Thursday, January 14, 2010

History is a Fairy Tale

Recently I’ve been thinking a great deal about our plight here on this planet. So many people walking around lost and wounded, with no sense of the beauty and incredible richness that surrounds them called “life.” This was the reason I felt so stirred to abandon every day life in a search for something more – because I was lost, wandering the streets of Manhattan in a zombie-like work-a-day way. Melancholy, disconnected, trapped…. hopeless. And the worst part is, where there is hope, where there is help, we turn our faces away. This hope is in understanding our stories.

“Fairy tales” are at the very root of our lives and yet we constantly dismiss them. When our children come to us wide-eyed and wild we tell them “it’s only a story.” We dismiss writers imaginings as “fiction,” we relegate our magic, mystery, and sense of incredible possibility to the nursery where it becomes outgrown, abandoned. We tell our friends that for them, anything is possible, and yet we fail to believe it for ourselves. We forget that in reality, the story of human existence is nothing but a story – a fairy tale all its own.

Human history.

The stories of what has happened in our span of existence on the historic record are so commonplace, so deeply ingrained in our every day consciousness that we no longer see them for what they are.
We have princesses and queens: Diana, Grace Kelly, Cleopatra, and Boudiccea. We have our magicians and our wizards too, in Galileo, DaVinci, Magellan, and as scholars are uncovering, the not-so-mythical Merlin. We have our villains, too – so many they clog the history books: Nero, Pol Pot, Attila the Hun, Genghis Kahn, Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon, the list goes on. We have our heroes: Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Rob Roy, Harriet Tubman, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Sitting Bull, Theodore Roosevelt.

When we begin to read and study our history books, we learn that human kind is capable of the most beautiful creations, the most compassionate tenderness, and the most horrible atrocities – acts of violence so dark that they would be banned even from any director’s cut, boycotted by readers or movie-goers. And it is these conflicting forces that are nothing less than the genetic code for the fantasy stories we learn about as children.

When you look at our human story and understand the impact of this, the line between fiction and non-fiction will blur. Everything is informed by our reality. Nobody is writing in a vacuum – it’s impossible. We are working with the human brain, and all we know is our own story.

But the value comes truly, when we can step beyond our daily lives and gain the ability to see things in this light. What we tell we remember. What we don’t tell is lost. And somewhere in the middle, where these two things meet, is the truth of what our world really was, the truth of what really took place -- it begins to make you realize that we have the power to change our story.

When you can see our existence in this light, you begin to realize that out of any storybook we’ve ever read, truly our own lives can be the most spectacular fairytale of all.

Monday, January 04, 2010

A Faery Happy New Year!

Yesterday was surprising in so many ways. Firstly, it was cold, and yet... sunny.

This is an anomaly for someone who comes from upstate New York. Our winters are dark, cold, bleak, and relentless. There is a beauty there you learn to love -- the yellow fields of dried wheat, or flattened fields of corn draped in a blanket of winter snow. The masses of ice --frozen water caught in mid-fall, the hardened muddy trails and the hillsides of delicately etched branches, showing dark against an overcast sky.

Here in Charleston the sky was blue as a jay feather, the air biting, the plants that outlasted the freeze the night before basking green in the sunshine. At the bird feeder we had the male and female cardinal, the slate colored juncos, and three nut-hatches flittering in arcs over one another, hungry for the sun-warmed seeds. And then there was me, kneeling at the foot of our glorious river birch in my puffy blue jacket, working on installing my very own, brand new, Faery Tree House. I'll explain...

We spent New Years near Pawley's Island where I came across a fabulous store -- Blair Creek. I was lured in by their sign in the window "Create Your Very Own Faery Garden!" And I thought, "Why, yes! How could my life be complete without a Faery Garden?" Like most people, I'm sure. But this is what happens when you devote your life to writing a non-fiction book about trying to believe in faeries. So of course I had to go in. The trip may be over, but old habits die hard.

Inside I met Butch (yes, really) the co-owner and he showed me around the store -- whole houses for outside made of all "found" materials by artist John Curtis Crawford that really tickle the imagination but totally repel the wallet (at $300.00 or more!) And then my eyes settled on The Tree House Kit. A window, a door, and a chimney, designed to turn any willing back yard tree into a home for your wayward faeries. I bit my lip and forked over my credit card. Happy New Year to me -- I could hardly wait to get back home to get started. There are pages and pages of directions that come with these kits, and while somewhat daunted, I poured through them on the car ride back to Charleston.

