. He has her carried away to his home.

Here is the Italian version. He has her carried away to his home. She is not seven now, or we are not told that she is. She is carried to his home and carried to his bedroom.

He calls her his wife, this little girl, this beautiful corpse, this stiff and quickly rotting blow-up doll. He calls her his wife.

Now dead bodies, they smell. This is not Sleeping Beauty, remember. It is not an endless nap but death. And dead bodies, they smell. So. You have met the stepmother. Now see the second villain of the piece, this wicked, wicked woman, the mother-in-law to a rotting pile of once-lovely flesh.

“Son,” she says, “this is creepy.”

“Son,” she says, “the dead belong in the graveyard, not the bed.”

“Son,” she says, “Ew.”

And this horrid, dreadful, unreasonable woman, on a day when the prince is gone, has the body carted out to the garden, or tries to. The girl is moved; the apple is dislodged; the girl is revived. A miracle. She and the prince are married the next day. She and the prince live happily ever after.

We could talk about the German pedophilia. We could talk about the Italian necrophilia. We could talk about the international insistence that the woman who opposes any prince, however unreasonable he may be, is always, always the bad guy. We could talk about a lot of things. Honestly, I don’t know where to start.

So let’s start here. Snow White is seven in the German version. This is one of only two fairy tales I have ever read that gives a specific age for the princess. The other is Sleeping Beauty, which varies from fourteen to sixteen, depending on the country of origin. Snow White is one of only two stories, and Snow White is seven. It doesn’t, in context, seem all that peculiar.

So let’s talk about age. That’s always fun. Let’s talk about children forced into a sexualized femininity they are in no way prepared for. Let’s talk about women who cease to be women when they get too old—women who become nothing but mothers, and consequently the villains opposing heroic sons—women who cling desperately to their youthful beauty because it is all they have. Let’s talk about age.

Or let’s talk about the necrophilia. Why not? I said there was a difference between sleep and death, but really, beyond the ew factor, does it matter? Either way you’ve got your little human sex toy, something you can pull into bed and play with for months before she can even think to complain, and, well, it’s too late then, isn’t it? She’s yours now, one way or another. Who else, especially in that culture, would have her?

And let’s talk about how age and necrophilia are really the same thing here, how they’re both all about women—or little girls—as objects. You have to be sexy the minute you’re born. And you stop mattering the moment you’re not. If you’re not a limp dead doll for Prince Charming to play with, well. You’re still only there for him to look at.

And this isn’t entirely fair, as far as ways to view the world go. Sorry—I’m mad today. Mostly things are a lot better than necrophiliac pedophiles. But sometimes you read fairy tales, and you expect something beautiful—I should know by now what not to expect in fairy tales—and instead you get handsome princes in bed with dead seven year olds. And I know I’m mixing versions of the story. Whatever. The point is, you try to read a fairy story and you get this crap, and then you go outside and get looked carefully up and down by a middle aged man slowly driving a Porsche past, and you’re exhausted and slightly ill in your sweatshirt and baggy jeans, and you just feel like you’re never going to be more than a pretty body, dead or alive. And then you feel like if you ever are more, maybe it’ll just be worse.

And we don’t quite sexualize second graders yet (although you should read some things that have been written on the subject of school dress codes), but we shouldn’t be doing it to thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year olds either. And there shouldn’t, ever, be a society where it’s so important to be beautiful that killing the opposition occurs to you as a solution. But people have to be pretty, or they’re not worth much. And it’s scary. I wouldn’t kill for it, but it’s scary.

So I don’t know what to say, really. I’m angry. Of course—that’s kind of the whole point of this series. But it’s a sort of vague, directionless anger, and I don’t know how to do anything about it, besides sitting here letting it build. So.  I’m angry. Let’s leave it at that.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Moneylenders in the Temple

I’ve never understood the thing where big ancient churches hang signs on the door demanding silence. Or the ones that kick you out if you’re not wearing the right kind of clothes.

Seriously, guys, the Vatican was cool, but after they check your passport and your purse, they check your skirt length.

Church has always been loud for me. Faith is loud, just slightly discordant singing, kids shrieking and laughing in the background. The fights you get into with your friends between Sunday school and service, the boys who throw balls that get stuck on the roof. It’s arguments about set lists and your dad downstairs rehearsing his sermon. It’s puppet shows in the morning, a teenage girl trying to be a middle-aged cowboy. Little kids sticking Bible stories on flannel boards, the littler ones crying in the background. Church has been a lot of things. It’s never been silent.

Notre Dame is beautiful. You can light a candle for five euro. For one or two, you can have a penny stamped to look like the pope. Maybe it’s exactly what some people need. I saw them praying there.

And Canterbury, well, that was an amazing place. All those artifacts, all that history. The restaurant and the gift shop right between the front door and the back pew.

They’re incredible. But I can’t find God beneath those high ceilings.

