The Feathers: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time. . .

a girl left her home as the morning moon shone through the tree branches and hummed a farewell song.

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Before she began her daily chores, she wanted to enjoy the peace of the forest, to hear the birds sing, and to see the sun rise and gild the treetops in golden light. These moments of beauty both stirred and quieted her soul. Her village was expanding, but somehow the lives of all who lived there were shrinking. They parroted the words of the king and expected riches to follow, but life had not improved. Her parents had seen no reason for her to continue with her schooling. Other villagers felt the same way, and so the school closed. It stood empty on a hill, a silent beacon.

The girl walked, enjoying the feel of the cool morning air against her face. From above, the dawn star winked, startling her and causing her to stumble and fall on a small pile of feathers. They sparkled, iridescent, blue, silver, and red. She wondered what sort of bird could have dropped the brilliant plumes. As she stroked the silky quills, a door appeared in the forest. It shimmered in the air, and opened just a bit in silent invitation. The girl opened the door wider and walked through.

Inside was a land filled with light and color. Wisdom dripped from the trees, and animals licked it up. A deer came up to her, and shyly nuzzled her hand before sprinting off. Her hand tingled, and she was filled with joy. She learned the feathers came from the bird of knowledge, which was perpetually in motion. Its size and color constantly changed, and it looked different each time she caught a glimpse of it. Over time, the girl learned many things in this world from the trees and the animals, but eventually she wanted to go home.

She found the door and opened it–for it was never locked–and she stepped back into her forest. It looked sadder, smaller. Her parents were happy to see her, but they too, looked sadder and smaller. The villagers were disillusioned. The village had not prospered, and though many still dutifully echoed the king’s words, others were seeking something more. The girl joined these seekers, as they reestablished the school, and she shared an important message:

Ignorance brings fear; knowledge leads to hope.

The girl became a woman, and she remembered the lessons she had absorbed. She made time for books and nature, and when she had children, she read to them every night. She told them the story of the bird of knowledge, and showed them one brilliant blue, silver, and red feather that she had kept. Sometimes the dawn star looked down at them and winked.

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William Llewellyn, “Girl with Pigtails,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is for a writing challenge that Jane Dougherty and Jeren of itsallaboutnothing concocted. You can read about it here.

Well, I suppose this is too long for flash fiction, and it doesn’t involved insects, and I guess it’s fairy tale, not a folk tale, but other than that it fits the challenge perfectly!

Dreams of the Future, Ghosts of the Past

Monday Morning Musings:

“bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education & free discussion are the antidotes of both. . . .I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. so good night! I will dream on, always fancying that mrs Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.”

–“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 1 August 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,

 

 

A porcelain ghost looked long

and laughed delicious poetry,

remember this

she said,

or it is over

 

And so, we remember over and over

forgetting what we knew

embracing new ideas,

loving them each time as original and unique

and they are

every time

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We walk cobblestone streets and brick drives

chasing ghosts

followed by shadows

whispering glorious words

“We the people”

history of the past

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Janet Givens and her husband, the past, present, and future all around them.

 

But under a dying star

a naked fool celebrates

his courtiers cheer

his nonexistent suit of clothes

as darkness falls

he eats a second scoop of ice cream

 

Still, we remember

sometimes forgetting to remember

until we remember again

We the People

history of the past and dreams of the future

 

On a day in May

that feels like July

perhaps like the summer of 1787

when a group of men

(white men, only men)

made compromises  and wrote We the People

but on this day,

a day in their future,

we walk with friends to see and read about the past

to hear and read the lofty words

of men who had lived and fought a revolution

and though they themselves were flawed

still their words glow

and grow

from the past, through the present, and into the future

visions they had and hopes

dreams that have been realized

and worlds they could not imagine

dreams of things that are yet to be

 

I gaze at the beautiful handwriting

of educated people

who read and valued learning

and think of misspelled Twitter rants.

We’ve forgotten

and it’s time to remember

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We’ve added and clarified

giving freedom to people who were enslaved

giving rights to women

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ruling on free speech, freedom of religion, individual rights versus the state

fighting a civil war

(yes it was about slavery)

prohibiting the manufacturing of and sale of alcohol

and then making it legal again–

after so many lost jobs and the government lost revenue–

and there was more crime

let’s face it

We the People like to drink

from the past of George Washington’s distillery

to the future of new breweries, vineyards, and manufacturers,

the dreams of We the People

 

 

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This history swirls about us

all the time

because of a revolution

and a convention

a document that still lives

expanding like our nation

built on a strong foundation

like the building

we see as we sit outside on that warm day

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but life is not complete without some treats

(We the People like our sweets)

our nation built on bitter and sweet

dreams of the future, history of past

 

 

Two men, Adams and Jefferson

one, a Massachusetts man against slavery

(though not exactly an abolitionist)

the other, a Virginia plantation owner and slaveholder

dissimilar in so many ways from appearance to beliefs

but both admiring each other

both enjoyed the wit and education of some women

while disregarding them as citizens

with their own rights

and bodies

(I’m looking at you, T.J. Sex with a slave is coerced.)

their friendship suspended after the Election of 1800,

but later renewed,

bridged, despite their differences

liked a structure spanning the gulf between two disparate lands

like the bridge we need now

for We the People

as we dream of the future

and remember the past

and hope that it is not over

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Leaving Philadelphia, heading to New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge

 

For those unfamiliar with it, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the People.” You can read more about it here.

