Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brother Lustig

(Thinking about this Grimm tale)

Today’s, “Brother Lustig,” seems more like the kind of bawdy, theatrical plot seen in Medieval Europe than a Grimm fairy tale. It contains many comic “scenes” and possibilities of a Commedia dell'arte kind of slapstick.

The basic theme is familiar—a good-hearted rascal, triumphs and gets his (hero is often male) dream. Ferris Bueller is a version of this hero and Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is another.

We love these stories because sneakiness and even dishonesty are rewarded. The heroes are good but not in a pious, uptight way. And the stories seem to express a deep psychological truth found in Matthew 13:12 “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” (King James Bible)

What does this mean?

For years, I wondered about this quote. Then I understood how it describes an inner process: inner psychological health/skills (wealth) build inside us. That is how I interpret the “good luck” and crazy justice found in this story. Brother Lustig seems to float through many difficulties while others flounder.

It is a lengthy story—enjoy it and other older posts. I’ll be gone most of this week!
Read more!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Throwing the Frog

(a musing on the Brothers’ Grimm “The Frog King.”)

Guess which part of the story I focused on?
I love these tales to provoke my thoughts. Please know that my thoughts do not attempt to explain, decode, or explore all the incredible imagery in these stories. But I was very happy to find one way into one theme!

Moment of Truth
During the day, she’d think loving thoughts and imagine herself happy. She’d begin dinner full of “Donna Reed,” chopping and braising. But as his arrival-time approached, she’d become tense.

Natalie forced herself to kiss him, smile, and listen to his day, but soon was criticizing his every move. And all he’d ever done was care for her. She hated herself.

Tim was a gentle, loving man but lately, if she was honest with herself (seldom), Natalie found herself despising him. His sweet disposition made her skin crawl.

The more she pulled away, the needier and clingier he became. Then she hated him more and the cycle continued, until Tim cried and Natalie convinced herself she was cruel and insane. She would apologize and they would return to “normal.”

But when going to sleep or waking up, she found herself fantasizing his death or hers. A divorce (for many reasons) was out of the question.

Then, one day, thick in their hellish cycle, Natalie found herself pushing harder and harder.

“You aren’t the man I married, you’re a child!” She hated saying those words, but they felt true! She continued, not knowing what was coming. “I can’t be sexual with you, if you’re a child. And I hate that. I hate you for that.”

And there it was. The truth. She wasn’t despicable. She wanted to be with him. But he needed to grow up. To stop living only for her and step back into the causes and adventures he’d had before they were married. She wanted the courageous man she’d dated.

Even in his pain, his denial, and his tears, Tim knew she was right.

A wave of relief swept over her. There were more struggles ahead but, with the truth told, the spell was broken. Read more!

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Ur-Spo, a “shrink” who writes on the wonderful blog, Spo-Reflections, recently posted about dream analysis. I was happy to read his professional opinion: not all of our dreams are meant for study. Shewww! (Wiping brow). Most of my dreams bewilder me and defy any attempts at decoding.

But this morning’s dream echoed some familiar fairy tale symbolism and has given me (much needed) reassurance.

But first, a little backstory.

Life’s been great lately but…..I’ve found myself increasingly tired and crabby. Why???? I’m about to go on the trip of a lifetime (8 fabulous days, escaping the Midwestern icebox on a cruise) with my entire family. I’ve started a fascinating new job, I’m loving the blogging…. Why so grouchy/tired?

I’ve also been sleeping a lot! This week I went to bed (feeling tired) and slept for 12 hours! Yikes. This is not typical and leads to feelings of guilt (hubby doing more of the housework) and anger (what is wrong with me?).

This morning I dreamt of collecting bushels of paper clips (and thumb tacks—provocative!). Then I poured them into a computer. You could see them through the screen--like looking into an x-ray image. A young Latin kid working as a janitor was standing nearby. “That’s A LOT of clips," he said.

I woke up feeling terrific.

In many fairy tales, the hero/ine is given an impossible task—to sort sand from poppy seeds, or millet from another tiny grain. MLVF (my new acronym for Marie Louise Von Franz--hyperlinked in several posts below) says that this represents learning discrimination—to separate out one’s feelings and desires and to learn to develop intuition. Many times the hero is saved during the night by little minions of some kind--they do the work for him (more often her). When we dream, unknown parts of ourselves are often working out the mishmash of our lives.

My dream reassured me that I’m gathering lots of material right now (in my job, in this blog, in my other musings). It makes sense to be tired. It makes sense to be needing extra sleep. Seems that I’m working overtime in that realm right now. Read more!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Old Man Made Young Again

Why are some broken by adversity and others made stronger?

That is one of the themes in today’s story-- “The Old Man Made Young Again.”

The central image--a person burning in hot coals-- is also found in the mystical alchemical tales of late Medieval Europe. Here’s an illustration from the period showing the King redeemed through a container of fire.

But today’s story reminds me that I mustn’t “play with fire.” If we aren’t ready to undergo our transformation, we may, like the children in this tale, be born prematurely or undeveloped. Read more!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Snake Stories

Today’s tale, “The White Snake,” repeats familiar themes discussed in earlier posts. Because of this, I’m less inclined to write a new tale for it. I’d like to simply think about the story and share some musings.

The hero seeks to know the secret of his higher self (the King). The mystery is to eat a white snake everyday. What is this snake? The reptilian part of ourselves--redeemed?

Is this idea as repulsive to you as it is to me? Maybe that is the point. Snakes might represent our shadow side—those parts of ourselves we seek to disown and repress. Is the story advising us to digest (grapple with) our dark instincts and drives? Then we can access the power and wisdom hidden withinin our “irrational” impulses.

The snake image is provocative. In Europe, it was a both a pagan symbol of rejuvenation and the Christian image of the devil.

Many of these Grimm stories seem to explore the same theme—learning to hear the animal part of oneself—one’s intuition. If the hero can hear the voices of instinct within, he has an advantage in all parts of his life.

