Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Relevance vs. Authenticity

I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of different churches over the years. You’ve all heard about my adventures with the church in European tourism. But today we’re going to talk about the mess that is millennials in the American church. This might be a problem in other countries as well, but I don’t have the data for that, so we’re going to focus on what I see right here.

My grandpa has a habit of collecting books about Christian issues. I have a habit of reading everything in sight. So what a lot of my grandpa’s books tell me is that the church is dying. It’s dying because young people don’t go to church. It’s not even that they don’t believe. It’s just that they don’t go.

Well, I’m young, and I’m here to tell you why. It’s simple, really. It’s because you’re trying too hard. Worship is all smoke and mirrors and pop songs. Like, seriously, sometimes I listen to the radio for ten or twenty minutes before I even realize I’m on a Christian station, because it all sounds like generic love songs. All the old traditions are out. For crying out loud, there’s a modern American slang translation of the Bible.  I have had to read, with my own two eyes, things like, “And then Jesus was like, hey, man, that’s not cool,” and some translator out there probably thinks he did me a favor.

My grandpa’s books also told me that if someone who doesn’t go to church is going to, they’ll go for an old, fancy, traditional one.

And you’re out here trying so hard to be relevant, to appeal to the young adult demographic by being cool and modern and whateverwe don’t want it. It isn't real. It comes off exactly like the marketing technique it is, and I don’t go to church because they’re selling something.

I have never once felt the presence of God in a church designed to appeal to my generation. That’s not to say He isn't there, because He is, but you sure have buried Him under a whole lot of crap.

Kids don’t want relevance. Kids want authenticity.

If your primary focus is drawing in a younger audience, that means your primary focus isn't God. And that’s why you fail.

Don’t give me upbeat pop songs and sermons full of fandom references. Give me faith. Give me hope. Give me love.

Give me something real, and maybe I’ll give you my attendance.



Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lindworm: Cite Your Sources

I first read Prince Lindworm in a collection of Scandinavian fairy tales illustrated by Kay Nielsen, who, by the way, is awesome. The problem here is that it was a later edition of the book. At some point, I don’t remember why, I got super into finding out the history of Prince Lindworm. See, it was in this book, which was supposed to be stories from Asbjornsen and Moe. Those are the big Norwegian fairy tale dudes, for those of you who don’t know.

But I’m a little obsessive about my fairy tales. You may have noticed. And this book wasn’t even mine. It belonged to my grandparents. So of course I had my own Asbjornsen and Moe anthology. Or two. Maybe three. And I kind of kept buying these books because I wanted my own copy of this one wacky story. But it wasn’t there. So I googled the complete works of Asbjornsen and Moe. It wasn’t there.

I took advantage of my university’s interlibrary loan system to request every single book in the country that mentioned lindworms. Or lindorms. Or lindwyrms, or a variety of other spellings.

Have I mentioned that I’m a little obsessive about my fairy tales?

Several other books and authors and random people on the internet attributed the story to Asbjornsen and Moe. Who definitely didn’t record it. The reason for this, as far as I can tell? This book my grandparents had, really nice hardcover, fancy publisher, gorgeous illustrations—it was kind of a big deal. All sorts of people had read the story in this book, and only this book, and assumed the information provided was reliable.

And here’s where the publishers went wrong. There’s an editor’s note in the front. It explains that all but two of the stories in the volume are from one particular translation of the works of Asbjorsen and Moe. What they apparently neglected to mention is that one of those two stories was not only from a different translator, but a different source entirely.

So Prince Lindworm didn’t come from Norway. That’s settled. And, okay, I don’t know what to tell you about the one random outlier in my interlibrary loan adventure that said the story was from Sweden, but I’ve got this worked out.

Really, it could have been worse. When I wanted to read the earliest recorded version of Beauty and the Beast, and I couldn’t track down a translation anywhere, I spent months tearing the internet apart before I found a copy that was clearly printed well over one hundred years ago, given the spelling and lettering, in French, scanned in and saved as a pdf. I still have that saved on my computer somewhere. Given that I don’t know any French, dictionaries only provided modern spellings, and any given character could easily have been three to six different letters in that typeface, the several months I spend attempting to translate didn’t really get me anywhere. I don’t think I even translated the first paragraph successfully.

I did a little better with Prince Lindworm. It still took me a couple months to find the text, and it was still a crappy pdf with outdated spelling. Plus it was in Danish. But the lettering was slightly more modern, and I happen to be much better at slogging my way through Danish than French. A little bit of Norwegian, a little bit of Anglo-Saxon, a tiny bit of German. It’ll get you places. Sadly, my extensive background in Latin was utterly useless to French. (And Spanish. It seems my teachers lied to me. I strongly suspect Romani and Portuguese would also be a bust, but at least I can stumble blindly through basic Italian.)

It was, when I found it, three or four pages of a quite large collection. I haven’t gotten into the rest of it yet—soon, hopefully. Gamle dansk Minder i folkemunde, it’s called.  I’m good at general ideas in Germanic languages, not so much actual translations, so bear with me here, but I’m going to tentatively call this “Old Danish Memories from the Mouths of the People.” Sounds better it Danish, right? This is why I keep my translations to myself.

The compiler of this book is listed as Svend Grundtvig, and he’s generally known for collecting Danish folk songs, but as far as I can tell, in my admittedly spotty Danish comprehension, there’s no music for this one.

And, okay, I know I talk a lot about how stories, especially folk stories, don’t belong to anyone, because they’re so mutable, because a story is really a community, a conversation. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know where the conversation started.

For crying out loud, people, cite your sources! I dedicated months of my life to this. Do you have any idea how many utterly worthless books I had to read in search of some tiny hint of origins? How many incorrect attributions I had to read? How much respect I lost for researchers in this field in general?

Look, sometimes tracking down crap pdfs of source material can be fun, okay? I love pulling random linguistic data from obscure folklore and stuff like that. But really. Really. How hard can it possibly be to say, “hey, this historically and culturally significant story that I’m making a profit on because it’s been in the public domain for a hundred years originally came from Denmark”?

There is no excuse not to give fairy tales the correct attribution. Like, anthology and picture book based fairy tales have got to be the easiest writing to make a profit on.  The story has been marinating in your brain forever, right? Do you even remember a time before you knew Cinderella? Just tell it in your own words, and someone else will come along and slap some beautiful illustrations on, and you’re good to go. It costs five minutes and zero dollars to add in a little note saying, “This adaptation was inspired by the French version of the story as recorded by Charles Perrault.”

But no, that’s too much work for you. Instead you’ll just go and publish a wildly popular book that heavily implies incorrect information, and let it spin wildly out of control until poor innocent college kids are staying up all night on the internet reading languages they don’t understand and enlisting the help of just about every library in the continental United States.

Ugh.

Anyway, Grundtvig is a really awesome dude who absolutely knows how to cite his stories. Kong Lindorm was told in 1854 by Maren Mathisdatter, age 67, in Fureby. It was recorded by Adjunct A. Levisen.

See? Was that so hard?


Remember to come and read my version on Patreon next month.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Trouble with Christian Fiction II: Compromise

Come on, you didn’t think I was going to leave it at that, did you? God and books are two of the most important things in my life. There is so much more to say.

Let’s think about how we look at other people, and how that makes them look at us. Fair warning: this is going to be a common theme in any post tagged “church stuff.” I’m not here for this crap about how we’re better than everyone else because we know God. We all suck, guys. That’s kind of the point.

Sometimes, sometimes in a story by, for, and about Christians, there will be a character who is both non-Christian and non-Awful. It’s pretty rare.