My friend, Janet Givens, was in Philadelphia with her husband to celebrate an event. I will leave her to talk about it, as I’m certain she will in an upcoming post. We visited the National Constitution Center , ate a delicious lunch at Farmicia restaurant, and stopped at Shane’s Confectionery, which has been a candy store on that site since 1863.

 

The Red Tree: Microfiction

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Virginia Sterrett (Old French Fairy Tales (1920)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Dove was tired of rules telling her how to dress, how to behave, how to think. She tore off the black cloak that covered her from head to ankle and threw it to the ground. She took the pins from her hair and let the breeze toss about her long, golden brown curls. She removed her shoes to feel the grass, slightly damp, on her bare feet. Then she walked to the red tree with its fruit of many colors, and defying the laws of her people, she picked a purple one and took a bite. She didn’t die; she didn’t feel any ill effects at all. In fact, the forbidden fruit was delicious. She continued to munch on it as she strolled home, ignoring the gasps and murmured prayers of the people she encountered.

Within an hour, the council summoned her. Though her parents begged for leniency, Dove was unrepentant, and the council banished her from the village. She hugged her parents and left her homeland.

She walked for days and nights until her food was gone. Wrapping herself in the hated cloak, she cried herself to sleep. In the morning, she woke to see the bright, rosy-pink dawn, and she was filled with hope that something good would happen that day.

She brushed the dirt from her clothing and continued her journey. Before long, she came to a town. As she approached it, she heard the most glorious sound.  She stopped a woman and asked her what the sound was.

“It’s the town choir,” the woman said. “Come, I’ll show you.”

The woman took Dove to the town hall. There Dove saw that the sound—music—came from a group of men, women, and children dressed in colorful garments.

That is how a rainbow must sound, thought Dove.

In time, Dove discovered that she had a voice, too. All she had to do, was open her mouth and let it out.

This was the first of many discoveries Dove made. She soon realized that the people of her homeland were not protected, they were trapped there by their ignorance and fear. She took a new name, Violette, for the purple fruit she plucked from the red tree, the fruit that set her on her journey of discovery and knowledge. Eventually, she fell in love and gave birth to a daughter. They named her Aurora as a reminder that dawn always comes, even after the darkest night.

 

Although I went way above the word count, this fairy tale is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.  The prompt was the painting above. I have no idea what old French fairy tale it is actually illustrating.

 

 

 

Chosen: Microfiction

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Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.

Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.

Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.

As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.

At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.

 

This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.”  There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.

 

 

 

 

The Past That Wasn’t And Is

Monday Morning Musings:

“The blacklist was a time of evil. . .no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil. . .it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims.”

–Dalton Trumbo, Laurel Award acceptance speech delivered to the Writers Guild of America West, The Writers Guild of America Newsletter, April 1970.

“Until now, we scientists have only seen warped space-time when it’s calm,” Dr. Thorne said in an email. “It’s as though we had only seen the ocean’s surface on a calm day but had never seen it roiled in a storm, with crashing waves.”

New York Times, February 11, 2016 

Gravitational waves have been heard

A chirp, hitting Middle C

Einstein’s theory confirmed

Space and time moving,

Collapsing,

Causing waves

A cosmic sea

Moving,

Ever changing.

 

We watched the movie, Trumbo

My husband and I,

We missed it in the theaters

But saw it “On Demand”

Yay, technology.

And science education.

Without it, you wouldn’t be able

To stream your shows

Or read the latest gossip news.

Do you think this happens by magic?

 

During WWII,

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was president,

Radio was important.

Sound carried by waves.

Imagine that?

He talked to the nation through

“Fireside chats”

And told us that December 7, 1941

Was “a date which will live in infamy.”

Which it was and is.

That was the date of the attack on Pearl Harbor

By the Japanese military.

Two months later,

February 19, 1942,

FDR signed Executive Order 9066

And with that order

Japanese-Americans,

Citizens of the United States,

Were forced to leave their homes,

And placed in internment camps.

Did you study that in school?

Fear took over.

People were profiled by their ancestry,

By the way they looked.

Locked up.

Does this sound familiar?

 

A political candidate called for

Banning all Muslims from the US.

He wants a wall built to keep

Mexicans out, too.

No matter that it would costs billions of dollars.

Mexico will pay for it, he says.

He thinks Mexicans are all criminals, rapists.

People believe what he says.

 

But back to Trumbo.

Remember, I told you we watched the movie?

