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

 

 

 

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

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?

Community in the Wilderness: Searching for a Writer’s Group in the Wilds of the Web

“Why did you start a blog?”

It’s a question I get asked periodically by people who don’t write blogs. The honest answer is “platform”. It’s one of those buzzwords you can’t escape if you go to conferences, subscribe to newsletters, and generally stay abreast of the latest in writing and publishing. You hear it often enough that you begin to feel inadequate or inauthentic as a writer if you don’t have one. So, kicking and screaming I began a blog that focuses on fairy tales. It made the best sense because the YA series I’m working on is based on nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

At first, it was a chore. I agonized over the About Me section, trying to sounds both informative and pithy enough that other people would want to read it. I tried to look at it as my “trial by fire” because whatever I wrote would immediately be critiqued. At least that’s what I thought until I realized how hard it is to make your lone voice heard in the cacophony that is the blogosphere. But even when I wasn’t read, I felt as though each posting was a courageous effort to put myself out there–proof I was a writer each time I clicked Publish.

My best day was when, out of nowhere, a random person started following by blog. My initial reaction was, “Why are you following me?” But soon that gave way to real happiness and a renewed optimism in this process. Maybe blogging could be rewarding. Maybe I could grow to love it. Well, I was happy that I could at least find times to like it.

I kept writing. I also kept blogging and reveled in every new follower. I would post and click (too often) on the Stats page to see if my post was being viewed. Often I would be disappointed by the turnout. Sometimes I was surprised by what really got people’s attention. Nevertheless, I continued hoping to find the magic recipe of topic and writing that would make readers want another helping. Then I fell into what all bloggers can attest to.

Call it Blogger’s Blahs or Poster’s Paralysis, but I felt discouraged by the lack of interest and my lack of ideas. It came in waves, and then the Blahs ebbed because a new reader joined or a new comment would buoy me. The realization was almost anti-climactic. What I really wanted was not readership, I wanted community.

Deen Village Scotland

My search takes me everywhere

Blogs about how to find a writer’s group or a critique circle are endless. They have stories of writer’s being bestowed with the friendship of like-minded writers like the Commandments. It all sounds so warm and inviting, a stark contrast to the solitary clicking of cold computer keys. You’re encouraged to branch out, make connections, join clubs and all will fall into place. Well, after a few hits and misses and, just like the querying process, you’ll find the perfect match for you. It’s like blind group dating or “Naked and Afraid” writer’s edition.

My attempts to find my tribe have been mixed. I have one writer friend who is very dedicated to helping me with my writing and we’ve forged a friendship of respect and reciprocity that makes me believe in serendipity. But you learn early on that you need lots of eyes on your work.
The rest of my circle (non-writers all) have fallen away, unable to keep up with the back and forth of rewrites. For once I could say without fear of sounding clichéd—It’s a writer thing, you wouldn’t understand. So, my search continues. Blogs exist to create a virtual community, but eventually virtual isn’t enough.

Why did I start a blog? The short answer is to find more readers, but now I know it’s really to find more writers.

Why did you start a blog? Is it the same reason you keep blogging?

The Hidden Minority Part II

I’ve been looking for a topic for some time now. After spending a week at Disney World, something occurred to me. Something I haven’t shared with you.

I have a confession to make.

Like Frieda from Peanuts I have naturally curly hair. We even have the same “birthday” although mine is many years removed. According to my internet research (and we all know how reliable that is!) she made her debut on March 6th, 1961. Twenty years later, this curly girl blogger was born. I always liked Frieda because she, unlike me, was proud of her naturally curly hair and mentioned it at every opportunity. I, on the other had, tend to do everything in my power to make my hair straight, or at least no more than wavy. I know I’m not alone, but this year I decided to take a bold step. I’ve gone curly.

Curly Frieda

Picture of Frieda from Peanuts, courtesy Rankopedia.com

To you straight-haired girls, this is hardly worth mentioning, but to those in the know it’s a revelation. But the revelation also comes with a catch. No curly-haired role models, or very few on hand. The field gets even thinner when you look at the representations of classic fairy tale characters. Our only lighthouse in the sea of hair is Merida from Disney Pixar’s Brave, whose hair was quickly smoothed out when she made her debut as a Disney princess. Even proud Frieda, with her bouncy locks, began to fade into obscurity in favor of helmet-haired Lucy and lanky-haired Marcie and Peppermint Patty.

When did we decided that our fairy-tale heroes and heroines couldn’t have naturally curly hair? After Snow White, it was quite a while before Disney even had a non-blonde princess, let alone a curly one. I watched the parades, princess meet & greets, and noticed a distinct lack of curls. Is it a silly thing to ask for corkscrews and fractals with a penchant for absorbing ambient moisture? I am officially adding curly girls to my hidden minority.

I suppose there are more important issues to soapbox about like honest equality, world peace, an myriad other pressing concerns.

I want world peace, and I think a great way to start is for me to make peace with my hair.

Me as a curly girl

Me trying to make peace with my curly hair

Sympathy for the Devil?

