Faerie Life

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who believed in faeries. (Spoilers: she’s now a grownup who believes in faeries.)

From my earliest memories, faeries have been at the center of my mythological world. I’m an only child, and my main entertainment growing up was playing pretend. The first thing I can recall pretending to be was a faerie named Theresa.

There was a broken tree in the woods behind my house, just after you crossed over the edge of our yard, a short, safe-but-still-thrilling distance into the forest. Around the back of the tree was an empty space in the crook of where a now-broken branch once met the trunk. It was a shadowy, spider-webby hole, and one day, I wrote a note and placed it carefully in this hole. It was an invitation to a tea party, addressed to “a fairy.” I know I was in elementary school, because I included my hours of availability (weekends and after 3 p.m.). Some days later, I found a reply written on the back—in my father’s handwriting—from one Theresa the Fairy.

More than anything else, I wanted to really see faeries. I have fleeting, uncertain recollections: Did I really see a faerie, tinged a glowing blue the way Tinkerbell glows yellow, behind my television set? Or is that clear image just what I imagined I might see if I saw one? Did I see a faerie down by the post office near my grandparents’ house, or was it, again, a memory of a daydream? My grandmother told me, one day when we were walking in the woodlot—a piece of land my grandparents owned out on a little island on the Maine coast—that she’d seen leaves standing upright on the forest floor, dancing in a circle, and she knew it was faeries.

Early in the summer after my sixth grade year, my mother and I went into an independent toy shop in Portsmouth, NH called Treetop Toys. It’s a charming place on a street that overlooks the Piscataqua River. You have to step up quite a ways through the door, and inside, there are wooden floors, mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and toys everywhere. I remember the day perfectly: I was wandering out from the back of the shop when, on a shelf and propped against the wall…there it was.

Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee.

$40 was a lot for a book back then, but my mother agreed to buy it for me as my “graduation present.” I took it home and I poured over it, treasuring every handwritten word, every wild, scribbly pencil drawing, every exquisite watercolor.

It changed how I looked at the world of faeries. It changed my understanding of folklore. It changed how I drew and how I wrote. It changed my life.

I hungered for more. Countless hours were spent at the Portsmouth Public Library, an old, dim brick building that the city has since abandoned for a newly built, modern facility. Up on the third floor were the nonfiction stacks, and I’d climb up the shelves to sit in a window where the sill was not really wide enough and read from Katharine Briggs’ Encyclopedia of Fairies. Everything I wrote and drew, from my own stories to the text RPGs I took part in on the nascent internet, was infused with and informed by faerie folklore.

But the years passed, and other interests took over. My later high school years and my college years were consumed by anime. After college, there was the void of post-grad school exhaustion, then Victorian England and paganism. It was paganism that finally led me back to Faerie.

I met some of the most amazing people in my life through paganism. Our dear friends Bridget and Jenn had raved, ever since we knew them, about a magical, perfect place in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania called the Spoutwood Farm May Day Fairie Festival. They told us over and over how safe, how happy, how utterly soul-filling this weekend of faerie revelry was. There, children and adults dressed in faerie costumes and danced to heart-stirring music. Delicious food and handmade treasures were everywhere. And everyone was filled with joy and love and kindness, for each other and for the earth. You will LOVE IT THERE, they told us. Finally, Rachel and I planned and saved up, and we attended our first Fairie Festival with Bridget and Jenn in 2013.

It was everything they said it would be.

The years since 2013 have been pretty hard—and at the same time, they’ve been full of such love and wonder. The promise of the Fairie Festival every year has gotten me through some really rotten times, and the natural high of being in a place so suffused with love, acceptance, and whimsy stays with me long after I’ve gone home.

Last night, when we were in bed, Rachel turned to me and said, in an excited whisper: “Nine more sleeps until we sleep at Spoutwood!” Of course, we’re not literally staying at Spoutwood Farm, but the entire area—the rolling fields, verdant tangled woods, and winding rock-edged roads of southern Pennsylvania—is synonymous, in our minds, with the spiritual fulfillment that is the Fairie Festival.

Only eight more sleeps, now.

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Rachel and I at the Fairie Festival last year – photo by Jenn ❤

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And it all burns down

In my last post, I said I’d only gotten halfway through the third season of Vikings. Well, I saw the second half.

