Monday, October 26, 2015

Leave Them Kids Alone

As many of you know, I am spending this fall and winter studying in Europe. Obviously, my car couldn’t come abroad with me. This means that my little brother has a car to drive for his senior year of high school. Which is great, of course, but I went with my mom to pick up the forms from his school, and it honestly made me feel a little sick.

First of all, forms? You have a license. You have a car. You drive the car into the parking lot and park it. A few hours later you drive it home again. It’s not that complicated. Why would you need paperwork?

But you know, whatever. He had to pay for a parking pass, so maybe it’s just receipts or something.

Nope. You put your parking sticker on your car. You can only drive that car. No one but you can drive that car. If your car is broken down one day so you drive your dad’s, bam. No more parking. If you’re home sick but you let a friend or a sibling take your car to school, bam. No more parking.

No picking people up or dropping them off at the door, never mind that parents and school buses do that every day. No loitering in the parking lot. No leaving in your car, under any circumstances, during school hours. You got a dentist appointment? Your parents are at work and your little brother needs to go home sick? You just finished literally puking your guts out, your parents are at a retreat up north for the weekend, and you need to go home sick? Too bad. Say goodbye to that parking spot, kid. And say bye to your locker and your friends while you’re at it—you just might get expelled.

This is what I hate—what I have always hated—about schools. When I was in fifth grade, one of the boys decided to decorate the bathroom. For the rest of the year, any time a kid wanted to pee, he had to bring along a teacher to supervise. When I was in eighth grade, all the teachers defaulted to considering us bad kids, because eighth grade had been a rough year for the class above us. When I was in ninth grade, you could get expelled, and possibly arrested, for bringing in a plastic butter knife. My high school used to have microwaves, but we all lost them because a couple kids left messes in them.

So here’s a helpful tip for all you educators out there: Students, kids? We are human beings. We are smaller and less experienced than you, but we are all complex individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and if you think you can invalidate that by treating us like one collective mass of mindless mess-makers, honey, you are in the wrong business. Go work at a zoo or something.

Two forms of discipline that have never once been actually successful: 1) Punishing an entire group for the crimes of a few. 2) Rewarding one person for doing something that everyone else is expected to do every day.

These are both things that schools thrive on. Three kids don’t do their homework? Whole class has extra reading tonight. Once I had a teacher who told us we didn’t have to turn any homework in until the end of the semester. The one time I actually put my work off, having been told it was okay, everyone else had the same idea for that assignment, and suddenly it wasn’t okay anymore. She singled me out, and she made me cry. One kid never does his homework? Offer him a nice dinner or something from the vending machine, and he might come through for once. But the people who always do their homework? We get nothing, except maybe yelled at for one little failure. I missed one assignment between sixth and twelfth grade. The guy across from me finished one. So where’s my free ice cream, huh?

Schools don’t treat students like people. Not usually. They only notice us if we do something spectacular, whether it’s good or bad. And if it’s good you get singled out, maybe, but if it’s bad you’re all lumped together, and everyone suffers. So you know what? Run through the hallways. Scream at the top of your lungs. Homework? Forget about it. Go ahead and decorate the bathroom however you like, and leave all your food in the running microwave until it explodes. I mean, why not? If you’re getting punished either way, you might as well have some fun first.

Okay, don’t do that. But seriously. If you’re an adult in a position of authority, especially over children, let them commit the crime before you make them do the time. If people are going to get blamed for something no matter what, they’re gonna be a lot more inclined to actually do the thing. And we’re children, not terrorists. Just chill, okay? If you don’t treat me like a monkey, I won’t throw poop in the bathrooms. If you stop rewarding kids for rare displays of homework, I’ll stop doing mine so rarely. I’m not going to slit your throat with plastic cutlery, and who on earth is going to suffer if I drive my mom’s car to school one morning?

I’m a person. My needs are just as important as yours, and my thoughts are just as valid. But if you want to treat me like some kind of chaos demon, you can bet I’m going to retaliate by acting like one. Sometimes I think teachers get so caught up in things that they forget they’re dealing with fellow human beings. Don’t forget that, okay? Because I’m really sick of seeing kids treated like prisoners instead of students. Don’t treat us like that. Please.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sleeping Beauty Part II: The Other Woman

Note: This blog post is about the second half of Sun, Moon, and Talia, an Italian version of Sleeping Beauty. You can read about the first half here.

