Storytellers: Weekend retreat for women with a story to tell

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

     I lived most of my life with untold stories inside of me. I wouldn’t acknowledge the stories from my past and was afraid to believe in stories for the future. This was a painful way to live because I wasn’t my true self. It took years of studying mythologies and depth psychology to begin to understand the importance of our stories. Once I embraced my stories – both lived and unlived – life began to change in ways I had not before imagined possible. I was no longer content to live the life that was easy. I wanted a life that was interesting and fulfilling. I learned how to write my story and actually live it! I had control of my life. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was terrifying, and continues to be an ongoing journey but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. In fact, the effort has been its own reward. I invite you to join us for a weekend of self-discovery to find out what stories need to be told and how to tell them to shape a better future.

Our speakers Juile Paegle, Kathy Jaffe, and myself, Tracy Marrs are enthusiastically preparing meaningful experiences for our exciting weekend focusing on the power of words. You don’t need to be a writer to have a story to tell but if you want to write, Julie and myself have years of experience guiding writers of all levels to awaken their untold stories and make them alive on the page. Oftentimes, facing these stories can be difficult, Kathy is a licensed therapist with a background in word power and living mindfully. Her experiences and training give her the ability to help others as they navigate their narratives to find their authentic selves.

If things get a little too cerebral, take a break and go for a swim in the pool, relax on the deck and listen to the birds, or wander along the many scenic trails, on your own or with a friend. Also, make sure to take time to quiet the mind and stretch the body with our amazing yoga instructor. Stories can heal the past, enrich the present and comfort and inspire us for the future. Your story is important – let us help you find it, express it, and live it.

September 16-18, 2016

Camp de Benneville Pines

 

Transformative power of story

Stories are transformative.
Stories touch the soul and the mind.
Data and logic are meaningless unless they make a person care. To care about data, the active thinker creates a story within their own mind – they activate prior knowledge and relate to the information. Data can move active thinkers to create change. Active thinkers can care about data but they have to be able to relate the data through their prior knowledge (stories). Stories or data converted into stories make people care because it is easier to relate to a story than a fact.
Stories create emotion which is what is needed to create change. Logic alone will not move people to action, for that we need our stories.

This is why I teach through story.

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C.G. Jung and victim mentality


It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.  Not consciously, of course – for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further in the distance.  Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world.  And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him”  Carl Jung, “The Shadow” CW 9 ii, par 19.

This quote came up in my reading this morning.  It articulates the victim mentality that is so prevalent in society. Instead of being active and taking responsibility for one’s life – past, present, and future – the victim sees their situation as something that happened to them.  Since the victims do not see that they are the cause of their situation, they also do not see that they are the solution.  In their mind, it is the world that causes their misery so the world must change for the misery to end.  Change needs to come from within.  To take control of one’s life means to also take responsibility.  When a person lives passively they give up control.  They let the circumstance determine their attitude. Attitude determines outcome, not circumstance.  Active living means controlling your attitude regardless of circumstances in order to create the desired outcome.  

This quote also points to what is frustrating in the study (both formal and informal) of psychology – how easy it becomes to recognize the illusions that others create that hinder their personal growth but how difficult it can be to see through our own veils.

Fly fishing – hobby, sport, or ritual?

grandpafishing
Grandpa on the Santa Ana

 

Is fly fishing a hobby, sport, or ritual?  To answer this question, one must first have a working definition of what ritual is. According to my understanding of his article, Jennings asserts that ritual contains three key elements. First, that it is a pattern of action, something done in the same way over time. Second, that pattern of action is the symbolization of what is known or manifested through myth, this is the way we understand and explain our world through myth not science – it is symbolic. Finally, ritual is a means of transmitting and gaining knowledge (111-113). To these criteria, I would like to add inclusion, the knowledge is shared by sharing the ritual, it is through the experience of sharing the knowledge and the ritual acts, that it is through the experience, the participants gain a bond, and a sense of community. I will use these three components for defining ritual to determine if fly fishing is in fact, a ritual.

Some people may try to argue that fly fishing doesn’t qualify as a ritual, that it is a skills-based activity that lacks a deeper meaning, a myth, but to authors like Snyder, fly fishing isn’t just a ritual, it is an entire religion, which is the myth. He argues that there is a spiritual component between man and nature that exists in the act of fly fishing. He points out that “fly fishers around the world frequently describe their experiences of fishing through the use of terms such as religious, spiritual, sacred, divine, ritual, meditation, and conversion. Further, drawing upon religious terminology, fly fishers will refer to rivers as their church and to nature as sacred” (Snyder). As an avid river lover and fishing enthusiast, I lean toward Snyder’s assertion that it is most certainly a spiritual experience that fits all the criteria to qualify fly fishing as a ritual.

Pattern of action

Ritual is a pattern of action. It includes repetition, but not all repetitions are rituals. The action can occur for multiple individuals, like high school graduations or weddings, or it could occur multiple times for an individual like a ritual before a football game for a team or individual. A ritual must also have symbolic meaning, the actions need to have meaning based on myth, not science. Brushing your teeth every day is a pattern of action but we do it because we know, based on scientific evidence, not just beliefs, that it will help our teeth from decaying, so brushing your teeth is a pattern of action that is not a ritual.

Fly fishing is a pattern of action. Fly fishing is a delicately balanced sport, a mixture of scientific and mythical movements. Each flick of the wrist is done with a finesse from repetition and rhythm, the fisherman consistently attempts to improve his technique through repetition. There is a slow, meditative quality to the actions, a sort of grace in the technique that adds to the mythology of fly fishing. It is a sport, a pattern of actions filled with meaning and symbols that makes it a ritual as well a sport.

Symbolization of what is known or manifested through myth

In order for a pattern of action to be a ritual, it must also have a symbolic component, it is something based on beliefs, not proven fact. While those beliefs may also coincide with proven fact, they are based on what is known through myth, not science. The actions are driven by the ritual and the symbolism of the actions, such as studying the life cycle of a mayfly to connect with nature and learn more about your ritual, not strictly for the sake of data for future practice of the sport.

What is the myth of fly fishing? Snyder’s article is a great example of the myth of fly fishing, that it is a type of religion that connects the participants to nature in a deep spiritual way. Fly fishing is certainly a symbolic structure that leads to a knowledge of nature. To become an adept fly fisher, one must learn about the fish, the insect life, and the river and apply this knowledge to the growth and improvement of their ritual. I think these components of fly fishing not only show that there is a myth for fly fishing. The belief is that fly fishing connects the participants to nature, to a higher power, and helps them feel connected to their world, it is not about catching fish for food or competition, it is purely a way to “construe and construct their world” (Jennings, 112). Since ritual and myths must be learned or shared, ritual need not only be a symbolic pattern of actions, it is a way of transmitting the knowledge contained in and around the ritual.