It’s about Dalton Trumbo,

The screenwriter

Played by Bryan Cranston

Many people have never heard of him.

Trumbo, I mean.

Perhaps they’ve heard of some of the screenplays though.

He wrote:

Spartacus,

Roman Holiday (a must-see, Audrey Hepburn, in her first big role,

And the always wonderful Gregory Peck.)

Exodus

But those are just a few.

Yet Dalton was not credited with writing these movies.

At least not at the time.

Though they won awards.

Because he was blacklisted.

So he wrote them under other names.

He was one of the Hollywood Ten.

He—and many others–served time for standing up to HUAC,

The House Un-American Activities Committee.

That’s right, the 1950s were not just “Happy Days,”

There was Joseph McCarthy and the FBI

Knocking on people’s doors.

Witch-hunting of communists.

Arthur Miller took the witch part literally

And compared the time to Puritan Massachusetts

And the Salem Witch Trials

In The Crucible.

It was a shameful time

Of fear

The Cold War.

No, the US is not a theocracy,

Though there are people who would like it to be.

But that is not OK.

The separation of church and state is guaranteed

By our Constitution

Our Bill of Rights.

Also, guaranteed is the right to free speech.

So you have the right to

Say what you want.

And I will defend your right to do so.

But I have studied history,

And I can read and fact-check.

I know it is not against the law to be a communist

Or a Muslim.

So it would be fine for our president to be one,

Though he is not.

You can believe the Earth is flat, or

That humans have not been to the moon.

I know those things are not true.

You can believe

That building walls is a good thing,

I have a right to believe you are wrong.

I want to believe

Not in conspiracy theories

But in the value of education

To believe that everyone, men, women, and children

Of all races, religions, and social class

Have the right to learn

To read

To explore

To understand that the past repeating itself

Is not always a good thing.

History,

Water under the bridge

That flows one way only?

Or does it travel in a loop

Splashing like a waterfall

Into a river where it flows

Peacefully until the next storm hits?

An endless cycle.

Space and time

Warped

Disrupted

Changed?

Hate,

Fear,

Walls built,

Walls torn down.

So many people and places gone.

So many crimes repeated.

So much to learn.

 

I can’t imagine never wanting to learn.

I feel sorry for those who fear knowledge.

“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 


 

 

Graduation is Just the Beginning

I’ve seen dozens of Facebook comments about and photos of college graduations over the past few days. I’m happy and excited for the new graduates and their families. I remember our younger daughter’s graduation last year, and our older daughter’s graduation four years ago. This summer our older daughter is getting married, and in the next year, she will graduate from graduate school. Both daughters are excited and terrified at the process of becoming adults (and learning that the process comes in sputtering fits and false starts). They are both remarkably mature young women though, and in truth, they seem so much older and wiser than I was when I was in my early to mid twenties.

It seems like a century ago since I received my Ph.D. I was a new mother then, and learning to be both a parent and attempting to find a place in academia, a place I never found. But that is OK–because it gave my other opportunities. I am a different person now, more confident in myself.

Recent articles, such as this one in The Atlantic, have discussed the confidence gap that many women feel. I know my own lack of self-confidence and self-doubt have probably influenced the tract of my career (or lack thereof). I sometimes grimace at some of the things I said and did when I was younger. At the same, I am comfortable with the decisions I’ve made and with who I am. I suspect I am fortunate in this. I have also tried to learn from my mistakes. I have found that to some extent the old adage about wisdom coming with age is true. Not that all elderly people are wise necessarily, but rather that life experience helps to teach us, IF we want to learn. In a comment on someone’s blog recently, I mentioned how I learned from giving a really awful presentation—I learned to trust my own judgment about what should be in my presentation, not what others, who are not experts, tell me they think they want me to discuss.

At the same time, I know I need to push myself to do things, such as presentations. And sometimes, I just have to DO them and take a risk, and ignore the “what ifs.” (Every time I push the “publish” button for a blog post I’ve written, it is preceded by a few seconds of “should I?” doubt.)

There is also the curse of perfectionism. Maybe I need to add one more thing. Maybe I’m not good enough to do this?

I love this quote by Anne Lamott:

“It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion — your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, “Oh, you’re writing again? That’s nice. Do you have an agent?”)”

And I’ve faced this, too–the people who think I don’t work because my I write from home, and my schedule is flexible. Sometimes. Thank goodness for deadlines, right?

So new graduates, I have no advice for you. Because really, who am I to give you advice? All I can say is this: Live your life. Be the best you that you can be. You will make mistakes, but continue on, and learn from them, if you can. Oh yes, and one more thing, cherish your friends and loved ones. The ones who truly love you will love you even when you make mistakes. They will also give you confidence boosters and an occasional “go do it already” kick-in-the-butt—which, let’s face it, is sometimes the thing we need the most. Well, along with coffee, chocolate, and wine.

I’m pushing “publish” now. Let me know what you think. And now I better get to work.