I can probably count on my two hands the total number of Disney films I’ve seen in my lifetime, and most of those I watched as an adult. I didn’t have a childhood filled with carriages and ballgowns and evil stepmothers. I didn’t grow up singing about wishing for my prince to come. I wasn’t really exposed to fairy tales in that way.
That’s not to say that my childhood was devoid of magicality or fantasy (or films). In fact, my favorite childhood movie was The Wizard of Oz. And my love for that movie has carried on long past my adolescence, providing me with the inspiration for the title of this very blog.
It’s also not like I didn’t ever hear about fairy tales. I was read versions of The Three Little Pigs, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Cinderella. My brother and I even had a stuffed bear that would read a picture book version of Sleeping Beauty when we pressed its toes. (That bear, by the way, did the voices of all the characters, so there is one page where the bear proclaims in a raspy, witchy voice that the princess is going to “prick her finger on a spinning wheel AND DIE!!!” It’s a very scarring experience to have a cute, innocent-looking bear suddenly shout about the death of a beloved character.)
I bring this up to say that, though I was familiar with fairy tales, I had very little attachment to them, especially compared to other people in my generation. They’re not my darlings. I don’t have to worry about protecting my love for them.
And I love subverting them. Destroying them, even.
I don’t remember how old I was when my teacher read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, but I do remember that I instantly fell in love with it. I enjoyed hearing a familiar story from a different perspective, and I felt horribly bad for the wolf. For the first time, I was challenged to hold two different perspectives in my head at the same time and acknowledge that both the wolf and the pigs deserved empathy, which is a difficult but exhilarating task for a child. And it was all thanks to a fractured fairy tale.
Fast forward about a decade to my senior year of high school when I stumbled across the YouTube video “After Ever After – Disney Parody,” performed by Jon Cozart and posted to his channel, Paint. This video takes melodies from The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas and tells the stories of the princesses after the endings of their films. The song examines real-world issues that are related to the settings of the movies (like how over-fishing and ocean oil spills would affect Ariel from The Little Mermaid), and, in the case of Pocahontas, it points out the ways that Disney glosses over and sugar coats the realities of cruelty and disease in the experiences of the real people who became characters in the film. It made me think about the princesses in the context of true problems that they might face. The parody video is well-written, well-sung, and thought-provoking.
It’s also rather dark. I showed it to several friends, and they were horrified. They, unlike I, did grow up watching and adoring the Disney versions of these fairy tales*. Through showing them this video, I had unintentionally murdered their darlings on their behalf and held the corpses of those now-dead films up to them with an expectant smile on my face. I understand why they were shocked and displeased. It’s easier to love a fractured fairy tale when you aren’t so attached to the original version.
That said, I think most people who have loved and watched and shared “After Ever After” were Disney fans. As I’m writing this post, that video has nearly 90 million views–a level of fame (or infamy) that I don’t think can be reached with an audience that is only mildly interested in the original fairy tales it parodies. Additionally, from anecdotal experience, most of my generation and the generation below me (both of whom are the target audience of this type of video) saw these movies repeatedly throughout their childhoods. Some people just like having their favorite fairy tales fractured, and others, like my friends from high school, just don’t.
And speaking of loving having your favorite childhood fantasies fractured, you didn’t think that I would possibly end this post without murdering my own darling, The Wizard of Oz, did you?
Okay, okay, to say that Wicked, my favorite musical of all time, murdered The Wizard of Oz is more than just a stretch; it is wrong. But hear me out. My favorite character in The Wizard of Oz is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. I even dressed up as her for Halloween when I was in kindergarten, complete with a floofy pink dress, bejeweled sneakers, and a shiny wand. And Wicked does not treat Galinda** too kindly. Yes, she is endearing, and yes, she changes a lot throughout the musical, but for the majority of the run time, she is self-centered, unapologetically self-agrandizing, and (charmingly) annoying. Glinda, this character who I adored so much that I wanted to be her, was the butt of so many of the jokes in the musical.
And I loved it.
