Cinderella’s Misunderstood Strength

When someone says Cinderella, what do most people think? Weak, pushover, pathetic, damsel in distress? Perhaps those are accurate, from a certain viewpoint.  Perhaps she is a terrible role model for young girls. It’s easy to see her as moping around waiting for her prince to come rescue her. But consider her story from a different perspective – a perspective that’s hard to see beneath all the girl power rants, a perspective I believe Kenneth Braunagh captured well in the live action film – and maybe you’ll begin to see her a little differently.

Hollywood has become obsessed with a specific type of heroine. Sure, she might look a little different from movie to movie, but at her core she’s much the same everywhere. She’s outspoken, sometimes even opinionated. She doesn’t run from a fight, whether she knows how to fight or not.  She doesn’t give up on what she wants, no matter what obstacles land in her way. Strong women like Eowyn, Wonder Woman, and Buffy, would never put up with Cinderella’s treatment. The “strong woman” wouldn’t have stayed. Heck, the “strong woman” would have found a way to kick her stepmother and stepsisters out of the house and made her own way in the world. Probably sans prince, too. And that’s great.

But that does not make Cinderella weak.

Consider the story, for a moment, from the stepmother’s point of view. She’s lost not only one, but two caring husbands. Men she loved, even if she didn’t always show it well. Try as she might she cannot keep her grief from poisoning her daughters’ attitudes.  And, as if that doesn’t make it hard enough to forget her grief, she has another daily reminder of it in the form of her second husband’s daughter.

Now, if we were to cast the stepmother as our “strong woman” would it not seem reasonable that she would find it difficult to be kind to Cinderella? And more than that, Cinderella refuses to rise to the bait.  No matter how awful the stepmother’s grief makes her, Cinderella does not respond in kind.  Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that the stepmother may have been itching for a fight? After all, how many of us wind up hurting the ones closest to us when we’re in pain?

The truth is, I have seen this very story line in many books and movies. Did not Anakin try to kill his own son? Did not Callahan try to kill Alastair Krei and Hiro? Did not Gollum threaten to kill Bilbo and try to kill Frodo as well? Each of the heroes had every opportunity to kill their adversaries. Some might say they had every right to. And yet, each found it within himself to show pity. Luke fought to save his father. Hiro risked his own life to save Callahan’s daughter. Frodo took care of Gollum, saw the simple hobbit he was before the ring corrupted him. They all chose compassion over anger.

So why is Cinderella’s compassion for her stepmother and stepsisters seen as weakness? Why are Callahan, Anakin, and Gollum worthy of compassion, but Cinderella’s stepmother is not?

This is why Cinderella’s strength and courage is so hard to recognize.

If we fail to see the grief and hurt that drives her stepmother’s anger and hatred, then we also fail to understand why Cinderella chooses to endure their treatment rather than give as good as she gets. We expect her to be a “strong woman,” fighting for freedom or justice like Eowyn, Wonder Woman, or Buffy. So we are disappointed when she does not live up to those expectations. And that disappointment blinds us to her real strength.

In a world where standing up for oneself now often means tearing others down, Cinderella shows us another way. As the world becomes more and more individualistic, Cinderella shows us how to look outside ourselves. While strong women like Eowyn, Wonder Woman, and Buffy encourage us to fight adversity, Cinderella shows us how to hold onto compassion in the midst of it.

Cinderella shows us how to see the hurt the bullies hide.

May I make one more comparison? Maybe to another princess that many find much braver? Someone who saw a man worth loving within the ferocious body of a beast?

It’s odd that Belle is seen as brave while Cinderella is considered weak when they both model the same lesson. The primary difference is that the man inside the beast is easier for the audience to see than the heart-broken woman inside the stepmother. While Belle had to learn to see what lay beneath physical ugliness, Cinderella was able to see what lay beneath hurtful words and actions from the beginning. And seeing the pain beneath hurtful words is not only harder to do, but harder to recognize in other people’s situations.

It is admirable to stand up for ourselves and to fight for what we want. But not every conflict should be solved through confrontation. Not every bully needs to be locked up. Like the hundreds of cops who have turned lives around by replacing knives or guns with a friendly cup of coffee instead of a pair of cuffs, Cinderella chose to treat her stepmother and stepsisters the way she wished them to treat her. She was able to see the grief stricken woman inside her stepmother. She was able to see the hurting, confused girls inside her stepsisters.

I’d like to think that Cinderella’s kindness helped them to find a better way of living. That perhaps they went on to become kinder individuals because Cinderella was kind to them when they deserved it least. And that is what makes Cinderella brave. She chooses to treat everyone in her life with respect, whether they deserve it or not.

She chooses to be kind when she has every right to be angry.

How often can we say that of ourselves?

So, before you add to the litany of complaints regarding this timeless fairytale, consider that not everyone is cut out to be a “strong woman.” Consider that some girls might need a Cinderella to show them that it’s okay to prefer kindness to ambition. Consider that someone who looks like a pushover, might just be a lot stronger than you realize.

