Wordy Wednesday: Not Writing

Hey there! Short post tonight because I owe you like five different recap posts (and the less time I spend on this Wordy Wednesday, the more time I’ll have to finally catch up on those). Sorry!

However, quick recap of what’s happened in the past couple weeks:

  • Road trip! Hannah and I celebrated our graduation with a road trip to Nantucket. (And I’ll recap it very soon, fingers crossed!)
  • Physical therapy! I went in to get my knee and shoulder looked at and the therapists have all concluded at this point that, structurally, my body is very screwed up, so it looks like I’m going to be in physical therapy a few times a week for the next couple months while they try to fix me. (Upside: maybe no more pain soon?!)
  • And that is it. In large part because the events of the past few days, mostly in Orlando but also elsewhere, have honestly been too much for me and I kind of just shut down for a bit there. I can’t put into words what I’ve been feeling, and I’m not even connected to what happened, and I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine what those who are involved are feeling. It’s just… no. This isn’t okay. This is so very much not okay.

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post–about, well, not writing.

While I’m not actively working on a draft of a novel right now, I am working on doing my reverse outline (as part of Zero Drafting) for The Novel That Refuses To Be Named. I’ve been working on this for a little over a month and a half now, and I’m up to something like sixty pages of handwritten notes (and I am very far from being done). The amount of time I’ve been dedicating per day so far has ranged from 12+ hours, when I really get sucked into it, to only a few hours, when I’m pushing through a rough patch.

So: that’s been my life for over a month now. Constantly in the heads of my characters, in their world, not doing a ton in my own world.

Then it came time for my graduation road trip with Hannah and, with it, the horrifying realization that I wouldn’t be able to outline for hours on end during the week of the trip because (gasp) I’d be too busy having fun.

This honestly was a concern for me at this point two weeks ago. Like, I was excited for the trip of course–we’d been talking about going on a road trip for over a year–but also WHAT IF I TOOK A WEEK OFF FROM WORKING AND ALL MY IDEAS DRIED UP AND I NEVER FINISHED MY NOVEL?

Then we actually left on the trip, though, and I began enjoying myself, and I realized my fears were entirely unfounded–because instead of having fewer ideas, it was like each mile of highway our car ate up gave me another. And while I didn’t spend the week actively outlining, by the end of it I’d figured out sooo many things about The Novel that I wouldn’t have been able to at home.

All this to say: sometimes it’s good to put down your pen and paper and go be part of the world.

Who knows, the solution to your next plot dilemma might be buried (like mine) on a street on a bike ride to a lighthouse in Nantucket.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

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Wordy Wednesday: Rainstorm

Hey there! As I mentioned in last week’s Wordy Wednesday, this is a pre-written post because, at the time of its posting, I will be (am?) out of town. However, I hope you’re having a great week and I’ll tell you all about what I was up to when I get back.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

**********
The sleepy drip of
sunlit rain against
windows and held-out palms,
the paradox of feeling as if
everything is happening at once
when really nothing is happening
at all,
and I love this, the way a rainstorm
can feel like silence
and sunlight
can be a blanket
and summer can be a
feeling, rooted deep in your restless heels
and your dancing fingertips
and the tug of your lips, reaching for
a smile–
I am so tired but
I am so awake
**********

Thanks for reading, and see you when I get back!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Never Be Replaced

I have my laptop back!

It’s stupidly nice getting to type this post using the keyboard I’m used to.

Not much else has happened in the last week. I did some internship work. I did some novel work (I’m finally almost done outlining!) (and by “almost done” I mean “I have fifty-six pages of notes and if I have to do many more I will have a breakdown”). I did lots of family stuff. (We saw the new penguin exhibit at the Detroit Zoo! LOOK AT THIS CUTIE.) Aaand that’s just about it.

That’s kind of the nice part of summer, though, you know? My exhaustion from the school year has really caught up with me, so I’ve been sleeping a lot and watching lots of movies and generally ignoring the real world. And I’m so grateful for the time to detox this summer.

In honor of summer and detoxing, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a(n ancient) song I wrote the summer after my junior year of high school. (Featuring: a recording of seventeen-year-old Julia very awkwardly singing it, because what’s a blog post without some public embarrassment.)

