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.
Perfection is the enemy of goodness. And yet, there is perfection in goodness, and in good-enoughness.
Every time I bring up how I'm struggling, and how lost and anxious I've felt for the past few years, the person I'm talking with says, "Oh, me too!" or something similar. At first, my internal response was, See? You are making a big deal out of nothing. Everyone else is having a hard time, too, so why do you think you need therapy? Just get on with it. Buck up, buttercup.
Only, that doesn't help. It doesn't help me, and it doesn't help the person I'm talking with, either. Neither of us are served by my being dismissive of my experience.
I am learning to feel my feelings without being overwhelmed by them, to take a deep breath and say, but am I actually okay? Am I actually failing EVERYTHING? Is there nothing good in the world? And of course, the answer is that yes, I am okay. And yes, there is good in the world. And no, I am not failing at everything. And even if I am failing at whatever it is I'm doing right now, it doesn't mean I'm not worthy to live.
I've had some dark thoughts over the past few months. Perhaps you have, too?
I closed it all down, here and elsewhere, because I was having a hard time believing I had anything to offer. I couldn't believe in myself, or in my work. Fairy tales? I don't know enough! Teaching? I failed! I am a terrible teacher-- look at how no one wants to hire me! Writing? Bah! That's not writing! That's just airing your dirty laundry. Voices of censure were so loud in my head, that even now, I can hear their echoes, and it takes more deep breathing for me to go on.
I am editing this post as I go, wondering what to share with you, and whether you will really, actually care about it. But maybe you won't. And that's okay.
Some things I would like to write about:
how homeschooling is actually going.
the dread I feel as the seasons change.
blue October skies and red maple leaves.
learning to cook in a way that feels easy and authentic.
things I love.
fairy tales, and why I miss them.
I have gotten away from everything I loved, and believed to be fun and good and beautiful. I'm taking steps back towards them, knowing that my journey and transparency may help others.
But all of this is to say, here I am. And perhaps this blog will rise again from its own ashes. I am resisting the urge to purge my archives and start over, because there are some nice pieces in there, and I would love to share them with you again. I do have things to offer. I do have stories to tell, and ideas to share. I know what I'm doing, even if it feels like I'm failing horribly -- I'm really only failing about 20% of the time, which would be a batting average of .800, which is unheard of. So maybe it's time to go out on more limbs.
How are you?
what a relief.
I've decided to stop pushing myself to do the online business thing. This does not mean I won't be doing more courses, or that you can't sign up for coaching with me, because you totally can, but I am so completely tired of failing to live up to the requirements of doing online business.
Every day, I hear the voices, shouting at me:
HUSTLE! GO AFTER YOUR DREAMS! GO GET MORE FOLLOWERS! BUILD YOUR LIST! DO IT NOW! STOP BEING ON SOCIAL MEDIA! BE ON THIS SOCIAL MEDIA! YOUR PHOTOS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH! YOUR HAIR ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH!
I am someone who gets paralyzed by failure. I stop. I just can't go on. Two people, total, signed up for the last course I offered, so I didn't do the course. And then I didn't do it at all. For a year. I took a coaching certification course instead.
My inability to keep up with the amount of work seemingly required to create an internet business and become an influencer and all of that, has allowed me to hide. It's a great excuse.
But when I was just doing it for fun, and wasn't trying to make it A Thing -- when it wasn't An Income Stream, and was just Sara Offering Something She Loves -- I was so much happier. And when I'm happy, I create more.
So, I would totally love to work with you, to coach you and help you find your groove and your mojo and your sparkle and your magic. I am excited to offer another storytelling course this fall. I plan to do another fairytale workshop in person here, and my friend Margot and I are going to do a super cool event in Northfield this fall. AND I am done trying to "make it work." I'm going to get back to playing, and being delighted when people decide to join me. I'm going to like what I like.
What about you? What are you going to stop doing?
Maybe you want to watch this beautiful little segment from Coppola's part of "New York Stories," which I watched over and over as a kid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmtLJIlS8lQ
Where do you go to find yourself again? I was in deep conversation today, and I mentioned my time in England... so long ago now.
When I was there, I was free to recreate myself. I was far, far from home, and few of my close friends from my home college were there with me on the year abroad program. I made new friends, and strengthened tiny friendships from before. I bicycled all over Oxford at all hours. I went to London with groups and alone. I dated delightful people, sang in choirs, performed in a play. I ate cookies and drank tea, and spent my holidays traveling. I joined clubs and societies, saw movies, drank in pubs, and partook of ancient festivals. I visited the White Horse, and Wayland's smithy, and circles of stones. I read in libraries built before my ancestors crossed the ocean. I cooked feasts for special occasions, and sometimes subsisted on toast, marmite, cocoa, and oranges.