A lot of the time, the non-Christian is a bad guy of ridiculous proportions. Think Sauron. Think Voldemort. Except they’re just chilling in the middle of some perfectly ordinary contemporary realism. To fully illustrate this point, we’re going to expand our definition of Christian fiction to include other forms of media, not just literature.  Specifically, we’re going to talk about the movie God’s Not Dead. (Fair Warning #2: I have Strong Feelings about this movie, and it will come up again.)

I watched it with my family, because it’s the kind of thing that people like my family watch, without any high expectations, because it’s the kind of thing that people like me hate. But guys, it surpassed all of my expectations, because it wasn’t just mediocre acting, writing, and production like I expected. Among other things, it featured the Atheist Bad Guy.

ABG is a big problem. It’s the problem that this whole post is about. In the movie, it’s an evil professor who demands that all of his students renounce God. Now, this is a story that’s been circulating in my community for years and years, long before it was a crappy movie, so maybe it’s based on true events or something. I don’t know. I don’t care enough to research it. What I do know is that the movie’s interpretation of the story is ridiculous. We’ve got our evil professor, our Voldemort, our ABG, who spends a movie totally neglecting to actually teach his students anything in favor of getting into a pissing contest with a teenage boy. Dude. It’s a freshman course. Probably Gen. Ed. The dude is not going to be nearly this invested in things, and he’s going to be smart enough to know his students aren’t, either.

 In my experience, professors don’t expect you to rearrange your personal life and belief systems in order to be allowed in class (hello, it costs something like $70/class session, you are certainly not getting my entire worldview in addition to that cold hard cash). They also don’t cast aside their lesson plans in favor of fighting with students. They don’t mock their students for coming to conclusions they disagree with.

Side note: if your professors do this, they suck and should probably be fired.

The ABG occurs in a lot of Christian fiction. It’s a random dude whose life goal is, for some reason, to strip you of your beliefs, moral code, place of worship, whatever. The ABG is cartoonishly evil, performed with complete sincerity.

If you’re producing and consuming media in which the only non-Christian characters are absurdly villainous and out to get you solely because you love God, what does that tell real-life non-Christians about how you see them?

Let’s jump to the end of book. The Atheist Bad Guy—any non-Christian character, really—faces one of two outcomes. Death or conversion. Now let’s talk about what that says about how you see non-Christians.

Ideally, your ABG sees the error of his ways and is introduced, by your patient kindness in the face of persecution, to the Truth. Guys, this isn't ancient Rome, okay? If you’re going to set your stories in the contemporary US, try to maintain an element of realism—the vast majority of people are not out to get you. We could stand to be a little more prosecuted; it might be a sign that we were standing up for what actually mattered, instead of getting caught up in dumb political crap.

Anyway, back to the ABG, who probably isn't persecuting you in real life. He sees the light. He finds God. Whatever. You’re not stupid. You know the drill.

The other option is that he dies renouncing God.

(There’s a third option where he accepts the Lord on his deathbed, but I am not about to get dragged into a rant about the sickening laziness of that writing.)

Understand that what you’re saying, when you buy into this narrative, is that people who don’t convert on your timetable don’t deserve to be alive. Understand that what you’re saying when you buy into this narrative is that every human who does not find God is utterly worthless.

No. God loves all of us. And if you’re actively driving people away from Him by perpetuating the idea that he doesn’t, whether you do that by crashing funerals or waving hateful signs or writing books about the ABG, you are disgusting. Sorry; I’ve been sitting on a lot of righteous anger for a long time, here, and I’m done pulling punches. You sicken me.

Let’s try a more realistic, and incidentally more accessible, alternative. Someone isn't a Christian. Hey, maybe someone hates you and thinks you’re stupid because you are. Maybe the professor makes that challenge, and gives you some class time to build a defense. You present your argument, and he says no, not good enough, you didn’t consider this aspect. But maybe he also says, hey, that’s cool, I didn’t consider that aspect. No one stops believing what they believe, but your professor ends the story more open-minded than he started it. You’ve earned his respect by fighting for what you believe in, and he’s earned yours by listening to your arguments instead of attacking you.

The bad guy isn't bad. A lot of bad guys are, I know. But you’re not writing about Hitler, you’re writing about some random atheist, and you’re writing him like Hitler. He isn't bad, he just doesn’t agree with you. He doesn’t see things the way you do. Maybe he will someday. Maybe he won’t.  But either way, you can make him an interesting, dynamic, three-dimensional character who adds something to your story other than unrealistic levels of tension.



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lindworm: The Story

Today I’m going to tell you about my favorite story. The story that built this blog. The Danish title is Kong Lindorm. The English is King Lindworm, but it’s often translated Prince Lindworm instead, and that’s how I met it, in a collection on my grandparents’ shelf.

It goes like this:

A queen can’t have children. The literal translation of this is that “nothing was written on their wedding sheets,” which I think is stunningly beautiful, and I want everyone who says that fairy tales are just bare bones, lacking in character development or imagery, to read it.

The queen goes to a wise woman, who tells her about a fancy ritual where she puts a couple of upside-down-tea-cups by the north gate and two flowers come up overnight. Queen eats one if she wants a boy, the other if she wants a girl. She is not, under any circumstances, to eat both.

So she grows her flowers and translations vary, but usually she chooses the girl flower. Then it tastes so good, she just has to eat the other one too.

Sometimes the stupidity of fictional people just makes me want to bang my head against the wall repeatedly, you know?

I have in my possession what I believe is the earliest recorded version of this story (more on that later), and this is the point where it branches off from the one I grew up with. In the first version, the queen gives birth to a Lindworm, which is a Scandinavian dragon/snake monster, usually bipedal with small wings. In my first version, she does this, and then gives birth to a normal human son, as well. Since I started with the brother, I tend to prefer it—it adds to the story, but takes nothing away, so if you want a sense for the original, just quietly disregard a few sentences as I move forward here, assume the Lindworm is speaking to the king instead of the prince, whatever.

Prince grows up, wants to get married, sets out to find a bride. Lindworm, who slithered away immediately after birth and about whose existence their mother said nothing, appears in the road to say, “hey, actually I’m a few minutes older than you, so I’m supposed to get married first.”

A real interesting conversation ensues at the royal family dinner table that night.

They get a princess to marry the Lindworm. The Lindworm eats her right after the wedding. Prince goes bride-hunting again, Lindworm objects again, a second princess is provided. Same thing happens. Prince sets out a third time, Lindworm demands a bride a third time. Wising up, finally, the king recruits some random girl whose parents don’t have the means to go to war against him.

Third girl encounters a wise woman in the forest. Wise woman gives her some seriously wacky advice. Wedding happens, they retreat to the honeymoon suite, and the Lindworm tells our girl to take off her dress.

Only if you take off your skin, she says. He does. She does. She’s wearing a second dress. Same deal. Turns out she’s wearing one more layer than the Lindworm is, so that’s a disgusting mess. Then she whips him with whips soaked in lye. Then she dunks him in a big tub of milk. They she embraces him.

When they wake up the next morning, the Lindworm is a handsome prince. The kingdom rejoices. His bloody history is instantly forgotten. We all live happily ever after.

I was drawn to this story immediately, largely because it was completely ridiculous. For years I have burned with the desire to understand all this craziness. And I more or less do now, but more on that later. This is just the beginning.

Welcome to my new series. Welcome to my new promotional tactics. Welcome to my novel.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be talking about this story in much more detail. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing a draft of my novel Lindworm.

