A big thank you to the editors of Praxis Magazine Online for publishing my poems “The Rule” and “Your Sonnet.” Praxis is an African-based magazine for arts and literature. Check it out by reading the other stories and poems!
“The Rule” is obviously a response to the Covid pandemic. Like a lot of writers, I am torn between wanting to write about the pandemic and wanting to get away from it by NOT writing about the pandemic.
“Your Sonnet” is a poem that a lot of (particularly, but not exclusively) women can probably relate to. It makes use of the Little Red Riding Hood story, as do several of my poems in the last couple of years. I know that I have posted before about my Pinterest board for Little Red art, but now the board has over 1,300 images! I really do wonder if any secular folktale has inspired more art than Little Red: Red in the Woods
Last week I wrote about penpals and posted a link for Snail Mail Social Club. After applying by checking off my interests from a provided list, I was given two names and addresses to write to. One of them was an individual living at home. The other is a staff contact at a senior facility. The idea, apparently, is that the facilities don’t want to give out names for privacy issues so I am supposed to write as many letters as I like for these unknown people living there.
I have to admit I was disappointed. I wrote back, asking if they were going to match me up with people with my interests, but have not heard back. I can send generic letters to any senior facility–I don’t need this “finding” service to get me a staff member’s name. The reason I liked writing to Matt was because he said he was interested in war stories, so I wanted to hear his and tell him the ones I know about from my family. If someone wants to talk about books or history or art or cats, I’m all here. Or there. Or pen in hand.
Does anybody else have information about finding people to write to that I have something in common with? I think it would be more meaningful to shut-ins since I am not a 3rd grader writing with my class. Does that make any sense or do I sound nonsensical?
I’ve been adding social media to my life for a few years. Some types or platforms I find more useful or more appealing than others. While I have not gotten excited over Instagram, I do love Pinterest. I rarely think about the social aspect of Pinterest. I’m simply infatuated with the intriguing photos that lead to stories, more images, or recipes.
As a collector, I find it addictive to add to boards that categorize some of my favorite subjects, and I’m grateful to other Pinterest collectors for providing pins and for the ease of adding my own contributions.
Something about Pinterest reminds me of sorting M&Ms by color before eating them. And collecting shells on the beach and sorting them by shape or color. Simple and therapeutic. Sort of puts me at the emotional age of a toddler.
Some of my boards are writing and reading related, as you might expect. Check out Writing, Scribbling, and Jotting for an idea of my boards. If you have a particular blog post (written by you or someone else) that you would like me to pin onto the board, type the link into the comments here, and I’ll check it out!
I have boards for that ever-present child in me (I linked to Dollhouses in case you want to see a sample):
I’ve got fairy tale boards called Red in the Woods and A World of Snow. The former is one of my best boards, mainly because so many artists have a version of Little Red Riding Hood! I don’t usually pin the highly sexualized ones, but there are a ton of those, too.
For my love of textiles I have Hankies and History, Lace and other fun textiles, and Buttons buttons. Really all these textiles and trimming are related to history.
Ten or fifteen years ago I learned not to take even basic assumptions for granted.
I used to teach a course called “Children’s Literature” at a public university. My students were future teachers–mainly K-8, but also secondary school. A large percentage of them were first and second generation and primarily from Mexico/Central America.
Children’s literature is divided into different genres of lit, just as is literature for adults. For children, the genres include picture books, young adult novels, poetry, traditional literature, and more. Traditional lit covers fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. Picture books based on “Hansel and Gretel” or “The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly” are both picture books and traditional lit.
I liked to teach stories from the different continents. I particularly enjoyed taking a tale, such as “Cinderella,” which is told in various parts of the world and looking at the cultural differences. Seven hundred folk (pre-picture books and movies) versions of this one tale exist.
One academic quarter, I got a flyer in my department mailbox about a play being put on by the drama department. It sounded ideal as it was coming at a time we were studying folk and fairy tales. The play was a spoof on some of the traditional tales. Since it occurred ten to fifteen years ago, I can’t remember for sure which tales were included or who wrote it, but they were very well-known tales–maybe “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “Goldilocks.” I brought a couple of my classes to a performance of the play. It was hilarious; I laughed all the way through.
At least, I thought it was hilarious. But most of my students sat there stone-faced. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
The next time class met, we discussed our responses to the play. It turned out that most of my students had never been exposed to these basic tales of the English-speaking and European worlds. Without knowing the originals, the parodies made no sense.
