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Archive for March, 2011

‘Nother Goose?  S’mother Goose?  I just cannot decide.

It’s been a rough week on the writing front as our primary school is in final rehearsals for the springtime musical and I’m on board overseeing a crew of fifth and sixth graders running the lights.  I feel lucky to have scrawled out a couple of these ditties in the margins of my script!

Mary, Mary,
Ordinary,
Your garden has gone to seed!
Please, leave me alone!
I’m bringing in stone,
And cacti I don’t have to weed!

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King Cole Nat
Was a Jazzy young cat,
Yes a Jazzy young cat indeed;

He tickled the Whites,
And he tickled the Blacks,
And he played them well, all agreed!

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Georgie P says “Keep away!
All the girls have ruined my day!”
When somebody asks him why,
Georgie shows them his black eye!

Oh yeah, it’s Poetry Friday in the Universe again!  Liz is our gracious host this week over at Liz in Ink. Do drop in for a visit.

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We are good people but we must instill in our children the fear of those who are not like us, outsiders who we fear. We must instruct them but we must do it in ways that instill these values so that they do not question them. We must get them while they are young, yes, and we must use the power and the magic of stories to bind their thinking.

We must start with a nobleman, a count or a king, and give him a beautiful wife, for what child cannot imagine their own mother as most beautiful? And we must put the Count in some sort of peril so that his wife is shown to be without protection. The rending of the family shall scare them and cause them worry over their own family. It is the only way.

And so we shall have the Count captured by our unnatural enemies, those whom we fear irrationally.  We shall call them the Marauders. The Mauraders have captured the Count and to humiliate him — and by extension, humiliating our people, good people — they have forced him into slave labor working in a mine.  Our children will overlook the reality that we have mines of our own, and that we treat some sections of our own people as bad as or worse than slaves, because they know that no matter what we do, the Marauders are worse. They would not be our enemies if this were not true, yes?

But now we must show the children how right and good our Count is, and how by extension we are equally right and good, and we must do so with magic.  Down in the mine, no matter how much the Count works, his shirt never gets dirty.  Imagine!  Where in a day other shirts go as black as coal the Count’s remains white as snow, and doesn’t that send the children a message? And so the Count is brought before the King of the Marauders and is asked to explain himself.

“I am a Count,” the Count replies, as naturally as if he were announcing the sky was blue. “I have a beautiful wife, and as long as I am faithful to her the shirt shall remain white.”

A ha! And so we see that not only are we good people, as represented by a Count with a magical tunic, but it is our faithfulness to our motherland that keeps us pure!  We need not say anymore about this, the children will know it.

“Send for your wife,” said the King of the Marauders, “So that I may see this beauty.  And when you do this I will set you free.”

A trick! The King of the Maruaders has said nothing about sending the Count’s wife free.  And what sort of trap is he laying by having the Count send for his wife? But we know the Count to be like us, cunning and brave, and so he shall secretly send a letter to his wife to hide so the Marauders do not find her.

Now, the Count was only doing what he felt best to protect his wife, but is not the Countess one of our people as well?  Would she not be as cunning and brave?  And so when she heard all the Countess cut off her hair and disguised herself as a wandering musician. That way when the Marauders came looking for the beautiful Countess they would overlook anyone so plain and peasant-like. Naturally, the Marauder’s were furious to return to their King empty-handed, but what else could they do? They were Marauders, not like us, and were too stupid and too lazy to do the task assigned them.

The Countess, now a musician, had plans of her own.  She found the ship the Marauders were returning home on and stole away on board. There, she played so beautifully (would you expect less from our Countess?) that the Marauders decided she would make a good consolation prize for their King. And indeed, when the King of the Marauders heard her play he instantly forgot about the Count and the ever-white tunic. Even more, when the King of the Marauders asked for the Countess to play for his slaves near the mines even the Count forgot his place and thought nothing of returning home. Her voice was so beautiful, so familiar, that soon enough the Count had secretly fallen in love with the musician.

