I Love Fractured Fairy Tales

I love subverting fairy tales. Destroying them, even.

Image by Šárka Jonášová from Pixabay

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.)

Image by Jo-B from Pixabay

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.

I loved the character of Elphaba so much that I even named my succulent plant after her.

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.

** not a typo

Other Amazing Fractured Fairy Tales:

Picture Books

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Other Books

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Poetry

“Little Red Cap” by Carol Ann Duffy

Musicals

Twisted a Team StarKid musical

What amazing fractured fairy tales/fantasies did I leave out? Let me know in a comment!

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Kindness and Coronavirus

There was hope.

In my brief time of writing this blog, it has morphed from a place where I share random thoughts that I have throughout the day to a very planned space that I utilize both to share my own creative works (namely poetry) and to reflect on the topic of compassion, both toward oneself and toward others. Because to this calculated schedule that I rigged, I had a piece about trying new things that was due to come out today. However, my heart isn’t in releasing that piece right now.

The COVID-19 outbreak has had a powerful effect on my life and the lives of those around me. Like many Americans and others around the world, I have been at home for the past several days. The crisis has stripped my local grocery stores of their stocks, filled the news emails that I receive every morning, and taken over a large number of thoughts in my own head. It seems like the easy choice would be to give into the despair of this wide-scale, frightening problem.

But I don’t want to give in to despair. In 10 or 20 years, when the world looks back on this period as a major historical event, I want to remember it as a time of growth and compassion in my life.

I created the following list of ways to show kindness during this time for myself, but I hope that my experiences might provide some ideas and hope to other readers, too.

Hey, we’re in this together, and we’ll get through this together.

Without further ado, here are the ways that I have found to show kindness in the face of the coronavirus:

1. Practice Appropriate Social-Distancing

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Congratulations! You’re probably already doing this one to whatever extent you are able!

The kindest thing that we can do right now is to slow COVID-19’s spread, thus limiting overwhelm at hospitals and ultimately preventing this virus from becoming more deadly than it already is. This means staying at home whenever possible, bumping elbows rather than shaking hands, and staying at least six feet apart from others when it is necessary to interact with them.

In the U.S., there are mandates at the city and state levels to limit the size of crowds. Obeying these mandates is the kind (not to mention civically responsible and potentially only legal) thing to do.

2. Learn About Coronavirus

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

This 2016 study by Prati and Pietrantoni which was cited in this lovely Greater Good Magazine article, found that, at that time, a greater knowledge about Ebola correlated with less prejudice toward immigrants from Africa.

Similar to how the Ebola epidemic was connected to Africa, the coronavirus outbreak is connected to Asia. Without any additionally information, it seems reasonable to be afraid of other things connected to Asia: Asian restaurants, Asian grocery stores, and, most appallingly, Asian people. But this fear is grounded in ignorance, not knowledge.

Seeking out more information about the disease will lead you to learn how it spreads (usually by people who are experiencing symptoms), where it is spreading (which is in pockets all over the world, not just in Asian populations), and what you can do to protect yourself (follow local health recommendations, wash your hands often, etc.). None of this information would lead you to singularly avoid people from a particular race or nationality.

Prejudice is not kindness. The kinder choice is to stay educated about the virus to eliminate any misconceptions that may lead to prejudice.

Anecdotally, I want to offer the advice to be careful about how you’re learning about coronavirus. About a week ago, my family was gathered for dinner at my grandfather’s house. Because I don’t have cable at my apartment, that day was my first exposure to the way that news channels have been covering the outbreak. The stories about the virus were constructed in a way that seemed like it was meant to increase fear. Prior to seeing that type of news coverage, I could not understand why people were so panicked about the disease. Now, I get it.

I have two take-aways from this experience: First, try to learn more about the virus from sources that rely on facts rather than fear. (So far, the New York Times seems to be doing a good job of relying on the facts. They’re also eliminating the paywall for their articles about coronavirus during this time, so they may be worth checking out. Here is a link to that coverage.) Second, if you feel overwhelmed by learning about the virus, take a break and come back to it later. Don’t wear yourself out over this or work yourself into a panic. After all, showing compassion during this time also includes showing self-compassion.

