Once Upon a Time…much later

Dear readers,

I admit that my site has become part of the blogging graveyard–that nebulous place that unattended blogs inhabit until its finally shut down or–more ominous–it remains forever, like a dark stain on your mythical permanent record there to taunt you with the memory of your inaction.

In my defense, I started the blog for all the wrong reasons. I knew I needed an on-line presence of some kind since I continue to avoid Twitter, Facebook, and all the other trendy social media people in my age group should embrace.

This may sound like a cop-out, but my excuse is a genuine one. I have been working on my fiction writing in the interim, diligently. But I know that blogging does help exercise my writing chops. So, I reevaluated my blog and decided the subject didn’t work for me anymore. I considered letting the whole enterprise go, but I hit upon a better idea. Something I know I can write about with conviction and authority, while not taking myself too seriously.

If I’ve piqued your interest, please join me at my new site. Thanks for reading my work–each follow was a huge thrill–I hope you’ll keep it up and I promise to do the same.

Bye for now!

Red Civility and the Wolf of Rudeness

“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.” –Edmund Burke

 

I’ve been thinking about Little Red Riding Hood—specifically the scene where she confronts her “grandmother” about her new look.

 

Wolf and Red

Little Red Riding Hood choosing her words with care. (picture by William Henry Margetson 1861-1940)

“Oh Grandmother, what big ears you have.”

“Oh Grandmother, what big eyes you have.”

“But Grandmother, what large hands you have!”

“Oh! But Grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!”

 

It occurs to me that if this had been present day, Red would never have gotten that close. She would have insulted Grandmother with some quip about, “Girl, you look like death—what’s up with that?!” and dropped the basket at the door. I don’t think anyone wanted her to get eaten by a wolf, but because she did and survived, she was the better for it.

This is a perfect illustration of what we’ve become. We’d rather go for the cheap laugh than really try to help someone. We think of kindness as falseness and are encouraged to, “keep it real.”

Well, how’s this for real? Almost every law we’ve ever fought for and enacted has been in the furtherance of civility. Our constitution was born of a people who wanted respect and fairness. Should we be proud that we are a people who legislate thoughtfulness or sad that it needs to be written into law? Probably both, but in an age where people can anonymously churn out hate in a comment section perhaps Shakespeare is right when he writes discretion is the better part of valor.

This isn’t coming out of thin air. I recently had an experience where my work had to be critiqued. I welcome the chance to hear other people’s thoughts and know it’s the only way to improve. However, one of my reviewers thought it was an appropriate venue to scrawl expletives and spew condescension in place of real criticism. I’m lucky I have a thick skin, but the sting was still there. More than anything, I was angry that the critic thought this was a good way to make a point.

Fairy tales teach us that the kind and sweet suffer, but are rewarded in the end with (their version) of a happy life. I do hope that’s true.

Its times like these I turn, not to fairy tales, but to philosophy. And when the subject is civility no one does it better than Edmund Burke. I leave you with this thought and hope it will help you when you encounter any incivility.

 

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” –Edmund Burke

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day Confession

As many of you know, Disney has my heart. It’s the kind of love that can withstand many missteps (like tarting up Merida for her princess unveiling, waiting way too long to give us diverse princesses, and making a meeting with the Frozen girls at Disneyworld a logistical nightmare for any parent). For quite a long time it was strictly platonic…and then came Aladdin.

I was eleven when Aladdin was first released in movie theaters. Junior high was already on the horizon, and my elementary school heart was already thinking about boys in a serious way. The thing was, I wasn’t one of those girls who fantasized about getting married. My career was a more exciting prospect and freedom was my main objective. But I still obsessed about boys. Jazmine was relatable to me, she wanted more than what was expected of her—and what was expected was marriage. I can’t remember if I made all these connections as a tween, but I knew I liked her best of all. It also didn’t hurt that we had the same skin tone.