I loved the fact that Galinda was not the heroine of the story. I loved that Wicked gave the Wicked Witch of the West a name and a personality and a cause. I loved that I had to come to terms with the possibility that not every villain is actually evil or even bad and that not every good guy is flawless or even pleasant to be around.
Wicked gave me the chance to fall in love with a new character, Elphaba. I appreciated her story, I felt for her heartbreak, and I hoped for her to win in the end.
All these fractured fairy tales (and one fractured fantasy) gave me the opportunity to think about the characters in different and more interesting ways. They presented me with the shades of gray that exist in the world and helped me practice viewing other people as flawed yet valuable humans with their own set of complex needs and desires. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
My call to action is this: in the words of John Green who was himself inspired by other authors and philosophers and friends and strangers, “imagine others complexly” and consume media that challenges you to do so. For me, that concept of imagining people complexly was first introduced by a fractured fairy tale. For you, it may have come from a TV show or a movie or a million other sources. Whatever that thing is that inspires you toward complex thought and empathy, seek it out. Devour it. Just maybe don’t show it to your friends if it might ruin their childhoods.
*I know that Pocahontas is more historical fiction than fairy tale, but I’m going to lump it in here because, to be honest, Disney treats the story as if it were just another fairy tale. I think that’s wrong, but, as I’ve previously acknowledged, I have zero nostalgia attached to that movie, and I haven’t even seen it the whole way through, so take my criticism with a full dash of salt.
It’s a question that I often ask my students, trying to ascertain what interests them and which accomplishments give them the most pride. This is useful to 1.) get to know the students better in order to establish a relationship and find ways to make the curriculum more relevant to them and 2.) have an arsenal of ideas for each of them when they inevitably say, “I don’t know what to write.”
After all, the cliché “write what you know” gets touted to would-be authors both young and old. And though the phrase is both overused and sometimes misused, its basic premise has sound logic. You do need a baseline of knowledge about what you are writing in order to fill your work with truth and emotion (not to mention to make it make sense).
Children seem to find this “what are you an expert in?” question surprisingly easy–they’re an expert in multiplication or basketball or taking care of their younger siblings or reading a book. They can rattle off a litany of skills that they have acquired over their few years, and, in my experience, their self-described expertises are usually true.
It might seem silly to label a six-year-old as an expert at reading a book, since they will inevitably learn so much more about reading as they grow older and read more, but I don’t use the word “expert” to inflate the student’s ego or imply that they have mastered a certain area. Rather, I use the term to make them think deeply about their strengths and to acknowledge their background or cultural knowledge about a particular topic. (That was education jargon that means that every student enters a learning situation with a variety of family and life experiences that inform what they already know.)
And then when that “I don’t know what to write” phrase is uttered, I whip out my list of strengths that the student came up with themself and tell them to choose one. These expert areas can inform not only how-tos (tell me how to play basketball), but also narratives (write a story about basketball), and essays (detail the pros and cons of a particular rule in basketball or choose a famous basketball player to write about).
In which areas do you possess an expertise?
I was introspecting on this question lately, and I had a realization: I don’t know how I would answer it.
I mean, I have some simple, obvious answers. I’m an expert in comedy T.V. shows (but not The Office, which, I know, shame on me). I’m an expert in writing for this blog. I’m an expert in being myself. (Just know that as I was writing that last sentence, I had a big, cheesy smile on my face.)
As an adult, coming up with an “expertise list” is not that easy. Perhaps it’s because of my own hangups or perhaps it’s because of the frustrating “valley of despair” part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but I can almost always find a reason why I’m not an expert in any given area. I have definitely put in my 10,000 hours for writing, but I can think of countless other writers (many of whom are WordPress bloggers!) who are leagues and leagues better than me. I know a lot about linguistics, but I didn’t study it in college. I did study education in college, but I don’t have a PhD in it, nor do I have decades of teaching experience.
The truth is, I’m a bit of a dabbler. I listen to podcasts about economics, I read news stories about politics, and I watch videos about filmmaking. I don’t have a singular passion; in fact, I would consider striving to know a little about a lot to be my primary passion. I’m very fickle with my interests and I love a lot of different topics. That’s also the main reason why I’m so drawn to teaching: because I, myself, adore learning and I want other people to like learning, too.