Knowledge transmission and inquiry and discovery

Ritual is a means of knowledge transmission that encourages the participants to conduct further inquiry and discovery. The participants share knowledge with each other and are led on a path of continued inquiry. Rituals are a process of learning, the participants learn and grow with each time they participate in the ritual. Also, since ritual encourages inquiry and discovery, participants often gather information, like reading articles, studying technique, or other forms of inquiries when not actively participating in the ritual. Many fly fishers also tie their own flies, an extension of the ritual or may practice casting even when they are not at the sacred site, the river.

If the participants cease to practice the ritual in the spirit of the ritual and merely a set of actions, it is because the ritual has lost its myth for the participant and in order for the ritual to have that sort of transitive, sacred nature, there has to be a shift in the ritual for the participant. My grandfather told me about a time when a retailer gave him the opportunity to tie flies for money. He enjoyed tying flies and had so many, so he agreed. After completing a few orders, he decided not to do it anymore, it took the myth out of the ritual. He continued tying flies but never again for profit.

Rituals have a transformative nature and often lead to a change in status through participation. To be a ritual, it must manifest some sort of change, growth, or reflection and in society, it establishes the participants as practicers of the ritual. A person has either never been fishing, been fishing, goes fishing, or is a fisherman or angler. All of these terms are levels of status within the fishing community depending on the amount of experience an individual has had with fishing and knowledge acquisition. With fly fishing, the more a participant experiences the ritual, the more they study techniques, materials, and locations, the more respected they become within the angling community, which is true of most but not all rituals.

Participants in a ritual are sharing knowledge of the ritual with each other when they participate in the ritual. In other words, ritual is taught and it is taught through experience so it bonds the participants with a connection to community. Even when the participants don’t experience the ritual together, just both having the shared experiences bonds them, gives them a shared knowledge. The thing that separates ritual from just passing along knowledge is that it does contain myth, so by sharing the experience, we are also sharing the myth and beliefs. It is more than a shared experience, it is a shared experience that repeated with symbolic meaning becomes an action that unites us to each other.

Ties that bond

With knowledge transmission, there is either learning through shared experience or some sort of mentor situation. Most fly fishers fished when they were little kids, often with an older member of the family, sibling, parent or grandparent. For me, it was my grandfather who took me fishing. I feel a connection to him every time I go to the river or think about fishing. He taught the myth to me. Cutchins writes about this in his article, about how the participants of fly fishing expressed how fishing not only made them feel connected to nature, it connected them to each other, it helped to make them feel oriented in their world.

Fly fishing is definitely an act that bonds individuals through shared experience. First, there is the journey to the ritual site, the river and the shared enjoyment and the acknowledgment of the river as a sacred space. This creates a shared belief that the river is sacred so it should be revered, maintained and protected. Not all people are concerned with the health of local rivers but all participants of the ritual of fly fishing share the concern simply because it is their ritual site, a sacred space, and it has symbolic meaning. Next, you have a belief that specific techniques will help you catch a fish, like a special method of casting or place to fish. Anglers can share this knowledge with each other to establish and maintain intimacy because fishermen don’t share secrets unless they feel a connection to the person.

For me, I can’t go to the river or even think of a fish without feeling a connection to my grandfather. By taking me fishing and sharing the mythology of fishing he shared the ritual that shaped who I am today. I am part of the community of people who go fishing, I wouldn’t say that I am of angler status but I can connect with other fisherman through talking about fishing and our shared experiences. It is an instant comradery that is only shared with other members of the angling community. More importantly though, the ritual bonded me with my grandfather in a way that only ritual can do, it created a shift in my belief system, making fishing a part of my personal myth.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Cutchins, Dennis. “Elitism, Keeping Secrets, and Fly Fishing in Utah.” Western Folklore 63: 189-202. JSTOR Arts & Sciences III. Web. 22 June 2014.

Jennings, Theodore. “On Ritual Knowledge.” The Journal of Religion 62: 111-127 . JSTOR Arts & Sciences III. Web. 22 June 2014.

Snyder, Samuel. “New Streams of Religion: Fly Fishing as a Lived, Religion of Nature.” Journal of American Academy of Religion 75: 896-922. JSTOR Arts & Sciences III. Web. 22 June 2014.

Sticking it to the Rabbit: B’rer Rabbit and the Tar Baby Revisited

Brer Rabbit is a popular, trickster character from African-American literature. His stories were passed down orally through generations from African trickster tales to folk tales among the slaves and later into print by a variety of authors. Due to the sheer volume of Brer Rabbit stories and authors, this paper will focus on one story told through the lens of three authors. All three of the writers in this paper: Joel Chandler Harris, Abigail M. H. Christensen, and William J. Faulkner included the well-known story of the Rabbit getting trapped by a larger animal using a tar baby in their books. While this plot has repeated itself across many cultures, the stories from the South during slavery have the added context slavery and this changes the stories into something new. I will attempt to explain how the context of slavery shapes the meaning of this story to make it something different than the tar baby stories of other cultures. The layers of meaning involved within the stories, the subtle complexities of the characters, and audience interpretation all add so much more to the tales to make them something new and unlike anything outside of slavery.

The books written by these three authors are all important literary works in the cannon of American folklore. Joel Chandler Harris is the most well-known author of Brer Rabbit. His book “Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings,” published in 1908, and the character he created to be his storyteller, Uncle Remus, are the context through which most Americans today came into contact with these stories. Abigail Christensen published her major work “Afro-American Folk Lore – Told Round Cabin Fires on the Sea Islands of South Carolina” before 1923, not long after Harris’ book became a huge success. She and Harris were publishing their Brer Rabbit stories in newspapers and journals at the same time but with very different styles and purposes for writing. Her version of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby is the first to have been recorded in writing. About eighty years later, William J. Faulkner published his book “The Days When the Animals Talked”  in 1977. A superficial look at the three books would lead one to say they are very similar. While in fact these books are all a collection of many of the same stories with the same themes and messages and told within the frame of storyteller and audience; they have many important differences.

The tar baby story is a recurring story across many cultures. It is a trickster tale where both sides are using trickery in order to prevail. The crucial element to the tar baby story is the use of tar baby by the larger animal to capture him. In many of the Brer Rabbit stories, the story starts with the rabbit stealing from or in some way tricking the larger animal. The larger animal becomes wise to Rabbit’s tricks and decides to make a tar baby to capture him. The rabbit does encounter the tar baby and becomes enraged when the tar baby refuses to answer his greeting. The rabbit strikes the tar baby and becomes trapped, the more he struggles, the more he becomes trapped. Then the larger animal comes out of hiding and snatches up the rabbit in tar. Here the story deviates but with the most popular version, the rabbit tells the larger animal not to throw him in the briar patch because he is so afraid of the sharp thorns. The larger animal responds by throwing the rabbit in the briar patch and the rabbit laughs and tells the larger animal that he lives in the briar patch. The rabbit survives another day.