So much for anything in this show ever being okay again. *flings self to the ground*

Spoilers below.

You see, Rachel jokingly calls me heartless because I don’t cry at sad or touching moments in movies and TV shows. And it’s true, I usually don’t. But I cried through the entire last episode of Vikings, for hours afterwards, and off and on all the next day.

Why did it do this to me? I know it’s just a show. These people aren’t real. But it tore me apart.

And I do know why. It’s because of Floki.

I identify with him so strongly that the torment he went through, and will likely go through in the future, was gutting to me. I see him as a person with a mental illness, like me. We’re different in many ways, specifically in how mental illness manifests externally, but there are a lot of things I see in him that I recognize in myself. Obsessive, intrusive thoughts. Fear of how my mental illness might cause me to act, who it might cause me to hurt, how it might mess up my life. Losing the people I love, or the way of life I love, because of my mental illness. Watching Floki go through these things made me sick with sorrow.

Rachel and I spent a lot of time talking about it, and I came to this conclusion: I’m angry that the writers created this turn of events. The moment Floki killed Athelstan, nothing could be made right again. Writing Athelstan’s death into the story like that gained nothing—the audience lost a wonderful character, Ragnar will never be happy without him, and Floki has little chance of anyone loving or standing by him ever again.

I’m so furious and heartsick at how Floki was dealt with by the writers. In the earlier episodes, he was a genuinely complicated person and his mental illness was portrayed with humanity, and sometimes even with sympathy…even when we were supposed to believe he’d betrayed Ragnar (which of course he hadn’t). But having Floki actually go through with killing Athelstan changed all that.

It’s not that I think it was out of character for him. It was, in fact, one of the few things that happened in the last five episodes that had been building for ages. I’m just hurt and resentful that the writers decided to make “the crazy one” do something irreparable, something that can never be fixed or forgiven.

In Floki’s jumbled, mis-firing mind, he killed Athelstan out of love for Ragnar, out of jealousy over Ragnar’s love for Athelstan, and out of fear that Athelstan’s faith would change everything he held dear. Ragnar will never forgive him. He may well kill him; he’s already set out to destroy Floki’s faith in the gods. Helga is frightened of him (rightfully so) and may never forgive him. If Bjorn finds out, he’ll never forgive him either. Floki has no one else.

And even though all of these things make sense based on each character’s motivations, their personalities, their actions up until now…it shouldn’t have happened this way. I’ve felt like this when queer characters are written as doing terrible things too. Sure, it might be in character for them…but that doesn’t mean they should’ve been portrayed like that when there are so few complex, humanized, positive queer characters out there. Floki is the first character I’ve come across with a mental illness I identify with, and the writers made him do something terrible that would systematically take away everything he has. I feel like he’s being punished for his illness.

I can’t see what narrative sense the death of Athelstan makes anyway. The only thing it really accomplished, aside from bringing a great deal of torment on the characters I love, is that it fueled Ragnar’s conversion to Christianity. And couldn’t that be accomplished any other way?

It could have played out so differently and still have remained a strong, compelling story. Floki could have tried to kill Athelstan and failed, or stopped himself after realizing that going through with it would lose him Ragnar’s love forever. Athelstan could have died some other way, if he had to die (though I don’t see why he did). I’m so upset that they made Floki the perpetrator of such a meaningless tragedy, the repercussions of which seem to have no more purpose than sending Ragnar into despair and destroying the few things Floki has to cling to.

I’m working hard on just acknowledging and working through these feelings, rather than berating myself for getting so upset over fictional characters. So if you’ve read all the way through this, thanks for listening ❤

Wicingum eall forheawen*

*For at least ten years, Rachel and I have quoted this as meaning “all chopped to bits by Vikings” from the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon.” A quick Google has revealed that this line, while (I believe) grammatically sound, never actually appears in the poem. Our minds are blown.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself very interested (one might say obsessed XD) with pre-medieval Norse culture and other Viking goings-on. I’ve read up on all the online sources I can find and I re-read Njal’s Saga, one of the great Icelandic family sagas. I’ve got a post in the works about it :3 Rachel also gave me several more sagas for Christmas, and right now I’m reading (and loving) Laxdaela Saga.