**********

VERSE1
Too tired to go to sleep
So I think I’ll write a song
Sometimes I wanna miss you
But the day is just too long

And you know, this restless feeling?
It is your fault
I should’ve known not to trust you
With my glass heart

CHORUS
But you said come here
And you took my hand
And you led the way
Past the grocery stand

And you said come here
And you touched my face
Funny how a stranger,
Can never be replaced

Funny how a stranger,
Can never be replaced

VERSE2
These city streets are empty
Without you by my side
I miss the feel of your warm skin
You’d breathe, and we’d be alive

And you know, this reminiscent feeling?
It is your fault
I should’ve known not to trust you
With my glass heart

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE
And I want to say
That I don’t miss you
Every day
But that’s a lie

And I want to say
That you don’t mean anything
In how each day
I cry

But I miss you
Your sweet breath on my cheek
And I miss you
Without you, my pulse is weak

And I miss you
All those times, you laughed at me
And I miss you
Always thought, we’d be eternity

Eternity

[Repeat CHORUS x2]

ENDING
Funny how a stranger,
Can be the most familiar face
Funny how a stranger,
Can never be replaced

Too tired to go to sleep…

**********

(Wow, that is way more melodramatic than I remembered. Good work, seventeen-year-old Julia.)

^You’ll notice the poll this week isn’t for next Wednesday, but the Wednesday after. I’m going out of town next week, so you’ll have a pre-written Wordy Wednesday coming your way on June 8. (However, vote for what you’d like to see on the 15th!)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Afternoons

Hey there! My laptop is still down for the count, so things have been kind of weird this week. Like, I know not being able to use my own computer is a text book first world problem, but still: it’s hard to work without the keyboard and screen and internet browser I’m used to. Everything just looks so ~different~.

Because of that, I’ve gotten next to nothing done since my last post. HOWEVER, I did finally get to a doctor yesterday (for the first time in like two years) and for anyone who has at all been keeping up with the saga of my messed up knee and shoulder: the shoulder is tendinosis in my bicep and the knee is probably a structural problem that could be helped with exercises and stuff. So, guess who’s off to physical therapy! #Yayyy

(But actually, I am happy to finally have answers about this stuff and to have a tentative path towards being able to, like, do things again.)

And now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

**********

Afternoons at home are
warm, damp with humidity, and
quiet except for the breeze against
the windows and birds chirping and the dog
snoring in the hallway, just past the
cracked open white-painted door–
they are so sleepy
and still
and peaceful

They buzz with the whisper
of “this is summer,
this is summer–
hold onto it,
this last summer”

They are hours built for books
and daydreams
and listening to the quiet
**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Ink and Sunlight

I preface this post by saying: I swear the graduation and BEA/BookCon recaps are coming soon(ish). I’ve run into a bit of a hiccup this week (my laptop charger broke), but as soon as everything’s back to working properly (and thus I have access to pictures and everything), I will totally get those posts up. Totally.

In the meantime: BEA/BookCon happened this past weekend! And it was so much fun/so tiring that I sat down to read Monday afternoon and accidentally fell asleep for four hours! (I am eighty years old.) Other than that and the broken laptop charger, not much else has been going on. (Anything new with you? Do something cool? Go somewhere fun? Pet a cat? Really, I will be excited to hear about pretty much anything. I’ve basically just been marathon-napping for three days now.)

Aaanyway: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

**********

Fingers brushing against crisp white pages
laced with ink and sunlight, and
don’t you see the stars rising from the
black and white streaks,
the way the falling apart pieces
are planting growing things,
and maybe maybe maybe–
this will be the time
the words are worth more than
another promise of another tomorrow

Maybe this time
the daydreams will cross from
scribbled out hopes
to shelves and smiles and something other than
the silence at the end of
another day spent trying but going
nowhere

Maybe I should give up, but
ink and sunlight;
it’s all ink
and sunlight

and for now that is enough
**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

P.S. Less than two weeks left to register for the 2016 Chapter One Young Writers Conference at our special early bird rate! The rest of the Ch1Con team and I would absolutely love to see you there. Check it out at www.chapteroneconference.com.