Faith is dying in Europe. That’s what they say. I guess I wouldn’t have much faith either, if my church was mostly a museum. And it’s not fair, maybe, to be so judgmental about it. People worship in different ways. But I don’t like to walk out of a church feeling empty, and if they spent less money on maintaining their stained glass, they could spend more on helping people in need.

It’s pretty, sure. But the first church I remember was held in a Jazzercise, and windows or not, it was just as good as Notre Dame.

Faith is dying in college. They say that too. Or high school. Well, as a college student, I can tell you one of the reasons why.

We’re passionate, in our teens and twenties. Full of hope and anger and righteous indignation. We want to change the world. We want to save it. And all through our childhoods we’ve talked about the church, and how it does that. When you’re twenty one, you just want everything to be fair. You want to help people. So you walk in on Sunday morning ready to give to the poor, feed the hungry, defend the defenseless. And then you find out all they want to do with the money you’re giving is install a new bell tower?

No wonder we’re leaving in droves.

And there have been books written—so many books, and I’ve read them all—about how to keep young people in the church. Well, here’s how you do it, guys: Stop selling overpriced crepes and pope dolls in the foyer, and start actually living like Jesus did.  


I’ll post all my pictures of the cathedral on Facebook, but give me a church in a closed down factory, any day.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rapunzel

I’ve read a lot of Rapunzel stories, a lot of times. I can’t tell you when I really grasped the events leading to Rapunzel getting booted out of the tower and having babies in the desert, but I can tell you I was mad. I’m still mad. I’m more than mad. I am deeply, profoundly disturbed. And I’m terrified.
Imagine you’re a little girl, growing up in complete seclusion. You have a mother. That’s it. No friends. Certainly no men in your life. You live by yourself in a tower.
Imagine how innocent you’d be. How unprepared for the real world. I can’t tell you how old Rapunzel is, but given her isolated upbringing, let’s at least say she’s a bit young for her age.
You’re a lonely little girl. A beautiful man appears at your window. What do you do?
“I love you,” he says. “Sleep with me,” he says. “I want to marry you,” he says, “but I don’t know how to get a priest up here.”
So what do you do?
You sleep with him.
What do you know about sex? You’ve never even seen a guy before. He says people do this, says it means you love each other. And what do you know about love, for that matter? But why not? He says it’s normal. You haven’t learned, yet, not to trust people. The woman who kidnapped you never really talked about stranger danger.
There are many versions of Rapunzel. Plenty are beautiful stories. But I don’t care about those right now. Right now, I’m telling you a story of statutory rape.
I didn’t grow up in a tower, but I have been innocent, too. I don’t understand how people can do this.
I have told this version of the story many times. I have been funny, sarcastic. I have turned this nightmare into a joke to hide from the things that scare me. But tonight I have nothing amusing to say. Tonight I am only bitter.
Children trust beautiful men who tell them they love them. Children have more children, and don’t understand.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. The world sucks. People take advantage of each other. People take things from little girls and boys who didn’t even know they had them to give.
I can’t do this. I really can’t. I don’t know what to say. 
This, maybe: For the grown up Rapunzels, you’re allowed to forgive. You’re allowed not to, too. But know what you’re forgiving, if you do. You do not have the magic tears to heal the blindness of a man who can’t see what he did to you was wrong. You can’t heal people, you can’t fix them, you can’t transform them with your love. Sorry. Maybe, in his blind journeys, the prince will learn some things. But this is Rapunzel, not Beauty and the Beast, and you can’t teach him not to be a monster.
For the ones still safe in their towers: Don’t let strangers climb your hair. Tell your mother of your guests before your clothes grow too small.
And for Mother Gothel: Don’t keep your child locked up in a tower. It isn’t safe. Sooner or later, the real world will find Rapunzel, and it’s only more painful that way.
I’m angry. I’m so angry, and I don’t know where to go from here. Rapunzel was just a girl. She gave up everything—her youth, her home, her family, everything—without ever knowing that there was even a risk. The charming prince hurt her. He took things he had no right to. He destroyed her life. And by the end of the story, she still doesn’t realize how much he hurt her. He has left her with nothing else in the world, so she can only stay and trust him.
I have seen Rapunzel too many times in real life.


Awesome People Are Reading My Writing And They Have Nice Things To Say (I'm So Excited I Might Die)

On the off chance that you have somehow managed to get this far in life without hearing about the awesomeness of Tales of Faerie, you should definitely get on that asap, but in the meantime you should just know that it's a magnificent blog about fairy tales, which I have been totally in love with since sometime in high school.

Now, this happened way back in May, before I was even on Blogspot, but I didn't notice at the time because I was too busy taking finals, and then helping Io with Beast (Buy Iona Gale's awesome book here!).

