Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Match Girl

And the quest continues.

(The quest, for those of you who may be wondering, is to drag out a happy ending, kicking and screaming if necessary, from every story Hans Christian Andersen ever wrote.)

(Well, maybe not every story. But a lot of them.)

I believe Andersen is what I’m going to call a Religious Optimist. Basically what that means is that for a lot of his work, you have to shift your perspective for a thorough understanding, because his definition of a happy ending is based on a strong faith and a crappy life.  Which means death=heaven=happily ever after, as opposed to the general misery of daily life.

If the idea of returning to school didn’t fill me with horror and dread, my big thesis paper would totally be on this topic. “Happily Ever After: The Religious Optimism of Hans Christian Andersen.”

The facts: Andersen was a deeply religious, deeply depressed gay man in the nineteenth century. We have documentation on this from the most reputable of sources, i.e. Andersen himself.

Just try to comprehend what it would mean, the level of love and joy in Heaven, to a man who was so sad and alone on earth.

And my man Hans, he’s a realist. Does a homeless child alone on the streets in winter get whisked away by her fairy godmother and become a princess? Of course not. Life doesn’t work that way. But can a girl with no chance of a happy, healthy life on earth be happy and healthy in Heaven?

Absolutely. That’s, like, a given.

Here’s the deal. You’re an orphan living on the streets in the dead of winter. You survive on selling matches. Shockingly, not a hugely profitable career.

You die. Of course you die. You hallucinate and you die and you welcome it, because life is hell and now you get to be where the hallucinations are. What is there to live for, anyway? You’re tired, and you’re hungry, and you’re cold. Everyone you love is dead already, and everything always hurts.

Why would you want to be alive?

There are days when every thought you have, every step you take, every sight you see, brings only sadness and pain. We don’t all get to be princesses. The world doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you’re lucky just to survive. Sometimes it’s not surviving that’s really lucky.

If I ever get my hands on a time machine, the first thing I’m doing is getting Hans on some antidepressants; poor dude needs them almost as much as I do.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

12 Turtles

Today we’re gonna talk about a story I found in my collection “The Turnip Princess,” which is all stories compiled by Schonwerth. (Guys they’re amazing.)

So it’s a pretty basic story. Think “The Boy Who Set Forth to Learn What Fear Was.” Same basic pattern. You’re trying to win the hand of a princess, so you go and spend a long weekend at the local haunted castle.

There are a lot of things that can happen when you spend three nights in a haunted castle. Demons might go bowling, with your head as the ball and your ribs as the pins. They might roast you on a spit. They might peel off your skin. The ghosts come. The ghouls come. Every night you die, and if you’re brave enough you wake up in the morning alive.

Each night it gets worse. The third is the climax. And on this particular third night, in this particular story, there appear twelve turtles the size of washbasins.

In order to win the princess, you must kiss each one of these twelve turtles.

Now, fairy tales tend to have a lot of euphemisms, granted, but I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with here. Schonwerth and his translator tend to be pretty direct. All this dude has to do on his final night in the haunted castle is kiss some turtles.

Which brings us to the next thing about Schonwerth. He actually did that thing we like to pretend the Grimms did, where he wandered around collecting stories from random people across the country. And then he just wrote them down. Didn’t edit, didn’t clean them up, just wrote them down.

So these ridiculous stories he’s telling are all stories that someone told to him. Educated people, uneducated people, old people, children, mothers and fathers, people from the city, people from the country—we have no idea who.

For this particular story, I like to imagine it being told by a small child. A girl of six, perhaps.

“And then the demons boil him into soup!” she tells Schonwerth, very excited.

“Oh? And what happens next?”

She pauses, considering. “And then there are turtles.”

“And what happens with the turtles?”

“He’s gotta kiss ‘em!”

I just love Schonwerth so much, guys. There’s so much personality in his stories, and not even his own personality, a good chunk of the time.  I’ve talked a lot over the years about collective storytelling, about folklore as a conversation we’re having throughout history. Men like Schonwerth make our conversation partners feel like real people again. And it’s beautiful.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Cottage

I bought a house!

As long as I’m rearranging everything else in my life, I thought this would be a good time to rearrange my writing, marketing, and social media presence as well. Now, these things aren’t going to all take effect right away, since I’m working on them in the middle of getting set up in this new place. But here are some things you can expect moving forward.

For a fairy tale blog, I get bogged down in church issues a lot. To prevent this continuing in the future, I’ve started a separate blog exclusively for church issues. For the first few months things are mostly going to be recycled, but I’ll have new content up in a while.