Then I met him. Aladdin. Handsome and clever and completely unafraid of a strong woman. He could sing and he had a flying carpet. His best friend was a monkey and (really thrilling to eleven year old me) he never wore a shirt. Escandalo! Was he real? I fully admit to the fact that I developed a huge crush on an animated character, but looking back it wasn’t as strange as I made it sound. Aladdin is the male protagonist I always look for when I read (and write) a book. We take it for granted in an age where women and minorities wish to be heard and want to be represented in every conceivable way. But finding that elusive unicorn—the well-rounded male—is almost impossible. A man who is strong yet sensitive enough to realized when we don’t need (or want) to be rescued. A male character who shows vulnerability and courage. It was exciting then and refreshing now.

picture of Aladdin with bread

Aladdin with a reassuring smirk

These men exist in nature. I’ve met them and I married one, but why are they rare in stories? We’ve replaced the two-dimensional female archetype from fairy tales and replaced her with an equally underdeveloped male archetype.

Yes, I know this movie sets a lot of people’s teeth on edge with its stereotypes and insensitive song lyrics (which Disney recently changed in the song, Arabian Nights) and I freely admit that my analytical side gnashes right along with them. But this isn’t that kind of post.

I know that by the end of the movie, Jazmine wanted nothing more than to marry Aladdin. The feminist in me wants to rail against that, but honestly I don’t. Once you’ve found the one who lets you be you, it’s reason enough to want to spend the rest of your life with them. So, I don’t begrudge her suddenly going gaga over him. If I ever met Aladdin, my well-rounded husband would have some real competition.

Ending the year going Into the Woods

I’ve never been one for the obvious. If it’s too easy, it’s boring. If everyone is doing it, something must be wrong. So there’s no reason I should like Into the Woods. It’s so blatantly a metaphor for a life lesson. You go through the woods naïve and afraid of the unknown only to emerge smarter and warier of the road ahead. Red Riding Hood learns about the dangers of straying from the path. Cinderella finds her voice. The baker realizes he’s not alone. Jack loses a friend but gains independence. Even writing these lines I want to yell “DUH” at the screen.

But I love it. I love the music. I adore the Witch. The message is clever even while being obvious. When I saw the production as a kid I thought it was so cool that someone decided to mash all these fairy tales together. Now as an adult I’ve gained new insight into the lyrics. It’s an honest to goodness family movie mostly because you can watch it all your life and get something new each time. This time I learned about reluctance.

We’re days away from the New Year and that means the dreaded list of resolutions. Last year I did away with the entire idea of it with the notion that making a list is just a way to make me feel bad by April (or March) because I’ve lost interest in them. My resolutions are usually related to moving more and exercise. Despite my best efforts, I am generally a sedentary creature preferring to read and write more than move and sweat.

I searched fairy tales for a good story on reluctance, but I have yet to find one. Reluctant heroes are not a problem in fairy tales. Princes chase down maidens who gratefully accept the assistance. Tailors seek adventures on the basis of having downed seven flies with one hit. Little girls with bold outerwear head to Grandma’s without a thought for the hungry wolf that lies in wait. Reluctance is not something fairy tale characters are acquainted with.

Except in Into the Woods. Only kids have no fear of the woods. Adults are very aware that the unknown could hold danger or at least disappointment. They’re all reluctant to enter, but they go because it’s the only way to get what they want. Hemming and hawing are allowed, but the woods are still waiting. Just like the New Year and my resolutions. So, I’ll make my resolutions yet again and work to get past May with them (at least).

No more hemming and hawing…the woods await.

Ducktales by the ghyll in UK

A touch of whimsy in the woods.

Happy 2015!

 

 

Gardening Tips from Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Mary Mary quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells

And pretty maids all in a row

 

I am a terrible gardener. More to the point, I’m a reluctant one. I find people and animals more rewarding than plants, so it’s hard to make myself pay the attention necessary to keep them alive. My mother is always trying to encourage me to plant things, but I always say the same thing,

“It doesn’t work.”

But she buys me plants which I promptly kill. I like gardens, but they’re for other people. I imagine those people are also great at craft projects and make their own sausage. I picked my creative outlets, so I had to think of this from another angle. I like practicality, so I decided to try practical gardening.

So I tried this year to keep a small herb garden. I cook a lot and I was tired of throwing out unused fresh herbs. At first it worked rather well. I cheated and bought one of those already started herb gardens which all sit in the same pot from the farmer’s market. After watering them for a few days I caught the planting bug and bought a few more. Then a vacation dawned and I actually worried about their well-being without me there to care for them. I bought those water globes, but there weren’t enough at the store for all my plants. So, I consigned the un-globed to Mother Nature and hoped for the best.

