Clothes: A post inspired by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton’s anthology Women in Clothes

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(Me, snapped by my partner)

Women in Clothes is a diverse collection of stories, musings, and memories, about how clothes shape women’s lives and views of the world, and it also includes lovely photographic taxonomies of women’s personal clothing and accessory collections. Inspired by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton’s anthology Women in Clothes, I decided to write a spontaneous post about my sometimes embarrassing sometimes empowering relationship to clothing (using a few past Instagram selfies).

Images courtesy of: http://www.wornthrough.com/2014/10/guest-book-review-women-in-clothes/, http://mydarlingclementine.ca/books/book-review-women-in-clothes/

On Clothes

I grew up poor, the poorest kid in my class. My mom, who went to school for dance and art, never became an artist. She married my dad, who also went to art school (for sculpture and jewelry design), had three kids, separated from and eventually divorced my dad (when I was 5), went back to school in her 40s, and eventually became a successful massage therapist and ran her own business. We lived with my mom, and my dad was unable to contribute to our lives financially, although he was supportive in other ways.

I knew I was the poorest kid in my class. I would frequently sleep over at my wealthier friends’ houses, stuffing a garbage bag full of clothes and toys to bring with me, but the few times I had a friend over, a girl who lived in a mansion in the suburbs, I would tell her we were renovating the top floors of our house, even though there were separate entrances to the other units and it was very obviously a duplex. My mom slept on a pullout bed in the living room. I would covet and borrow my friends’ clothes, and they would constantly give me makeovers, putting butterfly clips in my hair and letting me wear their designer brand name clothes.

My wardrobe for many years was a mix of my brother’s and sister’s hand-me-downs, since I was the youngest, or else finds from Value Village. When I was very young I wore frilly dresses and was chubby. Later, in the upper grades of elementary school, I was skinny, gawky, and looked like a tomboy for a year or two, but I don’t remember if this was by choice or because of the resources at hand. Clothing did not mean much to me up until grades 5 or 6 when I began to notice how much nicer my classmates’ clothes were than mine.

When I was 11 -12, I sometimes wore “sexy” clothes to elementary school. I remember one bright red cinched spandex tube top that I wore with fashionably ripped jeans and Sketchers. I don’t even think it was meant to be a shirt. A few teachers told me that this was inappropriate, and they gave me a large crumpled t-shirt from the lost and found to wear for the rest of the day. I felt I could harness a power in these “sexy” clothes, but I had zero clue as to what that power was, and I felt so ashamed when they forbid me from wearing them. The tube top looked something like this:

cinched red top

Image courtesy of: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/222767800/red-tube-top-gathered-cinched-elastic

I had this black Nike hoodie from Value Village that said “Just Do It” in bright orange writing. My mom bought it for me sometime in elementary school, and I loved it. I would hide in it and feel so safe; then kids started laughing at me and I didn’t understand why. Later, I realized with horror that “it” to a bunch of preteens was obviously a reference to sex, and I never wore it again.

For summer camp one year, I wore a t-shirt that had a tiny man, a convict I think, with a slingshot and the writing “It’s Always Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye”; I thought it was so cool and wore it on the bus, but then I remember kids looking at me like I was a freak, and I changed on the bus and stopped wearing it that summer. My mom had purchased it at Value Village for me. I wore it on the camp bus that day with an oversized faded blue denim baseball cap that fell over my eyes.

When I was a kid I also had an oversized Peewee Herman t-shirt that I couldn’t care less about (maybe a hand-me-down), and now I am heartbroken about that indifference. I don’t wear t-shirts very often anymore, except for big vintage t-shirt sometimes to sleep in the winter time. I like dresses now, and high wasted blue jeans with simple or vintage tops and eclectic accessories; I often experiment with different looks, and I don’t think that I have great taste in clothing.

Over the past two years I have changed my hair colour so frequently (it has been red, black, blue, pink, blond, purple, and now light brown again), that my hair is probably my main accessory; there is a power in changing your hair colour, taking control of your appearance in that way. I love colour too, so I appreciate seeing people who aren’t afraid to experiment, that stand out from a crowd. I have never felt comfortable with my hair, so I am always open to experiment. Whenever I shave my head or have a pixie cut, I feel lighter, but then I do notice people react to me differently and make assumptions about who I am, and I have felt like I have to find other ways to compensate, to bring certain qualities of myself back out again, like wearing large earrings, or wearing very cute dresses.

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During my later years of elementary school, I began stealing clothes from my older sister. She was working at her first part time jobs, at a restaurant and Dairy Queen, I think, and that meant she was able to spend money on clothes at the mall. Stealing from her was not so difficult, as she usually ran track early in the morning, and we shared a bedroom and a closet until I was thirteen. I felt anxious at school sometimes though, worried about returning the clothing exactly where it was in the closet before she noticed, or she would kill me. We fought all the time.

Then when I was 12, my Safta (grandmother on my dad’s side) who lived overseas sent me some money for my bat mitzvah. I never had a bat mitzvah because it was too expensive, and it seemed to only be socially unacceptable if the boy in the family did not have his. Also, we weren’t very religious. My grandmother sent money anyways, to treat all of her grandchildren as equals. She sent me more money than I had seen in my entire life. I always wonder if she knew how crazy that was.

I spent it all in less than three months. My parents gave me complete control. I went with my wealthy friend to the mall half a dozen times, and I impressed her by spending almost a hundred dollars each time. I imagined that she was jealous of me. I had beautiful clothes for about a year, and then I went through puberty and outgrew everything.

I remember from this time period:  a long-sleeved polyester stretchy shirt with blue sky, clouds, and rainbows, and a velvet purple shirt with long flared sleeves, and tight dark denim jeans with shiny silk threading, all from Le Chateau. I felt like a princess that year. I felt so beautiful. Although it was like a wasted wish a genie had granted me, it was also a year of masquerade and magical thinking. So maybe it was worth it. The long-sleeve cloud shirt looked like this:

cloud and rainbow shirt

When I was in high school my mom worked really hard to make sure we had new clothes, and every Hanukkah my sister and I would go with her to the shopping mall or Winners to pick out a few new outfits; the summertime before camp was also a time of surplus clothing, a few items extra that we didn’t really need. When I was sixteen I landed my first job as a cashier and “customer service representative” at Value Village, and I grew to love thrifting and discovering those rare articles of clothing that become treasures (or you never ever wore, but they reminded you of a person you would like to be).  I remember some of the regular customers were so endearing. I helped an older woman buy gifts for her dozens of grandchildren every few months, and another man, who wore a Power Puff Girls backpack, regularly came for toys and would often ask to see the “treasures” locked inside the glass case at the front of the store. We were not allowed to purchase anything during our shift, store policy, so I often hid the things I discovered and coveted, until the end of my shift. There were many older women who worked there, who had extremely difficult lives, and had to deal with health problems and unbearably perky younger managers. I remember I wore a dark green velvet shirt to work one day, an Elvin sort-of-cloak thing, that did up in the front with two ancient looking bronze clasps, had long sleeves, and dipped way down in the back; one of the older ladies admired my shirt and pulled me aside to tell me that if I ever wanted to attract a man in life, that was the way to dress, in long flowing velvet. An ex-boyfriend always made fun of me for that cloak and called me a magician. Velvet does give me confidence though, although it is, I acknowledge, a ridiculous fabric. When I sold prints of my drawings in front of the liquor mart when I was 19, I wore blue velvet. There’s so many cultural allusions and mythologies attached to velvet—David Lynch’s seedy Blue Velvet (1986), for example; it’s fun to play with.

2011. Blue Velvet

My mom often gives me accessories and clothing that belonged to her when she was younger, or my grandmother, or my great grandmother. She says this is because I don’t lose things; I am the family archivist in this way. I have my Great Granny Annie’s black Persian lamb fur coat, complete with a rabbit collar. I would never buy a new fur coat, and I have only worn this once, but it makes me feel connected to my elegant great grandmother, who once ran a ladies’ fashion department. One day I know I will have the right occasion to wear it again, and it makes me feel glamorous knowing that I can. I also have several delicate embroidered leather gloves that belonged to my mother’s mother. I have an evil-looking costume ring that belonged to her as well that I call my magician’s ring.