I’m also preparing to start a series of book reviews for every Beauty and the Beast retelling I’ve come across. And more poems are going to be posted as I continue to work on my next book.

Over the next few months, keep an eye out for updates on goals and rewards on Patreon, new content, and information about my upcoming projects. I’ll try to make sure all content is on Patreon, as well as whatever site it originates on, so if you want to keep track of everything, just head over there; things are free to read unless I’ve specifically stated otherwise. Remember, financially supporting me on Patreon gives you access to my novel Lindworm!

Friday, July 20, 2018

This is my house

We're gonna blame the lack of recent content on this thing. New blogs and general updates coming soon; stay tuned!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

In Defense of the Beast, Part Two Hundred Eighty Seven

You are a little boy. Ten, maybe eleven years old. Your parents aren’t here; you don’t know where they are. Maybe there’s a war. Maybe they just left you here because they didn’t want a child under foot.

It’s been a long time since you’ve seen your parents. You used to miss them. You used to cry for your mama in the night.
Version 1                                                                         Version 2
You have a new mama now. She’s much nicer than your old mama. She always pays attention to you, and she hugs you and kisses you and holds you when you’re sad or scared.

But you don’t stay eleven. And it begins to seem…strange, how affectionate she is. It makes you uncomfortable, but you don’t know why. You don’t say anything, because she is your mama, the only one who’s been here for you, and surely she knows what she’s doing.

And then she asks you to marry her.

You say no.
But you hardly think of them anymore. You have new people to take care of you now.

These people aren’t your family. They’re your employees. You think they care for you, at least a little; after all, you are their prince.

But it isn't the same. They don’t hug you. Their children don’t want to play with you. They call you master and prince and sir, until you think you might forget your own name, it’s been so long since you’ve heard it.

One night, a strange old woman comes to the door, and all the grownups turn to you. You are young, a little spoiled, a little afraid. You tell them to send her away.
She doesn’t take it well.

You are not the bad guy. It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault.

As you have probably noticed, I like Beauty and the Beast. A lot. Yesterday I saw the Disney musical at my local community theater—and oh my goodness, I know I’ve said this before, but I am head over heels in love with how awkward and adorable the Beast is in the second half.

And I know there isn't anyone actively arguing with me or anything, but I felt the need to defend him. Again.

I know it’s been a really long time since I’ve been around—sorry. I bought a house, and now I’m in the process of moving into a house—more about that later—and I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly had a chance to write at all. It’ll probably continue being slow going for the next month or so, but I’m working on it. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 12, 2018

East of the Sun

There is a peasant in the woods, and his family is large and he is poor and his children are terribly ill.

One day, a large white bear comes up to him in the woods and says, “Hey, man, if you give me your youngest daughter I’ll give you a ton of money and your crops will prosper and your kids will be healthy.”

And the father is all like, “Excuse me? We do not just give people away. Especially to talking forest creatures. She’s a person, not a pair of spare boots.”

He pauses, considering the general financial situation of his family.

“I’ll ask her if she’s interested.”

Initially, our girl is not wildly enthusiastic about this opportunity, and hey, who could blame her? But things are pretty bad at home, and if she can help, well.

The bear comes back and she climbs on his back, and they travel far and far and far away, to a beautiful castle in the snow. And the bear goes off to do bear things, and the girl goes to the fancy bedroom provided. Night falls. Sleep falls.

And then, the door opens. And then, some dude gets into bed with her. And our girl, she just rolls with it. Like, okay, I’m in a magic castle with a talking bear, hundreds of miles away from everyone and everything I’ve ever known, and now there’s a strange man in my bed. Whatever.

I dunno. Maybe she’s thinking, well hey, at least it’s not the bear. Maybe she’s just too freaked out to react. Who knows?

But this keeps happening. Night after night after night. And she keeps letting it. Are they lying therein awkward silence? Are they talking? Are they sleeping? Are they having sex?

I mean, okay, they’re definitely having sex, because that’s just how fairy tales work—they never spell it out, but the implication is always there.

Anyway. Most of a year goes by. Girl gets homesick. Talks to bear. The bear is a pretty cool bear, because he’s like, “Yeah, sure, but you can only visit for a month. And also, um, please don’t talk to your mom alone?”

Now me, I’d think that last bit was a little sketchy. But our girl figures it’s a pretty good deal.

Her mom, on the other hand, her mom agrees with me. Sketchy. And of course, she manages to get her daughter alone eventually. And then she fids out about how her daughter is spending her nights.

In a move that will eternally villainize her, as it has countless other concerned fairy tale parents, mom objects.

