Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Ugly Duckling

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Uglyduckling#1The Misplaced Egg

The Ugly Duckling

 The Ugly Duckling is a story about an egg misplaced. Somehow a swan’s egg gets into a duck’s nest. The story doesn’t tell us how that happens. It just begins with the odd egg being a matter of fact.  A barnyard mother duck is sitting on her clutch of eggs waiting for them to hatch. Finally the little ducklings are born, all are doing well. The mother duck is upset because there is still one egg, the largest egg still to hatch. The mother isn’t sure what to do.

 An old duck comes by and takes a look at the egg and declares it is a Turkey egg which she has had experience trying to hatch. She tells the mother duck about her involvement and how it turned out to be a turkey chick and how when it was time to teach the ducklings to swim the turkey chick wouldn’t get in the water. She advises the mother duck to abandon the egg but the mother duck decides to spend the extra days sitting on the egg. When the egg cracks open and out pops the creature inside she is amazed at how ugly it is. It has big feet, grey down plumage, long neck, a large beak and is twice the size of her other babies. This poor thing is pretty unappealing, perhaps it stayed in the egg to long or maybe it is a turkey. She takes her babies down to the pond and they all jump in including her ugly duckling… As it turns out the ugly baby can swim and swim better than the others… She decides it isn’t a baby turkey.

 When she takes her babies to the barnyard all the other animals comment about the “odd” one. Everyone picks on and ridicules the ugly duckling until the ugly one runs away.

 We all have had moments, or periods in our life when we felt like a misplaced egg … an ugly duckling that can’t purr or lay eggs. These are difficult times. We wonder who we are and where we belong. We look for our tribe, our kindred souls. It is a time when we feel alone and unsupported. If we aren’t careful we can start to hate our self or hate the others. We have no role models, no friends and no sense of our worth. Hans Christian Andersen tells of the poor baby duckling’s struggles and wanderings. At one point the baby almost freezes to death.

 In the story the cygnet notices all the different animals, wonders where he might belong. When he sees the mature swans he is impressed at their beauty, skills and graceful nature. As a young one he is not old enough to join them as they migrate to their winter grounds. It isn’t until the baby finds his “people” his fellow swans that he can really see himself. When he looks at his reflection and is amazed at how he has transformed. When the children see him on the pond with the other swans and declare that he is the most beautiful of all he arches his long graceful neck and swims with pride and happiness. Like the ugly duckling all of us need to realize that are uniqueness is what makes us beautiful.

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Know Thyself

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The Ugly Duckling_NEW

We seem to be choosing stories about mothers and children lately and The Ugly Duckling is no exception.  However, my first thoughts on reading it again were not about mothers, but about belonging and not belonging.  Re-calling Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ phrase “the mistaken zygote,” I went back to my well-thumbed beloved copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Let me digress a moment here and say this book ought to be every woman’s Bible.  If I were in charge (!) I would make sure every girl gets one as part of a coming-of-age package presented at the celebration of menarche. Of course I ended up re-reading the whole chapter, smiling and crying a bit to see the condition of being female so beautifully understood.  Buy it, steal it, borrow it and refuse to return it!  Get your hands on a copy and keep it close at hand.

Speaking of this story, written by Hans Christian Anderson and published in 1845, Clarissa says:

It is a psychological and spiritual root story.  A root story is one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact further progression is shaky, and one cannot entirely prosper psychologically until this point is reached.

That point is all about finding who you really are, accepting who you are, and also finding others like yourself who will affirm, confirm and value who you are. In Clarissa’s words:

The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what   …

The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before.  Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.

I loved this story the very first time I read it.  Then, I got to see Danny Kaye play Hans Christian Anderson in the movies!  At age seven, I developed a mad crush on him, learned his songs by heart, and saw every movie of his my parents allowed. I still sing, “Quack! Get out!  Quack! Quack!  Get out!  Quack! Quack! Get out of town!” to myself some days.

My dad was in the army and we moved around so much I was always the new kid in town.  I never fit in at school and I felt like a stranger at home. Hans Christian Anderson could have written this story for me.  I identified completely with the ugly duckling; he sustained and encouraged me.  Having read it, I believed that one day I too could find people like me who would value me.  Looking back on my life, I am still amazed at the power of  stories, which I read as a little girl, to influence and nourish me.  In fact, I dedicated my first volume of poetry Be A Teller Of Tales to:

 Piglet & Pooh,

Ratty, Mole, Alice,

Humpty Dumpty, Br’er Rabbit,

Pinocchio, Mrs. Doasyouwouldbdoneby,

Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Charlotte, Uncle Wriggly,

Mary Poppins, Curdie, Cinderella, the North Wind, the Five Little Peppers, Heidi, Black Beauty and all

the other beloved creatures and characters

without whose leadership, companionship

and instruction I would know

nothing of storytelling

and much less

about life.