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Visiting home in Winnipeg for a friend’s wedding, trying on my great grandmother’s fur coat two winters ago, bringing it back to Toronto with me

People notice your clothes and make assumptions about you, and this is both frustrating and exhilarating; it is a relief in a way, if you are shy or have social anxiety, to be able to express who you are without having to speak or be in the spotlight. A few years ago, I bought a ridiculous Michael Kors maxi dress at a second-hand store; it is extremely long, with a lime green geometric pattern, tie-up sash at the waste, and gold collar. Not once have I worn this dress, but I feel powerful with it in my closet, like a weapon. I want to become the woman who is confident enough to wear this dress, and it makes me hopeful for this future.

As I write this, I am wearing a dark red velvet summer dress, vintage from the 1990s, while working at one of my library jobs.  I purchased it a few days ago at Black Market in Toronto, where everything in the entire store, including vintage jackets, is $10 or less!

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A Halloween look (Lydia Deetz, Beetlejuice) that would maybe be my ideal way to dress

I would love to read posts about other women’s clothing memories if you would like to join in?

 

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Fairy Tales

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The following is a script for a presentation I gave as part of an MI group project to create a contemporary reference article on a subject of our choice; we chose Fairy Tales. Part of the assignment was to critique modern reference articles and look for bias and ways they can be improved, since reference articles are meant to be objective and fact-based and be tailored to meet the information needs of wide audiences.

Reference Articles critiqued:

Hahn, Daniel, Humphrey Carpenter, Mari Prichard, and Michael Morpurgo. “Fairy Stories (Fairy Tales).” The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. , 2015. Print.

Robinson, Elizabeth. “Fairy Tales.” The Literary Encyclopedia 20 Dec. 2007. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

I began the presentation by reading a fairy tale out loud to my class, initially without providing any context; “The Story of Grandmother” Paul Delarue via Jack Zipes, from Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood.

Presentation:

There was a woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter:
“Go carry this hot loaf and bottle of milk to your granny.”
So the little girl departed. At the crossway she met bzou, the werewolf, who said to her:
“Where are you going?”
“I’m taking this hot loaf and bottle of milk to my granny.”
“What path are you taking.” said the werewolf, “the path of needles or the path of pins?”
“The path of needles,” the little girl said.
“All right, then I’ll take the path of pins.”
The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles.
Meanwhile the werewolf arrived at the grandmother’s house, killed her, and put some of her meat in the cupboard and a bottle of her blood on the shelf. The little girl arrived and knocked at the door.
“Push the door,” said the werewolf, “It’s barred by a piece of wet straw.”
“Good day, granny. I’ve brought you a hot loaf of bread and a bottle of milk.”
“Put it in the cupboard, my child. Take some of the meat which is inside and the bottle of wine on the shelf.”
After she had eaten, there was a little cat which said:
“Phooey!… A slut is she who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her granny.”
“Undress yourself, my child,” the werewolf said, “And come lie down beside me.”
“Where should I put my apron?”
“Throw it into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing it any more.”
And each time she asked where she should put all her other clothes, the bodice, the dress, the petticoat, the long stockings, the wolf responded:
“Throw them into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing them anymore.”
When she laid herself down in the bed, the little girl said:
“Oh granny, how hairy you are!”
“The better to keep myself warm, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big nails you have!”
“The better to scratch me with, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big shoulders you have!”
“The better to carry the firewood, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big ears you have!”
“The better to hear you with, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big nostrils you have!”
“The better to snuff my tobacco with, my child!”
“Oh granny, what a big mouth you have!”
“The better to eat you with, my child!”
“Oh granny, I have to go badly. Let me go outside.”
“Do it in the bed, my child!”
“Oh no, granny, I want to go outside.”
“All right, but make it quick.”
The werewolf attached a woolen rope to her foot and let her go outside.
When the little girl was outside, she tied the end of the rope to a plum tree in the courtyard. The werewolf became impatient and said: “Are you making a load out there? Are you making a load?”
When he realized that nobody was answering him, he jumped out of bed and saw that the little girl had escaped. He followed her but arrived at her house just at the moment she entered 

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That was a folktale from the tenth century, told out loud by the fireside in French peasant cottages; the writer is unknown, and versions of the tale are slightly tailored for a Western audience. For example, the word “Bzou” for the French werewolf is replaced by half human. As we describe in our article, fairy tales evolved from preliterate folktales, drawing from their structure, patterns, themes, archetypes, and even alliteration. We decided that in addition to writing about French peasant folktales we would also include information about preliterate narratives from other cultures around the world; those stories were told out loud before writing was accessible and popularized, harkening back to the early medieval period and even beyond in religious mythology. Themes in fairy tales have drawn from these narratives and relate to these narratives in interesting ways.

One of our concerns about the two reference articles we chose to critique is their superficial treatment of folklore narratives. The Oxford Companion article even suggests, among other generalizations, that authentic oral stories deal with “the hope of transformation and happy ending”—but this is not always the truth, fairy tales and folk tales can be grim and grotesque, like the one I began this presentation with. Robinson’s article also implies that fairy tales must fit within that same framework, and though many fairy tales do, many also do not.

Some of the first written records of fairy tales are also grotesque and disturbing, with no placating “happily ever after”; not intended for children:  In Giambattista Basile’s Pentameron from 1634, there is a version of  “Sleeping Beauty” where the prince climbs into bed with the sleeping princess and enjoys “the first fruits of love”, and then deserts her and then leaves her pregnant and still sleeping; eventually one of the twins she gives birth to gets hungry, sucks the enchanted flax that kept her sleeping and wakes her up (Nodelman 304-5).

Just to give you an idea of the variety of folklore and fairy tale narratives from around the world: Folklorists Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson created a scheme to classify the varieties of tale types, using a scientific folklore approach- and this covers all varieties of Indo-European folktales (Nodelman 304). In this scheme there are apx. 2,499 distinct types from oral sources around the world.

*Note: Indo-European languages relates to the family of languages spoken over the greater part of Europe and Asia as far as northern India.

One example: “Cinderella” is 510A: “a sub-type of 510: the story of a girl mistreated by members of her family who receives magical help to get out of trouble and gain the attention of marriageable male” (Nodelman 304).  Tales from 510 include versions from North America, Japan, and the well-known European stories told to children.

We quickly learned that creating a reference article about fairy tales when they contain so many different themes and tale types is very difficult. However, we thought the two reference articles we chose generalized those themes and presented too narrow a view of fairy tales; this might discourage a reader from wanting to know more about the subject and limit their understanding of fairy tales and broader cultural issues intrinsic to the tales.

We believe that a contemporary researcher, be it for a high school project, or a parent debating whether or not to expose their children to fairy tales, or a teacher deciding what to include in the curriculum, should know and would want to know more about the subject than these articles can offer.

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Though fairy tales can be immensely enjoyable, we wanted our article to demonstrate that they are very diverse in scope and contain so much more than the two words fairy tale suggest.

When we began the process of this assignment, we thought of possible negative concerns a parent, teacher, or researcher might have regarding fairy tales before they read the article, that perhaps lead them to want to research and consult a reference source.

These were:

  • Fairy tales provoke false hope for an unrealistic Utopia and lead to a poor understanding of the world and its social structures
  • Encourage female docility and patriarchal social structures
  • Perpetuate ideologies such as consumerism (the attainment of wealth and things) and binary gender roles
  • Can be used as tools for censoring and tailoring children’s beliefs and desires
  • That children are vulnerable and should be kept away from scarier fairy tale themes such as monsters, death, pain, the body, blood, sexuality, and other dark and disturbing ideas
  • Or that some of their binary ideas of good and evil might reflect prejudice and racism and perpetuate ideas of the exotic “other” or orientalist attitudes
  • Or that they might impose a certain religious worldview on the reader who might then in turn be influenced by that unique view or feel alienated
  • Or that their values are too outdated and modern children might be confused or adopt these bad attitudes

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We thought of that, and then we realized that we had to set aside our personal opinions,  because this is a reference article and our task is to present facts and other people’s ideas, and not just present our own. Immediately we wanted to argue the case of fairy tales, to convince that teacher, parent, or researcher that fairy tales are important and should be read by children and adults and investigated and even rewritten and adapted, and then we thought of questions like: can fairy tales even be rewritten to reflect contemporary ideologies or become feminist fairy tales, when in their very nature, from the bones and cells of their story structures, themes and archetypes, they are unable to escape those ideological views and experiences born into them? Can’t contemporary fairy tales then be read as historical and even romantic artifacts documenting and capturing the many shifts and changes in the dance routines of human ideologies and experiences?