Marie Louise Von Franz (discussed below in earlier posts) has lectured that fairy tales featuring male heroes are different than those focused on the female psyche. Her ideas—given 40 years ago—can seem controversial today. But if I relate these tales to the “female’ and “male” parts of myself, I have less difficulty with her theories. You may notice that the female heroes of the fairy tales (see "Sundance" story below) often have to endure and then they are saved by circumstance. The ability to grow through suffering is explored in these tales. The male hero is much more active and often has to learn to listen to his own inner voice before he can win the maiden (i.e. he must develop his feeling/intuitive/instinctual self and find his inner feminine). Read more!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Snake Story

Consider the following synopsis of a story. Perhaps it reminds you of someone you know?

A young man, diligent and thoughtful, begins his work—first as an achieving student at a good university, and then as an upwardly mobile professional. He could be a lawyer, a doctor, a CEO. He works hard and struggles through the myriad of career hurdles and ethical traps of modern life. He develops integrity, self-esteem, talents and great success.

Then he meets a woman. Everyone around him sees that she’s no good for him. Perhaps she’s a gold-digger, or simply unstable. But our hero is committed to her. She puts him down or plays around. Finally, after a long struggle, she improves or he finds another, seemingly healthier, woman. But the problems continue. The new woman doesn’t really love him. She manipulates, withholds, or seeks to control.

While some of his friends have marriages of love and devotion—relationships that promote growth and joy—our hero continues to struggle. He always finds a woman who seeks his destruction.

In the end, happily, he receives help. He reads a book, talks to good friends, attends a support group, or therapy. He resists the temptations of his favorite kind of woman and stays alone. At least for a while.

In “The Three Snake Leaves” we again have the image of the snake bringing life, not death. (These fairy tales were surely pushing against the Christian doctrines of the time.) We have a devious wife who seeks the death of her spouse. We have a loving man who has a troublesome, dangerous feminine side. Did he have a wicked, psychologically devouring mother? The femme fatale demands his death.

But the hero survives. He has developed a loyal assistant (the ego) who serves his highest self (the King). His personality has found ways of healing his wounds and bringing life to death.

Unfortunately, in this tale, the feminine instinct or forces are so corrupt that they must be killed off, like the femme fatale villains of the noir genre.

Read more!

The Sisters of Sundance--Part 3 (of 3)

(This is the final segment of an adapted Brothers' Grimm story started below).

And just at that moment, three homeless women came into view. At least, Jan assumed they were homeless, based on their bizarre, layered attire. She thought of the three “weird sisters” in Macbeth—she’d written a report about them for her Composition class. Were they sisters? They were young—in their late 30s. The blonde was bone thin. She had several pairs of fancy dress gloves, one over another, white, black, red--on each hand and several elegant dresses of different styles and lengths layered over her thin frame. Her cowboy boots were decorated with lace. Was this an attempt to coordinate the ensemble? The brunette was stout. She wore large army boots which stuck out under the bulky, green trash bag pulled over her head. A glittery, green scarf was wrapped around her neck. The last sister had shaved her head and was dressed for much warmer climes. Her tiny arms hung out of a small, black T-shirt with an image to ward off the evil eye. Her camouflage cargo pants were covered in bulging pockets and she wore old spiked golf shoes.

For a brief moment, Jan forgot about her problems.

“What you looking at?” shouted the brunette.

“Sorry. Nothing.” Jan, despite herself, started to cry.

“Look what you did now, Nina, you made her cry,” said the T-shirted one.

“I did not. Shut up,” said Nina.

“What’s wrong, honey?” The T-shirted one ran up to the window.

“Annie, what are you doing, they don’t want us around here!” The blonde was now running in place.

Annie scratched her shaved head and turned to the other. “She’s crying. She needs help. What’s wrong, darlin?”

Jan couldn’t decide who was worse off, the sisters or herself. She was moved by their care, and what did she have to lose? She grabbed some cans of juice, and some snacks, and sat with the sisters in the park, telling her story.

They listened attentively, even if Carrie insisted on running in place, Annie continued to scratch, and Nina occasionally moaned. At the end, Carrie did a cartwheel and made a proposition.

“We can help you, honey,” she said. “But you have to treat us well. You can’t pretend you don’t know us when the big shots come around….”

“We used to be big in this town too.” Nina was now biting her nails as she spoke.

Carrie continued. “I’m great at organizing, Nina loves to clean, and Annie can type like the wind, right Annie?”

Annie made typing motions over Carrie’s head.

“We can start tonight, if you want. You just have to be our friend. Invite us to a premiere or two…”

Jan looked at the sisters. They were odd and had clearly lived a rough life on the streets. Still, what choices did she have? She let them into the office and went to bed.

The next day, Jan got to the room early, afraid that Stephanie would find the sisters and freak. But at 9 am (this was early for Jan) the sisters were gone and the room was immaculate! Papers were organized into tagged files and these were alphabetized and already boxed. Stacks of perfectly typed letters sat next to labeled envelopes and all the surfaces had been scrubbed clean!

Stephanie walked in with a few papers in her hand.

“Jan! Wow! That’s incredible! Amazing! Terrific! Here I was ready to send you off with these papers and look what you’ve done! You must have worked non-stop! You take the rest of the day off, dear. And here are tickets to the premiere tonight. You’ve earned them.”

“Thanks, Steph. Any chance I might have three more? I have a couple of friends who’ve been very supportive since I got here.”

Stephanie was delighted to give Jan more tickets.

Jan searched all day for the sisters and finally found them sleeping in the park. She gave them the tickets and said she’d meet them at the theatre.

For once she was thrilled to be invited to a gala. She primped the rest of the afternoon and got to the tiny cinema early, to watch for celebrities. But the sisters hadn’t arrived at the start of the event, when “Bob,” or Mr. Redford (as she was instructed to address him) began his remarks. They still hadn’t arrived when the movie ended.

“Jan! Jan!” Stephanie was walking toward her, with Mr. R! “Jan, I’d like to introduce Mr. Redford. Bob, this is our new intern, Jan. She is awesome.”

Mr. R smiled and, even with their colossal age difference, Jan felt herself swoon.