The Ugly Duckling gave me a sense of self-worth.  It inspired me to keep looking for my “pack” and gave me the courage to approach them whenever I did find another pack member.  I was very happy to return to the story after all theses years, read it again and find it as edifying and useful as ever.  I still feel heartstruck at the exile of the duckling, proving that old scars never completely fade away.  Perhaps that’s why the tones in this collage are so dark – not something I intended.  All Anderson’s stories are tinged with shadows, even those with happy endings.  I suppose it’s why I love them so. They never prevaricate or pretend. As a child, nothing was more frightening to me than lies. I could always trust Mr. Anderson to truthfully reflected the uneven mixture of pain, grief, joy and happiness I found life to be.

My collage shows the mother duck with both her own duckling and the strange creature she has inadvertently hatched.  The chickens and cat represent barnyard fowl, the ignorant nay-sayers of this world.  I included the cat because it foreshadows the danger the cygnet will meet on his quest.  The swan, is his true nature; the creature he will find at journey’s end.

Done with Peas!

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Hi y’all.  We’ve exhausted the subject of peas.

Michelle called me Wednesday night just as I picked up  my  phone to call her and said,”I can’t think of another damn thing to say about peas.”

“Thank goodness!” I replied.

So we decided to switch to The Ugly Duckling.  Please excuse the delay.  See you soon.

Peas

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Peas_0001

To me this story is about power – who has it, who wants it, who needs it.  Last month we dealt with Krishna and his mother and touched on issues of motherhood.  This month the story brings me to issues of childhood.

When I was little it seemed like I was in a continuous struggle for power with my mother; a struggle into which I had arbitrarily been plunged without instruction book or reason.  Of course I’m describing my feelings – the language came with education and experience and years of introspection and reflection – but I knew instinctively, as all young animals know,  that understanding the power dynamics of my tribe was vital to survival.

I know now, she did not see me as her adversary.  In fact, the struggle I took so personally wasn’t personal at all.  Her anger, come by honestly, could not be directed at its proper target and so she turned it on herself and on me.

Peas were a huge issue.  I hated them, she insisted on serving them.  Truly they made me gag.  It was the texture more than anything else, but the color didn’t help.  In the beginning they were canned.  The frozen ones were mildly better though by the time they came around the battle lines were so entrenched no one could back down.  On the nights she served peas I often sat in front of am congealing food until bedtime.  I devised all kinds of devious ways of folding them up in my paper napkins and then excusing myself to go to the bathroom where I flushed them down the toilet. I stuffed them in my pockets, pushed them into the soft stick of butter in the butter dish, dropped them in my glass of milk, and fed them to the dog who spit them out.  He didn’t like them either.  Naturally, these stratagems usually failed, resulting in interminable lectures about starving children in foreign climes.  The slightest hint of defiance in the form of body language or glances led to high-pitched angry tirades that shattered everyone’s peace for the rest of the evening.

Years later, my mom went back to college and took all kinds of classes.  We grew to expect weird innovations in our family routines with each new course and teased her unmercifully, but I was proud of her.  She willingly embraced those new ideas, pondered their meaning and applied them to her own internal process.  One day, I was sitting on a kitchen stool chopping onions for the meal she was fixing when suddenly my mother burst into tears and said, “I’m so sorry I made you eat your peas.”

It was an extraordinary moment of contrition on her part and forgiveness on mine.  It was all that was said.  I think we were both shocked.  We didn’t talk about my childhood again until years later when I had garnered the courage and experience to be able to initiate the conversation.

My collage shows a child spitting out her peas – her mouth, like Krishna’s, is full of stars to remind us how precious children are.  There are two other little ones here – the goblin I thought myself to be and the defiant self-possessed little girl who clung to her own identity and integrity.  The fabric in the background refers to the part of this month’s story I liked best – the bed covers and mattresses of many colors.  My mom loved fabrics and patterns and taught me to love them, too.  My eye for color and talent for composition are part of her legacy.

Bed was a special place for me – the place I could be myself, escape into imagination, and read to my heart’s content with the help of a flashlight.  It was also my cache.  I hid food under the bed.  Not peas, of course, stolen cookies and forbidden chocolate made up my stash.  You can see candy wrappers and cookies peeking out beneath the pillows.

My peas, like the princess’s are like  grit rubbing against the soft vulnerable flesh of an oyster.  Year after year,  I exude nacre to ease my discomfort, working and re-working the raw material of childhood until it becomes a luminous, precious pearl that enriches and enhances my life.  The proverbial pea also provides grit in the sense of “true grit.”  I’ve found that in my life it is the dis-comforts that make me strong and build my character.