I returned to a still thriving garden. I was surprised and even more surprising was how much I cared. So I kept watering and tending. I even started snipping some for dishes that needed fresh herbs. I felt smug—the way you do when you buy all organic and free trade—and planned for more plants.

Then the inevitable happened. My cutting had damaged them. It kept raining, so I reasoned I didn’t have to water them as much. The purple basil lost its purple. My tarragon wasn’t growing any leaves. I started to lose interest. And then two incredible things happened.

Garbage flower

Random plant growing from dead bulbs

 

First, the sunflower seeds I leave out for the birds and squirrels had been planted and I had a surprise sunflower blooming in my garden. Then a blub I had thrown in an old garbage can because it had died began to grow. It made me think of the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary because if you looked in my old garbage pail you’d find a light bulb, shriveled tulip bulbs, and kitty litter left by the previous owners to keep the pail from tipping in the wind.

My planned garden was dying, but a new magical one was flourishing. The sunflower already had its “day in the sun” and now the garbage plant is flowering. Hubby wants to kill it because it brushes against the car when we leave the garage, but I refuse. It’s become my affirmation. All summer I felt guilty because I wasn’t able to get my writing done. But now I know it was lying dormant, just waiting for the right time to flourish.

 

Plant growing in a garbage pail

Flourishing plant growing by itself

Transformations with The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid in Denmark

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in Denmark

 

Having a blog has taught me some interesting things about myself. Some things I already knew and the blog just solidified the fact (i.e. I thrive on deadlines because without them my default is lazy). Some were funny (like how ridiculously happy it makes me when someone leaves a comment). How guarded I am was a big surprise.

I like meeting people in person. I strike up random conversations on mass transit, waiting for my daughter to be dismissed from school, in elevators, etc. I’ll answer questions, give advice and even share my phone number if I think we’re going to be friends (I know this is totally against what Winnie the Pooh taught me when he sang “Be too smart for strangers.”). I really like to share because invariably it leads to others sharing with you. I’m not a blabbermouth, but I’m rather open.

Not so with the internet. It took me two years to put my real name on the blog. I still don’t have a Facebook account because I’m uncomfortable having people randomly find me (I know what you’re thinking—but you have a blog!) and I do as much as I can to avoid signing up for anything that requires personal information. It’s something I continually struggle with—transformation is tricky. It’s like my relationship with the Little Mermaid.

I have a real problem with The Little Mermaid. The Disney version tells the story of a 16 year old who falls in love with a man she’s only seen once and proceeds to defy her father, give up her legs and voice to a sea witch, and then find a way to make the prince fall in love with her. Being Disney, she is able to persevere and win his love after which her father gives her legs and she and Prince Eric sail off into the sunset happy and married. Her age is my biggest qualm because as the mother of a headstrong daughter I shudder at how easily King Triton gave into Ariel’s hissy-fit. It’s the same reason I really dislike Romeo and Juliet (two teens throwing the ultimate hissy and make good on the threat “If I don’t get my way, I’ll just die!”). Despite writing YA I’m against hyperbole.

But the original story has her trading her tail for legs, which makes her the most graceful person on land but she must experience the pain of walking on dozens of knife points with every step. What did I learn? Real transformation is painful—a constant battle. Even after all that pain the tragic Little Mermaid opted to let her true love be happy with another instead of taking his life to regain her tail. I’ve never been a fan of martyrdom, but it makes a point.

Now, I’m almost ashamed to say, I finally read the original work by Hans Christian Andersen. (Imagine someone with a blog about fairy tales not having read a fairy tale!) In the real story she does lose the prince (and a chance at an immortal soul), but because of her selfless act she’s asked to join the “daughters of the air” who after three hundred years of good service earn an immortal soul. Being air she can bring breezes and “carry the scent of flowers through the air, bringing freshness and healing balm wherever we go.”

What all versions have in common is sacrifice. To get what you want, you may have to give something up. For me it’s anonymity. That’s probably why I started this blog by rewriting fairy tales…it gave me a place to hide.

After two years of blogging, I think I’m finally ready for my land legs even with the risk of stabbing knives (Does that count as hyperbole?). I still have issues with The Little Mermaid, but I understand what it’s like to know where you want to be and pursuing it.