Here’s how it works. I am in possession of an oft-neglected Patreon account. The first chapter will be posted here for everyone to read, on October 1. The rest of the book will be posted on Patreon, one chapter a week. This will be added to the lowest reward tier, so if you support me with just one dollar per month, you can read this story. It’s about fifteen chapters long, so that’s less than four dollars, guys, and you can totally stop supporting me once the story is done. Granted, it’s not exactly publication-ready. It’s not the final draft. But that makes it better, because you get to provide feedback. You get to help me make it better.


I’m really excited about this story, and I’m really excited about sharing it with you.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I Temporarily Hate Classic Literature and This Is Why

Today during my lunch break I read How to Eat Fried Worms. Yesterday I read Sideways Stories from Wayside School and M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. The day before, I read two books by Andrew Clemens.  I’ve been doing a lot of rereading lately. I’ve been reading some comic books.  Occasionally I’ll read a murder mystery. I haven’t read anything that could qualify as classic literature since about a year before I finished college. (Don’t tell the professors.)

It’s not that I dislike the classics. I just need a break. A long, long break.

My friends don’t get it, because my friends, like me, are all English majors. Look. When I was twelve, all I wanted to read was Shakespeare and Gulliver’s Travels and 1984. Then I went to school. What you have to understand, here, is that I went to a classical education, college-preparatory middle and high school. That’s seven years of education all about classic literature. I can recite Julius Caesar in my sleep, guys. And don’t even get me started on Cyrano de Bergerac. Do you want the Aeneid in Latin or English?

And then four years as an English major? I am litted out, man. I mean, come on, that’s eleven straight years of classics. That is Too Many Years of classics, even for the most classically minded of people—a category that used to include me, but now I’m the girl loading up on deliberately crappy YA romance while my friends dedicate summers to the study of Ulysses.

And I’m kind of mad, I think, that the combined efforts of a bunch of teachers ruined something I loved. It bugs me a lot that by my last year of school, I couldn’t put myself through the torture of finishing the assigned reading, when I used to consistently read the entire book on the first night, no matter what it was.

But I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think most of the blame goes to the classics themselves. One of the things that really bothered me senior year was all the bits and pieces of things we read. Like, if you don’t think a book is good enough to fit into your teaching schedule in its entirety, why are you wasting my time on it? No matter how good the book was originally you’re not going to get anywhere close to its true value just reading parts. It’s like turning off the volume, blocking off all but an inch of the TV screen, and trying to tell someone what the movie was about.

The problem is we’re not being asked to read a lot of these books, especially as we move forward in literary history, for the sake of the story, the characters, or a lot of the time, even the thematic elements. It’s all about the cultural significance. And if you’ve heard me go off about folklore at all, you know I’m all about the cultural significance. But if you think I’m going to devote hours upon hours to hundreds of pages of absolute crap, just because no one before James Joyce ever wrote crap in a certain style, you have got another thing coming.

Screw the classics. I’m not going to respect you for being innovative if you can’t also be good. No one can even read Finnigan’s Wake, guys. Why do we applaud something unreadable? If it wasn’t written by James Joyce, no one would think it was worth anything.

And how on earth do people decide what’s going to be a contemporary classic? Like, Jeffrey Eugenides. Did you read The Virgin Suicides? I did. Did you throw up after? I did.

There’s a certain category of books that are valued merely by virtue of being old, or unique, or even sad, as if something is worth historical preservation merely because it sucks. Are you ever, in your private life, reading for the sake of your own enjoyment, going to go out looking for a book where all the characters are immensely unlikeable?  Where everyone struggles and suffers and dies with nothing at the end to show for it? A book so dense it takes you an hour to get through a page? A book so stylistically unique that you finish it completely uncertain what actually happened, what was an extended metaphor, and what came up in your nightmares last night?

I think I’m pretty much done feeling guilty for preferring to surround myself with relatable characters and hopeful stories. Because I’m down with Homer, and Austen, and even Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Sure. Whatever. But I can’t read them anymore either, because I’ve been attacked from so many sides for so many years with the stilted, classroom versions of them, that suck all the life out, that look deeply for meaning and relevance and dismiss the beauty right on the surface. But the more contemporary a classic gets, the less likely it is to have any value outside of a classroom setting. Here are the themes, here all the styles, here are the cultural and historical backgrounds so you can comfortably dissect the work; why would you want to bother with character and plot and the big picture when everything comes together, when this is so convenient.

It’s about writing, not about storytelling, and I am always, always here for the story. Give me characters that mess up and try to fix things. Give me a terrible world where there’s still a chance to survive, to live, maybe even to turn things around.  Give me crappy dialogue and cheap paperbacks and spelling mistakes, give me characters who love and hate and can be loved and hated, settings that I can see in the background without straining my eyes, looking for the other level of meaning, give me something completely unbelievable as long as it can still be fun, I don’t care. Just give me a real story. Give me something I can feel. I’m so sick of my joy being turned into textbooks.






Sunday, September 3, 2017

In Defense of Evil Moms

Okay. It is time we had a serious conversation about maternal antagonists. There are two main things going on here, and the first one actually makes sense, so we’re going to get that out of the way, and then I can rant properly about the other thing.

The first thing concerns the position of women in the societies where most fairy tales take place. Honey, you had better be the fairest of them all, because that is the only card you have to play. Your son comes home with a pretty new wife? This isn't a new daughter to you; this is a threat. Your son is married, he’s a man now, he has more power in this household than you do. And so does his wife. You marry a guy who already has a daughter? Everything she has is something your kids won’t, because resources are pretty scarce, and being the oldest gives you power. It’s not pleasant, it’s not okay, but it’s a real part of a real world, and it deserves some measure of understanding. These women aren’t vain and evil. They’re scared and desperate. And that doesn’t make their choices forgivable, but it makes them real people, not gross caricatures.

The second thing it just stupid. And that makes it so much fun to talk about.

I remember watching a lot of Disney sequels as a kid, and feeling really uncomfortable about them, but it was several years before I understood why. In a story about, say, a sixteen year old mermaid who clashes with her father, it’s understood that, though not a bad guy, the father is an antagonist. For stories about kids, parents are there to get in the way. So when I watched The Little Mermaid II, suddenly Ariel was that parent who got in the way—Ariel was the antagonist. And it freaked me out, because that was Ariel. The same thing happened with The Lion King 2. Never make your child heroes parents; it undermines the entire storyline. I mean, it doesn’t have to, but making it work requires a certain level of nuance that just isn't going to fit in a one hour cartoon for little kids.

If the story is being told from the perspective of an unruly child, the parent is going to be perceived, to some extent, as the bad guy.

So let’s look, with that in mind, at some of our evil moms.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the prince’s mom in the Italian version of Snow White. To recap, he finds Snow’s body in the woods—and when I say body, I mean body, okay, we’ve got a literal corpse here—brings it home, plops it on his bed, and announces that this is his wife.

So our evil mom waits until he’s distracted, and prepares to dispose of the body. And the narrative treats it as if this is something condemnable, when in reality, if your son spent several days sleeping with a rotten corpse, you would probably take much more extreme measures, for his health and safety, than to bury it in the garden.

Or East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I’ve always been  utterly baffled by this one, because again, it plays it like she’s in the wrong, but what she’s doing seems totally reasonable. She finds out that her daughter is spending nights with a mystery man, and man is a generous description, okay? We don’t know. We can’t see him. It could be a troll. So she says hey, honey, how about I send you a flashlight, so you can figure out who or what you’re sleeping with.

