Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Health and Creativity


It’s been a while, and I’m here today to talk about mental health and creativity.

About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. And I was given new meds. And it was amazing. It still is. I feel real, and present, and human now, in a way I haven’t in a very long time. Maybe in a way I haven’t ever—certainly not since I was a small child, at least.

I love feeling this way. And it’s absolutely worth it.

A lot of people talk about how mental illness makes people great artists. A lot of other people talk about how that’s a load of crap, how pain isn’t the price we pay for a creative mind, how all the brilliant, mentally ill artists throughout history could have made even more, even better art if they weren’t held hostage by their own faulty brains.

Mostly I’m with that second group.

I don’t write well because I’m sick. My writing quality hasn’t gone down because I’m less sick now.

But here’s the thing: my writing quantity has. And whatever they tell you in school, quantity and quality are connected. The more things of any quality you produce, the better—we improve with experience, and the more things we make, total, the higher chance we have that some of them will be good.

I’ve found it harder to write since getting proper treatment. I still like to write. But I don’t need to anymore, and that makes all the difference.

I used to get trapped in my stories. It was terrifying, sometimes. A scene would play out in my head. And then it would play out again, and again, an endless loop for hours or days or weeks. And the only way to escape was to write it down.

I remember, once, in a ninth grade science class, a scene popped into my head where one of my characters died. And he kept dying, in the back of my head, dying and dying and dying, until I was crying over nothing in the middle of biology.

Apparently that’s a symptom of OCD. Obsessive thoughts. I used to have a lot of those.

The great tragedy of my imagination is that its contents can only exist in one place. I’ve spent most of my life struggling with a delicate balancing act. The real world is ugly, and hard, and I prefer my stories. But my stories will beat ceaselessly against my brain until they drive me mad. Or until I write them down.

The second the final word hits the page, there’s peace. The story is no longer trapped in my head, fighting to get out. It’s no longer in my head at all, and that world is no longer one I can escape to. I’m alone in my head again, and for a few hours, a few days, it’s great. And then it’s cripplingly lonely. And then a new story comes, and it all starts over. But that old story is something I can never have back, something that will never again feel any more Mine than any other story, by any other author.

I’m better now. The obsessive thoughts don’t come the way they used to. The stories are still there, but they’re not caught in a loop, and they’re not clamoring to get out. I can focus on other things, and pull them forward when I need them, when I’m ready for them.

I can keep them in my head, if I want to. I don’t have to scramble to write them down just for a moment of peace and quiet in my own mind. And that means a lot of my motivation to write is gone. It’s harder to find the time to write when I don’t need to. It’s hard to resist the temptation to just keep the stories inside, safe and close and Mine.

So I haven’t written much in the last year or so. And maybe, mostly, that’s a good thing. It’s because I’m better. It’s because I have the space inside my brain to breathe. But I miss writing things down. Miss sharing them with people. I’ll find my way back. I’ll find a new balance. I just don’t know how much longer it will take.

Be patient with me, please—my brain works in a whole new way, these days, and I’m still learning to navigate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

New Book!

So, it’s been a while. And I’m still not here to talk about fairy tales; sorry. I have a website now. www.jennyprater.com

And. I own a publishing company called Wax Heart Press (www.waxheartpress.com), which I’m using for self publishing right now, but I want to publish books for other people too, eventually.




 My new poetry book is out! Here’s the announcement from my press!

Small Scars is available today in print and for Kindle! There was a slight glitch with Barnes and Noble, but the Nook edition should be available within 72 hours.
While the print edition is available through most major retailers, we would encourage you to order directly from our website, as this will yield the highest profits for the author.
However, in light of COVID-19, we would recommend ordering the digital version at this time, as we do not know if the printer will choose or be required to shut down temporarily.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Wax Heart Press

It's been a while, and this isn't about fairy tales, but I officially own a publishing company! Wax Heart Press is currently selling three chapbooks.

thin is about eating disorders and recovery, Dear Somebody is about asexuality, and Lord is about faith. All are available starting tonight!

https://www.waxheartpress.com/

Monday, December 2, 2019

Announcement

Hello! As most of you know, I now own a small publishing company, Wax Heart Press, which will begin releasing books in 2020. This means some changes in my currently available books.
My current books are Goodbye and Other Words I Should Have Said, Avalanche: A Self Portrait in Verse, thin, Dear Somebody (print and digital), and And He Became a Handsome Prince (digital only).
As of today, all print book prices will be reduced by $1. This deal is valid through December 31, 2019. Beginning on January 1, 2020, all print books will no longer be available.. The digital versions will still be available. thin and Dear Somebody will be re-released in 2020. At this time, a date has not been set to re-release Avalanche and Goodbye; if you intend to purchase these books, I would recommend you do so in 2019.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Update


Hey. It’s been a few weeks.