You are a queen. You have no children. And what is a queen good for, if she’s not producing heirs?

Your husband travels a lot, these days. You see him seldom. After all, what could he be expected to do with you, as useless as you’ve proven to be?

You used to love each other, you think. Things were better than this, at least. But you are too old now for children; even if you had been useful in your youth, it would all be over now.

One day your husband returns, after a journey of many months, with a young girl and two infants in tow. The children have his eyes, his nose, and the girl is a child, fifteen at most. She is small and frightened and confused, but she looks at your husband like he hangs the moon.

You could feel pity for the child. You should, perhaps. She still has baby fat of her own, as well as the lingering traces of the pregnancy. You ask her how it happened, between her and your husband. She tells you she doesn’t know, she was asleep at the time.

You should feel pity.

But you have lived too many years alone, and this is not the first time your husband has chased after children to give him what you can’t. And this one, this one he brought into your home, sat her across the dinner table like it was nothing, her own gorgeous suite of rooms, a thousand beautiful jewels and dresses. All the things he gave you when you were young, as if you were not still here to stand by his side. He leaves your marriage bed cold to visit her every night. You should feel pity. Instead you feel anger. Instead you feel fear.

Perhaps you go mad. Women in your position often do; stories of it date back to the Greek tragedies. Perhaps you go mad. Perhaps you are simply evil. Certainly you are jealous. And this is Sleeping Beauty’s story—there is no room for you as anyone but the villain.

You decide to boil the children, and feed them to their father for dinner. (All right, so you’ve probably gone mad.) The cook is kinder, saner, less invested in this drama than you are. He hides the babies away, and serves your husband lamb.

For the girl herself, sleeping little girl who stole your husband’s heart, and your whole life along with it—for the little girl you take matters into your own hands. The water boils. The child screams. Foolish, selfish girl, her children have been missing for days, but it is only now, as the heat rises around her, that she thinks to be afraid. She screams; your husband comes running.

You burn. You boil. You die. Perhaps the little girl eats you, as you intended to eat her. You don’t know; you’re dead.

You’re dead. You’re dead, and your husband marries the little girl. He raises a family with her. She’ll live happily ever after, perhaps. She doesn’t know any better.

More likely, ten years from now, her husband will bring home another pretty child to replace her.

You burn, you boil, you die. She marries the man who raped her, because what else does she know to do? At least this one can bear children to keep him happy.

You die. It isn’t fair. None of it is fair.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fanfic and Folklore

I like folklore. You’ve probably already noticed that.

What you may not have noticed, because it’s never really come up so far, if that I also love fanfiction. Fanfiction, you ask? That stupid thing teenage girls do where they write stories about their favorite TV shows so they can make things go exactly the way they want?

Yeah. That thing.

We’ll talk more about the stupid teenage girl angle later. For now you may be wondering why I opened with the folklore.

Well, they’re basically the same thing.

Here’s why I like folklore: it’s all about the idea of the collective story. Story as a conversation, a huge one, between all the thousands of people, over all the thousands of years, who have ever had anything to do with it. When I sit down to read a “Beauty and the Beast” picture book to my cousin, I’m not just communicating with her, or even just with her and the author and illustrator of this particular book. It connects me to Madame Villeneuve, who wrote the book that led to the story in this picture book. It connects me to Madame Beaumont, who adapted that book into something more recognizable today. It connects me to Robin McKinley, who’s written two beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” retellings, and to Disney, the influence of which is inescapable. It connects me to the other French writers who influenced both Villeneuve and Beaumont, to dozens of people who recorded similar fairy tales, to the people they heard those tales from, and to the people those people heard them from.

Stories work differently, now that most of the oral traditions have been written down. They tend to belong to people now. And that’s fine. It’s great. I write a lot; I understand how connected you can get to the characters you make up, how uncomfortable it might be to see another writer making them do something you know they never would. It’s why, when I’m reading fanfiction, I tend to focus on fic from TV shows rather than novels, or at least novels that have become a part of the collective consciousness, like L Frank Baum’s Oz books. I know people have strong feelings about it, and I try to be respectful. But when the author is cool with it, or long dead, or when the story is already a collaboration between several writers, as in the case of movies, TV shows, etc., fanfic is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful thing.