But, anyway, she talked about me. Kristin, the awesome amazing wonderful lady who runs my favorite blog ever, wrote a blog post about my blog post about "Beauty and the Beast," and she said nice things about my blog (the old one on Tumblr), and basically this is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me. Like, okay, I'm a published poet and I'm currently studying abroad in Paris. Those are fantastic exciting things. But I don't even care right now, because Kristin talked about me on Tales of Faerie.

You can read it here!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Beauty and the Beast

We all talk a lot about Beauty and the Beast—especially me. Of all the fairy tales I’m obsessed with, this has always been my favorite. And right now, I think the Beast is an excellent way to continue this discussion on rape.
What do you know about him, you who grew up on Disney?
The Beast was a jerk, right? He was mean to some fairy, so she turned him into a monster as a well-deserved punishment.
My favorite version of this story is La Belle et le Bete, a novella by a Madame Villeneuve. It’s the version of this story type that our current version is most directly descended from. And it doesn’t focus a lot on this aspect of things, but here is what I have always taken away from this story:
The Beast is the victim.
He’s young. Young enough that he can’t be left home alone when his mother the queen goes off to war. So they leave him with a fairy woman.
The fairy falls in love. The Beast—future Beast—doesn’t feel the same way. That—not wanting a romantic relationship with his guardian—that is what he’s being punished for.
So we’ve got a young man, sexually harassed, at the very least, by a woman he trusted to take care of him. He gets tossed into some new body, monstrous and unfamiliar. But wait!
There’s more. Part of the spell is that he must seem as stupid as he is hideous. You’ve got this child, abused, tortured, transformed, and not even able to properly express himself—able to think just as he normally does, but unable to express those thoughts, unable to communicate effectively, unable to even let the Beauty get to know him as he really is.
I’ve read a lot of weird, intense, depressing fairy tales, but I’ve never encountered a character I felt more sympathy for than the Beast.
Now, let’s talk about what we’ve done to this story over the years, and what it says about us as a society.
This awful thing that happened to the Beast was his own fault, naturally. A very young man is sexually abused, essentially, by an older woman who is supposed to be taking care of him, and we change this into the story of an unpleasant young man being justly punished by a good woman. And then—then we do the exact same thing Beauty spent the entire story learning not to do. We immediately assume that ugliness of body must signify ugliness of spirit, and we adjust the story accordingly.
This is meant to be a story about a girl learning to see past appearances—about Beauty becoming a better person. Instead it’s become the exact opposite—Beauty helping the Beast to become better. It’s a redemption story now. The Beast never needed to be redeemed. He needed to be rescued.
I love Beauty and the Beast, in all its versions. I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with the version we tell now. It’s a good story, if a different one. What I am saying is that the way the story has changed over the years can be connected in interesting ways to how we handle the issues it contains in real life.
How many times have you heard the words “Men can’t be raped?” We have this bizarre inability to accept the idea of the guy as the victim in any situation. Anyone who gets raped, our society tends toward the mindset of “They deserved it.” Or we pretend it didn’t happen. And in the meantime, we’ve got all these people suffering the way the poor Beast does.
Imagine how traumatized he must have been. Imagine going through that, and having everyone siding with the evil fairy, everyone saying you deserved it, everyone assuming that because you’re big and ugly, you couldn’t possibly have been a victim here, and in fact, you were probably the perpetrator.
Let’s think less about magic flowers, and more about the incredible abuses of power at play here. The Beast is magnificent. And so many people are going through the real-life equivalent of his problems. We need more Beauties to see the worth in the people we push off to the side. No one real should ever have to suffer like the Beast.    

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hecuba

Hecuba. Hecuba. Hecuba. Mother, captive, queen. I don’t know what to say about her, but I know that something must be said. So we interrupt our scheduled programming to talk about last night, when I saw Euripides performed in Stratford-upon-Avon. There will be time for Sexual Abuse in Folk Traditions another day. And tomorrow, of course, we see Shakespeare, but how, even here, could it possibly compare to the beauty of Hecuba?

Don’t get me wrong; Shakespeare is great. But Euripides, guys. I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to see a Greek tragedy on stage. And technically, I guess I didn’t. It was all rewritten, perspectives shifted, a new and different story. But Euripides was there. And Hecuba. Hecuba. I have no words for her, or none I can think of now. Fortunately, there’s an entire blog to be spent searching for them.

I have always had a soft spot for the women of Greek tragedy. I have risen to their defense, every time, no matter how little there was to be said, since the first time I read Sophocles.

Medea, well, there’s not much wiggle room there. She did what she did, and it was an awful thing to do. But oh, how she must have paid for it after, when she saw what she’d done in her madness. Medea, sacrificing everything she had for Jason, Medea, rejected and abandoned, Medea, alone with the blood of her sons on her hands. Medea.  Antigone, poor Antigone, always in the right, and always doomed to fail.

