What I learned from Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted was my favorite book when I was 12, is my favorite book right now, and might be my favorite book forever. As a lover of fairy tales, balls, and evening gowns, every version of Cinderella was a treat, but this one felt like it was made just for me. Because in this version, the girl doesn’t need to be a princess, actually gets to know the prince, and then saves herself.

In the fairy tale land of Frell, there are giants, elves, princes and curses. Magic is real, and so are mean girls. Ella is under a curse to always be obedient, so she has to follow every order anyone gives her. Every “go to your room,” every “go jump in a lake,” everything. She meets a prince, because this is that kind of story, and they fall in love. But she knows that her curse would put the prince and her kingdom in danger, so she gives him up. Her mother dies, and she knows of grief and fear. It is that kind of story, too.

I revisited Ella Enchanted recently and wondered why I ever read any other book when everything I need to know was already in its pages.

This book is what taught me that men will always give you grief if you want to do something all on your own. In Ella’s case it’s when she runs away from finishing school and asks for directions to a giant’s wedding. Upon hearing she wants to walk her journey alone, sometimes at night, the shopkeeper laughs at her. In my imagination, he gives her what I’m sure is the same exact look the guy at work gave you yesterday when you said “No, actually, I’ve got this.” Ella continues her journey and doesn’t think about the shopkeeper again. I think about him often.

Later on, Ella meets a different kind of man. Her father loses all his money when he gets caught trying to swindle a client. To gain back some of their fortune, he decides to marry Ella to a rich old man. He orders her to eat drugged mushrooms (our fairy tale’s version of ecstasy, perhaps) to lower her guard and make her more “flirtatious.” When this skeezy old man, who ends up not being rich enough anyway, learns that Ella is only 15, he says “You have a loving heart. I see that. More woman than child.”

And that is when I learned that gross old men will always make excuses to justify preying on young women.

There are some good guys in Ella’s life too, but while reading her story I learned even the good guys can disappoint.

Prince Char is an undisputedly good guy. He doesn’t fall for evil stepsister Hattie’s shenanigans, and his faults are things like “loves his family too much.” But all it takes is Ella dumping him for him to conjure up names for her that certainly wouldn’t be allowed in polite, princely company. Names like minx, flirt, harpy, siren, enchantress, temptress, and monster. Char is a good guy, yes, but he is also the epitome of princely privilege. When Ella dines with him (this is a fairy tale, remember, so she doesn’t grab dinner with him, she dines with him), everyone in his company waited to eat until Char began eating. “It was so natural to him I doubted he noticed,” Ella thinks. That’s as good a definition of privilege as I have ever heard.

The lesson from Ella Enchanted that took me the longest to learn–that I am still learning–is the one that Ella also struggled with the most. Ella had to follow orders because she was cursed. I follow orders because I am a people pleaser and fixer in a world that teaches women to be people pleasers and fixers. Following the rules is how I made my way through life: I did my homework, I read the directions, I didn’t stay out past curfew.

Ella was my first fictional example of a woman who knew that following the rules wasn’t best for her. She followed orders, technically, because she had to, but she did everything she could to fight back. In my world, doing anything to make yourself more difficult was revolutionary. When her dancing instructor at finishing school told her to raise her feet higher, Ella raised her legs above her waist. When her stepsister told her to clean up a dustbunny, Ella picked it up and then shoved it in her sister’s face. She rebelled in any way she could, over, and over, and over. She was my first rule-breaking role model.

I have had other rule-breaking role models in real life, and they have been invaluable to me. When I see another woman decide she doesn’t have to wear what’s appropriate, or be nice when people are rude to her, or stop everything to answer an email, I get a little stronger, and saying no becomes a little easier. Ella had to learn how to say no to break her curse, but we both had learn how to say no to survive.

I extremely proud that I make my own money and pay all my bills. I work hard, and I’m good at what I do. I am a grown woman, and I can do whatever I what. But sometimes, still, I forget I can say no.

The other day, a complete stranger told me to do something I didn’t want to do to make his life easier. And I, a grown ass woman, said “Do I have to?”

Ella says the same thing, when she wants someone to reconsider their order, if they said something hastily or sarcastically. Ella had to obey. I do not.

I quickly gained my composure and remembered that this man I do not know has no power over me, but it was scary to realize how easily I slipped back into the dynamic of a man giving orders, and me following them.