I was young and free and alive.
I've lost that young woman. I catch glimpses of her now and then, but she seems so far away, so shrunken by distance that I could tuck her in a pocket. Or a locket. Or a nutshell.
Where do you go, when you've lost who you were?
Even reading back into the early posts on this blog, like this one, I can see her, dimly, behind the words. But she's been drifting farther and farther away over the past few years.
And now, I am looking for her. Looking for her trail of breadcrumbs, my finger reaching out for the invisible silken thread that will lead me, I am stumbling into the forest again.
I call the voices of anxiety in my head "brainweasels," thanks to my friend Betsy. The brainweasel is a wily creature. Soft, agile, sinuous, it can creep into the tiniest corners of the mind. The brainweasels want me to be safe, but not really -- just safe from censure, safe from judgement. Their teeth are made of shame, hard as diamonds, and their lust for my attention is boundless. A fox in the hen house usually means the loss of a hen, perhaps 2, and some feathers left scattered. A weasel will take out a whole coop, for the sake of a few bites. Destruction for its own sake. The brainweasels do that, too.
I'm working on training the brainweasels to give up control of my life, but they are so convincing. They are sure they are doing a bang-up job of it. But I want that joyful, vivid young woman back, so the weasels aren't aloud to drive anymore. They drive like 115 year old ladies, anyway, and then slay anyone who cuts them off. Best to take their keys away, hmm?
Where do you go to find yourself again? Perhaps it's not a question of where, but of how, or of when?
I don't have answers yet. Just more questions. But I'll try to share them with you, if I find them. In the meantime, I'll be here, on the overgrown path into the woods.
We are back with The Seven Ravens! Last time, I talked about why I personally love this story so much. This week, I went looking through my fairytale books and on the internet for what others have said about this tale. There was less to find than I'd hoped. Some of my books didn't mention the story at all, or just gave a cursory recapitulation of the tale. However, I have a few references for you
I found a short reference in The Uses of Enchantment by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. This is one of those books that I keep telling myself I simply must read, but then I just don't. Anyway, Bettelheim says:
As works of art, fairy tales have many aspects worth exploring in addition to the psychological meaning and impact to which this book is devoted. For example, our cultural heritage finds expression in fairy tales, and through them is communicated to the child's mind. (footnote: One example may illustrate: In the Brothers Grimm's story "The Seven Ravens," seven brothers disappear and become ravens as their sister enters life. Water has to be fetched from the well in a jog for the girls' baptism and the loss of the jug is the fateful even which sets the stage for the story. The ceremony of baptism also heralds the beginning of a Christian existence. It is possible to view the seven brothers as representing that which had to disappear for Christianity to come into being Of so, they represent the pre-Christian, pagan world in which the seven planets stood for the sky gods of antiquity. The Newborn girl is then the new religion, which can succeed only if the old creed doesn't not interfere with its development. With Christianity, the brothers who represent paganism become relegated to darkness. Bur as ravens, they dwell in a mountain at the end of the world, and this suggests their continued existence in a subterranean, subconscious world. Their return tot humanity occurs only because the sister sacrifices one of her fingers, and this conforms to the Christian idea that only those who are willing to sacrifice that part of their body which prevents them from reaching perfection, if the circumstance requires it [Matthew 5:29- SRL], will be allowed to enter heaven. The new religion, Christianity, can liberate even those who remained at first arrested in paganism.) (Bettelheim, 12-13)
So, in all this wordiness, we see that Bruno Bettelheim understands the brothers to represent the religion and worldview which permeated European culture before the coming of Christianity, and that they have to leave in order to allow the new religion, represented by the little girl, to grow and thrive.
German writer Rudolf Meyer, a contemporary of Bettelheim, whose perspeective is one of theology and philosophy, was a priest in the Christian Community, a movement for religious renewal founded by Rudolf Steiner. He takes a different approach to the identity of the ravens in a chapter on fairytale motifs in his book The Wisdom of Fairytales:
In the myth [of Huginn and Muninn, Odin's ravens] the god loses the ravens; but the fairytale has the human powers of wisdom transformed into ravens that fly away. These are two different views. In the myth the divine powers of through and memory can no longer find their way home. For the gods it is a loss when human consciousness is estranged from the spiritual world. In the fairy-tale the emphasis is on the soul's development: the supersensory powers of thinking tear themselves away from the human being who is awakening to himself. They operate as "ravens" in the outer world, but no longer within the soul. The soul must learn to reawaken in itself the same forces that still weave and live on the earth's periphery. Then the soul will be able to ally itself anew with the divine guiding powers and will once again receive message from the spirits.
