Saturday, May 31, 2014

Thumbelina: Innocence Found

Still from Thumbelina, photo by Robyn Beattie
“...all the while she was really the loveliest creature that one could imagine”

Thumbelina the poem is live in Issue #1 of the NonBinary Review—available to download as a Zoetic Press app through iTunes (for viewing on iPad 2 with ios 7 minimum). Or if you want to hear the poem poured over images, cue up the photo poem montage of  Thumbelina Robyn and I put together, accessible on YouTube, featuring Stephen Pryputniewicz (my father) on keyboard with his spare and lovely adaptation of Mort Garson’s Taurus, The Voluptuary from the album “Cosmic Sounds: celestial counterpoint with words and music” (originally released in 1967).

Thumbelina, the sprite, remains for me a tiny harbinger of the time before—as the saying goes—“innocence was lost”…I must have been about eleven years old, coloring in the outlines of Thumbelina in my upstairs bedroom in the sleepy town of Villa Grande on the Russian River. Surrounded by cutouts of the mustached black and white Purina Cat Chow cats I’d taped to the walls with their silky angelfish whiskers peering over my shoulder, I lay across a pink bedspread on a white and gold canopy bed I’d inherited from an older girl, my new best friend, up the street. On her way to high school she’d leave me handwritten notes on my gatepost….before “it” happened and I had something to hide forever.
Such simple joy—coloring in the flower on which stood the bare-legged Thumbelina, each petal a different color like Joseph’s coat of many colors. I was not a mother then. Unaware that the story of the mother would matter someday. Her loneliness at the end having to let Thumbelina go. More the idea of daughter than the real time daughter.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I’m surprised to find, in writing the poem, that girl, mother, and flower coexist in the imagination alongside an innocence I thought lost, beside a self I thought irreparably fractured.  I'm also surprised to discover it takes years to undo certain misassumptions.  Several years ago, I approached a community service agency about applying for a grant to fund a project focused on using writing to help rape survivors. One of the staff members casually said something like:

“You know, families come to us absolutely devastated, thinking they’ll never get over it (sexual trauma to a child or teen). But of course everyone can, and does, they just need to hear someone say it with conviction. Of course both the child and the family can heal.”

I nodded as if I knew, “Sure, of course.” But internally, I was elated. No, I didn’t know. For years I assumed one had to go on, irreversibly damaged. And that the only option was to cloak and hide carefully enough so others would not divine the broken core "you."
We didn’t get the grant, but I made out like a bandit with the gold at the end of the conversation’s rainbow with that one insight. Fast forward a couple of years, at which point I met Saddle Road Press sister Michelle Wing (author of Body on the Wall). In her I found a kindred spirit, already doing beautiful work with a program she started called Changing Hurt to Hope (which she describes in this interview conducted by Erica Rothberg at The California Journal of Women Writers).

Healing happens with naming, just as pain softens when witnessed or shrouded. Like the pale white cloth in the still Robyn and I chose for our movie to accompany Thumbelina’s admonition to her mother, “It still ended with you, childless again at the window…” I love the image, a veil over the shared fragility and strength of the mother/daughter bond. Artist Victoria Ayres (creator of the artwork in that frame) writes in her statement:
In my current work using silk/cotton thread panels and stressed tissue paper, which overlay the figure and elicit a sense of masking or covering over, the viewer sees only parts of the image. This work speaks to the layers of experiences, both painful and affirming, that mold who we are and who we become over time…

My gratitude, then, for the gift of writing, for the chance to try on viewpoints and imagined incarnations like robes in a closet. And then to shed them.

I suppose Thumbelina reminds us (fairytale mothers and earth mothers alike) that our daughters are neither ours to keep nor give away. And that we arrive of our own accord, to find our way along a trail littered with joys and devastations in uneven measure that magic will, god-willing, offset, and on good days, trump.

NonBinary Review’s layout for Issue #1: A Grimm Collection of Modern Fairy Tales gives you the option to read the Grimm’s version as well as contributor versions of Snow White, Little Red Cap, Cinderella, and the Pied Piper, to name a few. Through July, they are taking submissions based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the issue after, L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. Submission guidelines here.

Saddle Road Press sisters Michelle Wing (author of the poetry collection, "Body on the Wall") and Ruth Thompson (author of the poetry collection, "Woman with Crows") and I will be reading at Moe's Bookstore in Berkeley on Thursday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the invitation of Poetry Flash. Thompson's "Woman With Crows" was reviewed earlier this week at The California Journal of Women Writers.

Up at Mother Writer Mentor this week, Lifting the Domestic: A Conversation with Jayne Benjulian in which Benjulian deepens a conversation started at TCJWW about Barbara Rockman's poetry collection, "Sting and Nest." Benjulian remarks, "To lift the domestic into the poetic is quietly radical..."

Photos of the bird in this post are by Robyn Beattie, as is the author photo and book cover for November Butterfly on this poster; book cover design by Don Mitchell.


Jane Hammons said...

Oh!I hope to see you all at Moe's in a few weeks! Cool!

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Yes! Hope to see you too! Would love the AROHO support, looking forward to seeing you.

Unknown said...

Wow Tania! I wish I could be there at Moe's Bookstore to hear you read November Butterfly. Lots of Love and will tell my bay area folk you'll be there.

Can't wait to hear about it.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Wish you were too, Penina--miss you very much. Will just have to come to your new city--maybe we can do a joint reading when your book is ready. Let's plan on it.

Sandra said...

This is such an essential part of the recognition of self. Thank you, Tania, for posting this amazingly to-the-bone piece. It's resonating with me as I know it will resonate with many others.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Sandra, thanks for giving me the courage to finish the post. Your photo text artwork makes me less afraid to say what I have to say.

Sandra said...

Mutual Flamingo support!

Anonymous said...

Just just just beautiful. I keep pulling quotes off this post, but to keep it simple, I will say Thank you and leave it at that. I love hearing you read the movies.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Thank you Suzi...Thumbelina I believe was movie number 6 for us...I feel the practice and process of making each movie builds for each subsequent one...glad to hear you like this one. I do Robyn's images.

Edith said...

Everything about this post is exquisite - your language, your imagery, your sentiments. Somehow you have succeeded in manifesting the impossible, I mean that ineffable felt sense which always harbours a kind of 3-dimensional perspective on to the 2-dimensional screen of my no-longer-quite-so-inert lap top screen. Honestly Tania, your writing seems to grow deeper and richer with every post. I always save the link to your posts until I know I have to space, time and solitude to savour them mindfully alone.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...


bless you for your comment; in order to keep writing, I take heart from your words. Lately I write, then vacillate, hesitate, about that ever fine line of reveal vs. over-exposure. Thank you so much for listening, and for responding, so much.