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We had to put aside these ideas for essay theses we might have written in previous years because this was not that kind of essay, and we had to collaborate to attempt to avoid bias and personal opinions, and although we did make a thesis of how to construct the entry to best present information and ideas, we could not present a central theme or concentrate on one unique aspect of fairy tales, and this was really hard.

Neither reference article we critiqued presents broader ideas about fairy tales that would connect a contemporary reader to the reference article. We are not suggesting that a reference article should present one specific complex argument (which can lead to bias and a narrower view of the subject), but by presenting several relevant ideas of scholars and other writers, we thought we could create a toolkit of frameworks that readers can pick and choose from in order to best understand fairy tales. Instead of doing this, the two articles we critiqued present historical events and facts, limited information and perspective, and we think too narrow a scope. We wanted our article to be able to enable its reader to reach their own conclusions about complex and difficult questions surrounding fairy tales such as: Why do fairy tales even end in happily ever after? Why should a parent allow their child to read fairy tales? What do fairy tales do? And perhaps most importantly we wanted to tackle the questions: What do fairy tales now mean? How can we best define them, filtered through our contemporary perspective, to suit the information demands and needs of people now? Shouldn’t that type of question be addressed in a modern reference article? Then, how often should reference articles be updated?

We included details about the possible moral lessons in fairy tales that we might view as problematic, but we also specify that this is a contemporary and subjective understanding. For example: Madame de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” was published in Magasin des enfans (in 1756) for “young ladies of quality”; the publication is set up as a dialogue between a governess who is speaking to her pupils. So, “Beauty and the Beast” might have been written as a behavioral guide to console timid young brides by reassuring them that the wealthy beasts they were forced to marry, if they were lucky enough and behaved a certain way, could be tamed and they could live happily ever after, perpetuating gender and class norms of the time (Nodelman 306).

In the two reference articles we chose, little is mentioned about how Charles Perrault in the 1700’s, or later Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 1800’s, who were influenced by Perrault, tailored the older peasant folktales to suit their religious and moral beliefs and experiences, and to cater to popular cultural ideals. For example, Perrault’s fairy tales emphasize the dangers of ignorance, that children should already know about evil and, like the Puritans believed, needed to be educated to resist sin— and their tales were also meant to be entertaining. The Grimms considered themselves to be scholars and folklorists, but—and neither of the reference articles expand on this—they tailored their stories fit their own definition of authenticity and suit their middle class Christian values, combining the best features from different narratives; the Grimms accepted the stories they were told as authentic, though they heard them from literate middle class sources who claimed to have heard them from less literate peasants (Nodelman 307). In the Grimms original recordings of “Hansel and Gretel” and “Snow White”, the evil stepmothers were in fact the birth mothers—but quickly the Grimms disguised this detail.

In the Grimms’ versions, the child fails because they do not listen to the adult’s warnings and conform to social norms. In the Grimms “Little Red Cap” the young girl ignores her mother’s numerous warnings and because she is disobedient she gets eaten by the wolf, but in this version she also gets a second chance because her problem was her disobedience, not her lack of knowledge , and she learns her lesson (Nodelman 306-307); for the Grimms, children are naïve and only need to know how much they don’t know and accept adult wisdom, while for Perrault, and reflected in attitudes towards children of the time, children should already know about evil. For the Grimms, children are innately naïve and innocent.

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We decided to write about how cultural understanding of childhood have changed throughout the development of fairy tales, from medieval times to Victorian times, to contemporary times. We mentioned industries built on the fantasy of “childhood” such as Disney, who market and tailor their products according to contemporary trends and practices of how we understand childhood. We also focused on gender roles in fairy tales, historical and contemporary; for example, we included a section about modern feminist revisions of fairy tales. We felt it was important to provide context to the way fairy tales have transformed, and to demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, they were not always written for children.

*Note: German tales> tone of terror and fantasy; French Tales> humor and domesticity (ogres and faeries); “cunning takes the place of pietism in the German” (54)

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I will bring up one more question that this assignment provoked, and that is: can it even be possible to write a reference article free from bias and subjective information? In the writing of the article, we choose whose opinions to include, and although we tried to use a variety of sources and cover a diverse range of subtopics, we still left out many possible topics. Someone could argue that we strayed too far away from fairy tales when we wrote about Indigenous mythology or medieval romances, and I have some background in those subject areas as well, which made me want to include them, but we did all agree that this range and contextualizing of fairy tales and folklore was worthwhile and that a reader would gain a better understanding, not only of fairy tales as an aesthetic style, but of social structures, cultural ideologies, and other interesting ideas that fairy tales have been built from and inspire.

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I will leave you with a few sentences from British author Angela Carter’s modern feminist retelling of “little red riding hood” called “The Company of Wolves”; this is from her collection called The Bloody Chamber, originally published in 1979 and then republished in 1993. Carter also rewrote— and wrote about—many different fairy tales. Feel free to interpret it as you like, and try to recognize certain ideas that the narration inspires, and ways that her version reflects contemporary experiences.

“The Company of Wolves”:

What big teeth you have!

She saw how his jaw began to slaver and the room was full of the clamour of the forest’s Liebestod, but the wise child never flinched, even when he answered:

All the better to eat you with.

The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing. The flames danced like dead souls on Walpurgisnacht and the old bones under the bed set up a terrible clattering, but she did not pay them any heed.

Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh appeases him.

She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her own mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.

The blizzard will die down.

The blizzard died down, leaving the mountains as randomly covered with snow as if a blind woman had thrown a sheet over them, the upper branches of the forest pines limed, creaking, swollen with the fall.

Sunlight, moonlight, a confusion of pawprints.

All silent, all still.

Midnight, the clock strikes. It is Christmas Day, the werewolves’ birthday; the door of the solstice stands wide open; let them all sink through.

See! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.

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Reading List

For your interest, these are the sources we consulted to write a new reference article, and research fairy tales:

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976. Print.

Brewer, D.S. “The Ideal of Feminine Beauty in Medieval Literature, Especially ‘Harley Lyrics’, Chaucer, and Some Elizabethans.” The Modern Language Review 50.3 (July1, 1955): 257-269. Print.

Darcy, Jane. “The Disneyfication of the European Fairy Tale.” Issues in Americanisation and Culture. Edinburgh University Press, 2004. 181–196. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

Darnton, Robert. “Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose” in The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes of French Cultural History (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 8-72. Print.

DeGraff, Amy. “The Fairy Tale and Women’s Studies: An Annotated Bibliography.” Merveilles & contes 1.1 (1987):6–82. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

Dégh, Linda. Folktales and Society: Story-telling in a Hungarian Peasant Community: Expanded Edition with a New Afterword. Indiana UP, 1989. Print.

Goldberg, Harriet. “‘Cinderella’.” The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Ed. Jack Zipes. : Oxford University Press, 2002.Oxford Reference. 2005. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.

Haase, Donald. “Feminist Fairy-Tale Scholarship: A Critical Survey and Bibliography.” Marvels & Tales 14.1(2000): 15–63. Web. 19 Sept. 2015.

Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. 1964. Reprint.Cambridge: Cambridge U.P, 2012. Print.

Marzolph, Ulrich, Richard Van Leeuwen, and Hassan Wassouf. The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.

Nikolajeva, Maria. “Andersen, Hans Christian.” The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Ed. Jack Zipes. : Oxford University Press, 2002. Oxford Reference. 2005. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.

Nodelman, Perry, and Mavis Reimer. The Pleasures of Children’s Literature. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003. Print.

Tatar, Maria. The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.

Taylor, Drew Hayden. Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality. Douglas & McIntyre, 2008. Print.

