Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Highlights for First-Time Visitors

[A poem made almost entirely from quotes from an old Fodor's Travel Guide about NYC.]
A panning shot of Rockefeller Center
clearly says “New York”.
A capital of the communications industry.
supporting the world
Six pools surrounding
flowerbeds filled.
Great gold-leaf statue
Prometheus! fire-stealing hero
sprawled on his ledge.
an enormous live Christmas tree.
            And ice skating for the family
            an idyllic perspective on the city.

Often called
Crossroads of the World.
Times Square
actually triangle.
December 31, 1908
200 pound ball lowered by hand
starting a tradition
mobbed with revelers
crowds of people
pandemonium ensues.
Huge electric signs
bigger and brighter
distinctive nighttime glitter.
            Large shops and billboards
            with all the entertainment you can see.

United Nations Headquarters occupies
lushly landscaped riverside tract.
Line of flagpoles
especially pleasant rose garden
imaginatively diverse artwork.
Picnicking is strictly forbidden.
Jacket required for men.
Children under 5
not permitted.
            The flags are a symbol of countries coming together
            after they manage to get through the security

New York’s number one
tourist attraction
The Met.
Botticelli Vermeer Rembrandt
Vast and impressive.
Tiffany stained glass windows
Sullivan cast iron staircases
Federal marble fa├žade.
Classical paintings
Roman wall paintings extracted from lava
of Mount Vesuvius
Egyptian treasures
Asian galleries
arms and armor.
Only a portion exhibited
more than can be seen in one visit.
            Children experiencing culture and history
            imagining sleeping in old royal beds.

Most valuable real estate
set aside as a park
Central Park.
Large enough to get lost in
escape from rumble of traffic
watch an earthworm
tumble through the soil.
Swampy neighborhood to
this playground of lush lawns
Strawberry Fields
Bethesda Fountain
Belvedere Castle
Only tourists ride in the horse-drawn carriages.
            Forget the bustling city just outside
            and imagine a fairytale world.

American Museum of Natural History
collection of more than 36 million artifacts.
Blue whale
Star of India sapphire.
Wondrously detailed dioramas
of animal habitat groups
dinosaur skeletons
films on a giant screen
rock-music Laser Shows.
protecting its fossilized baby
from a fossil.
            A world of animals unimaginable
            stuffed and shown so they can be imagined now.

Enduring symbol of America
Statue of Liberty.
Liberty Island
great silvery harbor.
225 tons
151 feet
from feet to torch.
Elevator to the top of the pedestal
exhibits of history.
Strong of heart and limb
Can climb to the crown.
            The crown’s closed now.
            Fire safety hazard.

New York’s two tallest buildings
World Trade Center.
Observation deck
a quarter of a mile into the sky
view extends miles
Seven building complex
adjacent hotel
50,000 people.
A million cubic yards
of rock and soil excavated.
            One of the biggest landmarks
Taken from us in less than a minute.

the best trips start with fodor’s

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Internet: A Journey

[This was written for the same creative writing class in the last post. it's really just a silly thing, but it was fun to write.]

You wake up to find yourself in an endless white space. You can’t tell if there are walls, a ceiling, or even dimensions. All you can see is flat white everywhere.

A man walks up to you. He is an older man, dressed smartly in a suit. He stands up very straight, and you can tell he is quite dignified.

You ask who he is and where you are, and with a bow he says, “My name is Jeeves. You are in the internet.” He speaks with a British accent.

The internet? you ask. But that’s impossible. Jeeves only nods. “Impossible, yes, but here you are.” Then why is it all white? “We are in your homepage. MSN, it seems. This particular page has many graphics—are you, perhaps, running Internet Explorer?” Well, yeah. Why not?

Jeeves snaps his fingers. “There you are. We shall be using Firefox for your journey, as I find it makes things far easier. Now come along, we don’t want to be here when the page loads.”

He walks towards a door you had not noticed before. In fact, you could swear it hadn’t been there. But there it is now, and Jeeves opens it, clearly intending for you to go first.

But wait! you cry out. Where are we going? Jeeves smiles and replies, “A tour of the internet. I wish to show you all it has to offer.”

So you go through the doorway. On the other side is a long black tunnel, lit by brightly-colored cars that zip along past you. Each of these cars contains exactly one passenger, though they are going too fast for you to make out any individual features. Most cars have bright primary colors on them, though there are a few with different color schemes.

You ask Jeeves what this is. “Search engines,” he replies. “We have our own car right here.” Are you a search engine? “I am, but I am unfortunately not used very often. Google has taken many users from me, and from the other search engines.”

You get into the red and white car Jeeves indicates. You drive along the tunnel, not as fast as the other cars. Jeeves explains this with, “My servers are older than the others’. I run somewhat slower.”

The car stops at a door. It is plain white, with nondescript black lettering on the door which reads MYSPACE.COM. Jeeves steps out of the car and opens the door for you.

Once you step inside, you are startled by the instant rush of crazy swirling bright colors and patterns that fly past you. The patterns fade away, to be replaced by glittering bright pink and purple letters spelling various names. You hear a strange mix of computer-generated tones that sound vaguely like ‘My Humps’.