The mom doesn’t know that this is violating the terms of some spell. The daughter doesn’t even know; she wasn’t explicitly told not to look at the guy. She probably doesn’t even know there’s a spell.

If your daughter is sleeping with a guy whose face she’s never seen, and you don’t offer a light source as the absolute least you can possibly do, I’m seriously skeptical about your parenting capabilities.

Not all the fairy tale moms are being vilified for attempting to protect their children, but even one is too many. Fairy tale heroes and heroines have never been known for their decision-making skills. Respect the moms. Respect them.



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Conservative Christian's Guide to Not Sucking: Evangelism

Sometimes my dad tells this story about how he met a televangelist, and the guy was praying for him, and then he just kind of pushed him. Like, you know how sometimes someone will just be so overwhelmed by the Spirit or whatever that they just keel over? This guy was trying to…encourage that, I guess.

On the subject of my personal experience with evangelism: Once, in a seventh or eighth grade study hall, I watched a group of girls attempt to convert a boy in our class to Christianity. There are two pertinent things to note here.

      1)      The boy in question was an immigrant with a very recent family history of death by way of religious persecution, hence the immigration.

          2)    The girls were quite concerned, and made it clear that they were concerned, about his inevitable eventual placement in Hell, should he not see the light.

To be fair, we were twelve, and they were genuinely concerned about his well-being. I would like to believe that most evangelists are genuinely concerned about the well-being of those they minister to. But a lot of them, even the trained, professional ones who went to Bible school, seem to have missed a majorly important memo: “You are going to Hell” is not an effective method of evangelism.

Let’s take a moment and think about it logically. People are not going to be influenced by the threat of something they don’t believe in, okay? You can’t tell an atheist to shape up or he’s going to hell, anymore than you can tell a thirty five year old to shape up or Santa won’t come this year. It’s the same reason you can’t have a creation-evolution debate with the Bible as your main source of evidence, no matter how much you try, or how much you whine about it. People are not going to be swayed by something they don’t believe exists.

Also (and this one is as much about basic human decency as it is about logic), if you have to resist to scare tactics to push your product, it’s probably not worth having.

The words “You are going to Hell” are, indeed, a dire warning, but they are not functioning in the way you intend. They don’t say “change your ways and accept the Lord.” They say “here comes a total jerk I gotta get out of here.”

Not the message you’re going for, right?

Here’s how you actually reach people: Love. Acceptance. Open-mindedness and a willingness to listen and try to understand. Don’t ever approach someone with the goal of “saving” them. Approach them with the goal of making a new friend, and let things go from there.

If you have to talk about religion, this is how you’re going to do it. You’re going to ask them about the details of what they believe. You’re going to ask them why they believe what they believe. You’re going to offer the same information about yourself, if requested, and do your best to provide an honest, thoughtful answer, something well beyond “because it’s true” or “the Bible says so.” You’re going to offer something personal. You’re going to ask for clarification when something about their belief system doesn’t make sense to you, not as a stern interrogator looking for holes in an argument, but as a friend genuinely seeking to understand an alternate point of view.

You may recall, when Jesus gets to ranking the commandments, his list goes as follows:

       1)      Love God

       2)      Love everyone else

Golden Rule, right? So, hey, if you wouldn’t like some random stranger screaming in the street about how wrong you are, try not to be that person, ‘kay?



Sunday, August 27, 2017

All Your Favorite Princesses Are Sluts

The first time—okay, the first several times—I read most fairy tales, I was aware, probably, of the concept of sex, but it wasn’t something that I thought about at all. So it took me a few—okay, several—years to figure out how many of my favorite characters were going at it like bunnies.

They embraced. He came into her room and lay down in her bed. Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Newsflash, guys: fairy tales are all about sex and death, sometimes at the same time (See: Snow White).

Forget Disney. Honey, she banged that boy. It’s right there in the text.

It’s astounding. All of the things my parents tried to protect me from, and there I was holed up in my bedroom with a book of fairy tales, reading about bestiality and necrophilia. And none of us had any idea. My parents assumed that fairy tales were safe. I was barely aware of sex on a conceptual level until high school, and I didn’t have much actual comprehension of the idea until well into college.

And now, well. I feel like someone as sheltered as me should not have this high an awareness of the sexual undertones of classic children’s stories, but here we are. None of your favorite princesses are exactly unicorn-luring material. I’m not actually going to call them sluts in the text here; that seems unkind. It was just an attention-grabber.

But you need to understand that these stories do not exist in a vacuum. There are hundreds of years of history behind them, and you need to be aware of the cultural implications. This stuff didn’t start out the way we tell it now. Basile’s princesses didn’t wait until marriage. Perrault’s princesses may have, sometimes, but the dude’s a whole big mess with his pretentious self-righteous Moral-at-the-End-of-the-Story, and his local contemporaries (more on them later) sure didn’t make their girls wait. Asbjornsen and Moe were not about the abstinence, and neither were the Grimms.

In fact, I have here, for your viewing pleasure, a list of stories in which the heroes and heroines didn’t bother with an “I do.”

       1.       East of the Sun, West of the Moon
·         Every night in the dark, guys.
       2.       Beauty and the Beast
·         Fun fact: “Will you marry me?” is a mistranslation. It’s actually “Will you sleep with me?” Beauty said yes, and the spell got broke once the deed was done, so, you know.  Not even in human form when they got down and dirty.
       3.       Prince Lindworm
·         This comes after she tortures him mercilessly, and before he turns from a tortured snake monster into a handsome prince. Can we all say “yuck”?
       4.       The Twelve Dancing Princesses
·         Come on, you know “danced through their shoes each night” has gotta be a euphemism.
       5.       The Frog Prince
·         All he wanted was to lie in bed with her, and she threw him against a wall! So let’s count this as a technicality, because it totally would have happened if she wasn’t the only princess in the history of ever to find bestiality squicky.

And on our This Is Concerning List:

       1.       Sleeping Beauty
·         rape
       2.       Snow White
·         necrophilia
       3.       Rapunzel
·         Seriously questionable consent


There isn't actually a whole lot of point here. Um. Avoid stereotyping, I guess?

Oh! Hey. Got it.

Look, I love these girls. But any day now, we can totally stop holding them as cartoony paragons of virtue. Honesty is the best policy, after all, and I think it could do some good things regarding the upcoming topic of folklore and feminism.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

On the Nature of the Mer-Soul: A Question

(Yes, I am here again, and I will wring a happy ending out of this story if it kills me.)

Per her agreement with the Sea Witch, the Little Mermaid was to receive legs and a human soul in exchange for her tongue, contingent on her marriage to the prince. The direct physical exchange, tongue for legs, was made on the spot.

Both legs and the potential soul were cancelled in favor of sea-foaminess upon her unequivocal failure to marry the prince, i.e. his marriage to someone else.

Now, my question regards that potential soul—namely, is it indeed potential, or an item of actual existence? Did the exchange go tongue for legs, marriage for soul? Like a pay half now, pay half when the job is done kind of deal?

In that case the Little Mermaid would be a mermaid with legs until her marriage, at which point the soul would kick in and she would be human.

Alternatively, it may have happened all at once. For the price of just one tongue, you too can experience legs and soul for an unlimited time! (Fine print: Prices and shipping may vary. Only valid at participating locations. Final purchase dependent on successful completion of wedding ceremony. Side effects may include, but are not limited to, death and transformation into sea foam.)

In this case, the Little Mermaid would actually be a Little Human from her arrival on land right up until her untimely demise.

Then the question becomes, if the soul was ever present, when exactly did it depart? Did it cease to exist the moment the prince said “I do”? Or did it happen when the rest of her turned to sea foam?