Zipes, Jack. Breaking the Magic Spell: Politics and the Fairy Tale. New German Critique, 1975. Print.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization.2nd ed. New York: Taylor and Francis Group, 2006. Print.

Zipes, Jack. “The Contamination of the Fairy Tale, or The Changing Nature of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 11.1 (41) (2000): 77–93. Web. 18 September 2015.

Zipes, Jack. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm: Texts, Criticism. New York:W.W. Norton, 2001. Print.

 

💖 Women Who Draw: an open directory of female illustrators, artists, and cartoonists

Women Who Draw is an open directory of female illustrators, artists, and cartoonists created by two women artists, Julia Rothman and Wendy MacNaughton, in an effort to increase visibility of women, women of color, LBTQ , trans, and gender non-conforming artists in all fields.

via Women Who Draw — Discover

Also (from their website):

http://cartoonistsofcolor.com/

http://queercartoonists.com/

On Collecting Books, and How Objects Haunt Us and Piece Us Together

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I have been a collector for a very long time, taking pleasure in the way objects are arranged around me in the various rooms of houses and apartments where I have lived. When I was a child I would intricately arrange objects along the shelves and ledges of my bedroom and curate new arrangements every few weeks as if I worked in a museum—the Bonnebell diamond lip glosses, Claire’s accessories and tchotchkes, Sailor Moon cards, seashells, Madeleine L’Engle and Kit Pearson novels, post cards, Aqua CDs, and other assorted items were specimens of utmost importance.

A home is not a home, I believe, without a few book piles waiting to be read, or curated to remind you of certain things such as memories, or people you have met, or important characters that teach you something about the world and yourself. My old apartments were likely fire hazards, with their combination of book piles, oil lamps, candles, and for a few years my roommate’s chubby unpredictable demon-possessed cuddly bitey helplessly mollycoddled cat named Spaz.

Books remind me of where I have been and where I would like to go, and memories surrounding the moment of discovering the book.

I wonder if digital culture can ever offer something like the second hand book’s trace of human presence— ephemera like grocery lists, old photographs, and post cards? Is there an E-book or MP3 equivalent to the second hand? There are hidden codes online that signify human action, tracing the development of web pages and activity, but you really have to dig to decode those stories; you have to become a detective. Those little clones of  information, like the MP3 or E-book, may take their first breath at our fingertips and then be deleted forever.

Sometimes it seems as though we are hoarders of information in the digital age. With virtual collections, we can forget what we own. We can consume and collect far more than we can meaningfully interact with, and since we forget what we have, we gather more—and more is always shoved in our faces. This is in part thanks to ads that are sometimes creepily tailored to our online activities, and sometimes our activities that are not online. We are bombarded with news stories every few seconds, or information rather than news, so much so that it is difficult for many people to distinguish fact from fiction, sense from nonsense.

Walter Benjamin wrote about how in the pre Internet era we already had more information and culture than one individual could digest, but it was not within a clicks reach; quantity smothers quality sometimes (agrees the collector), and yet the abundance and globalization of information means greater accessibility, and inadequate access to information is a huge barrier for wellness, education—and online communities of people can combat loneliness, or the feeling of isolation, or the feeling of being a freak (because the Internet has shown us that we are all freaky)—but then communities of like-minded people are sometimes prejudiced, or  spread hate, or bully, and so on. There is so much good about the Internet, and there is so much bad, and I can go on and on and become very anxious and hide beneath my covers, or I can take a deep breath and return to a comforting topic, like my book collection.

In pursuit of books while traveling, I stroll used bookstores. In Toronto if you are lucky enough to live downtown and be able to walk everywhere you can come across books gently placed on sidewalks in front of old character houses downtown; sometimes just in time to rescue them before it rains. Otherwise, I spend far too long looking at books at BMV (where you can disappear) and Ten Editions (one of those mythological used bookstores with ladders that slide across the shelves and piles of ephemera everywhere like in an eclectic relative’s ancient attic, that will likely close and disappear sadly any day now).

Most people do not come across books in this wandering way anymore; instead book purchasing has turned into a finger click on an Amazon page or other website; there are virtual cities you can only wander by staring at the screen. What will happen to those poor overlooked and abandoned creatures if the book becomes obsolete? I wonder what will happen to us? Maybe I am being a bit hyperbolic—but there is something special about the book as a physical artifact and the way we can interact with it and see hints of other peoples’ lives and the provenance of the object. And it feels so nice in our hands.

Digital collections are easier for me to forget; it is easier for me to accrue more and more online or digitally without meaningfully engaging with the information; because of this, everything attached to an online media, even the experience of reading an ebook or searching for and listening to music files, feels less significant, and I feel like I am somehow less.

Plus, there is something nice about showing off your collections and aesthetic choices to a friend, like wearing a funny cute bright outfit that speaks about who you are in a way that can be difficult to articulate otherwise. How will people know who I am—this is is a fear I sometimes have—when I can’t show off the objects I covet? Facebook and blogs enable us to curate our lives with online photo albums and display pages of our likes and interests, but I am always skeptical of the sincerity of this information. Objects can act as mirrors, that reflect how we desire to be seen; objects help us organize our world into a more manageable size, allow us to feel control over our environment; they are good luck, they are placebos, and they are talismans.

Collections also leave us wanting more—they are never complete. They give us something special to live for, including the communities, stories, and mythologies surrounding our objects. Most collectors have a constant craving for that missing piece, or if their collection is miraculously complete, they move on to the next one.

Collecting is also a history lesson, a way to connect the past to the present and in doing so find significance and meaning in objects and in life. Our archives shape our future, who we are, and one collection leads to an offshoot collection, and together they map out our identities and experiences. Books visibly and physically are filled with more history and weight than digital collections. Objects in our collections speak to each other and tell a story of their period, region, craftsmanship, and owners. Collections make me feel so small in this way, like staring up at the night sky filled with thousands of other planets and stars—because objects are ours for such a brief period of time and then they move on to a new fate.

Objects are a disguise, another layer of performance we shroud ourselves in like a cozy protective blanket; we are ephemeral, not the objects. To me ghosts are little notes and drawings in books calling out; they are stories we create and encounter that spark our imagination and haunt us so that we think about the past.

However, there is something liberating in traveling, with only a novella or two, or without any of my objects, and feeling free to be anyone and let people guess about who I am; and of course, we are more than our objects, and objects sometimes give us a false sense of security, purpose, or power, and we often fall into the trap of consumerism, capitalism, hermit tendencies (I am guilty of this too often), and so on—but I love the feeling of being a collector and the moment of discovery, and I would not give this up for anything. My collection of books also offers me the security, or illusion, of remembering who I am, a defense against forgetfulness and the vanishing of important memories. Books offer a reliable future and adventures; I can’t possibly die soon, because I have entirely too much to read.

There is also something powerful about creating objects that have some sort of permanence in the world, like clay dolls or drawings, even if they end up in your neighbor’s garbage or in a box in the back of your great aunt’s closet—maybe they will mean something to someone, maybe they will provoke a mystery or fill some void of longing in someone’s life. I enjoyed the feeling of looking like a mad scientist when I frantically made clay dolls several years ago; my roommate would come home from work to walk in the kitchen and see cookie sheets filled with fresh clay body parts, or Styrofoam blocks with metal interiors of legs and arms sticking up—and I felt like a character in a book.

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Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, several Lynda Barry books, Diane Arbus’s An Aperture Monograph, and Pablo Holmberg’S Eden are current talismans in my living room within view to remind me: to be happy with my lot (there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in as Leonard Cohen sang), to not be afraid of ageing (because I get to be blunt and not have to worry about being sweet and looking pretty and young), to be kind to myself and confront my demons and flaws, to try to be sympathetic and embrace the absurdity that is life, and to maintain a childlike sense of playfulness.