This is MySpace? you ask incredulously. Jeeves has to shout to be heard over the ‘music’. “It is indeed. It has been abandoned by the users as other websites have gained popularity.” They just stopped coming here? “Yes. Much like they stopped using me.”

Jeeves looks a bit sad, you think, and you feel bad because you haven’t used him either. You didn’t know he still existed. But your train of thought is interrupted by a group of girls running in front of you, each pausing to pose in a bizarre way.

“User pictures,” Jeeves explains. “There are thousands of these. Would you like to stay and watch, or move on?” You want to move on. “Then come with me.”

The car takes you to another door. LIVEJOURNAL.COM.

When you enter through this doorway, all you see is darkness. A disembodied voice recites a poem.

i cant feel pain
nothing is the same
i want to die
i can only cry

It’s odd that such a dark poem sounds like it’s being read by a thirteen-year-old girl. Suddenly, the darkness fades and you can see a large group of people, writing in small notebooks, passing the notebooks between each other.

“Livejournal has been somewhat abandoned,” Jeeves informs you, “but not to the same extent as MySpace. Many of its users have gone to Tumblr.” Will we see Tumblr? “We will not. It will seem to you the same as this, minus that girl who spoke when we entered. Besides, our time is limited.”

Jeeves takes you to another website. Its door is labeled FACEBOOK.COM.

This place does not seem strange to you. There is a large group of people, talking to each other face-to-face. The only difference between this and how you talk to your friends is what they are saying.

List five random facts about yourself, and tag five people to do the same!
I need your help to grow my crops!
I am attending ZOOMASS PARTY 2/17 YEA!!!
I like this.

You’re a little freaked out by this. The people, their facial expressions don’t change as they speak. You ask Jeeves why. “They’re only users. They are not people.”

Even though their not-quite human qualities are a bit off-putting, you can see that these users are interacting almost as humans normally do. This is a huge change from the previous two social networking websites. You feel more comfortable here.


Through this door, you find an endless space with thousands of millions of boxes on the ground. Users come up to these boxes and stand on them, shouting random thoughts into the air. Sometimes, they seem to be shouting to each other.

Without warning, a large whale falls into the middle of the boxes.

“Fail whale,” Jeeves remarks. “Pity. This place is usually quite interesting when its servers work.” So where are we going now? “I thought we might leave the social networking area. Would you like some entertainment?”

The car takes you far now, a journey that takes minutes instead of seconds. You try to watch out the window, see the doors flying by, but you’re going too fast to read any of them.

The car slows near a door that reads 4CHAN.ORG. This door is actually decorated, plastered with stickers that show grammatically incorrect sentences. A mask from V for Vendetta hangs off the edge of the slightly ajar door. You can hear raucous shouting from within.

Are we going in there? “Of course not!” Jeeves looks pale, and his normal composure is gone. But after a moment, he sets himself right. “I would never take a user in there unprepared. It is a vile place.”

The car stops outside XKCD.COM.

You’ve never heard of this, you say. “It is a webcomic,” Jeeves says. “It is quite popular. I chose this just to show you a general webcomic. They entertain many people.”

Inside, you watch some stick figures talk to each other. You’re not really understanding what they say, it’s all technical and science terms. You mention this to Jeeves. “Yes, this particular webcomic is designed for, to put it simply, geeks and nerds. They comprise most of the readership for webcomics.”

You want to go somewhere that you can understand what’s going on. Jeeves nods. “I understand. Come with me.”


This room is a movie theater. You choose a nice plush chair to sit in, and Jeeves hands you a remote to control the giant screen in front of you.

You flip through watching short videos of dogs being adorable, children saying funny things, music videos, ten-minute segments of TV shows, and people being shocked as they watch 2girls1cup. You can find literally anything you want.

It seems like you’ve been here for hours when a video suddenly stops. A message appears on the screen: BUFFERING, PLEASE WAIT. What’s going on? “A buffer of that size will take hours,” Jeeves observes. “We should continue now.”

As you drive, Jeeves asks, “Do you like music?” Of course. Who doesn’t? “I would like to take you to the largest vendor of music on the internet, but we may have trouble getting in.”

The car stops in front of APPLE.COM.

Inside, there is a large white room with multiple doors leading to unknown places. In front of each door sits a desk, each with an empty chair. All the furniture is made with a sleek white plastic, and they look identical.

Jeeves leads you to one of the desks, and suddenly a man materializes in the seat. He looks incredibly bored.

“We would like to visit iTunes,” Jeeves tells him. user name and password, the man requests. His voice is computerized.

Jeeves looks expectantly to you. You don’t have a password. “Sorry, but may we go in just for a look?” he asks the man. did you forget your password. “No, but we only want a look. May we go in?” i see you do not currently have itunes installed. would you like to install it. You need to install a program just to look around the website? That’s—“My dear sir, you seem to misunderstand,” Jeeves says, cutting you off. “We only wish to browse your selection. This user does not wish to purchase music at this time.”

At this, the man disappears. Jeeves looks disappointed. “It’s a shame you aren’t a Mac,” he comments. “They never have trouble getting in. Oh well, shall we move on?”

The car goes a bit far this time. Jeeves explains that you are going to the shopping area of the internet. You stop in front of AMAZON.COM.

