“Which is closer for Searching in Searcy?” Sagacia asked, pulling a pair of capri pants out of the dryer and shaking them. “To come to Phoenix with us and listen to fairy tales at the Fairy Tale Lobby Story Swap at the NSN Conference? Or to go to Hagerstown, Maryland to hear Jane Dorfman tell tales from the Arabian Nights? Or to head for New York to hear fairy tales at the statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park?”
Simplia clicked away on her laptop. “Um, let’s see. Okay, it’s 19 hours from Searcy, Arkansas, to Phoenix, Arizona, . . .” she said, tap-tap-tapping further. “And it’s 14 hours from Searcy to Hagerstown.” Clickety-click, click, tap. “And . . . over 18 hours to Central Park in New York,” she added with a sigh.
“Oh, Darn!” Sagacia huffed, draping the finger-pressed pants over a hanger. “She’ll probably choose Hagerstown.”
“Yeah,” Simplia said flatly.
“I was hoping she would come to Phoenix so I could meet her.”
“Yeah. Whatever,” Simplia said.
Sagacia looked at her friend.
“I mean, whatever she decides, she’ll hear some good stories,” Simplia explained.
“That’s good, right?” asked Sagacia
“Yeah,” her friend answered. “I guess.”
“So, why do you sound so sad?” Sagacia persisted.
“I don’t know,” Simplia said, heaving a sigh of existential despair.
But after a few silent moments, she added, “Well, I do know, actually. See, I’ve been reading about all those children,” she said. “Those child refugees from Central America fleeing their homelands. Can you imagine what it would take to get you to leave your town and your home? How terrible things would have to be? And then what those kids must have gone through to get to our borders? Yet, there they are, just hoping, hoping, hoping to find safety or family or something. Something to provide—I don’t know—comfort, a life saver, anything to hold on to in the ongoing assault of their lives.”
“Oh, me!” Sagacia said, sitting down beside her, crumpling a half folded T-shirt. “I have been trying not to think about it, but I do know just how you feel! So helpless! What can we do?”
Simplia shook her head hopelessly, and Sagacia sighed.
After a few moments, she got up, refolded the T-shirt and stacked it with the others, then reached into the dryer for the next garment. Her hand touched — not a soft, fluffy pouf of fabric — but a crisp, scrolled up piece of parchment or stiff paper. Surprised, she jerked her hand back out and leaned over to peek inside.
It was paper. Spindled into a scroll. Simplia noticed it, too, and watched closely as Sagacia reached inside to retrieve it, then carefully unrolled it. Sagacia turned the paper toward her friend to show the writing inside, then she read it aloud:
Dear Vasilisa the Wise:
Have you noticed how life imitates art? Or is it art imitates life? Or both?
I’ve been thinking about that ever since I read something Marilyn McPhie said on Storytell. She said:
But on a storytelling-related note — hearing the voices of parents who say that they sent their children north, knowing the dangers, because they felt that there was no hope for them at home and perhaps there might be some hope of a better life if they sent them away — I couldn’t help thinking about “Hansel and Gretel” and other tales of children abandoned because there was not enough food to sustain them all. Gives a different spin on the story — maybe.
What I’ve been thinking is that, in this case and in others, life and stories bend and fold on one another, sometimes to an almost exact fit! I remember when I first began telling La Llorona in 1994, tentatively, thinking it a wild tale about something that never really happened, and then within months, Susan Smith drowned her children, and in 2001, Andrea Yates, and then in 2008, Casey Anthony.
Do these true stories shed light on the wonder tales, or do the tales shed light on the real events? I think both, actually. You just can’t help thinking about one without the other!
But what I really want to know is, are there other pairings of stories and actual current news events that line up in a way to astonish us even more; to make us wonder about both the truth and the tale more deeply? And wonder about ourselves, too? And hopefully allow us to grip the importance of such tales in our lives? I think wrestling with this will make me a better storyteller.
Wondering in Wyoming
By the time Sagacia finished reading, Simplia had already googled the stories of the drowned children and was staring wide-eyed at the screen. She put her hands to her lips and shook her head.
“This sounds like a question for our magical friends,” she said. “I’m not sure even Vasilisa could answer this one!”