April 24, 2013

Fairy Tale Logic by A.E. Stallings AND a reading by Tom O'Bedlam

Fairy Tale Logic by A.E. Stallings

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross a sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible what someone asks—

You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.

Alicia Elsbeth Stallings (A.E. Stallings) is an American poet and translator, named a 2011 MacArthur Fellows. Stallings was raised in Decatur, Georgia and studied classics at the University of Georgia and University of Oxford. She is an editor with the Atlanta Review. In 1999, Stallings moved to Athens, Greece and has lived there ever since. She is the Poetry Program Director of the Athens Centre and is married to John Psaropoulos, who is the editor of the Athens News.

A beautiful reading of Fairy Tale Logic by Tom O'Bedlam

Tom O'Bedlam's comments were so thought-provoking, my interpretation of Stalling's poem wouldn't add much to what he's written although I might feel the inclination to try one day.

 The following was excerpted from his video link:
"The fairy tale of the modern girl is romance and marriage. First there's the dilemma of choosing a partner: the available men might seem outwardly equally suitable. They wear "identical masks", one of them is your Prince, but which? Marry the wrong man and he might turn out to be a monster. 
It's common for people to advise you to "be yourself" or "be true to yourself" - as if the self were only one immutable thing. We can be many things: we all have a range of possible selves. We can turn out to be Saints or Sinners, depending on what circumstances we find ourselves in and who meet along the way.  
The right partner is the one who makes you into the best self you could possibly be, who makes you both feel good and be good. The wrong partner brings out the worst in you, making you miserable, perhaps, argumentative and lazy.  
Choosing the right partner isn't easy: we tend to be swayed by superficialities and what other people think. There's an Arabic proverb: "finding a good woman is like plunging your hand into a barrel of poisonous snakes, in the hope of that you will succeeding in pulling out one of the few non-poisonous snakes therein." 
Young people who have always lived at home with an attentive mother find it hard to cope when they are out on their own in the world, they're like babes in the wood. There are good students who have a hard time adjusting to university life and looking after themselves. They wanted the freedom, perhaps, not realizing that it doesn't come cheap. These are the new brides who miss their home life and their mothers.  
The reality may be very different from what a newly married woman anticipated - or maybe she was caught up in the magic of the wedding and never thought about it how it would afterwards be at all. The drudgery of everyday life, the relative poverty, the tasks that maybe she never had to do before like cooking and cleaning the house. What he asks of you may seem to be impossible without self-sacrifice.  
Many women are faced with tough dilemmas as a consequence of living their fairy tale: they have to find a new determination, a secret strength. In marriage, even a good marriage, there is always some subjugation of the will and ambition.  
Let me give you one of my favourite quotations from Alfred Adler 
"Monogamy is the highest sexual goal of mankind: it is a combination of a man and a woman in a working partnership in which each puts themselves in the other's place and works to fulfill the other's needs and ambitions. They form a gestalt, more than the sum of its parts, stronger or more effective than either could be alone. In this they find a happiness that transcends all other human relationships." Actually that's from a distant memory and garnished by invention: I can't find the original. Adler's Marriage as a Mutual Task is worth reading: Link
If the marriage ends in divorce, loss of the first-born son - or any child - might well be possible. It's more likely in middle eastern countries, such as Iran, where the mother will lose custody of her son when he is two years old or if she remarries..." Link
Click here to further commentary by Tom O'Bedlam 

Other interesting links:

The Better to Entertain You With, My Dear by Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "The world from which fairy tales and folk tales emerged has largely vanished, and although it pleases us to think of these stark, simple, fantastic narratives as timeless, they aren’t. Thanks to video games, computer graphics and the general awfulness of everyday life, fantasies of all kinds have had a resurgence in the past few years. But the social realities on which the original fairy tales depend are almost incomprehensibly alien to 21st-century sensibilities; they reek of feudalism. And the lessons they’re supposed to teach our young don’t have much force these days. Kids learn to be skeptical almost before they've been taught anything to be skeptical of."

The WoN Cinema: La Belle et la Bete (about 90 minutes long in several parts)


  1. How beautiful, that poem. And the reading of it. Marry a monster.Hand over your first born son. What a resonant post. I'm going to look for more STallings work. xo

    1. I think finding the right partner must be like finding the holy grail. I know very few couples who feel that they have that with their spouses or partners. It's disappointing, and hard to know where to find the magic, isn't it. Superficial criteria don't matter one bit. IMO, "romance" and the expectations it creates sets many of us up for disappointment and failure.