That showed me that we don’t all share as many of the same basic building blocks of culture, as I had imagined. I knew that these stories were widely available in Spanish, so that wasn’t the problem.
To accommodate my students, I thought, well then, we can spend more time integrating Mexican tales of La Llorona and Quetzalcoatl. Some students thought this was great.
But I had another disappointment when I discovered that so many students didn’t have knowledge of tales from the country of their birth or their parents’ birth either. And why? They said their parents didn’t tell them stories. They didn’t have time–too busy working and too tired when they weren’t.
It wasn’t too late, though. It might have been college, but we were in the luxurious world of Children’s Literature, so we read all the tales I could fit into the class. The parodies and revisions worked well together with the originals, but not on their own. That’s ok. It made us all better readers to look at them side-by-side.
So now my pedogogical and philosophical question is: do we all need to share the same building blocks of story?
I’ve written before how the Little Red Riding Hood image is at the center of the story I am shaping into a book-length memoir (link to post). The girl, the wolf, the grandmother, the danger, and the huntsman are all there. In my post which describes how I found out I am a Highly Sensitive Person, I wrote about the function of “The Princess and the Pea,” and how I go through my life-like the girl who feels the pea underneath all those mattresses and featherbeds. In my last post, I wrote about my terror at meeting Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.
So it’s probably not a surprise that I love to read different versions of these tales. There are a lot of movies which remake the old stories. Ever After might be one of the most popular, but there have been many versions of the Snow White and Cinderella stories. If you want to watch a really creepy Red Riding Hood tale, check out Reese Witherspoon in Freeway.
Because the majority of these tales originated either from the ancient oral tradition of storytelling or from storytellers who lived hundreds of years ago, the cultural mores and expectations are different from those of today. That’s why seeing them through modern eyes, such as witnessing the Rapunzel character in Tangled showing herself to be the opposite of the helpless princess of days gone by, can be very satisfying.
Library shelves are jam-packed with picture book versions of these traditional stories which have been re-told, either by staying true to the original or by updating to conform to today’s viewpoints. There are also feminist versions for adults, such as are found side by side with the classic versions in Maria Tatar’s The Classic Fairy Tales.
Some of my favorites are the poems by Anne Sexton. She based each poem on a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. Note: these are not Disney versions.
Sexton passed away in 1974, and her book of fairy tale poems, titled Transformations, was published in 1972. So there are some dated references. At the very ending of “Cinderella,” Cindy and the prince are described this way:
Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle- aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
Clearly, to understand the reference, a reader needs to know who the Bobbsey Twins were. The Bobbsey Twins books were a series developed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in the early 20th century. The twins were two sets of twins which comprised, with their parents, the Bobbsey family. They were a younger reader version of books like the Nancy Drew books, which were also Stratemeyer books. The term “Bobbsey Twins” has been used for decades to mean two people who are a lot alike, such as “two peas in a pod.”
For fun, here’s the full text of Sexton’s Snow White version. See what you think–is it still relevant?
No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.
Open to say,
Good Day Mama,
and shut for the thrust
of the unicorn.
She is unsoiled.
She is as white as a bonefish.
Once there was a lovely virgin
called Snow White.
Say she was thirteen.
a beauty in her own right,
though eaten, of course, by age,
would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.
Beauty is a simple passion,
but, oh my friends, in the end
you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes.
The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred--
something like the weather forecast--
a mirror that proclaimed
the one beauty of the land.
She would ask,
Looking glass upon the wall,
who is fairest of us all?
And the mirror would reply,
You are the fairest of us all.
Pride pumped in her like poison.
Suddenly one day the mirror replied,
Queen, you are full fair, 'tis true,
but Snow White is fairer than you.
Until that moment Snow White
had been no more important
than a dust mouse under the bed.
But now the queen saw brown spots on her hand
and four whiskers over her lip
so she condemned Snow White
to be hacked to death.
Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter,
and I will salt it and eat it.
The hunter, however, let his prisoner go
and brought a boar's heart back to the castle.
The queen chewed it up like a cube steak.
Now I am fairest, she said,
lapping her slim white fingers.
Snow White walked in the wildwood
for weeks and weeks.
At each turn there were twenty doorways
and at each stood a hungry wolf,
his tongue lolling out like a worm.
