No Fairytale

No Fairytale was shortlisted for the Scarlet Stiletto, Sisters in Crime competition in 2016. If I was to dedicate this story to anyone, it would be to the giant slayers; those that speak the truth, listen with their heart and seek justice for the abused, the violated and the forgotten.

Click on the link below to read this short story.

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;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;The Semi-Colon Zealot: The Politics of Punctuation;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

My reflection on how I’ve integrated the semi-colon into my writing life began a few days ago, when my friend Ros proofed a book I am writing. It’s a short book ; a contemporary fairytale told through photographs and poetry. All but one of the semi-colons were gone and in their place were commas and full stops (can’t bring myself to call them periods, because it’s an Americanism and has vivid overtones of menstruation).

My world wasn’t turned upside down, but I will admit to being a little shocked. I thought I was judicious in my handling of these often, controversial points of separation; enthusiastic may be a more appropriate description. But I’m an adult, I considered the changes and adopted them because I thought they improved the flow of the tale.

However, it set me thinking about my zealous use of the semi-colons and indeed my fervent attempts to express my political self through punctuation.

As a young child I wrote compositions that followed the rules, because I followed the rules; I was too scared not too. Each sentence began with a capital letter and ended with a full stop. In grade six my compositions were described as ‘wordy.’ Perhaps the acquisition of a thesaurus and an interest in writing short stories had something to do with my perceived verbosity? Still following punctuation rules, but challenging the limits imposed on how much I was allowed to write.

In high school I was introduced to writers who challenged all the rules; poets and diarists, political activists and feminists. Thus began an anti-authoritarian writing style to reflect my politics. I rejected capital letters, changed standard spelling, ignored gendered words and embraced the dash – it was liberating!

But what of the semi-colon? I used dashes regularly, I’d had the odd flirtation with the colon, when writing lists, but I wasn’t a semi-colon user – it frightened me, so for years I dismissed it.

Now, in my mature years I’ve embraced the ‘comma that went to college,’ maybe because I identify with it. To my knowledge, no one else in my family has ever used a semi-colon. Perhaps it’s just me showing off; perhaps not. Yesterday I went a whole day without using one, and all was well. But today; today is another day.

For those interested in grammar, my favourite grammarian is Richard Nordquist

http://grammar.about.com/od/punctuationandmechanics/a/semicolondash.htm

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Butterfly Boy

I wrote this poem as a way of retelling the Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi’s famous story, The Dream of the Butterfly. Discussions of oneness, awareness and transformation have been inspired by the story’s telling and retelling over the 2300 years since Zhuangzi wrote his insights into human nature and the nature of the cosmos.

 

Butterfly Boy 

In the warmth of the sun,

In the cool of the breeze,
a boy went to sleep
in the shade of the trees
and dreamt,
he was a butterfly.
With silken wings
of colours bright,
He swooped and soared,
both left and right.
No happier creature
ever took flight.
Then he alighted
on a leaf,
And the boy
awakened
from his deep, deep sleep.
My wings are limbs
I cannot fly.
I am a boy dreaming 
I was a butterfly.
But then his heart 
it leapt for joy,
Perhaps he was a butterfly,
dreaming
he was a boy.

 

Who am I? How do we define ourselves?  So often we are defined by our relationship with others; Roman’s wife, Moriah’s mother, Lorna’s daughter. We identify with our work: Morgan the storyteller, musician or writer, or our socio-cultural identity: Australian, global citizen, woman, feminist. We are like the elephant in the Indian story ‘The 6 blind Men and the Elephant’, who each man describes differently, depending on what part he has touched.  I am all and none of the above, depending on the context I am defining myself in. As to being ascribed an identity by others, that is simply for the describer’s convenience. Sometimes I feel like the broadest epithet is the most appropriate for me. I am a human being. But there have been times when I don’t feel human. There have been times when I don’t feel…
We believe we can be anything, everything, something, or nothing. The fact that these feelings can co-exist is testament to the mutable nature of our identity.
The Boy and the Butterfly is a comfort to me in the paradoxical world of constant change. A reminder that all things pass, and in the words of the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, (544 – 483 BCE) No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. 

 

 

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Stone Soup – A Reweaving of a Traditional Tale

I wrote this version of Stone Soup in 1997, as a vision of what a community could do to combat adversity; specifically my daughter’s school which was undergoing a new building programme, that created an environment of red mud, wire and concrete. Roman and I devised our first storytelling and textile project, the ‘Web of Wonder,’ for the children to transform the area with their vibrant creations. I told this story at the Parents meeting to inspire their support for the project. They contributed materials, expertise and encouragement so that in a fortnight woven shields, God’s eyes, wands and webs now adorned the wire fences.

