Women In Words: Real Estate a short story

By Suzy Fincham-Gray

 

Anne had signed the paperwork the night before, the weight of her signature threatening to rip through the page as she finalized the sale of her Grandmother Eve’s house. The last few months, as Anne watched her slip further into the clinging, incapacitating bog of dementia, it was something Anne knew she would have to do. And now it was done. The only deed left was to tell Eve.

safetylockThe house was tight with memories once. Busy with the sickly lemon tang of furniture polish, the warmth of a roasting side of beef radiating through the rooms. Drawers and cupboards crammed with an eight-year-old’s treasures. In that long-gone version there had been a fire in the living room, the fireplace raked and swept, new coal laid every morning from the fuel yard Anne’s grandfather owned. The small, brightly yellow railway truck stationed on a tiny piece of track just long enough for its wheels is also gone. It used to sit on the tile grate in front of the fire; the little cargo of polished coal endlessly fascinating in its shiny blackness; small weightless treasures cradled in a shiny wagon.

Anne waits for her grandmother to invite her into the main room, knowing that of all the things Eve has lost, her sense of propriety is not one of them. On the old woman’s feet is the usual pair of pastel carpet slippers, sent last Christmas from Karen, Anne’s sister in Australia. Despite Eve’s oblivion of who bought the beloved footwear, Anne can’t help the rise of irritation that tickles her throat every time she sees her grandmother wearing the tatty slippers. Anne’s specially selected and thoughtfully wrapped Christmas gift lies unused in a musty drawer, the vibrant hues of the silk scarf, the type Eve used to love, hidden. The shabby fabric of the slipper is shaped around Eve’s gnarled, arthritic toes, the joint of her big toe straining against the soft material at a peculiar, uncomfortable angle. Anne looks at her own feet, wonders if this fate will befall her too, the hobbling gait, shoes that don’t fit, hands that leave jam jars unopened.

“Come on then,” says Eve. “Don’t stand on ceremony for me. You know the way, don’t you?”

So, this is how it’s going to be today, thinks Anne. She’s never sure these days. Even when she was younger Eve could be inconstant. Anne remembers the trips to the seaside. They would begin with stories and songs shouted against the wind through the open car windows and end in mute disregard when she or Karen didn’t finish a sandwich or made a mess in the back seat. Now there is less linkage. The buffers and dampers that held her grandmother’s train of thought in check, disconnected. Anne has read the books that counsel understanding for Eve’s outbursts, a common symptom of the dementia she has been diagnosed with, but the hurt Anne felt as an eight-year-old on those seaside trips has proved closer to the surface than she remembers leaving it. Her grandmother’s previous temper and her current unconscious, cruel attacks are jumbled in Anne’s mind, making it difficult to distinguish the two.

They move into the lounge. The furniture sags. Cushions not plumped or straight, the rug rumpled in the middle like it’s hiding something. The school day photographs, graduation pictures, wedding portraits are faded, curled behind their glass. Silent sentries, standing guard over the broken record player that is their home, they jostle for position, but no one has an unobstructed view.

“What have you been up to Anne? Busy as usual I spect.”

“Oh, you know, same as always, working mainly.”

And selling your house, Anne adds silently, caught by an unwelcome memory of the lawyer’s fingers as he offered his pen yesterday, his nails bitten, the skin flayed off the tips as if picked by a hungry crow. The disgust she felt at his ratty manicure now directed at her inability to tell the truth.

“What have you been up to, Gran?”

“Oh bit of this and that, you know, some cleaning, not a lot really. Do you want a cup of tea?”

“No thanks Gran, I don’t drink tea,” Anne says, stopping before adding “You know that, I never have.”

“Oh right, juice then? I might have some juice in the cupboard somewhere.”

“No, it’s alright thanks. Shall I put the kettle on for you?”

“No, no, you sit down. I can do it. This is my house you know, a woman is still entitled to make a drink in her own house, isn’t she?”

“Yes, Gran,” says Anne, deliberate in her blandness.