And how I fought for Clytemnestra. Her daughter dead, her husband gone for ten years, fighting for another woman, returning with another and the two children she’d born him. I would have killed him too. Agamemnon, that monster, so many words to describe him that I dare not type—I know my grandparents will be reading this post. I have seen a thousand-thousand portrayals of Agamemnon, that killer of daughters, that killer of nations, that monster disguised as a man. A thousand-thousand portrayals, and never once have I felt an ounce of sympathy.

In Hecuba I did. In Hecuba I saw him slaughter children, and for his sake—for his sake as well as theirs—I nearly cried. Agamemnon, a man in an impossible situation, the blood of his daughter still wet on his hands, Agamemnon, fighting only to survive the war, Agamemnon fighting harder for the trust of his troops than the gold of the Trojans. Agamemnon, eternally alone, the ghosts of little girls and boys to haunt his nights, and nothing but death awaits him in his longed-for home. For this monster I could have wept.

Cassandra, the girl who bore him those two children, the un-believed prophetess, the Trojan princess who foresaw the end, Cassandra was perhaps the greatest feat of the show. Bitter and angry in modern dress, a beautiful anachronism on the Grecian stage. I had never imagined her portrayed like this, but the classical character, always set apart from the world by her gift and her curse—of course she was bitter, un-trusted, unloved. She could never belong with the rest of them, never fit in with anyone of her world. Her presence on the stage was jarring, disconcerting, utterly perfect.

And Hecuba, Hecuba, the woman herself, her husband and her sons all dead, sitting on his throne with weeping girls around her, holding his head in her hands. There were few props in the performance, but that head, oh, I could see it, though she held only air.

You may have read the original play by Euripides—I have not, though I was given a detailed summary. That is a story of the Greeks, the victors. This was a story of Troy. In the original Hecuba goes mad after the death of her last and youngest son, blinds a man, kills his sons in turn.

This Hecuba did not. She was anger and agony and mercy, fighting fiercely for her children’s lives, failing, yielding, ultimately, with dignity and grace. She died still a queen.

I have another two months now to spend traveling across Europe. We leave the day after tomorrow. But if it were up to me, I think I would just stay here, watching every performance of Hecuba until it ended.



(Also, it was my birthday, and oh my goodness, what an amazing way to spend it. Twenty-three, you have a tough act to follow.)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Genie

Sleeping Beauty

Let’s talk about Sleeping Beauty. No, let’s talk about Talia. “Sun, Moon, and Talia,” published in Giovanni Batiste Basile’s Il Pentamerone. Let’s talk about consent. Let’s talk about all the little girls who never had the chance to say no.
I could write an analytic paper about all the themes and elements in this story. I could get cute and ranty and give you a snarky list of reasons why it pisses me off. But I’m too upset, right now, for that kind of rant, so let’s skip straight to the part where the story gets interesting.
It doesn’t say how old Talia was when her story begins. Let’s assume that she’s a child. An unmarried Italian princess from a story recorded in the 1600s? Let’s go ahead and assume she’s a little girl. Let’s say fourteen. That’s how old I was, the first time I read this story. I was innocent at fourteen. Naïve. Clueless. More innocent than most fourteen year olds ever get the chance to be. I read this story three times before I realized it was about rape.
She falls asleep. Talia falls asleep, like Sleeping Beauty does, and she wakes up a mother.
Let’s talk about the kind of despicable person who does this kind of despicable thing to some defenseless girl.
He was a king. He was married. He found a comatose child in the woods and had his way with her.
He went home and forgot about her, and she woke to find herself utterly alone with two infants. It was several months before he thought to stop by and check in on his human blow up doll again, and when he found her awake, he took her home.
I could talk a lot about how this scumbag’s poor wife is the villain of the piece, but let’s save that for another day. All you need to know is that she dies in the end, and Talia marries the king and, of course, lives happily ever after.
Let’s talk about young women being manipulated by older men. Let’s talk about the number of girls who were raped while unconscious last year. Let’s talk about the number of girls who were raped, period.
Let’s talk about the number of viral videos the rapists have made about it.
Let’s talk about how children, who have been hurt in one of the worst ways imaginable, who have been violated in the cruelest possible way, are afraid to tell people what happened. Let’s talk about how many real life Talias have been blamed for waking up with two children, and let’s talk about how many of them would go home with the king because they’re afraid to do anything else.
Let’s talk about how this story, in which the rapist gets to live happily ever after with his victim, is four hundred years old. Four. Hundred. Years. Kingdoms have risen and fallen. We’ve gone through slavery, and suffrage, and we’ve done all these things that are supposed to make the world better—we have made the world better, in some ways, but something that was acceptable in fiction four hundred years ago still happens in real life, like it’s no big deal, every single day.
Lives are destroyed. People are hurt in so many ways, people lose their agency, people get pregnant and get STDs, and no one cares enough to stop it.
Newsflash: when the newspaper reads like seventeenth century Italy, you’re doing something wrong.
I will defend fairy tales to the death, but I won’t pretend they don’t have issues. So let’s take this opportunity to learn something. Forget about the monsters. Kill Prince Charming.
This isn’t a fairy tale. This is real life. And the rapist lives happily ever after in both.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sexual Abuse in Folk Traditions