I’ve talked before about how Patreon doesn’t work well for me, and that continues to be an issue. I have a full time job, an energetic puppy, and a house that needs a lot of work done. It’s hard to make time for writing.

So when I do make time, it makes a lot more sense to work on my books than on random short pieces to post on Patreon. Every blog, every book review, every fairy tale analysis, represents time that could have been better spent doing something else.

I enjoy writing all of those things. But I used to write them as a break from my bigger projects. Now that I feel obligated to produce one a week, it seems like it’s all I ever have time to do. It’s not a fun break anymore; it’s just one more thing I have to cram into my schedule.

I thought at least weekly updates were something I could do consistently, but that’s not going well either. No matter how much work I get done in a week, it can be summarized in a sentence or two, and looking at those couple sentences just makes me feel so unproductive. And of course it’s worse if I’ve had a bad week—the updates are just discouraging for me.

So. I tried a new system, it didn’t work, and we’re back to Patreon not being a thing that works for me. I’ll keep thinking about it, and your thoughts are welcome as well. In the meantime, check out my website—I’ve got a few short stories and poems up there that you may not have seen yet.

www.jennyprater.com



Sunday, September 1, 2019

Thumbelina


All right. A break from Beauty and the Beast today, since I’m starting to run out of steam. A couple hours ago I watched Don Bluth’s Thumbelina, so I thought that would be a good fairy tale to talk about.

It’s weird; I thought I remembered this movie very clearly from my childhood, but it was almost completely unfamiliar. Thumbelina, the character, was exactly as I remembered her. But there were so many things I didn’t recognize at all, and specific things I thought I remembered, like Thumbelina’s mother (younger in my memories) and the ending scene (dozens of fairies emerging from flowers), weren’t there.

So I don’t know what I was remembering. I did some quick research, and there don’t seem to have been any other Thumbelina movies I may have confused it with.

Anyway. This, like The Princess and the Pea and The Snow Queen, is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s few straightforwardly happy stories. I reread it just now, so I haven’t had a chance to really process my thoughts yet; this’ll be a little rambly.

One thing I wasn’t expecting is that Thumbelina’s mom specifically asked for a tiny child. (And got her from a witch for 12¢.) Why would you specifically want a Polly Pocket daughter? She’d be so easy to hurt. You could step on her or knock her off a shelf. You could set a glass on top of her or vacuum her right up.

And, like, what kind of life is this poor kid gonna have? It’s gotta be hard making friends with people 12 times your size. And forget about romantic relationships. This whole story made a lot more sense before I realized that Thumbelina’s size was her mom’s idea.

Everyone wants to marry this tiny girl. A frog, then a mole. Why would they want to marry a tiny human? What’s wrong with other frogs and moles?

I’m a little concerned that Thumbelina never made it back to her mom. Everything starts when she’s taken in the night by a frog to be her son’s bride. Thumbelina escapes that and winds up stuck with a May-fly, until he decides she’s ugly because she doesn’t look like a May-fly. She spends an entire summer on her own in the forest, gets taken in by a field mouse , and spends the entire winter and following summer with her.

That’s a bit of a pattern for Andersen, actually—it happens in The Snow Queen, too. Girl with apparently loving parents takes off, goes on an adventure that takes literal years, no big.

Anyway, she’s supposed to be marrying the field mouse’s neighbor the mole, but ends up running off with a swallow, then meeting a fairy prince just her size and marrying him. And then he changes her name from Thumbelina to Maia. I don’t know what that’s about, exactly, and I haven’t been able to find any analysis in a cursory internet search. A project for another day, I suppose.

Thumbelina was published two years before The Little Mermaid. I’ve talked about The Little Mermaid before, here and here. Specifically, I’ve talked about how Andersen was depressed and felt like an outsider, in part because of his sexuality. Now, Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid are both about young women who are outsiders. But there’s a significant difference.

Thumbelina is desired for her strangeness. A frog, a bug, and a mole all want to be with her, because she is different and beautiful. For a while it seems as if she might agree to marry the mole, who can provide for her and isn't a bad person, exactly, just very, very different from her. But ultimately she chooses to go back out into the sun, and wait for the person she truly belongs with.

The Little Mermaid falls in love, makes incredible physical changes for the man she loves, and still isn't enough. She never finds love or acceptance, and eventually chooses to die rather than hurt the man she loves in order to return home.

So I wonder what happened to Andersen in those two years. He wrote a story about someone who was different and celebrated for it, who persevered and eventually found love. And then he wrote a story about someone who was different, tried and failed to fit in, and died alone.

