What makes it a fairy tale? Well there may be some kind of "magic", and a surprising creature or person you may not encounter every day. But some tales are not about castles or royalty (except castles in the sky, or tiny secret flower fairy royalty). These tales are about the simple folk, without money, who scrabble a living on their own far from city life, farming or cutting wood. They observe closely their gardens, the animals, and the rare person they meet unexpectedly. They quietly judge what they are told and think for themselves. They accept lessons learned from mistakes. And sometimes, because they are sharp and fit from their daily hard work, they climb to castles in the sky and make fortunes to share.
The Sea Spicer
Friday, June 10, 2022
I rode my bike to the school library which one year was open for the summer. I checked out beautifully illustrated picture books of fairy tales and ballets; I was older than picture books but the stories and beauty of the images were so heartrending I would take the same ones again and again to plunge myself into the mystical fog of Swan Lake.
I read outside all day, under a tree, in a tree, in a hammock, in the grass. (I still work outside whenever I can. The oxygen and light makes a book more delightful.) Even when it rained, how luscious, on the porch step in the storm. I read all the way on a vacation car journey, stopping only to gaze at a very long view of a mountain landscape, or to open a window for sea smells.
I know this was privilege, not being carsick, having the summers free, enjoying safety and care in my childhood home.
I always said I educated myself in the summers off from school because I could read on any level I chose. I loved science fiction, girls’ books, classic adventure stories. Ray Bradbury, Anne of Green Gables, Robert Louis Stevenson. Oddly I even read Pilgrim’s Progress (from the bookmobile). I remember enjoying an Arthurian series by Mary Stewart which concluded in a mildly titillating scene.
Our summer reading offerings include Arthurian legend fantasy The Good Queen's Daughter, (Sylvie Vadimsky) which is modern even as it's medieval. A princess meets Merlin’s daughter and engages in an odyssey of self-discovery in a brisk and funny conversation with knights, fairies, a ghost, a unicorn, and the Lady of the Lake and her children. She recalls Queen Guinevere, loves a boy, and confronts a witch.
For witches–by which I mean, if you are a witch, and interested in the shadow work of fairy tales; or if you just want witches and fairy godmothers in tales of magic and adventure to overcome wickedness– I give you Legendary Fairy Tales, (June Seas) retold in a chapter book.
For shadow work, fairy tales offer us simple folk characters: single parents, adoptive parents, a stepmother, smothering parents, neglectful parents, predators of children, kindly elders and helpers; siblings and only children, runaway children, and “different” children. Let in the sunshine with healing magic: green witches, magic seeds and beans and smokes, growing things and special bakes, our animal companions, and lessons learned about independence, temptation, and true connection.
Do some souls hold fast to their connection, to place or person, from beyond the grave? Long days and new locales might be the right time to confront your doubts in True Tales of Ghosts (Vadimsky).
The curtain moves. Is the sudden chill just a summer’s breeze,
or is some other One here?
Thursday, December 16, 2021
I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o' the dead/May walk again: if such thing be, thy mother/Appear'd to me last night, for ne'er was dream/So like a waking. --Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale
Try the old tradition of "winter's tales", ghost stories for entertaining in the early darkness of winter. Dickens's Christmas Carol is an example of the Victorian tradition of ghost stories for Christmas. Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales evokes the tradition when the children are frightened when caroling. Richard Vadim's story "Only Being Neighborly", reminds me of this scene.
In True Tales of Ghosts, visitors include a fond mother, a remorseful brother, an inspiring uncle from beyond the grave; or from beyond our understanding, as in The Three Women. Sometimes we are the strangers, moving in to the home of the ghost of a person unknown to us.
There is something warm and inviting about drawing your loved ones close for a ghost tale! I am continuing this tradition in my family.
Friday, October 16, 2020
You may find your poem still tends to reflect themes in the book, an interesting consideration for authors on word choice. Alternatively your poem may turn out to say something other, deeper, darker. You may also find as I did, to my utter surprise, that even in found poetry, not everyone gets it; there are poets out there even if supplied with others' words, and people who see the world, perhaps, in a more concrete or less verbal fashion, and may struggle a little with the concept. An alternative assignment, rather than asking your poets to choose words, is to give a passage from which they redact words, black out words with a marker, and then read what words are left. This also makes something visual to look at, with the black stripes, so has an appeal for the more visual art oriented.
Please remember to attribute the original author. I made mine with words from Allison Mills's The Ghost Collector, a juvenile chapter book. I think a found poem is a nice review of, or plug for, a book.
