Fairytales, Survival’s Price

Wayfarer My week of fairytales continues!

I’ve never liked Cinderella. The idea that one must be patient and submissive even under the worst treatment and someday, someday you’ll be rewarded strikes me as damaging at best and a culturally approved way to groom people to be abuse victims at worse. I was always faintly uncomfortable with the endings of different versions–the stepsisters cutting parts of their own feet off, shoes full of blood, casks full of red-hot nails rolled down a hill with the stepmother inside. It wasn’t the violence that made me uneasy, I knew from a very early age the world is a brutal place and safety largely an illusion. It was the feeling of righteousness welling up when I read about abusers getting theirs that made me queasy. I often wondered if those feelings made me just as bad as the stepmother and sisters–or just as bad as the people who beat me.

So when I realized Ellie from Nameless needed her own story, it irked me. I didn’t have the trouble in choosing the tools to excavate it; they came easily to hand for once.

That should have been my first clue that the exorcisms weren’t over.

I wrote Wayfarer during the Great Casa to Chez situation. About halfway through, I deconstructed under the stress, and for only the second time in my life, the words refused to come. I had no emotional energy to spare and yet the urge to write tormented me with spurs under my skin. I would sit down, look at the files open on my desktop, and slide straight into a panic attack because I was too burnt out to feel my way from word to word. Having the urge and being unable to scrape together even a single syllable was a very special kind of hell.

Buying a house is not for the weak.

Anyway, that passed, and as if in payment for keeping the faith, I fell into Ellie’s story as soon as I turned on said desktop in the new house. It occurred to me, now that I’d achieved some distance from the story (not by my own will, but still) that I wasn’t really writing about someone else.

I was writing, in some ways, about myself.

The fairy godmother doesn’t show up when Cinderella is being beaten for not cleaning something properly, doesn’t show up when she sleeps in the cinders, doesn’t advocate with her when her inheritance is stolen. Instead, she arrives before a goddamn ball. Which has always seemed to me like she’s not really very invested in dear old Cindy-Rella, but has an agenda of her own. You find out when you survive a bad childhood that escaping carries a price and risks all its own. Those who offer to “help” you often have their own agendas, and your wellbeing may be only a small (or nonexistent) priority. A few harsh lessons from that quarter and the devil you grew up with starts looking like a marginally safer bet. Some kinds of help aren’t really helpful at all. In other variations of the tale, it’s the dead mother and a Giving Tree who step in to send Cinderella to the ball, and if that doesn’t make a false dichotomy between the dark and passive feminines, I don’t know what does.

Ellie understands very well she’s trapped because she’s a minor. She puts a brave face on at school and doesn’t invite her friends further into her problems than she is absolutely forced to. “Help” isn’t something she feels is possible, it isn’t something she feels she can ask for. When she is finally driven to a certain cottage, the “safety” there is just as perilous as “home.” She does well in school until she can no longer go, understanding it’s one of her few ways out. When you’re that young, and that under siege, isolation begins to feel like your only and safest bet. You cannot trust anyone else, even those who really do want to help you. You fight even the best support, because trust is a liability you can’t afford when you’re holding together your psychic integrity under assault 24-7.

Not only that, but one can often feel…corrupted. Being told over and over that you’re worthless, evil, the worst thing that ever happened to your parent, that it’s your fault they do these horrible things to you, fucks up every sense of priorities, perspective, and worth you might have. The effects go on for years, and even therapy cannot completely erase the stain or the sting.

It can take a long time to piece yourself back together. Therapy has helped me immensely, as well as medication to get the anxiety under control. (Just give me a stick!) I have found people who can be trusted, and I have allowed myself to trust. There was no fairy godmother, even though I wished for one. In the end, it’s Ellie’s own strength, and her bonds with people who are willing to give the right kind of help, that saves the day. The latter is never guaranteed, and the former isn’t either, but I’ve spent my life betting on the latter and am, incredibly, still breathing.

I found out I was stronger than I ever suspected. Ellie’s survival is in part mine too; this is part of why fairytales stick around. Even under the trappings I care very little for–the prince, the ball, the dresses pulled from a nutshell or bibbity-bobbity-booed into existence–there is a hard kernel of truth that can ignite the bonfire I burn all the pain and rage and helplessness in. I don’t sleep in those ashes anymore, I have difference sources of warmth.

But when I go into battle, I paint my face with them, because I’ve survived. That was the story I needed to write, and I think–I hope–I did.

Badonkadonkus Felinum

My backpack’s got jets.