In here, it’s set up like a department store, the largest you’ve ever seen. You couldn’t possibly walk from end to end of it, and in fact no one is. The users are appearing in the blink of an eye in front of the displays they want.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Jeeves asked. “This used to be a small place selling only books. Of course, that was when I was still popular.” You want to read something, anything, just to see what holding a book in this world is like. “I’m sorry, but you’ll only be able to read a page.  It’s not worth your while. We’re a bit behind, anyways, so come along.”

The car brings you to a door reading EBAY.COM.

There are thousands of people inside, shouting amounts of money at inanimate objects displayed on pedestals. You can tell when an auction is ending, because they start shouting so fast you can’t even hear what they’re saying. A DVD player floats off a pedestal and into the hands of a waiting user.

You notice a pedestal all alone. A CD sits on it, some band you like, but no one’s bidding. Curious, you shout a number at it. Nothing happens.

“I’m afraid only registered users may bid,” Jeeves says. “And we are done with shopping, anyways. Come along, our final area is information.”


“Say something,” Jeeves tells you. What? “Anything.”

You name a band that you like, and suddenly a block of information is in front of you. The letters just hang in midair. You’re able to reach out and touch them, move them. You could rewrite the entire thing if you wanted to.

“This isn’t limited to bands,” Jeeves says. “You can find information on anything you want. I would let you spend more time here, but many people can get lost in this information for hours. There is one final stop, and I must leave you.”

Instead of bringing you to the car, Jeeves only snaps his fingers. In a flash, you’re in front of another door. The tunnel and the other cars are gone. All that’s there is this door. GOOGLE.COM. You enter, and find yourself in a blank white space, just like where you started.

Why are you here? you wonder. Jeeves didn’t seem to like Google very much. Why would he send you here?

Suddenly, the word Google, in bright rainbow letters, appears before you. You didn’t see it appear, you blinked and it was there. And now it hangs there, waiting for you.

You ask why you’re here. Why your journey through the internet ended up at a search engine.

i am more than a search engine appears in the search bar below the word. The words erase, and are replaced by i control most of what you have seen.

You laugh. You’ve seen so many websites that you can’t believe Google possibly controls them. think what you want but it’s true. every time you use the internet you will find me. So what does Google want from you? be a user. be online. i have much to offer as you have seen.

You consider this. Yes, you have seen a lot. And if all the internet wants is for you to visit, why not? You’ve seen websites that let you connect with other people, shop, and find entertainment and information. Of course you’ll use the internet.

thank you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fairy Tales of Past and Present

[This was written as a final project for a creative writing class. I had to cross different genres and different forms. I chose fairy tales and modern slice-of-life stories, and fiction with reference.]

The Lost Horse

Once upon a time[1], a young lad[2] went riding to the city. He stopped at a bog, which was known throughout the land for being enchanted. The lad was careful, so he dismounted and led his horse through this bog.
However, he made one wrong step and the horse fell into a deep pool. The lad knelt at the side of the pool and hoped that its spirit would hear him.
“Please!” he cried. “My horse is my dearest friend! I need her back!”
“If you wish,” a mysterious, melodic voice said in his ear[3]. “Is this your horse?”
A horse with a golden mane rose from the pool. Its bridle and shoes were pure gold.
“No,” the lad said. “This is not my horse.”
“Is this your horse?[4]” the voice asked.
A horse with a silver mane, and a bridle and shoes of pure silver rose next from the pool.
“This is not my horse,” the lad replied.
“Is this your horse?” the voice asked.
The lad’s own horse finally rose from the pool.
“Yes!” the lad cried, joyful at seeing his own horse once more.
“For your honesty[5], you may keep all three,” said the voice. “You have safe passage through this way.”
The lad led all three horses through the bog and to the city. There, he sold the gold and silver horses for a tidy sum.
He returned home, travelling through the bog once more. Again, his horse fell into a pool.
“Please, spirit!” he cried. “Return to me my horse once more!”
“Is this your horse?” the voice asked, as another golden horse rose from the pool.
“Yes, yes!” cried the lad, thinking of nothing but the money he would be able to get for this second golden horse.
“Then you may take her,” said the voice.
The lad wandered into the pond, and fell deep into the murky waters. He never came out.[6]

Snip, snap, snout
This tale’s told out![7]

Robert had been working for far too long with no reward.[8] He’d spent years at his job, never so much as a promotion or even just a raise. He made enough money, sure, but he was tired and wanted more.

His wife urged him to ask for a raise. They were newly married, and suddenly there were two little girls in their family to support together, instead of two single parents each raising one child.

The next day, he went to talk to his boss. He was nervous. He wanted more money, but he was so afraid of conflict that he really didn’t want to ask for it.[9]

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, walking into his boss’s office. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

“All right, talk,” the man replied. “I was just thinking about you anyways. Doing the mid-year reviews.”

“That’s what I’m here about,” Robert said. “Sir, I have been working here for five years, and I have not once gotten a raise. I like this job, but I have a wife and a stepdaughter to support now. I would really appreciate more money.”

That didn’t come out quite right, but it seemed to work. His boss chuckled.

“Of course you deserve something more,” he said. “I can’t really promise a raise right now, though. The budget’s barely covering your salary as is. I can offer you a promotion, but no raise with it.”