Water, heavy, dirt.
Drizzling, gray, sad.
I don't understand what happened--
Do you know my name?
Monday, August 24, 2020
Writers know that the words from the Muse for which we are conduits will have meaning yet to be discovered by readers.
I wrote down my own remembered and imagined versions of a few fairy tales because I wanted one little boy to know them. I discovered, as I usually do in writing, meanings after they were written. In Heart’s Desire I remade three tales with the common theme of a miraculous child discovered and adopted by childless adults.
“Gingerbread Kid” is just for fun, but sets up the theme: we are not the Creator of our children, and they are not going to turn out to be mere cookie cutter people of our design and intent!
“The Flower Fairy Prince and Princess”, from Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina inspiration, dictated its own themes of the challenge in communication and relationship between the big human mother and the tiny flower child, and the tension between the mother’s worry about the child’s safety, and the tiny one’s longing for freedom and discovery.
Finally “”The Snow Child", inspired by the Russian Snow Maiden, is icy cold, even while she is eager to please and to be the perfect child. She reminds me of having read about a psychological syndrome in some adopted children, especially related to the eastern European orphaned children who had not been loved early; some are apparently perfectly behaved, but cold and unloving, to their parents’ horror. She also reminds me of the challenge to parents of children with autism, and the especially sensitive children who cannot bear touch.
The little boy of today's remarks became delighted with the novel experience of fairy tales being read to him as chapter books at bedtime, instead of merely single story picture books. Now he says, yeah, fairy tales, every night!
And by the way, at first our little boy assumed that “fairy tales” are stories exclusively about “fairies”, and this made him doubtful. We explained that fairy tales are just old tales, retold many times and many ways over many years, which may include magic,royalty, transformation, travels, animals, and even ordinary boys and girls. One may read them for fun, one may find lessons within.
Rediscover the joy of the many layers of meaning in fairy tales, making them entertaining for all ages. Find humor, fantasy and adventure for little ones, archetypes and motifs Jungian or Freudian for adults, simple and profound lessons for all.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
I know folks who get a good laugh from comedian Brian Regan’s routine about missing the subtext of four-page baby books (http://www.cc.com/video-clips/kaedzf/baby-books):
The big clock.
Would you assess easy readers this way too? For us adults, once we read a book we are done with
it. There are some we keep on our shelves because they are gorgeous collector items, and some to show off what we read. There are a few we just treasure and even re-read, perhaps annually, perhaps “someday”. Honestly, a book which costs five to twelve dollars which you read once to your kid? Once mastered,--read once-- don’t you want to move on? Wouldn’t it cost you a fortune to maintain a full enough library of easy readers, when your new reader will soon be ripping through and past these?
Well that children's book may not be so interesting to you after the first reading, but it is in fact crucially important to give your newly reading child the opportunity to read and re-read the same books, over and over. It is important that you permit your child to choose the same favorite book from the library, week after week. It is important that you read the same story requested, again and again and again. This is actually how children learn.
Your reader needs multiple opportunities to sound out, say, and hear the same words. Her inner ear is listening and embedding relationships between letters, between words, learning contexts, thinking about vocabulary and how to use and apply those words in other contexts. He is downloading grammar lessons and intuiting spelling rules. He will learn to play with these words.
Your reader needs to build the confidence of gradually reading that story, more and more smoothly,
again and again, until it is a basic on which she can rely, with assurance, to entertain a grandparent or younger sibling.
Yes, your reader is even memorizing the story. You may be dismissive, thinking it is a lazy way out of reading, to merely remember the words which go with the picture hints.
Memorization was once recognized as a valuable skill in education. Thankfully it has been replaced on its altar by critical thinking. Nevertheless memorization is also a tool in your child’s mental facilities. Once, literate people had been trained in memorizing and reciting poetry, Latin, catechism. Once even folks without access to advanced formal education had so learned the richly complex vocabulary to enjoy literature and theater, and to make and understand political arguments.
My daughter talked late as a toddler, but she demanded I read and reread aloud the entire Jungle Book by Kipling. When she did finally talk, she was able to recite it. ( If you don’t know the original Jungle Book stories, read it for the gorgeous music of the language and the fascinating political lessons and issues taught and learned by Bagheera, Baloo and Mowgli. What, then, does one need to know to live within, or without, a civilization?)
When she was able to write, she wrote poetically with a natural, beautiful voice, based on her Jungle Book's silent practice in her head.