And then we must consider the nature of the soul itself. The story has confirmed that souls may be created; does this mean that they may also be destroyed? But the text does specify, on multiple occasions, that we are dealing with an immortal soul. So our final question is, if the soul comes into existence at the same time as the legs, does it go poof when things take a turn for the foamy, or does it, true to its immortal nature, go up into Heaven while the body goes down into the sea?

(This is all, of course, being considered in light of the version where the mermaid dies, rather than the one where she becomes a Daughter of the Air and spends a few centuries earning a soul; that version opens up a whole slew of theological issues in regards to faith vs. works. We don’t have time for that. Maybe next week.)

And in the end, it all comes down to what it always comes down to, for me, when we talk about The Little Mermaid. Does she get the better end of the deal? Can we count this as a happy ending?





Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Trouble with Christian Fiction

Hi. My name is Jenny, I’m a Christian, and I hate Christian fiction. Like, deeply. Passionately. The entire concept disgusts me. I’m guessing that’s not the reaction they were going for.

In my experience, there are two defining characteristics of Christian fiction.

  1. Poor Quality. We have done ourselves a huge disservice by breaking away from mainstream publishing. The editing skill is, frankly, just not there. Christian publishers publish books on the basis of their being Christian—not on the content, style, or actual skill level of the authors. The writing is mediocre, the plot is mediocre, and no one has pushed these writers to excel at anything beyond including God in their work, as if a book is good merely by virtue of being Biblically sound, and there is no point in aiming for any additional goals.

  2. Selfishness. I have never, never seen a book marked “Christian Fiction” that was even remotely accessible to non-Christians. I’m here for a story, people. If I wanted a sermon, I’d be in a church, not a library. Even if the stories themselves were accessible, that little “Christian Fiction” tag on the spine would turn away any non-Christian readers.

    Guys. As Christians, your job is to share the word of God with others. I mean, fishers of men? Come on! This is like setting a mouse trap in the basement and calling it fishing.

    Newsflash: it is possible to write a book with Christian characters and/or morals that can still be enjoyed by people who are not Christians. Like, if you’ve been given a talent for writing, how dare you use it to help other Christians hide away in their own little sanctuary of perceived holiness instead of using it to help touch people who actually needed to be helped and reached out to? It’s the ultimate example of preaching to the choir. You’re not here for that, guys. You’re not here for that. 

I’m a Christian, but I would much rather read a book about a Muslim girl than a Christian one. Why? Because there’s not a “Muslim Fiction” section at the bookstore.  A book about Muslim characters may include all of the values and worldviews that go along with Islam, but there’s not an exclusive little club for that book, so it’s going to be accessible to me, despite my general lack of knowledge or interest in Islam. It’s going to be designed to reach a broader audience.

If you’re a Christian, your goal should always be to reach a broader audience.

No other religion has a genre to itself. And no religion should, including Christianity. It’s a poor marketing strategy, is what it is. If we got rid of this whole stupid Christian fiction thing, and Christian authors had to go through normal publishers, being “Godly” wouldn’t be enough, and the books would be held to a higher standard of quality, as they already should be. You wouldn’t get away with writing a book that, by its very nature, excluded a large part of the reading population, because no publisher would stand for it.

By all means, write books as Christians. But please, please stop writing Christian fiction, because its very existence is a disgrace to both your faith and good literature.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Contemporary Folklore and the Death of Oral Traditions

I’ve seen several articles over the last couple months about how oral traditions are dying out, and taking some stories with them. I’ve also been thinking a lot about comic books lately. These things are related.

I’ve never relied on oral tradition, because I read whatever I can get my hands on, and after the first time I got my hands on some fairy tales, there was really no going back. But sometimes I’ll be talking to other people, and say things like, “Oh, it’s like that part of the Twelve Dancing Princesses where,” or “what if we tried that thing from the Russian version of,” and they have no idea what I’m talking about. And it’s happened countless times, but somehow I never expect it—these stories are such a major part of my life that I struggle to imagine people living without them.

So maybe these people I talk to don’t know about The Pied Piper or The Princess and the Pea because their parents never told them stories, and maybe in a couple generations those stories will only be known by people like me who happen to find fairy tale collections at the library.

But oral traditions have been on the way out for a good hundred years now, and they’re probably not coming back.

So here’s where the comics come into it: there’s a Thor movie coming out soon. We just got the trailer for the Justice League movie. Everyone is still freaking out about Wonder Woman, a new season of Young Justice is on the way, and between Marvel and DC we have, like, a dozen live action TVs shows based on comic books. So everyone on the internet is talking about this stuff, arguing about this stuff. That’s not canon, that’s not canon, that’s not canon anymore, those characters hate each other, those characters love each other, they used to be married but in the reboot they’ve never even met.

I’ve talked before about folklore and fanfiction, and I think comics fall into basically the same realm. Batman’s been around for nearly eighty years, guys. He’s been written by dozens of writers. There isn't, as far as I’m concerned, such a thing as canon Batman. You can’t say that any particular version of Batman is wrong, because Batman’s already been written, and even legitimately published, in all of those different versions. Christian Bale Batman and Adam West Batman hold the exact same weight.

The Justice League, the Avengers? Those are the American equivalent of fairy tales. Everyone knows them, at least a little, somewhere is the back of their minds. They’re the same stories told over and over again, slightly different in each telling, no longer belonging to one person but to the entire world that they’re a part of.

Yeah, oral traditions are dying. It sucks, but hey, if it bugs you so much, find an audience and start telling stories. Personally, I’m pretty glad that isn't the main method of storytelling anymore.

I will never, ever know where my favorite fairy tale started. No one will. The earliest version of Cinderella is lost to time because it spread by word-of-mouth—there is no record of the first time someone told it. You can trace it back to Greek mythology, you can trace it back to ancient China, but you can never say, definitively, this is the place where this story started, this is how it was told the first time it was told.

Any version of Cinderella from the last few centuries? All the different details are perfectly preserved. We know exactly how Superman’s origin story was told the first time it was told, and we can watch the changes unfold over the decades. I can watch the original pilot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then I can watch the pilot that actually aired, and then I can read thousands of fanfics that tell that story slightly differently, and I know where all of those things are. I know where to find them. I know where they started. I can begin with the earliest version of a story ever told, and I can watch how different variants branch off, and trace the changes over time, the places people were in when they changed things, why they made things different, whether it was because they forgot or heard it secondhand, whether they hated something about the original or just really, really wanted something important to them incorporated.

I can do all of that with Beauty and the Beast, but never from the beginning. I can take you back to the novel, and work my way through history from there. I can take you back to earlier French stories about enchanted bridegrooms, to The Pig King or The Golden Root in Italy, to Cupid and Psyche or Hades and Persephone in ancient Greece. But I can never go to the original. And that means I’ll never know the full story of Beauty and the Beast, the true depth of its significance, the farthest reaches of its potential.

Because a story is more than the words that make it up. A single story is also an entire world, encompassing the people who’ve told it, the people who’ve heard it, the places where it’s been told—a story has a beginning and an end, but it is also infinite, and I can never have it in its entirety. The beginnings of my favorite fairy tales are lost forever.

But not Batman. Not Buffy. They didn’t start until oral traditions started to die, and that means I can have it all. And so can someone a hundred years from now, because everything is documented. So keep telling stories. Don’t let that tradition die; don’t lose the power of words rolling out of your mouth and into something eternal. But please, please, write them down as well.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Sea Hare

I didn’t find out about this story until I decided to read the complete works of the Brothers Grimm straight through in high school, and oh my goodness. Guys. It is the best. And also the worst. But mostly the worst.