Overall, I definitely prefer the message in Thumbelina.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Beauty and the Beast Reviews: Liz Braswell's As Old As Time


I reread Liz Braswell’s As Old As Time on Wednesday, and it’s not a great work of literature or anything, but it sure is fun! This is a little different; it’s published by Disney, and is a retelling of Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast, not of the original fairy tale.
The premise, as advertised on the cover, is that the Enchantress who cursed the Beast is Belle’s mom. A good chunk of the story is comprised of flashbacks to when Maurice and the Enchantress (her name is Rosalind) were young, before Belle was born and when she was a baby. We have two big things happening in this back story: there’s a plague, and anyone remotely magical is being persecuted. The king and queen aren’t doing anything about either issue. So when they both die of the plague, Rosalind goes to test their son, to see if he’ll be a better ruler than his parents.
He fails. It’s possible she overreacts.
This is where a lot of the things I really love about the story come in. It addresses all the questions and concerns I had about the movie. The Beast is a 10 or 11 year old child when the curse is placed. The story and all the characters in it acknowledge that the curse was absolutely not an appropriate way to handle the situation, and was deeply unfair to both a child and a house full of servants who had nothing to do with anything. Which I really, really appreciate. The picture in the West Wing of an adult Prince is explained, too; it’s some really mean-spirited Dorian Grey crap, enchanted to show him what he would look like if he hadn’t been cursed.
Also, the Beast can read. We see him reading. I always hated the way the musical version made him illiterate; at 11 you should have learned to read. Especially as a prince. The only acceptable exception is The Whipping Boy.
So. Back to the story. Rosalind never returns home after placing the curse. She’s grabbed by the story’s Big Bad, who’s been kidnapping anyone with magic. We’ll come back to that subplot later. Her last act as she’s taken away is to set a spell that makes all normal people—including Belle and Maurice—forget about the existence of magic, to protect any of her people who are still free. Unfortunately, the Big Bad also has magic, so he remembers.
And I think that’s enough on the back story. Belle gets to the castle like usual. The change comes in the West Wing, when she manages to actually grab the rose before the Beast stops her, destroying it and any chance at breaking the curse.
(Afterwards, she points out rather callously that judging by the state of the rose, he didn’t have much time left anyway. Did he really think a girl was going to fall in love with him in the next couple months? She then proceeds to fall in love with him over the course of the next THREE DAYS. Also, the entire story, aside from the Maurice and Rosalind flashbacks, happens in three days. It’s a lot.)
This is when information about Belle’s mom starts coming out. They go through a bunch of old census records and fail to find anything about her, including her name, but they discover in the process that the local bookshop owner was in the census a few hundred years ago, and therefore probably knows something about all the magic stuff.
They head back to town to talk to him, and find him missing, with the book store burned down. We find out later that Gaston did it, and this was how he defended himself:
(A fire hazard, Gaston? Really?)
So they go to talk to Maurice next, and Belle has the Beast wait outside when she goes in the house, considering how their last meeting went. Except she never comes out; the big bad has her and Maurice now, too. The Beast sees where she’s being taken, but there are too many people for him to overpower.
He goes home for help, and finds that everyone is gone; the furniture and knick-knacks are just furniture and knick-knacks. The Beast himself has been struggling with animal instincts since the rose was destroyed; the curse is progressing.
With no other options, he goes to recruit the villagers for a rescue mission. He has the mirror, so they can see that Belle is in danger; they decide to deal with the whole Beast situation after rescuing Belle.
Meanwhile, Belle has gotten away, rescued her father, rescued her mother who’s been held her for a full decade, and released dozens of other prisoners.
And we’re into serious spoiler territory now, so I’m just gonna say the good guys win, Gaston kills the Big Bad, and everyone present is horrified, because he deserved a fair trial, Gaston!, which for some reason I just find hilarious.
Rosalind is seriously weakened by her decade of captivity. She says that the Beast isn't in danger of giving in to his animal instinct anymore because of his love for Belle. (Three days, guys!) But she has only enough power to either restore the Beast’s humanity or the humanity of all the servants. He chooses to restore everyone else’s humanity, of course, but it’s implied at the end that he and Belle are going to go on an adventure to find all the other magical people who went into hiding, and maybe one of them will be able to fix him.
Adorable awkwardness of Beast: Yes! He really gives off strong I-try-hard-but-my-life-basically-stopped-when-I-was-10 vibes. I love him!
Stand-Up-For-Herself-iness of Beauty: Good.
Human at the End: Nope.
Who Learns and Grows the Most? About equal.
Also, one more thing; have this conversation I thought was hilarious. Idk how the stove is drinking, exactly.

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