Author Archive
Tales /märchen

Goldentree and The Nature Spirits

About the Interviewed: Jakob is a senior at Calabasas High School. His family is half Isreali-Jewish, and half French-Canadian. He’s about 18 years old.

Jakob told me a tale his father told him when he was very little about the woods they lived in.

“Once upon a time there was a fairy named Silvertree, and she had a beautiful daughter named, Goldentree. Silvertree was jealous of Goldentree’s beauty. She wanted to eat her daughter’s heart because that’s what fairies do when they’re angry.”

“Silvertree was married to The King of the Forest. One day the King noticed that she was upset and asked what he could do to end her troubles. Silvertree demanded that the King bring her Goldentree’s heart.”

“The king, shocked by this turn of events, buried Goldentree away in the soil where she would be safe from her evil mother. He gave Silvertree the heart of a chicken, which fooled her for many years.”

“Many years later, Silvertree was walking through the forest when she stumbled across the most majestic looking oak tree in the whole forest. It was Goldentree, who by her father’s magic, had turned into the most beautiful creature of all. Struck by jealousy, Silvertree withered away, until she was nothing but a mere weed.”

Jakob noted that when his father told the story, he pointed to the oak tree that was on their front lawn, to indicate that Goldentree was always there.

It amazes me the power that stories have on us as little children. Jakob was only six at the time and yet he remembers it pretty well. I have stories stored in my mind that I don’t think I’ve heard since I was a child. We get to pass those stories on to the next generation, only maybe a little different than from when we first heard them.

Folk speech

“No T, No Shade” – Gay Slang

About the Interviewed: Davey is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in English and LGBT Studies. His ethnic background hails from Spain. At the time of this interview, he was currently on leave at his home in Southern California. He is biologically male, but he identifies as gender-queer. Nonetheless, he prefers male pronouns. He is 20 years old.

I just asked Davey about slang terms used in the LGBT community.

Davey: “No T, No Shade. That’s a good one.”

There’s a bit of a pause here in the recording.

Davey: “It means like, ‘No offense, but…’ – only gayer. It’s like the Gay version of that. (Laughs)”

I ask Davey to use it in a sentence for me.

Davey: “Well, it is a sentence. You say it when you don’t wanna hurt somebody’s feelings. Like – ‘No T, No Shade gurl, but… you’re fat. (laughs)”

I ask him if he knows where the phrase originates from.

Davey: “Well, I don’t know where it’s from, but it has two parts: No T, and No Shade. ‘No T’ means no “Talk”, like you’re not holding anything back. And ‘No Shade’ means you don’t want to hurt their feelings. So the whole thing means, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, BUT-”

Now I’m laughing. I ask him to elaborate more on “The T” and “Shade”.

Davey: “Like I said, the T is like, what’s going on. It’s like gossip. When you ask someone what the T is, you wanna know the truth. So like, if I see someone, and I ask you what the T on her is, I wanna know her deal. Shade is when you wanna be nasty. (laughs) When you throw shade, you’re being mean, you’re being a bitch. I’m a shady lady.”

We both laugh.

Summary:

Gay culture has a number of unique phrases and vocabulary. Davey broke down the term “No T, No Shade”, which roughly translates as a warning that the listener is about to hear something disparaging, yet truthful.

Davey couldn’t remember the first time he heard the phrase “No T, No Shade”, but I remember learning it from him a while back. LGBT culture is unique in that it contains it’s own vernacular and language, despite not pertaining to any particular ethnic background. Davey and I both come from different backgrounds ourselves, yet we’re both united by a culture that with a variety of folklore to share. 

Customs
Holidays

Passover

About the Interviewed: Charly Cohen is a student at the University of Southern California majoring in Theatre. Her background is nomadic, having been born in Kentucky, moved to Washington, then to Israel, then to Vancouver, and back to Washington again! Her ethnic backdrop is Jewish. She’s a fellow classmate.

Charly and I had gotten onto the subject of Jewish holidays. I asked her about Passover and her experiences in celebrating it.

Charly: “Passover revolves around a meal called the “Seder”, which means “order”. It refers to a number of things you’re expected to do around the celebration of the meal. You go through a retelling of the story of Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, from slavery. You go through the templates, drink four traditional glasses of wine, and sing songs.”

I asked her about any differences she might have experienced celebrating Passover in Israel versus the United States.

Charly: “Passover in Israel is very different from Passover in the United States. It varies based on levels of Judaism. Many people like to think of Jews as sort of one conglomerate – ‘thing’, but there are a ton of denominations. My particular Judaism is based on my experiences at summer camp.”