In order to understand the deeper meaning in the Brer Rabbit and the tar baby story, first we must take a closer look at the writers, the storytellers, and their audiences. Joel Chandler Harris and Abigail Christensen were the earliest known writers of the Brer Rabbit stories. Both authors heard and wrote these stories in the phonetic dialectical style of Deep South Gullah. They both published many of their stories individually in newspapers and journals before publishing their books. Also, both of these writers were white and lived in the South. Neither ever was directly involved with slavery but was in direct contact with slaves during the time of slavery. They were educated observers that lived slightly outside the mainstream Southern white culture and definitely outside African-American culture. On the other hand, William J. Faulkner was an insider, he heard the stories in their original context, from an elder, mentor figure at home but he was never in direct contact with slavery and only experienced it through the stories.

These authors also wrote their books for entirely different purposes and for different audiences. For Harris and Christensen, the audience was the same but the purposes were different. Slavery, which was newly abolished, was a collective experience for the nation so the audience lived through the context of the stories. Christensen presents her book very matter-of-fact as far as context. She is the narrator of the book but is merely there as recorder of the stories, she introduces her storyteller and then goes directly into the stories. Harris on the other hand tells his story for entertainment; he has a little boy as the recipient of the stories told from a kindly, older slave in the style of a frame story. This is very similar to the style Faulkner used to write his book but his purpose was to educate and instill pride for African-American literature. He and his audience did not live in the time of slavery so context needed to be given by the storyteller Simon Brown. He also tells his stories in a matter of fact way, presenting himself as the listener and having his narrator tell the stories but there is a major difference from Christensen in this aspect. It is about the relationship of the storyteller and author. While Christensen’s relationship to her storyteller was academic, Harris knew his storytellers personally but Faulkner had a real relationship with his storyteller and looked up to him as a mentor. We only see Christensen’s storyteller through her eyes in the opening scene in the book but Faulkner has engagement with the storyteller throughout his book and we really get a sense of who he is through these interactions and the stories. Harris’ storyteller is developed through the story to a point but not to the depth of Faulkner’s Simon Brown and it also must be remembered that Uncle Remus is not a real person, only a creation of Harris’ mind.

The first lens for looking at the tar baby story and slavery is the author, Abigail Christensen and the storyteller, Prince Baskin. Abigail was an outsider in two worlds, as much an anthropologist as writer, her main purpose for documenting the stories was preservation and to promote equality. She was an outsider in the South as the daughter of abolitionists that moved from the North after the Civil War to help transition newly freed African Americans from slavery. She was interested in documenting both the Gullah dialect and the Rabbit stories. Although she promoted equality, she was very much an outsider to the society of slaves and she is an example of the complicated nature of racial issues in the South. She actively participated in promoting education and advancement for former slaves and all the proceeds from her book went toward furthering this cause. On the other hand, she described her storyteller using demeaning and racially insensitive terms including calling him more a monkey than a man in appearance.

While her collection of stories were of great importance, her no frills storytelling method and accuracy with which she wrote in the Gullah dialect have made them become obscure texts. Christensen did her job of preserving the language and stories but it was Joel Chandler Harris that presented them in a way that was both entertaining and easier to read.

The second lens for the story is with Joel Chandler Harris and his created narrator, Uncle Remus. Harris was born to a single mother in the South; his father left his mother shortly before he was born. He was very poor but he showed great promise and through the benevolence of community members, Harris was able to receive a private education. At the age of 13, he began working at “The Countryman” the only weekly ever published on a Southern plantation. There, he honed his writing skills under the mentorship of Joseph Addison Turner, a lawyer, scholar, and planter that saw potential in the young boy. It was on this plantation that he was also introduced to the stories of Brer Rabbit from storytellers like “Uncle” George Terrell and “Uncle” Bob Capers. These men were the inspiration for the Uncle Remus character in Harris’ writing years later.

Unlike the storytellers from the other two books discussed in this book, Uncle Remus is a fictional character. Uncle Remus is a kindly, older slave that enjoys telling stories to youngsters both white and black. Often servants that worked with the children would tell these stories to the young masters. Some have criticized that Uncle Remus’ jolly nature romanticized slavery, especially in the movie version. In Harris’ tar baby story, Uncle Remus does become tired of the boy and tells him that he needs to run along home. There are subtle details even in this story that lead me to believe Uncle Remus is using a mask of happy submissiveness that can be seen just a little bit if a person is really looking. The storytellers of the slavery days exploited the fact that the whites thought the slaves were too ignorant to be able to create anything subversive or with any sort of deeper meaning. They thought the stories were just “harmless products of a “childlike” people to amuse illiterate listeners or to entertain the masters’ children” (Shaw xiv). If the slaves identified with the rabbit and saw the larger animals representing whites, then they must have enjoyed the irony of telling the stories to the slave masters and their children with story after story of the rabbit making a fool out of the larger animals.

Harris successfully created an entertaining and interesting frame story with likable characters that pull us even deeper into the tale. Another reason that the Joel Chandler Harris’ versions of the stories are so well known is because of a Disney movie called “Song of the South.” This movie, while never sold on VHS or DVD in the United States due to racial controversies; it was broadcast on television and became a part of the cultural landscape for many Americans. This movie was the inspiration for the Splash Mountain rides at three of the Disney theme parks. Some members of the audience of the movie may have understood the undertones and deeper meanings. Yet for those that did not know the context of the tar baby story, it is just a whimsical trickster tale of a rabbit, a fox, and a bear, not a social commentary on slavery or racial relations in the South.

In making the “Song of the South,” Disney attempted to stay true to the depiction of Uncle Remus and the other characters of Chandler’s stories. Some criticized the movie as being racially insensitive or of glorifying slavery among many other criticisms but the movie also received its acclaims and was watched and enjoyed by many. Criticism exists on both sides of the debate about literature from this period of American history. Any portrayal of slavery reminds us of a past we have collectively tried to forget and the accuracy will always be called into question because the issues involved in the debate are so complicated and messy. Much of the literature of this genre has been largely ignored because dealing with the deeper psychological implications of the stories is not always easy or comfortable, not to mention the strong dialect can make it difficult to understand.

The third and final lens for looking at this story is with William J. Faulkner and his family friend, Simon Brown. Simon Brown worked on William J. Faulkner’s widowed mother’s farm and from the age of ten until he went away to school, Faulkner enjoyed listening to Simon tell him stories of the days of slavery and Brer Rabbit. Willie, as Simon addresses him in the book was a young African-American boy without a father that looked up to Simon Brown as a friend and a mentor. Faulkner described Brown as a “philosopher, humorist, actor, and superb storyteller” (188) and through the reading of the text we get to know Simon Brown as much as Brer Rabbit. Unlike Christensen that barely knows her storyteller or Harris who at best could be considered a work acquaintance to his storytellers, Faulkner has a close personal relationship with his narrator. His acquirement of the stories was the most authentic as it was essentially passed down through generations.