The Dreaded Pea Test

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The Dreaded Pea Test

The Dreaded Pea Test

The Princess and the Pea

Week #2

The Positive Aspect

What are the positive aspects of the story? I’ve seen many pictures of the Princess high a top the pile of mattresses and feather comforters and the “bed” its self looks very fun. It reminds me of my childhood when my father would pile the backseat of our car with a mattress, lots of pillows and blankets so that my brother and I could see over the front seats and out the front window. We were headed to the drive-in movies. The backseat bed was perfect. Before the second movie started we kids would have fallen fast to sleep, scattered about the backseat like puppies among the pillows.

 The stack of mattresses the Queen prepares for the Princess would create a tower in which to observe the room from a different perspective. I would imagine from up top of the stack you might feel quite lofty.

 If you look at the story from the view point of the Prince he no longer has to search the world for the “real” princess. Since the Queen mother herself created the test and the young woman passed the Queen would give her stamp of approval. Now the prince can proceed with confidence knowing that he has found the right girl. Plus he would have his family’s approval.

 If you look at this fairy tale as I suggested last week, as poking fun at the aristocracy, there are lots of things in the story to make you laugh. Imagine the young princess at the door, like a common person, dripping wet, perhaps her tiara slipping down her hair, her fine clothes, even her lovely shoes completely soaked and on top of that she has no attendants. Most of us have gotten wet by the rain and most of us do not have attendants, but a princess, oh my, what an outrage. Poor little princess, are you wet and cold? Isn’t it just dreadful? How very un-princess like. What other un-princess like things could occur? How about a test?  Your integrity questioned. Oh no not the dreadful Pea Test! Oh sleepless night! The Princess and the Pea is a delightfully fun story.

The Pea under the Mattresses

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Who is the Real Princess?

Who is the Real Princess?

The Princess and the Pea
Essay
The Big Picture

This tale was written by Hans Christian Andersen back in 1830-1840. He was a Danish author of novels, plays, poetry and children’s fairy tales. Time has cherished his Children’s Tales, loved by adults and children alike. This story is really quite short usually less than two pages.

I think that this tale has remained popular over time because it demonstrates how ridiculous and goofy some tests can be. Many of such tests are touted as real and important and they are not. They are used by a group to insure that unknown persons are worthy of being part of the group. The tests usually either rule them in or rule them out. As a culture we find these tests everywhere. In the story of The Princess and the Pea, the Prince wants a bride but feels he must find a “real” princess. But how can he be sure that the woman claiming to be a Princess is in fact a real true, honest to God, Princess?

The Old Queen knows how to find out. She dreams up the perfect test. A single lone pea under twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds will establish whether the young woman is group worthy. If you think about it you might agree with the Old Queen’s test, for if the young woman had always been privileged, pampered, her every whim attended to, she would of course notice that her bed was not quite right. She would be use to wining and making a fuss over trivial matters. These would be the proper indicators to prove that she was use to special treatment. True to form, the self-acclaimed princess turns out to be a “real” Princess. We know that because she acted like a spoiled Princess of the highest order. She rudely tells her hosts, the King, Queen and Prince that she had a horrible night, couldn’t close her eyes, body bruised all over … “Heaven knows what was in the bed.” This is what the Prince and Queen are looking for and so the Prince happily marries her. I say, they deserve one another. They will all live happily ever after, expecting to be over indulged, pampered, because they believe and feel entitled to have their most trivial demands met.

Most of us, in the same circumstances would probably have been grateful to have such a soft bed, who even owns twenty mattresses, let alone twenty feather beds. We would have been polite, smiled and said nothing. Because we would be grateful to be in out of the cold and rain. Therefore, we would have failed the test and would not be considered a part of the Queen, King and Prince’s group. We would be ruled out because we believe in gratitude and courtesy.

I think Hans Christian Andersen was making fun of the aristocracy and their social rules and tests.

In our every day life there are lots of different tests given on a regular basis. The tests are used to pigeon hole or rank and classify individuals without having to actually get to know them. Things like … where you live, what type of car you drive, the restaurants you frequent, the name brands of the clothes you wear, your name, your age, were you work or don’t work, the charities you support; the tests goes on and on.

Education can be used to screen and rank people. Did you go to college? Which college? Was it an Ivy League college, one of the top seven located in the east? Was it Harvard or Yale? Were you at the top of your class? Each yes moves you up in rank. The subject you studied becomes important and so does advanced degrees. There are even more ways to rank or screen individuals. To discover who is a witch and who is not one, just throw the woman in the river and if she survives she’s a witch if she drowns she has been forgiven.

All this testing is done because we have ranked our self and we are looking for a short cut to find some one like us to form a familiar bond. We make up tests for ourselves and others so that we can be sure that we are one of the “REAL” people. At some point, hopefully, we realize that most of these tests are as silly as the lone pea under the twenty mattresses.