Anne moves to the glass cabinet in the corner as she listens for the older woman in the back pantry filling the kettle. There is a small brass key in the lock, still shiny. China ornaments, commemorative plates, seaside treasures carefully carried back from family holidays are haphazardly packed onto the thin shelves. An odyssey of mementos. Their glazed surfaces gleam in the light from the window, but they are lesser than she remembers. More than the missing handles, the chips in the plates, and the mislaid miniature hands fractured from the little dancing ladies, the memories that once accompanied these trinkets are gone. The small pieces of splintered porcelain are long lost, caused by the shaky polishing of an old woman with time on her hands. But the memories have left more slowly. An oozing ebb, not a sudden, brittle snap. Despite the progressive, inevitable meaninglessness of these ornaments, Anne secretly measured the cabinet on a previous visit, making sure it would fit in Eve’s new room. She had felt like an intruder, guiltily pushing the tape measure into her bag when her grandmother returned from the bathroom.

She hears Eve’s slippers against the kitchen linoleum and drops onto the couch. Arranges the cushions more neatly, a meager attempt. It still surprises Anne that Eve drinks tea from a mug, the cup and saucer dispensed with as her hands betrayed her manners. Her protests that “the tea tastes different” silenced by physical failing. At least the mug is garlanded with flowers, delicacy maintained by the unhelpful, curlicue handle she has to force her swollen finger through.

“Ah, that’s better. What have you been up to since I last saw you?” Eve asks.

“Nothing much, just working really. Same as usual.”

Her grandmother nods, as if hearing this information for the first time and takes a slurp of tea, her tremulous hand clashing the mug against her lips.

“But really Gran, how are things with you? It looks like the house might be getting a bit much for you.”

“This house? Too much for me? Nonsense child, I vacuumed just the other day, polished the brasses, tidied up the desk. No, this house is just perfect for me…”

Anne wants to take back the question. Eve no longer remembers to bathe herself, but her connection to this house is unforgettable. Anne calculates the number of days until Eve has to be moved out, before the young couple, probably her age Anne realizes, with a new baby, can claim their first home. Twenty-eight days, she figures. That leaves twenty-one days to tell Eve, enough time for Anne to pack the small number of Eve’s belongings she would be taking. Anne had promised she would tell her today, get it out in the open, give them both time to adjust to this new arrangement. But sitting with Eve, repeating the banal discussion from ten minutes earlier, Anne realizes she will have the same conversation about the sale of this house every day until the move. Each time, Anne knows, she will be the one to lose something. Every time she tells Eve that she will be moving from the place she has called home for fifty years, the house she moved into with a new husband, brought up a child in, buried a husband and child from, grieved those deaths in, Anne will have to weather the storm.

“Sorry Gran, I didn’t catch that, what did you say?”

“I was saying that you won’t be getting me out of this house unless it’s in a coffin. I’ll move out over my dead body.”

Her grandmother’s instant, searing, understanding of what lies beneath the idle chitchat alarms Anne.

Anne says, “You know we’ve talked about this. There are some really good places that take great care of you these days, somewhere you would have friends and things to do instead of being stuck in the house all day.”

“That’s right, just parcel me away so you can forget about me. You can’t wait can you? Can’t wait until I’m in the grave before you pounce. Well, I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying put and that’s that.” Eve resolutely takes another quavering mouthful of tea and bangs the mug down on the side table.

Anne has heard these words so often she can recite them from memory. Even the intonation, the indignantly shrill rise and throaty, tear-choked fall of her grandmother’s voice echoes unchanged, muting the impact.

Eve shuffles her weight back in the easy chair that is the focal point of her day. A foam pad under the cushion raises the seat so her artificial knees don’t have to bend as far and her legs jut out childishly, her feet hanging vulnerably an inch above the floor. These tiny things tug at Anne, the stained carpet, the adjusted chair. She wishes herself back to a time of immaculate floors and real bone and cartilage joints, without decisions about care homes, and finances, and the dangers of an old lady living by herself. A time when the kitchen table would be folded out and set by the sliding glass doors that opened into the garden. Where they would eat Sunday lunch and tea.