In my current pursuit of consuming All Things Norse, Rachel and I have been watching the television series Vikings. And I LOVE IT. I’ll try to avoid major spoilers, but I do talk about plot developments in general, so if you haven’t watched this series and want to keep yourself completely unspoiled, turn back now 🙂

Viking knot

(I drew that! :D)

Vikings follows the journey of the semi-legendary Scandinavian Ragnar Lothbrok (literally Hairy-Britches! Love those nicknames) from farmer to earl to king. The revolves around his relationship with his people and with his sometime-enemies/sometime-allies in the English kingdoms. There’s a lot of exploration of the dichotomy between Norse paganism and Christianity, which I feel is handled pretty respectfully on both sides. I find the characters to be delightfully complex—much more so than other period series I’ve seen. I’m going to talk about a few of my favorites :3

I’ve been a supporting character kind of girl all my life: I latch onto one of the side characters and perk up anytime they come onscreen. It’s always been that way. But in Vikings, I find myself equally charmed by Ragnar. Each season deals with one stage of his career, and it’s remarkable how he both changes and stays true to his younger self. Ragnar is by turns goofy, fierce, reasonable, stupid, and absolutely adorable. He loves his children more than anything in the world and he wants to do right by his people. He’s a charismatic, forward-thinking leader and he’s very accepting of—even fascinated by—other cultures. At the same time, he’s a complete idiot when it comes to the women in his life. His casual, teasing manner and (justifiably) huge ego tend to piss off people who might not otherwise be his enemies. That same manner, though, makes him SO FREAKING ENDEARING. He loves and honors his gods but is interested in Christianity, and he wants his gods and the Christian God to be friends (!!! The cuteness, I can’t stand it).

Ragnar also has this majorly adorable soft spot for Athelstan, the Christian priest who he brought back from Lindisfarne as a slave. Athelstan is wonderfully complex—he has to navigate feeling torn between two religions, both of which give him comfort. Ragnar empathizes with him in that he’s drawn to Christianity as well, just as Athelstan is drawn to paganism, though for Ragnar there is little tension between the two in his mind. Ragnar comes to see Athelstan as kin, and they’re very devoted to one another. He consults Athelstan constantly in matters both political and spiritual. As someone who’s tied to him by love and loyalty but not culture, Athelstan gives him a unique perspective and Ragnar is very possessive of him.

But even more than Ragnar, I adore Lagertha. I MEAN, COME ON. LAGERTHA. SWOON.

She is possibly my favorite female character in any TV series I’ve ever seen. Even as a farmer in the first season, she’s already famous and respected as a shieldmaiden. She’s just as dangerous a warrior as Ragnar, but Lagertha is more controlled, less likely than Ragnar to be consumed by battle-rage. She has a calmer head than most everyone else, but she takes no shit; even though Norse society afforded far more rights to women than other Western cultures at the time, women were still expected to keep to affairs of the household and defer to their husbands (especially if those husbands were powerful). Lagertha is both a loving, responsible mother and a wise arbitrator, but if you disrespect her past all bearing, she’ll stab you in the eye and take control of your holdings.

The progression of her character is just as delightful to watch as Ragnar’s and Athelstan’s (and unlike them, she’s yet to make any incredibly stupid decisions). As she moves through different positions in society, you can watch her gain sureness in herself and her place in the world. She always puts first the interests and safety of those she’s responsible for, whether they be her children or the people she leads. When Lagertha goes to war, she brings more women than men to fight with her. Women take care of each other in this series, and I LOVE that. There are some honest, deep friendships between women that exist outside of, and sometimes in spite of, the influence of their husbands. The women in Vikings have complex relationships with the men, but they’re not defined by those relationships. And I appreciate that SO much.

So I said I was a side character kind of girl, that my heart starts going doki-doki whenever I see my favorite supporting character in the background of a shot. It happens practically without my realizing it; I’m all “Hey, I sorta like that one” and then the next thing I know, I’m looking for them in every scene. Well, in this series, that’s Floki: carpenter, shipbuilder, healer, and strange, strange individual.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this here, but I have a depression and anxiety disorder. My mental illness is very different from Floki’s, but still, I feel for him. It would’ve been easy for the writers and his actor to portray him as just “crazy”—giggly-weird and violent for no reason—the way “crazy” characters are usually played in similar epic, battle-driven stories. Floki is certainly giggly, and certainly weird, and certainly violent (though not more so than any of his fellow warriors), but his actor plays him in a way that’s very genuine. He’s not a caricature; he seems like a real person with issues that I, at least, find understandable. He acknowledges his own mental illness and he fears it, because he knows how mean he can sometimes be to the people he cares about. And he regrets his lack of a verbal filter when he doesn’t feel justified in feeling the way he does, but when he does trust his feelings, he can be brutally honest.