Faulkner was well educated and earned his doctorate in theology from Chicago Theological Seminary. He said he became a folklorist “to dignify the black storyteller and contribute to truer racial understanding” (190). He originally documented his stories on tape with talks about achievements made by African Americans in order to promote pride in the black culture and to gain respect from other cultures. It was later that he decided to put the stories together and wrote the book. His book is presented in two parts, “The Setting: Black Slave Tales” and “The Salvation: Black Folktales.” He hoped that by writing the book, he would keep the memory of Simon Brown alive and preserve the literature of his people.

The lens of the author and storyteller within the context of slavery from the changed the meaning subtly for those aware enough to see it. So too did the lens of the audience within the context of slavery. In Africa and later in America, these stories were told through generations from elders and storytellers, often at night time or to entertain and educate children. After a while, these stories began to be told to outsiders of the community and from there, they were transmitted into writing.

On the surface, these stories resemble the trickster tales that appear across so many cultures; a weaker animal triumphing over a more powerful animal by outsmarting them. But for many, these stories are actually a complicated social commentary of slavery. The context of the storyteller and audience alter the meaning and understanding but the deeper currents exist to those able to recognize them.

Originally, when these stories were told in Africa there were some differences. For one, the rabbit did not exist in Africa; the trickster animal tales were usually of a hare, a deer, or a spider. Also, the stories switched to other native animals; hyenas from the Africa stories became the wolf or bear in America. Some American stories do have animals that are native to Africa and not America, like the lion or elephant but many are replaced with American versions of similar animals. For example, there is a similar story from West Africa with the spider trickster Anansi. In the story, Anansi makes a wooden doll and covers it with gum to capture the she-fairy Mmoatia, the basic plot of the story is the same just with different characters. While the plot of the story is the same the context of slavery adds other layers to the text. Slavery left its imprint on the meaning but so did Christianity and the simple spider became Brer, or brother, Rabbit. Just like with other elements of African culture, the stories took on an American flavor.

Slaves could identify with the rabbit as he was the innocent victim, lower than the other animals in status and power but he almost always comes out on top because he uses his wits. It is through Rabbit’s triumphs over the larger animals that the slave could vicariously triumph over the white society that so brutally kept them down. Many researches echoed the opinion that the slaves identified with Rabbit. I like the way Shaw stated it in the foreword to Faulkner’s book, “through Brer Rabbit and tales of his daring, enslaved blacks were able to see themselves not only as morally superior to their white masters, but as ultimately triumphant over them.” Christensen wrote that the reader must remember “that the Rabbit represents the colored man” (xi) that he gains success through cunning and they both can only hope to succeed through their wits due to their lack of social or legal status, education, or wealth, in a word, power. The storytellers all reference Brer Rabbit as possessing qualities that they found admirable and identified with the Rabbit as the hero of the stories. Who is Brer Rabbit, is he just a trickster like in any other trickster tale told in so many forms in so many societies or is he more because of the unique social context he was created? To most readers, he represents the slave and the larger, more physically dominating animals represent the whites that get their deserved comeuppance from the cunning rabbit. Others disagree with this argument because they say it ignores the complexity of the Rabbit hero created in these tales. To analyze this story the debate on whether the Brer Rabbit represents the slave must be recognized. For this paper, I am working under the context that the Rabbit is most certainly the character that represents slaves and the larger, more powerful animals represent whites in the society. The most important reason to approach the literature in this way is because all three of the authors assert in their texts that this is the case and work under this assumption. Also, it is clear that narrators relate to Brer Rabbit.

With much literature on both sides of this debate, the main objection I have found to making the Rabbit the hero of the stories, the character that represents the slave is a shallow reading because it doesn’t address the issue of amorality within the context of the deeply spiritual and Christian Southern African-American community. While it is true that Rabbit possesses some unattractive qualities at times and often uses dishonest means to triumph, this doesn’t discount him as our hero. To look at this issue, first the idea of hero has to be defined. As Roberts points out in his text, “we often use the term ‘hero’ as if it denoted a universally recognized character type and the concept of ‘heroism’ as if it referred to a generally accepted behavioral category. In reality, figures (both real and mythic) and actions dubbed heroic in one context or by one group of people may be viewed as ordinary or even criminal in another context or by other groups, or even by the same ones at different times” (1). While Rabbit’s actions are dishonest, he lies to escape death in this story; his reason or need justifies the break from the moral code of Christianity. He is complex and not simply good or bad just like the gods in the Yoruba religion were complex unlike the purely good god and purely evil devil of the Christian religion.

In the context of slavery, actions that may not be acceptable hero behavior in ordinary conditions are acceptable to maintain dignity or simply to survive. If this is not enough to debunk the idea that some scholars assert that Rabbit’s amoral acts disqualify him as a hero or for slaves to identify him, I would like to address another issue concerning Rabbit’s actions and the unique social construct this character was created. Life for a slave was difficult and painful, they were often treated as animals, used for their bodies with their minds discounted and made to not only feel but often believe they were less than their white counterparts. The slave owners were primarily devout Christians but their actions toward their slaves was rarely Christian in practice. The words they spoke about right and wrong had nothing to do with the actions they carried out in participating in slavery. For this reason, it is understandable that the slaves would see the rules as thus suspended when it came to surviving slavery. Also, many slaves had at one time done something against the Christian value system in order to make things easier or to survive. Having a hero that bends the rules and does what he sees as necessary in order to triumph would make a person feel better about their own transgressions in similar situations. For these reasons, the following analysis will work with the slave as Rabbit interpretation.

Now that we have looked through the lens of author, storyteller, and audience, it is now time to look through the lens of the story itself. In all three of these versions of this story, there exists a basic plot and characters but just like with the other stories in these books their similarities are as numerous and important as their differences. All three stories start with Rabbit stealing resources from the larger animal, a wolf or fox in a clever way so the larger animal has to figure out what has happened. Once the larger animal discovers the theft, he decides to trap the rabbit by using a tar baby. In this next part of the story, we see Rabbit’s pride and anger. He comes across the tar baby and becomes angry when he addresses the figure and the figure does not respond. He then strikes the tar baby and becomes stuck and the larger animal comes out of hiding to collect the trapped Rabbit. What happens next is different for each story. This story tells the audience that the regular rules of society are suspended in slavery. Stealing is not acceptable normally but because the larger animal holds more power and resources and doesn’t share, it is not only accepted that the rabbit should steal from him, it is told in a way that we respect the rabbit for getting one over on the larger animal.