Wordy Wednesday: Writing

Happy Wednesday! The past week has been weirdly hectic without very much actually going on (mostly just family stuff, grad party, and endless trips to the dentist) (my mouth loves me).

Tomorrow, though, my mom and I leave for BEA and BookCon in Chicago, which is going to be SO ACTUALLY HECTIC and SO MUCH FUN and I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE PEOPLE. Let me know if you’ll also be there so we can meet up!

Meanwhile: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

**********

Sheets of paper, crisp with
ink and lines and scribbled words,
stacked thick and high enough to build
a tower (or a world)–
I disappeared through the pages,
my own portal to Narnia or Neverland or Wonderland,
and I have come out on the other side
in a place that had been waiting
for someone to find it

I was looking for a story,
a girl and a wristwatch and ivy-coated walls,
but instead I found the universe
waiting

**********

Thanks for reading, and keep a lookout next week for a BEA/BookCon recap! (Also hopefully my graduation recap at some point?) (I am really falling behind on this whole blogging thing, whoops.) (Love youuu.)

~Julia

P.S. You only have two weeks left to enter my giveaway of a signed copy of Susan Dennard’s New York Times bestseller Truthwitch, as part of the Ch1Con blog tour! Read Susan’s exclusive guest post and find the giveaway here.

P.P.S. Two weeks is also how much time you have left to register to attend the 2016 Chapter One Young Writers Conference at our special, discounted early bird rate! Register here by May 31st to only pay $74.99.

P.P.P.S. I am currently totally addicted to “Spirits” by The Strumbellas. It feels a lot like writing, if that makes sense. I dare you not to like it.

Wordy Wednesday: Coming Home

I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE!!

I’m going to do a longer post dedicated to that soon, hopefully, but for now here are a few pictures from the four ceremonies my family was kind (and patient) enough to sit through over the weekend.


Since graduation, I’ve spent a lot of time watching movies with my friends, taking part in a last few Wolverine traditions (mostly: painting The Rock), and semi-moving home. (I say “semi” because I’m bouncing around a lot of places this summer, so most of my stuff is still at my apartment. But I am home for a couple weeks now, whoooo.)

Also, in the past week I’ve had a couple cool interviews and a fun guest post go up in different places:

  • Interview on the Ch1Con Tumblr (as part of our 2016 blog tour), about talented women and good writing! Read it here.
  • Guest post on Allison the Writer (also as part of our 2016 blog tour), about Star Wars and how it’s affected my writing! Read it here. (ALSO I’m giving away a full manuscript critique on this one, so make sure to enter the giveaway!)
  • Interview on the University of Michigan Facebook page, about graduating and my time at Michigan! Read it here.

And now: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song.

**********
CHORDS: G, D, Em, C [on last, just G-D-G-D-Em-C]

INTRO
Don’t leave the light on for me,
I will find you in the dark
And you should probably lock the door,
I hold your key beside my heart
I promise I am coming home,
no matter how far away and long I roam
I am always, at least a little bit
on my way home

VERSE1
Bags never seemed so heavy
until you’re carrying them across
the ocean wide

And I’ve never felt separation
the way everyone else does
but with this, I might

TRANSITION
And I don’t know where
I’ll be this time next year
or this time tomorrow

But I know someday
I’ll be right back here,
in this space I borrow

CHORUS
So don’t leave the light on for me,
I will find you in the dark
And you should probably lock the door,
I hold your key beside my heart
I promise I am coming home,
no matter how far away and long I roam
I am always, at least a little bit
on my way home

VERSE2
I know it doesn’t make sense
but I need new places
the way I used to need you

And I was born running,
never been able to sit still,
but maybe here’s what I’m meant to do

TRANSITION2
And I don’t know what
I want to do next year
or even next week

But I know someday
running right back to you
is what I’ll seek

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE [Em, C, G, D]
And I take you with me
in the photographs on my phone
I’ve got these memories to guide me
when I’m thrown

Don’t you see you’ve prepared me
the best anyone could
I promise I’ll write each week,
and I promise I’ll be good

[Repeat CHORUS]

ENDING
Dreaming of the letters I’ll send,
don’t know what else to say, but
I don’t know when,
but I’m coming home someday

I am always, at least a little bit
on my way home

**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

P.S. May the fourth be with you!

