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.
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.
Hi. That's me. I write, sometimes, about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.