1) Determine the tree that would like to be your faery tree house. (With instructions on how to accomplish this.)
2) Put said tree to sleep using enclosed "Tree Sleeping Spell" using included frighteningly real looking "magic wand."
3) once said designated tree is sleeping, drill the necessary holes to mount your door, chimney and window.
4) Wake the tree back up.
5) Leave a thank you for the tree and a welcome gift for (hopeful) habitation of faeries.

So there I was, standing in the puffy coat with the magic wand. To pull a now classic Kate Gosselin "Self-Interview":

"Was I feeling silly?
Did I feel like I may have lost my mind?
Was it the first time I'd felt this way?
Was that going to stop me?
If I were a tree in my backyard, and someone was going to drill a couple huge screws into me, would I appreciate the courtesy of an attempted sleeping spell?
Was I embarrassed that my neighbors were looking at me with unmasked interest?
Were they clearly thinking, "There goes the neighborhood?"
Did I do it anyway?
Am I glad I did it?

But actually, what happened was... unexpected and even better.

My neighbor Andrea has two kids, Ian and Zoe, and a lovely mother who comes to visit named Martha, who I'd met on one other occasion. I went over to the fence to wish Andrea a Happy New Year and told her about my backyard project, and that I was a little embarrassed to do it with everyone.. watching. So Andrea gracefully went inside, but not before her mother came over -- a stunning woman with clear blue eyes and pretty silver hair. She stood at the edge of the fence and said,
"Andrea just told me what you were planning on doing, and I wanted to come and tell you that I think it's wonderful. (Said in a Kate Hepburn-like way.)"
"Wow." I said. "Really?"'
"Yes." She said. "I live in a small house in the middle of the woods. Two miles away from the nearest person, miles away from any amenities. And I'll tell you, I don't just believe in faeries, I know they're real. In fact, I have all kinds of spiritual creatures that come to visit my home."
"Really?" I repeated.
"Really." She said.
"Well, in that case," I said, "Maybe I could come and get you all when I'm through, and perhaps you'd like to come over with Ian and Zoe and have a look at it?"
She gave me a formal nod. "That would be wonderful." She paused a beat. "I'll bring something to leave for them too."
(Meaning the faeries.)

So I put the tree to sleep, I sang to it, just like the directions said. Eric helped me drill the holes, we mounted the pieces, and I went over to fetch Ian, Zoe, Andrea and Martha. By the time I reached the door both Ian and Zoe were absolutely beside themselves with excitement to come and see the Faery Tree. They each picked out leaves to put at the base of the tree, and a stick. Zoe had a piece of purple and blue yarn so the faeries could make a coat. Andrea brought a perfectly formed pine cone. I brought a piece of pyrite (faeries like shiny things) and a stone I found on the beach for the tree. And lots and lots of pretty beach shells. As we four kneeled, placing gifts here and there, Martha found her way over.
"Where I live, a lot of the faeries come from the Native Americans who lived on the land for so long." She said to us, and to the tree. "So I brought a few pieces of corn..." she laid them down. "Some cookies for dessert..." she said as she scattered them, "And this piece of lapis." She held up a small bluish stone, cold and round in her fingers. And then she reached out, and she put it in the perfect place: directly over the front door.

Then she said something to Ian and Zoe that really stuck with me. You see, in all this trying to believe, I've read so much, tried so much, and somehow managed to get buried in so much... excess information. I told Ian and Zoe,
"Anytime you want to come over, if you find anything, or make anything that you want to leave for the faeries, you can just come on over and put it here, whether Eric and I are here or not, okay?"
But then Martha said,
"But kids, you don't have to be here to do something nice for the faeries. If one morning you're just getting ready for school, and you look out to the backyard and you think of them, and just wish them well, they would love it. If you're going to sleep at night and saying your prayers, you can think of the faeries and say goodnight too. That's all they need. Just for us to remember them. Just remembering them is enough."

She was right. All the folk tales you can read say faeries are so tricky, faeries are so temperamental, faeries are so demanding, faeries are so dangerous. Faeries must be placated with gifts, food, trinkets.

But in my journey so far, I've never found that to be true. Faeries, whatever they may be, I would say, seem more kind, more loving. Faeries are in the whispers of the trees, the spark of a firefly, the flash of a bird's wing. They are hopefully now utilizing my costly tree house.

But all they really ask for, I am willing to bet, is that somebody remember them, and that in remembering them with a thought, or a gesture, we are remembering and honoring the earth, the greatest thing that humans, and faeries, have in common.

Wishing you a bright and beautiful New Year,