Thinking Like Cinderella – Or, Your Godmother Isn’t Coming

A victim waiting for a hero remains a victim.

Or, to rephrase the same principle: An ordinary person waiting to be transformed by an extraordinary event… remains ordinary.

Consider Cinderella.

Events moved her from a comfortable position (favorite daughter of a doting father) to an uncomfortable position (father dies, leaving her in the care of wicked stepmother and co.).

She remains in this new position, doing housework, fetching and carrying and slaving away, singing as she works, (and befriending the household vermin, depending on which version of the story you prefer), and does… nothing.

Oh, she works very hard, but it’s the same hard work every day. Actions → consequences; same actions → same consequences. In other words, Cinderella does as much to maintain the status quo as her persecutors.

And there’s no doubt that she would be there still, scrubbing the floors and singing to the soap bubbles, if events hadn’t intervened again, all but forcing her into Prince Charming’s arms.

(Even keeping in mind that Cinderella lived in a pre-industrial, pre-suffrage world, with limited economic opportunities for anybody, she could still have taken some kind of action. Presumably she knew how to read and write, since her father was a wealthy merchant. Didn’t any of the shopkeepers in town want a wife who could do sums? She could have run away and joined a convent, if nothing else.)

I love fairy tales, but they are fairy tales – and in our non-fairy world, it’s dangerous to think and act as though we expect our fairy godmother to come along at any moment and arrange our marriage….

… or our career change, or our education, or our makeover, or our happiness….

Any day can be a day that changes your life. I think it depends a lot less on circumstances than on how closely you’re paying attention.

I’ll share one day that changed my life, because I was paying attention.

I was unemployed (strike one), still living at home with my parents (strike two), and unhappy about it (strike three). My former employer had gone out of business, and I was looking (not very hard) for a job that would pay enough to either cover the gas for the commute (and it would be a long commute – my parents live a long way from everywhere) or enough for me to move out into my own apartment. I had no college degree and very little work experience, and it seemed nobody was hiring at the wage level I calculated I needed to move out or commute – or at least, they weren’t hiring people like me. (This was not long after the 2008 crash.)

To kill time while I waited for the magic job to appear, I enrolled in a class at the local junior college. (Forty-five minutes from home, one way, nothing but empty highway and lonely gas stations on the way. I told you this was the middle of nowhere.) I no longer remember what the class was.

The first night, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves to the class with our name and our goal or purpose for taking the course.

I have never heard any room of otherwise unrelated strangers sound so unanimous.

I’m waiting for a job opening.

I’m waiting for the economy to improve.

I’m waiting for a better….

I’m waiting until…

I’m waiting…

Normally this would be my cue to feel superior (always a lovely warm feeling). But as the introduction train made its way to me, I stood up and heard myself say “I’m waiting to get a good enough job so I can afford to move out.”

The instructor’s polite expression read somewhere between disgust and despair. She looked around the room of Cinderellas, and you could see her thinking: What am I supposed to do with this lot?

I did a lot of thinking on the drive home. (One of the great benefits of living in Nowhere, USA; you have lots of time to think while you drive.)

I didn’t know what I could do, but I decided that I would stop waiting. No more drifting along hoping vaguely for a fairy godmother or angel investor or lottery ticket to change the course of my life. I was going to do something.

(I had a job within three days; I moved out of my parents’ house a week after that. But that’s a different story.)

The only reason we know Cinderella – besides the nonsense with the glass slippers – is because her fairy godmother took matters into her own hands.

Cinderella was just waiting.

And she would have kept waiting forever if her fairy godmother had lost her address or her wand or her interest.

Waiting is easy. All you have to do is keep doing what you’ve always done. Sure, nothing will change, but you’ll never be surprised or disappointed. Dissatisfied, but not disappointed.

I love fairy tales, but I don’t live in one.

Neither do you.

Stop thinking like Cinderella. Stop waiting, and act.

What Will You Do to Prove You’re No Coward?

Dares haven’t moved me since I was seven or so.  I don’t care if anyone else thinks I’m a coward. Most people who care about dares are idiots. For evidence: the Darwin Awards.

But apparently I care a lot if I think I’m a coward.

I chickened out of something last week, and now I’m sorry.

I had an assignment from my business class to interview ten business owners. I talked to a few, but I didn’t talk to ten… mostly because calling strangers and asking them personal questions is outside my comfort zone.

Leaving the assignment incomplete bothered me, but not nearly as much as feeling like a coward.

So I started the new week looking for a way to prove my non-cowardice to myself.

And then someone announced a blood drive this Saturday.

Now, I have a thing about needles.

Not a fear of needles.

I assure you, when I walk across an empty parking lot after dark, I don’t look over my shoulder for any needles sneaking up on me. I don’t turn pale when I see a pack of needles in the craft section. When I was learning how to quilt and the sewing machine needle ran over my finger, it didn’t give me nightmares.