“People from all sorts of different walks came to the camp –  So you get a different sort of people who celebrate these holidays in different ways.”

“In Israel, I’ve found that the Seders tend to be shorter. It cuts right to the chase, but the after celebration tends to be longer. The last Seder I went to here [in America], the story was told before the meal, but that was it, there wasn’t much afterwards.”

I asked if she felt that way her family celebrated Passover was any different than the way other families celebrated it.

Charly: “Sort of-  there are general guidelines that the observers have to follow, as laid out in the ‘Haggadah’ [Passover Texts], but many families celebrate it in their own ways.”

Summary:

Passover is a holiday with important historical and religious significance. Those who celebrate it typically follow a strict custom, though traditions vary upon where/who are celebrating it.

Though not Jewish myself, I grew up in a community of pretty active members of the faith. Hearing a summary of Passover and the traditions that come with it was very enriching. Traditions can be rigid, but they also exemplify the celebration and make events like Passover special.

 

Proverbs

“If you try, you may succeed.”

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

“為せば成る                                   Nasebanaru  
為さねば成らぬ何事も              Nasaneba naranu nanigoto mo
成らぬは人の為さぬなりけり”    Naranu wa hito no nasanunarikeri

This was a cool proverb that my subject, Yuki, shared with me. Transliterated, it means something like:

If you try, you may succeed.
If you don’t try, you will not succeed. This is true for all things.
Not succeeding is the result of not trying.

She told me that she didn’t come up with it, but rather that it was a proverb from the Edo period of Japan. She said that her parents repeated it to her a lot.

One thing I found striking about this proverb, was how it embodies a drive for success that addresses a fractures ego. Someone who tells themselves they cannot, according to the verse, will not succeed. It takes an open mind and a strong determination to find success in something, at least that’s what I get from it.

Game
Humor

“You Swallow a Knife and It Explodes.” – Jokes on Critical Failure

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

My subject, Max, plays tabletop Role-Playing Games (RPGs) . He discussed a joke tradition with me among RPG gamers that I found quite humorous.

Max: “When you play D&D [Dungeons and Dragons, popular tabletop RPG] you get into a lot of situations where you get stuck and have to make a “Skill Check”. In a “Skill Check” you roll a die and check your result to see if you overcome the challenge. It’s a twenty sided die, a d20 for short. You roll your die, and the number you get determines the outcome. 20 is the best. If you roll a twenty, that’s called a critical success, a critical hit. That’s really good. But if you get a 1, if you get the lowest number, that’s bad. Really, bad. That’s called a Critical Failure. When you land one of those, something really bad has to happen.”

I ask what that is.

Max: “Critical Failure means that not only does the opposite of your goal happen, it happens so badly it screws you over. Players like to think of creative ways for the screwing to happen, but most times people just get silly.”

“For example”, he goes on:

“Let’s say your character is fighting a wizard. Like, an evil wizard. And he summons a rain of knives to fall upon you. You’d have to make a Dexterity Check [type of skill check] to see if you dodge. You roll the dice and OOP. You got a 1. So what happens?”

“You swallow a knife and it explodes. You die forever. Game over. (laughs) Your character may not actually die, he’d probably just get stabbed a little. But the joke is the same. You miss. Bad thing happens.”

“There’s a ton of examples of these. They just sort of come-up during games.”

A short time after this meeting, I met with my D&D group and asked them to come up with/ remember their best crit. fail stories. Here’s what I got:

1. You try to unlock a door

>CRIT FAIL

- You miss and the door unlocks you instead.

2. You try to slay a vicious goblin.

>CRIT FAIL

- You miss and stab yourself. Multiple times.

3. You scan the darkness to search for traps.

>CRIT FAIL

- The darkness sees you and gets very angry.

4. You try to climb a rope.

>CRIT FAIL

-The rope is now 500 snakes.

(and etc.)

Summary:

Players of the game “Dungeons and Dragons”, as well as similar RPGs have a tradition of jokes surrounding the concept of the “Critical Fail”, the worst outcome of a single dice-roll.

I find that a lot of these jokes take a form of dark comedy, which can reflect the overall mood of failing a crucial roll. Taking something serious and making it silly may seem trivial, but they’re a way that players enrich in the fun of the game. This is a trend that has been observable since the dawn of pen and paper RPG’s in the mid 1970’s.

You can find more of them here and here:

http://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/comments/1e5lp6/what_is_your_funniest_critical_failure_story/

http://www.myth-weavers.com/showthread.php?t=26674

 

folk simile
Kinesthetic

Drag Performance

About the Interviewed: Davey is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in English and LGBT Studies. His ethnic background hails from Spain. At the time of this interview, he was currently on leave at his home in Southern California. He is biologically male, but he identifies as gender-queer. Nonetheless, he prefers male pronouns. He is 20 years old.