Postscript

Here are my favorites from vintage picture books in my collection. I have not been able to let go of these yet to give to my niece:

A Special Trick by Mercer Mayer (1976); a Ten Editions find

special trick 1

special trick 2

special trick 3

Hag Head by Susan Musgrave and Carol Evans (1989); a Ten Editions find

hag head 1

hag head 2

The GhostEye Tree by Bill Martin, John Archambault, Ted Rand (1988); a Ten Editions find that I remember vividly from childhood

the ghost eye tree

Anna and the Echo-Catcher by Adam John Munthe and Elizabeth Falconer (1981); I purchased at Sellers & Newel in Toronto

anna and the echo catcher 1

anna and the echo catcher 2

The Old Lady Who Ate People: Frightening Stories by Francisco Hinojosa and Leonel Macie (1984); a Ten Editions find

the old lady who ate people

Pink Lemonade by Henrietta Ten Harmsel (1992); this whimsical and vibrant beauty was a Ten Editions find

pink lemonade

Garbage Delight (1977)/Alligator Pie (1974); I’ve had these since childhood

garbage delight

alligator pie

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak (1989); Red River Books

Outside_Over_There_(Maurice_Sendak_book)_cover

outside over there 2

The Magic Circus by Wayne Anderson (1979); found at Red River Books in Winnipeg. I’ve seen so many instances of the artwork torn out of this book and sold online as individual prints.

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magic circus 2

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The Mouse and His Child is a picture novel by Russell Hoban first published in 1967, which I purchased at Balfour Books in Toronto; the animated film, based on the book, is terrifying and beautiful

the mouse and his child 1

The Night the City Sang by Peter Desbarats (1977); I do not celebrate Christmas, but it’s gorgeous!

the night the city sang, use this one

Nicholas Knock and Other People by Dennis Lee (1976); this one I found on a sidewalk in Toronto down my street!

nicholas knock and other people

The Thief and the Blue Rose by Ursula Schaeffler (1967); this was given to me by a friend

thief and the blue rose 1

thief and the blue rose 2

On Cat Mountain by Fracoise Richard (1994); I found this one at BMV in Toronto and was immediately drawn to the textured collage-like illustrations

On Cat Mountain

*Most of the books I found at Ten Editions were between $3-$5. Also, I did not take these photos, but if there is a demand to see more of the artwork, I can take a few photos and post them!

Why Grownups (and Everyone) Should Read YA and Children’s Literature

this one summer intro

Well, to begin with, YA literature consists of some of the most wonderful storytelling in the universe, and a true and decent YA writer does not talk down to children and writes for both children and adult audiences, knowing full well that adults are just overgrown children even more stubbornly set in their ways.

YA literature covers a diverse range of topics from the astute serious to the utmost ridiculous and fantastical. Fantasy books are not to be taken for granted though, as they along with Science Fiction can reveal more about humanity, our desires and fears, than other non-fiction books.

Some of the most truthful life narratives are YA stories, many of which expose the ridiculousness of the adult world and its rituals, such as the tales of Roald Dahl, in which adults do very silly things and are rightfully to blame for many woes and miseries in the world.

In good children’s literature, girls are every bit as capable as boys; they are just as intellectual and imaginative, just as likely to be explorers and learn about the rest of the world, or sometimes just as shy and anxious as boys. Girls are not just fragile and delicate creatures—they can be just as disgusting, vulgar, and wild as boys. Boys and girls can be friends. Homosexuality, bisexuality, and genderqueer characters exist. Boys and girls do not have to ascribe to gender binaries. For example, not all boys need to be interested in activities such as sports and games involving wizards. In good YA literature, not all protagonists are white, and not all non-white protagonists go through the exact same experiences.

Bad children’s literature assumes that it is not enough to be born a boy or a girl, but that a boy must adhere to certain social rules in order to be successful and normal, and the same goes for girls. Many narratives that follow this reasoning are likely rooted in the author’s nostalgia for their romanticized childhood or for the North American patriarchal family structure; this would appeal to an older adult reader who perhaps longs for an imagined wholesome childhood for themselves or their child, not to an actual child living in contemporary society.

Reading as a shy child made me feel a little less lonely and strange, and I really do believe that reading about other peoples’ experiences and views of the world (familiar or new), at any age, helps us connect to each other and deconstruct harmful binaries within society, allowing for more diverse ways of being.

Reading from a young age helped me create my own stories, and acknowledge certain parts of myself and difficult experiences I have had. As the mantra of every hardcore book reader goes, books have always felt like friends. I read a lot as a child and would spend hours in the tree house-like children’s section of McNally Robinson Booksellers, looking for a book as if we had to have some kind of a spiritual connection before I would take it home with me.

I may add to this post in the future, but this is as far as I will venture today. This post was made with so much love and reading memories tumbling back into my thoughts, that it is a bit embarrassing. I will have to stop myself from rambling on and on.

Here is a list of some of my favorite YA and children’s literature reads and a sentence or two on why I believe they should be read—but there is so much more amazing diverse YA stuff out there today than when I was a kid.

The Twits

  • The Twits by Roald Dahl; featuring a nasty older couple who are always trying to make each other and the local wildlife miserable, much to our amusement; a biting and somehow loving commentary on the institution of marriage, as well as a warning on the danger of letting your inner ugliness thrive.

 

The Phantom Tollbooth

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; a funny and punny adventure that should make anyone fall in love with the English language and reading, with lovely intuitive illustrations by Jules Feiffer; they are my favorite children’s book illustrations; shockingly, Feiffer wasn’t crazy about them.

 

Skim

  • Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki; Gorgeous illustrations capturing a queer coming of age narrative, featuring Wiccan aesthetics, and themes such as unrequited love, depression; a realistic narrative about high school friendship. I am such a fan of their work, I cannot recommend them enough!

 

The Thirteen Clocks

  • The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber; featuring alluring alliteration, illustrious illustrations, and a queer quest. This is extremely fun and challenging to read out loud.

 

This One Summer

  • This One Summer, also by the Tamaki cousins; also another book that has been challenged in schools and libraries for language and adult themes related to sexuality, gender, identity; these books consider the emotional intelligence of YA readers and combat cultural myths about a safe, sheltered and idealized childhood.

 

The Book of Lost Things

  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly; a chilling fantasy and horror narrative, best read around Halloween, which also deals with the subject of death, depression, and being kind to yourself.

 

The Graveyard Book

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; best read around Halloween, preferably out loud, and very simply put is about a boy raised in a graveyard, his deceased companions, and the mystery of his circumstances; bonus, illustrations by Dave McKean! Coraline by Neil Gaiman is also a fantastic read.

 

Moomin 2

  • Moomin comic strips by Tove Jansson (her adult literature is also quite wonderful, particularly The Summer Book); chronicles the misadventures of a family of hippo-like creatures and their various anthropomorphic friends and neighbors; beautifully drawn by Jansson and later her son. These stories are brimming with deceptively simple and cute-looking narratives about every day life and heartbreaks. The narratives are also philosophical in nature; somehow they are optimistic, yet they can also serve as wry social commentaries—but above all else they are so very sweet and charming.

Moomin 1

 

A wrinkle in time

  • A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L’Engle; one of my favorites from childhood; features a close-knit family of intellectuals and social misfits and an interdimensional rescue mission and adventure that begins several years after the father goes missing.

 

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  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-exupéry; Cartoonist Joan Sfar also adapted this into a lovely graphic novel. A nice parable about the silliness and seriousness of adults and the sweetness of the world.

 

Watership Down

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams, a heartbreaking and unputdownable read about a cast of rabbits and their culture and mythologies; it may serve as an allegory for so many issues, from wildlife habitat destruction to fascism—but above all else it is a beautifully written and engaging read.

 

The Last Unicorn

  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle; a most perfect fairy tale.

 

Halfworld

  • The Halfworld series by Hiromi Goto; with imperfect complex characters and darkly fantastical and frightening situations, I am in awe of Hiromi Goto’s imagination and talent. Bonus, illustrations by Jillian Tamaki 🙂

 

Tithe

Magic for beginners

  • Tithe by Holly Black was my favorite fantasy novel as a teenager; a love story with a strong imperfect protagonist and an unconventional premise, where the protagonist is the monster and all is not how it seems; also features queer characters. Black is clearly well-versed in fairy tale, folklore, and diverse cultural mythologies, and is a fantastic storyteller.  If you like Holly Black, you may also enjoy Kelly Link (her short story collections Pretty Monsters and Magic for Beginners are so much fun).

 

Charmed Life

  • Charmed Life, and well any book by the word sorceress Diana Wynne Jones.