Let’s take the show Supernatural, for example. You start off with a show that’s already based on myth, religion, folklore, and urban legends from a wide variety of cultures. We don’t even have to talk about the Supernatural fans: the show itself is already fanfic. But let’s talk about those fans anyway. They write their fic. A whole lot of fic. Now this particular fandom is especially useful in this conversation for two reasons. Firstly, it’s very vibrant and active, and contains a lot of great writers who are influencing each other. You can actually find fanfiction of fanfiction of the show. Secondly, it’s very vibrant and active while the show is still running. Fanfic and fandom have, on multiple occasions, been incorporated into the show itself—basically the writers writing fanfic of the fandom. And then people write fic for those episodes, and you end up with fanfic of the fanfic of the fanfic. I think. Admittedly I’ve gotten a little lost at this point.

What it comes down to is this: people hear a story. They tell others that story, but they change it a little. Make it their own. Someone hears their version of the story, and changes that version a little to make it their own. And it goes on and on. Maybe someone who had a hand in an earlier version comes across a more recent one, and changes that one a little, too. And people see that, compare the two versions the one author touched, and notice new things about the story. Things they want to emphasize or eliminate, things that will influence them the next time they tell the story. And everyone has had a chance to make the story their own. So in the end it belongs to everyone.

That’s what folklore is. That’s why I love folklore, aside from the talking animals and people in pretty clothes. And that’s why I love fanfiction. It fills a role in our society that would otherwise have faded away. It turns stories into conversations again.

(Stay tuned for a rant on public opinion of a)fanfic, and b)teenage girls, coming soon to a blog near you.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Snow White

Here is the German version of Snow White. She is seven. She is seven, her mother dead, her stepmother cruel, her father gone or indifferent. She is seven, and she is the fairest in all the land.

This suggests things rather disturbing—is it a kingdom full of perverts? The unspeakably ugly? Why would a woman grown have such jealously for the beauty of a child?

But jealously she has, and plenty of it, enough to send the child fleeing into the woods, turning to seven strangers for protection. And is it any wonder, then, that she welcomes to her door, three times, a kindly old woman with death in her hand basket?

She is a child home alone. She learned to read last year, perhaps. She has already found kindness in seven men who gave her a home; why not in three women who give her gifts, as well? No one claimed she was a bright girl, only pretty.

And why, after near misses with the belt and the comb, would the dwarves leave her alone to accept the apple?

Here is the German version. She bites the apple. She dies. One day a prince comes. He does not kiss her—thank God for small mercies—he does not kiss the little girl. He has her carried away to his home.

Here is the Italian version. He has her carried away to his home. She is not seven now, or we are not told that she is. She is carried to his home and carried to his bedroom.

He calls her his wife, this little girl, this beautiful corpse, this stiff and quickly rotting blow-up doll. He calls her his wife.

Now dead bodies, they smell. This is not Sleeping Beauty, remember. It is not an endless nap but death. And dead bodies, they smell. So. You have met the stepmother. Now see the second villain of the piece, this wicked, wicked woman, the mother-in-law to a rotting pile of once-lovely flesh.

“Son,” she says, “this is creepy.”

“Son,” she says, “the dead belong in the graveyard, not the bed.”

“Son,” she says, “Ew.”

And this horrid, dreadful, unreasonable woman, on a day when the prince is gone, has the body carted out to the garden, or tries to. The girl is moved; the apple is dislodged; the girl is revived. A miracle. She and the prince are married the next day. She and the prince live happily ever after.

We could talk about the German pedophilia. We could talk about the Italian necrophilia. We could talk about the international insistence that the woman who opposes any prince, however unreasonable he may be, is always, always the bad guy. We could talk about a lot of things. Honestly, I don’t know where to start.

So let’s start here. Snow White is seven in the German version. This is one of only two fairy tales I have ever read that gives a specific age for the princess. The other is Sleeping Beauty, which varies from fourteen to sixteen, depending on the country of origin. Snow White is one of only two stories, and Snow White is seven. It doesn’t, in context, seem all that peculiar.

