I haven't been here to write, because I've struggled to say anything about this strange new world. Had you asked me six months ago, "Are you ready for a global pandemic?" I might have laughed. How could anything like that really affect our daily lives? And yet, here we are. I check to make sure I have a mask with me when I leave for work or to the store. We go for walks or bike rides near home. I took my son for a drive-through ice cream today, and to play catch and Magic: the Gathering at a park, which we are allowed to do here, as long as we stay away from anyone who doesn't live in our household.
I want to be able to offer you words of wisdom and encouragement, and I need them deeply myself. I am searching for beauty around me. I am grateful for my work, that it is still here even if very different.
I am making my teachable course, Diving into the Well and Coming Out of the Forest, free for the duration of our stay-at-home order here in Minnesota, and perhaps beyond that. I hope it will bring you joy and comfort to travel in the steps of these fairytale heroines, to see helpers and to be a helper when you can. You can find the course here.
Here's what I said about this course when I ran it the first time:
Mother Holle and Baba Yaga are well known in their home countries. They are powerful expressions of the wild feminine. Both have been pointed out as expressions of pre-Christian goddesses hidden in tales for children. Mother Holle rewards the good and punishes the bad. Baba Yaga, in her chicken-legged hut, provides information, wisdom, and initiation, but only to those who follow her rules and don't get themselves eaten in the process.
What will you get out of this work? A stronger sense of your own power to understand and choose your life story, artistic and writing invitations to take you deeper into the stories, and a potent technique for shifting your viewpoint when you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or lost in the woods.
Want to know a little more about the kind of work we'll be doing? Check out this post: A Taste of Story-Reading.
I tell a lot of stories about myself.
I tell about my travels and my teaching, and about my favorite books, about my relationship with my parents. About my kid.
I also tell stories about how incompetent I am. How I badly I have failed. How I cannot get a real job. How I have no classroom management skills. These stories are rooted in particular experiences, but I tend to make them pervasive and universal. I did this thing once, which means I ALWAYS do it, much in the way that, when you do something one time for a holiday, the children in your presence will say that is what you ALWAYS do for that holiday. The experiences that these pervasive stories are based on, live so strongly in my memory, that they take over.
When I tell these stories, I believe them. And I believe they matter more than any other story about me.
When I tell these stories, they drown out the students I have helped, the tears I have wiped, the joy I have shared. The stories of bad experiences are louder and stronger than the stories of good I have done. Success pales in the face of defeat. These stories squeeze the life out of any good I have done. And they squeeze the life out of me.
I feel myself contracting. Growing smaller. These stories are killing me.
What stories do you tell about yourself?
What if we told the stories of heroes and heroines that way? What if we told about how Cinderella failed to keep her mother alive? What if we told about how the young woman in Finist the Falcon failed to awaken the prince the first two nights? Those are part of the story, but they are not the story. We do not leave the heroine in the woods, alone, to die. We do not leave her weeping at the side of the true love who will not awaken, because he has been drugged, nor by her mother's grave. The fairy tale follows her through repeated failures, to success.
Your failures are not the story. You are more than your worst moments. You are worth more than your debts. You are comprised of far more than one awful day's events, or even a year's or a decade's.
When we learn to tell our whole story, without shame, we become more whole. When we tell the stories of success as well as those of failure, we give others permission to do the same.
Many of us have been taught not to speak well of ourselves. Many of us have been taught not to "toot our own horn," that it is better to laugh at yourself, to tell others how incompetent, how bumbling, how stupid we are. We think it will protect us. If others think too little of us, it will keep them from expecting too much, and that way, we won't let them down...
But it doesn't work that way. All we do is ensure that others will not see what we can do, what we are capable of. All we do is ensnare ourselves in a story that will never let us reach the treasure we hoped for. I have been ensnared in such a story for a long time, now. It is sticky, and it is pervasive, and it is taking my deepest dedication and devotion to healing to even allow for the possibility that these stories are not Truth, writ large. They are only facts, and facts without context, or facts applied in the wrong situation, are tantamount to falsehoods. I am determined to see a fuller reality.
What story are you telling? What happens if you change the story?
Apparently, there is a phenomenon known as the Sunday Scaries. I've been living with this feeling for years and years. It's the feeling one gets on Sunday, knowing the weekend is almost over, and tomorrow, you go back to work. And for me, it's the knowledge that there was so much I wanted to accomplish over the weekend, to prepare for the week, that isn't done.
The Sunday scaries are the opposite of Sabbath. They are the opposite of a day of rest. They are a tool of oppression, and a fear-based way of being. I am tired of fear.
What do I want instead?
The way around this is always the same. Stop imagining that I am locked in the tower, or in the witch's cage, or under the earth. Know who I am, and what I can choose. Look for help. Offer my help where I can.
When I stop and look around, I can always find the way back. Even when I feel like my hand is grasping and flailing, the thread is there.
A few years ago I signed up for a course in the Magic School by Mandy Steward (she has since close the school, but is still living a magical life and making magical art). One of the things she taught in that school, which I never got to finish because perfectionism kept me from moving forward, was that there are tools in our favorite stories and films and books, that we can use in our real lives.