3. Practice Self-Care

Photo by Negative Space from Pexels

This method of showing kindness comes in two parts: taking care of mental health and taking care of physical health.

There are a variety of ways to show take care of your mental health during this time. You can talk to others about your issues through Skype or over the phone or potentially even in person depending on the social-distancing recommendations in your area. You can journal about your feelings of stress. You can download an app and try out meditation. You can keep a gratitude list.

Though you might now have to rearrange your schedule to accommodate changes such as working from home or having kids at home instead of at school, do your best to maintain those routines and habits that you know promote good mental health. If you’ve put work into keeping your brain healthy in the past, don’t lose that progress now. Finding pockets of your day to maintain some sense of normalcy may make great differences in your calmness and clarity.

Your physical health is also very important during this outbreak. Eating well and getting good sleep will help to support your immune system. Additionally, staying physically active may be very helpful when it comes to clearing your head and keeping up your overall health.

Prioritizing your physical health may take some creativity right now. If you don’t want to (or can’t) go to a gym, you can find other outlets to stay physically fit. In most places, it is still fine to walk around in a park or just your neighborhood (although you should check with your local social-distancing recommendations). You could also ride your bike, run, or jog. Additionally, there are a variety of apps or workout videos that are available at little to no cost, many of which have options for doing body-weight exercises in case you don’t own equipment. And who knows? You might even discover a new app or style of workout that you love and want to keep doing after this outbreak lets up.

Taking care of yourself is important. As mentioned at the end of my last list item, when thinking about ways to show compassion during this outbreak, self-compassion should be included. If the idea of being kind to yourself is not enough motivation to take time for these practices consider this: being as mentally and physically healthy as possible during this turmoil will allow you to take care of others to the most of your ability.

4. Act on Impulses to be Kind

I want to be careful here because I don’t mean to contradict any of the previous points that I made earlier in this post. If an idea for showing kindness occurs to you, but it involves putting yourself at an unnecessary risk for contracting the virus, it is very likely that the kinder thing is to prioritize your own health.

However, there are still plenty of ways to show kindness that are specific to your financial, social, or career situation. Perhaps you have money (or time) to donate to food banks. Perhaps you have an excess of supplies, and you can give some to a neighbor who doesn’t have enough.

I have my own story of acting on an impulse to be kind during this crisis.

When the schools and libraries around me closed down, I realized that the students I know won’t have access to new books for the next several weeks or even months. I sent a text about my idea of providing some books from my collection to each of their parents (all of whom quickly and gladly accepted my offer), and I created bags of books for each of the students that I delivered earlier this week.

I debated whether or not to include that story in this post because it seems self-congratulatory. Ultimately, I decided to include it for this reason: I almost didn’t do it. When the thought of digging into my collection and then delivering the books occurred to me, I thought about all the reasons why the parents might refuse. They might not want me coming to their houses, even if it is just for a brief moment to drop off the books. They might not trust that the books are clean enough for their children to use. They might think that I had some sinister reason for offering to let them borrow my books. (I don’t know where that last worry came from because it seems irrational, but it was a worry that I had nonetheless.) I had all these excuses in my head about why I shouldn’t even bother trying, but I ultimately figured that it was worth making the offer. The worst thing that could happen would be that the parents would refuse it.

But they didn’t refuse. All of them accepted. And now, those students will have a greater number of books to read during the time away from (in-person) school.

So again, don’t put yourself at risk, but do act on your safe impulses for kindness. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Just Don’t Be Greedy

Image by jbarsky0 from Pixabay

I’ve heard horror stories of chaos at grocery stores, people yelling at customer service workers, and allegations of stockpiling supplies for the purposes of price gouging. The most recent episode of the radio show and podcast This American Life opens with the story of a woman who stole two medical face masks from her dentist office.