An obvious similarity of these stories is the tar baby. Like so many details the question has to be asked, is it just a part of the story or is there some deeper meaning, one even unknown to the writer. This interpretation of the tar baby may be a stretch but it could represent slavery and in a rage the rabbit gets further ensnared but once he stops trying to escape physically, he prevails and survives for another day by using his smarts. For slaves, attempting to fight back or escape had brutal consequences and made their situations worse until they would eventually be killed. To survive, slaves had to learn to live within the system of slavery just as Brer Rabbit had to learn to survive in society of animals.

Christensen’s book is not written to entertain or create deeper meaning. She is interested in documenting the stories but not in telling a story. Prince Baskin, her storyteller is however interested in telling stories and they are in fact entertaining and full of meaning. Looking at the story “De Rabbit, De Wolf, An’ De Tar Baby’ is a great example of the deep meanings of what these stories. With the understanding that Rabbit is the slave and Wolf addressed as “Maussa Wolf” by the Rabbit the roles of slave and master are clear but there is another character that is a bit more ambiguous, Neighbor Dog. I argue that Dog is another white man, dogs and wolves are related biologically and he is on the side of Wolf, helping to lure Rabbit to Wolf’s house. Rabbit does have more trust to the dog which is a less aggressive animal but still is wary of the situation because he is too smart to ever let his guard down with a white person. This is possibly an added lesson from Prince Baskin and even further could be a commentary concerning the author, a softer, kinder animal than the slave owner yet a dog just the same, unable to be fully trusted. If this is the case, Prince Baskin successfully emulates Brer Rabbit and outwits the highly more educated Christensen by subversively commenting on her role in this situation in an unflattering depiction of a character that aligns themselves with the wrong side of the situation and still loses in the end.

The story starts with Rabbit stealing food from Wolf’s garden for over a year before the wolf realizes what is happening. Already, Brer Rabbit is using his wits to dishonestly triumph over Brer Wolf. Once Wolf discovers the theft, he creates a tar baby to trap Rabbit. He succeeds in trapping Rabbit only to be tricked once again and he releases the rabbit into his home where the wolf is unable to follow. This follows the basic plot of the tar baby stories but this version doesn’t end there. Wolf realizes he has been outwitted and seeks revenge by enlisting the aid of Neighbor Dog but Rabbit again outwits Wolf and escapes. The wolf responds to this third and final triumph from Rabbit by accepting his defeat and ceasing attempts to capture the rabbit. This addition introduces the neighbor dog to the plot and shows Wolf as accepting defeat and leaving Rabbit alone. Since these tales are told after the Civil War, the third and final triumph can allude to the end of slavery.

The strange thing about Joel Chandler Harris’ version is that it doesn’t have a definite ending. The rabbit gets trapped by the tar baby and the fox comes out of hiding but that is where the story ends. The boy in the frame story asks Uncle Remus if the fox eats the rabbit to which Uncle Remus says that was the end of the story “He mout, an den agin he moutent. Some say Judge B’ar come ‘long en loosed ‘im—some say he didn’t. I hear Miss Sally callin’. You better run ‘long” (Harris). This is a very puzzling way to end this story, it is only the second story in the collection and we already have speculation that this is how rabbit dies. One reason to end it this way is to show Uncle Remus as a tired old man that just wants the story to end and have the boy return to his home, as character development to the frame story. Another interpretation could go with my earlier claim that the tar baby is slavery and at the moment of the telling of the story, the narrator doesn’t know how it will end. The slave is trapped in slavery just as rabbit is trapped in the tar. Uncle Remus is tired and doesn’t see a way to get the rabbit or the slave free and so gives a quick answer and sends the youth away.

Faulkner’s ending for this story is the closer to the version known by most in popular culture. The Rabbit begs to not be thrown into the briar patch, he professes a fear worse than death for the briar patch so the wolf throws him into the briar patch and the rabbit yells to the wolf that he has been fooled again and the briar patch is the rabbit’s home. In fact, I was surprised to find this was not the original version of Joel Chandler Harris’ story. With the idea of the tar baby representing slavery, this version has the slave tricking the master to free him by taking advantage of his ignorance and cruelty. In Faulkner’s version, the rabbit also takes advantage of the master’s desire for self-preservation and greed by stating that drowning the rabbit, as the wolf originally plans will ruin the drinking water. In this story, it is the wolf that seems to come up with the idea of throwing the rabbit in the briar patch and the rabbit, seeing an opportunity for escape, takes advantage of the situation.

How much of this meaning was intended by or known to the writers, the storytellers, and their audiences? This is a question of endless debate because the answer can’t be uncovered or known. With much of the other diaspora traditions, the levels of subversion and masking are so intricately woven that the seams are invisible and any attempt to unravel the mysteries just leads to more mysteries. In this paper at least, I have attempted to hold one small piece of the tapestry to the light and look at it with new eyes.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Christensen, A. M. H. Afro-American Folk Lore; Told round Cabin Fires on the Sea Islands of South Carolina,. New York: Negro Universities, 1969. Print.

Faulkner, William J. The Days When the Animals Talked: Black American Folktales and How They Came to Be. Chicago: Follett Pub., 1977. Print.

Harris, Joel Chandler. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Uncle Remus.” Uncle Remus. The Project Gutenberg, 16 June 2003. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

Harris, Trudier. “The Trickster in African American Literature.” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center. November 14, 2014.

Johnson, William Courtland. “Trickster on Trial: The Morality of the Brer Rabbit Tales.” Ain’t Gonna Lay My ‘ligion Down: African American Religion in the South. Ed. Alonzo Johnson and Paul Jersild. Columbia, S.C.: U of South Carolina, 1996. Print.

Roberts, John. “From Trickster to Badman: The Black Folk Hero in Slavery and Freedom.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

Shaw, Spencer. “A Head Full and a Heart Full of Stories.” The Days When the Animals Talked: Black American Folktales and How They Came to Be. Chicago: Follett Pub., 1977. Ix-xvi. Print.

Transmuted interpretations

The elements in the crucible of the classroom combine in a specific way to transform my base comprehension of alchemy into something precious, something new; new interpretations for alchemy. The transmutation of knowledge was as deliberate as any alchemist in a lab mixing elements to transform metals with both students and teacher as alchemists attempting to create something of value. The purpose of this paper is two part. First, to introduce and validate organic and intellectual alchemy by showing the similarities with traditional alchemy. Next, I will attempt to demonstrate that while the similarities within these interpretations are how I relate to alchemy, the differences in value, personal cost, and availability of both creation and elements is what defines that value and ultimately, these versions of alchemy as transmutations, not replications of alchemy.