The birds called out lewdly,
talking like pink parrots,
and the snakes hung down in loops,
each a noose for her sweet white neck.
On the seventh week
she came to the seventh mountain
and there she found the dwarf house.
It was as droll as a honeymoon cottage
and completely equipped with
seven beds, seven chairs, seven forks
and seven chamber pots.
Snow White ate seven chicken livers
and lay down, at last, to sleep.
The dwarfs, those little hot dogs,
walked three times around Snow White,
the sleeping virgin. They were wise
and wattled like small czars.
Yes. It's a good omen,
they said, and will bring us luck.
They stood on tiptoes to watch
Snow White wake up. She told them
about the mirror and the killer-queen
and they asked her to stay and keep house.
Beware of your stepmother,
Soon she will know you are here.
While we are away in the mines
during the day, you must not
open the door.
Looking glass upon the wall . . .
The mirror told
and so the queen dressed herself in rags
and went out like a peddler to trap Snow White.
She went across seven mountains.
She came to the dwarf house
and Snow White opened the door
and bought a bit of lacing.
The queen fastened it tightly
around her bodice,
as tight as an Ace bandage,
so tight that Snow White swooned.
She lay on the floor, a plucked daisy.
When the dwarfs came home they undid the lace
and she revived miraculously.
She was as full of life as soda pop.
Beware of your stepmother,
She will try once more.
Looking glass upon the wall. . .
Once more the mirror told
and once more the queen dressed in rags
and once more Snow White opened the door.
This time she bought a poison comb,
a curved eight-inch scorpion,
and put it in her hair and swooned again.
The dwarfs returned and took out the comb
and she revived miraculously.
She opened her eyes as wide as Orphan Annie.
Beware, beware, they said,
but the mirror told,
the queen came,
Snow White, the dumb bunny,
opened the door
and she bit into a poison apple
and fell down for the final time.
When the dwarfs returned
they undid her bodice,
they looked for a comb,
but it did no good.
Though they washed her with wine
and rubbed her with butter
it was to no avail.
She lay as still as a gold piece.The seven dwarfs could not bring themselves
to bury her in the black ground
so they made a glass coffin
and set it upon the seventh mountain
so that all who passed by
could peek in upon her beauty.
A prince came one June day
and would not budge.
He stayed so long his hair turned green
and still he would not leave.
The dwarfs took pity upon him
and gave him the glass Snow White--
its doll's eyes shut forever--
to keep in his far-off castle.
As the prince's men carried the coffin
they stumbled and dropped it
and the chunk of apple flew out
of her throat and she woke up miraculously.And thus Snow White became the prince's bride.
The wicked queen was invited to the wedding feast
and when she arrived there were
red-hot iron shoes,
in the manner of red-hot roller skates,
clamped upon her feet.
First your toes will smoke
and then your heels will turn black
and you will fry upward like a frog,
she was told.
And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure,
her tongue flicking in and out
like a gas jet.
Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror
as women do.
Since I’m the new kid in town, I was thrilled to get an invitation from LouAnn at her blog, On the Homefront , to attend her Virtual Christmas Party on December 15. Ok, I admit it: it’s true that she’s invited virtually everyone (or everyone virtual). But I choose to think of it as a personal invitation since I enjoy her blog so much. We’re simpatico (says me) since we share the name Luanne (which technically is the correct spelling, but please don’t mention that to LouAnn).
Party-goers are to come as their favorite author or character from a book. We’re to bring a 1970s appetizer and a song request selected from specific artists. As if I were planning a costume for a costume party, I’ve been obsessing over my masquerade identity for days.
It didn’t take me long to realize I want to attend as Little Red Riding Hood. She’s my writing alter ego. I figured this out after reading Tristine Rainer’s Your Life as Story. In this fabulous book on writing memoir, Rainer describes how each writer (read: person) inherits a myth which forms a pattern for her own life. It’s our duty as writers to understand this and not to get trapped in old patterns to the extent that we follow them to an unhappy conclusion.
I could see right away, that though I was the princess who felt the pea under 4,000 mattresses and feather beds when I was a kid and Cinderella when I married a rescuing prince, my main storyline has been that of Little Red. In my journeys as Red, I have travelled from the family home back to my grandmother’s home to save grandmother from her own sad story. I’ve dodged the wolf many times. There are hundreds of Little Red versions around the world, and they all have different endings. I like that Little Red–whether she gets eaten, kills the wolf, or saves her siblings—remains tough and spunky.