It is teatime that Anne remembers best, the dark green and amber glass bowls filled with pickled red cabbage, Branston Pickle, piccalilli. The brown bread buttered and cut into triangles arranged on the plate. If the season was right, tomatoes from the greenhouse and butter lettuce from the garden. Cucumber so thinly cut as to be translucent, and the ridged, speckled-pink loaf of Spam prised from the can with care and sliced, served on its own dish. Always white pepper and Colman’s Mustard, made from the powder—just add water and stir. Jam tarts or Welsh cakes for pudding. Her favorite were the small individual tarts filled with lemon curd. The smear of curd on the inner edge of the pastry caramelized in the oven.

She had never understood why they visited every Sunday. It was so boring, the quiet of the afternoon between lunch and tea, golf on the television. Most of the adults snoozed while she and Karen struggled to keep quiet. Once they snuck off to rummage in forbidden bedrooms, combing the treasures of dressing table drawers, sniffing the adult smell of Gran’s perfumes, trying on jewelry they dared each other to touch, until they were caught and returned to the silence of the living room.

Now she wishes she could hold these moments. Place them in the china cabinet for safekeeping. Even more she wishes she could share them with her grandmother, fill the room with her grandfather’s cigar smoke, erase the stains on the carpet, whisk away the puddles of dust with the sound of her voice.

Instead they talk about the weather, how wet it’s been, how the garden needed the rain. Anne doesn’t mention that she has sold the house. Twenty-one days she thinks, I have twenty-one days.

She knows she should treasure this time. That she will later regret not spending longer, not listening harder, just as she regrets how she has sold her grandmother’s home. But the thought of her future remorse is lighter than her desire to escape her current guilt. Too soon, she shifts, says she must be on her way. She doesn’t look into the older woman’s stagnant face as she speaks.

They stand, she quickly, her grandmother slowly and deliberately, a wince scudding across Eve’s face as she puts her feet to the floor and transfers her weight. They walk the short distance to the front door and hug. Anne feels the softness of her grandmother, the absence of something vital, sees vulnerable scalp as she looks down. The hall is dim. A wash of light from the window, just bright enough to illuminate their faces, surrounds them.

Eve draws the bolt back, turns the key, removes the safety chain, carefully protecting the house that is no longer hers.

……………..

About Suzy Fincham-Gray

SuzySuzy Fincham-Gray is a board-certified small animal internal medicine specialist. She is currently writing a creative nonfiction book exploring the intersection of the science and art of her professional life.

Suzy is enrolled in the UCR Palm Desert MFA program for creative writing and writing for the performing arts. When she is not writing or treating her canine and feline patients, she enjoys spending time with her family of two- and four-legged animals, in San Diego. Mary Evans represents her at Mary Evans Inc. literary agency.

 

Check back Sunday for the next Women In Words offering or subscribe (upper right corner) to receive email updates.

Lock photo credit: Diana House via a Creative Commons license.

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Women’s History Minute: Katherine Johnson

From the National Women’s History Museum

 

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2015, the National Women’s History Museum has launched a 31-day video series, Women’s History Minute. Each day during March NWHM will release a new one-minute video that honors women’s ingenuity, talents and dedication.

Today’s video celebrates Katherine Johnson, mathematician, physicist, expert in computerized celestial navigation.

Learn more about the proposed National Women’s History Museum.

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Women In Words: Opening Arc in My Day

By Sharon Thompson

 

Tombstone CourthouseBalanced on the edge of the hard, green bench,
arms tight at my side,
I strain to ignore
terror fluttering high in a corner of the courthouse.

I stare at a pale wooden door,
understanding the small opening motion
will begin the closure of my marriage,
leaving my vows unaccompanied in the hall.

I wear a bright purple dress in defiance
of today’s funeral.
The chamber door completes its opening arc,
my name coming muffled from within.

Fists clench my clothing
so tightly I cannot step forward—
until I let go of skirt, of hope,
lone pilgrim to this shrine,
unsure, even, of my lawyer’s face.

Within the dim room,
petitioners nestle shoulder to shoulder.

The judge glances from her papers,
small frown directed my way,
I stand at the podium, eyes fixed on the flag
behind the clerk.
Answer in single syllables.