At first, I had a great aversion to the study of alchemy. It was very foreign to me and the idea of taking something and attempting to change it into something better bothered me. Also, I am a lover of nature and I mistakenly thought that to accept alchemy was to betray nature. I had the idea that to embrace alchemy, one had to concede that synthetic could equal or transcend nature. So, while I acknowledged that great things had been accomplished through the alchemist’s attempts to recreate or improve nature, I was still uncomfortable with the idea of attempting to transcend nature. Not to mention the idea of individuals spending all of their time and wealth trying to find a way to get more time and wealth seemed ridiculous to me. Alchemy seemed so remote and slightly ridiculous to me until our third class session when we listened to Judy Collins sing William Yeats’ poem “The Song of Wandering Aegeus,” talked about James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Way,” and Dr. Evans Smith discussed the idea of the artist as an alchemist. All of a sudden, this topic which seemed so foreign took on a whole new meaning and became relatable. Alchemy isn’t just a quest for everlasting life or how to make gold, it can be about change and creation.

Suddenly, I could relate to alchemy. I enjoy art and while I am not by any means an artist, the idea of transforming colors or raw materials into something better, something beautiful is familiar to me unlike the mixing of metals. The attempt of art is to take raw materials and create something of value is like the alchemist taking base metals and mixing them in different combinations to solve the mystery of the puzzle to make gold. Affecting change on the canvas or on a lump of clay and creating something of value can be argued to be a form of alchemy. To differentiate this form of alchemy, I will call it organic alchemy because even though it is deliberate; it is not the traditional alchemy of crucibles and laboratories. To take the idea of organic alchemy a step further, I found I could relate to organic alchemy through my role as a parent.

The alchemical process didn’t stop there with my understanding of and relating to alchemy. From traditional alchemy to organic alchemy, I thought I should also include what I will call intellectual alchemy. While an artist affects physical change on raw materials, so too does an author take mere words and create whole new worlds. This change happens within the mind, it is not a physical creation like with traditional and organic alchemy but it is a conscious attempt to change and create. Authors aren’t the only people to practice intellectual alchemy, I will show that teachers are intellectual alchemists, and we use selected materials to create knowledge and understanding within a specific topic.

The concept of organic alchemy became relatable through my misinterpretation of the William Yeats’ poem “The Song of Wandering Aengus” and because of the name of the character from “Finnegan’s Way.” I like to call it a miss-interpretation because I saw the poem through the female lens, specifically through the lens of motherhood. It may have been because it was sung by a female or because I have recently become a mother to a little girl or most likely, both of these elements come into play. While the poem is a love poem of a man to a woman, I read it as a poem from mother to daughter. In this reading, the mother is the organic alchemist and her precious creation is her child. Like an alchemist, so engrossed in their pursuit for gold, this misinterpretation was so powerful and resonating with me, I did not even stop to think of any other interpretation until I started to do research. I do know this was not Yeats’ meaning when writing this poem but the alchemical process from adding this poem, having it sung so beautifully by Judy Collins and heating it in the crucible of my mind made this interpretation of the poem and alchemy. Here is my miss-interpretation of the poem as it relates to organic alchemy and parenting:

“I WENT out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,”

Here we have a deliberate capitalization of the word WENT, the act is deliberate, it is the authors decision to actively make a change. To start the change, “she” goes out into the hazel woods, hazel is associated with creativity. The author wants to make a change through creation and the fire in the head is how the crucible gets heated. Here it is like parenting since it is with the deliberate act of trying to have a child, the parent thinks they will create something more precious than gold and better than themselves.

“And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;”

Here the interpretation is purely personal. Fishing and especially by using a stick and berry makes me think of fishing with my grandfather as a child and fishing with my son now. He taught me to value simple things, like a homemade fishing pole and we always fished with salmon eggs which are small, red and round and look like little berries. He instilled in me a love of fishing and an appreciation of nature as a small child and I hope to do that for my children and grandchildren. It makes me think of so many generations constantly trying to create something better than themselves.

“And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,”

The moths are out so it is still dark outside and they are white, pure and new. The next line with moth-like stars flickering out actually indicates that it is during a time of transition from night to early morning, the beginning of a new day. This relates to the beginning of the alchemical process of creation.

“I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.”

Since the berry makes me think of fishing with salmon eggs it makes sense that these lines relates to biology of creating a child. The egg that the author drops into the stream is her own and the stream which represents the father’s contribution also represents change because it is always moving. It isn’t just putting these two elements together that creates the new precious material it is putting them with something that combines and changes. The trout is the child and like a little silver trout, a small baby is slippery and wriggly when it is pulled from the stream, the place where the elements combined and transformed or born.

“When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,”

Here it the author lays the creation on the floor and goes to the work of getting the fire started. I live in the mountains and our primary source of heat is a wood stove so I often set my daughter on the floor with some toys and make a fire for us. To me, these lines represent how quickly the time goes by as a parent, people often say it’s like they blinked and the child had grown. Which is represented in the next six heartbreaking lines, the moment you turn your back the child is grown and speaking your name. Then she is a glimmering girl who calls your name, she is has a blossom in her hair so she is already a child. Next she calls your name and runs and fades away through the brightening air. Children as they grow naturally pull away from their parents and eventually move away and create their own life and family and into the brightness of the future.

“But something rustled on the floor,

And some one called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.”

I could not accept the interpretation of the author’s daughter growing to the point that she fades away into the future but that was reconciled through the next six lines:

“Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done”

The author says if this separation from her daughter were to occur to she would wander the earth to find her and kiss her lips and take her hands and walk with her until time and times are done – how breathtaking is that? I see no comment is needed on these lines, they stand so beautifully on their own.

‘The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.”

The last two lines I interpreted as showing that this poem is both personal and universal. An apple is literally a fruit, the product of the parent. It is also round and contains the seeds for the future, a continuation of life through the generations, an attempt to have a part live on forever. Silver and moon represent the female and the golden and sun represent the male. I saw two possible interpretations for the male and female. The surface interpretation that they represent the parents that created the child but it could also be showing that this poem and its sentiments are universal. Since the apples are the fruit that will transform and holds the future then they are the children so this poem relates to how mothers feel to all their children, their silver daughters and golden sons, precious metals and precious creations. This is organic alchemy, a deliberate transformation of two base elements to create something precious.

Sometimes as with alchemy when the elements mix, they do not make a better creation. There are sometimes problems like mental illness which was the case for James Joyce and his daughter, the writer of “Finnegan’s Way.” As pointed out in the lecture in class, Joyce may have intentionally named his character Nuvoluccia to try to transform his daughter through a different kind of alchemy. Intellectual alchemy, changing something through the mind, he remade his daughter Luccia without the schizophrenia as the New Luccia. The artist as an alchemist. Parenting is also so much more than the organic alchemy of creating through the combining of elements, it is also very much a long process of intellectual alchemy. The parent is like an alchemist toiling away for endless hours, often into the middle of the night to effect the transformation from themselves into something better. They try many different elements to effect change in order for the child to transform and improve. This is also like teaching.