In the year of Shonda saying yes, I kept the word “no” on my lips. Like many young women in a mostly male workplace, I was often taken for an assistant instead of a peer. Workplace dynamics are tricky anyway, and when you want to be seen as someone who is helpful, it is very easy to end up doing everyone else’s job and not your own. So I said no. No to small tasks that I knew I could do, and to big tasks I knew I couldn’t. Like bullies on a playground, eventually the boys I worked with stopped trying to push me around.

It’s time consuming, to say no. I have to weigh my options, who is asking, if I sound too aggressive, if I really want to do it, what will it look like if this email gets forwarded. Sometimes I thought I would crumble under the weight of saying no, but instead it built me up.

Now I say no, all the time, just for fun. I’m horrible at board games because I never follow the rules, I just make up my own. I don’t participate in karaoke. I don’t answer all my emails or texts. If I don’t like the way someone is speaking to me, I hang up the phone.

I recognize that, like Char, I have privilege that allows me to say no often without real threat to my life or livelihood. I hope that, unlike Char, I notice when others don’t.

Ella noticed. Ella noticed everything. She was kind, but not always nice. Ella broke the rules and broke some hearts. Ella married a prince and then refused to become a princess. In saying no to one happily ever after, she created her own. And that is what I am most grateful for learning.

some housekeeping

Hello! Just wanted to drop a quick note on a few site changes. I updated the look of raesdays.com and also updated some of the backend. If you subscribe, you should hopefully still get posts the way you used to, but please let me know if there’s any issues and I’ll see what I can do. If you want to get Rae’s Days posts delivered straight to your inbox, you can enter your email on the right in the box under “Subscribe to Blog Via Email.”

I also send a newsletter every week or so. To sign up, you can go to the box on the right of the site and enter your email under “Subscribe to Rae’s Newsletter.” Here’s a taste of this week’s, which went out yesterday:

coolest girl in the clique

 T Swift came out with a new video on Sunday for Bad Blood, the not so thinly veiled story of her soured relationship with Katy Perry. I had hoped Tay would be the villain in this one, but instead she is betrayed by her long-time bestie Selena Gomez. To retaliate, Taylor gets together all her badass super friends who look good in leather to fight with her. The coolest girl in this battle of cool girls is def Cara Delevingne, Victoria’s Secret Angel, model, and actress. She is the only one who masters the look of being so cool she doesn’t even care what happens with these nunchucks, probably because she in fact does not really care about this video. She knows she looks good, so she doesn’t sweat the rest of it. (A close second in coolness is Zendaya, who throws a knife through a teddy bear and has legs for days.) I can hardly keep up with Taylor’s best friend hierarchy, I can’t imagine trying to be (and stay) in it.

most middle school

Even though the most popular girl in school posted pictures of all her friends at a party you weren’t invited to and called it a music video, the most horrific middle school call back this week was on the Bachelorette. In the worst twist so far (I’m sure more will come), the dating show where a woman got to be in charge of oodles of men trying to win her affection became a show where two women were competing for the attention of 25 men. The producers supposedly couldn’t decide who to pick as the next Bachelorette, romantic Britt or hilarious Kaitlyn, so they are letting the men contestants vote for who they want to date. So instead of seeing a woman get lavished in attention and command the room and her own future, we saw two women go head to identically hair-styled head to win prom queen. And, sorry, but winning the chance to date 25 24 guys, half of whom wanted to date someone else, does not seem like a grand prize to me. But that won’t stop me from tuning in to find out who the bachelorette will be. (I’m firmly #teamkaitlyn) [ed note: This aired last night, and it’s Kaitlyn! PHEW.]

In an unexpected twist last night one contestant was sent to Chris Harrison as if he were about to get grounded and was asked to leave the show for being a sloppy, rude drunk and–most importantly–not showing up “for the right reasons.” Roughly 5-10 other men jumped at the chance to confront him and save the women from his antics, but they were unfortunately allowed to stay.


Thanks for your patience as I made some changes! And thanks always for reading and keeping me company on the internet, I truly appreciate it.

my favorite pop culture pastime: shipping

I ship Oliver and Felicity, and Elizabeth and Philip. I ship Alicia Florrick with everyone, but especially Finn Polmar. I yell “make out!” at the TV so often, it’s become a constant refrain in my apartment.