……………………………

About Sharon Thompson

Sharon Thompson recently retired after twenty years as a high school English teacher. She lives in Temecula, California and spends her time with her two grown sons and her thirteen-year-old dachshund, Sam. She also attends poetry open mics and polishes her writing.

Sharon calls Cecilia Woloch her mentor, and she has worked with poet Brendan Constantine and attended workshops with L.A. writer Jack Grapes. Sharon has been published in the 2012-13 and 2013-2014 editions of the San Diego Poetry Annual.

Photo credit: Kristy Hom via a Creative Commons license.

 

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Women’s History Minute: Lena Horne

From the National Women’s History Museum

 

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2015, the National Women’s History Museum has launched a 31-day video series, Women’s History Minute. Each day during March NWHM will release a new one-minute video that honors women’s ingenuity, talents and dedication.

Today’s video celebrates Lena Horne, singer, actress and civil rights advocate.

Learn more about the proposed National Women’s History Museum.

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Women’s History Minute: Rachel Carson

From National Women’s History Museum

 

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2015, the National Women’s History Museum is launching a 31-day video series, Women’s History Minute. Each day NWHM will release a new 60-second video that honors women’s ingenuity and dedication.

Today’s inaugural video celebrates Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, Under the Sea-wind and three other books—probably available at your local library or independent bookseller.

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Women’s History: From ice cream socials to bad repute

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

WomensHistoryMonthMarch is National Women’s History Month, and we are recognizing it here as we have in years past with a series of poetry and prose—Women In Words: Readings By, For and About Women.

To kick off the celebration, I’ll share one of my favorite pastimes—reviewing 19th century historical records from a feminist perspective. I know, sounds boring, but think of it as reading old stuff and poking holes in the male-dominated reportage of the past. Now that’s some fun.

Finding that old stuff, though, can be a bit of a challenge. Historically, documentation of women’s lives was sparse, particularly the lives of married 19th century women, regardless of race (although my research subject is a white woman, hence the following focus). White women weren’t named in federal census forms until 1850, only heads of households, who were most often male. Yet even the lowliest of white men’s names were recorded—in militia rosters and tax rolls, in livestock registries and slave schedules. Land records were no better. They often stated the husband’s name with a generic “and wife” tagged on, an afterthought making clear that individual women, with names and identities of their own, were unworthy of the artful inscriptions in leather tomes that their fathers, husbands and sons enjoyed.

Of all the records I’ve explored, newspapers have been the most eloquent sources of overtly male-centric recorded history, although newspaper mentions of women were also meager—unless their husbands were noteworthy. Then the women, were they proper wives, might receive mention in local papers for their garden parties or church socials, attended by the wives and daughters of other noteworthy men and serving as showcases of the latest fashions, perfectly crusted pies, hand-churned ice cream and other culinary accomplishments.

Women also made it into the press if they suffered unseemly failures. For example, had a woman fallen from societal grace, her ruin could elicit florid reportage that, with any luck for the reading audience, offered a racy detail or two. A few examples might be enlightening, if not fun.

On March 10, 1882, the Bourbon News reported a shooting in such a way as to ensure that readers would understand the character of the primary target—perhaps to forestall undue sympathy?

MarySigman

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is Mary’s bad repute that carries this short piece, that and the nine bullets that punished her bad body. And it occurs to me that not much has changed in today’s approach to news. When was the last time reporting on the murder of a sex worker did not emphasize the victim’s job? Really, think about this: Have you ever heard anything akin to “White Heterosexual Actuary Murdered at McDonald’s”?

Individual women’s mental health was another common 19th century newspaper subject, asylum commitments and suicides being regular fare. The Semi-Weekly South Kentuckian published this terse bit of unhappy gossip on August 14, 1885.

MattieVittitoe

 

 

 

 

Had Mrs. Vittitoe not killed herself, we would never have heard of her; that she did, proved entertainment for the Kentuckian’s readers. Again, we’ve not progressed much.

Even a man who murdered his own father for his money, one John Collins, a “young student of Topeka … petted and made vain,” was represented in language far favorable to that describing the women whose sexual services he favored. The February 7, 1902 Oklahoma Hornet reported that, while on the witness stand, “the secret of his debauchery and association with the lowest, vilest types of white trash and colored prostitutes was drawn from his own lips.”