“I can’t do more work for the same money,” Robert said apologetically.

“How about more vacation time?” his boss asked. “I really do want to help you here.”

“It’s very tempting, but as I said, I have two more in my family now,” was the reply. “I need to support them.”

His boss nodded. “Tell you what, Rob. I’ll do the very best I can to get you that raise—but no promises, it’s not really my decision. I’ll recommend you for one, definitely. And I’m going to give you that promotion and vacation time, too. You deserve it. Take some of those vacation days to spend time with your family.”

Robert smiled. “Thank you, sir!”

His next paycheck contained quite a bit more than usual. He was satisfied with this, for a while.

His daughter and stepdaughter grew up. They needed more fashionable clothes, cell phones, an allowance.[10] Robert’s salary seemed meager again.

“Sir, can I talk to you?” he asked on seeing his boss again. He was less nervous now—it had gone so well that first time, it was going to go well again.

“Let me guess,” his boss said. “You need a raise?”

“I have two teenage girls,” Robert said by way of explanation.

His boss laughed. “All right. Well, I can give you another promotion. Again, can’t promise the raise, but I’ll try.”

“Sounds good,” Robert said.

He signed a contract for this new position, not bothering to read it over first.[11]

It wasn’t until he got home and the company’s Washington office called him that he realized what he’d done.

“I have to relocate to DC?” he asked incredulously.

“You did agree to it,” said the man who would be his new supervisor. “Your office faxed the contract to me this morning. Can you be here by the end of the month?”

“I suppose so,” Robert said with a sigh.

“You can’t leave!” his wife cried on hearing this. “You can’t have us leave! Sarah and Nicole just started high school, it would be cruel to uproot them and force them halfway across the country!”

“I’m going to go alone,” Robert said. “At least for a while, until I get settled in and can bring you out there. We’ll let the girls finish high school, then can you join me when they go to college?”

She sighed. “I suppose…”

“Lizzie, it’s take this job or have nothing,” Robert explained. “Please try to be understanding.”

“I’m trying,” she replied. “I just don’t want you to go. Nicole still barely accepts me,[12] how is she going to react?”

When Robert left, Nicole reacted by crying. She threw herself into focusing on her schoolwork, shutting herself away from her stepmother and stepsister. She thought she would never see her father again.

She was right.

The Girl Who Had Diamonds In Her Mouth

Once, a long time ago, a girl lived with her step-mother and her step-sister. The girl was very good, while the step-mother and the step-sister were very wicked.[13]
It happened that they lost all they had in a fire. The step-mother sent the girl out into the world to find a new fortune for them. She gave her only a hunk of old cheese to keep her fed and a threadbare shawl to keep her warm.
The girl set to walking, and soon found herself in a forest. She grew hungry, so she sat on a fallen tree and began to eat her hunk of cheese.
A man walked towards her, limping and leaning on a cane. “Please, young miss,” he said. “I am so hungry, I can hardly continue. Would you share your food? Only half, or even a small morsel, would be enough for me.”
“It would not be much only to give you half,” the girl replied. “You need this more than I, so I will gladly give you all of it.”[14]
She handed the cheese to the man, who thanked her and hobbled away.
The girl walked on. It became dark and cold, and so she wrapped her threadbare shawl around herself.
An old woman[15] soon approached her. “Please, young miss, I am old and frozen to my bones,” she said. “Would you let me wear that shawl you have?”
“Yes,” the girl said. “You need this more than I. I only wish I could give you something warmer.”
She removed the shawl and handed it to the old woman, who thanked her and walked away.
The girl walked on. The forest grew thick, and it was so dark that she could no longer see the path. She sat on the ground to prepare herself to sleep for the night.
An old man came to her. “Please, young miss, I am weary and I do not think I can continue through the night alone,” he said. “Would you walk with me for a while?”
The girl was weary herself, but she agreed. The two walked until they came upon a large cottage. The door was open, and the inside appeared warm and inviting.
“You may choose any bed you desire, young miss,” the man told her. “And when you wake, you will have the fortune you deserve.”
The man vanished, and the girl knew she had been walking with a spirit.
She entered the cottage and found a large, soft bed with a downy quilt. She slept soundly until the morning.
She made her way home. When she entered the house, her step-mother shouted at her for returning empty-handed.
“I am sorry, step-mother,” the girl said, and as she spoke, glittering diamonds fell from her mouth.[16]
The step-mother was amazed, and demanded to know what the girl had done to receive this gift. So the girl told her what had happened in the woods, and when she had finished her tale, a large pile of diamonds had gathered at her feet.
The step-mother sent her own daughter to the woods to receive a similar fortune. She gave the step-sister a wheel of cheese and a loaf of fresh bread to keep her fed and a fur coat to keep her warm.
The step-sister entered the same forest, and when she decided to eat, met the same man.
“Please, young miss,” he said. “I am so hungry, I can hardly continue. Would you share your food? Only half, or even a small morsel, would be enough for me.”
“If I gave you even a small morsel, I would not have nearly enough for myself!” cried the step-sister. “I will give you nothing! Be off!”[17]
Later, as it grew cold, the step-sister put on her fur coat, and was met by the old woman.
“Please, young miss, I am old and frozen to my bones,” she said. “Would you let me wear that shawl you have?”
“Then I will have nothing to keep myself warm!” cried the step-sister. “I will give you nothing! Be off!”
When she was weary and ready to sleep, the step-sister remembered the old man from the girl’s tale. She stood impatiently and waited for him.
He approached her when it was very dark and she had been waiting a long while. “Please, young miss, I am weary and I do not think I can continue through the night alone,” he said. “Would you walk with me for a while?”
The step-sister begrudgingly walked with the old man, until they reached the cottage. This time, it was old and starting to fall apart.
“You may choose any bed you desire, young miss,” the man told her. “And when you wake, you will have the fortune you deserve.”
The step-sister entered the cottage and only found one bed—a hard pallet beside an open window that would not shut no matter how hard she tried. She slept fitfully, and in the morning returned home.
“Speak!” her mother commanded when the step-sister entered the house.
“I met the old man, and now my fortune is the same!” the step-sister announced. But she was wrong, for instead of diamonds, frogs and snails spilled from her mouth.[18]
The step-mother screamed at her daughter’s misfortune, and locked the door of the house to keep the step-sister locked away forever.[19] She never spoke again.
            And that’s the end of that!