  2. Hi CZ,

    "But the social realities on which the original fairy tales depend are almost incomprehensibly alien to 21st-century sensibilities; they reek of feudalism." So true! I wonder if more women understood that the whole white wedding ritual is based on ancient property rights--the father handing his legal property over to the husband--if there would be as much fantasy and romance placed on big white weddings today. It's really pretty barbaric, and IMO even misogynistic.

    The fairy tale romance and fantasy that surrounds intimate relationships is a disservice to women and men alike. I love Joseph Campbell's discussion about romantic love in his Power of Myth series. Although he'd been happily married to the same woman for decades, he called marriage "an ordeal." Isn't that the truth! The real adventure, like the Alfred Adler quote within the Tom O'Bedlam quote says, is about creating a working partnership. This is not for the faint of heart! And even though it probably doesn't fulfill any girl's fantasy about romance and lifelong commitment, it is where the real magic happens.

    Where do we find such a partner we can do this with? The million dollar question. For me, it was about my own development. I was much too immature to know what I wanted until I was in my mid-thirties. (Thank the Lord I never married before then!) Around this age, when I had enough sense of self to start pursuing things I was really interested in, two things happened: I ceased to care if I met anyone, so I stopped defining my worth by whether I was single or not. And, because I was doing things I was interested in, I met interesting people. I was fortunate that one of these turned out to be a love interest, I admit. That's not going to happen for everyone. But you have a much better chance of meeting someone you're compatible with if you're doing things you love.

    I also think that women don't feel the obligation to marry and have children like my mother's generation did, and I think that's a positive thing. I have many single friends who chose not to marry, now in their 50s and 60s. I have other friends who are not single but have chosen not to have children. I am optimistic that the fairy tale doesn't quite have the hold it did just a generation ago. Oh, it's still there, I know. But not like it was. Of course, that may also be attributable to other not so positive things, like the narcissism epidemic.

    In any case, a good topic, and one close to my heart. I think the fairy tale vision of romance is a terrible thing to do to women. The reality is just so much colder and harsher, and a tough adjustment to make if you don't see it coming.


    1. Hi Kitty,

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and inspiring comment. You've triggered my memories from 1989 when PBS featured life-changing interviews with Moyers and Campbell and of course, John Bradshaw. I so agree with everything you've written, I could highlight your entire post and if you've ever written about marriage a'la Adler, please send me the link. We are thinkin' alike (hope that doesn't scare you!)

      I should take some time and write about my Adventures with Joseph Campbell and Rianne Eisler, so briefly: as I matured into my late thirties (yes, like yourself!), my perceptions of marriage were validated by Riane Eisler's conception of '"Partnership". My alienation towards biblical literalism was softened by Campbell's "The Power of Myth". I had hours and hours and hours of heartfelt conversations with my husband who appeared, for all intents and purposes, to speak the same language as myself. To "get it". To be in full agreement with what we were learning through study and research. Wait. Let me rewrite that last sentence correctly: To be in full agreement with what we were learning through MY study and MY research.

      Part of my shock at the time of our divorce, was based on several years of deep inquiry about male and female relationships (the chalice and the blade). And of course, the "meaning and purpose of marriage" as a crucible for self-development. When I think back on the innumerable conversations we had, well........I wonder if I'm imaging things. Which I'm not. I have notes.

      Still, whether or not my (then) husband could understand the mind-explosion of partnership-marriages, I understood it. It was the most liberating period of my life and that's when I "fell in love" with my husband. We'd been married nearly twenty years in unconscious bliss-and-agony. Waking up to my equality as a woman allowed me to love him as a man.

      The irony of our story is that the period in our marriage which drew me closer to him (my heart opened), is the same period he pushed me away from him (his heart closed). Isn't that typical of a fairy tale? (not a Disney tale but a REAL fairy tale with sad endings, cruelties, ironies, and reversals of fortune no one could have predicted!

      And in honor of "The Narcissism Epidemic" by Twenge and Campbell, the fantasy wedding and fairy tale marriage would represent an increasing trend towards narcissistic illusions having more to do with SELF than OTHER.


    2. Hi CZ,
      I am not surprised that you're a fellow Joseph Campbell lover. I haven't watched Power of Myth in a few years and am due for a re-watching. Maybe Jim and I will start that over the weekend (they are his DVDs).

      I am not familiar with Rianne Eisler, I'll have to look her (him?) up. Which is kind of ironic, because I came to the idea of an "equal partnership" all on my own--that is never true, of course, but I can't say where the idea came from. One day, during this same period you were in, the words "equal partnership" came into my head, and I realized that that's what I'd wanted all along, and what I was going to have, if I had anything at all. Huh.