Collins killed his father for profit, yet he was a young student, petted and vain, while the women whose nether regions he frequented were the lowest and vilest. And who is it we blame for today’s unfaithful powerful men’s downfalls? Still the women.

Sexual peccadilloes and suicides garnered as much attention in newspapers of the era as the birth of a child, but the credit for the latter was typically awarded to the proud father. The November 24, 1899 Waukomis Wizard reported the birth of my great uncle with some enthusiasm, but forgot to mention my great-grandmother and the significant role she played in bringing him forth.

ElryBirth

 

 

 

 

 

If newspapers weren’t denigrating women for poor character or insanity, or relegating them to the equivalent of today’s society section, they were ignoring them completely—except for the occasional female celebrity.

Temperance activist Carrie Nation was a common target of newspaper ridicule during the turn of the century. The Enid (Oklahoma) Weekly Wave ran an editorial about her on November 27, 1902, while she was busy launching anti-saloon hatchetation escapades from her home base in Guthrie, Oklahoma. She shared the editorial’s bull’s-eye with a number of suffragists, other women of note, and organizations equally distasteful to the anonymous writer.

EQUAL SUFFRAGE

What the world needs is more such women as Carrie Nation and Susan B. Anthony and Lilly Langtry and Mary Ellen Lease and Charlotte Corday and Belva Lockwood and Cleopatra and Mrs. Catt and Countess Chimay and Helen Cougar and Pharoah’s wife who get out and kick the chandelier and spit through their teeth and take an interest in things. We need women in congress to stand on the hurricane deck of the ship of state and direct the fight on oleomargarine. We ought to have female generals in the army taught to ride straddle and hold the reins in their teeth while they careen over the pampas with a gun in each hand and yell: “Whoop la! Down with anarchy—the A.P.A.[1]—the Clan-na-Gael[2]—the High-binders[3]—La-Mafi—Hot Snooks[4] and Sockless Jerries[5]—and up with the Stars and Stripes!” That’s the kind of women we need to make this universe rear upon its hind legs and paw the air and beller like a bull calf in a tornado! You bet!

The editorial’s targets are impressively far-ranging and diverse, and, while archaic, some of the slurs offer insight into the male-dominant ideology of the day: In addition to temperance campaigners, suffragists, actresses who became producers, female revolutionaries of various sorts, and women who dared to lead, also in disfavor were psychologists, the Populist Party, and Irish, Chinese and Italian immigrants. Nonetheless, I hope being likened to a purported Chinese-American criminal society, the Mafia, and something that might have been a rude gesture, was more invigorating to Mrs. Nation than inhibiting.

Still, when I compare this and the other articles to the sexist foolishness that falls from today’s pundits and politicians’ mouths, I’m reminded, yet again, that not much—not enough—has changed. Hence the ongoing need for Women’s History Month. The designation draws our focus to women’s stories that might not otherwise be told, to past women of note, to acknowledgement of women’s experiences and accomplishments; it encourages us to wax poetic about those who, on average, make 80 cents to a male’s $1.00. We’ll be doing all this throughout the month, featuring a variety of writers and genres as we celebrate Women In Words.

Along with our regular contributors—Karla Cordero, Scott Gressitt, Dan McClenaghan, Penny Perry and Conney D. Williams—we’ll publish works by some guest writers from around the region, including short fiction by Suzy Fincham-Gray and Natalie Hirt, and poetry by Kathy Fallon, Ruth Nolan and Sharon Thompson.

We’ll also publish another excerpt from Patricia Bracewell’s second book in the Queen Emma of Normandy trilogy; and a new essay by Lesléa Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, and her newest poetry collection, I Carry My Mother.

Check back Tuesday for the next offering or subscribe (upper right corner) to receive email updates.

Love,
K-B

[1] Perhaps the American Psychological Association, founded in 1892.

[2] An Irish republican organization formed by Irish immigrants in the United States.

[3] A Chinese-American secret society with a purported penchant for urban crime.