They chatted for a brief moment, and Jan was shocked when Mr. R stayed chatting, even when Stephanie was pulled away. Then suddenly, the three sisters arrived.

“Jan, dear, Jan,” they sang together, “thank you for the tickets!” They ran up to her.

“Mr. Redford, may I introduce my friends, Annie, Carrie, and Nina?”

Bob smiled. Carrie began running in place, Annie scratching, and Nina picking her nails. But then each began to tell their story. The theatre emptied but Bob would not be moved. He cried as they told how their lives had unfurled. But other stories were howlingly funny. They each described their psychiatrists and their different diagnoses: “obsessive-compulsive,” prone to panic attacks,” and “neurotic.”

Finally, Nina wanted to go “home.” They made promises to take their medication, hugged or patted Jan goodbye, and ran off.

The next day Bob called Jan to his office.

“You know those three sisters? They're willing to sell their stories and I’d like you to spend your time interviewing them. Write me up some notes, you can start the treatment. You could even try your hand at the screenplay if you want. Do you think you might know someone who could take over your jobs for you, in the meantime?”

Jan smiled. She did. Read more!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sisters of Sundance--Part 2

(The first part of this reworking of the Grimm tale starts on the post below.)

Jan was trapped. And paralyzed inside. She couldn’t think of an escape and so, a week later, she found herself in a cramped and cluttered administrative office of the Sundance Institute.

Stephanie, the breezy executive director, gave her a tour.

“Jan, we are so thrilled you were willing to take us on! As you can see, we’re in desperate need of your organizing skills! And your housekeeping!”

Stephanie’s laugh was light and carefree—was it a carefully choreographed display to distract Jan from the filth surrounding her? Even if she worked everyday for a month, Jan could never scrub this place clean.

Stephanie pointed to three stacks—each at least 10 inches high--of paperwork. “These contracts need to be re-entered into the system and these are letters to answer for Mr. Redford. There are forms for the fan mail, something for the agents, here are police forms—if you find notes from crazy stalkers… No! I’m not kidding!” She laughed again and moved to the computer. Jan watched Stephanie’s long, frosted fingernails daintily tap the keyboard. “Here are the files. I’m sure this will make sense once you get into it. This room, over here, we have file folders and boxes. You should have everything you’ll need. Cleaning supplies are in this closet.”

Jan struggled to keep her own plastered smile in place and her tears repressed until Stephanie finally pranced out of the room. Then, Jan locked the door, collapsed into a grimy chair and cried into the evening.

The next day Jan sat in the scummy space, overwhelmed and appalled. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t….she had neither the skill nor the will. To clean, and organize, and administrate? Jan found a sticky radio and turned it up. She locked the door and tried to think but her brain wouldn’t work. All she could do was cry.

On the third day, Jan again sat immobile. At lunchtime, Stephanie knocked on the door.

“Jan? You in there?”

Jan sat motionless.

“Hello? Hello?”

Jan heard the sound of a key and watched the door open. Stephanie was bringing another huge stack of paperwork.

“What’s going on? What’s wrong?”

Looking into Stephanie’s mirrored sunglasses, Jan caught a glimpse of her own red, swollen eyes and tear-drenched face.

”I…I…” Jan could only stutter.

“I know it’s overwhelming, and I’m sure you miss your sweet Mother. Many of our interns have a tough first week. But Jan, if you can’t do this, I’ll have to send you home. I hate to do that, especially because it’s late now. You know we’ll have to charge you for your airfare both ways, and the week’s housing stipend. And some other charges. I told your mother this.”

Jan nodded.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Stephanie continued, with her practiced sing-song tone and toothy smile. “If you haven’t cleaned this room up and finished all this paperwork, I’ll have to put you out on the streets. Sorry….”

This was it. The end of the road. Jan went to the window. Should she escape first or wait until dark? Or at least until after dinner? Should she grab the blankets from her cot and find a place to sleep outside? Homelessness. That was her future.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Sisters of Sundance--Part I

Sorry I haven't had time to compose Grimm-influenced stories lately--been hectic with some corporate training events. But I finally had a moment---here's the first part of a new tale (also visit some older completed tales below....)

Based on the Brothers Grimm tale, “The Three Spinners.”

She tried to forget her mother, sitting in the other room circling want-ads. For Jan. “She wants me to move out, I’ll move out!” Jan practiced this mantra with ferocity. But under her bravado she wondered how she’d manage. She had a bit of money left (a fraction of the largess she’d been given 3 years ago when she managed to graduate) but not enough to live on. But she’d gotten her AA. She’d done that, hadn’t she? Couldn’t her mother give her credit for anything?

And now this stupid networking event. She’d been building toward “being sick” all week but now this fight and the threat! She had to go, to appease the monster and maybe if her mother thought Jan was “at least trying,” she’d be left in peace to…..? That was the problem. What did she want to do? Besides shopping, texting, or hanging out?

Jan’s best friend, Tina, couldn’t understand tonight’s dilemma. The theatre fundraiser sounded like a blast—free food, drink, a band? So what if Jan’s mother would drag her around, “like the prized heifer at the county fair,” selling her to the highest bidder? Jan stopped protesting. Tina couldn’t understand how it felt to be the daughter of a controlling, ambitious, double-Capricorn named Heather. No, she wouldn’t go. She couldn’t go through another public degradation.

But they were in the car together that evening, dressed up (although Jan purposely wouldn’t style her hair or wear earrings—a tiny act of rebellion). Both seethed in silence. Jan felt a genuine headache emerging. How would she survive this evening?

Heather transformed into her loveliest self as they entered the ballroom. Beaming with laughter and lavishing praise on her “exquisite” daughter, she mercilessly marketed Jan as prospective employee or spouse to whoever would cross their path. Finally, after Heather’s third cocktail, Jan was able to wander off and hide in the corner near the band.

Driving home, her mother seemed especially cheerful. Was it simply the alcohol?

“I got you a job.”


“I got you a job, my darling daughter. It doesn’t pay much. In fact, it might just be an internship, I’m not exactly sure, but, I signed you up and you leave for Utah, next week.”

Should she even bother with a reply? No. Better to ignore Heather when she’s talking crazy.

