Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Telling Life: I am the wicked queen, the cursing fairy

I feel as though I should be writing this post in a tiny font or some other way of indicating a secret, a shame. I know what I’m about to say is no different from anything most of us feel, but we don’t talk about it, and I think that can have an impact on our work and our confidence in our abilities. It certainly undermines my sense of my own value as a storyteller, an artist and a human being. 

Here goes.

I love the villains in fairy tales. I know they can be truly awful and rarely do they actually learn a lesson - really it’s more about punishment - but they are so human. They are often the only characters who behave in understandable, if wicked, ways. They experience something that hurts. They lash out. 

There are days when I am the Wicked Queen from Snow White. I look in my mirror and see myself as old, outdated. I am in that odd generational gap commonly known as Gen X, sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Millennials. When I began storytelling I was the baby in the room and when I tried to do new, innovative things (personal stories about sex, revamping fairy tales in experimental ways, judged storytelling events and so on) there was always someone telling me I was pushing too hard and no one would want that kind of stuff. 

Now that kind of stuff is all the rage. 

I now often hear stories and see performances that are similar to what I was trying to do 15 years ago; I truly celebrate that our art has grown so much and that there is room for more diverse visions of what storytelling is. Even in my celebration, every once in awhile that hurt part of me thinks what about me? I was doing that way back when and no one cared. I still do it. I still push boundaries. Does anyone care? I'm not the young generation now, does anyone want innovation from me? I stifle those voices and carry on. They help no one. I'd rather keep doing new work and supporting other tellers, but those voices are there. While I don't lash out, I do get jealous. 

There are days when I am the cursing fairy from Sleeping Beauty. I feel left out and so am less generous. I am the old woman in the road who offers spurned gifts. I am the giant who really just wants to be left alone. I am all of these villains some days. 

We don't have a community understanding of this kind of stuff. The storytelling community is amazing but still quite young, so we don't have a way to express these feelings in safe ways. We also live in a culture that doesn't support artists more generally, so there is little conversation about all the ways being an artist is also all the ways we are human, with good and bad feelings. I don't always know what to do with these emotions and I certainly don't feel safe expressing them. This post is terrifying me, I'm afraid to click publish. I'm afraid that by naming it I will lose work, I will not be considered for other gigs, or people - you, my colleagues whom I love and respect - will think less of me. I'm afraid I will be punished as all fairy tale villains are because I'm not supposed to feel this way, right?

What really matters, of course, is what I do with these feelings. Most of the time I acknowledge them and move on. If it's a particularly bad day I might call a friend and rant for awhile, then put on my big girl pants and try again. I do my best to not act on these feelings, to not become the wicked queen, even if I understand her more now than I ever thought I could when I was 25. I like to think it's the action (or lack thereof) that matters. All I can do is keep doing the best work I can and be as generous as I can be, regardless of some of my less noble feelings.

Who does it hurt? If I don't act on it and do my best to remain a supportive member of the community, then I hurt no one, right? Wrong. I hurt myself because I begin to doubt my own abilities, talent and voice. I hurt others because, if I feel obsolete, I am less likely to seek out performances and teaching opportunities, so I remove my voice from the world. And my voice matters, just as much as yours does, just as much as the newest storyteller who hasn't yet heard a broad range of performances so thinks all their ideas are new.

I know I'm not alone in this, but so rarely do I talk about it with anyone. I have two colleagues who has expressed similar feelings to me, and I am grateful because I know I'm not the only one who feels petty jealousy sometimes. Surely there are more than just the three of us?

I know I'm not the only storyteller artist human being to feel this way. The old stories tell me that, because there are so many characters who struggle with feeling left behind or worthless. But the old stories don't offer me a roadmap of a way out of these feelings; they tell me only that acting on them is evil. I remind myself that I still have worth even if I feel petty things. I do my best to not stifle others as I was stifled. I work to remain generous with my time, my mentorship, my leadership, my talent. But some days it's not easy and all I want is to have my mirror tell me that yes, I am still fair.

What do you do when you feel jealous, frustrated, and ashamed of having those feelings? Am I the only one?

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. I don't even know what to say. I have been looking in that mirror lately and asking the same questions. Often. I feel all those things Laura. For me its the music. I look at the hordes of girls with guitars and think about when we started so many years ago. I feel like time was stolen from me because of depression. It pisses me off and sometimes makes me feel weak. There are days when I feel like the ugly step-sister. Superficial, lazy and mad!