Wordy Wednesday: Remember

Sorry this post is going up after midnight again! I made the mistake of beginning work on world-building/plotting on Time Travel Heist Story over the weekend and it’s basically swallowed me whole at this point.

Things that have happened in the past week:

  • We had our one and only U.S. preview performance of the play we’re taking to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! If you’re interested in seeing it, the recording of the performance is one of the perks you can select on our Indiegogo. (Despite all of our grants and fundraising efforts this school year, we still haven’t raised quite enough money to afford the trip–we still need money for housing–so we turn to you, dear internet. You can donate to help make our dream of performing in Scotland a reality here.)
  • I got most of my grades for the semester in! I’m still waiting on one, but so far my lowest grade is an A-, so like I’ll take it.
  • Ch1Con blog tour is in full swing! If you’d like to read any of the posts (so far, we mostly have lots of brilliant interviews up), you can check out the schedule and get links to all the participating blogs here.
  • Did I mention that I am buried in The Novel? Because really, outside of the occasional rehearsal or break to eat, all I’ve been doing since Saturday evening is work on this thing. My brain is fried but I still have SO MUCH WORK TO DO before I get to begin actually for real writing this thing. (WHO INVENTED PLOTTING AND WHY DID THEY LET ME TRY IT?)

On the upside, the other thing I’ve been taking the occasional break for is graduation stuff. As in: senior pictures (round four) (during which I may or may not have gotten bitten by a squirrel), picking up graduation tickets, and decorating my cap.

It’s beyond weird to me that I’m graduating college. I know I’ll look back on this in a few years and think about how young I am right now–because that’s how it feels looking back on graduating from high school (heck, that’s how it feels looking back on last summer)–but at the moment this is the oldest I’ve ever been, and graduating college is one of those Major Life Milestones, and I feel somehow both prepared and entirely unprepared at the same time for this. And it’s just weird.

Knowing this was coming, though (no matter how much I might try to sidestep change), in February last year I wrote a song about graduating (from the perspective of who I was at eighteen, talking to who I am now at twenty-two). And this felt like the perfect time to share it.

So, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song.

**********

VERSE1 [Chords: D, A, C, G]
Wake up, today’s the day
You can’t stop the world from moving
Four years flew by in a blink

Remember, what it was like
To be five years old on your very first bike
Now you’re twenty-two and the world is big around you

TRANSITION1 [C, G, D, A]
And I know what it’s like
To feel like everything is ending
But I’m proof that you grow stronger
When everything is changing

CHORUS [C, G, D, A]
This is just another page turn
Don’t forget all the lessons you learned,
Like working hard and cutting loose
From traveling and talking and Dr. Seuss

This isn’t the end of the book
Just another chapter, I love the hook
From New York to Oxford to back home to here
You are so strong, have nothing to fear

[End on D]
Remember? Remember?

VERSE2 [D, A, C, G]
Get moving, tomorrow’s so soon
Enjoy what you have but don’t hold on too
Tight, because tomorrow’s looking all right

Remember, what it was like
To be sixteen years old, afraid that you might
Fall and now here you are flying

TRANSITION2 [C, G, D, A]
And I know what it’s like
To feel like you don’t want to leave
But I’m proof that things are okay
As long as you believe

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE [C, G, D, A]
And so much has happened since I was you
Sure you cut your hair and gained a few
But I see you—still—deep beneath your skin

And you lost some battles but you won some wars
Don’t worry, not everything’s an open door
You’re amazing and I’m so proud to be you

Please remember these years as fun and good
Because parts of them were and you always should
Remember—the good parts more

[Repeat CHORUS]

ENDING [D, A, C, G]
Tomorrow is a bright shining day
Don’t let your past stand in your way
Remember? Remember?

You are more than your unaccomplished dreams
You are braver than it seems
Remember? Remember?

Remember? Remember.

**********

Thanks for reading! (The next time I talk to you, I’ll be a U of M alumnus. Thanks for sticking with me throughout the past four years! I’ll see you on the other side.)