“If you don’t go, I’m changing the locks.”

Jan felt dizzy. She watched the streetlights pass over her head as the car rushed toward the only home she’d ever known.

“It’s for the Sundance Institute. You know, Robert Redford’s place? You’re going to love it.”

Jan tried to keep her voice monotone. She wanted to sound bored and hide her inner chaos “What am I supposed to be doing?”

“Lots of things. I told them that you “type like the wind, you're a professional organizer and a meticulous housekeeper.” Heather laughed. “It’s a bit of a stretch. But they aren’t paying you and you’ll do well enough. It will be great for your resume.”

“I suck at all those things. I can’t type!”

“You typed your papers in college…. You’ve got a week to brush up”


Friday, January 18, 2008

Remembering Summer--Backyard Bliss

I am obsessed with living outdoors. Staying inside my house is like being asleep. When I walk outside, I wake up. Or, to use the metaphor I gave my husband--"'outside' is a naked woman and 'inside' is a clothed woman." I'm not sure if that analogy helped him understand, but he enjoyed the imagery. It isn't an exaggeration to say that I'd live outdoors if I could. But husband-Rick would never agree to the tree house in my fantasy.

My compulsion to stay outside is a burden. Not only do I suffer from hungry mosquitoes, but my home, especially during great weather, does not get the cleaning it deserves. Stacks of newspapers, clumps of dog hair, and piles of dishes must wait until dusk, or later. My saintly husband accepts this quirk, one more aspect of my "earthy" nature. Because of our different requirements--my need for fresh air and Rick's craving for air conditioning--we accept that we'll read the Sunday paper in our respective areas, alone.

The biggest burden is employment. Unless you're a forest ranger or a landscaper, earning a living outside is much more complicated. I've been fortunate to have some telecommuting work. In all but the most inclement weather, I will do this work outside. What do my neighbors think of the crazy lady next door--the one who spends morning 'til night on her back deck, surrounded by a tangle of cords, in her pajamas?

I work under a patio umbrella, a concession to the reality of UV and the difficulty of reading my computer monitor in full sun. Corporate correspondence is delightful when accomplished in the grandeur of my back yard. I work and listen to the crickets. I follow the escapades of chipmunks and squirrels. Even the spiders on their glistening webs warm my heart. But the birds thrill me most. Listening to them produces a rush of feelings in me, like those of adolescent love. To be near any wild thing is a wonder, but seeing a bird up-close is especially grand. They are fragile miracles--breath encased in a bit of bone and feather.

I will stop my activities to watch a starling take a long luxurious bath. My heart performs gymnastics when I hear a cardinal's "what-cheer-cheer-cheer." Did you know that Robins sing intricate symphonies and Goldfinches are squeaky? And what can you say about the twittering gossip of a bush filled with sparrows? They don't listen to one another but all chirp simultaneously, producing a cacophony that still pleases. The songs at dawn and dusk are even more poignant. Are my companions singing differently at the start and end of the day? Or am I different?

Scientists have proven that nature is healing, but maybe it takes a poet to describe the blessings hidden in a summer day. Is it the animals and their sounds, the movement of the wind, or simply being under the dome of heaven that moves and restores me?

It isn't practical to avoid the inside world forever. I force myself indoors: to clean a home that's been neglected, or to escape ravenous bugs. But no matter how comfortable we've made our abode, the world outside always feels more vital and real. I'm grateful for every moment I have to commune with wind and sky and birds. I'm especially beholden to the birds, my lovely companions, who sing to me hour after hour. Read more!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More Zen

To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.

Chuang-tzu Read more!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Driving as a Spiritual Discipline

I have become a wary driver. Since my recent accident I have become keenly aware of how fast and close cars travel. Sometimes all I can do with my fear is to pray while I drive. I pray for protection and use a mantra to try to relax. I repeat a name for God over and over as I watch drivers swerve between lanes at 80mph. I repeat a Sacred Word as large SUV’s zoom in to fill up my rearview mirror. As my mantra teaches me mindfulness, I try to be thankful for this moment in my life; this split-second filled with fear and a quick, defensive maneuver. Since my accident, driving has become an intense spiritual discipline, providing me opportunities to practice patience, forbearance, and trust.

Before my accident I was like many on urban roads today: arrogant and strong-willed. I didn’t admit this to myself at the time. I ignored the fact that once in the car, I was a changed woman. I loved driving fast. Speeding was a habit. I drove fast even if I was early to my destination. I drove fast because speed felt like power. If I was stranded behind some slow-poke (I had more colorful terms then) I took control of the situation. I got around my persecutor one way or another. To move slower than my wish was agony. I couldn’t tolerate delays from anyone. Still, because I often witnessed others who were even more reckless and addicted to speed, I saw myself as “just right;” somewhere between the overly fearful and the excessively aggressive driver. Slowing down, taking care, allowing others their space--these are my concerns now. I still get angry behind the wheel, but now my persecutor is my old self, the driver who impatiently follows too close, the impetuous one who roughly passes in the right lane.

In a world where humans manipulate stock markets and shred documents--simply because they can--slowing down is a radical, almost counter-intuitive act. Why go slower when you can get away with going faster? Speed is a habit that says, “Get out of my way, the world is mine.” Driving with restraint is a perfect spiritual discipline. I can learn to relish the present moment as I follow someone leisurely moving 20 miles below the speed limit. I can practice forgiveness with the man who cuts me off. I can practice trust when I seek to change lanes during rush hour. Still, a spiritual driver isn’t simply passive. She must retain a healthy degree of assertiveness to make it past the entrance ramp on many urban freeways.

I am a crusader now. I wave in my rearview mirror to the BMW traveling inches behind my bumper at 70mph. My sincere attempts to remove our separateness and anonymity often work. As the driver behind me backs away, I hope he isn’t grumbling, but now more aware of our shared humanity. We must remember that a unique soul is hidden within each metal box on the road.