Podcast Ponder 2: Writing Excuses


Writing Excuses: 9.13 Three Pronged Character Development

First let me introduce this podcast. It’s one of my favorite writing podcasts, put together by published authors Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and the creator of the hilarious comic Schlock Mercenary, Howard Taylor. Since I started listening to this podcast, the quality of my writing has skyrocketed.

This particular episode, along with its companion episodes (links at the bottom), introduced a brand new concept for me that I have since used multiple times. The Three Pronged Character Development concept is comprised of three sliding scales: 1. Sympathy Slider, 2. Competence Slider, and 3. Proactivity Slider.

Since listening to this episode, diagnosing character problems has become so much simpler and quicker. In this first episode, they introduce the concept and give a few examples of characters with varying Slider levels to start off. It helps to show why we like certain characters and not others. It’s a fun exercise to try yourself, too.

For example, they explain how Harry Potter’s Competence Slider and Proactivity Slider are both low while his Sympathy Slider is quite high and how JK Rowling accomplished that. They do the same for other well known characters as well.

When they get into moving sliders around to improve characters, it instantly helped me understand what I was doing wrong with my own characters and how I could fix it. Which brings me to another big point they make. This concept is not necessarily ideal for developing characters from the beginning, though it can help. It works best as a simple diagnosing tool and I can attest to its value and usefulness.

So if you’re having trouble figuring out your characters, or you want to make them more relatable, or you’re just curious about character developement, then I highly recommend giving this episode a listen. Then check out the companion episodes where they talk about each Slider in depth. I guarantee your characters will thank you.

Ep 9.25: Adjusting Character Sympathy
Ep 9.26: Adjusting Character Competence
Ep 9.32: Adjusting Character Proactivity

The 4 types of knitters


I learned to knit when I was about 10 and have dabbled with it off and on ever since. I’ve made wash clothes, scarves, hats, gloves. At one point I even learned to crochet (gasp!).

I also know quite a few knitters and I’ve learned that there are basically four different types.

Type 1: Pattern required, fiber snob

These knitters yarn shop in two interchangeable steps. 1. Find perfect yarn. 2. Find perfect pattern. Sometimes they find the pattern first, sometimes they find the yarn. But rest assured, they cannot leave the yarn shop without both (or at least not without plans for fulfilling the other step). There is hardly ever any free styling for these knitters. If it doesn’t have a pattern, they won’t be knitting it.

They are also yarn snobs, or as my mother says it, fiber snobs. There is nothing fake in these knitters’ projects. You’ll never catch them fingering anything acrylic, polyester, or synthetic. If it didn’t come straight from an animal or plant, they won’t even notice it. (Unless the tags are missing, but they don’t talk about those embarrassing moments.)

These are the most organized, structured knitters you’ll ever meet. Give them a pattern and they’ll find the exact yarn needed for it, then churn out a perfect sweater that looks just like the picture. (Don’t tell my mother, but fiber snobs also find the softest yarn.)

Type 2: Pattern required, fiber opportunist

These knitters need patterns as much as Type 1s. Give them a skein and tell them to knit whatever comes to mind and they’ll panic.

However, give them a pattern and they will knit with whatever is available. Oh sure, they love exploring yarn shops as much as any knitter (it’s a therapeutic experience, feeling all the delicious yarns), but they aren’t picky about what it’s made of. If they like it, they’ll take it.

These kind of knitters almost always go for the pattern books first. They love feeling the yarns, but are rarely inspired without a pattern to look at first. They’re also a lot of fun to explore yarn with since they touch first and read tags second.

Type 3: Free spirit, fiber snob

These knitters are commonly seen sitting in waiting rooms, bus stops, and coffee shops while their needles seem to have a mind of their own. They never need a pattern, and some actually find patterns too confining, but they will knit from one if they happen to like it. They also never knit with anything fake and a good chunk of their wardrobe they made themselves. (It’s not uncommon for these kind of knitters to be health foodies as well.)

They’re constantly creating and often find ways of putting discordant things together to make something surprisingly beautiful.

Type 4: free spirit, fiber opportunist

These knitters are generally hobby knitters. They find patterns confining and overwhelming and almost always prefer to knit without them. They’re less concerned with learning new stitches and techniques as simply knitting whatever they feel like.

These are the knitters you see most often in Michaels and Walmart (though they’ll wander a boutique yarn shop for fun too), and they aren’t nearly as familiar as fiber snobs with the horror of needing more of a particular yarn only to find that it’s been discontinued. Any kind of yarn will do for them and they don’t really care if what they’re making doesn’t come out just right. They simply enjoy the experience of making something with their hands.

For my part, I’m an occasionally snobby Type 4. It’s unavoidable when your mother is a brilliant Type 1. (Love you mom!)

Any other knitters out there? What type of knitter are you?

A hidden message in Monsters University

If you know me, then you know I’m slightly obssessed with Pixar. Their movies, their storytelling techniques, their support of young talent, pretty much everything about the studio. But don’t worry, this post isn’t going to be a big fangirl fest. (Though I could fill up several posts.)