There’s a new school of thought roaming the halls for fiction. I’ve referred to it in the past as revisionist fairy tale history. The stories handed down through the generations are very clearly morality tales all with the same basic message–being good is better than being bad. There are myriad ways to put that, but the easier to digest the better. Wolves, vain queens, little men who can spin straw into gold are best avoided and it’s easy because they so obviously look evil. It’s Black Hat Syndrome or the Disney-fication of character as I like to call it. But a new tendency, a revisionist modern view, is starting to take root in fairy tales.

I say modern because it’s our modern sensibilities, our post-Freudian minds, that asks the question, “Why does evil exist?” It begs the question, what happened in the evil queen’s life to make her hate the step-daughter so much? Can we really blame a wolf for wanting a meal–a lot of us eat meat? Is it wrong to expect payment for doing all the work while the maiden gets a new life? My question is, do you think our fairy tale reading ancestors would have asked these questions?

It’s a topic I’ve been wrestling with lately regarding the new crop of fairy tales. I’m sure everyone knows about Maleficent, Disney’s new live action take on Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s perspective. I will admit, when it first heard about it I was a little miffed because I was in the middle of writing a novel called The 13th Fairy based on the original story and I set it in Reconstruction America. It was told from the point of view of the overlooked fairy who didn’t make the party list because of a lack of golden dishware. A ridiculous reason to exclude a guest who has the potential to give some great gifts or (as they found out) a truly horrific curse. I started to wonder what happened to the fairy after she dropped the party-killing bomb. I thought her story would be much more interesting than a girl who falls asleep and waits for a prince she’s never met to wake her with a kiss. I always thought it was a little presumptuous of the other fairy to put the rest of the castle to sleep while they waited for the big rescue. Talk about royal prerogatives! Nowadays the castle folk would have sued.

But I digress. I think it’s a sign of maturity when you start wondering more about the bad guys in a story than the heroes. When we’re kids we ask why about everything, but I don’t remember questioning the stories that ended “….And they lived happily ever after.” I figured it went without saying it included pretty dresses and lots of cake, the only happily ever after a seven year old can imagine. Now I wonder about the other characters. Were the castle folk paid for their time in stasis? Were the king and queen relieved to have some new clothes? Most importantly, did Maleficent (the best name for a villain, by the way) regret her impetuous act or did she have a real axe to grind? I still haven’t seen Maleficent, but I can’t wait to find out what happens.

Are there any fairy tale villains you wish you knew more about?

Will Multicultural become a new genre?

When I was an undergrad, I had a work-study in the school career center. My main role was internet research, a sweet gig for a sophomore which came with an office and unfettered access to a computer. One day I was called into a planning meeting for a networking event. What made it different from the other networking events was its focus on multiculturalism. The office hoped to attract multicultural alumni and connect them with multicultural students. It was an excellent idea until I pointed out what I thought was an obvious glitch. Multicultural included the GLBT community and would attending our networking reception as say a white male, automatically out that student as gay? Here I was, a 19 year old intern and I’d stumped the professionals. Then I asked, perhaps naively, why the event had to be labeled as multicultural since anyone answering to that label should feel free to come to all networking receptions?

I bring up this odd memory because I’ve been looking at literary agents “what I’m looking for” blurbs and noticed an odd trend. Some list within their interests “multicultural”. Is that a genre? I always assumed that when they listed categories like YA, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller, and such they weren’t specifically asking for white. For that matter, if they could, would an agent say they were interested in white lit? I think the backlash would be tremendous. I thought the publishing community was in the business of supporting those who create engaging stories with protagonists we can connect with and antagonists we love to hate. Does that have a color? A gender? An age?

I’m well aware of the current hue and cry being sent up to make literature more inclusive and I agree that it should. I just wonder if trying to get more diverse will create a sort of literary segregation where multicultural will become its own genre. I’m sure there are those who would applaud the shift, but I think it would miss the point. In an age when the world is getting smaller while at the same time we’re becoming more cosmopolitan shouldn’t we embrace the idea of multiculturalism as a foregone conclusion? Not doing so sounds as antiquated as referring to female medical professionals as “lady doctors”.

Then again, I remember going to a writer’s conference and having a pitch session with an agent who felt my YA fantasy wasn’t edgy enough because the protagonist was too optimistic and attached to her mother. She explained that YA audiences expected more angst and snark. I wanted to explain that snarkiness doesn’t fly in all homes, and particularly not in a Hispanic home, but I was too crushed to say anything after my protagonist was labeled middle grade. Would a separate category give my protagonist better opportunities?

I don’t know what the answer to this question–it’s becoming a trend. But my research into NA and my adventures in publishing (or pre-publishing I should say) has given me more perspective. I’ll take my cue from those NA writers who said the best way to change the market is to be a part of the market. Labels are a marketing tool, not a definition as to how I should write my stories.

In the end, the career center decided to have a networking reception open to all and attracted students from all walks of life, but they still opted to call it a multicultural event. I still think it was just an event.