So let’s talk about age. That’s always fun. Let’s talk about children forced into a sexualized femininity they are in no way prepared for. Let’s talk about women who cease to be women when they get too old—women who become nothing but mothers, and consequently the villains opposing heroic sons—women who cling desperately to their youthful beauty because it is all they have. Let’s talk about age.

Or let’s talk about the necrophilia. Why not? I said there was a difference between sleep and death, but really, beyond the ew factor, does it matter? Either way you’ve got your little human sex toy, something you can pull into bed and play with for months before she can even think to complain, and, well, it’s too late then, isn’t it? She’s yours now, one way or another. Who else, especially in that culture, would have her?

And let’s talk about how age and necrophilia are really the same thing here, how they’re both all about women—or little girls—as objects. You have to be sexy the minute you’re born. And you stop mattering the moment you’re not. If you’re not a limp dead doll for Prince Charming to play with, well. You’re still only there for him to look at.

And this isn’t entirely fair, as far as ways to view the world go. Sorry—I’m mad today. Mostly things are a lot better than necrophiliac pedophiles. But sometimes you read fairy tales, and you expect something beautiful—I should know by now what not to expect in fairy tales—and instead you get handsome princes in bed with dead seven year olds. And I know I’m mixing versions of the story. Whatever. The point is, you try to read a fairy story and you get this crap, and then you go outside and get looked carefully up and down by a middle aged man slowly driving a Porsche past, and you’re exhausted and slightly ill in your sweatshirt and baggy jeans, and you just feel like you’re never going to be more than a pretty body, dead or alive. And then you feel like if you ever are more, maybe it’ll just be worse.

And we don’t quite sexualize second graders yet (although you should read some things that have been written on the subject of school dress codes), but we shouldn’t be doing it to thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year olds either. And there shouldn’t, ever, be a society where it’s so important to be beautiful that killing the opposition occurs to you as a solution. But people have to be pretty, or they’re not worth much. And it’s scary. I wouldn’t kill for it, but it’s scary.

So I don’t know what to say, really. I’m angry. Of course—that’s kind of the whole point of this series. But it’s a sort of vague, directionless anger, and I don’t know how to do anything about it, besides sitting here letting it build. So.  I’m angry. Let’s leave it at that.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Moneylenders in the Temple

I’ve never understood the thing where big ancient churches hang signs on the door demanding silence. Or the ones that kick you out if you’re not wearing the right kind of clothes.

Seriously, guys, the Vatican was cool, but after they check your passport and your purse, they check your skirt length.

Church has always been loud for me. Faith is loud, just slightly discordant singing, kids shrieking and laughing in the background. The fights you get into with your friends between Sunday school and service, the boys who throw balls that get stuck on the roof. It’s arguments about set lists and your dad downstairs rehearsing his sermon. It’s puppet shows in the morning, a teenage girl trying to be a middle-aged cowboy. Little kids sticking Bible stories on flannel boards, the littler ones crying in the background. Church has been a lot of things. It’s never been silent.

Notre Dame is beautiful. You can light a candle for five euro. For one or two, you can have a penny stamped to look like the pope. Maybe it’s exactly what some people need. I saw them praying there.

And Canterbury, well, that was an amazing place. All those artifacts, all that history. The restaurant and the gift shop right between the front door and the back pew.

They’re incredible. But I can’t find God beneath those high ceilings.

Faith is dying in Europe. That’s what they say. I guess I wouldn’t have much faith either, if my church was mostly a museum. And it’s not fair, maybe, to be so judgmental about it. People worship in different ways. But I don’t like to walk out of a church feeling empty, and if they spent less money on maintaining their stained glass, they could spend more on helping people in need.

It’s pretty, sure. But the first church I remember was held in a Jazzercise, and windows or not, it was just as good as Notre Dame.

Faith is dying in college. They say that too. Or high school. Well, as a college student, I can tell you one of the reasons why.

We’re passionate, in our teens and twenties. Full of hope and anger and righteous indignation. We want to change the world. We want to save it. And all through our childhoods we’ve talked about the church, and how it does that. When you’re twenty one, you just want everything to be fair. You want to help people. So you walk in on Sunday morning ready to give to the poor, feed the hungry, defend the defenseless. And then you find out all they want to do with the money you’re giving is install a new bell tower?