Such a conundrum for the children! The Count, who we know to be good, has seemingly become unfaithful to his own wife with his own wife! Naturally his tunic should have begun to darken or at least yellow with his longing, should it not? And yet it remained white, which should have said something to the Count, should it not? And yet, as neither the Count nor the Countess had been unfaithful in their lives they wouldn’t know for sure what sort of transformation the tunic would take, and so they were left wondering.

Also, by this time, our children will have discovered that no matter what the Marauders do to keep our people apart it is our bond that will always keep us together.  We are good and smart people, and it is only a matter of time before our good and smart Count and Countess are reunited and returned home safely.  Watch now.

The Countess has done her job and wormed her way into the King of the Marauder’s heart.  From within his weakened emotions and even weaker thinking she has convinced him that she will remain by his side forever to play him beautiful music. But she has a plan. She has asked a favor, for which the King of the Marauders is unable to refuse. She has asked for three slave, three of our people, to be released. The King suspects nothing, is at a loss to question the Countess, and so he lets the Count and two others go. At the last minute as the ship is setting sail, the Countess jumps aboard and joins the Count and the others for a return to the motherland.

But before the Countess reveals herself to be a stowaway, she overhears the Count looks wistfully back and sigh.

“There was but a beautiful woman there I wish I could have said farewell to.”

At this the Count’s tunic goes black.  This is most unaccountable, for if he had been unfaithful it had been to his own wife!  And yet the tunic seems only to know the wearer’s thinking and not the object of his affection.  Never mind that his unfaithfulness was unspoken until that moment, the mere fact of it is enough to let the children know that both in thoughts and in deeds are we good people. It is bad enough to think such things as to do them. So while the Count might not have truly been unfaithful, his tunic betrays his fleeting weakness. For the time being the Countess does not reveal herself.  She has her reasons.

If questioned about this after the fact we should comfort the children with the idea that the Count’s weakness was the result of having spent too much time with the Marauders.  In this way we shall reinforce just how bad these people are, these others who threaten us, and confirm that they are to be avoided at all costs. Simply look at how they can weaken us morally by mere proximity!

Once home, The Countess hurries home to change into her better clothes before the Count arrives. When he does she can see his tunic has gone black and there is nothing more for him to say.  The Countess asks that he wait, then she changes back into her garb as a musician and the Count falls to his knees begging forgiveness.  This is a key part of the story because not only do we need to return order to our nobility but we must also train our children what to expect of each other as adults.  Our boys will no doubt be unfaithful to their wives, our girls will no doubt discover their husbands philandering ways, so our boys must learn how to prostrate themselves and our girls must show forgiveness. By this we have come to tell them a story that supports our xenophobia while at the same time inserting a cultural expectation about gender. Again, we do these things because we know the power and the magic of the story at such an early age.

But we must end on a happy note. The Count and Countess forever remained happy and faithful to one another, living their days together as children sometimes dream. And in an alcove in the chapel there hangs a black tunic and a musician’s lute as a reminder of their adventure.

Yes, in the chapel. Where else does one keep the reliquaries of the faith that teaches such lessons through story?

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Editorial update.

Though it might seem I have put a cynical or somewhat negative spin on on the original, “The Faithful Wife,” the fact remains that much of these views are within the scope of the text.  The Count and Countess are clearly labeled as Germans while the Marauders are noted Turks. The request by the Countess was for the Turkish king to release three Christians (clearly delineating that the Turks were Muslims, or at the very least not “good” Christians), while the chapel holds their clearly symbolic items in the reliquary. The original is clearly a morality tale that underscores the superior beliefs of the tellers meant to instill a morally-based hated for their known enemies.  My intent was merely to pull back the veil and tell the tale honestly.

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When you take on any art form or craft for that matter the act requires a shift in awareness.  In order to draw you must learn how to see with the eyes of an artist.  You don’t simply see line and form but you see what isn’t there, negative space and the story intrinsic to the relationship between objects.  To study film is to learn not only about visual narrative but the craft of editing, lighting and dozens of otherwise invisible elements. There is the surface image everyone sees and then a substrata beneath, the chemistry that causes a sheet of paper to hold a photograph.