So not a fear.

But when the healthcare professionals in my life draw my blood to determine What’s Wrong With Her (‘There must be something to explain it,’ they say), I begin experiencing the following symptoms before the needle even touches my skin: shortness of breath, chills, dizziness, nausea, faintness, weakness, clamminess, blurred vision, buzzing in the ears….

It’s just a thing. Definitely not a phobia. Who needs one of those?

And I’m always very proud of the bandage they give me. Look! I want to say. I bled for this! And I didn’t even punch anybody for sticking a needle in me!

So, because it’s not comfortable to live with the ‘COWARD??’ label hanging around in my head, me and my thing are going to a blood drive this morning.

For the first time.

They’re going to take a whole pint.

(I am going to die.)

And maybe next time I need to do something uncomfortable, I’ll remember that it’ll be much less painful to do the uncomfortable thing now than to do the terrifying thing I come up with later to reassure myself of my non-cowardice.

I’m sure this says something about my character. Or my mental health.

Or both.

Wish me luck.

[Update: I live! And now I have this t-shirt. I won’t call it free, since I had to bleed for the darn thing, but it is a nice t-shirt. And with the COWARD label banished once more, all is well in the world. For now….. (ominous music)]

Light Keeps Going

I love the stars. I lived in the Texas Hill Country for many years. In the front yard you could look straight up and see the milky way like a bright splash across the sky. (I honestly never learned to identify any constellations fancier than the Big Dipper and Orion, though.)

The beautiful thing about star light is that the light we see on earth today is actually ancient. That light has been traveling for thousands or millions of years to reach us (depending on how far away the star in question is).

That means that there are some stars we might see tonight that actually went out years and years ago, but since the light is traveling from so far away, the end of that light hasn’t reached us. In other words, to us, those dead stars are still shining.

And our planet isn’t the end of the universe, either. All the starlight that we see doesn’t stop because it’s reached the end of its journey. That light doesn’t know who sees it; it just keeps going.

Space is infinite. So in theory, because light keeps going, stars shine forever – somewhere. Light never stops.

I’ve seen the good acts of others cause echoes in other people’s lives that keep going for generations. A good man once shared a piece of advice with me that he had received from his mentor in his youth. I realized as I listened to him that his mentor was a good and humble man who had no idea that his words were still being repeated – and bringing great comfort – decades later.

You might worry that you’re one small person in one big universe, and you can’t possibly make a difference.

Don’t worry about it. Just shine.

You’ll never know which kind words and good deeds make a difference, just as a star doesn’t know as it shines which particles of light will take your breath away on a cold clear night. But stars keep on shining anyway, and our dark nights are more beautiful for it.

Your light will change lives. It will change you. It will change those around you. Be kind. Be brave. Be honest.

Just shine.

Because light keeps going.

 

Freaky Friday Prompt #002

I spent multiple days this week convinced that it was Thursday. This kind of Calendar Dislocation is pretty common for me…. and it usually causes some (amusing) problems when I can’t be on the same calendar page as everyone else.

Your character is going through his normal routine (feed the dogs, hack the computer mainframe, hide the evidence, whatever) but everyone around him is acting a little strange. Turns out he’s forgotten what day it is….

How I Love Spanish…

Let me count the ways.

1) I grew up in Texas, and grocery shopping happened at Fiesta a lot more often than it happened at Kroger. One of my early memories is of standing in the aisle at Fiesta and hearing two small dark passionate women chatter away very fast in a language I didn’t know. It sounded so mysterious! Dramatic! I wanted to know what they were saying. I wanted to know what they were so excited about. Were they comparing generic brands of corn flour, or was this a real life soap opera episode without the subtitles? The curiosity killed me! (But I came back.)

I imagined up entire conversations for strangers who looked like Hispanic versions of my own grandmother, and imagined understanding every word without ever showing that I understood. They would never guess! I would be like a spy! (I have always loved the idea of being a spy. Age and reflection has brought me to realize it would be very uncomfortable to actually be a spy, but I still pretend sometimes.)

2) Everything in Texas has Spanish subtitles, from the signs in grocery store aisles to the warning signs on the beach telling stupid tourists not to go out and drown themselves. On one vacation my dad pointed one of these signs out to me. “Danger!” it warned. “Peligros!”

“What do you think a peligro is?” he asked me. “They must be dangerous. We should find out what they look like so one doesn’t take us by surprise.”

After some discussion it was agreed that peligros are large migratory birds, about the same size as an albatross, but with huge red beaks and terrible claws. They may also breathe fire; I don’t recall. But even now, whenever I think of the beach, I remember the importance of keeping an eye out for peligros.