Sarah had grown up jealous of her stepsister.[20]

Nicole had been perfect in school. She’d been student body president, written essays for her classes that had won national awards, and this year, she was graduating as valedictorian.

Sometimes, Sarah was convinced that her mother loved Nicole—her stepdaughter—more than her. More than anything, she wanted to do better than Nicole, just once, show that stupid bitch she wasn’t the best. She wanted to be the star child for once.

She was also a senior this year, and she knew she had no chance of getting her grades to be better than Nicole’s by the end of the semester. Valedictorian was out. There wasn’t another election, so student body president wouldn’t work either. She had to concede those to Nicole.

Maybe she could be smarter? Yeah, that could work.

The two stepsisters happened to be in the same English class, and so they were assigned the same papers. The difference was that Sarah had to struggle to get Bs, while Nicole turned in A-worthy papers each time without spending more than a few hours on them.

Sarah was having a particularly difficult time with their latest paper, a study on Hamlet. Nicole had, as usual, completed it a week before it was due.

“How do you finish your papers so fast?” Sarah had once asked her stepsister.

Nicole had shrugged and replied, “I don’t know, I just get in the zone.”

The night before the paper was due, Nicole got exactly eight hours of sleep, while Sarah stayed up late to struggle through the paper.

Around 3 in the morning, she became desperate. She turned on Nicole’s computer—just for inspiration!

But she became ‘inspired’ to change the name on Nicole’s paper, print it out, and delete the file.[21]

In the morning, Nicole had a panic attack.

“I don’t know what happened!” she cried, sobbing in distress. “The paper was done, and it was all fine last night! I checked!

She was starting to hyperventilate, she was that upset, and Sarah did feel a little bad—but not bad enough to miss the bus to school.

She turned in her flawless stolen paper, proud of her week. Nicole had managed to make it to class, though paperless. She asked for an extension, blaming a computer virus, and was granted an extra week to write a new paper.

Sarah had won. But suddenly, once wasn’t good enough.

Nicole, in addition to her excellent grades, was also popular. By virtue of just being related (if only by marriage), Sarah was also somewhat popular—enough that she’d been nominated for prom queen alongside her stepsister.[22]

With Nicole working hard on a new paper, the crucial campaigning week would be free reign for Sarah. She went all out: candy, buttons, flyers, posters. She wanted to win. She wanted proof she’d bested Nicole.

It looked like she was going to win, too. People kept approaching her to tell her that they were voting for her. It was fantastic.

Until her English teacher asked her to stay after class.

“I had hoped that your stepsister’s influence was what made your paper so excellent,” he told her as he handed her the paper in question—a large red 0 scrawled on it. “However, she turned in her paper today, and it seems almost identical to yours. The same thesis, same examples, even some of the same phrases. I cannot call this a coincidence.”

“She helped me with my paper,” Sarah lied—well, it wasn’t really a lie, but still. It’s not like Nicole knew she helped.

“Your papers are virtually the same,” he said. “I have no choice but to fail you, and assign you detention. You know we take plagiarism very seriously here.”

Sarah sighed. Oh well, nice while it lasted.

“Also, you will not be allowed to attend prom.”

“What!?” she cried. “Seriously!?”

“Yes,” he said. “As I said, we take plagiarism very seriously.”

Well. Shit.