Of the many things they are excellent at, overlapping story arcs is a big one. It’s most obvious in their ability to tell stories that appeal to both children and adults. It’s evident in every single one of their movies, including Monsters University, the sequel to Monsters Inc.

For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a story about two very different monsters, Sully and Mike Wazowski, and how they learn to work together to achieve their dreams. Although, if you haven’t seen it, you should probably go watch it before reading the rest of this post.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

Is it done yet?

Now?

Okay, let’s continue.

Beneath the many obvious themes is a not-so-obvious underlying message this movie makes. You see, even though all Mike has ever wanted in life is to be a scarer, he never actually becomes one. Not even in the original movie is he a scarer.

Most kids movies usually involve some form of the theme “you can be anything.” Ratatouille, The Lego Movie, How To Train Your Dragon, Planes. (Okay, so I’m obsessed with animated movies in general. What can I say? I’m a nerd.) And there is absolutely nothing wrong with those themes.

The sursrising message Monsters University shows kids is that it’s okay if we don’t achieve our dreams. It shows them how to continue on when hard work and dedication isn’t enough. It’s the personification of the quote, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land in the stars.”

Mike didn’t become a scarer. He didn’t even manage to graduate from Monsters University. But he did learn that not achieving his dream didn’t make him worthless. He learned to see worth in who he was, rather than who he wanted to be.

He didn’t become a scarer, but he did end up working for the company he admired so much. He learned that even though he didn’t reach the moon, he still wound up in the stars. And the stars are a pretty awesome place to wind up.

Podcast Ponder 1: I Should Be Writing

I Should Be Writing Ep. 378: Preparations

This episode of I Should Be Writing is actually a good one to start with if you’ve never heard the podcast. About halfway through, she explains what it’s all about and even a little about her other podcast, Ditch Diggers. One of my favorite aspects of this podcast is how each episode feels more like a conversation with Mur Lafferty than like she’s imparting invaluable wisdom from some lofty pedestal. When I feel alone in my struggles, I can come to this podcast and feel like I’ve got someone in my corner rooting for me.

In this episode she talks about her struggles with being prepared and how being a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants) makes that difficult. Even though I’m an outline junkie, I can still relate to the constant state of unpreparedness. No matter how much I outline, research, plan, etc. I never feel ready to start writing or keep up with this blog. For instance, this post was supposed to have been written this past weekend, but I never actually got around to it until yesterday. In fact, I’m typing this up while my two year old is climbing on me and shoving a bottle of kids vitamin gummies in my face. (For the record, he’s already had two and I know all too well what too many of these can do to your digestive system.)

I suppose part of that unpreparedness has something to do with all of the various responsibilities life and motherhood come with. It’s exhausting trying to be prepared all the time! And any time I’m fully prepared in one area, I’m therefore lacking in another.

Mur addresses this as well with her example of feeling ready to record a recent Ditch Diggers podcast episode, only to discover an important part she’d forgotten to prepare for. It’s like getting the dishes in the sink done only to find more in another room later on. Or finishing a school worksheet only to get marked down the next day for not doing the work on the back you hadn’t realized was there.

Then she brings up the usefulness of checklists. I have to admit to a bit of a chuckle at that point. Not because it’s not a fabulous idea or an excellent tool. I know they work wonders for many people, but even though I enjoy making lists (outline junkie, remember?), I have two main problems with them. 1. I always lose the lists or can’t remember which app I saved them in, which means I spend more time looking for the lists than using them. 2. The minute I make a to do list, something major inevitably crops up to put a huge dent in my plans for the day. Like the results of too many vitamin gummies.

Mur then spends the last half of the episode giving practical suggestions and tools to help prepare for writing. She never says you have to do any of them to be a successful writer, though. They are simply tools and methods to try out in order to figure out what works for you. I use some of them and am intrigued by others. Mostly though, I’m just grateful to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t have it all together. That any time I’m feeling like a failure and that I’ll never amount to anything, I can always turn on this podcast and be reminded that not only am I not alone, but that success isn’t dependent on always being prepared for everything.

Do you ever struggle with being prepared? Or are you one of those rare breeds who manage to remember everything? More importantly, have you ever had too many vitamin gummies? It’s quite unpleasant.

Introducing . . . Podcast Ponder

I’m a busy mom of two little boys, so I rarely have time to sit and read anymore. As a result, I’ve migrated from reading about writing craft to listening to podcasts, like Writing Excuses, Manuscript AcademyDitch Diggers, 600 Second Saga, and many others. Now I can learn about writing while doing dishes, folding laundry, and hunting for that special sippy cup that I swear looks like all the others.

While brainstorming ideas to write about here, I began writing down my thoughts on some of these episodes for fun. Then I thought, why not share them with all of you? And Podcast Ponder was born.

So now, every other Wednesday, between author interviews, I will share about a recent podcast episode on which I’ve been pondering.

Check out the links above for a sneak peek at what I’ll be pondering about. And let me know what you think about them.