I would say that phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” applies wells to me.
This lack of a singular focus can be pretty aggravating sometimes. The whole reason why this question popped into my head is because a few days ago when I was thinking about what I should do for this blog post, I couldn’t think of anything of substance to say. Much like various students that I’ve had over the years, I didn’t know what to write. How can I “write what I know” when I don’t know anything as in-depth as I want to?
At the very least, I guess I can rest easy in acknowledging that I am enough of an expert in not knowing things to crank out a whole blog post about it.
So those were my whining, self-deprecating thoughts. But I would never talk to someone else the way that I just wrote about myself, so I’m going to flip the script now and engage in some positive self-talk.
In the first part of this post, I mentioned that my use of the word “expert” with my students is not meant to say that they know everything there is to know about an area; it’s meant to make them think about the knowledge they already possess and how that allows them to talk about that topic with logic, truth, and emotion. While I don’t necessarily think that as an adult I should claim to be an expert in just any area where I possess knowledge, I shouldn’t allow myself to be scared away from a topic simply because I don’t have a PhD. in it. In fact, I should allow that desire to know more about more to help me in my discussions of topics.
Thus, I don’t need to narrow my focuses to be a be a better blogger or person. I only need to utilize the diverse knowledge that I have gained through dabbling to inform my future writings. I will try to keep that in my the next time I say to myself, “I don’t know what to write.”
What Am I an Expert In?
Here’s a more extensive list of some of the very specific (and silly) areas where I would proclaim an expertise:
remembering things for other people
plant-based home cooking (just ask me about egg substitutes)
making to do lists (but not so much at executing them)
making toast without a toaster (I have two different methods!)
making a bat out of construction paper, tissue, paper clips and decoupage
recognizing the formula of stand up comedy
connecting education principles to the world of national intelligence (I took a course in national intelligence in which most [if not all] of the other students were majoring in something relating to the political sphere, and the professor assigned us an essay about how intelligence was related to our future careers. I don’t want to brag, but I did get an A on that writing and on the course.)
using a dictionary
sorting color tiles based on tints, shades, tones, etc.
hula-hooping (but only around my waist)
After that somewhat self-aggrandizing list, I want to know what do you think you are an expert in? Leave me a list in a comment. I’d love to read it!
Unlike most of my other blog posts, I relied on my previous knowledge to write this one, but I feel like I should include some resources (some of which are also linked in the post) in case you want to learn more, so here they are:
When all the world is upended around me, When my thoughts ricochet around my mind with unstoppable speed, When anxiety rattles me to my core, I hear a voice gently whisper, “Peace,” And the world becomes still.
When I am sad and scared and lonely, When the loss seems too much to bear, When tears stream down my face and my body is wracked with sobs, I hear a voice gently whisper, “Peace,” And the world becomes still.
When I am filled with anticipation, When a look of exuberance covers my face, When jubilation is the only thing on my mind, I hear a voice gently whisper, “Peace,” And the world becomes still.
When I am sitting in a quiet place, When I am meditating on gratitude, When my heartbeat is slow and steady, I hear a voice gently whisper, “Peace,” And the world becomes still.
Happy Easter if you celebrate it! Either way, I wish you a day filled with light, love, peace, and happiness!
My favorite poem is “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. Even if you don’t recognize its title, there’s a good chance that you recognize its content. It begins like this:
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox
If you’re interested, you can read the entire poem here.
This is a rather divisive poem; in fact, it divided my family (I mean, not in a big way, but still). While I was running around the house quoting this poem from memory, my mom was bemoaning its simple nature, lack of many poetic devices, and unconventional subject matter.
The reason why I love this poem so dearly is the same reason why many people dislike it. The poem reads like a note between spouses, family members, or roommates. In fact, Williams probably did transform a note from his wife into a poem to create “This Is Just to Say,” making it a “found poem” (Matterson, 2015). (A response by the name of “Reply” was later published by William Carlos Williams’ wife, Florence Herman Williams.) This type of poetry shows that even something as simple as a scribbled note can be poetic. Beauty exists, even in mundanity.