Writers must read on two levels, on the story level and the craft level.  Sometimes referred to as reading like a reader and reading like a writer, every writer has their own way of doing this. All creative people do this with their art, and while I am comfortable enough to slip back and forth between multiple layers in movies and fine arts I find I am still required to read everything twice in order to both see and know what is going on.

I could blame my being a slow reader, or that my study of writing came later than the other arts, but this weekend I sort of had a delayed epiphany about my “reading problem” as a writer.

I’ve been doing it wrong.

The oddest thing is that I’ve known, on some level, how to do it “right” for a long time, but I compartmentalized the process in a way that makes no sense.  In fact, it’s almost amusing. It’s almost like a form of enlightenment, an answer that has always been there waiting for me to see it.

Marginalia.  Notes, in the margins. Like I used to do in college.

The problem isn’t that I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I’ve grown beyond the college need to underline, highlight, and scribble notes in the margins.  It’s that, for some reason, a switch in my brain was set to regard fiction as above defacing.  The book, fiction, had become an ideal, a fetish object that existed like a work to be placed on a pedestal.  It’s absurd to even write these words, because as a reviewer of books I have never balked at making notes or of seeing books for what they are and not elevate them unnecessarily based on content.  But somewhere deep down, lurking at a level that probably goes all the way back to when I was first becoming a reader, there is a voice:

Never write in your books!

The realization wasn’t as sudden as it seems.  For years I would prowl used book stores and reject books that had notes written into them. My reason was simple: I didn’t want someone else’s ideas preventing me from seeing the work myself.  Ah, yes, but why had it never occurred to me to mark my own copies? And even recently I saw the marked up pages of books owned by David Foster Wallace, notes clearly of someone who was studying the text at multiple passes and gleaning multiple insights. (“Setting is slow — does not set the stage” he says on the inside cover of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree) It looked like nothing less than some of my own marked-up drafts of my own writing, which often were as informational for me as they were instructive for future revisions.

Also, there were the Post-It notes, those little sticky pages of ideas whose edges I would line up under specific words near the page edge of my thinking.  Like some netherworld between highlighting and margin notes, the little multicolor slips (I always hated yellow) poking out in all directions made them impossible to shelve or would fall out and suddenly become impossible to repatriate to their original location.  And it was one of the first flaws I noted in the design of the early e-readers, that you could not keep notes attached to the text.  This has since been changed, especially as e-readers cast their eye toward the college textbook market, but I don’t have any direct experience with it.  Yet.

Keeping notes isn’t the issue, it’s this idea of committing them to the page, and specifically to the page of someone else’s thinking.  Yet even that isn’t really new when I think about the number of manuscripts I’ve annotated in workshops, the number of student papers I’ve marked. I have always participated in this form of communication between the word and my experience of it.

So here goes, one final wall to break between me and my dedication to the craft of writing. I will purchase a box of mechanical pencils and settle in to become a better reader. And if it slows me down even further, so be it.  This might be the final arbiter of which books I keep in my library and which I don’t, something a little less arbitrary in the process than “I guess that was okay.”

At the crux of this bold new era of book marking I can’t help but wonder if books with marginalia will acquire a deeper significance to me as a result of taking full, complete ownership of them. The commitment is strangely daunting.

Now, who will be the first book?

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Still in fairy tale land, this time courtesy of a prompt found over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.  The idea was to take an item from a fairy tale that the story could not exist without. As usual, I couldn’t follow directions. I thought about the huntsman’s knife, but I couldn’t settle on a single knife from a particular story. The huntsman with his knife is one of those characters that threads through Grimm and other fairy tales and I decided to let the blade sing its own song.

 

Song of the Knife

I am the Knife,
sharpened and blue.
Friend of the Huntsman,
trusted and true.

Hired by Witches
late in the night
to plunge through the hearts
of girls Snow White.

Placed in the Willow
where Brothers take leave.
When one side grows rusty
a lone Brother grieves.

Slaying the Giants,
dimwitted and dulled,
outsmarted by Youth
and easily culled.

Freeing the Grannies
belonging to Red,
swallowed by Wolves
and long assumed dead.