I had occasion to take this picture of Madame A yesterday. She bears little resemblance to the scrawny baby her rescuers found. Now she is a queen, and baby, well.

Baby got back.

I half suspect she was a dog in a past life, because her furry belly is not a trap. Despite having pitons for claws, she does not take blood after you give her tummy rubs. In fact, she throws herself on her back and demands Miss B give her belly-nosings every time we go downstairs. She would be on my heels, like Miss B, all damn day–if not for the fact that Odd Trundles is also at my heels all day, and he is far too Loud and Obnoxious for her taste.

One of these days, she’s just going to smack Odd in the face when he wiggles up demanding at top volume that she play with him, and from then she will rule him unmercifully. (At least, that’s what the Mad Tortie does.) Until that day, though, she heads for the stairs whenever she suspects he’s awake.

Anyway, here is our calico wonder. If you listen closely you can hear her purring.

Trundles in Protest

growing up cullen Odd Trundles is having a bit of a morning.

It’s bad enough that Frau L left, and does not appear despite his yodeling down the stairs. Thankfully, the intervals between said yodels are growing longer, as he grasps that she may not just be down there ignoring his sad self. There was also Spring Break, during which the Prince and Princess were home to distract him from missing the lovely young lady who learned how to rub his ears despite their relationship getting off to a rather rocky start. (It was rom-com worthy, let me tell you.)

But now Spring Break has ended. The children are back in school. And Odd Trundles cannot bear it. The house is empty, he moans. His breakfast was not adequate and the house is empty. Mum is watching the glowing screen and tapping as usual but the house is empty. He did not get nearly enough pets (only a half-hour!) this morning and the house is empty.

He is a dog and the house is empty.

Which means he’s making a bubbling groaning whine at irregular intervals, and I have grown unsympathetic. Occasionally he trots to the stairs, burp-barks, and then cowers and yells because the noise echoes. Which means I have to come out and interrupt his terror at the BIGNOISE OHMUM BIGNOISE SNORTWHISTLE BIGSCARYNOISE by going half down the stairs and reassuring him there’s nothing there.

Dogs. Miss B is much less trouble right now, she’s just nosing me every once in a while because she knows this is a day for RUNNING and she wants to RUN. Her leg seems to be just fine, and today is only a short jaunt, so I may very well take her so one damn dog gets what they want today.

Of course, when the kids come home, Odd will have sort of forgotten they live here, so he will greet them as if they’re NEWFRIENDNEWFRIEND SNORTWHISTLEFART before he foggily realizes they are, after all, familiar unto him. Miss B will watch his excitement and glance at me as if to say, “Really? Seriously? What is wrong with this kid?”

Ah. As I write this, Odd has performed his last barking ritual at the stairs. He has retreated to my bed, where he glares pitifully at me as I pass the door to grab my running togs out of the dryer. Clearly I am not coddling his grief and confusion as much as he thinks I should.

Poor Trundles. To add to the problems of piloting his corkscrewed body through space, there’s separation anxiety and the fact that there is never enough breakfast to suit him. He’ll take his morning nap, certainly.

But he won’t enjoy it. He may even have to take two naps, in protest.

Mad Tortie Nap

I'm still using it!
I’m still using it!

If you look carefully, you can find a Mad Tortie under the lavender. No, she’s not dead. She’s just resting. Basking in the sunshine is heavy work, after all. Emphysema Joe is to the left, offscreen, humming a little Dead to keep her company while he tends the green. She doesn’t even twitch when Norbert yells at Moxie for digging in the compost. (“GET OUT OF THERE, YOU’LL CATCH A COLD!” “I AM THE SQUIWWEH WHO HAUNTH THE NIGHT, I HAVE ANTIBODIETH!” You can imagine.)

I may have, after taking this picture, crept up to make sure she was still breathing.

She was. She blinked at me, breathed a small kitty “leeme loooooone, Mum,” and went back to sleep.

I almost envy her.

Autopsy

"Mom, you are enjoying yourself a little too much."
“Mom, you are enjoying yourself a little too much.”

The rice cooker died after many years of solid steadfast service–regular readers will remember there were sparks, scorching, and flipping of circuit breakers–and, being ever curious about how the damn thing worked, I took it apart. (It was non-repairable. TRUST ME.)

Heating element, spring, molded plastic, metal–there was a lot to marvel at. What I liked looking at most was the circuit board. Such tiny things! Brightly colored! I could guess what most of it did, and had fun prying at things. The Little Prince wanted to wield a screwdriver and deconstruct it, and Frau L was fascinated by the circuit board too. The Princess’s favorite part was the spring and the heating element, such elegant solutions to the problem of knowing when rice is done.