“You’re sleeping with a strange man every night? You’ve never even seen his face? Are you even using protection? Did you listen to none of my lectures about safe sex and stranger danger? This is not okay. This is really not okay. Here. I’m gonna give you a candle and some matches. And the next time this creep shows up in your bedroom, you’re going to wait until he falls asleep, and then you’re going to light the candle and figure out what you’re dealing with.”

So when she gets back to the castle with the bear, our girl listens to her mom and lights her candle.

And this guy she’s been sleeping with for eleven months? Turns out he’s really, really cute. Like, record-shatteringly cute. Like, my-mom-would-totally-understand cute. Like, I-am-physically-incapable-of-looking-away-from-his-beautiful-face-and-my-candle-is-dripping-onto-his-nightshirt cute.

Then the hot wax gets to him, and the cute guy wakes up.

Turns out our boy is the enchanted talking bear, and he just had to get through one more month of sleeping with this girl while providing no information about himself, and the spell would have been broken and he could be a person full time again.

But now the girl, having exactly zero information about what was going on and what was expected of her, has screwed up. So he has to go to a land east of the sun and west of the moon to marry his evil troll stepmother’s evil troll daughter.

Stepmom comes, boy and castle disappear, girl is left alone in the snow. End Part One.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Conservative Christian's Guide to Not Sucking: Love

My first memory is of a little boy in a red shirt. My second and third and fourth memories are of church.

A lot of people are leaving the church these days, especially people my age. And honestly, I’m more likely to sleep in most Sundays.

It’s not about God. It has nothing to do with my faith.

I think it’s worse if your parents are pastors. I think it’s worse if you’re from a small church.

See, my early memories aren’t of sitting in a pew while adults drone on. I remember being in basements for Bible study, playing with doll on the floor. When I get bored they set aside their Bibles to hold me. A prayer meeting turns into a birthday party, with a Barbie princess themed cake. The people at church often babysit me. I love them. They’re my friends. They’re my family.

And then they’re not.

That’s the problem with being the pastor’s family. You’re born into it, and you don’t realize what it means. Not until it’s much too late.

There will always come a time when you are set apart. Something in the church goes wrong. Your family has to move on. You have to leave. And they never call, and on the streets when you see them they don’t smile, and everything is over. Everything is gone.

You grow up, and you move far away, and you go to a church where you’ve never been what you always are—the pastor’s daughter.

And you stay there for months, and no one even learns your name, and you realize things will never be the same.

These people don’t love you. These people are not your family.

And even if they were, what then? What’s the use in loving, when the people who love you always leave?

I have plenty of good church memories, but they always end when people ditch me, and everything is tainted by the sting of abandonment and betrayal. And it’s been eight years but I still don’t quite know how to forgive. And I’m so afraid to let a church be my home again, because it hurt so much when I ended up alone.

So. A word of advice for those concerned about young people leaving the church: if you remembered how to love us every day, maybe we wouldn’t have to leave.

You cast us aside so easily.

The second church family I lost, it was because some people were mad at my dad. It was nothing even to do with me. But they vanished from my life like I was nothing.

I wasn’t allowed to go to a movie theater until I was eleven, because someone at church disapproved, which is unimportant in the long run, but it’s always troubled me.

I thought you loved me. You thought the big screen was sinful.

I never expected any of you to be perfect, but eight years later I’m still stumbling beneath the weight of the pressure that was the unspoken center of my childhood. Be good. Be better. Be perfect. Be the kid that all the other kids can look up to like their parents look up to your dad, and the moment either of you fails to be flawless enough all bets are off.

Here is the thing you have to understand: you drive us away.

Your response to mistakes and disagreements is rejection. Every time.

Here is what the church becomes to me, on a Sunday morning as I think of getting up and dressed and going. Church is about being turned away at the door because your skirt is too short. It is walking in with tattoos and shoddy clothes, walking right out again to escape the disapproving, judgmental, even frightened stares. It is your baby left undedicated because you are an unwed teenage mother. It is a pastor refusing to perform a marriage because it will never last. (Forty years later they prove him wrong.)

What we learn from our mistakes in church is mostly that Christians cannot be trusted. It has little to do with God.

How can you honestly say you want to reach new people  when you actively drive away the young and confused ones you already have? We were born in the church. You never even had to reach us. You only had to keep us. And you failed.

I used to take unconditional love for granted. Now, it mostly makes me laugh, since it’s either that or cry.

I would love to be in church on Sunday. Give me a reason. Give me love. Give me trust. Make me feel safe, and maybe I’ll come back.