I’m writing this from Manchester. For those of you who don’t know, I am currently studying abroad, and it’s awesome. But last night, I ended up going out for dinner alone, because I’m spacey and lose track of people. I walked back to our hotel alone, in the dark. Manchester is the largest city I’ve ever been alone at night in, and I wasn’t scared. Not really. But I think I should have been.

I texted one of my friends before I left the restaurant. The gist of the message was “Help I don’t know how to use my pepper spray and I have a pocket knife but I can only cut to kill.” My friend thought that kill shots were acceptable if I was under attack, but I just didn’t know where the American Embassy was if I ran into complications.

Anyway. I wasn’t really in danger last night. I’ve never really been in danger. But a lot of girls—a lot of people—are. And it sucks, and it makes me really, really angry. So I think right now is a good time to introduce the series I’ll be doing over the next couple weeks: Sexual Abuse in Folk Traditions.  These are all, or mostly, essays that have been published on Tumblr before, but I think it’s a topic worth revisiting. The next three posts, maybe more, are going to be about the seriously creepy stuff that happens in some versions of popular fairy tales, and how I think it pertains to our culture now.

ionalottabookmarks:

iowriteswords:

ionalottabookmarks:

My cover is finished!!!!!!!

It’s coming soon!

Thought I’d bring this back. When I say it’s coming soon, this time I actually mean it.

konglindorm: Thank you so much for helping me with this, Jenny!

The reason I’m telling you about this in advance is my friend Io. Iona Gale wrote and created a cover for a collection of short stories called Beast and Other Stories, which I helped to format, design, and publish. This book will be released on October 1st, and it’s got some fairly dark stories in it. For the title story, especially, Io was inspired by the same version of Beauty and the Beast that I’ll be talking about on this blog.

So this upcoming series is advertisement for her, too. And I want to make sure you know about it, but I’m not going to talk about it on these posts, because I don’t want to take away from the seriousness of these topics. Just remember, as you read, that Io is working with the same issues, just more fictionally.


You can find out more about her book here, and the Kindle edition is available for pre-order now. You can also visit her general blog and her writing blog.   

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Golden Root

All right. I'm in Scotland right now, so enjoy an old summary with commentary on one of my least favorite fairy tales!