In TV land I am ruthless. I want everyone to cheat on everyone, unless you’re a couple I think is in capital L Love, and if anything comes between them I will riot.

Sometimes I am rewarded in my lust for lust, like the amazing moment Nyssa and Sara ran into each other on Arrow, and instead of attacking each other like assassins (which they are), they kissed like lovers (which they also are). It reinforced my shipping dreams, and now I can keep shipping random strangers because I was justified that one glorious time.

You can’t have a good ship without good chemistry, but chemistry can be good in a million different ways. Lovers have chemistry, but so do friends, colleagues, families, and people who really hate each other–and sometimes one relationship can be all those things at once (looking at you, Empire).

Chemistry is like talent: When people have it–I mean really have it–you don’t see them work at it. You never think about the mechanics of it, or how awkward it is to shoot those sex scenes (ahem, 50 Shades of Gray). Sometimes you don’t notice chemistry it until it’s missing and two people are hugging you didn’t even realize were supposed to know each other. I measure chemistry on a scale of Bella and her child in Twilight: Breaking Dawn (zero–they share the least maternal hug I have ever seen) to Alicia and Will on the Good Wife (whose romantic and sexual chemistry caused me physical pain).

Will and Alicia level chemistry is hard to come by. Even other couples on the Good Wife can’t match it, but the Good Wife makes up for this injustice by allowing me to ship multiple ships. Alicia and Finn? Definitely. Alicia and Peter? Yes, but in a twisted power game way. Alicia and Kalinda? Oh, hell yes.

I make up the rules of shipping as I go along, and I change the game whenever I feel like it: This person is allowed to cheat on their spouse, but not with a waste of a ship. That couple should be together forever, except he hasn’t realized it yet so she should get it from somewhere else in the meantime. If that person strays, I will never forgive them.

I have found that I am the best shipper when I am my best self. Shipping is not for yearning for your past or for what your future could be–that’s torture. I come to shipping with my heart full and overflowing with love, and I want to cheer on others to find the same. My shipping is a tribute to my own relationships, and a prayer that others can find that connection and acceptance.

The connection that warms my heart also thrills me. Watching people be attracted is attractive. That click with someone is so rare in real life, and so precious, that when I see it I celebrate it any way I can.

Underneath the sexiness of chemistry is the humanness of it. By responding to another person’s energy with our own, we are recognizing their humanity. And longing for that recognition and connection with someone else is universal.

So I ship. I ship everyone, and I change the rules of the game to allow for more and more shipping because the more diverse and inclusive our shipping is, the more diverse and inclusive our connections IRL can be. I ship so that cheering for all relationships and celebrating the sexy sex of bodies of all shapes and sizes becomes something we do on the regular, because we saw it on TV.

rae’s newsletter

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I would like to start a newsletter that goes straight to your inbox not more than once a week. It would be more casual than what’s on here, and mainly on what I’m reading, watching, and stuff I think is cool. More book/TV/life club-y, and less one-topic post-y.

I am still going to be posting regularly on here, and the newsletter will not be the same thing twice because I don’t want to bore you to death. I’d love for you to give it a chance if it sounds like your thing, and you can sign up for Rae’s Newsletter right here. (Like Bob from Bob’s Burgers, I just name everything by putting my name in front of it.)

The first newsletter won’t go out for another week or so, but let’s get this party started by signing up, you know? If there’s anything you particularly want to talk about, let me know!

#fatcat

#fatcat cisco

Cisco passed away Oct. 27 from thyroid cancer. Thank you all for your comments and cards, it means a lot. 

The last time he sat on my desk to get my attention while I was working on something other than petting him, did I let him sit there, or did I move him so I could finish work? I can’t remember. Does it matter? He’s sat there a hundred times, and I’ve probably had to move him a hundred other times. He still came back, and he still knew he was loved, and welcome.

But that last time he sat on my arms as I tried to type, did I cuddle with him or did I pick him up and move him to the floor?

I go over and over the last day, the last week, in my head. How much pain did he feel? How much love did he feel?

He slept on the bed with me his last night. He woke up sometimes, and I did, too. He sat on my legs, as he did countless times before. I miss that weight.