 

weetzie bat

  • Francesca Lia Block; her work was a favorite when I was much younger, and really opened up the possibilities of reading for fun. Her descriptions of objects and possessions are captivating as she imbues them with unique mythologies and power like talismans. Her storytelling aesthetics are peculiar and addictive to say the least. Her narratives also often feature queer and unconventional characters.

 

Delphine

  • Richard Sala’s work is perfectly campy, and often features strong female protagonists in b movie scenarios (although his works can be haunting and linger in your mind, such as Delphine).

 

A monster calls 2

A monster calls

  • A Monster Calls; deals with the theme of death in a beautiful and suitably spooky way, and is told alongside dark, whimsical, and affecting illustrations.

 

Awake and Dreaming

  • Awake and Dreaming by Kit Pearson; this was a book that haunted me when I first read it, and lives up to that feeling to this day; before this book, I would never have believed that a book could linger and resonate in that way. I loved the protagonist, and I felt thereafter that she was a part of me.

 

Black Hole2

Black Hole

Ghost World

  • Black Hole by Charles Burns and Ghost World by Daniel Clowes; these are essential reads for older teens, dealing with loneliness, the strangeness of aging, the awkwardness and frustrations of being a teenager, sex, the body, depression, anxiety, and so many other important topics.

 

The Wind in the Willows

  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; a charming read with animal characters that lovingly embody the quirks of both adults and children.

 

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one hundred demons 2

  • One Hundred Demons (and everything by Lynda Barry); her body of work is like a love song about the importance of playing, maintaining a sense of wonder and humour about the world, and making artwork. Barry uses girly scrapbook aesthetics to narrate difficult and traumatic experiences, and she draws and brings back the feeling of being a child better and more painfully than any other author or artist I have encountered.

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the absolutely true diary of a part time indian

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; a hilarious and harrowing coming of age story told through comic narration and diary entries by sensitive 14-year-old Indiginous artist “Junior” (Arnold Spirit Jr.) who lives on a reservation in the United States and begins to attend an all-white public high school off-reservation. This book has been challenged for language, frank discussion of sex, homosexuality, mental illness, and the occurence of death; these are things that exist in the world and children sometimes have to deal with. This is a beautiful and ultimately optomistic read and I suggest you go find yourself a copy right now.

 

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek

  • A Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea; a dark fantasy featuring flawed and deeply realistic teenagers and adults.

 

Anna and Froga

  • Anna and Froga by Anouk Ricard; features a deeply flawed and lovable cast of friends, and chronicles their misadventures; you may experience the similar immersive bewitchment of childhood Saturday morning cartoons (at least I did). These comics bring me joy.

 

And a few picture books that I am quite enamored with:

Norbert Nipkin

  • Norbert Nipkin by Robert McConnell; a beautifully illustrated narrative built of poignant rhymes that (without preaching) teaches us to be open minded about people who seem different than ourselves and feel empathy; it is an optimistic book about the possibilities of friendship that can allow us to shape the world in positive ways.

 

Moon Man 3

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Tomi Ungerer 1

  • Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer; much of Ungerer’s work is quite subversive and contains some very dark humor and visual gags, so before sharing his work with your young acquaintances maybe have a look through—although in my experience children will often of their own volition put down a book if they are not quite ready for it. Ungerer’s children’s books were banned in North America until fairly recently when they were republished by Phaidon, as Ungerer notoriously also has a large body of adult erotic artwork and books ;). His dark visual gags include decapitated body parts in a Where’s Waldo-like mob vignette, a hobo with a bloody toe in his rucksack, and so much more that waits gleefully to be discovered.

 

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  • Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch; another book that deals with mortality very well is Cry, Heart, but Never Break; in both books, Death, a subject that is seldom talked about in everyday life, is personified, naturalized, and made less frightening.

cry heart but never break

 

jane the fox and me 2

jane the fox and me 1

  • Jane, the Fox, and Me by Isabelle Arsenault; a large format graphic narrative for all ages about the difficulty of making friends, being kind to yourself, and fitting in.

 

 

The Lion and the bird

  • The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc; a story about an unconventional and cozy friendship, was published by Enchanted Lion Books, and it is very hard to go wrong with books published by this small independent publishing house based in Brooklyn; Ghosts by Marc Boutavant is another clever beauty:

 

Ghosts

 

 

Alice in wonderland 3

Alice in wonderland 2

Alice in wonderland 1

  • Alice in Wonderland by English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll; with so many different versions of illustrations to accompany the original text, it is hard to choose a favorite; lately Ralph Steadman’s illustrations have been a treasure to me, a birthday gift to myself this year. The classic version is also beautiful.

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Elsa and the Night

  • Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren; an unconventional narrative featuring a very strange friendship, that can also be understood as a story about agoraphobia, social anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

 

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  • Jelly Belly, Alligator Pie, and Garbage Delight by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard and Frank Newfeld (the last 2); fantastic Canadian children’s literature that kids will delight in! The poems and artwork are grotesque, whimsical, sometimes frightening, and a whole lot of fun.

 

The Giving Tree

  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; about a boy and a tree and how the expectations of the world sometimes get in the way of friendships, our relationship with nature, and our understanding of ourselves; Silverstein’s poetry books are also a delight, such as Where the Sidewalk Ends; similar to Ungerer, he has illustrated erotic and more mature themed picture books for adults, which I discovered with glee and embarrassment at my grandparents’ apartment when I was a child.

 

I would love some recommendations! Especially regarding diverse narratives, queer narratives, and unconventional fantasy narratives.

(Image at the beginning of the post is from This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki)

On Angela Carter

Nights_at_the_Circus_cover

Angela Carter was born Angela Olive Stalker on May 7th, 1940, in South London. Her father was a Scottish journalist who shared his love of cinema with his daughter (Yule 145). Her stories, displaying dramatic visual language, reflect her interest in the glamour of theatre, with surreal architecture and dramatic settings. Her protagonists are detached from the reader, much as movie stars are detached from the audience, uncanny and never quite sympathetic. Carter has stated that she relies on movies for imagery and plot elements (Yule 145). Her writing seems to borrow psychological elements of surrealism, science fiction and fantasy, mixed with a believable reality; realism mixes with extravagant fantasy “nightmarish dislocation, and Gothic horror” to produce magical realism (Schlueter 91). Carter experiments with the psychological anxieties that are attached to societal norms. She believed that fiction has the ability to “interpret everyday reality through imagery derived from our unconscious, from subterranean areas behind everyday experiences” (Yule 145).

My first encounter with Carter was reading Nights and the Circus, and then The Magic Toy Shop a few days later. Her language is almost encyclopedic yet sensuous and decadent. Reading her work feels like eating a very rich dessert, a dark bitter chocolate with nuggets of something vaguely familiar and too sweet, both disturbing and captivating. In Nights and the Circus, the boisterous, winged Fevvers entices the narrator. The narrator, a reporter, is male and much weaker both physically and personality-wise than Fevvers, so she becomes a fascinating subversion of all that he knows. The aggressive and physically large Fevvers is seemingly magical, but I wonder if this is because of her “wings” or her distinctly masculine characteristics. Carter subverts gender roles so they become defamiliarized for the reader, creating a consciousness of the way that patriarchal roles are imposed in contemporary society.

In The Magic Toy Shop, the protagonist’s uncle dominates over her family, oppressing each member in strange and cruel ways. He is a patriarchal monster, a devil-like presence in the sublime atmosphere of the toy store/ house where the protagonist transforms from indulgent, romantic child to a more pragmatic woman.

Carter’s fairytales deconstruct societal “norms” such as ingrained patriarchal structures within family and politics. Through her writing she “hopes to strip away the artifice and return us to our animal natures” (Shattock 83). In “The Tiger’s Bride” the protagonist is outwardly docile, but her narrative voice reveals her frustration with patriarchal society, and in the end gender roles are subverted when she abandons the restrictive “skin” of her prescribed docile role. As Carter intended, we are forced to strip away our own artifice and confront the idea of ourselves as animals, whose “differences” are mostly constructed and constraining.