[4] Not certain of this one, but “cocking a snook” is the British term for “thumbing” one’s nose at someone, the five-finger salute; there’s also a Snook, Texas;

[5] A snipe at the Populist Party, “Sockless Jerry” was the nickname of Jeremiah Simpson, of Kansas, a Populist elected to the U.S. Congress.

 

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Black History Month a la Solomon Georgio

A fitting close to the month, Solomon Georgio is exquisitely funny.

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Writers Read at Fallbrook Library Presents

Women in Words: Readings by, for and about women

An all-open mic celebration of

Women’s History Month


Date: 
Tuesday, March 10, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.2015-Theme1-300x300

Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

Join us for an all-open mic reading, a celebration of Women in Words.

Bring your favorite writing—original or by another writer—by, for or about women throughout history, recent or long past. Share poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction.

And, if you’re up for a challenge, take the Women’s History Month Quiz here.

For more information about Writers Read,  contact K-B Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

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Bark in the Park 2015

BarkinthePark85x11-v3

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Review: The Turnip Princess by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth

Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

TurnipPrincessIn 2009, folklorists were delighted to learn of the discovery of a cache of 500 unknown Bavarian fairy tales. Unearthed from a municipal archive by German storyteller and fairy tale expert Erika Eichenseer, the tales had been collected in the 1800s by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, transcribed from his interviews with local Bavarians. By 2010, a portion of the collection, edited by Eichenseer, was published in Germany. This month, Penguin Classics releases The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales in English, the translation by Maria Tatar, Harvard University’s chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology.

Unlike the more familiar Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen collections, Schönwerth’s renditions of oral Bavarian lore are said to be true to the common folks who shared their stories with him, perhaps over mugs of cider or strong homebrew. These tales are unembellished, unconcerned with literary form and style, “earthy, scatological, and unvarnished,” as Tatar describes them in the book’s introduction. “Schönwerth’s collection of tales may lack some of the charm of other nineteenth-century collections,” she wrote, “but it gives us a crystal-clear window into the storytelling culture of its time.”

Some readers might think the time of fairy tales has long past, that they are an archaic notion or that they belong solely to the naïve realm of childhood, but such readers might reconsider. Fairy tales offer adults a variety of goodies, from that window into the storytelling culture of a particular time and place to a momentary escape into fantasy, lessons in morality, consolation, hope. And this particular collection offers a sometimes fascinating contrast to the Grimm Brother’s versions of similar tales.

Consider the Grimms’ “The Frog King,” the story of a selfish young princess whose golden ball is rescued from her pond’s depths by an ugly talking frog, who is, of course, a bewitched prince, hoping to regain his comely form and riches. The bratty princess refuses to honor her commitment to befriend the frog, throwing him against the wall when he tries to crawl into her bed, but the king forces her to do the honorable thing and spoon with the amphibian. The Grimms reward her snittiness with marriage to the prince, returned to his former self.

In Schönwerth’s version of the story, “Follow Me, Jodel!” good-hearted but not-so-swift Jodel is competing with his smarter, not-so-nice older brother Michael for inheritance of the family farm. Jodel finds success with the help of a “less-than-beautiful” toad, who is, inevitably, a bewitched and moneyed maiden of the lovely sort. Jodel wins the girl and her castle because he treats the toad kindly, going right for the spooning, even though she “gave him the creeps.” Michael ends up with the leftover farm.

While honoring folklore morphology, The Turnip Princess is a series of such female-male role reversals and spins—sometimes gnarly—on the Grimm tales. Tatar attributes these differences to the brothers’ personal preferences, rather than cultural distinctions: “The divide between passive princesses and dragon-slaying heroes may be little more than a figment of the Grimm imagination.”

The Turnip Princess is a rich resource, comprising seventy-two stories in six categories: Tales of Magic and Romance, Enchanted Animals, Otherworldly Creatures, Legends, Tall Tales and Anecdotes, and Tales About Nature. The stories are followed by Tatar’s commentary and a motif index by Nicola Schaffler, making the collection both fun to read and a useful academic text.

And for those not convinced that dusty fairy tales have anything to offer a modern audience, consider one of the last stories, “Sir Wind and His Wife.” The two were present at the creation of the world, but they were overweight, a contemporary topic most readers will find familiar.