The Girl Who Had No Mouth

Once upon a time, not in your time, not in my time, but in somebody’s time, there was a girl who lived next door to a witch. This witch was a mean spirit, and often cursed those around her for no reason at all.[23]
One day, the girl accidentally crossed the witch’s path, and the witch cursed her out of spite. The girl’s mouth vanished from her face.
Ashamed of her disfigurement, the girl ran away and hid in the woods. She spent many years there, starving because she could not eat and crying because she could not speak. She was miserable because of this curse.
One day, the prince of this kingdom entered the woods as he hunted deer. He came across the girl and found her beautiful. He did not notice her disfigurement, for she had taken to wearing a scarf across her face.[24]
“Come back to the palace with me,” he urged her. She shook her head, unwilling to leave her safe forest.
He continued pleading with her, until finally she relented and nodded. He swept her onto his horse and rode to the palace with her.
Once there, the prince gathered the court together and in front of the kingdom, asked for the girl’s hand in marriage. She gave her agreement with a nod.
She was given fine rooms in the palace and maids to wait on her. There was much gossip about why she never spoke and why she always wore the scarf over her face, but she never removed the scarf to show people the truth. She washed the scarf by herself, only when no one was around.
She spent many afternoons with the prince, quietly listening to him talk. She fell in love with him.
On their wedding day, the girl wore a veil over her face instead of her customary scarf. No one thought anything of this until the prince lifted the veil to kiss his bride.
When the people saw that the girl had no mouth, they screamed. They thought she was a monster.
“Quiet!” the prince commanded his people. “This is my bride, and your princess! You will show respect!”[25]
And he kissed the girl, where her lips would have been.
Suddenly, a new mouth grew upon the girl’s face. The spell had been broken with the kiss.
“Thank you, my prince,” were the girl’s first words. “I love you.”
Now my tale is told.

Nicole was painfully shy.

All right, so she’d been pretty popular in high school, but she’d never really had close friends. She had friends using her for her brain.[26] Her stepsister hated her, and her stepmother pitied her. She really had no one.

She was glad she’d saved enough money from summer jobs to pay her own way through college—with a ton of student loans, of course, but she wasn’t relying on her family anymore. She was on her own.

That didn’t change the fact that she couldn’t talk to anyone at her school.

Nicole had chosen a college out in sunny California, far away from the little unknown Iowan town where she’d grown up, and even farther from the city where her father went after abandoning her. She wanted to be alone, but at the same time, she really had wanted to make some new friends.

She tried being friends with her roommate, but the girl was hardly ever there. She had a boyfriend on campus, and spent most of her time in his room. The few times Rachel had deigned to return to the room and talk to Nicole, the two had barely anything in common.[27]

Nicole kept working on her schoolwork. The amount she had to do was so much more than it had been in high school, and trying to get As on everything kept her from being depressed over her lack of friends. She might have been lonely, but at least she was smart.[28]

Of course, it just had to happen that the one night she happened to finish her homework early, Rachel decided to host a party in their room.

Sure, they didn’t touch Nicole’s stuff, but there were drunk people everywhere and they were being loud and she was pretty sure that one of them was going to throw up. Rachel did nothing about this, just sat on her bed with Ross, her boyfriend, his tongue down her throat.

So Nicole left the room. She hated that she had to leave her space, her sanctuary, to sit out in the hall and cry.

A few stragglers, late to the party, passed by her, but most didn’t give her a second glance.

Except one.[29] He sat on the ground beside Nicole and asked, “Why aren’t you in there with everyone else?”

“Because I don’t know any of them,” she replied. “I just live there and I can’t even get a moment’s peace.”

“That sucks,” the guy agreed. “You’re not really a party person, are you?”

She laughed. “No. I’m a study hard and get to bed early kind of person. I don’t even have homework tonight, though, so I have no excuse to kick them all out. I just want it to be quiet.”

“Why don’t you come to my dorm, then?” the guy asked. “It’s quiet there.”

“You’d give up the party for me?” she asked incredulously.

“Hey, parties are overrated, and you’re cute,” he replied. “I’m Brandon, by the way.”

“Nicole,” she said.

They went to his room. They watched TV together, found a mutual love of horror movies and cheesy comedies, and just talked for a while.[30] It was low-key, and it was quiet. Nicole was happy.

From then on, whenever Rachel had a party, Nicole grabbed her laptop and went to Brandon’s room. She felt bad that he was missing all these parties just to hang out with her, but he insisted he didn’t mind.

Soon, Nicole was hanging out with Brandon even when there was no party going on. She liked spending time with him.

“We should do something besides just hang out in the room,” he mentioned one time. “You don’t party, but how about going to a game? Or they do karaoke at the bar downtown on Tuesdays.”

“I don’t sing,” Nicole said.

“Yeah, but I do,” Brandon replied with a grin. “I’m good at it.”

Nicole rolled her eyes. “I like staying in, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, not pressing it. “But I’m at least making you give up your extra extra credit assignments. You already have a 4.0.”

She gave a sheepish grin. “I like doing work.”

He walked over to her and gently pulled her hands off her keyboard so he could close the laptop. “Well, now you like having fun.”

She would have protested, but he was touching her hands and the contact was enough to just make her blush.

Then he kissed her, and she almost passed out from that.

Or, maybe not almost passed out, but it was nice.

“That karaoke’s on Tuesday?” she asked.

Brandon nodded.

“All right,” she said. “I’d like to hear you sing.”