Stone Soup – A story about collective power…among other things

There was a time when the children spent their days scratching through the rubble. In threadbare rags, on matchstick legs, they scavenged for bits of wood and wire, any scrap of material their parents could use to mend their rusted pots and leaking shelters.

One morning, as a watery sun floated over the horizon, the child crept from the hovel that was her home, over to the orchard. Once the trees had groaned under the burden of their abundance, until their boughs dropped the excess to the ground, and full-bellied children scrambled among the windfalls, scooping up the fruit and devouring its sweet flesh until the juice trickled down their chins.

Now the trees stood like skeletal statues, barren and white with frost. The child crouched against a gnarled trunk and in her hands she clutched a stone. It was cold and dirty and chipped around the edges. But it was her stone.

The longer she nursed it the warmer the stone felt. When she unclenched her fingers and let it rest in her palm, she saw patterns forming. Veins of silver threaded their way across the rutted surface, making a web that glinted in the morning light. A kaleidoscope of images unfolded before her. The child turned the stone and the sun’s rays caught the flecks of mica and flashed her a golden wink. She laughed. The stone was magic. Sliding it back into her pocket, the child skipped her way home.

Later that morning a farmer came by the settlement, pulling a cartload of rotting vegetables. The people descended on him like carrion birds, snatching bruised apples and mouldy pumpkins. They then scurried back to the shelters with their booty.

The child watched as the adults squabbled over the food, leaving the older and weaker ones empty-handed and hungry-eyed. She reached into her pocket and touched her stone. She knew what she must do.

She ran to her mother’s campfire and picked up her big black cooking pot. Down to the stream she trudged, and filling the vessel to the brim, she lugged it back and set it down on the fire grate. When the water was simmering, she dropped in the stone. She crouched on her haunches and waited.

In time the children gathered round the pot. When they saw the stone they jeered.

‘You can’t eat stone soup.’

The girl smiled and replied.

‘It’s a magic stone and whoever adds food to the soup can eat from it.’

The children were silent while they pondered her words. Then whooping and cheering they scattered far and wide in search of contributions. All that afternoon they came and went, adding whatever vegetables and herbs they could eke out. The soup’s mouth-watering aroma wafted through the shelters, drawing out the adults. Many were curious. Some were furious.

‘Who stole my potatoes?’

‘Which one of you took my cabbage?’

A grubby faced boy answered the accusers.

‘I put them in the stone soup Mother. It’s magic and whoever adds something can eat it. Doesn’t it smell delicious?’

‘Yes,’ they admitted, and lowered their heads.

With the setting of the sun, all the villagers gathered around the black cooking pot and partook of the magic soup. There was enough for all and some to spare. And for the first time in a long time, everyone went to sleep with a full belly…and an open heart. But that is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning.

A European folktale, commonly told in Germany and Switzerland. In Scandinavia there is a variant called ‘Nail Soup,’ in Russia, ‘Axe Porridge.’ These are stories in the trickster tradition, however an emerging aspect of the trickster is that of using their resourcefulness and ingenuity for acts of compassion and co-operation.

Photo by Roman W. Schatz 

The Virtues of the Mother – A Contemporary Fairytale

My mother is different to everybody else’s mother’. It’s not an uncommon complaint among young women, embarrassed by their mothers’ appearance, lifestyle and/or world view. As the mother of two girls I have felt beholden to follow in that long line of outrageous women whose sole purpose in life is to mortify their children. Quite possibly I will one day provide them with a model to adopt in causing embarrassment to their own children. If not, then perhaps I will have offered them a pathway to understanding and embracing difference. 

Great celebrations accompanied the birth of the Princess, who, it was said, never left the confines of her mother’s arms. So enamoured was the Queen with the child. The King proclaimed a public holiday and invited all his subjects to a feast in her honour. The people came in droves, if not to view the tiny Princess, to partake of the King’s generosity. It was a joyous occasion for everyone concerned.

Competition for the position of royal wet nurse was fierce, but the Queen refused all offers, preferring to feed Princess Sapling from her own ample breast…an act entirely without precedent in the royal household. Not only did she feed her, the Queen bathed and dressed her daughter, without the assistance of servants.

Such an unorthodox approach to the rearing of royal children did not go unnoticed. The palace court wholeheartedly disapproved.

The Queen’s devotion to the infant is eccentric, common and unbecoming of her royal position. She is quite possibly afflicted with maternal madness!

            When the Queen heard this, she threw back her head and laughed. Then cradling her daughter deep in her arms she sang;

Flesh and blood milk and tears

                        Strong the bonds that banish fears.

The Princess nestled into her mother’s breast, closed her eyes and slept. The Queen smiled.