Last Christmas I was given Il Pentamerone, by Giovanni Batiste Basile (also called Giambattista Basile—I swear this man has a different name in every edition). This is the collection of fairy tales that contains the infamous story where Sleeping Beauty gets raped. So right away you know it’s gonna be interesting, at least. (The weird part is that I asked for this book.)
But Sleeping Beauty is old news. Let’s talk about The Golden Root. No one knows about it, and it is definitely worth knowing.
The Golden Root actually shows up immediately after Sun, Moon, and Talia (Sleeping Beauty). Fourth Diversion, Fifth Day. (Il Pentamerone has a frame narrative. Kind of like The Arabian Nights. There’s this group of ten people telling stories to this pregnant girl. Each person tells her one story every day for five days. The guy who got this girl pregnant is supposed to be with another girl who’s one of the storytellers. The pregnant girl is black. Remember that. That’s important. The black girl stole some other girl’s charming prince and then got pregnant.)
So The Golden Root starts with this girl, Parmetella, the third daughter of a poor gardener. Parm takes her pig out to the forest because her sisters are taking their pigs to the pasture, and they won’t let her come. But in the forest she finds a really cool pasture ground, and a tree with golden leaves. She takes these leaves home to her father every night, until the tree is bare. Then she notices that the tree also has a golden root, so she goes home for an axe, then she chops it off and pulls it away from the tree.
Under the root there’s a staircase. Parm goes down the staircase, finds a palace, and meets a black guy. (Again, this is important. Remember this.) The black guy proposes, and she says yes, and they take a flying carriage to a different palace.
Then we get a whole bunch of weird euphemisms. Like, really weird. He cards her wool, but he doesn’t comb it. He sucks the first egg of the beauteous chicken. Anyway, basically they sleep together, but first he makes her put out the lights. Then, when she can’t see him, he becomes a handsome youth.
So what we have here, basically, is the specific type of Enchanted Bridegroom story that I like to call “Only Hot When You Can’t See Them.” Think Cupid and Psyche, East of the Sun West of the Moon.
And then think about how when the prince in East of the Sun West of the Moon wasn’t hot, he was a POLAR BEAR. Think about Enchanted Bridegroom stories. Think about Beauty and the Beast.
And now, remember that during the day he was a black guy.
Someone cursed him to be black. His Beast form is a black guy. Like turning a guy black is the same kind of thing as turning him into a polar bear.
Now remember how the pregnant girl who stole someone else’s boyfriend in the frame story was black, too? Also, a whole bunch of girls in other stories, evil stepsisters and evil boyfriend-stealing servants, rotten girls who take everything from the innocent heroine—they’re black too. All of the black girls are evil. I can’t remember if there are other black guys, but this one is playing the Beast in our enchanted bridegroom story.
Now sometimes I misunderstand these things, but this is racist, right? Like, really, really racist? Because I read this book for the first time when I was thirteenish, and even more clueless than I am now, and I didn’t even notice, that first time, that Sleeping Beauty was getting raped. But this I noticed right away. Like seriously, Basile, dude, what is your problem?
Anyway. Back to the story. Parm, of course, is curious about who or what she’s sleeping with. So she lights a candle and sees how incredibly hot and white he is, and then he wakes up. He wakes up and begins to curse and swear, and this is my favorite moment, this is the one moment that’s actually good, as opposed to so-messed-up-it’s-kinda-funny, because if I’d been this close to being uncursed, and some dumb girl did that thing I’d specifically told her not to, I would totally be swearing. I would be so incredibly pissed at her. You never see Cupid or the polar bear getting mad.
When he’s done swearing, Hot Guy tells Parm that he’s gotta be a black guy for another seven years now, and then he takes off. Parm goes outside and meets a fairy, who tells her to find seven girls on a roof, then gives her a bunch of presents that’ll keep them from hurting her.
She finds the girls. She also finds out they’re Hot Guy’s sisters, and then meets their mom, who is inexplicably an ogre. No word on why Hot Guy is not an ogre. But they’re all pissed at her, because Hot Guy is black, and they can’t hurt her because of the fairy, and somehow she ends up sort of working for them.
Ogre Mom gives Parm some impossible chores. Hot Guy (who is no longer black, so those seven years sure went fast) yells about how stupid she is and then helps her. Also, we find out his name. Hot Guy=Thunder-and-Lightning.
Ogre Mom is pissed about this, and sends Parm to get something from her sister. The sister is also an ogre, and the fairy did nothing to protect Parm from her. So Parm goes, not knowing that it’s a trap, and Thunder finds her. Because apparently just not going to see the crazy ogre lady is not an option, nor is sending Thunder in her place, he tells her how to escape after she gets there. This is very complicated and has several steps, but basically what it comes down to is “Throw her baby in the oven, grab Mom’s box, and run.”
That’s right. He tells her to bake his baby cousin. Don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter, it’s just an ogre’s kid.
Um, Thunder? Last time I checked, you were also an ogre’s kid.
So Parm murders the baby, opens the box, gets rescued and yelled at by Thunder, and delivers the box to Ogre Mom. Then it’s time for Thunder to get married.
His bride is an ogre, too. I’m still wondering why he’s not an ogre, but whatever. They have the wedding. They have the reception. Thunder sits between Parm and Ogre Bride. Thunder’s a little drunk by now, and he’s shamelessly flirting with Parm, right there in front of his new wife. It’s kinda the first time he’s been nice to her since he was black.
Thunder wants Parm to kiss him. Parm is like, “Dude, you just married that girl over there. Like, five minutes ago. I’m not kissing you.” But Ogre Bride says, “Oh, just go ahead and kiss him. He’s really hot. Once I kissed a shepherd who gave me two chestnuts.”
Ogre Mom and the sisters take off, so then it’s just Thunder, Parm, and Ogre Bride, and Thunder’s whining some more about how Parm won’t kiss him, and Ogre Bride says the same thing again.
Thunder flips out. He slits her throat, buries her in the cellar, and gets with Parm, who, oddly enough, has no problem sleeping with a homicidal maniac who killed his last wife on their wedding day, literally half an hour ago.
Also, he calls her an “ass of honour.”
When Ogre Mom finds out what happened, she’s pissed. She goes to see her sister, but after Parm murdered her baby, the sister threw herself into the oven, too. Ogre Mom is so upset by this development that she turns into a ram and headbutts the wall until her skull cracks. Then Parm and Thunder and his sisters live happily ever after. Racism, infanticide, weird double standards, alarmingly unbalanced relationships, this story just has everything. So if you’re ever looking for a new fairy tale to read—
Actually, you should probably just stick with King Thrushbeard or something. At least no one dies.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Selfie

People my age get a lot of flack for things like taking selfies. Selfies. Like seriously, why? No one complained about all the self portraits in the Renaissance.



There are few honors greater than that of being immortalized in art. And immortalizing yourself is, sometimes, even better.

I take a lot of selfies. And I don’t always look better in the selfies than I do in pictures taken by friends and family, but I still like them better. I currently have twelve paintings and four sculptures of myself in the house. And don’t even get me started on the sketchbooks.