Slivers of mountains,
takers of life,
destiny carvers:
I am the knife.

 

Fairy tales are some dangerous, messed up places. Hey!  It’s Poetry Friday out there in the tubes and wires of the Internets!  Ben over at The Small Nouns has the roundup this week.

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King Friedrich was a good king and ruled for many years over a prosperous kingdom.  But he grew sad with age as he had failed to have any children.  He and Queen Wilomena had discussed the issue many times, remembering how Wilomena’s father had been in a similar state and cursed himself by saying “I want to have a child, even if it’s the Devil himself!”  And so King Friedrich and Queen Wilomena were careful in their thoughts and hoped one day they would be blessed with a child.

While out for a stroll King Friedrich came across an Old Man, the same one who had told him what to do to lift the curse off Wilomena many years ago.

“Where are you going, Your Highness?” said the Old Man.

“I am merely taking a walk,” said King Friedrich.

“Ah, but we both know that isn’t true, for I know you have come looking for me to tell you what you must do.”

“It had been so many years I scarcely thought you were still alive, Old Man.  I see it wasn’t wrong for me to hold out such hopes.”

“True, there are many thoughts you have tried to keep hidden, and now you will find they have been heard and answered.”

Friedrich paused to consider what the Old Man said and then his blood ran cold. All along on his walk he had been wondering what would happen if, unlike his former father-in-law, he simply wished for a child that was nothing less than an angel from on high.  Surely it couldn’t be a curse to wish such a thing upon a child, but in meeting the Old Man he remembered what had happened before.  Wilomena had been wished into the world as a child of the devil and was released from her curse only by the devout actions of Friedrich when they were both young.  Now King Friedrich had wished a child of the angels into his life and would have to fear the day she revealed herself to be evil.

Rushing home he was startled to find Wilomena pregnant.

“It’s a miracle!” she said.  Friedrich was so afraid of what he had wrought that he dared not admit to the queen what he feared.  In time they gave birth to a beautiful boy who looked like nothing less than th cherubim painted on the ceilings of the church.

And they named him Kilgore. “Just like my father,” Wilomena beamed.

He was a beautiful child, with ringlets of hair and golden eyes that would shine like suns even in the dark.  He had a perfect disposition and anyone who saw him immediately fell in love with him.  There was no one in the kingdom who wouldn’t willingly give their life for Prince Kilgore and they were fond of saying so.

Which naturally worried King Friedrich.

Friedrich knew it was only a matter of time before Kilgore would reveal himself to be a demon child and take all the devoted lives he could with him.  But what could he do?  He couldn’t tell his wife the queen what he had done, nor could he successfully convince his subjects that his own son was not to be trusted, for who would believe that Friedrich could be so unloving a father as that?  At last, when Kilgore was about to turn fourteen, Friedrich went looking for the Old Man to tell him what to do.

“You have come looking for me again,” said the Old Man.

“I marvel at your ability to still be alive, but am grateful just the same,” said Friedrich.

“You are here to hear me tell you what must be done?”

“If that is possible, yes.”

“There is nothing to be done.  Which is to say, you must do absolutely nothing and must not interfere even when your instincts tell you otherwise.  You son Kilgore will three times try your patience but if you do not ignore him you will be done for and he will kill everyone in he kingdom.”

“There is nothing I can do to stop him?”

“There is plenty you could do to stop him, but you must not no matter what.”

Confused, Friedrich left and returned to the castle to find that Kilgore was organizing a small army of kings men.

“Father, we have found a massive treasure in a cave not far from here!  I have collected these men to come help me retrieve it.  We shouldn’t be gone more than a fortnight.”

“Where is this treasure cave you’ve found?”

“Along the shore, above the cliffs.”

In his youth Friedrich had heard of such a treasure in the cliffs, and that it was guarded by a dragon who would happily devour any who would attempt to claim it.  Rumor was that the cliff walls were white with calcium from the decaying bones of those who have attempted to get inside.  He looked at his son’s face, and the faces of the men about to ride off, and felt a horrible pang in his heart that they were headed to their death.