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Zero Drafting

Hey there! Sorry this post is going up after midnight. Today has been weird. Mostly because I HAD MY LAST FINAL EXAM OF UNDERGRAD WHICH MEANS I AM NOW DONE WITH COLLEGE AHHHHH.

It still hasn’t quite set in, the fact that it’s basically summer now (outside of graduation), and that I’m actually done with school in time for my birthday this year (the first–and, you know, last–time that’s ever happened), and also I AM DONE WITH COLLEGE WHAT IS LIFE.

Things that have happened in the past week:

  • I had my honors thesis reading! It was crazy, after going to those the past few years, to finally have one that was mine. (Also, it was such an honor to share the evening with the other creative writing honors thesis students. Everyone did amazing, because they are amazing, and I’m so happy for them.) (I’m also happy because afterward my family took me out for tacos.)
  • My picture book came in! It’s not, you know, a real book, of course. It’s just the final project for my writing children’s literature class. But look at the pretty!

The picture book I wrote and illustrated for my children’s literature class arrived! #SeniorYear #GoBlue #BlurbBooks

A photo posted by Julia Byers (@julia_the_writer_girl) on Apr 14, 2016 at 1:49pm PDT

 

  • I did income taxes! (*cough* My parents stepped me through my income taxes.) Fun fact: being a full-time student with two paying jobs and also owning a small business = no fun at tax time.
  • I finished writing Time Travel Heist Story! Okay, so this draft is awful (which I will talk about more below, actually), but also it’s done and it’s my sixth completed novel and THANK GOD BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THIS THING FOREVER.
  • I had my last day of work at the bookshop! I’m so sad to be leaving, because I really enjoyed doing the social media and working the register and just spending so much time in a used bookshop in general this past year, but (at least for now) it’s time to go.
  • I FINISHED COLLEGE! I know I already mentioned this one, but like, OHMYGOSH I AM ACTUALLY DONE WHAT IS THIS MADNESS OHMYGOSH. (Also, in my last three classes we played with a giant parachute out in a field, got free donuts from the professor, and had a pizza party during which we had story time like we were in elementary school. So like.Way to go out with a bang, college. Go blue.)
  • Aaand I turned twenty-two? I mean, it is technically after one AM at this point, so I am now very much twenty-two years old. Time to be a living cliche and break out the T-Swift.

And now, to expand upon the aforementioned “this draft is awful” in reference to Time Travel Heist Story: this week’s Wordy Wednesday (er, Wordy Thursday) is a writing process post.

So, I’ve been working on Time Travel Heist Story (also known as The Story that Refuses to Be Named) since last July. However, I didn’t start working on the draft I just actually finished until NaNoWriMo. This is because trying to figure out what is even going on in this story has been torture.

I’m a pantser. I basically never know what I’m doing during the first draft of a story. I make up the plot as I go and generally don’t know what the ending will be until I’m halfway through the climax. And this has worked out fine for me in the past.

However, after struggling and struggling to get literally anything to work in Time Travel Heist Story for most of the summer and fall, I realized that my usual pantsing ways just weren’t going to cut it with this novel. I had no idea who my characters were and I knew too little of the plot to be able to properly construct it. (It turns out that, unlike in most stories, when dealing with time travel the writer actually has to have some idea about what’s going on.)

Still, I can’t really do the whole “planner” thing–my mind doesn’t work that way–so just sitting down and outlining the novel wasn’t going to work. And this story needs that sort of preparation.

So, when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I decided to take a different approach: instead of trying to make my rough draft anything at all attempting to be decent, or even (gasp) taking up planning, I’ve spent it thinking on paper (or, you know, a Word doc)–exploring ideas and working out plot kinks and character arcs and world-building details, without ever actually doing much real writing.

This has led to a really rough draft. Like I’m not joking, it includes things like this:

zero draft example a

However, after months of struggling, this draft is actually done. And now I can look over all of the things I developed in it and use those to figure out what’s truly happening, in a kind of after-the-fact outline (which is something my mind does work well with)–and, using that, when I get started on the next draft (which will be a complete rewrite, because yeah) I’ll actually, hopefully be able to finally make Time Travel Heist Story work.