I had one accident and was tremendously lucky--I lost a car but not my healthy body. I also lost my naiveté and unconsciousness. There are still drivers that are far too slow for me. I am not a Buddha behind the wheel yet. But now I am aware of how the unmitigated egotism of our society is mirrored in the way we drive. We do not want to believe that the unthinkable accident could happen to us. It can. We need to slow down in our lives. We need to relinquish control and make room for everyone. Let’s practice these skills on the road and learn them for our daily lives. Read more!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Zen for Tuesday

We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.

Lao Tzu
Read more!

Monday, January 14, 2008


My twelve-hour day had finally ended. Shedding briefcase and books, I move with Sophie straight to the backyard and the virgin snow. I stuff wet glasses into my pocket and the white world grows even hazier. The sky is speckled in falling flakes, and as we enter a vast, untouched field I imagine we are in a giant snow globe. A colossal God is shaking this scene, sprinkling it white. I witness us from this great distance: tiny Sophie bounding gazelle-like, I trudging after her. All my daily dramas are merely this--scenes in a cosmic snow globe.

Sophie runs with delirium, then thrusts her snout into the snow, sniffing for hidden rodents. Instead of struggling against the neck-deep drifts she leaps above, then into them, then out again. Her apparent joy mirrors my own. I am finally free; reconnected to nature’s purity and my own unadulterated self. We wander in the heavy whiteness. The untouched snow spreads before us--refreshing to eat and pack and throw. Soft, cool, silent, we play in the blizzard that obliterates the day’s details into a wooly peace. Read more!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Office Envy

(based on the Brothers Grimm tale "The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage". Unlike earlier posts below (of other stories), this version does not differ that much from the original. Maybe will try again later. )

An Elephant, a Hawk, and a Bat co-owned a company.

One day the bitter Crow whispered to the Elephant. “Your ‘partners’ take advantage of you.”

“How’s that?”

“They don’t do anything when you’re busting your trunk, breaking through walls. You come back after a long day. You think they’ve been working, but all they’ve been doing is sleeping. You ought to change jobs with them, then you’d see.”

The Elephant worked hard and hated to think that he was a fool. He called a meeting and demanded that the three change jobs. The others objected but the Elephant was forceful and kept trumpeting his demands.

Finally, they agreed to try.

The next day the Hawk took over the Elephant’s duties. His job was to swing the anvil and break down the walls that separated them from their customers. The Hawk picked up the anvil in his beak but it was very heavy. He couldn’t keep it lifted so, to avoid the wrath of the Elephant, the Hawk tried to throw himself against the wall. Over and over again he flew into the wall until finally, he knocked himself out. Then, before he recovered, a Cougar came and ate him.

Meanwhile, the Bat was set to do the Hawk’s job. He flew and tried to look for prey but he couldn’t see anything in the daytime and became disoriented in the sunshine and open sky. He flew and flew until he became lost over the high seas. Then, flying in circles while looking for home, the Bat became exhausted, fell into the sea, and drowned.

At the same time, the Elephant had taken the Bat’s job, thinking that it was the easiest of all. He tried to listen for the rats in the cave but they terrified him. He ran, petrified, until he got himself stuck inside a narrow passage. The Elephant pushed and pushed but the walls came down all around him and he was crushed.

©Lewis-Barr 2007. Read more!

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Joan of Arc tells me she isn’t afraid.
“Don’t worry about having a sword in your hand,” she counsels, “the sword is a clumsy tool.” What’s important is the energy behind the sword. A focused mind is the true weapon of a warrior.”
Read more!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Natural (Wo)Man

I heard Joseph Campbell tell of struggling to get his work accepted in academia. Because his work is now so revered, we might not realize (or have forgotten) that for a long time his studies were ridiculed. Was he treated like Simpleton in today’s story, “The Queen Bee?” (for another similar Simpleton tale check out the classic “The Three Feathers.”) It must have taken great courage to ignore the politics and intrigues that surrounded him and risk (if not his job), his reputation, and likelihood of promotion.

So while he was writing about the hero’s journey, Campbell was living it—risking much to be true to his vision and calling.

Another story of fighting the status quo is told in an article in Navy commander D. Michael Abrashoff was given command of the USS Benfold. Abrashoff says, “All I ever wanted to do in the navy was to command a ship. I don't care if I ever get promoted again. That attitude has enabled me to do the right things for my people instead of doing the right things for my career.”

Abrashoff recognized that when Navy officers succumb to career pressures they make poor choices for their people. Abrashoff decided to simply care for his crew in novel (but common sense) ways, such as finding time to periodically talk to every sailor on his ship. He responded to their needs without following standard procedure. (When he learned that credit-card debt, not housing, was hurting his crew he brought financial counselors aboard.) Abrashhoff risked his career to follow his own inner voice and he revitalized not only his ship but the entire Navy. Read more!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Zen for Thursday

Water heats gradually and boils suddenly.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Monster of the Deep

(Based on the Brothers' Grimm tale, “The Water-Nixie”)

Michele was tired. She shouldn’t have had the 3rd (4th?) glass of wine. She curled up on the couch and closed her eyes. Saturday night and she couldn’t even make it to 9 pm?

The next morning, struggling to conceal her dark circles with make-up, Michele re-composed her old resolve. No more drinking. Or maybe, no more than 1-2 drinks? (That might be more do-able). She took three more aspirin and drove to church, full of self-hatred and vows to improve.

When she was honest with herself (after the DUI), Michele saw the escalation of her drinking. Weekend wine with dinner had evolved into daily shots (hidden in fresh orange juice) starting as early as noon. She blamed her job—she was now expected to do the work of three people. She needed an escape hatch from her daily grind. Some light-headed sleepiness—was that too much to ask for after a 10-hour day?

Then, in early September, Michele missed an important meeting. Hung-over, she had mixed up her dates. Later that same week, she lost some sensitive paperwork and forgot three conference calls she’d arranged. She scrambled for excuses and began blaming her co-workers. Finally, the CEO told Michele to take a week off and “get herself together.”

Monday morning she went to Mass, but by evening Michele had convinced herself that one drink “wasn’t a problem—she just had to limit herself to one—to take the edge off.” By Thursday, she was back to two (large) glasses. Saturday night she called the CEO at home. She was going to check into a clinic for a month.