Of course, these stories are all subject to our collective and individual negativity biases, leading to their promotion (since they are very easy to clickbait) and their retention in the zeitgeist (because we are more likely to ruminate on negative stories rather than positive ones). I have every reason to believe that most of the stories that will arise from this pandemic will be ones about neighbors helping neighbors, people obeying the recommendations of medical professionals in order to dramatically slow the spread, and innovators discovering new ways to do things that they never would have thought of without the pressure of a potential disaster.

That said, don’t allow yourself to become a character in one of the negative stories. Take care of yourself and those in your household, but do your best to make sure that you’re not preventing others from doing the same for themselves. Do right by other people.

If you care to know more about how to protect yourself during this time, check out the CDC’s website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Stay safe, do your best to stay healthy, and be kind to others and yourself.

Peace out.

Understanding Compassion Fatigue

People suffering from compassion fatigue may find it difficult to feel compassion toward the people they work with, despite their role demanding it.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

I knew many education majors during college–in fact, I was one. I had the opportunity to see first-hand what a 4-year education program at a university looks like, and I also got to see what types of people would choose to enter such a program.

Everyone I met in the program was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They genuinely loved instruction and they viewed their current and future students as whole people with their own struggles and dreams. These future teachers cared deeply, not just about the educational system, but about the individuals being educated by that system. They all had a passion for the job. During out final year in college, our cohort made shirts that read on the back “Teaching: we’re not in it for the income; we’re in it for the outcome.” Everyone in that cohort was an embodiment of that saying. In all four years, I did not meet a single person who seemed like they would make an uncaring, uncommitted teacher.

And yet, many people have had teachers who seemed uncaring. I’ve had teachers who seemed uncaring.

Why does such a disconnect exist?

I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps the students’ perspectives are just skewed. Perhaps there is a generational difference such that the people entering the education field now think of it as a lifestyle, while more teachers from previous generations considered it more as a job. Or perhaps the group of education majors that I was surrounded by in college was just extraordinarily compassionate.

None of these explanations fully satisfy me.

So what else could explain the difference between the people majoring in education who seem eager and willing to help and the percentage of working teachers who seem cold and bitter? And, even more importantly, how can we keep these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed future educators from losing that passion for their work?

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Simply put, compassion fatigue describes a condition in which a person in a caring role becomes exhausted, both mentally and physically, due to their exposure to others’ traumatic experiences. People suffering from compassion fatigue may find it difficult to feel compassion toward the people they work with, despite their role demanding it. Additionally, they feel drained by the demands of that caring role. Therefore, those experiencing compassion fatigue suffer in their caring role, and that suffering can also bleed into their personal lives.

Compassion Fatigue vs. Burnout

While some literature still conflates compassion fatigue and burnout, many researchers use the terms to describe two separate phenomena. Compassion fatigue may appear suddenly after an exposure to secondary trauma, whereas burnout builds over time and has a much slower onset. Compassion fatigue can therefore be described as “unpredictable” whereas burnout can be described as “predictable” (American Bar Association, 2017). Additionally, compassion fatigue is more likely to be treatable, while burnout may require a temporary or permanent break from the type of role that caused it (Good Therapy, 2020).

Careers and Compassion Fatigue

There is both anecdotal evidence and studies to support the idea that teachers, especially those who deal with traumatized or otherwise disadvantaged students, may develop compassion fatigue within their careers, but teachers are far from the only ones to experience this condition. Anyone who spends a significant portion of their job caring for others is a potential victim of compassion fatigue.

Other professionals who may develop compassion fatigue include but are not limited to:

  • therapists
  • social workers
  • medical professionals (including doctors, nurses, nursing home staff, etc.)
  • veterinarians and others working in animal care
  • police officers
  • counselors

It is important to note that, though much of the literature surrounding compassion fatigue focuses on people in caring professions, volunteers and others who make systematic caring a large part of their lives can also be affected. As noted in a 2019 paper by Gorski, Lopresti-Goodman, and Rising about activist burnout in the animal care field, additional research which separates professionals in caring industries and volunteers in such industries is needed. Even if one’s job is not within a field typically associated with compassion fatigue, it is still possible to develop the condition. Thus, anyone who takes on a compassion-heavy role in their lives should be aware of compassion fatigue, monitor for its symptoms, and take steps for its prevention.