Little Red is the pattern for my memoir Scrap. In this first draft of my book the narrator describes this connection: “This past year, a girl in my kindergarten class had brought her doll for Show and Tell. The little cloth Red Riding Hood was three dolls in one. When you turned Little Red upside down, you pulled her skirt over her head, and on the other end you got Granny. When you took off Granny’s cap and turned her around, it was the Wolf’s face on the reverse of Granny’s. The difference between Granny and the Wolf was like the difference between Dad’s two sides. I, of course, was Little Red Riding Hood.”
Facsimile 3-character doll: Little Red and Grandmother
Facsimile 3-character doll: the wolf
For years I collected Little Red dolls, without understanding why. When I taught college-level children’s literature, we read and compared many versions of the fairy tale. I’m not sure if Red’s story became mine because reading the Little Golden Book version was one of my earliest memories, although it’s certainly possible.
What I do know is that I won’t be attending LouAnn’s party as Nancy Drew or Judy Bolton, as Catherine Earnshaw or Lucy Snowe, as Emily Dickinson or Muriel Rukeyser. I’m going as Little Red Riding Hood and if my cape and hood look particularly Christmassy, that will just be the frosting on the Christmas cookie.
When I was four, I spent the seven-month Michigan winter playing in our basement. Dad had built walls in opposite corners, one to create a laundry for Mom and the other for his workshop. The open area just outside the workshop had become my playroom. Nothing special designated it as mine. The floor was concrete, which Dad had painted with gray industrial paint. Scotch tape didn’t hold up my drawings on the cinder block wall, and when I tried to nail a finger-painting to the gritty cement, I wasn’t strong enough and Dad’s hammer was too heavy. The nail slipped to the floor, my painting torn.
Halloween party in the basement–I am not in the photo as I was too young to be up this late
What my playroom contained were wooden crates of costumes and dolls and books. These served as portals to my imagination. With the single light bulbs shining from overhead, and these possessions spread out before me, the room felt cozy and cheerful, no matter that the window up near the board-studded ceiling was blocked by a snow drift.
One day, as I sat cross-legged, engrossed in Little Red Riding Hood, my mother came out of the laundry room and sang me part of an old song:
School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days.
‘Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.
She laughed and said, “I’m glad to see you’re so good at your 3Rs.”
I didn’t understand what she meant, so she explained to me that the basics of a good education were reading, writing, and arithmetic. I could read and write and liked to add small sums on the notepads Dad brought me home from work.
She was right. I loved all three subjects. I couldn’t get enough of my Little Golden Books and each time we went to National grocery store, I begged for one of the 25-cent books with the foil spines.
The power of writing a sentence was already apparent to me. There was a symmetry to subject-verb-direct object which thrilled me.
And who wouldn’t love to create beautiful numbers out of lines and curves and then find out that 2 + 2 always equals 4? How serene I felt once I understood that certainty.
Upon starting school, I continued to relish all the subjects we studied. Science, the partner of math, captivated me in all its forms—meteorology (keeping a temperature log), astrology (creating a scrapbook of the nine planets), biology (growing mold on potatoes). I was complete, a whole person, half reading/writing and half math/science.
During arithmetic, we were presented with both numerical problems and story problems. The latter were akin to reading mysteries. It stands to reason that I would have loved story problems, but herein lies a problem. A problem related to writing memoir. No matter how much I think about it, I can’t remember whether I preferred numerical or story problems. It seems that I ought to know the answer to that, but the experience is long forgotten or disremembered.
Along with the absence of that memory is another mystery. I don’t know where I lost the math side of me and became identified with only one side, the reading/writing side. How did something that seemed so fresh and interesting to me as a child become a burden by junior high? If I could remember how I felt about story problems could I find the answer?
Tristine Rainer, in her book Your Life as Story, gives a variety of tricks to retrieve memories. Her tricks include:
study photos as “memory sparkers”
listen to music from the time period
re-visit the floor plan of your old home
let your body remember through an action or movement
As I work on my memoir, sometimes I can’t remember important parts of my story, and I use Rainer’s ideas. For me, internet research into a time period sometimes helps. So do old television shows, since I am of the first serious TV generation.
If I want to solve the mystery of my dislike of math, maybe I should follow Rainer’s 4th trick and get my hands on an old arithmetic textbook and start solving problems.