Fortunately Kipling bore up to many repeated readings by an adult, without ever boring. Even with children’s picture books and easy readers I am a fussy audience. I want a book to have meaning to a child and not exclusively pathos for the adult, (as is sadly so common in popular children’s books!). And I want the story to have a humorous or sweetly grateful subtext for the adult. Share the laugh, let your child in on the joke! Show your pleasure in their story. Count your blessings aloud together.
Before you know it, your child will surprise you and make you laugh with connections he has learned to make, applying language and ideas from his books to new situations.
The investment in many easy readers from which to choose, for reading and rereading, is not so costly and very worthwhile. As your reader grows in ability, try sharing a box of readers with other families, rotating the stories round and back again, to expand your reader’s opportunities and tastes.
I have these right now with genuine realistic pictures, rather than more CGI graphics, since we are already sickened with so much screen time. To my mind, they are funny. Let me know what you think!
Friday, July 3, 2020
|Buy on Amazon|
Before you read any further, you want to know how I feel about guns. I am with Alice Bull, a gifted riflewoman and first woman elected to the NRA’s Board of Directors in 1949: I “[appreciate] the workings of firearms”. “I like mechanical things. A finely made gun is like a well-made micrometer. It is a very fine piece of machinery and beautiful to look at.” Smyth, Frank. The NRA (p. 60). Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.
And I would like my family to learn to shoot. People I love, family and friends, have and regularly use or carry guns, for sport, hunting,defense. I live in a state with strong gun control laws, of which I approve.
And you will want to know who wrote this book.
Mr. Smyth is a gun owner (“a Glock 19, an Austrian-designed 9mm semiautomatic pistol. This is a tactical, high-capacity weapon…”) and NRA member. He is an independent investigative journalist, specializing in armed conflict; a former arms trafficking investigator, and the CEO of a US based firm which offers training for hostile environments. He was captured and imprisoned in Iraq with fellow journalists, one of whom was executed. He has written for publications including Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Village Voice, New Republic, The Nation, Harvard International Review, International Herald Tribune, Chicago Reader, Texas Observer, Economist, Christian Science Monitor and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has testified before the US House and Senate and the Helsinki Commission. Smyth has worked all over the world in dangerous environments including the Gulf War, Colombia, Beirut/Lebanon, El Salvador, Guatemala, and has written on Africa and central Asia.
In other words, no Elmer Fudd here. I can’t wait for the movie.
Know that “unauthorized”, here, does not mean the book is invented. Smyth has exhaustively researched the tale, including the NRA’s own buried publications such as the collector’s editions of American Rifleman.
Here’s why you, proud gun owning American hunters and sport shooters and home defenders, my family and friends, will love and learn from this book.
The NRA has noble, patriotic origins and a long, proud and fascinating history. Members can be proud of its history but they do not know the history, because evidently the current power-gripping elite of the organization have locked away this history in some kind of vault, or erased it, depriving current members and gun owners of its own institutional knowledge. As happens around the world in tiresome repetition, the tactic of preserving ignorance in the rank and file of an organization protects its elite, maintaining the power of the controlling individuals and enabling their financial abuses at organizational expense to line their own pockets.
Hence, the “unauthorized” nature of this recounting.
The NRA was initially founded in New York after the Civil War. Union Army officers concluded the standing armies of the USA needed to learn sharp shooting, after their terrible experience fighting the confederacy, and in preparation for foreign wars in Europe. Its principal purpose for over a hundred years was to support the armed forces of the United States.
The organization propagated rifle shooting sporting matches against teams around the world. WWI vindicated the founders’ aims. At the 1920 Olympic Games the US was on top of the world in most team shooting events.
The NRA conducted competitions for soldiers and police from across the country, trained railroad mail clerks, Boy Scouts and the 4-H. Senior ranks of the organization consisted of decorated military officers who made better riflery a national goal. It maintained standards for marksmanship through training and competition, working with every branch of military service and the national guards, and subsidized by federal funds.
In addition to the NRA’s century of patriotic service, the organization promoted “hunter conservation”, promoting environmentally sound policies in the interest of hunters and sportsmen, and ethical practices in the hunting of animals.
One remarkable aspect of the history is the NRA’s historic support of reasonable degrees of gun control. Given the rise of organized crime and gangland violence in the 20s and 30s, the NRA acknowledged the need for regulations of the sale and use of firearms, including the need for a registry of sales. The NRA endorsed a bill aiming to restrict and tax machine guns, and ban sawed off shotguns and silencers, which became law in 1934. In 1937 it argued that only trained police should handle the Smith and Wesson Magnum. The NRA had never promoted the arming of ordinary citizenry at a police level of firepower.