Welcome to the new Fairytale Feminista blog, answering life’s questions one fairy tale at a time. See my new About Me page!

Losing it

I’ve been thinking about loss and fairy tales lately. It’s the prologue to most stories, shaping the hero’s or heroine’s current misfortune. Be they motherless, fatherless, or orphans loss is the beginning of a story in fairy tales. Disney has made this fact into a cliché. It’s been joked that Frozen didn’t become a true Disney movie until (spoiler alert) the parents are lost at sea. I almost think it’s pointless to warn you of the spoiler because as I mentioned before, it’s Disney’s hallmark.

So what can fairy tales tell us about loss? Is it the impetus that makes ordinary people into heroes? Do princesses (or would be princesses) jump at the chance to marry royal strangers because of “daddy issues”? Are feelings of abandonment just the push a boy needs to take on giants and consider thievery as a way of life? Maybe yes, but maybe nothing so blatant.

As a historian, I’m aware that these stories were written in a time when disease, war or poverty would likely tear apart families. But fairy tales don’t care about the mundane. They focus on the fantastical, spinning tales that take us out of the everyday. Wouldn’t you want to escape a reality in which becoming orphaned probably only meant a life of impoverishment and servitude? In the real world, Cinderella would have grown old and haggard at the beck and call of those three spiteful cats. Or she would have run away to the city and been forced into prostitution to survive.

Am I the only one who sees a face?

Am I the only one who sees a face?

But I’m not just a historian. I’m a person with whimsy who sees imprisoned souls in strangely shaped trees. All it takes is a too bright moon and I immediately start to spin a tale about a community of nightwalkers affected by its phases, collecting magical Moonshine. Not all the ideas become a full-fledged story, but more than a fair share get filed in my ideas folder. And one of the most basic things everyone wonders about is death and loss, so why isn’t it a prominent feature in fairy tales? Sleeping Beauty side-steps it with a sleeping spell meant to keep her in suspended animation for a century waiting for her “true love.” Snow White is barely cold in her glass coffin before Prince Charming comes along and dislodges the chunk of apple the dwarves were clearly too short to Heimlich. Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are swallowed whole by the Wolf only to be cut out of his belly by the Woodsman. Even the newest old story, Frozen, gives us a heroine who sacrifices her life and is rewarded by it being returned to her.

In my search for loss in fairy tales, I came across a story from my childhood. It falls under folklore and legend more than fairy tale, and is a popular story in Puerto Rico. It’s called La Leyenda de la Piedra del Perro, or The Legend of Dog Rock. Not far from El Morro in Old San Juan there’s a small beach with a long natural rock wall. At its tip is a rock formation that when looked at from the right angle resembles a sitting dog.

The story goes that a soldier, Enrique, from back when Puerto Rico was part of Spain, was stationed there, far from home and lonely for companionship. One day he finds an injured and emaciated puppy whom he nurses back to health with food and love. In return the dog never leaves his side and becomes his best friend. As is inevitable with all soldiers, Enrique is called to a battle which requires him to leave the dog behind. They part tearfully and as the boat carrying his human companion sails away, the dog (called Amigo) swims to the rock wall and sits there from sun up to sundown awaiting his return. There’s a brutal battle in which all hands, including Enrique, are lost. The dog overhears the news and rushes out to the wall waiting without respite. He stays so long and so still he turns to stone and remains there to this day.

I’m not sure what that story teaches us. On the one hand loss is something that can’t be gotten over and you can remain stuck in a moment of despair without moving on. Or it could mean that loss forces out the very nature of a being. For the dog, it was loyalty. It could be said that for the characters of popular fairy tales, it was a desire to be more or escape their current situation. In both cases, it led to profound change. Fairy tales teach us that no matter how mundane today might seem and yesterday was, tomorrow could be extraordinary–either good or ill. They teach us that loss is not the end of the story.

Waiting as taught by Thumbelina

I hate waiting.

I rank it up there with pulling teeth and stupid people. It’s not that I can’t deal with having a tooth pulled or muddle through interactions with the intentionally daft, but I’d rather not–thank you very much!

But writing has taught me about waiting because books don’t spring forth perfect and complete when you snap your fingers. I’ve tried and barring the sudden arrival of Samantha or Tabitha, it won’t happen. (I would have used a more contemporary reference like Charmed, but they were always so worried about that personal gain thing).