I can hardly look at his favorite ottoman, but I can’t put it away either because then it would be alone and cold, and I don’t want something he loved to be alone and cold, even if it’s just a piece of furniture.

I know he had a great life. I know in my heart that he was ready to go, I could see it in his eyes. But sometimes your brain fucks with you anyway and you think maybe there was something you missed, maybe the vets were all wrong. (There wasn’t, they weren’t.)

He had a big meow and a bigger personality. He was the friendliest, sweetest, funniest cat you’d ever meet. He liked to drink water from the sink and to play laser with Michael and to eat ham, his favorite treat.

But most of all he liked to love and to be loved. He never got tired of being pet. He would follow you around the house–even when I lived in a studio. He was a social cat who loved to be touched, and you don’t find many of those. He would go to bed when I went to bed. Sometimes next to my head, leaning on the pillow, and sometimes on my legs, but mostly he’d go to his cat bed, on a dresser next to me. He’d curl up, and we’d sleep, and then we’d face the day together in the morning.

Looking at pictures of him helps. I want to drown in memories of him, of how his fur felt and how his purr sounded. I’m afraid I’m going to forget how it felt to pick him up and hold him.

I am devastated he is gone. But I am also grateful for him. Cisco was a true friend, and he showed me a wonderful love. I miss him every minute.

 

27

It’s my birthday today. I’m having a hard time with 27–it just sounds so much *older* than 26. It has been a very eventful year, to say the least. I’m in a new apartment in a new city. I had new challenges, like telling #fatcat we were moving and knitting a new stitch for a baby blanket. Just like last year and the year before, here’s some things I’ve learned.

  1. how to reupholster
  2. I apparently have a thing for scary/gruesome/horror everything. One of my favorite books this year was NOS4A2 and TV shows was Hannibal (what I haven’t learned is what this means about my psyche)
  3. how to move halfway across the country (though Lord knows I’m no expert)
  4. a little bit of effort (or a lot!) to improve your space is totally worth it
  5. be open to everything. I have a lot more fun when I try to like something instead of try to hate it
  6. how to draw the human figure
  7. #fatcat can bounce back from a big, scary event like a champ (for instance, a very long time trapped in a U-Haul)
  8. how to knit a baby blanket
  9. balancing your time is really, really hard, and I’m afraid this struggle is just beginning
  10. it apparently takes me a while to get my bearings in a new place–I am still lost in Chicago most of the time
  11. how to make a podcast
  12. that I still completely and totally love connecting with new and interesting people on Twitter, who I may never meet in real life
  13. comic books are awesome (especially Sandman and Saga)
  14. I like pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie and probably all pies of that texture (you know what I mean, right?), but I’m not really crazy about other kinds of pie. I know, life is a mystery
  15. I’m a gossip, and I’m not sorry about it (celebrities, the royal family, and regular people are all up for discussion at any time)
  16. I love being an editor and have a long list of grammar pet peeves–but when I’m off the clock I couldn’t care less
  17. sometimes doing small things makes you feel better about the big things

Apparently this was a year of doing things, big and small. It’s been a fantastic year, and I had a great time celebrating with some friends over the weekend. Here’s to the next one!

end of the month review: may

May was such a great month! I continued getting settled in Chicago and entered my apartment in the Small Cool Spaces contest. I started a podcast with Jewels of Oven Lovin’. I had a fantastic vacation over Memorial Day, and I read some great books. The top viewed posts of May are:

living room #smallcool Continue reading

moving day

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What was surprising to me was how hard it was to say goodbye to the people who work at the local places I shop. Their familiar friendly faces greeted me every time I ran down the street to get coffee (“it’s supposed to be nice out this weekend”), picked up a bottle of wine for a party (“are you having people over for brunch?”), or bought a new book (“I think you’d like this one”).

They assured me there are fun things to do in Chicago–my coffee shop’s other office is there, the leader of my book group knows the manager at a Chicago bookstore, the man who runs the wine store said Chicago has really fun beer gardens–but are Chicagoans as friendly and warm? (I’m sure they will be.)

What wasn’t surprising at all was how hard it was to say goodbye to my friends. (The best thing about New York seems to be the people in it.) Thank you guys for your love, for teaching me how to be a better friend, and for filling New York with wonderful memories.