It’s one of those stories where the princess has to get married, but she’s set up certain impossible qualifications for her suitors. Pretty standard, right? Except this girl has a bloodthirsty bent. Basically, it’s hide and seek to the death—you hide all day, she marries you. She finds you, you die. Head on a pike outside her tower.

Harsh, right?

Now my first question in situations like this is always “Why on earth would you want to marry the chick?”

Like, power, influence, money, I get it—there are certain advantages to marrying into nobility. But guys. Think about this. Do a risk-reward analysis. Is your quality of life really that bad?

Ninety-seven dudes say yes. And boy do they ever suck at hide and seek.

On to our dude. His story is standard, too. Youngest of three brothers, saves the day after the older two screw it up. He meets some animals in the woods, like youngest sons do, and they offer to help him someday when he spares their lives. You all know where this is going.

Oldest brother hides from the princess, gets found, dies. Second brother, same thing. We’re up to ninety-nine heads on posts along the wall. The older ones are probably in a pretty nasty state of decomposition by now.

Youngest boy tries, his animal pals hide him, and he wins Hide and Seek: Ultimate Death Match. The princess is very impressed, she agrees to marry him, and they live happily ever after. So she decapitated his brothers. So what? She’s a princess.

Seriously. These youngest son types always seem so smart and level-headed, and then they go and marry girls who obviously want them dead. Come on, man. Quit while you’re ahead. The deal is usually half the kingdom and my daughter’s hand, right? Take the kingdom, leave the hand. Or ask for gold instead. Dude. Don’t marry the girl who wants to kill you. This is not hard. The right choice is clear. Just say no, man. Just say no.

Btw, if you’re wondering about the title, he won the game when his fox friend transformed him into a sea-hare.


 (This is a sea-hare.)


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Frog King

Morality Tale Type: What Not To Do

The first thing you need to know about this story is that this is not the title. Nope. The title is Iron Henry. Now, you may be asking, “Who is Henry?” And you may be thinking, oh, of course, the frog prince must be named Henry.

Nope. Dude doesn’t even show up until the last couple paragraphs. So hang tight; we’ll get there.

Actually, we’ll there pretty fast, because what is there to say that you don’t know already? Princess drops a ball in the water, frog goes to get it—wait. I’ve got this. There is stuff to say.

A ball? Either this girl is involved in the sort of extracurriculars most princesses avoid, or she’s pretty young. So, option 1: we’ve got a chick who plays softball or football or something , doesn’t know how to swim, and is generally creeped out by things that do. Or, option two: little girl drops her favorite toy in the well.

Given that her activity was described, specifically, as tossing the ball up and catching it, I’m putting my money on option two. Plus, I feel like a little girl would be less freaked out than a lady if a frog started talking.

On the other hand, I also feel like a little girl would be less grossed out by the frog than the lady would. Whatever. All I’m saying is, if the chick’s favorite activity is playing catch with herself, she takes a talking amphibian in stride, and she cries over a lost toy, maybe we shouldn’t expect her to be totally on top of the wise decisions.

This is, by the way, not about me rearranging the story so yet another charming prince is a pedophile, okay? We’ve got plenty of that out in the open—I’m not about to go looking for it. This is about attempting to explain the princess’s indisputably horrible behavior. Either way, we can’t win this one. Either she’s a little kid, or she’s a vicious murderer, so pick your poison, I guess.

Back to the story. Girl promises to hang with frog dude if he gets the ball, she runs off as soon as she has it back, and he shows up at the palace and tattles on her. The king, also unfazed by the talking frog, tells her she’d better keep her promises, with the scolding further cementing my child theory. Girl deals with frog until bedtime, and here’s where things get interesting again. (Oh my goodness, I was so wrong about having nothing to say.)

She’s afraid of the frog sleeping in her bed. Five years ago, I would have thought yeah, duh, he’s all wet and boggy and stuff, and what if she rolls over in her sleep and crushes him? Guys, I have done way too much research in college to be that innocent. Does the frog actually intend to just sleep in the bed? I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting he doesn’t.

His intentions here are really important, because the next thing that happens is that she picks him up and flings him at the wall. And he’s a frog, so, you know, splat.

If this was her defense against a particularly cringe-worthy come-on, I’m gonna go ahead and say she’s in the clear here. However, if the blatantly attempted homicide was just ‘cuz he was getting on her nerves, dude, what the heck? You’re the princess. The princess doesn’t kill people.

And in a move that rivals Sleeping Beauty level wtf, the impact jolts him right out of enchantment, or something, and suddenly instead of frog goop, we’ve got a hot prince proposing to our murder girl. I mean, if that’s really what you want in a relationship, man. Your funeral. Maybe literally.

(Sidenote: What were the terms of his spell? You can only be a prince again when you’ve pissed someone off so much she wants you dead? There is no kiss here, people. There is only murder. Someone remind me to come back to this when I do the Lindworm series—I’m just noticing some interesting parallels, although I don’t know what to make of them yet.)

Of course the girl agrees to marry the guy she just attacked in a fit of homicidal rage, because that’s how fairy tales work. And now we finally, finally get around to Iron Henry.

Dude’s a servant of the prince, and he’s been pretty bummed about the whole frog thing. Not even because of his paycheck. He had to get three iron bands put in around his heart, to keep it from breaking over the whole mess.

But now his prince is back and he’s getting married, and Henry’s so happy those bands just snap right off. So Iron Henry really loves his king, is what I’m getting here. I mean, we’re talking literal heart-breakage. He had to get preventative surgery.

Yikes.

If this was a popular story, in the here and now, you know they’d ship it hard. I can already see the fanart. And let me tell you, Iron Man frenching a frog? Not the prettiest picture.

Anyway.


Girls, don’t make promises you can’t keep, and remember, murder is not the answer. Guys, don’t marry someone who tried to kill you, and stay out of other people’s beds. And if anyone’s in the market for heart surgery, hit up Henry for some tips.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Greetings from the Attic

I don't have much in the way of blog content this week, and I probably won't for a while; I've just moved, and I don't have internet at the new place yet, and it's not really a priority. Also, I start my first full time job tomorrow, so. Social media is getting neglected.

But last Sunday I moved into the attic apartment of a huge old house, and my life this week has been solitude and gardens and excellent views, and I am very happy. I feel like a fairy tale character. A princess in a tower. Like Cinderella or Rapunzel, only without the kidnapping and slave labor and stuff.

I've been slowly revising a novel, and it's been hard to focus on anything else, writing-wise, but if you have a fairy tale you want me to yell about or whatever, comment or something. In theory I'm going to work my way through the most interesting parts of Il Pentamerone, but I might not get to it for awhile.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cat Cinderella

Have I told you guys about Cat Cinderella? I don’t think I’ve told you guys about Cat Cinderella. This’ll be a short one.

Okay, so first of all, the title. I don’t know, guys. I have no idea. Cinderella isn't a cat. Cinderella doesn’t even have a cat. There are no cats in this story.

Now, this is from Il Pentamerone, so you know right away it’s gonna be something. This book also gave us The Golden Root, Rape Sleeping Beauty, and Necrophilia Snow White. Those Italians, man. I need to look into what was happening in Italy around this time, because something must be up. Seriously. They’re not okay.



Whatever. Story time. So, girl’s mom dies, dad remarries, girl hates stepmom. Standard, right? Here’s where things get interesting: Cindy’s got a governess. Cindy thinks the governess would be a way better stepmom than the one she’s got right now. So what does Cindy do?