Though Carter’s stories are decadent and dream-like, almost beautiful like intricate jewelry, they are also disturbing because they destabilize comfortable or at least familiar ideologies. (Not to mention her vulgarity!) Readers are defamiliarized with violence Carter describes in sensuous prose, and she uses psychological undertones to emotionally provoke the reader; Carter admires William S. Burroughs for his ability to “hit you with an image and let the image act for itself” (Yule 148). She explores feelings and emotions instead of offering a blunt critique of supposedly objective truths. In an interview, she explains that she wants to figure out what “configurations of imagery in our culture really stand for, underneath the kind of semi-religious coating” (Katsavos 11). Having read some of her work, I feel like her stories do bravely attempt to confront and question narratives that we as a culture trust without questioning what they really mean. Carter’s stories are able to create “alternatives to the stultifying sameness of conventional reality” (Bradfield 90); she allows marginalized protagonists to succeed through the power of the imagination. In my research I came across an interview in which she discusses the vulgarity of British popular art, “the absolute filth of it, the total depravity of the English popular imagination” (Katsavos 11). She is clearly fascinated with contemporary culture’s cloak of morality and ideologies of propriety and is not afraid to introduce this hypocrisy of vulgarity into her work. Her Beauty is bitter and conscious that she is a sexualized commodity, and the quirky older protagonists in Wise Children are grotesque, dressing far too young for their ages, wearing layer upon layer of pancake makeup, belching, and lusting. Her protagonists transform from male to female, or female to male, innocent to guilty, or guilty to innocent.

I found the bibliographic information and catalogue research of her work to be helpful, especially learning about her interest in movie plot and structure, and her interest in mythology and folklore motivated by her time studying medieval literature at Bristol University in the 1960’s.  Most medieval romances are so ideologically bent and immersed in their romanticized fantasies of chivalry and morality that they fail to be critical of their societal flaws. I think Carter, unlike medieval writers, attempts to question popular ideologies, and deconstruct cultural ideals—trying to understand what ideologies contemporary society is immersed in. Carter does not promote a “right” way of thinking, but instead critiques those who claim to know objective truths.

Works Cited

Bradfield, Scott. “Remembering Angela Carter.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1994.

Katsavos, Anna. “An Interview with Angela Carter.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall1994.

Schlueter, Paul, and June Schlueter. An Encyclopedia of British women writers. New York: Garland, 1988.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Yule, Jeffrey V. “Angela Carter.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 261 (2002): 144-157.

Exploring Pop Culture Themes in City Treaty, A Poem by Indigenous Poet, Playwright, Author, and Visual Artist Marvin Francis

city treaty

The following is a review and thematic analysis of the poetry narrative City Treaty by Marvin Francis, an Indigenous poet, playwright, author, and visual artist who was based in Winnipeg, MB until his death in 2005 from cancer. This essay is adapted from Indigenous Literature coursework at the University of Winnipeg.

In City Treaty Marvin Francis utilizes a trickster narrator and his sidekick (or alter-ego) “clown” to observe and comment on pop culture themes related to fast food, consumerism, and capitalism. I will use the section “mcPemmican™” to explore three ways that Francis utilizes pop culture themes to critique and defamiliarize readers from flawed and comfortable consumer habits and cultural trends that perpetuate marginalization and stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples. First, Francis expose problematic stereotypes that many consumerist products and fantasies perpetuate; second, Francis uses metaphor and analogy to narrate the injustices Indigenous Peoples were subjected to through colonization; and third, Francis critiques the harmful power dynamics and injustices that consumerism and capitalism perpetuate. Francis deconstructs pop culture themes in order to reconstruct a new city treaty that speaks for Indigenous Peoples. The trickster narrator plays with signifiers, allusions, metaphors, grammar, and even the layout of the poem in order to enact authority over the new “treaty”, often playing with the reader as well. However, unlike treaty agreements that were signed under economic duress by Indigenous Peoples, many unable to read English, the trickster narrator’s new treaty primarily concerns itself with Indigenous issues and experiences.

I will begin with the first way Francis engages in pop culture: he defamiliarizes readers from popular ideas ingrained in contemporary culture in order to expose stereotypes and problematic consumerist trends lurking in these “every day” widely embraced cultural habits. For example, he writes, “they line up to see the real…to buy the grey owl burger/ to touch the other” (7). “They” are everyday people in consumerist culture who buy into the allure and commodification of the exotic “other”, perpetuating a stereotype of this imagined other. Grey owls are typically protected and admired rather than eaten, so those who supposedly eat them are stereotyped as the savage, uncivil, or primitive other. Through buying and eating the “grey owl burger”, the consumer is able to touch the fantasy of the other. Marketing campaigns often use similar gimmicks that promise to fulfill the consumer’s fantasy of touching the “other”, and defining themself by what they are not.  They touch the “other” without actually seeing or interacting with the real. Warren Cariou explains, “the sudden commercial popularity of this new version of Nativeness is a stinging commentary on the construction of authenticity in a capitalistic system. Buyers want ‘to touch the other’ but only do so in a rigidly controlled corporatized space, one in which the ‘other’ has been tamed and made effectively into something not ‘other’ or ‘real’ at all” (8). Grey Owl might also refer to British-born conservationist Archibald Belaney (1888-1938), who took on the First Nations identity of Grey Owl as an adult—and other white figures who might sometimes profit from or exploit Indigenous culture, while having the privileges that are not open to Indigenous Peoples the rest of the time; they have not had to endure Indigenous hardships such as racism and disenfranchisement.

Francis hints at the problematic sellable fantasy of Indigenous culture when he asks, “Would you like some lies with that?”(6), defamiliarizing readers with the fast food chain McDonald’s catch-phrase “would you like some fries with that?” Here he draws the connection between the danger of branded, stereotype-perpetuating marketing campaigns and the danger of a consumer culture that promotes uniformity, reproducibility, addiction, and unhealthy consumption—manifest for example, in the unhealthy, overly-consumed, and mass-produced McDonald’s French Fries; a product popular in poorer communities because of its affordability. Fast food is untrustworthy, associated with inhumane slaughtering processes, cheap labor, and sacrificing quality for immediacy and affordability. Francis further illuminates the problematic commodified fantasy of Indigenous culture when he writes, “you must package this in/ bright colours…just like beads” (6). The word “packaging” suggests a façade, an exterior that hides the package’s contents, a superficial appeal or a marketing gimmick, a hook or a trap. The word “beads” alludes to cultural appropriation of Indigenous clothing aesthetics, such as beadwork that are not authentic to Indigenous culture. The “mystery meat” is what is packaged; the content of the package is not as important as the fantasy the packaging offers. Elsewhere in his long poem Francis exposes more stereotypes that consumers buy into by defamilarizing pop culture references: Mohawk gas, the Atlanta Braves, Jeep Grand Cherokees, and Disney (Cariou 10). Francis “defamiliarizes” to expose the danger, damage, and duress of the familiar.