The staff discussed Michele’s resistance during the first week. She complained about the meetings and sat silent during individual sessions. She denied her feelings and refused all the “psycho-babble.” She was bored.

Then, during the third week, Michele started to cry. She cried during the meetings and private sessions. The staff called it a “breakthrough.” But would the crying stop? Could she return to work? And why was she crying? It had something to do with her mother (they said). But she knew there was so much more to discover. She’d opened the dike of her craziness and now they wanted her to go home? Couldn’t she stay another month?

“No.” The staff knew how she felt, this was normal, she shouldn’t feel dependent on them, blah, blah blah. They wanted her to go back to work, go to her AA meetings, and do her phone check-ins faithfully.

Another Saturday night. Surrounded by cups of different herbal teas, Michele is looking into her mirror, crying. She couldn’t go back to work. She was ugly, and there was nothing she could do about it. She was ugly.

During the last week, when they’d done the “mirror exercise,” her therapists and group-members had assured her that she was not ugly. They had all laughed together through her tears at the ridiculous notion. But tonight it was clearer than ever—she was terribly ugly. She had to accept that. Maybe if she accepted it? Her crying slowed down. She looked at herself in the mirror. She noticed every flaw and concentrated on it. Could she accept this ugliness? Could she accept that this is what others saw when they looked at her? Michele took a deep breath. She could. She could accept it. She was ugly (in some ways). That was her lot in life. She’d have to accept it and others would too.

The following Saturday, Michele had dinner with some of her co-workers. They toasted her week’s sobriety with Cokes and a tomato juice. They noted her new energy and “glow.” It was true, Michele had never felt so good. When her mother’s scolding voice spoke in her mind, reminding her of her flaws, Michele quietly said “yes.” “Yes, she was flawed, broken, ugly. Yes.”

As they sat around the table Michele’s friends wondered what new lotion or makeup she was using. They each privately envied her “new look ” and her flawless complexion. Read more!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Three Languages

Have you ever found yourself wandering in the (metaphorical) dark woods? Afterwards, did you discover that all the twists and turns and scrapes had a purpose? These glimpses of insight are a blessing to me—and often feel spooky at the time. In those fleeting moments I discover my own Hero’s Journey—the mono-myth Joseph Campbell explained to the world.

My adventure has taken me down many different paths (playwriting and directing, public speaking, teaching, writing, and massage). Surprisingly, each one has converged in this new space.

Over a year ago, I immersed myself in Jungian psychology (described in January 08 article). Meanwhile, I began a new career pursuit (see article above)--exploring corporate training. Within that quest, I discovered corporate storytelling and the spooky moment mentioned above.

Today, my interests can still feel worlds apart. But even if I don’t understand how writing tales converges with presenting training in “Time Management,” I am compelled to follow my Muse down this path. I love using the Brothers Grimm fairy tales as a meditative koan for my day and also as a structure for writing new stories.

Amazingly, it was weeks into this new project when I suddenly recalled that my favorite Jungian author—Maria Louise Von Franz (I’ve read just about everything she has written)—was primarily known for her work with fairy tales.

Reading today’s story—The Three Languages—reminds me of Von Franz’s work. My own interpretation (below) comes from what I learned from her. This is the first time I'm offering any interpretation. The stories below, on early posts, don't have any analysis. Feel free to offer your own thoughts and opinions on those stories (and this one too).

Before reading on, (spoiler alert--my interpretation of the story follows this paragraph) perhaps you want to read "The Three Languages" from the link above? Then you can come up with your own interpretation before you read mine.

Here are my thoughts on the this classic tale.
We begin with a father who thinks his son is stupid. The child is not at all like his father. Is Dad a businessman who has an artistic, daydreaming child?

The father is determined to make the son more like himself. He sends him off to school three times and the boy comes back educated—but not in an area the father values. The son learns to listen to nature both within and outside himself--- the language of dogs, birds, and frogs. He learns to discern his own instinctual self--who he is as an individual. He learns to hear his deepest self, what he needs and values.

The father is so enraged by the son’s independence and new values that he disowns him.

But the story makes clear that following one’s own inner voice is well worth the sacrifice. The son is able to bring healing to others (freeing the town and then becoming Pope), and wealth to himself, represented by the treasure and the marriage (also a sign of the integration of masculine and feminine within the Self).

What are the instinctual voices, gut feelings, or intuitions in ourselves that we need to notice today? Read more!

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Salad

I am sitting with my family, we have ordered a takeout lunch. The waitress (a friend of mine) brings everyone their plate but mine is almost empty. Instead of a big salad, I find a few tiny pieces of lettuce and specks of other vegetables. I tell the waitress that this is unacceptable. I need a real salad.

The waitress goes back to the restaurant and is gone a long time. When she returns, the salad is exactly the same. I’m very angry now. My supposed friend seems both unconcerned and nervous. She says she’ll get me another salad. I decide I better go with her.

At the restaurant, I wait another long time. Again, I’m given the same ridiculous remains. Now I’m threatening the waitress. I had thought she was a friend but she seems incredibly apathetic. I demand to speak with the manager. The server points toward two very drunken men. I try to speak with them but they only laugh.

The injustice! Why won’t anyone help me get what I ordered? What kind of crazy restaurant is this? Why can’t I get any satisfaction?

Then suddenly I realize that I don’t have my purse with me. Where is it?????? Has someone taken it? I’m in a panic now. I don’t care about the stupid salad, I’m terrified that my purse and credit cards have been stolen. I search and search alone. I can’t ask for help, this is a hostile place.

At last, I see my purse on the floor. I grab it and search for my credit card. Rummaging through the mess, I finally find it.

I am grateful and know it is time to leave this place!
Read more!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Real Magic

I repeated the word all day long. “Magic. Magic. Magic.” I was determined to wrest some kind of supernatural power out of the ether. “Magic. Magic.” My silent mantra would bring me the powers of great sorcerers, saints, or mystics. The sheer force of my personality would summon inexplicable abilities. I was finished with prayers and supplication, I wanted magical powers, and would not rest until I had them.