So today. I am using my magic thread, from The Princess and the Goblin, to help me find my way. I am making my home like the House in the Fairy Wood.
We went to a wonderful friend's home for brunch today. It had been planned for a month, and I was afraid it would be cancelled. She's an amazing human, who I am excited to get to know. Our children played and wrestled and were silly and wild together. We adults sat and talked books and history, and shared stories of our lives. It was so good and so needed.
How will you combat the Sunday Scaries this week? What magic tools will you use? What do you want to create in your life?
I'm not myself lately
I hear the words from my lips and wonder, then who am I?
there is a constant drive.
there is a hum under the words, the beating of my heart,
there is a moment in every day where I stop and wonder,
Who is this I, this self, whom I am not, lately?
Who is it, then, who is experiencing this life, if not I?
and I tie myself up in knots,
and I feel the thread slip from under my finger.
Do you know the thread? The thread Princess Irene follows,
up to her grandmother's room, away from the goblins?
I put out my finger, and I cannot feel it.
I put my hand into the back of the wardrobe,
and it's solid behind the coats.
there is a hum under the words, a flutter in the chest,
and every day there are more lines around my mouth,
and around my eyes.
I am not myself.
and I think of the poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez.
and I think of the thread.
and my hands are like my mother's, and I wish hers were here,
so we could hold our same-same hands together.
So I could find the thread, the one that stretches up
to my grandmother's room.
So I could read their eyes in my own,
their love in the lines around those eyes.
So I may be myself.
I'm beginning to see the light. The days are longer, just enough longer that I feel like I can go on...
You, who couldn't afford the gifts you wanted to give.
You, who went into debt.
You who gave joyfully, grateful for the freedom to celebrate this way.
You who are heavy-hearted because of who wasn't with you.
You, who were saddened or angered because of who was with you.
You, whose children were delighted,
you whose children were disappointed.
You, who had to work.
You, who wished you had a job,
and also you, who had a paid day off
and were able to travel to be with family.
You, in the hospital.
You, without transportation.
You, home alone.
You, with no home at all.
You, exhausted from desperately trying to meet all the expectations,
to create magic out of nothing,
to re-enliven dead traditions,
to breathe through clouds of incense,
while others are angry or judgmental,
You, who are bone-weary of pretending.
You, who stand proudly in your truth.
You, who are celebrating for the first time.
You, who no longer celebrate.
You, who wish your own celebrations were as visible
and didn't need explaining.
You who are joyful.
You who are grieving.
You who are all of these.
You, who are numb.
You are enough today. Even when it seems so far from true. Even when you feel so far from where you want to be, and whom you want to be. Even now.
You. I mean you.
Happy eclipse. Happy Hannukah. Happy Friday. Merry Christmas. Happy Kwanzaa. And happy new year to come.
May you be blessed today.
We've almost made it to Christmas. Solstice is past. It's Erev Chanukah. What isn't done yet, may not get done. And that might be okay. I asked my son what else he wanted, to feel like the holidays had been done right. "Nothing," he said. "Except we need nuts to crack. Brazil nuts."
Just some nuts, folks.
We have a small Christmas tree. We baked one kind of cookie. All our Christmas decorations fit in one tub, plus one small cardboard box (well, now that my stepdad has brought over the macrame Santa and Christmas tree, I may need one more small box). I have one gift left to buy, plus a few treats from Santa and his elves.
But it's enough. The activities we've done, they're the ones that mattered to my kid. The other stuff? It's extra. While I'm feeling a little disappointed we didn't have an Advent book this year, and we've barely burned our Advent candles, and we haven't been to look at lights, or to see A Christmas Carol, or to visit Santa, it's time to let go.
The story I shared on Instagram last night was "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon." You may wonder why I share so many European stories. It's because that's my culture. I want to spend more time in the next year lifting up the work of storytellers and storycarriers of other cultures, especially those whose stories were stolen or suppressed, in their own voices. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to share all kinds of stories from all kinds of people with my students, so that they can see themselves reflected. As a storyteller, I want to tell the stories that were lost through assimilation into "American" culture (read here White, Northern and Western European culture), as well as stories that are woven into this culture, finding their wilder, more interesting roots.
But for now, what I really want to tell you, is it's enough. Tell the stories you know. And if those stories make you cringe, then find new ones. Tell a story, in the car, at the table, around the candles or the fire.
Perhaps, tonight, you might want to tell my favorite story lately, The Donkey, in which a king and queen have an unusual child, who learns a skill uncommon to those like him, and whose true nature is revealed without his consent, but for his own good... (images: Kay Nielsen, the Donkey Welfare Improvement Scheme).
Over the past few weeks, I've been trying to post daily on facebook and instagram. Mostly, the same lovely folks have been liking and commenting, and that's fine. I have a few new followers, and I love that.
It's been hard to keep up. I've been trying to share a story I love every day. The hardest part of this I think, has been knowing that I'm not sharing the stories themselves. So, here you are. Links to each of those stories, if I can find them on the web.