“Godspeed, my son,” said Friedrich. “Ride off and make me proud.”

For the next two weeks King Friedrich worried in secret about what was happening.  He had prayed that the Old Man was wrong and that Kilgore and his men would return unscathed, but those prayers were not answered.  Out of a gray morning fog Kilgore returned alone and without any gold. He told a collected audience of their battle with the dragon and how the men fought valiantly to the end and that it was a miracle that he managed to survive.

“I would have given my own life to continue the fight but I owed it to the families of the fallen men to return home and tell them what had happened myself. And I intend to do what I can to make it up to each of them for their loss.”

Which he did.  Prince Kilgore visited each family personally and delivered a sack of coins from the royal treasury while promising to help each family in any way he could. To the families of farmers he helped plant and reap the harvest.  To the families of smiths and coopers he would help forge irons and make barrels. It seemed impossible that he could manage it, but young Kilgore worked twenty hours a a day around the village for a full year before the families released him of his obligation.  If any had harbored hatred or bitterness toward the Prince before the kingdom had seen the seriousness of commitment to helping them as a sign of sincerity and they loved him anew.

Then one day a traveling troupe of performers came to the kingdom, among them an acrobat named Miranda.  No one would deny that Miranda was the fairest young woman any of them had ever seen, and there were even rumors that she Kilgore was meeting in secret with Miranda with plans to run off and be married.  These rumors made Friedrich nervous and once again he sought the counsel of the Old Man.

“You are right to question this union, but you must encourage it with all your heart,” said the Old Man.

“I don’t understand,” said the king.

“You will.  Trust me.  Welcome your son’s decision and be sure that he be the one to announce it to your subjects.”

King Friedrich, having no reason to doubt the Old Man, returned home an immediately confronted his son with the rumors.

“It is true, father.  I have fallen in love with Miranda and intend to bring her into the family.  I was afraid you would not understand, otherwise I would have told you myself.  Please, do not be angry.”

“Angry?  I’m overjoyed!  We must announce your wedding at once!”

And so they did.  Heralds were sent and the entire kingdom gathered to hear the official proclamation.

“Loyal subjects,” the king began, “I have joyous news concerning the Prince.  Here, I’ll let him tell you in his own words.”

Prince Kilgore blanched.  He hadn’t expected he would be the one to make the announcement.  At the king’s urging he stepped forward and addressed the gathered crowd.

“I have decided upon a wife…” here the prince searched the crowd until he found Miranda “And there she is.”

There was an audible gasp from the crowd, and then weeping.  Soon all the young girls of marrying age ran off to their homes while there was a short round of polite applause.

“I do not understand this,” said the queen.

“I shall get to the bottom of this,” said the king.

Friedrich sent several of his men throughout the villages of his kingdom to learn what had happened and was shocked by what he’d heard when they returned.  Throughout the land Prince Kilgore had promised himself to many a maiden, allowing that he could not marry them until he turned sixteen.  With some it was said he had fathered children, and for all he was paying them from the royal treasury to keep their affairs secret. Following the announcement many of these maidens returned home to poison or hang themselves, some poisoning or drowning their children was well.  The result of Prince Kilgore’s announcement was a public humiliation that many could not bear.  All told, hundreds of young women and children died.

It became unsafe for Miranda and Kilgore to remain in the kingdom and, with Friedrich’s blessings, they stole away in the middle of the night with a promise to return only when it was safe.  Friedrich had become enraged by all that had happened and went in search of the Old Man.

“Had I ignored you, Old Man, I could have warned my armies of a dragon or prevented mass suicides and murders. I have followed your advice and nothing but bad has happened as a result.”

“You forget, as a boy, I saved you thrice from a demon who turned out to be the woman you now call queen.”

“Yes, and you warned me that three times the prince would test me and I was to not intervene.  But I need to know, I need your assurance that this is all for the good.”

“If you follow my advice this one final time, then yes, it is all for the good.”

So the king listened to the Old Man one more time and hoped he was as good as his word.