In this way, Williams opens the door for a debate. What is poetry, really? If this note is poetry, then are the words that I jotted in the margins of my favorite book poetry? Is my receipt from my most recent trip to the grocery store poetry? Is this blog post poetry?
As it turns out, Williams was not the first person who sparked this type debate (and for all I know, the following example was not the first case, either).
Nearly two decades before “This Is Just to Say” was published, a sculpture by Marcel Duchamp shocked the art world. His piece, titled Fountain, is a “readymade” sculpture–an already existing object that was repurposed to become art. “What was that already existing object?” you might ask. Why, it was a urinal.
The Society of Independent Artists (SIA), where the piece was first submitted, chose not to display Fountain with the rest of the submissions. Duchamp, disagreeing with the SIA’s decision, resigned from its board (Tate, 2020). Fountain defied the idea that works needed to follow classical ideals in order to be considered “art.” Duchamp wanted to make a statement about the definition of art, and chose an object as mundane (and, let’s face it, a little obscene) as a urinal to do so.
So is Fountain art? Is “This Is Just to Say” poetry?
I am not an art or literary critic, nor am I a profession artist or poet (yet!), so I don’t possess the knowledge or life experiences that would allow me to answer that question for you, but I can answer it for me.
When I read “This Is Just to Say,” I feel something. I feel warmth and the loveliness of a close relationship. It feels like the midway point in a much longer story about marriage or friendship or how small grievances can lead to larger rifts. I feel the same way about it that I feel about so many other poems.
And though I have never seen Fountain in person, I did see this piece, titled Still and created by Damien Hirst, at The Art Institute of Chicago. When I looked through the glass casing (that is itself part of the sculpture) at the medical and lab equipment it encloses, I felt something. I felt cold. I felt the sterility of medicine reflected in the metal tools that are used for that purpose. I recognized the juxtaposition between the frigidity of surgical tools and the warmth of the humans that utilize them. I felt another juxtaposition between the stillness of the tools and the bustling of a hospital that might use them. I felt about it the same way that I felt about so many other pieces of art that day.
Much like how the author John Green said in this tweet that “Books belong to their readers,” art belongs to the audience, however the audience wants to see it.
It seems that the gaze we use matters more than the creation we are viewing. The attitude surpasses the object.
But what does that mean for me as a lay person? Surely, this way of viewing the world should not solely belong to poets and artists. I, too, want to see the beauty in mundanity.
I decided to challenge myself to see the charm that constantly surrounds me. I succeeded in this challenge whenever I noticed splendor in the ordinary in my life, and I took a picture each time so that I could share those experiences with you. (A lot of these are cat-centric, so if you’re not a fan of cats, I apologize.)
I have taken most of the pictures that appear in this blog post
and which are probably hard to look at
Forgive me I am an amateur and the lighting in my apartment is terrible
P.S. In my research, I found this Vox article about a Twitter trend a few years ago that used “This Is Just to Say.” The tweets are a few years old, but the still hold up (even as meme culture changes so quickly)!
his limericks, like the sweetest perfume
that could fill the air in every room
The verses he once scribbled carelessly became a type of medicine to me, his limericks, like the sweetest perfume that could fill the air in every room, his gorgeous, timeless, melodious rhymes just as flavorful as basil or thyme.
He did not know me, nor did I know him, but I ventured to write upon a whim a commendation for twisting my favorite hymn, and giving it a tone so morbid and grim.
A “thanks” was then his meager reply which caused a teardrop to leave my eye. I began to think and gave a sigh realizing sad and ashamed that I
did this to myself again. That poor man knew not that my love rested in his hand; he could only know what I had said, not the million thoughts still in my head. It was but my own imagined tryst– a love between us would never exist.
Fake relationship of my own making– I did no giving, only taking. Now, once again, alone, I’m quaking, trying to mend a heart that’s breaking.