While Ragnar is open to and interested in Christianity, Floki is threatened by it. From the very beginning of the series he’s been extremely devoted to his faith, and anyone who incurs his ire usually does so by not taking his religion, or their own, seriously. He doesn’t want anything to do with the Christian English; he resents the help Ragnar gives Wessex in attacking their neighboring kingdom and the lives inevitably lost in a war he doesn’t see as their own. He’s also afraid that paganism and Christianity can’t coexist, and that his gods will be wiped out if Christianity prevails. Although little in the series so far would fortell that, from our vantage point a thousand-plus years later, we know his fears to be justified.

He’s particularly suspicious of Athelstan—and I’m convinced that a large part of Floki’s contempt for him comes from jealousy. Floki was portrayed as a bit of a recluse in the first season, with Ragnar as one of his few close friends, but Athelstan soon became Ragnar’s most valued confidant. Added to that, Athelstan adheres to both paganism and Christianity, and he’s introduced the Christian God to Ragnar. That’s more than enough to cause Floki to resent him.

I freaking LOVE his relationship with Helga. They’re such good friends, and I don’t get that impression from any of the other couples. Helga is adorable and perfect, and she knows just how to handle Floki. Her expanded role in the early episodes of the third season delighted me. The two of them are, strangely, the least dysfunctional couple in the entire series.

I’m partway through the third season and Floki and Ragnar are on somewhat tenuous terms right now, and all I’ve got to say is that the writers better fix that before the end. I hold out hope, but for all that I absolutely adore this series, I can’t say I entirely trust it to do well by the characters. The only downside to Vikings is that it has some serious storytelling flaws.

I’ve become convinced, after seeing so many episodes, that the writers and production crew value the aesthetics of the series over the coherence of its story. The visuals are flat-out breathtaking: the landscapes are incredible; the costuming, hairstyling, and sets portray their vision of Norse life in stunning detail; and there are countless shots, lighting, and visual sequences that give me chills. The opening sequence is stirring—utterly perfect. I never fast-forward through it.

But sometimes I have no freaking clue what’s going on. People’s motivations bounce wildly around at a moment’s notice. Scenes that appear to signify something go nowhere. The audience is manipulated for the sake of plot twists: scenes that lead the audience to believe what the writers want them to believe make no sense once the truth is revealed. There’s an attempted murder where we get no explanation as to why the victim is TOTALLY FINE a few scenes later.

I can live with all of that because I love the characters and the visuals so freaking much (though characterization does unfortunately suffer sometimes because of the bad storytelling). The battles are numerous, intense, and well-choreographed, and I find them easy to follow. I’ve never been one to be grossed out by pre-automatic-weapon battles in movies, so maybe it’s easy for me to say, but as brutal as they can be, I enjoy Vikings’ action sequences. One of the things I like most about them is that all of the characters have their own fighting style: most of the warriors use a hand-axe or spear and a shield, which was typical, but Ragnar and Lagertha use swords (indicating their status), Ragnar’s brother Rollo uses a two-handed battle axe because he’s ginormous, and Floki fights with just a hand-axe and a knife—no shield at all.

Honestly the violent scenes that aren’t battles are the more disturbing. The blood eagle—an ultimate punishment—may have been one of the most violent things I’ve ever seen; still, it was so artistically filmed that it was almost beautiful, in a horrifying way. The same goes for the instances of sacrifice and other Norse pagan rituals involving blood. Weirdly, in comparison to the blood eagle, scenes of graphic punishment meted out by the Christian characters are cast in a much less artful light.

We’ll see how I feel after I see the end of season three but as of right now, there hasn’t been a show recently that I’ve loved for so many reasons as I love this one. And at $10 a season, I’m definitely buying the DVDs :3

Our Story – The Beginning

Once upon a time, there was a girl who never spoke.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But picture this: it’s my first semester of college at the University of New Hampshire, and I’m a commuter student. All day, I’m working on completing my Gen Ed requirements: sitting in massive lecture halls, taking notes, moving quickly from building to building, lugging all of my books and materials because I don’t have a dorm room to go back to. I sit by myself in the dining hall, plowing through my assigned readings. Every day, as soon as my last class is over, I drive home.