Art is powerful. No one denies that, and historically, no one has questioned the specific art of self portraits. Is it just because it’s so quick and easy that it’s seen as vain and self centered?

If you make yourself into a piece of art—with a camera phone or with oil paints—you’re forced to see yourself as a piece of art. My reasons for the selfies are the exact opposite of vanity. I figure, if I make myself into art often enough, sooner or later, it’ll have to sink in that I have some worth.

This past spring, I found a new medium for my self portraits. Poetry. Words have always been easier for me than paint, anyway. So I’m finding new ways to see myself, good and bad.

I’m an avalanche—that’s the main one, and the title of the book that all of these poems are in. I’ve always found that a really powerful image. A mountain is crumbling, falling apart, but it wreaks all kinds of havoc on the way down. So weak and so strong at the same time.

I just came out of a really difficult period in my life, and I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through it without my self portraits, in all forms.

So take selfies. Take them when you feel pretty. Take them when you feel gross. Smile. Make weird faces. Post them on the internet, keep them for yourself, whatever. Paint yourself. Draw yourself. Carve and sculpt and write. Abstract, realistic, grotesque caricatures.  Do it however you want, but please, please, be unapologetic in the celebration of yourself.

You are beautiful in a million ways, and even your flaws are nothing to hide. Immortalize yourself, so that you can always remember who you were.

Life gets really hard, and sometimes you’re going to hate yourself. Those, I think, are the best times to make yourself into a work of art. Even if you think you’re horrible, well, great art and beautiful art can be very different things.

Every life is already a work of art. So embrace it. Take all the selfies. And if you think selfies are stupid, well, get over it. Art is important, and selfies are powerful.




And of course, for the shameless self promotion portion of the evening, please buy my new book, Avalanche: A Self Portrait in Verse, available on September 1, 2015.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Little Mermaid

(originally posted on Tumblr)


Mermaids are popular lately. I guess that makes now as good a time as any to talk about Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Which desperately needs to be talked about. Seriously, the situation is dire.

(Mermaid, Jenny Prater, 2015)

Everyone knows the Disney version, which I happen to like very much, but it’s a different story, about different things. Starting with the Disney version, we’re all trained to see Prince Charming as the only possible happy ending.

Most people also know that in Andersen’s version, the mermaid dies in the end. And this is where things get difficult. First, there are a lot of picture books that end with her dying, and they have Andersen’s name on the front, so naturally everyone assumes they’re telling the original story.  If you read a twenty page picture book that was just the Disney story condensed, until suddenly it ended with death, you did not read the original.

Also, there’s this idea going around that she committed suicide because the prince didn’t love her. That is not what happened at all, and I don’t know how the rumor got started, but it really bugs me.

So I’ve got a collection of Andersen’s fairy tales in front of me right now, and I’m actually really frustrated because the title page doesn’t name a translator, but it’s got 47 of his stories in it, and my dad bought it in Denmark. The Little Mermaid is 35 pages without illustrations, I have done my research, and I’m fairly sure it’s the real, full story.

On to the summary:

The mermaid’s got a bunch of sisters. They’re all kind of interested in our world, because they’re not allowed to go to the surface until they reach a certain age. But the novelty wears off for the others. Our mermaid, much like Ariel, is a little obsessed. Already, this is about more than a cute boy. The mortal world is something that fascinated her long before she met the cute boy.

And then she saves his life. And she’s got a crush on him. It’s bad. She spies on him a lot. Her sisters help her find his house. But she doesn’t actually do anything. Days pass. Maybe weeks. Probably weeks. And then she talks to her grandma, and finds out that although they have much shorter lifespans, humans have immortal souls.

This is important.  The Little Mermaid is part of a large group of folk and fairy tales with this same basic idea. Humanoid creatures that are not human have human rationality, but lack human souls. It’s terrible, because they have the ability to understand exactly what they’re missing. So these creatures—fairies, elves, trolls, assorted sea beings—have one shot at a soul. Some stories say you only have to marry a human, others say you have to bear his children (sucks to be a merman, I guess).

She’s been obsessed with humanity forever, and she’s totally in love with this guy. But it’s not until she learns about the soul that she does anything. This is about the boy, yeah, but it’s also about the soul, and in the long run the soul is more important.

So she goes to the sea witch—who, by the way, warns her that this is stupid. And the deal is that she can become a human (which will be intensely painful), in exchange for her tongue (she cuts it out), and if he marries her, she gets the soul. If he marries no one, presumably she lives a normal human life, and dies in thirty or forty years with no soul. (The text really isn’t clear here.) But if he marries someone else, then she dies and turns into sea foam (which sounds weird but apparently it’s what all mermaids do when they die). Really, it’s a pretty generous deadline for a witch.