………………………………….

Read “King Goldenlocks,” from The Turnip Princess, here.

For more information about Schönwerth and his work, visit the Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society (the site is in German).

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Test your implicit bias with science

From KPBS’ Independent Lens.

implicit-test-large

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Created by Project Implicit, a research collaboration between scientists at Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, this Implicit Association Test (IAT) aims to ‘[measure] the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)” that remain “outside of conscious awareness and control.’ The test, which has been taken by more than two million people, reveals that even the most consciously tolerant of us may hold prejudices, and while you may be surprised by the results, you’ll be in good company. … Go here for the Implicit Association Test.”

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When I Wake

By Conney D. Williams

We must reach beyond the walls of self-imposed prisons, prisons we helped to build with ignorance on the foundation of systemic racism. At one time, most of our people believed there was no other base on which to build a lasting legacy but the historical, Disney-like footing erected by men who did not believe there is value in all humanity, only part of it.

This is because who we were—what we knew ourselves to be—was forcefully unlearned. Embezzled. Misappropriated by governments—state, federal, local—that denied us and infected us with disease, figurative and literal. You have heard of the Tuskegee experiments or the connection between the CIA and the crack cocaine epidemic, right? And the great legacy of our history is still being hidden from us.

The only history most of us want to know is an exclusionary story that is not our story, a story that tells how America infected our souls with its fear and greed, then somehow had an epiphany that it should now become our savior Blacksploitationthrough a lie of inclusion, a lie to delude us, to tell us that the scales of justice are balanced, that it is blind to the melanin in our skin, that the American dream is accessible to us—all the while knowing it is reserved for the majority race.

America makes movies about us facing the agonizing struggle of our society, yet the story says that only way we surmount these obstacles is when a Caucasian comes along and saves us. We call these movies Glory, The Help, Tarzan, Django. The Tarzan and Django references are only a metaphor, Django because Quentin Tarantino decided to do us a favor and tell a slavery story that had never been told before. And he did. I can’t recall ever before hearing the pejorative “Nigga” so much in a movie. I wonder if Tarantino would’ve been able to make the film if it were about Jews in Auschwitz and Germans were screaming “Judenschwein” every other word. Tarzan is my personal favorite, because it allows a Caucasian boy to talk to all the animals of the jungle and mature to become more civilized than the African savages he encounters. This propaganda campaign continues to work even to this day because so many African-Americans still seek Caucasian approval/acceptance in order to realize who we are.

We must reach beyond the walls of self-imposed prisons.

Every morning I wake to see myself as the African-American the Creator intended me to be. Endowed from birth, I don’t have to barter for my humanity. It is mine to claim and own as any other human being living in this America. America has been, and is, an altered state of reality for those who have been denied access to its ambition, to the American Dream. We are not extras in a movie, trying to portray our humanity in non-descript forms. How could I ever be destined for a starring role in a story about me, still going to auditions, praying that somehow America will finally cast me in a role where my lines are from the same script as Caucasians?

Every morning I wake to see myself as the African-American the Creator intended me to be, dismantling my own prisons and those erected on the premise that my life does not have the same value America intended for all of its citizens.

This life of mine intends to breathe like James Baldwin, Sojourner Truth, Toni Morrison, et al, in defiance and defense of my own humanity, in celebration of my Blackness, and in solidarity for the hope of all my people.

About Conney D. Williams

ConneyConney D. Williams is a Los Angeles based poet, actor and performance artist, originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, where he worked as a radio personality.

Conney’s first collection of poetry, Leaves of Spilled Spirit from an Untamed Poet, was published in 2002. His poetry has also been published in various journals and anthologies including Voices from Leimert Park; America: At the End of the Day; and The Drumming Between Us. His newest collection, Blues Red Soul Falsetto, was published in December 2012.

Conney has performed his poetry on television, radio, galleries, universities, grade schools, coffeehouses, and stages around Southern California and across the country, including the Black Arts Festival. He is a talented public speaker with more than thirty years of experience.

Read more about Conney at conneywilliams.com.

Blaxploitation photo credit: Tim Dennell via a Creative Commons license.

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