Months went by and the kingdom had returned to, well, not normal so much as a state of calm.  The king and queen devoted much of their time and treasure to their subjects, consoling families that had lost daughters and grandchildren, and seeing to the happiness of everyone.  One day word came form a messenger that an army was on the march to seize the land and resources of King Friedrich’s kingdom. Under most circumstance a king, any king, would mount an army and meet the intruders head on, and Friedrich and Wilomena could count on the love of their subjects to support their decision.  Instead, Friedrich instructed his people to ignore the visitors no matter what they did, no matter what they said, and to trust him that everything would work out for the best.

Finally the invading army arrived and was surprised to find no resistance as they entered the kingdom.  As they approached farmers it was as if the army were invisible, they would ask questions and receive no answers.  Even when they threatened people with the point of a sword they did not respond.  This infuriated the army leader who charged toward the castle demanding to speak with the king.  When told the king refused to give him an audience the army leader threatened to kill everyone in the kingdom until he gained the king’s audience. The king remained in the castle, and the army slaughtered every man, woman, and child they could find, which wasn’t difficult because they did not resist.

Finally, King Friedrich and Queen Wilomena appeared and demanded the army leader remove his helmet.  Of course they knew it was their own son, Prince Kilgore, even before he revealed himself.

“You’ve cursed me!” Kilgore shouted. “I was not one day out of the kingdom before Miranda met up with her cronies.  They stripped me of my valuables and rode off.  There was no way I could return to the kingdom and face what had happened.”

“Why have you come home with an army?” said Queen Wilomena.  “Why have you killed all of our people?”

“Why do you not stop me from doing horrible things?! Father, you knew there was a dragon guarding the treasure but you did not warn me. You knew what would happen when I declared my love for Miranda in public and yet again you did not warn me. And now you stand by and let my army take the lives of an entire kingdom, father, why?”

“I was given a choice once,” King Freidrich said, “And I chose to come to this kingdom and release your mother, the queen, from an evil spell.  I have lived with that and many other choices my whole life.”

Both Queen Wilomena and Prince Kilgore looked to Friedrich with confusion.

“That is not an answer,” said Kilgore, who promptly drew his sword and ran it through his father repeatedly. To their astonishment, though he bled, the king did not die.

“I have survived much worse than this,” the king said.

Then Wilomena and Kilgore began to lighten like ash in a fireplace, and papery layers of their skin began to peel away and take flight in the wind.

“You have undone us!” Wilomena screamed to her son.

From the forests and the fields the bodies of the dead came and watched as Wilomena and Kilgore crumbled like dust and then blew away into the sky.  Friedrich’s wounds healed themselves.  As he looked around at the faces of his subjects he regarded each one, as if committing every one to memory has he did.

“It would be better this never happened,” said Friedrich.  “Not by my doing.”

Friedrich closed his eyes and the world vanished.  The kingdom, his people, the entire history of the previous decades erased.  When he opened his eyes Friedrich was sitting by the fire in the house of the Old Man.  He was once again a boy of fifteen.

“You have brought me back!” said Friedrich.

“You never left,” said the Old Man.

Out of the fog of his thinking Friedrich remembered. He was on the road when a king offered him a position guarding a coffin in a church. The coffin contained a demon child. If Friedrich followed the Old Man’s advice he would lift the curse and reveal the demon to be Wilomena. They would marry and have a son who was equally cursed and it would fall to Friedrich to once again stop the curse. Before undertaking these duties Friedrich had asked the Old Man what would happen if he did as he was told, and so the Old Man prepared a soup that gave him the gift of visions. He had seen it all as if he had lived it and came back to this place by the fire.

“Now you know what you must do,” said the Old Man.

“Yes,” said Friedrich. “I must stop doing what you and the king and others tell me to do and make decisions for myself.”

The Old Man nodded in agreement.

Friedrich left that kingdom, and never released Wilomena from the curse as the demon child, and they never became king and queen, never had their own demon child. The Old Man stayed on the edge of the kingdom warning away other travelers like Friedrich and in time the kingdom and the demon child vanished from the earth. The Old Man lived long enough to see this through.

Which is why we are here today and able to tell such stories.