The Boy Who Made The Princess Dance

Once, when spirits roamed the earth and animals were magic, there was a princess. She was a lively girl in every way, except one. She would not dance.
The king and queen threw many balls and parties, and every time the princess only sat and watched the others.
The king was worried that his daughter would never enjoy life if she could not enjoy dancing. So he proclaimed that any man who could convince the princess to dance with him would win the princess’s hand in marriage.[31]
Three brothers who lived in the village just outside the kingdom heard about this proclamation, and each vowed to be the one to win the princess. The eldest was strong and thought that he could force the princess to dance. The middle brother was wise, and thought that he could persuade the princess to dance. The youngest was only a fool, but he had a good heart.[32] He hoped the princess would love him enough to dance with him.
            The brothers journeyed towards the palace together, and promised each other that only one would try to get the princess to dance each night.
The first night, the eldest brother approached the princess. He did not speak to her, but instead grabbed her and tried to force her to dance. However, the princess was also strong, and able to resist him.[33]
The second night, the middle brother approached the princess. He sat beside her and told her about the wonderful virtues of dancing, and how enjoyable it would be if they danced together. However, the princess was also wise, and persuaded the brother that not only was dancing a terrible pastime, but he should never dance again.
The third night, the youngest brother approached the princess. Instead of using words or strength, he bowed before her. “Please, princess, will you dance with me? I cannot promise it will be enjoyable, but you might like to try nonetheless.”
The princess could see that the brother had a good heart. She agreed to dance with him.[34]
The youngest brother was awarded the princess’s hand in marriage, and all was well from then on.

No one at Sarah’s school particularly liked her.

She was outspoken in all her classes, always arguing with her professors and classmates.[35] She had a kind of sharp beauty about her, always cold to others with a fierce glare in her eye.

The girls stayed away from her, but most of the guys wanted her.

However, she had a reputation for turning down guys in the most humiliating way possible. Also painful at times, it was said. She’d given quite a few guys a well-placed kick that discouraged them from chasing any girl for a while.[36]

She went to parties all the time, but mostly stayed in the corner, getting drunk and insulting anyone within earshot.

Strong guys approached her, and she fended them off with some of her self-defense moves, even though she knew they weren’t going to hurt her. She just wanted them gone and humiliatingly beaten.

Smart guys approached her, nerdy guys that she just laughed at. That was all it took to break them down, just a laugh.

It’s not like she was really lonely. She just didn’t like a lot of the people at this school. But what else could you expect from a state college?

Then there was one guy. Matt.

He approached her after class one time, and she’d rolled her eyes, expecting him to ask her out.

“Did you get the homework assignment?” he asked.

She was surprised, but told him about the assignment, like this was a normal question that people asked her every day.

She saw him a few more times over the course of the semester. He never asked her out, never even complimented her, just talked about the classes, the weather, what was going on at the school. She figured he had to have a girlfriend. Or, he was gay.[37]

They talked after finals, about a concert a local band was doing that night. “You want to go with me?” she asked.

Matt smiled widely. “Yeah! I’ve been working up the nerve to ask you out all semester.”

“I’m kind of glad you didn’t,” Sarah replied. “I would’ve turned you down.”

“I know,” he said. “But you’re such a great girl, I wanted to try anyways.”

She hesitated. Now, he seemed like every other guy.

“That’s not why I first talked to you,” he added. “I really did need to know about the homework. I just started liking you when we kept talking.”

Sarah smiled. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Matt replied.

“You’re the first one,” she said.

“First one what?” he asked.

“Who likes me for me.”[38]

The Stolen Princess

Once upon a time, and it was quite a long time ago, too, there lived a princess.
However, the princess did not know she was a princess. She had been stolen from the palace by witches when she was young.[39]
The witches raised her as another witch, teaching her spells and magic. It became clear that she had no power for these, so she spent her time fetching ingredients for potions.
One day, she asked her witch mothers where she had come from.
“You were born a princess,” they told her.[40] “We saw the spark of magic in you, and we wanted to help it grow.”
“I cannot do magic,” the princess replied.
“Your magic is not in spells,” the witches said. “You will find it.”
“I want to see my real family,” the princess said.
“They will not remember you,” the witches warned. “We will disguise you so you may enter the palace without notice, and you can see for yourself that they do not remember you.”
They disguised the princess as a beggarwoman, and sent her to the palace.
Everyone in the palace was gathered at a wedding. A handsome prince from a nearby land was marrying a girl that the court claimed was the princess.
When the true princess entered the wedding hall, she finally found her magic and saw the truth. She was indeed the princess, and her family was the king and queen. She had been betrothed to this prince since she was born.
The fake princess was only a pauper, bought from her true parents at her birth. Her true parents were among the wedding party, crying as they had to pretend their daughter was not their own. The fake princess knew they were her true parents, and was also upset at the pretense.
The princess removed her disguise and stood in the middle of the court in all her beauty. “I am the true princess!” she cried. “This girl is only a pauper who wishes to return to her family.”
Everyone knew what she was saying was true.[41] The princess had a remarkable similarity to her parents that the fake princess lacked. The fake princess was returned to her family, and the true princess was reunited with her parents and married the prince.
And they lived happily ever after.[42]

Nicole missed her family.

She’d graduated college and had been accepted to a law school in Washington, DC. Brandon was moving out there with her, and he would look for a job while she looked for an apartment for the two of them.[43]

She found an amazing apartment, and took it without looking at too many others. As she and Brandon moved in, the landlord talked with them about past tenants.

