Simplia was in the process of cleaning out the porch light globes. She was trying to get all the end-of-summer chores done before winter set in. Rather than bring out the stepladder, which would then have to be put away, she had climbed onto the seat of a patio chair. Her reach exceeded her grasp, the globe almost slipped out of her hands; and as she fumbled to save it, dessicated body parts of long-dead moths fluttered into her face.

“Stupid moths,” she said. “What draws them to that scorching light. What are they hoping they’ll find?”

Sagacia, raking leaves over the wilted crowns of the plants in her perennial bed, looked up and said, “I’m not sure moths are equipped for hoping.”

Her rake, rustling through the leaves, made a rasping sound that drew both Simpletons’ attention to the ground at her feet, where they saw a large manila envelope lying face up. No return address. No stamp. The Mailmouse had not dropped it. Indeed, it was too large for the Mailmouse  to have wrangled it in the first place. Addressed to: Vasilisa the Wise.

“Happy 3rd of the month,” the Simpletons said in unison. “Let’s see whose writing this time.”

Vas sweetie —

What a surprise to see you in New York last week at the slam! I noticed you did not put your name in the hat, and you declined the score sheet they were handing out. But I watched your face as those stories were being told, and I could see that you were thoroughly into a few of them. You warmed my heart. A lot of our cohorts from across the pond, and many here in the U.S. as well, distrust the slam scene. Many friends have told me, With so much great folklore in danger of being forgotten, this Slam phenomenon is, at best, a waste of time, and it might be counter-productive to the preservation of genuine stories. I’ve heard intimations that Americans are afflicted with narcissism — probably borne of a Horatio Alger mindset and the perpetuation of the myth that in America, if a person wants something bad enough, all that is needed is hard work, determination, and a couple of bootstraps.

Well…I don’t buy that Horatio Alger paradigm. And I do believe the Cult of the Individual makes for a narcissistic view of the rest of the world. But I don’t believe the U.S.’s fascination with personal stories is necessarily narcissistic. Personally, I think it’s a response to finding oneself rootless in unfamiliar soil. Carrying the horticultural metaphor further, I liken North Americans, and I am one of them, whose forebears came to this continent less than 500 years ago as an “exotic” species. Some have naturalized, some have languished, and some have become invasive. But none of us are connected to the landscapes, the geology, the climates of our DNA. In fact, so many of us are an alphabet soup of DNA, with no particular landscape, geology, or climate predominant. We have no symbols, no mythic characters, no epics to remind us who we are and where we come from. 

I think our fascination with personal stories is deeper than a simplistic exhibitionist/voyeur interpretation. We’re approaching our roots from the ground down. We would if we could, but we can’t create stories for the ages. Personal stories die when their teller dies. But while s/he was alive, perhaps that teller of personal tales illuminated some motif, some universal truth, some connection that helped ground those who listened.

This is a subject that fascinates me. Artistically, I find myself with a foot on both sides of the divide between Genuine Fairy Tales and Personal (non)Fictions. I would love to know what your friends at that little tea room — I think it’s called The Fairy Tale Lobby or something like that — have to say about my hypothesis.


Straddling in Strasbourg

p.s. Can’t wait til Liepzig! Remember last year?

Sagacia took off her work gloves and, with the rake slung over her shoulder, started toward the garden shed.

Simplia called after her, “Bring the stepladder when you come back, would you?”

“Let’s call it a day,” said Sagacia. “I want to see what our Magical Friends at the Fairy Tale Lobby have to say in response to Straddling in Strasbourg.”