In 1968, the era of tragic assassinations, the NRA Executive Vice President (the traditional position of power within the organization) urged the passage of the new gun control law to curb mail-order sales, and all sales to juveniles, convicts, and individuals adjudicated mentally unsound, and which stopped the import of surplus military weapons.
Power changes within the organization mirrored the culture wars of the 70s. The NRA leadership shakeup resulted in the accession to power of a murder convict upon his release after appeal. Harlon (name spelling changed after prison) Carter had also been Chief of the Border Patrol in Texas. His right hand man was Neal Knox, who with his wife was a “gun buff”.
The times saw the slaughter of police officers in New York City with cheap “Saturday night specials”, handguns purchased legally out of state and illegally brought across state lines. The NRA leadership saw the threat of handgun regulation coming and saw the need to rally unified support from hunters, competitive shooters, sport shooters, and those concerned with self-defense.
While there was never a threat to the right of Americans to their firearms for these purposes, the only way to prevent the splintering of interests within the organization was, cynically, to make gun owners believe the government was coming for their guns, all their guns.
[This reminds me so much of the way some in the right wing used to manipulate the religious right over abortion, family values, and law and order, in order to use the support of this base to shore up a front for protecting its own financial and political interests.]
And finally the fascinating character, the contemporary power at the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, started out as a lobbyist for the organization and ultimately became the power in the organization. Prior to his role within the NRA, LaPierre had successfully twice avoided the draft during the Vietnamese war, and worked as a volunteer for the presidential campaign of Democrat George McGovern. He had also worked as a legislative aide in Virginia for a Democrat.
The change of the guard within the NRA resulted in new leadership of people known as “slob hunters”, who hunted baited waterfowl, shot crows, hunted deer with big handguns, and who shamelessly portrayed the NRA on TV hunting marsh hens from a motorboat under power, in violation of game laws and the NRA’s hunting code of ethics. It lobbied for the sale at discount to its members of surplus military weapons.
By 2002 the organization was concealing its financial influence in elections and in Supreme Court amicus briefs.
The book details the NRA response to the litany of mass shootings with which we are too familiar today, promoting more guns.
The mission of the NRA seems to have devolved from its original patriotism and service, with the purpose of defending America, to a lobby benefiting the gun manufacture industry and the interest of some private individuals in turning guns directly against the U.S. government, this last arising right out of white supremacist militia movements.
Similar to today’s hijacking of the news for divisive, outrageous speech as a diversion from issues which need close attendance, the loud, angry and celebrity face of the NRA garners its members’ and the nation’s attention. Tellingly, while LaPierre makes personal millions, the NRA’s annual financial report, which had always been published annually for its members, has disappeared from publication.
Hence, the “unauthorized” nature of this book.
President Reagan, himself the victim of an assassination attempt, publicly and vocally broke with the NRA in the 90’s in his support for the Brady Bill. His position was consistent with the now buried from sight NRA tradition: “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”
The book contains plenty to make me feel frustrated and depressed about the issue. Too bad, I could so easily love a gun. But as to the NRA, like so many of our institutions which I want to love as an American, its membership is tarnished by the hollow greed and perverted values of its leadership.
And more Zombies
Another depressing popular culture entertainment can be zombie movies. After the fine original Night of the Living Dead, my family tried viewing the sequel,--the one set in the mall? We became uncomfortable. We decided that the whole zombie trend feels, maybe, like just an excuse to shoot at human beings.
We felt differently viewing Train to Busan. What was different about this zombies-on-a-train movie?
The good guys didn’t have guns--until the cliffhanger moment of truth at the end of the movie, when the last survivors faced the military protectors with their guns.
There was lots of zombie fighting and sufficient gore. There was awe-inspiring courage as the dads and boyfriend engaged in hand to hand combat and sacrifice to defend their families/date, respectively. They also learned to leverage their courage and strength with strategies to outwit their virus-transformed foes.
Why was I okay with the war against these zombies, who had been their friends, relatives and fellow passengers before the contagious disease which turned them into flesh-eating zombie enemies? (Timely movie!)
I can’t pretend pacifism, as I love war movies. I love--heroes. In Busan, The combat sans firepower felt like the knights and vikings at war, like Lord of the Rings. Appreciating a fine firearm should be like appreciating a good sword. The weapon is an extension of the man. Busan gave us perhaps more flesh in the game, less long range blood spattering machine gun power.
Like Alice Bull from Smyth’s NRA, in appreciating a fine weapon, “I don’t love it because it goes boom.”