December 2 -- Mother Holle
December 3-- The Goose Girl
December 4-- Snow White and Rose Red
December 5-- Vasilisa the Beautiful
December 6-- Aschenputtel
December 7-- The Seven Ravens
December 8-- Tatterhood
December 9-- Cap O'Rushes
December 10-- The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh
December 11-- The Crystal Ball
December 12-- Sweet Porridge
December 13-- Prince Ivan, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf
December 14 -- The Twelve Months
December 15-- Father Frost/ Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden
December 16-- True and Untrue
December 17-- The Smell of Soup, the Sound of Money
December 18-- I got confused and forgot to post one, but how about King Lindorm?
December 19-- Great Joy, the Ox
December 20-- The Sea Hare
I'm not sure if I can keep it up all the way to Christmas... I'm really having to search, but I do love all of these stories, and I hope you will, too! Happy Winter Reading!!!
It wasn't a terribly small town. It grew from about 10,000 to about 16,000 while we lived there, which is huge. It's about 20,000 now. When we go back for a visit, I am in awe of how the town has crept southward to meet my old house, which seemed a good ways (a couple of miles) outside of town when I was growing up. We moved there when I was a week shy of three-years-old, and my mom sold our house when I was 22.
When we go back there, I'm filled with nostalgia and longing. Here is the town square, where the eagle on the civil war monument is turned to face the college whose team won the last football game. Here is the bank that the famous robber band failed to rob. Here is the bakery where I worked one summer, the thrift store where I bought my halloween costumes, the art gallery and studios where I did watercolor painting and modern dance. There are coffee shops and sandwich shops, new restaurants and old ones, a travel agency and a furniture store, all on a quaint main street.
The bulletin board in the coffee shop is layered with notices about dance classes, church groups, school activities, clubs, apartments for rent, upcoming plays at the local theater, and music gigs. It's a town that is still vibrantly alive, thanks to good industry, strong agriculture, proximity to a major metro area, and two very good liberal arts colleges.
When you live in a small town, you are dependent on the community. You have to stay on good terms with people, because your neighbors might be the fire chief or the ER doctor. You want people to come to help you when your house is on fire, or when your child is sick and you can't get to the store. You can be different, as long as you aren't TOO different, and as long as your difference doesn't threaten the status quo.
I knew my place in our small town. Much was expected of me; I was said to be very smart and creative. That was hard to live up to; to feel safe, I had to stay in my place. I had to get good grades, read thick books, use big words, and not quite fit in. I had lovely friends, but was never "popular," as I didn't even understand what that meant. I think it meant you had the right clothes and the right friends, and played the right sports. I didn't actually play sports. I was in countless community theater productions, and found my people in the M-wing of the high school, where musicians had their lockers in one long row.
When we go back to visit for an afternoon, I worry that we'll run into people who knew me, and I worry I'll be a disappointment. I didn't go far. I didn't become anything big or notable. I'm not sure that was really the expectation then. There were no "influencers." No one really expected any of us to be famous for anything. There was one girl who had an acting career on the big and little screens, but I'm not sure where she is now. (Of course I had to go look her up on IMDB. She's done well).
After my last visit, not long ago, I wondered what it was I wanted. What was I looking for? Could I create that kind of feeling for myself in my very-close-in suburban life? Perhaps it was about joining the choir, or connecting with local groups. Maybe it was shopping more locally, and reaching out more to my neighbors. All of these are lovely ideas, but none of them will be enough, because I will still be feeling all the pressure of my city life underneath all of it. And nothing will guarantee a sense of belonging and having a sure place in the community, especially when it comes with such strict boundaries.
A while back, I picked up a free magazine at the co-op called Real Small Towns. It featured several small towns in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and the pages filled me with longing. The longing is for community and belonging, without the strictures of "not being too different." I want my child to have friends who are close enough for impromptu playdates, and schedules that allow those to happen. I want community festivals and feasts, and honest connection with the farms and families who feed us. I want fewer choices, so that I can invest in the choices that are there, and help to improve them. I want my child to feel safe and free to move through his world with independence.
All of these things are possible where I am. They take intentionality, and a feeling of security within myself. That feeling of safety and belonging, which quite honestly, can be very hard to come by for those of us outside the norm of the small town because of race, gender, orientation, religious difference, or even age, don't necessarily come from outside of us, especially in the city. We have to find it within ourselves.
In the meantime, while I work to create that for myself, within my own heart and mind, I'll keep driving the long highway towards "home" every few weekends, and see what I can bring back with me from my journey. We fairytale wanderers must remember that when we go out on our quest, we have to end by bringing our treasures back with us, and finding welcome at the end of the trail, back into the world we knew, and yet knowing ourselves, and our world, changed.
Sara Renee Logan has been telling stories to everyone who would listen since she was seven. She organized storytimes for her college roommates, and spent a year at Oxford studying folklore and folktales. Many years as a Waldorf teacher allowed her to tell stories about everything from Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs to the water cycle to the life of Joan of Arc. Sara shares her life with her partner, Melanie, their son, and an unreasonable family of pets. She continues to share her love of storytelling and stories with audiences of all ages, specializing in bringing the wild beauty of folktales to young and old. Sara writes about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.