Currently I’m in the longest waiting period, the time before school begins and my days become mine again. I now understand all those Staples commercials where parents push carts beatifically buying school supplies for disgruntled children–it is the most wonderful time of the year! As I’ve seen time and again, mothers (and fathers) who are also writers have had to reconcile their lack of productivity while their kids are home. We talk about it, write about it, commiserate and tell each other it’s okay. Use the time for other things, like reading or in my case note taking for book 4.

But all the sympathetic noises in the world can’t silence that small voice in your head saying you had a deadline, which has come and gone. That got me to thinking about Thumbelina.

Photo Credit: kissabug via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kissabug via Compfight cc

You remember the story? Woman can’t have children (I think because she’s alone and sperm banks weren’t exactly the rage in Early Modern Europe), so the village witch gives her a seed to plant from which a girl “no bigger than my thumb” is born. Good thing is wasn’t me–I’ve killed cacti.

Anyway, after the idyllic stage, Thumbelina is kidnapped, lost, stolen, and myriad other things which take her from her mother. And just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, she wants to go home. At some point, winter comes (just as it always does–thank you GoT) and she knows she can’t make the trek in that kind of weather. She hibernates with a field mouse and an injured bird until the spring thaw. And then she is reunited with her mother. But during this time away she made friends, met other people her own size, and even fell in love with a fairy prince (I object to that part, but it rounds out the story).

Photo Credit: katinthecupboard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: katinthecupboard via Compfight cc

Now I can’t claim that I’ve gone on life-changing adventures, but I’ve spent time with my family, written notes and learned new things about my story I wouldn’t have noticed if I was furiously writing. The same thing happened when I was looking for work. While I was keeping my head in interviews, resumes, and searches, I didn’t stop to ask why I was doing it. When I finally took a breath, I realized I was happiest writing. I don’t know if I would have made that leap if I were still keeping my head down.

So, the next time I start to get down on myself for not finishing book 4 by the end of summer I’ll think of Thumbelina. The journey is worth just as much as the destination…but I still hate waiting.

The Valiant Little Tailor and Other Brave Declarations

If ever there was a fairy tale character to look up to, I think Grimm’s The Valiant Little Tailor should be at the top of the list. Here was a man who had no problems telling the world about his amazing deed, even though the “seven in one stroke” he killed were only flies who wanted his jam. It led to other great deeds with giants, unicorns and even marrying a princess.

The reason I admire the Valiant Little Tailor (or VLT for short) is his ability to declare his accomplishments to anyone and everyone he meets. I think we all have parts of ourselves of which we’re proud, but don’t date tell anyone. Mine is easy—I’m a writer.

I know that sounds like a statement from Captain Obvious, but I find it challenging to tell people I’m a writer. I have this recurring fantasy where I finally tell everyone while simultaneously passing around copies of my newly published book. In a sense, I’m a closeted writer and I only tell people I trust to keep it quiet.

But why? As I continue to navigate the publishing world, words like platform and following keep popping up. I know my silence will only hurt my chances of generating buzz and keeps me from things like Facebook and Twitter. Even this blog has the name FairytaleFeminista, but I’ve never listed my name. It’s hard to put yourself out there, but people who want to make their living in creative fields have to do it constantly.

Writing becomes so personal because it’s mostly you and your words inhabiting a cozy universe of your making. In this world you can delete the unpleasant bits, reword the awkward phrases, and configure personalities that fit into your creation. When your writing becomes public, you can’t erase what other people think, do, or write about your work. And honestly, who’s a bigger control freak than a person invents people and decides their fates based on the needs of a plot. Doctors have nothing on writers when it comes to a God complex!

Was VLT on to something? Should we just emblazon our truth on a sash and wear it out in the world? When is the right time to “come out” to friends and family about your literary aspirations? Will it be more like a debutant announcing herself at a cotillion or am I declaring my alternative lifestyle, horrifying the practical 9 to 5ers in my life? Well, I’ve taken a few positive steps in that regard and introduced myself as a writer to a stranger. That was easy. Let’s try some more.

Hello, my name is Ivia Cruz and I’m a writer. I’ve written three novels and I’m working on a fourth.

That felt good.

Now what should I do about that LinkedIn page?

How about you? What’s your VLT story?