It was a couple of weeks before I realized that I would normally go entire days on campus without saying a word to anyone.

When I told my mom this, she mentioned that she’d been looking at the UNH website and she saw that they had an Anime Club. Anime was my major hobby at the time: this was back in the day of anime scarcity, of using money orders to buy fansubs, of browsing the video tape shelves at Suncoast and debating between the probably-awful dub and the more-expensive sub. I watched all the anime I could get my hands on, and I drew fanart and created those internet character shrines that were so popular back then. Very few of my high school friends were into anime, and I was excited at the prospect of meeting other people who appreciated it, but I was also apprehensive. This might mean I actually had to, you know, converse with others. My mom offered to e-mail the club president for me. I told her I’d just try stopping by a club meeting.

It was Monday night. I’d finished my last class, and I hung around at the library until it was time for the meeting. Anime Club was held in the MUB, short for Memorial Union Building, where students hung out, various student union offices were located, and the food court offered all sorts of delicious and not-very-nutritious options.

I walked into the room where it was supposed to meet. A friendly, quiet guy in the back waved at me. The only other person there, an overbearing girl, practically leapt on me and talked and talked and talked—about what, I can’t remember, but it was intensely awkward. I felt like a rabbit, frozen.

Then the door opened, and two more girls came in. One introduced herself as the club president: Amanda, cheerful and devious, an artist like me. The other was tall, cool, a history major, with curly hair dyed green in the front: her name was Rachel.

They whisked me out of the room to the food court, where they assured me that that other girl was a total weirdo and the rest of the club wasn’t anything like her. They ordered this delicious-looking lo mein, and I wanted some, but I was apprehensive about using chopsticks. They offered to teach me.

I had a great time that night, and Rachel and Amanda told me, before I left, that I should come to Gaming on Friday. They were playing Dungeons and Dragons. The only experience I’d ever had with D&D was a brief game run several years ago by my cousin, who killed my character minutes after we started. I showed up early on Friday, and I can still see the scene: I was sitting on the floor in the MUB, trying to work up the courage for the night’s impending conversations, and then they appeared—Rachel and Amanda, striding down the hall, wearing capes. Rachel’s was black with a red silk lining. With that cape and her green hair, I had never seen anyone cooler in my entire life.

Fast forward a few weeks. I’d been coming to Anime Club every Monday. Amanda and Rachel protected me when a creepy member kept trying to throw candy down the front of my shirt. We always sat together at a table near the back, and that day, I pulled out my drawing folder (full of blank computer paper). Amanda and Rachel both had a habit of drawing at Anime Club, and I wanted to be just like them.

As I opened the folder, Rachel leaned over to look at my sketches. “Hey,” she said. “You draw just like this girl on Elfwood.”

Elfwood was an online fantasy art archive that was popular at the time. I had an account, in fact. “What girl on Elfwood?” I asked.

“She drew this picture of Louis and Lestat in a coffin together,” Rachel explained excitedly. “It’s totally cute. Lestat is all annoyed because Louis doesn’t want to sleep by himself, and Louis is blushing. She has a bunch of Vampire Chronicles pictures. I saved them all to my computer and the coffin one is my desktop background right now.”

I stared at her. This couldn’t be possible, could it? I could remember inking those lines myself, using my Prismacolor pencils to pinken Louis’s cheeks. “I… think she might be me.”

I was right. Somehow, across the vastness of the internet (which was, admittedly, not quite as vast back then), Rachel had found my art, loved it, and had it as her desktop background at that exact moment.

I have so many stories about the two of us when we were falling in love. It took years before we even realized how we felt about each other—neither of us had dated women before, and each of us had had a weird and awkward experience dating a guy. Even though we (and our friends) laugh about how clueless we were for such a long time, when how much we were in love was obvious to everyone but us, this moment—when Rachel saw my artwork and we realized we’d already had a connection before we even met—was proof, to me, that fate had brought us together.

The earliest picture I can find of us on Rachel’s Flickr is below, from a hike up Mount Major. It was in 2006, five years after we met and two years after we figured out how we felt about each other. (We have matching glasses — we are such nerds XD)

Almost 10 years ago!