Compassion Fatigue Symptoms

  • exhaustion (including physical, mental, and emotional)
  • insomnia
  • changes to appetite
  • depersonalization
  • increased anger, frustration, or irritability toward others
  • inward frustration
  • hopelessness
  • trouble concentrating
  • disconnection from relationships
  • feelings of inadequacy or loss of meaning within the caring role

List compiled using resources from Good Therapy, The American Institute of Stress, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland


How to Prevent Compassion Fatigue

  • journal
  • talk about stress with a trusted person
  • seek therapy if necessary
  • take breaks from the work
  • take time to do other activities that you enjoy (“me” time)
  • avoid additional stress as much as possible
  • keep routines (for exercise, sleep, etc.)

List compiled using resources from Good Therapy, Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland, and Pfifferling & Gilley


How to Treat Compassion Fatigue

The treatment of compassion fatigue looks very similar to its prevention. The maintenance of these activities can help avert a relapse.

  • talk about emotions with a therapist
  • reach out to support networks
  • develop hobbies away from work
  • learn to say “no” and prioritize your own mental health
  • develop an exercise habit
  • prioritize sleep
  • develop self-care routines

List compiled using resources from Good Therapy and Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland


Some Final Words

Compassion fatigue is sneaky since it affects people who are accustomed to caring for others and asking for little in return. As more research emerges about this condition, we better understand its effects on individuals and the industries in which they work as well as what works to prevent its onset.

If I learned anything from writing this post, it’s that you should express your feelings in a productive way, whether that’s through journaling, creating a blog (hey!), or talking to a friend, family member, boss, or therapist. From personal experience, this advice holds true for anyone, but it is especially important for people who spend large amounts of time in compassionate roles.

In spite of all this research about the detrimental effects of compassion fatigue, I still firmly believe that compassion is worth it. Empathizing and showing compassion can increase one’s own feelings of self-worth, not to mention make profound impacts on others. My purpose for writing this was to increase awareness about this issue as it is an important piece of the puzzle when discussing kindness, empathy, and compassion (as I hope to do more in the future). I did not intend to frighten anyone. (Boo! Okay, this time I did intend to frighten you guys.) In other words, don’t let this blog post deter you from doing good in the world. Just be sure to check in with yourself regularly and be willing to prioritize your mental health for your own sake and for the sake of those you are helping.

Be kind to other people, y’all. And be kind to yourself.


References

American Bar Association. (2017, August 23). Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/compassion_fatigue/

Good Therapy. (2020, February 10). Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/compassion-fatigue

Gorski, P., Lopresti-Goodman, S., & Rising, D. (2018). “Nobody’s paying me to cry”: the causes of activist burnout in United States animal rights activists. Social Movement Studies18(3), 364–380. doi: 10.1080/14742837.2018.1561260 (can be found at http://edchange.org/publications/activist-burnout-animal-rights-liberation.pdf)

Pfifferling, J.-H., & Gilley, K. (2000, April 1). Overcoming Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/fpm/2000/0400/p39.html

Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland. (2020, January 15). Self Care for Teachers Who Educate Traumatized Students. Retrieved from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/self-care-for-teachers/

The American Institute of Stress. (2017, January 4). Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2018, March 27). Introduction. Retrieved from https://www.nctsn.org/trauma-informed-care/secondary-traumatic-stress/introduction


Additional Resources About Compassion Fatigue

One teacher’s experience with compassion fatigue: https://medium.com/the-ascent/i-am-a-teacher-and-have-compassion-fatigue-f469c4a43182

PowerPoint from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration about compassion fatigue and self-care: https://integration.samhsa.gov/pbhci-learning-community/Compassion_Fatigue_Office_Hours.pdf

Blog post about vegan burnout: https://www.plantbasednews.org/opinion/vegan-activist-burnout-animals-agony-broke-me

Article from the Association for Supervision and Curricular Development about compassion fatigue in the education profession: http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol11/1118-sizemore.aspx