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Unlike the other Grimm stories I’ve been playing with, this one picks up where the original left off. I have never liked the ‘happily ever after’ aspect of some fairy tales, especially where death and dark doings are so easily erased by magic. In the original, “The Princess in the Coffin and the Sentry,” it didn’t seem right the Friedrich’s blind duty (and an undercurrent of faith) could take care of a problem not of his own making (a father’s curse) and return a kingdom to normal, not without some sort of consequences.

Plus, I never liked that Friedrich was first bullied into taking the sentry position, then bullied by the Old Man into enduring a horrible series of tribulations. I thought that he should have at least been given some choice in the matter, or had a better sense of the outcome.  To that end, I guess this is fairy tale revisionist history.

And since I was playing with history, I thought it might be fun to suggest that things would have been different for us, the reader, had the original fairy tale played itself out.

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I should have registered.  I should have registered for this conference when it was announced two weeks ago.  But I didn’t.  I hedged.  I hemmed and hawed.  I got on the fence and I’m still sitting there.

I wonder what writers did before there were conferences.  Before there were places to go and commune with fellow writers and talk craft, did they just go to bars and talk the ear off anyone who would listen?  Instead of attending seminars and workshops did they lurk around near hotel ballrooms hoping to glean some insight from a meeting of some other organization?  Did they become members of fraternal organizations and lie about their avocation?

It’s such an isolating experience, writing, and I’m grateful for any and all contact with others who are in the same boat.  The conference is a chance to pretend I am more outgoing and social that I really am and convince myself I’m not spending a majority of my waking hours in my own head, having both sides of a dialog with characters and plot. Conferences are a place where people knowingly nod when you try to articulate what it’s like to struggle with committing a thought into words that will eventually, hopefully, transmit that same thought into someone else’s head.

So why do I have this creeping sense of dread about attending conferences?

They can be like awkward speed dates, these conferences, compacted moments where you try to summarize yourself in the best possible light to total strangers.  You can’t just be yourself you have to be your best self.  You have to be able to summarize what you’re working on, hide your anxiety as best as possible, look for the opening that allows for connection.  You have to be “on” and you have to be natural at the same time. You have your stories, your books, your labors of love, and they rely on you to make their case in the world. Suddenly you realize, you aren’t just there for yourself, you’re their to play matchmaker for your work.

Okay, maybe you don’t feel it that way, but I do.

For the unpublished aspirant there are so many questions to field: Are you looking for an agent? Who have you queried already?  What kind of responses have you gotten? Have you considered this agent? What’s your book about? Have you talked to so-and-so? Have you read this craft book? Have you taken this seminar? Have you heard so-and-so speak?  have you read this article, and that article?

Everyone is so eager to share their experiences, drinking in as much as what others as saying in hopes of gleaning that one shimmering flake in the pan that leads to the gold mine. Everything becomes a blur of conversations and shifting attentions and scrawled notes that serve as an energy boost.  For that alone sometimes a conference is worth whatever it takes to attend, that feeling of having been recharged and ready to take on the next couple of seasons.

But then comes the withdrawal. That creeping isolation again. All that information and excitement from the conference has faded, the notes forgotten, names forgotten. Doubt.  Doubt about the work and the process. Questions that feel like someone else has the answer, should have the answer. That hunger for connection, a sympathetic ear, that voice that says the exact same things you’re thinking and feeling.

The conference is the answer.  The conference.  It’s like a drug. It is a drug. All the promise, that chance to be the better self you aren’t forced to be on a daily basis when it’s just the writer and the story tugging at each other. At the writer’s conference you can talk about the story but it’s the person that matters, the connection. The conference bolsters courage and confidence, the conference makes you feel sexy, makes you invincible. The conference is the secret antibodies to all those invisible enemies who like germs would infect your spirit and drag you down. Before the conference a friendly rejection has the power to darken your mood and send you into snack food binges; after the conference you become a focus Olympian athlete capable of crushing all rejections into chalk dust.

That said, I’m still on the fence, the registration screen opened as a separate tab waiting for me to fill it in, as it has been for two weeks. What’s keeping me?

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