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The Princess and the Pea

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Princess and Pea

This month we leave ancient myths and time-honored tales to devote ourselves to a modern composer of fairy tales.  It takes real art and a profound grasp of human nature to create the kind of story that rings true across differing cultures and thus becomes told and retold time and time again, fitting seamlessly into the repertoire of wonder tales read aloud in the evening before bedtime.

Hans Christian Anderson was such a fellow.  Bullied during an impoverished childhood he took refuge in books and made the land of enchantment his own at a very early age.  He was an awkward shy man with unfortunate features, given to romantic crushes on beautiful unobtainable people.  The suffering and depression thus engendered added that dark undertone to stories based on acute observation and understanding of the quirks of human behavior.  Though humor isn’t an overt feature of his stories it lurks in the character sketches of his secondary characters.  The mother duck that hatches a swan, silly Thumbelina and her toad, the poor soldier’s magic gadget which allows him to know what everyone in town is having for dinner all represent sly tongue-in-cheek sketches of human psychology and culture, keeping the stories just as fresh today as when he wrote them.

It is just this combination of bold plots, dark pathos and embedded humor that appealed to me and also thousands of other children around the world.  Certainly it is a mix that strongly mirrors the reality of many childhoods.  Though adults often choose to forget, children often find adult behavior ludicrous.  They quickly learn to hide their smiles and opinions, but revel in stories, which subtly mock their guardians.

“The Princess and the Pea” is one of our favorites.  It is very short- we’ll see how we get on as we go along.  Lot of other stories by H.C. Anderson are jumping up and down right off-stage impatiently waiting their turn!!

Meanwhile, today the story hit me as very African, in that African tales often deal with relationships between people involving their place in the family, tribe or society.  The Princess and the Pea is a mother-in-law story.  It has only three characters and two props – the mattress(es) and the pea.

African families tend to be large intimate extended associations with little privacy and an abundance of opinions in which the mother’s voice and views dominant in domestic affairs.  When a new wife enters the household she is frequently in competition with her husband’s mother for his attention.  Of course this happens in many cultures around the world, but in western countries, particularly the United States where women exercise power outside the home and families live in small private units, mother-in-law issues have greatly subsided.  However, Anderson was writing at an earlier time when living space was divided into two domains – the domestic and public.  Women ruled the domestic sphere and men the public. This story depicts a power struggle between the matriarch (queen) and the son’s fiancé.  Though the prince loves this woman, he will not save her from the trials imposed by his mother and closes his eyes to any conflict. The bride wins her place in the family because her innate character and backbone (depicted in reverse as sensitivity) let her prevail.

In my collage racism (hinted at in the different skin tones of mother, son and bride) is a metaphor for all the ways we humans rank and judge each other according to our differences.  In this story we sense no one would really be good enough for the queen’s son, because she doesn’t want to share him at all.  Thus she is looking for any and all reasons to discredit and discard his lover.

However, the young woman is accepted and she does become part of the family, so the different skin tones also show the beautiful melding and acceptance possible when we manage to set prejudice aside.

The earliest known bedding dates to 77,000 BCE and was discovered in Sibudu Cave, South Africa. Beds have always been a sign of wealth.  Until recently they were often listed in wills as significant pieces of property.  The number of mattresses available to the Queen implies prodigious wealth.  When the girl calls for more and more of them, she is attempting to demonstrate ability and poise in coping with that unfamiliar wealth.

Dried peas are still a very important food staple in Africa as they were for many centuries in Europe where they often served to ward off famine.  (“Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old.”) Perhaps this bride-to-be’s sensitivity to the pea portends a respect for food, survival and the necessity to provide and care for the general population of her new kingdom.

Calling the Muses

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Calling the Muses July Week #1

Calling the Muses
July Week #1

*The Month of July has 5 Wednesdays in it. This first week Christine is away traveling with her husband. I decided to do a single Post using a one entry Tale. Next week we will have a regular Tale for the month of July.
This first week, Calling the Muses, is a collage inspired by the myth … King Pierus and his Nine Daughters. In this tale the King is so full of pride that he calls the Muses to compete in a singing contest. He claims that his daughters who have been named after the nine Muses are even more talented than the actual Muses. In my collage I have three of the Muses listening to the King’s call.

When the daughters fail to best the Muses they are turned into chattering Magpies. Another tale about the Muses tells how the seven-tone musical scale was the Muses invention. They took the scale from the Music of the Seven Spheres. In modern English usage, Muses are implicit in words and phrases such as “amuse, museum, music, musing upon. Today authors, artists, poets, musicians, and other creative people call or invoke the Muses for help or inspiration.

Homer, In book 1 of the Odyssey wrote, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”

I have experienced the presence of a Muse when creating.
It is the feeling the work came through you but not necessarily of your doing. You remember doing the work but it feels like it is being done by another more knowing or talented being. When this has happened I am in awe of the work as much as any other viewer. You feel blessed my the Muses.

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