No wonder we’re leaving in droves.

And there have been books written—so many books, and I’ve read them all—about how to keep young people in the church. Well, here’s how you do it, guys: Stop selling overpriced crepes and pope dolls in the foyer, and start actually living like Jesus did.  

I’ll post all my pictures of the cathedral on Facebook, but give me a church in a closed down factory, any day.  

Monday, October 5, 2015


I’ve read a lot of Rapunzel stories, a lot of times. I can’t tell you when I really grasped the events leading to Rapunzel getting booted out of the tower and having babies in the desert, but I can tell you I was mad. I’m still mad. I’m more than mad. I am deeply, profoundly disturbed. And I’m terrified.
Imagine you’re a little girl, growing up in complete seclusion. You have a mother. That’s it. No friends. Certainly no men in your life. You live by yourself in a tower.
Imagine how innocent you’d be. How unprepared for the real world. I can’t tell you how old Rapunzel is, but given her isolated upbringing, let’s at least say she’s a bit young for her age.
You’re a lonely little girl. A beautiful man appears at your window. What do you do?
“I love you,” he says. “Sleep with me,” he says. “I want to marry you,” he says, “but I don’t know how to get a priest up here.”
So what do you do?
You sleep with him.
What do you know about sex? You’ve never even seen a guy before. He says people do this, says it means you love each other. And what do you know about love, for that matter? But why not? He says it’s normal. You haven’t learned, yet, not to trust people. The woman who kidnapped you never really talked about stranger danger.
There are many versions of Rapunzel. Plenty are beautiful stories. But I don’t care about those right now. Right now, I’m telling you a story of statutory rape.
I didn’t grow up in a tower, but I have been innocent, too. I don’t understand how people can do this.
I have told this version of the story many times. I have been funny, sarcastic. I have turned this nightmare into a joke to hide from the things that scare me. But tonight I have nothing amusing to say. Tonight I am only bitter.
Children trust beautiful men who tell them they love them. Children have more children, and don’t understand.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. The world sucks. People take advantage of each other. People take things from little girls and boys who didn’t even know they had them to give.
I can’t do this. I really can’t. I don’t know what to say. 
This, maybe: For the grown up Rapunzels, you’re allowed to forgive. You’re allowed not to, too. But know what you’re forgiving, if you do. You do not have the magic tears to heal the blindness of a man who can’t see what he did to you was wrong. You can’t heal people, you can’t fix them, you can’t transform them with your love. Sorry. Maybe, in his blind journeys, the prince will learn some things. But this is Rapunzel, not Beauty and the Beast, and you can’t teach him not to be a monster.
For the ones still safe in their towers: Don’t let strangers climb your hair. Tell your mother of your guests before your clothes grow too small.
And for Mother Gothel: Don’t keep your child locked up in a tower. It isn’t safe. Sooner or later, the real world will find Rapunzel, and it’s only more painful that way.
I’m angry. I’m so angry, and I don’t know where to go from here. Rapunzel was just a girl. She gave up everything—her youth, her home, her family, everything—without ever knowing that there was even a risk. The charming prince hurt her. He took things he had no right to. He destroyed her life. And by the end of the story, she still doesn’t realize how much he hurt her. He has left her with nothing else in the world, so she can only stay and trust him.
I have seen Rapunzel too many times in real life.

Awesome People Are Reading My Writing And They Have Nice Things To Say (I'm So Excited I Might Die)

On the off chance that you have somehow managed to get this far in life without hearing about the awesomeness of Tales of Faerie, you should definitely get on that asap, but in the meantime you should just know that it's a magnificent blog about fairy tales, which I have been totally in love with since sometime in high school.

Now, this happened way back in May, before I was even on Blogspot, but I didn't notice at the time because I was too busy taking finals, and then helping Io with Beast (Buy Iona Gale's awesome book here!).

But, anyway, she talked about me. Kristin, the awesome amazing wonderful lady who runs my favorite blog ever, wrote a blog post about my blog post about "Beauty and the Beast," and she said nice things about my blog (the old one on Tumblr), and basically this is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me. Like, okay, I'm a published poet and I'm currently studying abroad in Paris. Those are fantastic exciting things. But I don't even care right now, because Kristin talked about me on Tales of Faerie.

You can read it here!