Autopsy means “to see for oneself”, and I am fascinated by it in most forms. Gandalf held a great deal of disdain for those who broke a thing to see how it’s made, but he said nothing about sifting through the already broken. (The older I get, the more I think Gandalf was a bit of a cranky Luddite.) Anyway, the rice cooker was full of recyclable materials, and I’ve saved the people at the plant the trouble of breaking it apart to get at them.

There is so much wonder in the world. Even in the broken things.

Wilkommen, Frau L!

Trundles is too excited to stay awake.
Trundles is too excited to stay awake.

This last weekend, in addition to descending upon a list of housecleaning chores with the furor of a thousand winged monkeys, we picked up a German exchange student at the airport.

Frau[1] L is staying for almost a month and attending school with the Princess. She’s extremely sweet, extremely smart, and thrilled to be in America–though she is puzzled about a certain orange-haired demagogue, and we had a long chat about the vagaries of the American political system and our countries’ different (but the same!) xenophobia. Bonus: Frau L plays the cello, so I am selfishly glad I get to hear the mellow tones of my favorite instrument throughout the house. (I do love the piano, but a cello is just so…sonorous.)

The next few weeks are chock-full of activities and introductions to American culture–plus copyedits, always a good time. There’s all sorts of cooking to do–there is a dish with cabbage, bacon, and a special kind of dumpling-noodle I am eager to learn, for example. I am wondering what Frau L will think of the chaos of our high school’s halls during passing time.

Odd Trundles is beside himself with glee–someone new! to schnorgle! to love! to possibly get food from! Miss B, while slightly more dignified, is also extremely pleased at the advent of someone else to heeeerd. The cats, of course, are always glad of another pair of monkey-paws to pet them and open the kibble jar. Frau L has good-naturedly made friends with the nonhuman part of the Chez conglomerate. (Thank heavens she’s not allergic. That would be dreadful.)

Now it’s time for me to get as many pages of copyedits done as possible before everyone gets home from school. (Nos morituri, and all that.) Blogging may be a bit spotty over the next few weeks, as our schedules are packed.

*Exeunt to begin copyedits, carrying machete*

[1]I am sure someone will condescendingly say “Shouldn’t it be Fraulein L?” I am told that, no, the use of Fraulein is somewhat frowned upon these days, and just as many American women prefer Ms to Miss or Mrs, Frau is more preferable to many German ladies.

Furious Vexation

Yesterday was…not optimal. One furious vexation followed another, and by the end of the day I was just about ready to scream. To add to it, my fingers were stuttering all day, which made for two intensely frustrating piano sessions. The transcription was full of random noise–recording in a pub is NOT optimal, for God’s sake–and the dogs were both acting up because of the Change and New People and OMG THINGS CHANGED over the weekend. (Odd Trundles is still barking at random balloons and searching for bits of dropped party food.) Miss B’s bad behavior was fairly mild, but Odd was in fine form, between not wanting breakfast and the consequent risk of vomiting seizures (yes, this is a thing for him) and constant startles all. damn. day.

“Don’t worry, Mum,” both kids said at bedtime. “Tomorrow will be better.” Which is exactly what I used to say to them, when they had Terrible Horrible No-Good Very-Bad days. Already, I suppose today is looking up, because I haven’t hit my head on anything and I’m not planning on doing any transcription. Don’t get me wrong, I like transcription work, but yesterday’s piece was intensely aggravating.

Recovery from the Weekend of March Birthdays Party proceeds apace. We might even get some of the decorations down today. (Aim high, Lili. Aim high.) I suppose I can’t call the Princess and the Little Prince “children” anymore, and the Little Prince is not so little. The river just keeps going. (Thanks, Heraclitus.)

…yeah, I don’t think I’m quite recovered. A fairly intense run is in order to sweat out all the stress chemicals, then there’s wordcount to be achieved. Odd has eaten his breakfast and retired to my bed, where he will sleep off all the NEWFRIENDS NEWTHINGS BARK *snortwhistle*. (Hopefully.) And maybe Bandit (the cavy, for those of you just joining us) will stop bitching at me about how he was lonely when I wasn’t in the office all weekend.

Of course, I have a backlog of email, I don’t think I’m going to get the CEs in on time, and a couple electronic devices are still randomly fuzzing out. That las is how I can tell I’m still on the whipsaw-edge of irritated, frustrated exhaustion.

Definitely gonna kill some characters today.

Over and out.