Cindy snaps her stepmom’s neck.

She pulls that classic Juniper Tree move—you know, where you ask the person to get something from a chest, then slam the lid down on their neck? Not a fun way to go.

So Murderella introduces dad to governess, and they get married. And, well. Let’s just say she regrets the whole thing. The governess was all like, I can be your new mommy, Cindy. We just gotta get rid of this loser. But it turns out she’s a lot more interested in being dad’s wife than in being Cindy’s mom. 

And this is where we launch into our own familiar Cinderella story. Wicked stepfamily, magic tree, three balls, dropped shoes, happily ever after, etc., etc. Whatever. I don't even care who lives happily ever after. You got what was coming to you, Cat Cinderella. Murder is not the answer, Cat Cinderella. Murder is never the answer.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

April Sales!

Hey, guys! So we're going to be having a special promotion through the month of April: if you buy any of my books in April 2017, you'll also get a free copy of thin. Digital or physical, your choice.

This applies to hard copies, Nook books, Kindle editions. If you buy a copy of thin, you'll get a second copy free.

Shipping is also free.

So if you buy anything during April, send a copy of your receipt to jennynprater@gmail.com, along with whether you'd like digital or physical, and a shipping address if applicable.

Books you can purchase:

Goodbye
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Avalanche
Amazon
Barnes and Noble (1)
Barnes and Noble (2)

thin
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Etsy

And He Became a Handsome Prince
Amazon
Barnes and Noble


Happy April!


Sunday, March 26, 2017

No, He's Not My Boyfriend

The first time I was assigned a romantic partner based on hair color, I was five. His name was Cody, and we were both blonde. Obviously, it was meant to be. I retaliated by declaring my intention to marry another boy, one with brown hair, and spent the next several years fiercely defending a crush based more on spite than attraction.

The second time I was assigned a romantic partner based on hair color, I was fifteen. His name was Devin, a church friend, and it wasn’t the first time I’d had to convince someone that was all he was. It took me a week to reassure a friend with a crush that she wasn’t getting between anything, and I nearly hated him, I think, by the time she believed I wasn’t in love.

The hair color incident, though, took place several months later, after his romance with my friend had flourished, then immediately crashed and burned, the way long distance relationships between high schoolers, based on a single meeting, tend to do. It was New Year’s Eve, and our church was holding an all-night event with two others. Devin and I were on nursery duty, with a dozen small children, loud and far too energetic at midnight, none of whom we’d met before.

The culprit was a little boy, four or five, very cute.

Not cute enough to pull a stunt like that.

Of course, when he realized that I was fifteen, and Devin still only fourteen, he came to his senses and saw that it would never work—apparently you have to be compatible in age as well as hair color. A narrow escape, but Devin, I nearly kissed you then and there—spite, again. I don’t like being told who I’m allowed to be with, even by preschoolers.

I don’t like to be told what to do in general (a source of great conflict between me and precocious young cousins), but about my love life, happily nonexistent, I get particularly testy.

I recently went with a male friend to Scandinavia, and I cannot count the number of times the following conversation occurred.

“So you’re here with your girlfriend?”

“No.”

“Oh. Your sister, then.”

“No.”

At this point the questioner stares at us with an expression of blank confusion, and I take a casual step behind Jamie. When men begin this interrogation, I always get the impression there’s one more question they’re dancing around: “Hey, dude, are we gonna have a problem if I bang this chick against a train station wall and have my way with her?”

It’s not that I’m scared of these men—I have a one inch blade in my pocket, and can use it to kill someone in three different ways. Not that I’ve ever tried. But they’re a nuisance, with all of their assumptions. I am travelling with Jamie, therefore I must in some way belong to him. It is not a problem I expected to encounter outside a work of historical fiction.

So, a note to all those who have ever suggested I am or ought to be dating my friends, whether you are other friends, small children, or creepy Norwegian men: No, he is not my boyfriend. I don’t care how old he is, and I do not care about the color of his hair. No, he is not my brother, or my boyfriend, and no, you cannot be my boyfriend instead.   

No, I do not have a boyfriend. No, I do not want one.


Maybe if I dyed my hair purple, there would be no one left to set me up with.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Adventures in Accidental Tourism

(I wrote this ages ago and I'm too lazy to adjust it to reflect that. Sorry.)

My favorite thing to do in London is get lost in it. I have been here for three days, and have managed to get lost on every one of them.

London is a big place, full of many big things, most of which I have not seen. Big Ben and the London Eye were noticed in passing. Buckingham Palace remains a mystery. Rumors about the historical nature of that large building down the street persist, but as I have passed it only alone in the dark, I cannot quite bring myself to care. It is a landmark that points toward home; that is enough for me.

I recently walked past a man dressed as a woman, complete with wigs in multiple locations. I entered four bookshops on my first day, and came across some excellent gelato. Having spent long hours squinting at street signs and praying to survive the crossing, I have come to the conclusion that both maps and traffic laws here are based more on hope than fact. I have passed six Southampton Rows now. One of them, I’m told, leads to my hotel.

Completely by accident, I have found the home of Charles Dickens. Also by accident, I have found myself at Parliament, the Tate Modern Art Museum, and five more bookstores. It is true that I have been provided with a map, but even if I was good with maps, I doubt I would use it. The lives of those who are not chronically lost must be very boring indeed.

There is a street called the Strand. It is also called about six other things, but the Strand was the most interesting and memorable of them. I’ve walked up and down it several times—straight lines are important for the easily lost, although I’ve still managed, somehow, to get turned around a few times.

The three months I’ve spent in Europe have been strange, stressful, and utterly overwhelming. There are a lot of things, I’m sure, that I could have learned in London. I could have paid some attention to Parliament. I could have actually entered the Tate. At the very least, I could have taken a photo of the plaque informing me that I was at Dickens’ house. But I didn’t. And in the four days I have left in London, I probably won’t.

I’ve learned a lot about the places I’ve seen—who lived there, who died there, what they wrote, who they worshipped, how they worshipped, who they loved. I have cried for dead men I never knew, I have walked on the graves of my ancestors, and I am tired. For three months I have known where I’m going. Today I don’t.

The sky is overcast, the light breaking through it soft and dull. The streets are dirty. People ignore me, which is a blessing. They don’t explain the history of the architecture I pass, they don’t rake their eyes slowly up and down my body, and they don’t whistle. I make up my own histories for each interesting building as I walk by, and I don’t ask for directions.

In a bookstore on a dirty, quiet corner, a woman from Topeka tells me about the weekend she just spent in the Lake District, and the week she spent in Minneapolis ten years ago. In another, three or six or twelve blocks down, depending on how many wrong turns it takes to get there, the cashier and I fangirl gleefully over the new book I’m buying, recently written by an amazing and underappreciated author.

There are a lot of ways to be lost, and I’ve experienced most of them. This endless tour of Europe has been constant structured chaos, and in the midst of it I’ve lost a lot of things, like peace, faith in humanity, and my sense of self. Sometimes when you get lost enough physically, you end up finding yourself emotionally, or spiritually, or however you lost yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do.

So I didn’t learn a lot in London. But I’ve had an even more valuable experience. Here is a city full of normal people living normal lives, surrounded by history but not yet a part of it. I don’t like to go looking for things; I only feel like a failure when they constantly elude me. Beauty is better when you stumble upon it by accident.

I’m sure there are a lot of great things for a tourist to do in London, but I can’t give you much information about any of them. For three months I’ve watched the lives of people who died a long, long time ago. This week I chose to close all the books, turn in all the audio guides, and sit on the outskirts of lives still being lived. I took a few wrong turns, I missed a few great sites, and I found some peace.