The nonhuman thing I’ll miss the most, though, is the skyline. Even still it’s beautiful, I can’t get used to it. On the way to my train I can see the Statue of Liberty if I look to the right. My office has a breathtaking view of the Brooklyn bridge. On the walk to my local coffee shop, I can look up and see the new World Trade Center.

The Empire State Building is my favorite thing to pick out of that skyline. If I can see that, I know where I am. I know what’s uptown or downtown, which way is east or west. What if I’m lost when I lose sight of it?

Luckily, I have a few people I love to show me the way to Chicago. I even have a GPS for the trip. And for everything that comes after that, I guess I’ll have to wait and see. (But I can’t wait!)

reblog: on new york

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I originally posted this on July 10, 2012. But since it’s my last week in the city, I’m posting it again.

My friends and I used to say that the highs in New York are very high and the lows are very low. This is true literally–we have both the Empire State Building and the subway–but we meant it figuratively. The high you feel making new friends on a beautiful rooftop you didn’t know existed a few hours ago is amazing. As is the giant party the city turns into every year on every holiday. My favorite is Marathon day where my friends and I celebrate other people’s athleticism by cheering them on and getting drunk brunch. But the lows are terribly, terribly low.

Public crying and puking are kind of a joke to New Yorkers–we’ve all been there, we just won’t all tell you about it. You don’t always have a car to retreat to or an easy (or private) route home. Groceries are heavy and winter is the worst. I can’t explain the awfulness of New York winters. It’s dark and cold and dreary and your friends are hours away on a cold, dark, dreary train and your tiny apartment can only hold you for so long before you go insane but insane is better than waiting for a bus that may never come with a fever you can’t shake. We’ve all had days where going home is an epic tale of bad weather, crowded trains, pickpockets, and violence. You’ve heard these stories before. Mine aren’t new.

I find myself telling my friends not to come. “It’s too hard. It’s way harder than you think.” “It’s too cold and too expensive.” But what I can’t quite articulate is how this city has a unique way of completely kicking your ass when you’re down. How many other cities actually fight back? Actually actively try to kick you out, like you’re a virus invading its system?

And yet. My favorite thing about New York is probably what others hate the most. It really doesn’t give a fuck. So I can do what I want and wear what I want and go where I want, and, you know what, it doesn’t matter. The city doesn’t care. It’s allowed me to relax and just be what I want to be. I started knitting as a way to pass the time in a small apartment where I live alone. I love it. Other people like it, and some people don’t. I see it on the train. There is always someone worse at it than me and always someone better. The same applies to my hair or my clothes or whatever other activity I’ve picked up. So relax. Stop trying to be the best–someone else has it covered. Just do your thing. You’ll fit right in because no one fits in. It’s perfect in its carelessness.

And when the city doesn’t care, the people do. One of my favorite nights out in the city was a Sunday night where me and my friends took over a corner of a bar and just hung out. We danced and chatted and shots were poured and stories were shared. I think it was raining, but we didn’t mind. We just made some friends and passed the time and tipped our bartender. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions. People might not know, but the ones that do are eager to share the city. (I’m convinced that people like to help out to prove they know more about New York than you do. Don’t hold it against them.) I once saw an entire subway car help a tourist get directions in their own language. That sense of community and that we’re all in this together is overwhelmingly fun.

New York doesn’t define me, but it’s helped me be me. I could go somewhere else and be happy, and I miss my family a lot. I believe other places are just as valid and almost always more logical than New York. I’m not married to the city, but we’ve had a very torrid affair. Well, on my end anyway. New York probably doesn’t care.

by the numbers: packing

#fatcat among the boxes

This weekend…

2 of my best friends helped me pack 21 boxes (and I’m not done yet). Thank you Meredith and Laura! Your help and company was magical.

Frozen played on my TV 5 times.

I bought 70 feet of bubble wrap.

We had, er, many drinks. (if you look carefully, you can see an empty wine bottle.)

so many boxes

I have 7 days left in New York.

I read 8 articles on the TV show Hannibal. You could say I’m interested.

(I lied. I played Frozen 7 times. You know when you just want some background noise?)

And #fatcat took countless naps in his new cage, which will be his temporary home during the trip.

#fatcat in his cage

My funny friends suggested a hashtag for my relocation: #raelocation2014. Follow along on Twitter and Instagram.