The teacher is an intellectual alchemist. They take a selection of elements and combine them into something new and valuable. Had Dr. Smith not combined the exact elements of the poem, the song, and the interpretation of the artist as alchemist, I would not have made such a lasting personal connection to alchemy, which to me is gold. A transformation occurred intellectually that was purely intellectual but it was a combination of elements that created something new and better. The thing that is beautiful about intellectual alchemy is the ability for it to be shared with many people at once. For each student, there is a different creation based on what they bring to the crucible classroom. Each element is necessary for that exact transformation because they each add something to the mix so it is like a recipe in alchemy, attempting to mix the elements for something precious. The teacher like the alchemist toils away night and day over the betterment of their recipes and creations, always striving to improve their lessons and products they create. They also have to choose between the many elements of texts to assign and materials to be included and left out. The teacher, like the alchemist, has an endless combination of elements to experiment and attempt to make a precious creation. The creation of something precious, gold and silver apples.

This leads us to value, how do we determine what is precious and how does availability of creation and elements transform value within the three methods of alchemy, traditional, organic, and intellectual. First to look at what is valued, what is the precious creation the alchemist is pursuing and what elements does the alchemist implement in that pursuit. Next by looking at the availability of the elements and products and how this defines value within each form and inevitably separates each practice of alchemy.

In traditional alchemy there are two primary pursuits, gold and endless life. Both of these are limited which gives them high value. They also both have attractive qualities that give them obvious desirability. Gold equaled wealth and to possess gold was to have wealth which represented comfort, stability, protection, and power. Who doesn’t want all of that? The problem is that if gold could be created, it would no longer be limited. In this case, success in the creation of the precious metal would devalue the gold because it would no longer be limited. The same applies to the other quest in traditional alchemy, life. Part of what makes life so valued is that it is limited. We cherish the time we have specifically because we don’t know how much we have but we do know it is limited.

The elements used to pursue these precious creations are unlimited. Alchemists used combinations of metals, in different amounts, using different shaped crucibles with various heats to attempt to create gold. They used elements from nature and basically any combination they suspected could lead to the universal elixir. The elements for creating the precious goal had an unlimited supply because there were endless combinations. Compared to the goal, the elements have little value but many alchemists spent fortunes chasing the precious outcomes. The personal cost was high even if the elements are unlimited, the acquirement of the elements and the necessary equipment came at a large cost. The cost was not important to the alchemist because the goal was so valuable and to achieve it was worth the great cost. To give an example of personal cost and value, I will relate my current situation.

As I write this, I have my six-month-old daughter sleeping on my lap. It isn’t ideal but it is limited. While it would be easier if I could put her in her bed and type more comfortably, her desire to be with me is endearing. Part of me enjoys holding her as I write. I know that it won’t be forever that she will be sleeping on my lap. Too soon she will be the small girl with an apple blossom in her hair. Because it is limited, I embrace it and enjoy what I can but if it was endless it would lose value. As pretty as it may sound in poetry, if I were actually to hold her all the time until the end of time, it would lose the endearing quality. The ability to endure through the personal costs like back pain and difficulty doing most any task is due to the fact that it will not last forever. It is for only a short time so while it can at times be difficult, it is something of high value. If it was to be endless, it would lose value. Time with children is especially limited, they are growing and becoming more independent progressively through time. This gives childhood and children value because it has defined limits that can only be kept by transforming them into intellectual creations through memory.

For organic alchemy, specifically parenting, the elements are limited and as a consequence, so is the creation. For women, the limitations and personal cost are much higher so motherhood often has higher value in many societies. In American society, parenthood and the creation of a family is the highly sought after quest of many unsuspecting organic alchemists. They desire to create something new and better by using the elements of self and partner which makes them organic alchemists. Art is organic alchemy and parenting is part organic, part intellectual alchemy.

Intellectual alchemy differs from the first two interpretations of alchemy because it does not produce a tangible product. An author may write their words on a page, transmuting them into something that exists within the world but the actual process of creation in writing is purely intellectual. Teaching can also be a form of intellectual alchemy with the goal of transmutation of knowledge. Besides not having a tangible precious creation, intellectual alchemy has the added distinction of multiple alchemists. I would argue that both the teachers and the students are the alchemists and the elements. The teacher is the head alchemist, the one that chooses the elements to include in the lesson but the students are also working toward the goal of acquiring knowledge and understanding. Intellectual alchemy is unique since it requires at least two alchemists and the transmutation which occurs in the minds of the alchemists.

Knowledge while not tangible, is highly valued. The elements used to create it are endless but at the same time, limited. The teacher as an alchemist has a wide assortment of materials for the procurement of knowledge but it is also limited by circumstance. Teachers can only assign so much reading which means with each element they are choosing to add, they are choosing to leave something else behind. Also, each individual brings their own set of elements with experience and interpretation to the material. For each person in the room, knowledge is usually acquired but it is different for eachc individual. Intellectual alchemy is the easiest to successfully practice but the results are never the same. The precious goal in this alchemy is attained and still valued.

This is a major break from the other interpretations of alchemy. Intellectual alchemy increases in value as it is shared. The knowledge created does not lose value from multiplication because it is still precious and unique to each individual. The personal cost of knowledge leads us back to traditional alchemy, time. All of these things cost us time. While science has managed to extend the time we have on this earth, it is still limited and that limitation is unknown to us. Time, our most precious resource which has yet to be produced by the alchemists will remain the common thread to all that is precious because it is the only thing that truly can’t be replaced. It can be transformed into memory and story telling but not duplicated.

 

Works Cited

Smith, Evans Lansing. “The Romanticism to Postmodernism.” Third Session: Alchemy and the Hermetic Tradition. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpenteria. 8 Nov. 2014. Lecture.

Yeats, William. “Poetry Archive | Poems.” Poetry Archive | Poems. 1 Jan. 1899. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.poetry-archive.com&gt;.

Collins, Judy, and William Yeats. “Judy Collins – Golden Apples of the Sun.” YouTube. 14 Dec. 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alIUW_JY03I&gt;.

Right or Privilege?

Using precise language to clarify a point-

Carlin quote

A little over a week ago, I saw this quote by George Carlin posted on Facebook. As a lover of words and Carlin, this quote struck me and I began turning it over and over in my head. Once I had let it churn in my head, it began to churn in my heart and it became deeply disturbing. What is the difference between a right and a privilege? If Carlin is correct and the ability for something to be denied makes it privilege and not a right; then my rights just became considerably fewer. In fact, it became difficult for me to think of what could actually still be considered a right. Do I have any rights – or do I just have privileges that I think are rights?

In order to understand these words, the best place to start is the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary offered the following definitions:

Right: “Legal, moral, or natural entitlement.”
Entitlement: “A legal right or just claim to do, receive, or possess something.”
Privilege: “A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by an individual, corporation of individuals, etc., beyond the usual rights or advantages of others.”