My friend Davey moonlights as a Drag Performer. I asked if he could define what drag is.

Davey: “Well, everything is drag, that’s what RuPaul [drag icon] says. To most people, it’s just dudes dressing up as girls, which is like, kind-of what it is, but not really. It’s a statement on gender, it’s a statement on performing. People come to drag shows dressed as men, people come as women, people come as whatever the hell they want, that’s what drag is. It’s an illusory gender performance. Men and women both dress as things you can’t describe. Men become Queens, Women become Kings, some become things that you can’t describe.”

I asked him if he could describe what a performance is like.

Davey: “That depends on the queen. When I go out there, I lipsync to songs by Rihanna, Beyonce – I like to be fierce. Most queens lipsync, some don’t. Some actually sing live, if their voice is pretty enough. Those are the fishy queens.”

I asked Davey what “Fishy” means.

Davey: (laughs) “Oh lordy! It means vagina. The more fishy you are, the more you look like a real woman in dress and make-up. Some queens try really hard to be fishy. I don’t have the make-up, or the skills. Yet.”

We then talked about Davey’s personal experiences as a drag queen.

Davey: “Well for starters, I’ve never performed at one of the [drag] clubs. You have to be pretty much be top shit to get in these days. I’ve just done it for parties and things. Just for fun.”

I asked him if the pursuit of “fishiness” was about emulating a standard of beauty.

Davey: “Yeah, I mean, everybody wants to be a supermodel, but I just wanna have fun. I think that as a drag performer, we’re attracted to these images of grandeur and beauty, and some respond by mocking it and others try to become it. It all depends on how you interpret it. It’s art. It’s meant to be that way.”

Summary:

Drag is a performance that plays with the notion of Gender in Western Society. Performances take the form of wild cabaret shows, that showcase vibrant individuals who dress in ways that denounce typical gender norms. Drag can either be a form of Male to Female impersonation, or it can be something crazy and hard to pinpoint. Davey defines drag as a visual art.

As an artist myself, I resonated with Davey’s final statement on gender performance – that art is meant to be multi-faceted. Even within cultures, the meaning of certain performances or pieces of folklore are heavily debated. Ultimately, it’s up to the audience to pick and choose which elements resonate the strongest within themselves.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Sides of a Pillow

About the Interviewed: Jakob is a senior at Calabasas High School. His family is half Isreali-Jewish, and half French-Canadian. He’s about 18 years old.

My subject, Jakob, told me about a superstition that was passed down in his family.

Jakob: “My family believes that the different sides of the pillow you sleep on determine your luck. It’s like, a really old superstition that my grandma passed down onto my mom.”

I ask him if he personally believes in it. 

Jakob: “Not really, but my brothers do. My mom believes that our family can’t sleep on the left side of a pillow because it brings bad luck. It only works if you intentionally try to sleep that way. If it’s by accident the universe doesn’t care. (laughs) If you sleep on the right side of a pillow, it’s good luck. If you keep doing it, good things happen. I used to think my mom wasn’t that into, but I remember this one time that she woke up on the wrong side of the pillow, and she was furious.”

I ask him which side of his family does he think that the belief came from?

Jakob: “Well my mom is from Israel, so she might get it from there. Other than that, I don’t know. I think personally that it’s like a placebo thing, like if you think about something happening really hard, and then it happens. That’s what I think it’s like.”

Summary:

My friend Jakob reported that the members of his innermost family share a folk belief pertaining the sides of the pillow you sleep on at night. Sleeping on the left brings bad luck, sleeping on the right brings good.

One thing that’s unique about this story is that it’s reflective of the old wives tales that were so prominent a long time ago. Beliefs about luck, ideas that seeing a black cat or walking under a ladder would be detrimental to your future well-being, show that superstition and belief are still prominent in some cultures.

Customs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Hipsters

About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.

Spencer, my friend from the George Washington University gave me a talk about a sub-culture of individuals known in America as “Hipsters”.

Spencer: “Hipsters are a stereotype. But they’re a funny stereotype. (laughs) They’re like, people who don’t ever want to be mainstream. They do everything outside of the ‘norm because that’s what’s cool.”

I ask him what he means by things that aren’t “mainstream”.

Spencer: “Well, a ‘Hipster’ is probably not somebody who listens to [music] that’s popular or anything upbeat. They like things that are old, things that are vintage. There’s this video of someone taking notes on a typewriter. Stuff like that.  It’s sort of a label. I mean, they’re a kind of subculture. Hipsters don’t identify as hipsters. It’s kind of an insult, really.”