      And no, you're not imagining your exe's agreement. Remember Tim, my N friend? I had the "equal partnership" conversation with him, and he LOVED that term. He latched on to it and began using it as his own. Then he went out and fell for a married aerobics instructor who was nice, but had absolutely no capacity to build this with him on any level. (And he didn't have it either, of course, he was just on the other end of the continuum as her.) He turned it into a weird, magical, "intersubjective" connection in which they 'thought the same things at the same time.' Needless to say it didn't get any farther than that, which he managed to blame me for (but that is another story). But boy, he sure loved that phrase....I think this fits with your exe's N behavior. What they say they want and what they really want are very different. The last thing in the world Tim wanted was an equal partner--but he will claim that's what he wants 'til the day he dies. I think he actually believes it, too. But if it actually started to happen for him, he would run as far as he could in the opposite direction; thus the flighty aerobics instructor.

      And "yes" on the fantasy-wedding-narcissistic-illusions. Witness any reality TV show to see the sad truth of this. Ugh.


  3. "The reality is just so much colder and harsher, and a tough adjustment to make if you don't see it coming." Kitty your words are so true. But what can you do? Counsel young people to expect disappointment, or day or day reality, when they're young hormones are raging and whole culture is organized around getting people to literally buy into Romance as commodity product? "Isn't your love worth two months' salary?" Remember those DeBeers commercials? Who were they aimed at? Guys who are able to fork over two months salary to prove to their fiancees that they will love them forever? "A diamond is forever," but nothing else in the world is. Constructive disillusionment is a hard task. Buddhists work at it. I wish I'd known when I got married in my twenties what I know now. I would've made so many different decisions. Would my life have been better? It's impossible to say, but i believe it might have been. xx CS

    1. Yes I remember those ads . Even back then I didn't buy it. And yeah, it's a tough problem, with the entire cultural milieu working against common sense (not to mention hormones). The only thing I know to do is to encourage personal development and critical thinking...

  4. Hi CZ, Just want to publically wish you a happy Mother's Day. You are a loving, caring, mother who is THERE for her kids. Literally and figuratively. You are a role model (whether you like that or not). You and I are roughly the same age, but you took me under your wing when things were bad this last year and it felt not just sisterly but maternal in the BEST sense of the word. Happy Mother's Day. You're one of the more than good enough ones, and there are lots of them thank GOD. big love, CS

    1. Oh Thank You, CS!! I intended on writing a Mother's Day article for my blog, yet kept getting distracted by dirt, bark chips, Round-Up, lawn fertilizer, rose grooming, sweet-blooming wisteria and perennials that weren't groomed last fall, becoming a "dried twigs eyesore" in the neighborhood. ha!

      My skin is speckled with freckles from too much sun without sunscreen. Aleve has become my newest best friend. BUT, we will be eating 'al fresco' this afternoon and we can sit in the garden for as long as we want without complaining about the weeds we should be pulling. ha!

      I am a caretaker and have been that way since helping my overburdened mother with my siblings. The good thing is that I love nurturing and listening and watching children grow up so my childhood isn't perceived as a Cinderella misery-tale. Personality has a lot to do with how we interpret our experience and I got lucky being a caretaking personality with four younger siblings who loved all things feminine and domestic.

      Let me wish you a happy day too since you are a motherly mentor to many of your students, turning to you for advice and comfort. (just as you continue to do through consistent and supportive relationships online!)You have not only recognized the unbelievable number of hours I have put into my blog and forum (hoping to make it easier for people who find themselves in our shoes); but you also recognize the challenges of my private life---my tireless devotion to family members with mental illnesses/disorders.


    2. I do recognize all that. I don't know how you do it, especially the private life challenges; except that you are, as you say, a nurturing soul. I will say you are a generous one, in the sense both of generative and giving. Your many many posts and comments, your input into so many lives, is a major body of work, one I turn to repeatedly when I need reminding about things, which is often. I know what you mean about twiggy untended perennials. Spent time out there today spraying Liquid Fence (that stuff smells appalling. Beyond appalling. Don't even want to know what it's made of. Hyena dung?) to keep the deer and ubiquitous rabbits from destroying everything I plant. Stinky but things look beautiful. xx

    3. Hi CZ, well MD came and went w/o acknowledgment from me. But I have to say withholding a greeting, even for someone as awful as my NM, is hard for me. Goes against my character. Hope you're doing ok. Btw, that carpenter's back (not really, but heads up).


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