When Princess Sapling grew beyond the boundaries of her mother’s arms, the Queen hoisted her up onto her shoulders. The court was aghast.

Not only is the manner in which the Queen transports the child undignified, it is decidedly dangerous. She is quite possibly jeopardizing the life of the Princess!

When the Queen heard this, she shrieked with laughter. Clutching her daughter’s ankles, she ran through the palace chanting;

Bird on the wing soar and fly,

                        Ride the wind touch the sky.

The Princess squealed with delight, clapped her hands and demanded more. The Queen grinned.

As the years passed, Princess Sapling grew in size and spirit. It was not unusual to see her perched upon the Queen’s head, perfecting her extraordinary balancing abilities. The court was flabbergasted.

Behaving in a manner unseemly to their sex and station, the pair are no better than fairground tumblers. They quite possibly constitute an act of treason!

When the Queen heard this she raced to tell her daughter and together they fell about the palace floor in a fit of hysterics. After wiping the tears from her eyes, the Queen suggested a royal performance.

From near and far, the people came to watch the show. Everyone applauded, although the lords and ladies of the court raised their eyebrows and tittered behind open fans. Talk of the performance lasted long into the night.

The following Spring Princess Sapling waved a tearful farewell to her parents, before embarking on a great adventure. She journeyed to distant lands, engaged in battles of wit and honour and sat at the feet of fools and sages alike.

In time she returned home, but not alone. Her companion was a young man without title or wealth, but possessed of qualities far dearer to the Princess than status or money. He was a Poet.

The King and Queen approved the match. Princess Sapling and the Poet were married within the year and crowned as the new sovereigns. The court was outraged.

Such flagrant disregard of tradition. A King without a drop of royal blood in him and a Queen even crazier than the last one. This was quite possibly reason for rebellion!

            When the old Queen heard this, she met with her husband, her daughter and the Poet. Though brimming with wedded bliss, Queen Sapling’s joy was marred with the rumours of a court uprising.

‘What should I do?’ she asked her mother.

‘Stand on your head for five minutes, then go to the village and set up the children’s circus you’ve always dreamt of, go for an invigorating gallop on the creamy mare, feast on your favourite fare and take your husband for a moonlight swim in the river,’ the old Queen replied.

‘I couldn’t,’ said Queen Sapling, ‘it wouldn’t be fitting, under the circumstances.’

The old Queen smiled and winked at her husband.

‘No, perhaps you’re right, my dear,’ she said, ‘cultivate a sense of decorum in preference to a sense of humour, sacrifice the self, confine the imagination and stifle the spirit. That’s the path I chose.’

Queen Sapling leapt off her chair and stood facing her mother, mouth gaping in amazement.

‘Mother what a barefaced liar you are,’ she railed.

‘Amongst other things,’ her father chimed in. ‘Don’t forget she is also eccentric, unseemly, crazy and treasonous, and without a doubt the finest Queen ever to rule in the entire history of the land.’

The old Queen lowered her head, but not before the Poet saw the blush in her cheeks. He turned towards her and spoke.

‘As the oak is nourished by the earth, so it grows strong and tall; a haven for the homeless, a playground for the children, an artist’s inspiration. It must shun the nick of the woodsman’s axe, ignore the termite’s taunts and stand fast against the storm. But know dear Queen, it does not grow alone.’

Queen Sapling kissed the Poet, then immediately stood on her head. The old King and Queen took their leave to prepare for their great adventure. That afternoon they waved a tearful farewell and embarked on a journey to distant lands. Not until the birth of their twin grandchildren did they return home.

Great celebrations accompanied the arrival of the Prince and Princess, and a feast was held in their honour. The people came in droves, if not to view the tiny heirs, to partake of the King’s generosity. It was a joyous occasion for everyone concerned.

Competition for the position of royal nanny was fierce, but the Queen refused all offers, preferring to share the care of the children with her husband. Such an unorthodox approach to the rearing of royal children did not go unnoticed. The palace court wholeheartedly disapproved.

The care of infants is an improper task for a man, let alone a King. That, and the Queen’s propensity for carrying them on horseback quite possibly endangers their lives!

When the Queen heard this, she ran to share it with her mother. The old Queen smiled and nodded her head.

‘How will you address the gossip?’ she asked.

‘I haven’t time,’ Queen Sapling replied, ‘we’re planning an overnight ride and circus camp for the village children and I need to try out the baby’s new slings.’

The old Queen threw back her head and laughed.

‘The tree’s joy lies in bearing fruit and seeing its spirit in the seed,’ she said.

The tiny Princess, draped over her mother’s shoulder, opened her eyes and smiled.

Photograph Mother and Daughters  by Roman W Schatz