3) When I was thirteen or so I read a book – an introduction to Spanish, I think – that mentioned how many million people in the world speak Spanish. I remember looking at that number. It seemed vast. Huge. Crushing.

All those people will never be my friend, I thought, because I won’t be able to understand them, and they won’t be able to understand me!

(I understand that it takes a lot more than a common language or even a common homeland to make friends. I’m certainly not friends with every Texan. But it helps.)

Being an impatient person even then, my very next thought was, It’ll be a lot faster for me to learn Spanish than to wait for all of them to learn English. And then we’ll be able to be friends after all!

And then I cheered up and started learning how to count. Uno amigo, dos amigos, tres amigos…

4) One hot summer day, my family was on a bike ride in the Texas Hill Country (great training territory for athletes, great scenic country for rambling drives, but horrible terrain for beginning bicyclists, because there is no such thing as flat). My dad and I were laboring up a steep hill. I told him to go on without me; I was going to pull over and quietly expire in the roadside prickly pear cactus.

“No!” he said. “Don’t stop now! We’re going to Mamacitas after this! Think of the fajitas!”

“Fajitas,” I said weakly, squinting through the heat waves.

“Fajitas!” he cried.

And then we began to chant together: “Fa! He! Tas! Fa! He! Tas!”

I live to this day, so clearly it was an effective rallying cry.

5) Speaking of fajitas: tortillas, guacamole, refried beans and rice, chips and salsa, queso, quesadillas, tamales, and chorizo and eggs. And Mexican chocolate!

6) Whenever you are feeling loud and colorful, there is nothing like exclaiming some Spanish phrase at the top of your lungs to express your feelings. It doesn’t even have to be relevant; if it’s Spanish, and as long as you roll all your Rs, you will achieve High Drama near instantly.

“Que hora es!”

7) I just like it, okay? It’s a beautiful language, spoken (in my experience) by warm and friendly people. I may never be as fluent as I once dreamed of in the aisles of Fiesta, but I will always love Spanish.

Me llamo Raquel, y soy de Tejas. ¿Como se llama?

Freaky Friday Prompt #001

Your character (hereafter known as ‘you’) is waiting at a bus/tram/taxi/train station. A stranger comes up and asks you what your favorite murder method is. They’re not joking.

What happens next?

Write responsibly 🙂

Weekly Short Story Challenge

A short story ranges from 1,000-10,000 words.

At an average typing speed of 50 words per minute, it takes 20 minutes to write 1000 words. From there, it takes about 3 1/2 hours to write 10,000 words.

So there’s no reason why you can’t write a short story a week, right?

(Muffled maniacal laughter.)

But seriously. One of my favorite stories about Picasso (basically the only story I know about Picasso) tells how, at the request of a near-stranger (or acquaintance or in-law or postal worker; like many stories, this one has warped in the retelling), he drew their portrait with a single pencil stroke. (Maybe this was a skinny guy. Or he was drawing their good side, and it didn’t take much.)

Picasso then asked for $5000. When his acquaintance/in-law/mailman/now-less-enthusiastic-fan protested, Picasso pointed out that while it only took a moment and a single line to draw the requested portrait… it took his whole life to learn to draw like that.

This is where most people wax poetic about a lifetime dedication to art and fixing a monetary value to your work and so on and so forth.

This is where I think Hmmm. So with enough practice, great art can be produced with ease and speed.

This write-a-short-story-a-week challenge is not new or unique, but it is valuable. If you’d like to join me in a quest to become as proficient (and maybe someday as expensive) as Picasso (but with words instead of pencils), then come aboard! Adventurers wanted!

I Choose to Choose

The first reason I don’t drink coffee is because it’s against the Word of Wisdom – the health code that I believe in as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (you know us as those weird Mormons).

The second reason I don’t drink coffee is because I get scary hyperactive just on sugar. A handful of Skittles can make me vibrate in place so hard I blur around the edges. The world is not ready for me on caffeine.

But the last reason I don’t drink coffee is because there are too many choices. Starbucks has a menu more than a meter long for just one beverage! And I don’t even speak the coffee language well enough to understand what all those choices mean. Latte? Cappuccino? Decaffeinated? (Why?)

Just like setting up this website, in fact. So many choices! Options and themes and plugins and styles and colors and oh my!

Decision fatigue is a real thing. So I often stand at the threshold of decision, hesitating to step out because, as long as I don’t choose yet, I can’t make the wrong choice. So I’ve hesitated to start a Real Writer (TM) website. I’ve hesitated to start a blog. I’ve hesitated to choose a pen name. (This isn’t one, by the way.)

Today, I choose to choose. Maybe I’ll choose wrong. Maybe my website will be hideous. Maybe my blog will be the newest non-addictive anesthetic of choice for people going into surgery.

But definitely I can choose again. If I’m brave enough to make the first choice.

I choose to try.