I've been turning this passage over in my mind, trying to think of how I could explain it or even start to interpret Meyer's words. Here's what I've got: in this book, Meyer talks about fairy tales as being pictures of the human soul's journey through life, with the goal of uniting our ability to feel and move in the world of sensory experience, with the human capacity for free thought, pure reason, and a connection with the divine. He notes here that the little girl, as a representative of the soul, is on a journey to connect with these spiritual capacities in a conscious, mature way. I welcome better explanations! This is one of those passages I feel I can understand, but cannot articulate.
From an entirely different direction comes Katherine Langrish's book, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles: Reflections on Fairy Tales. Rather than trying to put any kind of religious or spiritual intention into the minds or mouths of storytellers, she reflects upon the tales themselves, and the characters within them.
Fairy tales approve and reward the virtues of innocence, industry and good nature in both female and male protagonists . . . In female characters it can be indicated by extreme youth ... [I}n the following quotation from The Seven Ravens, the heroine is interchangeably referred to as 'the maiden' or 'the child':
There's not much more to it-- just a description of the maiden using her finger to open the glass mountain. Langrish uses this story as one of many examples of the traits and virtues of fairytale heroines. You can read this article in its original form here.
So, dear ones, that's all I've got for you. I appreciate your patience in waiting for this post to be finished.
I'm starting off slow with this story. I love it so much. I used it for a client's Story/Reading when I was offering that form of coaching, and it was so right for her. This week, I'm going to talk a little about why I love this story. Next week, I'll share what some other writers have said about it.
There are a whole slew of European fairy tales about people being turned into birds. One of the main themes of these stories, is that someone has to complete an arduous task in order for the transformed ones to be returned to their human form. So often, we are willing to set off on an adventure that we'd never consider otherwise, because someone else's life or well-being, or even just convenience, is at stake. In this story, it is a little girl who faces a journey far from home. She is not an adult, not even a maiden of marriageable age. She's a child, one who is determined to set things right.
I love how there is no question in her mind, as soon as she learns of her brothers' existence, that she is the one who will save them. She is ready for her journey -- she takes food and drink, a ring from her parents to remember them by, and a chair. A CHAIR!!! She is ready to rest herself. This is the kind of practical thinking that fairy tales are sometimes thought to lack, but in reality, they have it in spades. She is going to save her brothers, and it's going to be hard, and she'll need to rest. So she needs a chair. Of course.
The little girl journeys to the sun, the moon, and the stars, and it is the stars, the ones to whom little children sing, the ones who are so gentle and so insistent in their shining, who offer her welcome and help. I love how they are ready to tell her how to find her brothers, and to give her a gift to help her get there.
Gruesome as it seems, I love the moment when she realizes that she will have to give up part of herself to see this adventure through to the end. Having lost the chicken bone the stars gave her, the little girl cuts off her own finger to open the lock on the glass mountain's door. She has a knife, which was not mentioned before, and does what needs to be done, with no drama.
When I tell this story to little children, not one of them flinches or even blinks at the need to cut off her finger. In storyland, it's not a problem. She probably grows it back instantly. Or perhaps she will get a silver finger. It's not important. What is important, is that a dwarf comes and tells her the ravens aren't at home.
I love that it is the print of her lips on the glass that gives her away, and that the ring she brought along alerts her brothers as to who has come. The brothers regain their human form, just like that. I imagine a great ruffling of feathers, and a whirring of wings, and then a gradual settling of the air, and seven young men now appearing, for they will have grown older in the time since they were transformed.
This story is about love. It is about love that seeks us out, even when we are lost. It is about love that sends us searching for what, until just now, we didn't even know we lacked. It's about trust, and magic, and bravery. It's about how quickly things can change, and how our words can have such powerful impact that they change the world forever, and change the lives of others, for good or ill. It's about our journey through life, perhaps our journey before birth, and perhaps about the underworld or the unconscious. It's about life.
more to come...
**the seven ravens fairy tale exploration has been delayed a week by illness. look for it this Friday**
I'm so tired, but I don't want to go to bed because I feel like I haven't done enough yet today. Yes, I did a lot of stuff, but there is something beating its wings in my chest, longing to be set free, and until I have created something, I can't rest. The wind is blowing hard today, and clouds are racing across the sky, which is clearing at last. I am longing to make things, to create things, to be active in adding beauty to the world. Someone once told me how happy they were to be in their 40s, because they felt so much more at peace with themselves. I just feel more urgency."You are no longer young! You cannot live on potential now, you must act! you must create!"