    1. hugs!
      Thank you for the reminder that I'm not alone. I know it won't help, but you are so much more than an ugly step-sister...

  2. Yeah. You're the only one. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    Here's the annoying thing… There's a distinction between being innovative and cashing in. Or being one of the "popular" kids. They say (whoever "they" are) that if you do good work, you'll be recognized. But that's a crock of shit.

    If you do good work, you have the satisfaction of doing good work.
    If you do innovative work, you have the satisfaction of doing innovative work.
    If you pander, you have the satisfaction of selling out.

    The lie, however, is that you're old and outdated and irrelevant.

    Be wicked and gleeful and delightful. Because I know you'll never be evil.

  3. You are most certainly not the only one! Within our storytelling community, it's not unusual for me to be both happy to see someone else get an opportunity while at the same time feeling jealousy or envy that the opportunity did not come to me. I've found acknowledging the full spectrum of feeling keeps me from plunging into evil sister/step-sister or evil queen mode by taking actions to undo another's good fortune. I do believe it is the lack of action, not the feeling, that matters. And yes, I've always had an affection for those oh so human fairy tale characters too.

    1. Yes, those simultaneous feelings are quite something. I have no interest in undermining others, I find some of the feelings undermine me!

  4. Gawd, I live in that place for days at a time. So embarrassing. Bad for my health, business, bad for others, etc. It's what I really mean when I say, 'I guess it's the second mouse that gets the cheese." (as if I were first?!) But there is something else going on too. The internet has provided an unprecedented opportunity for "social comparison" to help us measure our insides by other's outsides, it has us doing work for free - work we used to get paid to do, and the ease of "copy and paste" has sponsored a shift in ethics designed to suit the network economy not necessarily the human race. I agree wasting time worrying about segments of my book posted as someone else's blog is immature and petty. But humility is one thing, and casting our eyes away from the subterrainian shift separating effort/talent/contributions from rewards doesn't feel responsible either. Thank you for bringing it up in public. I'm at a loss. I used to believe my competitive advantage was generosity and now...I'm not nearly as generous as I was in 2001. I hold back. I'm not proud of it, but I do.

    1. I struggle with that, too. I give away an enormous amount of content on this blog and am rarely credited when someone quotes it word for word. Hard questions.
      I miss talking w/ you, btw.

    2. Hi, I don't know you, but... being mad about people stealing your writing is NOT immature and petty. When my writing gets stolen, I go after the thief with everything I've got until the situation is corrected! I value my writing more than any other possession, and I'm not at all ashamed of that.

    3. Agreed. Though it's hard to do and seems, sometimes, to reflect generational values - some people who have grown up in the "sharing economy" interpret it as the "I want it so I'll use it economy."

    4. I agree Bryn, but when the practical cost of 'protecting copyright' by litigation and/or high visibility (such a big platform-everyone knows it came from you) is too expensive to pursue. It's hard to keep putting it out there. It's a conundrum.

  5. Insert "long form improv" for story telling, and this is me. Only with less grace and more cranky. Thank you for writing this.

  6. for me its more of a sadness (equally or more debiliting), and a withdrawal. I am forever withdrawing from spaces, where what i have to offer may not be honoured. Not good, i know. Am dealing with this in various aspects of my life. Must get up and do what i need to do.

    1. I've done the same thing.

      The world needs your voice, my friend.

  7. Strong voice, brave words. I can so relate to this. Seems to me a kind of professional creative FOMO - what about me...I hear myself yell in silence... and when it comes to stealing... and taking credit for someone else story or writing...that's the real evil in my opinion. Love how you articulated this...thanks

  8. Catching up from a busy year so far. I'm feeling it too! Just about the young guard coming up, really. And being a little envious of their youth as mine is slowly... well, grey hairs, and all that!
    And at the same time I encourage them as I was encouraged. People like you and Kevin I have to thank for that. With some of the stuff that is so apparent in current affairs, I wonder if it is more challenging for a woman to be heard when doing risky art, than it is for a man. I look at the female soccer player, and the male American footballer, and Lochte. Not that I am comparing the footballer to Lochte - I am not!! That is a whole other discussion! What is the difference between a woman creating challenging art and a male doing the same, here in the USA? Hm.


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