With all of this in mind, I’ve taken to calling this super rough draft the Zero Draft. It’s something more than an outline (because it is ~60,000 words of novel) but something less than a legitimate first draft (because a good tenth of it has to be me making dumb meta jokes that have nothing to do with my narrator and everything to do with the fact that I wrote a lot of it during literature classes). So, what I finished writing Sunday doesn’t quite deserve to be called the first draft. But it’s leading me in that direction.

And yeah. I’m really proud of my weird, discombobulated little Zero Draft. And I’m really excited to get to work on the after-the-fact outlining and then the real first draft.

As you can see, this new method’s been working pretty well for me so far, so I figured it might be good to share it. Depending on how the next couple months of outlining and writing go, I’ll update you on whether or not I truly recommend Zero Drafting as a noveling method. But if you’re likewise struggling with your novel, it could be something to consider. (Who knows. Maybe you have 60,000 words of half-baked ideas rolling around in your mind too.)

Have you ever tried to change up the way you write? How so? Did it work out for you?


(I’ve got a special Wordy Wednesday planned for you already for next week, so this poll’s for the week after!)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The Garden Trope

It’s my last week of classes of college! Next week is finals and then the week after that is graduation and I don’t know what to do with myself.

Things that have happened in the past week:

  • Went to my last release party for a university lit mag I have a story in! I was lucky enough for my short fiction to be accepted to three university lit mags/anthologies this school year. If you’d like to read any of those, I’ll link to them as they become available online on the “My Writing” page.
  • Did interviews for a couple very cool things that I am SUPER EXCITED about! I’ll give details on those once the features themselves are released, but what I can tell you now is that one interview was about being a graduating senior at U of M and the other was about Ch1Con (and did I mention that I am SUPER EXCITED?).
  • Illustrated, put together, and ordered the picture book final project for my writing children’s literature class! Fingers crossed it gets here soon because I am dying to see it. (Also: that was my last project of the semester, so all I have left to do now are final exams ahhhhh!)
  • Took my first final of the semester! Only two more to go. (And then my first day of freedom will be my birthday, so good job on the symbolism there, Life.)
  • Had the showcase for my dance class! I was barely in it, since I had to sit out so much of the semester with my bum knee, but it was really fun and I loved getting to watch my class kick butt after working so hard all term.
  • Got nine hours of sleep last night! I don’t know about you, but this is the thing I am most proud of.

And, now that I have bored you with my life (per usual): this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. In honor of it being my final week before my final finals (say that one five times fast), I figured I’d share one last paper from an undergraduate class with you. This is from my history of children’s literature class, discussing the use of the Garden Trope (term defined in the essay, if you don’t already know it) in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

As always with these essays for classes, apologies for the obnoxiously long paragraphs and all that jazz.

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Children’s literature encompasses a great variety of stereotypes and running themes. From the rise of the child as the trickster figure in works such as Peter and Wendy and the stories of Brer Rabbit, to the use of magic in order to empower the child in novels such as Matilda and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s easy to pick out the threads that run from work to work in order to altogether come to define the literary category. However, perhaps the most intriguing of all of these tropes is that of the garden, or: the connection between the child and the natural world. Rousseau first developed the garden trope in the eighteen-century, with his work delving into the philosophy behind childhood and child development. He believed that children and nature were inherently connected, using terms such as “sapling” (Rousseau 5) and extended metaphors about trees in order to explain the child’s soul—and how best to protect it from the darkness of the increasingly urbanized world. In his book Emile, he writes that “education comes to us from nature” (Rousseau 6), and it is this concept of Rousseau’s that arguably has been most pervasive throughout the years. This relies upon placing the child in nature—and giving him or her freedom to explore this space (and thus his or herself)—in order for the child to properly develop and grow, thus protecting Rousseau’s “sapling” (or, the child’s soul). By drawing a connection between children and the natural world, the garden trope offers a safe space in which the child can explore his or her identity, away from the pressures of societal conventions and adults’ expectations. However, many storytellers interpret this in different ways. Thus, through works such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Disney film The Princess and the Frog, it becomes clear that different elements of the garden trope—from the journey into nature, to learning from nature, to the role of nature in the final lesson conveyed—all play roles in presenting differing representations of this trope, which altogether ultimately convey each work’s unique interpretation of the role of nature in the child’s development. (Rousseau)