This helped add clarity – a right is legal (from the law), moral (from the self), or natural (inherent) entitlement. The word entitlement makes it really about law – a person may think something should be a right but if they are denied to any members of our society, they are privilege. There has been a lot of talk about privileges. Looking at this quote, I had to realize that there are many things I had thought to be rights but they are privileges. I had to face the fact that I have given the government power to give or take these privileges because I had not tried to stop the government from denying these “rights” to others. Through apathy, I have given these rights away and made them privilege, I now see the error of my thinking.

Our constitution states that our inherent (natural) rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but these are not really rights legally. Legally, a person can be denied life with the death penalty, liberty with imprisonment, and the right to pursue happiness is only a privilege given to those that pursue happiness in accordance to the values of others. The death penalty and imprisonment are thought of as ways to deter crime. Their effectiveness as a deterrent has not been satisfactorily proven for me to think this is an acceptable reason for me to lose life and liberty as rights. However, there are individuals in our society that commit violent crimes and seek to harm others. Violent individuals are imprisoned to protect the nonviolent members of society. In order to keep individuals that have proven themselves to be unable or unwilling to control their harmful desires away from me and the people I love, I am willing to lose my liberty to harm others.

I agree that were I to cause harm purposefully, I should be imprisoned until I can prove to no longer be a threat to others but what about other, non-violent crimes? A person can lose liberty for the inability to a pay ticket, for using illegal (as opposed to legal) drugs, or for the way they parent their child. This scares me because these are all judgement-based crimes. They are only crimes because other people think they are wrong, not because they are harmful or threatening in any way. I don’t mind relinquishing my liberty if I cause physical harm to others but these things are matters of personal choice. What I put in my body, how I raise my children, and how I spend my money should be my right to choose. So many people are fighting for a woman’s right to choose if she wants to have an abortion, something known to cause harm to mother and child. Where is this passion when it comes to a parent’s right to choose how to raise that child? This seems irrational. These things are moral and natural rights but not legal rights. Prisons are filled with people that exercised these rights but found out they were merely privilege. It is evident that inherent rights, our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not legally guaranteed so they are privilege.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not rights. Until all the people of our country can enjoy these privileges equally, they are not rights. This is scary because these things can be taken away at will. Laws that are created to protect us from ourselves really limit our ability to choose how to live. Even an individual that has not committed a crime can be legally imprisoned if it can be argued that they broke a law. It doesn’t take long to look in the news and see cases of personal choice being cause for imprisonment. Parenting is under attack in this country. It is the responsibility of every parent to raise their child in a way that benefits the child and helps them to become healthy adults. The way each parent does this is different based on cultural norms and the temperament of the child. A parent can be arrested and have their child taken from them if someone else decides they do not think the way you raise your child is appropriate and they can convince the law they are right and you are wrong. It is a natural right and a moral right but not a legal right. I am NOT okay with this being a privilege. There is nothing more important to me in my life than my children. The thought that the government can come and forcibly remove them shakes me to my very core and gives me fear. I am afraid to make waves or in any way call attention to myself because it isn’t even my right to care for my own children. The fact that I can be imprisoned, even the fact that I could be killed do not fill me with fear like the fact that my kids could be taken from me and kept from me.

One recent example of parents unable to express their parental choice is the case of the Florida parents arrested for neglect because their eleven-year-old son was left alone playing basketball in his own back yard for ninety minutes. This is the time between when the boy got home from school and the parents got home from work. A neighbor called the police when he saw the boy home alone and the police detained the boy in the backseat of the car until the parents arrived and were arrested. There are so many things here that I thought were my rights but now I realize they are just my privilege. Liberty and the right to parent your child were stripped from these parents in the name of child safety. Neglect is a serious issue but this is not a case of neglect. The child was in no way harmed or in put in any real danger by being home alone until the parents arrived. The only trauma this boy experienced was the legal intervention. For a young boy, sitting in the back of a police car as neighbors looked on was probably scary and humiliating. On top of that, the boy had to watch his parents be arrested and taken away. This must have been incredibly frightening and confusing for the boy – much more frightening than playing on his own in the backyard. In this case, the right to parent was forcibly taken and the entire family made to suffer based off of someone else’s judgement of their parenting choices. When I was younger, kids were often allowed to be alone for short periods of time – it was so common that the term for such a practice was latch-key kids. I was a latch-key kid and I enjoyed the time between getting home from school and my parents coming home from work. I knew if I needed anything, I could go to my neighbors for help so I never felt neglected. It gave me a sense of independence and helped me learn how to take care of myself. Today, my parents could be arrested for choosing to let me care for myself.

Another nonviolent perceived right is our ability to care for ourselves in a manner we see fit. People are allowed to alter their bodies through surgery, tattoos or piercings but what we put into our bodies is not our personal freedom. Choosing to medicate through the legally acceptable methods using over-the-counter or prescription drugs is legally permitted but using other substances is not. Every illegal drug has its legal counterpart but we are not given the right how we want to medicate our bodies or minds. The privilege to medicate is only given to those individuals with health care and financial ability to legally obtain medicines. Self-medication is becoming more popular with the use of homeopathic medicines and essential oils but this is only acceptable because society has agreed to allow it for now but who is to say that this privilege won’t ever be taken away?

My natural rights are only privileges and my moral rights like parenting my children and how I care for my body are only rights when they are deemed acceptable to others – so they are also privilege. What is left? What are my legal rights? This is debatable because with the right circumstances, even a murderer can be legally allowed freedom. Law is a thing of privilege. Depending on the quality of counsel, the judge, the climate of the courtroom, and any number of other factors, a person can get away with breaking a law or they can be convicted even when they are not legally at fault. For this reason, we have no rights legally because once in a courtroom, those rights can be legally taken away.

I am still struck with whether or not I have any rights left. The only thing I can think I can control is my own is my mind and my relationships. My mind could be poisoned, I could be institutionalized and put on medications to subdue my thoughts, so having control of my mind is not my right, it is a privilege. My relationships, my ability to relate to others is my right. Once a relationship has been established, the people involved gain privilege. If someone else cares for a person then that person becomes less vulnerable to having their privileges taken away. It is because a person is cared for that a government has trouble taking privilege. The loss of privilege is noticed and others come in to help regain those privileges. The only right we have left is our right to care about each other and we throw this right away through fear, apathy, and hate. We can only fight this massive lack of rights through caring. Caring enough to create change, caring enough for each other to protect the things that should be rights, and caring enough to risk our own privileges to make sure others don’t lose theirs. The problem isn’t that we do not have lost our basic rights – it is that we do not care enough to realize that we lost never had them to begin with. We need to care enough to claim these privileges as rights so we do not have to live in fear of government or each other.