Not all who wander are lost. But I am, and that’s the way I like it.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to Kiss with Tongue

It happens at the mall. I am bored, exhausted by a long, hard day of boredom, which so far has involved trips to every store I know how to drive to without GPS. At the mall I am accosted, as usual, by many men in booths who want to sell something. As usual, my inability to say no inevitably leads me to a poorly cushioned stool in a dimly lit hallway. The man—Kelly, for now—wishes to sell me a hair straightener. I own two hair straighteners already, one exactly like the one in his hand, except that it was accompanied, the night before my junior prom, by a much better sales spiel. Besides, I like my hair curly. 

Two days after the last time we speak, I will dye it all pink.

Kelly tells me many times how pretty I am. He tells me many more times how much prettier I am with straight hair. Having failed, at the end of a long and awkward hour, to take any of my money, he settles for taking my phone number instead.

It is, halfway through my twenty-second year of life, the third time I have been asked out. The first two times were by the same boy, agreed to due to the aforementioned inability to say no. Both were immediately followed by a full year with no communication at all, despite the fact that we saw each other on a weekly basis. I am not sure they count.

The third time I give him my number, take a selfie with the straightened hair, and proceed to the next stop on my road trip of boredom. I get lost.

Kelly calls me the next morning, with vague directions to an overpriced organic restaurant on the opposite side of the Cities. I get lost three times, but still manage to sit on the hood of my car in the parking lot, staring down at the faded pavement, for half an hour, before I am summoned to collect him from his house, presumably due to car problems.

Following three more rounds of lostness, we return to the overpriced organic restaurant together, ordering two different breakfast dishes, both of which we share.

I do not know how much food Kelly wants to eat, as well as being put off by the extreme organic-ness, and pick at it slowly. He talks of his desires to kayak, his sister who is a writer, and the prettiness of my still-straightened hair. He tells me that his real name is Alon, and makes insightful comments on the contrast between my confidence in my ideas and lack of confidence in my voice. I am confused when he tries to take my hand beneath the table, and fidget until he explains, smiling, charmed and patronizing. When he suggests a movie, I agree, composing a list in my head of everything in theaters, and contemplating which would be bearable with a guy I barely know. The one with the superheroes, maybe, though I’ve already seen it.

He directs me back to his house, and inability to say no prevailing, I sit quietly on the floor while he fetches sheets from the dryer and remakes the bed. We use my Netflix account to begin a rather stupid movie, and I react with a clinical indifference when he begins to kiss me. The sheets are black, still slightly damp, and the movie still runs in the background. He tastes like Middle Eastern food, even though he just finished a plate of organic whole wheat five grain gluten free sugar free pancakes. With syrup.

I allow the dampness of his mouth, slightly unpleasant, on my mouth and various other areas, noting that its placement on my neck produces a tingling sensation. When I do not react properly, he coaches me, slowly and gently, through the monumental task of opening my mouth when his tongue approaches, then pushing my own against it. This leads to more dampness, and the tingling is gone.

Having confirmed for the third time that I am not cold, he finally coaxes me into removing my jean jacket. I am concerned for a moment about the pocket knife I can no longer reach, stolen from my little brother, dropped in my deepest pocket at the insistence of my roommate. But I will not need it. When I become visibly uncomfortable he stops. We spend a confused few minutes actually watching the movie, until my parents call wondering where I am. I take the opportunity to escape. He does not call again.


Six weeks later I will see him at the mall again, his ponytail gone, smiling seductively at a girl who looks troublingly young, clutching a new hair straightener to her chest, blushing and giggling. He asks if I want to buy a hair straightener. Shaking my head, I walk around the corner. I wait until I’m out of sight to sit down on a bench, laughing hysterically.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Missing:One Fairy Tale, Mermaid Involved

So when I was little, I used to google "obscure fairy tales," then go through twenty pages of results, reading everything I could find. And I found some good stuff. The problem is, ten to fifteen years later, I'm having trouble finding it again.So I am here today to ask for your help.

There is one particular fairy tale that I've been trying hard to relocate for about three years now. Here's what I remember:


  • there was a princess trapped in a castle at the edge of the ocean
  • she had a mermaid friend
  • the mermaid really wanted the princess to hook up with her brother
  • mermen are really ugly
  • when the princess wasn't interested, the mermaid started flooding the palace
  • there was a prince around, too
  • he might have been enchanted to be a bird, possibly a blue one
  • the princess might have been a painter?
If you have seen this story, please contact me via the comments.

(Seriously guys, I'm desperate. This has haunted me for the better part of a decade.)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Robin the Wimp

I am here today to let you in on a secret. A big, important secret. You know Robin Hood? That guy with the bows and the arrows and the green tights? Well, he’s kind of a loser.

Let us begin with the story of Robin and Marian.

So you’re a teenage girl in the Middle Ages, and you don’t want to marry a creep. The solution is clear. Disguise yourself as a page and run away to find your outlaw bf. You’re in the woods, in disguise, on your way to Robin, when some dude accosts you in the woods and challenges you to a duel. Do you have time for this crap? No. You do not. But he’s insistent, so you beat him soundly and prepare to go on your way.

“Wait,” the man says. “I am Robin Hood in disguise, and I’d like you to join my band of outlaws.”

“Seriously, Robin?” You remove your hat. “You were just gonna  beat up some little boy in the woods. I look twelve in this outfit, Robin. What is wrong with you?”

Next up: Robin and Little John. So you’re trying to cross a narrow bridge, and some punk kid decides to block your path and start a fight. You beat him up, knock him into the water. He asks you to join his band of outlaws.

Robin and Friar Tuck. Some stupid, entitled brat tries to make you carry him across a pond so he won’t get wet. You beat him up. He asks you to join his band of outlaws.

I’m sure you’re seeing the pattern here. Robin picks stupid fights, Robin loses, Robin recruits the dudes who pummel him. Robin Hood gets beaten up by his best friend, his girlfriend, his best friend’s cousin, his own cousin, and his priest. Among others. He isn’t even the best archer in the band, guys! It’s some dude called Gilbert of the White Hand.

(Gilbert tangent: There’s a lot of speculation about this whole White Hand thing, and usually the conclusion is that he must have been a baker, with the flour on his hands and stuff. Like. What? Guys, Gilbert is obvs a chick. Who always has these pretty white hands in stories from this period? Girls. Duh.)

Robin must be a good leader, I guess, but that’s his main strength. I mean, come on. You become a Merry Man by beating him up. Those are literally the terms of admission. Beat up the boss. Dude’s kinda pathetic on the physical prowess crap.

(Okay. Childhood story tangent. When I was, like, two, I used to wander around the house telling stories out loud about the Disney princesses, Robin Hood Fox, and his enemies Hugs and Kisses, who were of course a T Rex and a Snow Monster. Now, I don’t recall a whole lotta details, but I do remember that Robin Hood Fox lived inside the toaster, and whenever he ran into Hugs and Kisses, he’d go back into the toaster and hide under his bed. Marian and the princesses had to go drag him out so he could fight them, and it was never pretty. Basically, this is me telling you that toddler me had weird psychic powers and sensed the inherent wimpiness of Robin Hood a decade and a half before I read the ballads that made it clear.)


I love Robin. I really, really do. In all his incarnations, but don’t even get me started on that cartoon fox, guys. I’ve been in love with Robin Hood since the first time I saw him. But let’s be real. He’s not the first guy you pick for your dodge ball team.