The prince finds her naked on the beach and takes her home, like a stray dog or something. A lot like a stray dog. Seriously. Let’s look at this relationship.

“Everyone was enchanted by her, especially the prince, who called her his little foundling…The prince said she was to stay with him forever, and she was allowed to sleep outside his door on a velvet cushion.”

A velvet cushion. Wow. Talk about your healthy romantic relationships. Not a bedroom. Not a bed. She is allowed to sleep on a cushion in the hallway.

What a privilege. I am so jealous.

Next, he has some boys’ clothes made for her so they can ride horses together.

Is she his pet? Is she is little brother? I have no idea. When I told my mom the story, she said, “So basically what he wants is a pet friend.” I think that sums up the situation pretty nicely.

But wait, there’s more!

“Day by day the prince grew fonder of her. He loved her the way one loves a dear, good child, but to make her his wife did not occur to him at all.

“’Of course I love you best,’ said the prince, ‘for…You are devoted to me, and you resemble  a young girl I once saw but will certainly never find again…She was the only one I could love in this world. But you look like her…and so good fortune has sent you to me. We shall never be parted!’”

Then his parents want him to go meet a princess. He tells the mermaid,

“I cannot love her. She doesn’t look like the beautiful girl in the temple, whom you resemble. If I should ever choose a bride, you would be the more likely one, my mute little foundling with the sparkling eyes!”

And this is where it gets really interesting:
“And he kissed her rosy mouth, played with her long hair, and rested his head upon her heart, which dreamed of mortal happiness and an immortal soul.”

Which she’s never gonna get. Why? Because this guy’s a loser.

You give a girl a nice little doggy bed. You treat her like a boy. You talk to her like a child. You tell her you love someone else. And what do you do next? You kiss her.

This is not Prince Eric. This is not Disney. Reading this story, I don’t want her to end up with this prince. That’s not a happy ending at all. He doesn’t even treat her like a person, and she deserves so much better.

So the prince goes and meets this princess. And the princess ends up being the girl that he loves from the temple. (He thinks she saved his life. Actually it was the mermaid. I’m really curious about what would have happened if he’d learned the truth.)

He’s going to marry her immediately. The deal with the witch says our mermaid dies the first morning after the wedding. She holds the bride’s train. She participates in the wedding that’s going to kill her, because she’s a sweet person who really loves this guy who treats her like a pet, and it is devastating.

Her sisters are also really sweet. They made a deal with the sea witch, too. In exchange for all of their hair, they get a knife, and they tell our mermaid:

“Before the sun rises, you must plunge it into the prince’s heart! And when his warm blood spatters your feet, they will grow together into a fishtail, and you will become a mermaid again and can sink down into the water to us, and live your three hundred years before you turn into the lifeless, salty sea foam.”

His life for a do over. I’d totally take that deal.

Maybe not. But I have a long list of fictional people I would like to slap, stab, or strangle, and he is definitely on it.

Anyway, the little mermaid is a much better person than me, and she’s not gonna kill this guy. She jumps into the sea. I think this is where people get the suicide idea, but the sun is just coming up now. She’s about to turn into sea foam, and being a very considerate sort of person, she’s going to do it in the water, so no one has to clean her up. She is literally seconds away from a natural death. She’s not killing herself. Knowing that she’s going to die regardless, she is choosing a place to die in.
And it’s quote time.

“Once more she gazed at the prince with dimming eyes, then plunged from the ship down into the sea. And she felt her body dissolving into foam.

“Now the sun rose out of the sea. The mild, warm rays fell on the deathly cold sea foam, and the little mermaid did not feel death…she saw the clear sun, and up above her floated hundreds of lovely transparent creatures…The little mermaid saw that she had a body like theirs. It rose higher and higher out of the foam.”

So she becomes a Daughter of the Air. Daughters of the Air create their own souls with good deeds. It takes about three hundred years. So basically she gets to hang around for the length of her normal mermaid lifespan, and then she’ll have a soul and she can go to Heaven. Also she gets to talk again. This is not actually a tragic ending. She wins. She gets the soul. She doesn’t get the prince, but I have a feeling the Daughters of the Air are gonna treat her a lot better than he did, so who cares? She’s going to Heaven.

(Now at the very end Andersen mentions that if the Daughters fly past a naughty child, they’ll get another year added to their 300, but mostly this seems to be a scare tactic for young readers, so let’s just focus on the happy part where the little mermaid does technically die, but also gets eternal life.)

Also, if you want to read more of this type of story, where marriage=soul, you should totally check out Undine, by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. It was written before The Little Mermaid, it also involves a sea person, it’s much more painful, it’s a little more explicitly religious, and it is absolutely beautiful. Also it’s free online, and George MacDonald Approved:


“Were I asked, what is a fairytale? I should reply, Read Undine: that is a fairytale ... of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful.”