The second way Francis utilizes popular culture, through metaphor and defamiliarization, is he illustrates how the colonization of Indigenous Peoples has instigated issues such as poverty within Indigenous communities. Francis uses pop culture to outline the history of Indigenous Peoples and show how the effects of colonialism seep into contemporary pop culture. His poem suggests that treaty agreements were like cheap consumer products that promised more than they could deliver. Similarly, advertisements promise products that will make the consumer happy or beautiful, offering more than they can deliver. Consumer culture commodifies femininity and masculinity, and perpetuates unrealistic ideals or fantasies that might negatively impact the way we see ourselves. Similarly, for Indigenous Peoples, “treaties have never had the value that they were purported to have, because the most powerful parties — colonial governments and corporations — have re-interpreted them or ignored them at their whim, converting them into lies” (Cariou 11). Additionally, through his use of the trademark symbol (™), Francis “links private corporate ownership to treaty agreements” (Cariou 2). Signed under economic duress, the treaties perpetuated a disparity of power, widening the gap between the wealthy and poor, the colonizers and the colonized; treaties, similar to trademarks, perpetuate an economic relationship, “one in which already impoverished people are required to give up even more to the institutions that so severely limit their options” (Cariou 6). Francis writes, “let the poor in take their money take their health / sound familiar/ chase fast food off the cliff”, referencing Indigenous Peoples’ limited options; often, poorer communities have no choice but to eat at places like McDonald’s. The outcome of treaties results in fast food chains that are, as Warren Cariou suggests, “shown to be natural extensions of welfare policies and the systemic marginalization of urban Native people” (7). When Francis writes “chase fast food off the cliff” he conjures imagery of traditional buffalo hunts where buffaloes were chased off the cliff to their death. In juxtaposing this imagery with fast food, he seems to suggest that Indigenous Peoples have been “chased off the cliff”; systematically, they have been forced to abandon healthier eating habits for fast food, which leads to poor health, diabetes, and eventually death. Furthermore, treaties ignored Indigenous Peoples’ needs and grievances (many still ignored by the Canadian government) such as problems arising from residential school abuse, land claim discrepancies, and the colonizer’s systematic attempts at annihilating Indigenous culture, community, and tradition. Children were taken from their homes and placed into residential schools that enforced strictly Christian ideologies, and children were often subjected to violent and sexual abuse in these schools. The perpetrators of abuse “were the care-givers: school superintendents, teachers, priests, nuns, brothers, and lay staff hired to maintain the facilities. But students themselves also became abusers, and engaged in the physical and sexual abuse of other students” (Waldram 230); daily life consisted of fear and terror for many (Waldram 236). Francis suggests—through associating the treaties with corporations—that the Indigenous people, in signing, granted ownership of land and people to the European monarchy; nature became something people own and the Indigenous people themselves became property of the treaty contracts.

The third way Francis utilizes pop culture is through a critique of consumerism and capitalistic structures that oppress Indigenous Peoples and perpetuate cycles of poverty, addiction, poor education, abuse, and loss of tradition—to name a few. When Francis writes, “you must package this in/ bright colours…just like beads” (6), he draws from ideas of “traditional” Indigenous beadwork and clothing design, imitated in popular culture through, for example, the fashion industry and “Western” films that borrow elements of Indigenous culture and then distort or mimic them to perpetuate a stereotype or fantasy. The phrase “you must package this” also alludes to consumerist marketing strategies —advertisements on packages meant to spark within consumers the desire to buy into their product’s fantasy. White colonizers introduced beads along with other novelties, such as mirrors and weapons, in exchange for valuable furs; Francis alludes to the beginning of white colonizers’ corporate exploitation of Indigenous Peoples. Cariou writes, “In the Canadian North-West, as well as in many other global contact zones, the first major colonial presence was corporate, not governmental. The North-West Territories was literally owned by fur-trading companies before it was sold to the fledgling government of Canada in 1868-70” (5).  In “My Urban Rez”, a commentary for the magazine Canadian Dimension, Francis describes contemporary issues arising from capitalism and corporate displacement, such as the disparity between classes, poverty perpetuating fast food and addiction, poor health, and stereotypes. He writes, “Fast-food outlets, convenience stores, taxis and the bars all grab their share of the Indigenous migrant dollar. This is hardly news, as arson replaces the smoke signals from a campfire. The hearts of the cities, the malls, are all loaded with things that you cannot buy, but the monster of media demands that you do“(1). Francis argues that capitalistic structures deeply rooted in Canada’s colonial history make it nearly impossible for Indigenous Peoples to break from cycles of poor health and poverty and that one way to “succeed” involves giving into the stereotypes. He writes, “The city is a place where money rules and if you must, and many do, you trade your culture for cash. Although genuine traditional Aboriginals exist, the plastic Shaman slinks along the fringes of the actual Aboriginal culture(s), preying on those who need help the most” (Dimensions 1). He goes on to explain that contemporary “avant-garde” artwork does not sell as well as “a painting of Aboriginal deities, or the rural, hunting, natural landscape imagery, or enticing shots of Indian maidens” (1). Francis incorporates these thoughts into City Treaty when he writes, “cash those icons in” (6); Cariou explains that Francis addresses Indigenous people here, warning them that the corporation will “then make a profit selling it (stereotypes) to everyone, including selling it back to you” (Cariou 8). Here Francis utilizes pop culture to critique consumerism and capitalism. Speaking at times very straightforwardly to an Indigenous audience, Francis lays out the truth of the treaties, and offers a more honest treaty—one that does not make false promises, but instead exposes them.

Francis interacts with pop culture in the three ways I have illustrated: first, defamiliarizing readers from contemporary pop culture norms and fast food products; second, exposing the devastating colonial history of Indigenous Peoples, through pop culture allusions and metaphors; and third, exposing problematic consumer and capitalistic trends ingrained in popular culture. The narrator of the new treaty acts like the Cree trickster figure that resists hegemonic powers through his/her ambiguity and ability to trick or confuse the audience and the dominant culture. The narrator writes, “I can knot/ will not/ just like hem/ ing way/ instead/ we found/ some” (7); he claims the white colonizer’s power to “create” and to influence; like Hemmingway, he too can be ambiguous and withhold narrative detail or clarity. He refuses to cater to the expectations of the audience or perpetuate a fantasy of Indigenous poets. Thomas King writes that the danger of labeling Indigenous literature as “postcolonial” is that it assumes that contemporary Native writing is largely “a construct of oppression” (185). Francis’ narrative rejects being defined by oppression—instead it reclaims autonomy denied to Indigenous Peoples during the original treaty process (and outcome). The narrator writes the “city” treaty in order to propose a new future, one in which Indigenous Peoples speak out, create, and expose contemporary and historical problems and injustices. The narrator sits in a restaurant with the somber clown figure at “one table reserved by the window” (20); they gaze out at society, gaining autonomy through their ability to judge and expose historical and cultural injustices. However, Francis suggests that they too are trapped, like two figures in a museum exhibit; they “look out the window”(7). Although the window table is “reserved” for them, they do not necessarily reserve it. Francis reveals their awareness of being watched and judged when he writes that they “must look busy/ act important”. Thus, although the two figures reclaim autonomy through writing the “city” treaty, they also represent a history of oppression and constant prejudiced judgement. However, as Armand Garnett Ruffo writes, “As the tradition of Native spirituality is inherent in the literature, beginning with European contact, so too is the tradition of addressing historical, secular concerns” (Where the Voice 664); Edward Said also illustrates the importance of literary voices that reveal all subjective experiences when he writes, “the power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them” (Ruffo 664). White men dominate the archived voices of history, so it is imperative for contemporary writers to challenge consequentially one-sided historical accounts. As Ruffo notes, Native literature must exist “if authentic Native voice(s) are to be heard and addressed within a country which, to date, has been satiated by projections of what Native people are supposed to be”(667). Through City Treaty Francis answers the call, ingrained in the ambitions of Indigenous literature, to address Indigenous people themselves, “so that they can empower and heal themselves through their own cultural affirmation, as well as address those in power and give them the real story” (Ruffo 672). The narrator of the poem, and Francis, reclaim autonomy denied to Indigenous Peoples in the original treaty process; the narrator writes a new city treaty that speaks for Indigenous Peoples’ experiences and concerns within contemporary society.

Works Cited

Cariou, Warren. “‘How Come These Guns Are so Tall’: Anti-corporate Resistance in Marvin Francis’s City Treaty.” Studies in Canadian Literature / Études en littérature canadienne 31.1 (2006): n. pag. journals.hil.unb.ca. Web. 20 Feb.2013.

Francis, Marvin. “My Urban Rez”. Canadian Dimension (November 2004): n. pag.http://canadiandimension.com/articles/1950/. Web 20 Feb. 2013.

King, Thomas. “Godzilla Vs. Postcolonial.” Short Fiction Notes and Supplements. Web.20th Feb. 2013.

Waldram, James B. Revenge of the Windigo: The Construction of the Mind and Mental Health of North American Aboriginal Peoples. University of Toronto Press, 2004. Print.

Ruffo, Armand Garnett. “Where the Voices Were Coming From,” Eds. Paul DePasquale, Renata Eigenbrod & Emma LaRocque.  Across Cultures Across Borders:  Canadian Aboriginal and Native America Literatures.  Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2010. Print.

Ruffo, Armand Garnett. “Why Native Literature.” Native North America: Critical and Cultural Perspectives. Toronto:ECW Press, 1999. Print.