“There was a man in here a few years ago,” she said. “Such a sad guy, had to leave his family for his job. He worked so much he never had time to talk to them, really. He talked about them whenever he could, though. I think he finally moved out when his wife came out here, but as far as I know, he didn’t see his daughters again. Sad story, isn’t it?”

“What was his name?” Nicole asked curiously.

“Oh, what was it?” the landlord asked herself, trying to recall the name. “Right. Robert Feldon.”

“Do you know where he lives now?” Nicole asked, her breath catching in her throat as she spoke.[44]

“I have the address for his wife, to forward mail,” the landlord said. “But as far as I know, he died a year ago. Exhaustion, his heart gave out.”

“He died,” Nicole repeated, the words shocking her. She hadn’t seen the man in almost ten years, but how hadn’t she known about this? And why did it hurt so much?

“Excuse me,” she murmured, leaving the apartment. She needed air. She needed room to cry and mourn.

A few minutes later, Brandon followed her out. “I explained the situation to her,” he said. “And I got your mom’s address.”

Stepmom,” Nicole said bitterly. “Lizzie was never my mother.”[45]

“You should go see her,” Brandon said.

“She never told me that my dad is dead!” she cried. “I have nothing to do with that woman! Why should I waste my time with her?”

“So you can know what your dad was like for his last years,” he replied. “I know you want to know that.”

He was right.

So Nicole drove to the suburbs of the city, to the address Brandon had scrawled on a scrap of paper for her. She parked her car across the street, and watched her stepmother’s house.

The woman opened the door only once, to go outside and get the mail. Nicole was surprised how old she looked now. Old and alone. Sarah was nowhere around.

So Nicole left her car and went up to the house, her hand shaking as she rang the doorbell.

Lizzie opened the door and smiled, a true smile with love for her daughter. “Nicole.”

The girl smiled. “Hi, Mom.”[46]

[1] This is the classic opening to fairy tales.
[2] The protagonist is almost always a young adult.
[3] Magical beings are not always seen.
[4] Repetition of phrases is very common in fairy tales, since they derive from oral tradition. Repeated words are easier for the teller to remember.
[5] Honesty is a valued trait in many stories.
[6] Fairy tales are not always intended as children’s stories, and as such often do not have happy endings.
[7] A traditional Norwegian ending to tales.
[8] It is a common to expect a reward for hard work, and the lack of this reward is the basis for many stories.
[9] Fear is not often rewarded; it is expected that the more confident ‘alpha males’ will have more benefits.
[10] These are essential items for a teenage girl.
[11] Contracts are the modern ‘deal with the devil’. They are tricky, binding, and provide a source of conflict in many stories.
[12] Children often have a difficult time accepting a stepparent into their lives, as it seems that the new parent is invading. The theme has transformed from the ‘evil stepmother’, but it is still present in modern stories.
[13] The wicked stepmother is seen again.
[14] Kindness is always rewarded.
[15] Magical spirits often present themselves as elderly humans, possibly to teach the lesson of kindness to elders.
[16] Riches falling from the mouth is a common reward.
[17] Stinginess, especially in those who have more than they need, is always punished.
[18] When one character tries to pursue the same reward as another, they often fail whatever challenge has been set, and the punishment is the opposite of the reward.
[19] This is representative of the treatment mentally ill people received during the middle ages. In this way, the stepsister’s punishment has put her in the lowest class of people for her time.
[20] Sibling rivalry is a common theme.
[21] Cheating is an often-seen element in stories of past and present. It is consistently punished.
[22] Prom queen and king are seen as the highest standards of popularity in modern teenagers. No matter the time, people want to be royalty.
[23] Though good magical creatures often show up in tales, a witch is unequivocally evil.
[24] The image of a girl in disguise is seen in many fairy tales, for both good and evil girls.
[25] True love will always overlook deformities. This remains true in modern stories.
[26] This is often seen as the burden of the intelligent.
[27] The struggle between roommates is a common theme among modern stories.
[28] The idea of smart people alienating themselves is often seen both in stories and reality.
[29] Shy girls want to be noticed by people, just as helpless princesses wanted princes to rescue them.
[30] Where there was once love at first sight, modern stories take the time to build relationships between the characters.
[31] It is common for marriage to be a prize. This is closer to love than the arranged marriages royalty had to face.
[32] Fools are often portrayed as good people.
[33] While it is unusual for a woman to be strong, it is sometimes shown in tales.
[34] Kindness is always the best quality in tales.
[35] Conformity is often shown as one of society’s misguided values, with the hero or heroine portrayed as a rebel.
[36] Kicks to the groin are commonly portrayed as comedy.
[37] Girls often complain that all the good guys are gay or taken.
[38] While fairy tale princesses only need to be beautiful, modern girls want to find a man who loves them for personality.
[39] It is a common event for witches to steal young children. However, it is unusual that they cause the child any harm.
[40] Witches, being magical, speak in unison.
[41] Truth is always believed when it is revealed, even if the characters have no reason to believe it.
[42] The traditional fairy tale ending.
[43] Most fairy tales stand on their own, but modern stories can be connected.
[44] In reality, a missing parent would never be found just by chance, but resolution like this is needed in a story.
[45] Many children, whether in times past or present, have trouble accepting a stepparent as a ‘real’ parent.
[46] Even modern stories need a happy ending.