The deviations between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Princess and the Frog become clear almost immediately in the two works. In his classic novel of fantasy and nonsense, Carroll presents Alice as connected with nature from the beginning. In fact, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland opens with a line about how “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank” (Carroll 1). In other words, Carroll immediately associates Alice with nature by situating her on a river bank, which one can infer to combine both the more common elements of nature (such as grass and trees) as well as a slightly less common element (water); Alice is entirely surrounded by the natural. The fact that Alice is sitting still amongst all of this, much like she herself is rooted to the ground (similar to Rousseau’s sapling) solidifies this connection. This passage also quickly goes on to include references to the “hot day” (Carroll 1) and “making a daisy-chain” (Carroll 1), both of which strengthen the enmeshment of Alice and the natural world, especially in comparison with Alice’s early complaint about her sister’s book, which she thinks is pointless and boring. By rejecting the opportunity to read the book, Alice likewise rejects the infiltration of the domestic into the natural world, which prefaces the fact that she will soon embrace the natural, instead, further by following the White Rabbit down the rabbit-hole. In contrast, the animated Disney fairytale film The Princess and the Frog opens with the titular princess, Tiana, far away from nature. Tiana lives in a big city—New Orleans—and, due to this, she spends the first several scenes entirely immersed in the urban. In particular, she finds herself surrounded by her rich friend Charlotte’s opulence, which takes Tiana as far from the natural world as possible. When a young Tiana is presented with the natural—which occurs when her mother reads the two girls the classic fairytale “The Frog Prince”—she outright rejects it, disgusted, stating, “There is no way, in this whole wide world, I would ever, ever, ever—I mean never—kiss a frog” (The Princess and the Frog 2:25-2:32). This separation and abhorrence of nature continues when Tiana grows into a down-on-her-luck young woman who finds herself presented with the opportunity to kiss Prince Naveen, in frog form. It takes all of Tiana’s will power to complete the act, and she is horrified when she finds herself transformed into a frog as well, rather than Naveen into a human. In line with this, even as a frog, she continues to reject the natural, only reluctantly leaving the urban for the bayou and grousing about things like how frog skin is covered with mucus and “[t]here is no way [she’s] … kissing a frog and eating a bug in the same day” (The Princess and the Frog 43:49-43:54). This shows how Tiana sees herself as separate from nature, and thus she does not understand it (or herself). Altogether, the examples of both Alice and Tiana’s journeys into the natural world portray how this element of the garden trope affects the child character’s development overall, as it is Alice’s initial acceptance of nature—and Tiana’s rejection of it—that shape the lessons each character must learn throughout her story.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that said lessons are a second way storytellers can represent their differing interpretations of the garden trope. These two works teach their protagonists lessons in greatly differing manners, aligned with the relationship between the character and the natural. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for instance, because Alice is already part of nature, she is open to learning from the creatures she encounters, and thus is able to learn through broad conversations with them concerning a variety of topics. This means that although Alice truly is learning in part from Wonderland’s residents, she is doing so through compromise and interpretation—by not just listening, but interacting as well—so that it feels almost as if she is teaching herself. For example, in the chapter “Advice from a Caterpillar,” the advice the Caterpillar gives Alice in terms of her size is that she will “‘get used to [being three inches high] … in time’” (Carroll 61); however, Alice disagrees with this and so is able to learn something about herself (that she is not the kind of person who will just get used to something she dislikes) in the process. The Caterpillar presents her with an intended lesson, but Alice reinterprets it to learn something else instead. In essence, because Alice is part of nature, like the Caterpillar, she is able to take the lessons conveyed by the Wonderland creatures and decide whether or not they fit with the sense of self she is developing, so that ultimately she decides the lessons she learns. On the other hand, because Tiana of The Princess and the Frog rejects nature, she is not able to be in conversation with it. Instead, nature essentially must talk at her, with the hope that she will listen. The filmmakers convey this by having Tiana interact with a number of bayou creatures, all of whom have strong senses of self from which she must learn. However, at first Tiana dislikes these characters, because each of them believes in something seemingly impossible. For example, Ray the lightning bug is in love with a star, which he calls Evangeline. This at first appears to associate the natural with the impossible, but it becomes clear that these dreams only appear impossible because Tiana does not accept things she does not understand (i.e. nature). Tiana must accept these impossible things—and thus the lesson each character represents—in order to reinterpret her personal identity and be able to move the plot forward. Essentially, Tiana must listen to nature, and find it in herself to accept nature, in order to learn the lessons necessary in order to achieve her goal of becoming human and returning home again.