During the flurry of serving breakfast and lunch, I was too busy buttering toast or removing dishes to always remember my mantra. But in the late afternoon, when the restaurant was empty, I folded cloth napkins into pilgrim caps and repeated the word, seeking solace for my aching soul.

It was a dare to the universe. I would say the word forever until something happened. And if nothing? I would die soon, probably. My depression was deep.

Day after day, I stood in the shadows, between the bins of dirty dishes and the iced water pitchers, repeating “magic, magic, magic.”

A turbaned, African woman sat in my station. She had been reading for several hours, nursing herbal tea. I moved around her, resetting the tables for lunch, repeating the word in my heavy heart. I seemed at peace, but there was a conflagration within. An endless inferno. I needed a partner. And a purpose.

I glanced at her book. The title sounded metaphysical. Spiritual with a touch of self-help. This was comforting to me. Ever since my move to California, I felt at home. A lost soul surrounded by other lost souls.

We chatted about the book as I envied her figure. She was wiry but muscular. Wrapped in a long robe of bold red, green, and yellow. Her easy smile dazzled. I asked about her occupation. She was a psychic.

“Really? How much do you charge?”

“Thirty dollars an hour.”

She was cheap. I admired that in a psychic. I had been desperate to find one, to discover my future, since I hated my present. But besides the expense, I knew there were few legitimate seers. Most were frauds. Going to a charlatan was not only a waste of money; it could put dangerous ideas in my already overly suggestible brain. I had begged the Universe to send me the right psychic. Perhaps it was Tametha. She gave me her card. I continued with the silverware.

A half-hour later, making my rounds with water glasses, I asked if she was waiting for someone.

“I'm not sure. I got up this morning and I couldn't get the word “magic” out of my head. I had the strong impression that I was supposed to come here this morning. I don't know why.”

I smiled in confusion. Could she believe my story? For all my earlier bravado, I could barely believe it myself. I had conjured up a psychic to visit me with my own stubborn will! I told my dramatic tale, with all the poetry I could muster, to my most tolerant friends. Mostly Californians. We all looked forward to my consultation with Tametha.

Yet, despite our miraculous meeting, my psychic’s prophecies proved mundane or indecipherable.

She had seen colors and an image of the Tin Man. All that trouble to be told I was looking for love? Anyone could tell me that! I stopped my mantra. Life was a bad joke. I needed to stop fighting the pain and just give up. I wouldn’t literally kill myself, but I could stop pursuing relief and just repress what was pulsing inside.

I had little to compel me out of my stupor. Every day I delivered food, retrieved dishes, counted tips, went home. I sometimes got high with friends. But more often, I simply huddled close to my tiny electric heater and stared for hours into the glowing orange coils.

I sometimes enjoyed waitressing, but mostly I loathed it. The money could be great, but also unpredictable. I loved the exercise but the stress of a poorly-managed restaurant spiked my blood pressure to dangerous levels. Free meals were habit forming, but getting them from abusive cooks was demoralizing. The biggest dividend was working with the other servers. We were an eccentric bunch. Artists and iconoclasts, we could be fierce and cutthroat when competing for lucrative stations, but our briefest exchanges were generally heartfelt and intimate--like those of all soldiers in combat. We stood side-by-side in the trenches, scraping plates and listening for sounds of our enemies—some customers, cooks, and most horrible of all--management. They came and went with great frequency, but their disorganized policies lingered, causing chaos in the restaurant, and havoc to our income.

To save money on additional staff, management’s newest scheme required waitstaff to provide their own bankrolls. Instead of using the cashier, we were given a supply of checks and the responsibility of making change. Huddled in any available corner, we rifled through our aprons. Disorganized servers (like me) struggled to keep checks and bills from disappearing as we ran around the restaurant. As cash vanished, so did our pay for that day.

Rushing though a particularly hellish Sunday brunch and feverishly counting money in the dark hallway, I suddenly saw the flaw in the system. Since brunch didn’t require orders from the kitchen, I could, theoretically, reuse the same check over and over. At the end of the shift, I would balance with management. If I had fewer checks, I would hand over less cash. The corporate geniuses had created a procedure that actually encouraged theft. Even I, who had never stolen before (except a few pens from the office), had never plagiarized in school (why cheat myself of learning?), had never lied to friends or lovers--even I could not force myself to make a new check for each group of customers. It was easier to use the same check a few times. If that provided me with an extra $60-120 per table, this was not my fault. Management should have created an easier and more secure system. It wasn't my fault.

Several weeks went by. The new sparkle in Angela's eyes told me that my favorite co-worker had possibly discovered the same magical formula for doubling tips. I longed to discuss my fears and guilt with her but I kept my windfall secret. I fought the temptation every Sunday but always succumbed to reusing a few checks. I felt little loyalty toward the corporation. What undermined my enjoyment of this fiscal miracle was my growing fear of getting caught. Every week I struggled against greed, lest I recycle too many checks and invite scrutiny.

Eventually, after a month of bountiful Sundays, I gave notice. I didn't have another job, and didn't know where I was going. Angela seemed confused--I was leaving the restaurant? Forfeiting this financial sorcery? Yes. I walked away. If I had conjured a psychic and an amoral windfall, perhaps I had also invoked a solid core inside myself. I walked away and began a new phase of life. There was a miracle in that.

© 2007 Lewis-Barr Read more!

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Changling

(Adapted from another "Elf Story" from the Brothers Grimm--third story on this link)

Donna loved her son. Really she did. But lately, just lately, she….found it hard to use the L word. She fantasized…..escape. Away from him, somehow….away.

What had happened to Adam? This was much more than the “terrible twos.” He bit her, screamed at her—and these were his good days. The bad days? No. Donna never admitted what really happened behind closed doors. Not to her best friend. Not to her co-workers. Not that she had co-workers. Donna had been forced to quit her job. No sitters could stand to be with the boy.

It hadn’t always been that way. Six months ago, at 18 months, he was still a charmer. And then? Suddenly the love of flinging, and fighting, and feces.