And not knowing what it is that I must do, what it is that I am to create, that is a hard thing, so I keep flinging things out there. Courses. Stories. Little ideas and offerings.
Do you know that for nearly 20 years now, I have longed to have a picnic at Kenwood park, with flowers and flowing skirts, and stories, and fairy cakes, and bubbles, and magic? And I still haven't had it.
Around 8 years ago, I lost something of myself. I became so sad, so stressed... I've been fighting to recover it for years, and blow after blow has pushed me back. Job loss. Financial loss. Loss of a parent. Loved ones in accidents. rejections. I have made countless huge mistakes and done so many things wrong. And still, I press on, because the wings in my ribcage keep fluttering, beating against the walls of my heart. I am stubborn.
And I keep coming back to these fairy tales, the ones that enchanted me so long ago, before all of this, back when I was full of potential and becoming. There is something comforting in their starkness and simplicity. I feel like I am starting out on my journey over and over again. So confused and afraid and yet unable not to press on. And maybe someday I will find the key that unlocks the cage of that bright, winged thing in my heart, and it will sing, and soar.
I am so excited for my Everyday Fairytale workshop tomorrow night! I plan to make this the start of a series of in-person and online workshops. I envision building community through storytelling, art, singing, and talking. Conversation is an art form; we don't get enough of deep, real conversation these days, and I want to cultivate some places for true sharing. The inaugural workshop is IN ONE WEEK, on MAY 30 here in Minneapolis, at Heartfelt. Please call (612) 877-8090 to register.
Next, I am delighted and full of eager anticipation as I announce a new blog series. I will be exploring themes in some of my favorite fairy tales, and offering my own personal take on the insights and gifts they have to offer. The first tale will be The Seven Ravens (of course!), and clicking on the title of the story will take you to where you can read a version of it in preparation for Friday's post!
So much energy and joy -- it must be spring!!!
I'm quiet around here, because I am working away on my latest project: an in-person workshop!
May 16, 2019, 7 pm
Journey from feeling dull, stuck, and overwhelmed, to a life full of wonder, ease, and contentment. We’ll reconnect with the magic and sparkle in the everyday, and learn to read our lives like a fairytale. Storytelling, artistic work, and conversation will shape our time together. Sara will guide you through playful and potent activities that will start you on a path to your heart’s desire.
This workshop will take place at Heartfelt, in Minneapolis. Preregistration is required, and you can sign up by calling Heartfelt at (612) 877-8090
I'm really looking forward to meeting people in person and sharing these wonderful tools for fairytale living! If you have questions, please drop me an email!
Heartfelt is at 4306 Upton Ave S, Minneapolis, MN, 55410
I spent time on Sunday afternoon clearing dead irises and lilies out of the bed in front of my house. It was hard work. The leaves had toughened over the winter to the consistency of leather, and the iris stems were hard and rattling with seeds. Underneath, I could see the new pointed spear-tips of green, jutting out of the earth. Behind me, rhubarb curled red and green up from the beds on either side of the door.
The sun was strong. What a gift, after the lingering snows and icy winds of the past weeks. I was tired; we'd been out late at Easter Vigil at our church, and my ten-year-old hopped out of bed at 6:15, claiming he couldn't sleep any more.
All around me, the earth is waking up. There is a verse in Steiner's Calendar of the Soul that comes around long before I can see this awakening in Minnesota, that mentions "the world's bewildering, sprouting growth" (Verse 44, tr. Hans and Ruth Pusch). The challenge I face in all of this beauty, is to stay rooted. To gather the gifts of the past few months, even the ones that came with pain, and to carry them forward into the summer's dazzling light.
From underneath, from the underworld of our own unconscious dreaming, where we have stuffed down our fears and pains, we must drag our own fearful, sorrowing selves up into the light. It's easy to sink into the relief of the light and life returning, to lose oneself (as eminem starts singing in my head) in the moment, but there are such gifts to be found, clutched in our mud-stained hands. Gifts of kindness and compassion. Of wisdom, hard-won.
Every spring, I want to forget how hard the winter was this time. How I barely kept myself above the current that tried to pull me under. But I must not, or else the same lessons will come around next year for me.
What will you be carrying forward with you into this springtime's beautiful hours? What gifts did winter yield into your keeping?
Sara lives in Minnesota with her wife, their son, and a lot of cats and turtles. She coaches waldorf moms and other sparkly unicorns, helping them find wonder, ease, and contentment. Sara writes about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.