It is the ultimate goal of each character that draws the most attention to the importance to the role of nature in the child’s development. After all, it is Alice and Tiana’s shared goal of getting home that drives them to explore the other worlds in which they find themselves. However, the role of the natural differs greatly here. Because Alice is part of nature, and has been learning in conversation with nature—and thus in large part from herself—her resolution relies not upon continued learning from the natural, but upon learning to control it and thus learning to empower herself as an important element of the natural. To be more specific, Alice spends the entirety of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland voraciously eating and, due to this and the magic associated with the nature of Wonderland, her size continually changes, out of her control. However, in the final chapters, Alice’s size changes not because of something she has eaten (a type of change which Carroll has presented throughout the text as “natural”), but rather because she has felt a strong emotion. She has deposed of what has been natural thus far in order to create a new natural order—one in which, rather than something else controlling her, she takes control of herself and, because she is part of it, the natural world at large. In doing this, Alice is no longer subjected to the rules of nature, but instead defines the rules herself. This is especially clear when, in finally taking control of her growth, she “ha[s] … grown to her full size” (Carroll 140)—the first time she has been her proper size since entering Wonderland—and she is able to state to those who are antagonizing her that they are “‘nothing but a pack of cards!’” (Carroll 140), at which point they transform into just that. It is Alice taking control in this manner that allows her to wake up from Wonderland and find herself back on the river bank with her sister—only now, she isn’t bored. In contrast, Tiana’s resolution relies not upon controlling nature, but simply embracing it. She must learn to overcome her urbanized prejudices against the natural world, and acknowledge herself as part of it, in order to return to human form. She does so by falling in love with Naveen, so that when he is given the opportunity to return the two of them to human form—by kissing, and then marrying, Charlotte—Tiana asks him not to, because she’d rather be a frog with him than a human without him. She says that her “dream [of opening a restaurant upon becoming human again, for which she has worked her entire life] wouldn’t be complete without [him] … in it” (Princess and the Frog 1:1:23:29-1:23:35). Because Tiana accepts being a part of nature—and thus remaining a frog for the rest of her life—she and Naveen stop trying to become human again, and instead choose to move on with their lives, happily, as frogs. Due to this acceptance, they then get married, at which point the curse is finally able to lift and they do become human again after all. These are two very different interpretations of the role of nature in the resolution of the child’s story, but ultimately do both reflect the trope of learning in and from nature, as it is each child’s reevaluation of her place in relation to nature that allows her to return home.

Truly, it is all three of these elements, combined, that reflect how storytellers can interpret the garden trope in different manners. Alice’s immediate immersion in nature leads to her ability to converse as an element of it, which subsequently also leads, naturally, to the need for her to take control of nature—to assert her agency as part of it—in order to return home. Tiana, on the other hand, first rejects nature, and so must learn to accept it and find her place within it in order to find her happy ending and thus become human again. However, both of these interpretations do ultimately reflect the Rousseauan model of development, as both Alice and Tiana rely heavily upon nature to shape their character arcs and the plots of their stories. Although they learn different lessons, both learn from nature, which exemplifies Rousseau’s idea that children are part of nature. Therefore, through works such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Disney film The Princess and the Frog, it becomes clear that different elements of the garden trope—from the journey into nature, to learning from nature, to the role of nature in the final lesson conveyed—all play roles in presenting differing representations of this trope. Ultimately, these elements work together to convey each story’s unique interpretation of the role of nature in the child’s development—and altogether show how children and the natural world truly are connected, making nature crucial to the child’s growth in order to become who he or she is meant to be. (Rousseau) (Carroll) (The Princess and the Frog)

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Bibliography

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Knopf, 1988. Print.

The Princess and the Frog. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Walt Disney, 2009. Online.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile. London: J.M. Dent, 1993. Print.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia