your ordinary life is a fairy tale
and that means it's the best kind of real.
Last night, as I was putting the Boy to bed, I once again started telling a Boy and Cat story without any idea where it would lead. None. This is how many of the stories start -- sometimes I have a plan, a particular shift I want to help with, or a theme, or even a little inkling from something he's said -- and I just have to roll with it. Story will walk into the room and take over, I find, if I can just be present and allow things to flow.
So, I started it the usual way, with the boy waking up, getting dressed, having breakfast with his mom, and then the cat asked him if he was ready to go. Off they went, through the Pathway of Growing Small, and across the clearing to the Apple Tree Palace where the Queen of the Tinies lives. This is where Story stepped in; I had laid the foundations, and I got the characters to where they needed to be for the magic to happen.
Here where we live, Spring has been playing some funny jokes on us. She arrives for a few hours, or even for a day, smiling in sunshine, coaxing daffodil shoots out of the earth, and then, her rough-breathed brother, King Winter, roars back into town with his hounds and his pals on their motorbikes. Winter likes to throw his weight around. He can be fun, sure, slapping your back and handing you a hot mug of cider. He can be quiet, too, and bring a hush to the white-robed night. I think he came back for one more party last night. The trees outside are hanging heavy with wet snow and ice, and it looks like a fairyland. Very pretty, lush and austere at once.
So, Story sent the Boy and the Cat with their friends, Lily, Black-Cap Chickadee, and Baby Dragon, to find out the reason Lady Spring wasn't here yet. They found her in a blossom-scented orchard, embroidering flowers for the ground. She laughed and told them of misunderstandings and mistakes, and assured them she'd be along soon.
My own Boy fell asleep pretty soon after that. He nodded with satisfaction at the story, and I could see the truth of it in his eyes as he snuggled in his bed after the candle was out, just the nightlight glowing.
Today, I will let Winter have his little fun. And tomorrow, I will breathe a gentle breath, and welcome Spring. I hear we will hardly remember Winter by this weekend. That's the way it is with Spring -- the joy and wonder come in, the sweetness and ease, and somehow, the grinding dailiness of Winter lets go of our memories. I can't wait.
The other day, someone asked what I do, and I said, I am a writer and storyteller. I said it out loud. Someone else was introducing me to a friend when we ran into each other at the grocery store, and she said, "Sara's-- are you a writer?" I said, yes. Sometimes I follow up with, "I also do tutoring and parent support groups." Sometimes I don't.
Every time I say this, that I am a writer and storyteller, I feel a little panic. A little bit of the imposter syndrome comes back, and I wonder if I have any right to say it. It can be scary, to claim a name or a title that you are unsure you have any right to have. It's like I've claimed a throne, and I'm afraid someone will come and depose me or call for revolution against me.
In order not to feel like a fraud, I am taking steps to legitimize my claims. I joined a local storytelling group, and I'm putting together the funds to join the National Storytellers Network. I had my first guest post published last week, and I'm working on a writing project with a very cool developmental movement therapist. See? I tell myself. I'm a real storyteller and writer.
It's hard sometimes-- I look at my debts and bills, and I think, I should get a real job, something that will be a steady paycheck. I would wear heels and clothes from the mall, and I would be legitimate. But as my friend
Will said to me, there aren't that many real jobs these days, and none of them are guaranteed to be long-term or steady or well-paid. With that kind of uncertainty, it is better perhaps to be pursuing my dreams and doing work I love.
Names are powerful things. Just think of Rumplestiltskin or Tom Tit Tot. Knowing the name of the little man who could spin straw into gold, gave the young queen the right to keep her child. In many stories, the Fair Folk never tell you their true name, for that name gives the speaker power over the named. Even T.S. Eliot noted in "The Naming of Cats,"
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
To claim the name of Storyteller and of Writer, is to claim the power of words. To declare myself to be something, means, too, that I owe it to myself and others to be true to that claim, and to allow it to be real.
I am a writer and a storyteller. My name is Sara. Who are you?
I have a guest post at Shann Vander Leek's site, Transformation Goddess, today! Please come on over and read it there!
Happy April Fool's Day! When I was a child, my father and I would make paper fish and tape them on one another's backs, in the French tradition of Jour de Poisson. I continued this with my students when I was teaching; it was fun and silly, and it kept the practical jokes and outrageous lies at bay. I have friends who dislike April Fool's Day, and to be truthful, I don't much care for practical jokes or fooling people. I'd rather be real, and be able to trust that others are, too.
The Fool, however, is with me today. The holy fool, the Clown of God, the foolish youngest son, the simpleton -- the fool is very present in fairy tales and folklore. The innocent hero who must take the journey into the unknown somehow outwits the wisest men and the strongest magic-wielding women. Usually, he is the youngest of three sons, but sometimes he is the only son of a poor family, like Jack in "Jack and the Beanstalk." While the fool in stories is usually depicted as male, that does not limit these lessons to males. My work with fairy tales and myths reminds me that the tale is universal. It is about the journey of the individual, not of a particular person with a particular body and set of life circumstances.
There are tales in which the fool is reviled or tricked, where the main character encounters fools and is disdainful -- "The Three Sillies" is one of these. These aren't the fools I'm referring to; the fool I want to honor is the one who sets out in the world with a handful of beans, or a cat, or a wish for a beautiful princess, and finds the way is perilous and fraught with cruelty. Or, perhaps, he is a lazy fool, who is granted his wishes by a magic fish, and somehow ends up fulfilling all the king's conditions for marrying his daughter. This is the blessed fool.
Through innocence and purity of heart, the Fool can do what his brothers cannot. In the traditional Tarot deck, the Fool is a card of new beginnings and infinite possibilities. It is the archetype of hopefulness and open-hearted wonder. The little dog at the fool's heels reminds us to be awake to our surroundings, not to get caught up in the dream and wonder. In the tales, the Fool takes things as they come, without attaching his interpretation to them, and lives in the moment.
We value knowledge in this world, but sometimes, letting go of the knowledge and opening our hearts in wonder at the marvels we encounter in each day can allow us to meet challenges with greater wisdom than we could find through all our learning and experience. Sometimes, the most beautiful gift we can offer, is the one we know paints us in our simplest, truest light. This gift requires us to give deeply and freely of our innermost selves.
Be foolish! Be openhearted and innocent! Laugh and cry and conduct your business with guilelessness and trust. I'm not saying, be stupid; even the fool learns wisdom in the best stories, and this wisdom comes with riches and love. I wish you all a day of Foolery, full of love, riches, and wisdom, and the knowledge that the path opens to those who walk without guile as well as to the learned and the experienced.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.