I asked him why he believed that being labeled a Hipster represented an insult.

Spencer: “Well, It’s sort of a joke. (he laughs) Though some people probably take it seriously”, he continues. “It’s like if you have a friend, and you want to watch a movie together, like Star Wars, but he doesn’t want to see it because it’s too mainstream.” He makes a gesture here with his hands in a faux-suave kind of way. “You’d be all like – Man, you’re such a Hipster!”

He stops to laugh again.

Spencer: “People just think that they’re arrogant. That’s kind of what the word means.”

I asked him to describe what he thinks a hipster would look like.

Spencer: (laughs) “Oh man. Well the real hipsters dress funny. I’d picture dudes wearing leggings, loafers with no socks, handlebar mustaches, things like that. Girls would be kind-of the same, just more irregular.”

Spencer: “I mean, I live in [Washington] DC, and you see them all the time, or people who look like them [hipsters], I’m not judging. I mean, they’re sort of cool in a retro kind-of way. I like anyone who can do things without caring too much about what other people think of them. (laughs)”

Summary:

“Hipsters” are a subculture of individuals who live organically and distance themselves from the “mainstream” or “popular” world. As the idea of a Hipster has become something a stereotype, the term is seen by some as derogatory.

Personally, I find the concept of Hipsters to be very interesting. They’re sort of postmodern: rejecting our concept of modernity to substitute their own. Hipsters live an organic lifestyle, though some would argue that it’s mainly reactionary. The word “Hipster” embodies both a label, and a definition. Though many people adjust to the subculture, Spencer and I both agreed that the term has become somewhat patronizing in recent years. 

Myths

Winken, Blinken, and Nod

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

I got Max to tell me a bedtime story his grandmother used to tell him a long time ago.

Max: “There were once three children: Winken, Blinken, and Nod. They were bored of their dull, ordinary lives and sailed out to sea in a wooden boat to find their fortune. While they were out adrift, Winken, Blinken, and Nod found three beautiful golden nets that they decided they would each use to catch all the fish in the sea.”

“They used their nets to capture as many fish as they possibly could, and soon the ocean was empty. Not satisfied with that, the three sailed into the night sky to catch the stars themselves. They began to round up the stars, but soon the night sky was black.”

“Lost in the cosmic abyss, the fishermen couldn’t find their way home. Tired and bloated from collecting all the fish and stardust, the trio dosed off. As they slept, the stars and the fish began to unravel from their nets. As the fish fell, the became shooting stars, which shot Winken, Blinken, and Nod to the moon. There Winken and Blinken became the eyes, and Nod the mouth, of the Man in the Moon. If you look out into the night sky, you can still see them, smiling at their catch.”

I asked Max if he knew where it came from, but he had no idea. His grandmother is long since passed away, and he thinks that she carried on the tale from her mother. It’s a very sweet, but kind of melancholy story. It has almost some mythic proportions, explaining the origin of the Man in the Moon.

Folk Beliefs

Pokemon Catching Superstition (Gotta Catch em’ All!)

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

I talked to my friend Max about  pop beliefs and superstitions around popular video games he’s played.

Max: “I know this one about Pokemon. It’s actually pretty well known.”

I asked him to elaborate.

Max: “Pokemon is a video game where players have to catch these magical creatures. You wanna catch as many as possible. The actual science behind catching each one is actually kind-of crazy. It depends on the power level of the thing you’re trying to catch, how strong you are, what pokeball you use, etcetera.”

“When I was a little kid, me and all my friends believed that there were secret ways to hack the game, like you could change the results so that you always got your catch. Things like that.”

“The rumor was something like, when you’re in battle with a Pokemon you want to catch, you have to hold down both the “down” button, and the “B” buttons at the same time on the controllers. The funny thing is, it didn’t make a difference at all. It was all in our minds. But everyone I knew did it anyway.”

I asked Max where he felt the beliefs originated from.

Max: “I don’t know. It was just that Pokemon was so popular. My friends were doing the down B thing, so I sort of did it too.”

“It doesn’t help that Pokemon games were really hard.”

Summary:

A popular belief persists among American juvenile players of the video game “Pokemon”, that monsters are easier to catch if you hold down both the “Down” and “B” buttons. There is no evidence of the trick actually working, but the belief is widespread.

The “down-B” trick that Max informed of me seems to be a tradition observed in American children who played the Pokemon games growing up. I’d actually be interested to know if other cultures had similar luck granting gifts when playing games with large luck-based elements such as Pokemon. It seems similar to the tradition of “blowing on your dice” for good luck. 

 

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