But the disgusting surfaces and bodies covered in brown were not the most disturbing change. Donna was most horrified by how she felt about her son. She never admitted her hateful thoughts—even to herself.

She was convinced he would grow out of it. But as the months wore on, Adam’s aggression only intensified. He destroyed entire rooms of furniture. He devoured a refrigerator full of food, then threw it up and….. Donna forced it out of her mind. Then, one day, Wendy, a neighbor, heard screams and came to the back porch. Donna stood in the wreckage. Her secret was revealed.

After helping clean up, and soothing Adam with huge mugs of chamomile and honey, Wendy offered advice.

“I had the same problem with little Tim, believe it or not.”

Wendy did not believe it.

“Remember Bonnie, next door to me? She was a midwife, and a teacher, and a Reiki master, and I don’t know what else. She told me what to do. Come here.”

They moved out of earshot of Adam, who had fallen asleep on the floor, clutching a large soiled blanket.

Wendy continued. “You have to buy a child’s chemistry set. Then find a glass ornament, or glass egg. Find a way to balance the egg on top of the burner and then, boil water in the egg. Show Adam the boiling water. He’ll laugh. It worked for me.”

Was Wendy crazy? Or simply baiting her? Donna tried to smile and looked at her neighbor who was gazing benevolently at her.

And, maybe because she was so tired, Donna heard herself say, “Do you still have your chemistry set? Could I borrow it?”

Wendy’s smile vanished. “No! No! The chemistry set is the key and Tim… No! I’m sorry! You can find one online or even at a resale shop.” She looked at Adam. “I’d do it as soon as possible.”

Wendy rushed away, now suddenly afraid of losing her own way. And Donna, in a rare moment of quiet, took Adam into the car and ran to the toy store.

He woke up surrounded by a tower of boxes. Donna was searching for a certain glass globe. Where was it!?

“Please honey, be careful with those.”

“Santa coming?”

“Not quite, yet, honey, but soon… You like these ornaments?”

Adam’s eyes were aglow. He had never been so near these dainty pieces. He gently clasped an heirloom glass-Santa, from Donna’s childhood. He shrieked with pleasure.

“That’s from Nana. Isn’t it pretty?”

They looked through the boxes all afternoon, and Donna told stories of Christmases past. Adam didn’t comprehend the words but he understood the gist—both through her smile and the lilt in her voice. They laughed together that day, and many future days after that, when mother and son looked for the glass globe somewhere hidden between lights and tinsel.

©Lewis-Barr 2008 Read more!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Zen for Today

Make Medicine from Suffering.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Elf Magic

(A contemporary adaptation of one of the Brothers Grimm "Elf Stories"--2nd story listed here)

Kate lived on a farm. She’d been hired to watch the property and tend a family’s small agri-business. She had no family of her own. She spent her days alone and silent, tending the organic vegetables, milking the goats, and cleaning the home. In the evenings, she treated herself to reading books of romance, or mythology, or psychology. Afterwards, over a cup of tea, she’d look at the stars, trying to learn their names. And later, in the quiet of her bed, she’d fantasize of possible tomorrows. Her sleep was filled with fantastic dreams.

She worked this way for 7 years.

Then, one evening, while falling asleep after a long day of harvesting and processing pickles, an idea popped into Kate’s head. It was a wonderful story for a movie. In an instant she saw it--the entire film. But she was exhausted. And she wasn’t a writer. Kate tried to stop imagining each scene and willed herself to go to sleep.

The next day, while weeding, or shoveling, or tending to the bees, Kate saw the movie even more clearly. Was it something she had seen before? No, the idea was new and unstable—the images morphed, transformed, and grew. More and more details emerged until Kate felt she was living a parallel life: one on the farm, and one in a fairytale kingdom in her mind. Soon, the elves from the story started talking directly to Kate, asking her to help them tell their story to the world. But she wasn’t a writer!

After a week of images, when she started talking back to the elves, Kate knew she had a problem. She had to stop these daydreams. The elves begged her to contact an agent in Los Angeles. But she didn’t know any agents! The elves wouldn’t be refused. She had been given a great honor to help birth their tale! She had to go to L.A. They’d take care of the rest.

The harvest was in and the bees were tended. She had come into some extra money unexpectedly. Perhaps it was time for a vacation? She could get someone to watch the animals while she was gone. A change of pace might be just what she needed. Clearly, she had lived alone too long. And if, in the course of events she met an agent? No, that was the craziness talking. She had a friend to visit. That was all she was doing. It would be nicer than a trip to a psychiatrist. Still, just to shut up the elves in her head, Kate packed her story notes.

On the plane ride she found herself next to a movie producer. She debated whether or not to tell her fantastic tale but, given the startling coincidence, and the high pitched yelling of the elves in her head, she acquiesced. John listened patiently, gave her his card and told her to visit him in two days.

Hollywood was an intoxicating mix: mountains, ocean, Grateful Dead parties, surfing, celebrity sightings, funky canyon hideaways, and New Age hedonists who shared a myriad of sensual pleasures with Kate.

She began to learn the business of Hollywood: meetings for screen treatments, meetings for financing. Meetings in hot tubs, at sushi bars, and while jogging on the beach.

A week after their first meeting, while she was packing her bags to go home, John called. He had arranged another conference for Friday, couldn’t she stay? Kate thought about the farm and her duties. The elves sang sweetly in her mind. Couldn’t she stay??

Maybe another week.

Back on the plane, Kate sat in a daze. The elves’ story no longer occupied her mind. Now she replayed visions of new friends and all she’d learned about movie-making. And a final image--her name on a check for $6 million.

It was a stifling, humid day when Kate got home. She was surprised at how flat the land looked. No one was around and the garden looked terrible. She didn’t even put her things away but merely laid them at the door and rushed to water the crops. Then, still in her traveling clothes, she began to weed. A man approached. What was she doing?

Kate looked at the man. She didn’t understand the question. And then she realized—all the meetings! The farm now belonged to someone else. She had been gone over a year!

©Lewis-Barr 2008 Read more!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year Zen

A traditional zen koan to contemplate today:

You smile and the world changes.

Happy New Year. Read more!