. . . D R A G O N F L Y . . . D R E A M S . . .
A stifling, sheltered existence. A decision. A daunting risk. A new life. An unspoken longing in the shy distance between a young woman and the exotic allure of a cultured older man. Testing the direction of the wind as she spreads her wings for the first time, she’s eager to fly towards the sunlight. Isabella Swan is ready to bloom.
Dragonfly Dreams – PDF (will upload in the next few days)
A few months ago, our daughters Sasha and Bella asked Max and I to join them as they watched a re-run of the wedding of Jill Duggar.
Both of our daughters surprised us by liking the show as much as they did, and they really were excited about seeing this wedding again, so Max and I reluctantly sat down on the couch with them and watched. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the show, but it was a first for Max to sit through an entire episode. Throughout the show, he would remark about how the women seemed to be doing everything. While the daughters were slaving in the kitchen for some special family celebration prior to the wedding, they all remained true to task while the boys were running outside playing, not doing a damn thing.
The conversation that ensued between my husband and our eight and eleven year old daughters was what made me think about fic’ing this situation. Max noticed the light in my eye as I listened to their discussion, and then turned to me and said something like, “If you write this, I’ve got many opinions about this too. As a father of girls who I hope to be strong women one day, this show is really setting me off. This father is a little too excited about watching his daughter have her first kiss on the alter. He’s too interested in controlling her sexuality. This mother is a doormat with no emotion. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of these daughters didn’t run away from this kind of slavery, to avoid this fate.”
I was thinking the same thing, at the time. I knew then that a fic collaboration might be in our future.
That conversation had an impact on me, yet while I had ideas for the plot, I couldn’t get myself creatively moving. Max and I have Nicffwhisperer and CarrieZM to thank for that, as well as our Sasha. Right after the contest was announced (wooohooo!), I’d taken our eldest for a walk along Michigan Avenue, and there in the window of store was a sign very much like this one:
My critical thinker (thank goodness!) turned to me and said, “But mom, that doesn’t make sense. Why be planted? What if you’re planted in the wrong place, where there’s no sun?” My eyes widened in pride at her wisdom, and the ending of this story immediately came to be, because that definitely reflects my own beliefs about individually and seeking out the happiness we want in life. In that moment, I could not be more proud of my daughter.
As a mother, Michelle Duggar is an enigma to me. She never raises her voice. She never shows much emotion. If you listen to her, her interactions with her children seem very generic, and she rarely touches them in a way that seems to promote the “closeness” of what I’d consider to be a nurturing mother. Could I be wrong about that? Of course! I don’t know her at all, personally, and only receive the visual cues from what’s on the TV screen, what I’ve read about this family and assume that she must have an iron uterus. Girlfriend’s got a hella-lot on her plate with that many kids, and yet she miraculously holds it together in a way that makes me wonder if she’d been given a weaker version of a Dementor’s Kiss around baby #8 or something.
That’s why Max and I ultimately decided to remove Bella’s mother from this story entirely. It reflects the fate of many wives in similar circumstances. They are left with no voice. That thought alone makes me want to weep, and drives Max to anger too.
Despite all of my opinions regarding my feelings about this family, I couldn’t find it within me to write. And then, I saw this:
I was inspired by the imagery of this picture – I could imagine the birth of a Dragonfly out if this stillness. Like the pen in this picture, my own was poised above the paper, ready to break that surface of whatever had been holding me back previously. Max kept encouraging me, and we began to go for it.
Max and I both spoke to our dear friend, Shawna, about our shared history of growing up in strict religious households. She has a more fundamentalist background and so we picked her brain about her experiences. She told us about the way that she was treated as a girl, compared to her brother, and so that played a role in how Max and I considered what to place into the story.
While Max and I are agnostics, we were not always ambivalent about the idea of a “god.” We were both raised in strict religious households based on the Christian traditions, where bible school, religious camps, church and bible studies were part of our upbringing. Individuality was never encouraged, and we held the beliefs of our parents until we grew up and started seeing the world through a new perspective. I was never allowed to read the Song of Solomon as a teen, but I did so as an adult. That entire scene in the story reflects my experience reading it, revealed within Alice’s dialogue. To say that I was surprised by the sensual tone of it was an understatement. Max and I both still find it a beautiful read despite our philosophical differences with any one belief system.
And sadly (in our opinion), the Christian Charm School actually exists, as do the sentiments that Charlie throws at his daughter in the opening scene. Here is an excerpt from the guide book I found online:
God’s mouthwash and spiritual bleach.
I can’t even with this.
And when it comes to weight and body measurements, Max and I were very surprised about what the expectations are of the girls that read/follow this philosophy – I got my hands on a copy of the actual book and I nearly threw it across the room when I read the section on the ideal “Godly weight” (with standards from what I think are the 1960’s) – I didn’t even want to touch the book after that, so I didn’t scan it for this blog post. No way. I never want to touch that book ever again, unless it is to use it as toilet paper.
Max and I did find this blog interesting and quite helpful, though:
And this site gave us lots of inspiration too:
It was a sad thing for us to realize that there are millions of girls being stripped of their individuality and their happiness, being forced into some generic and often impossible ideal. It’s horrifying to think that people are subjecting their daughters to this! There are a few 19 Kids and Counting episodes where the girls or parents reference a weight chart, so we ran with it for this story because I am personally sick and tired of reading stories where Bella “changes” for Edward, to make herself more appealing to him. I get that ugly-duckling to a swan fantasy, but I refuse to write it. I’m a full-figured woman myself, and if you ask Max point blank, he’d tell you he loves meat on my bones. I believe that there are lots of men like my husband, so why not this Edward, who has an artistic background and might appreciate a Rubenesque aesthetic?
Esme served as a perfect point of “reason” for this story. Bella can relate to Esme without feeling judged. If only we all felt that way about our body image, right? 😉
Was it hard to write this story? Oh, yes. Yet it was so fun to compose, too. It was even more fun to do it together! Thinking about all of our research, we wanted to desperately free at least one of the daughters, and it felt gratifying on many levels to do so in this story.
*swoons* Ummmm, fucking HELLO?! *points and drools at that picture* Total perfection, right there. Max laughs at the fact that this is my desktop wallpaper on my computer…Mr. James is a god I could worship (especially with my tongue).
This is the picture that has creatively haunted me for a while now. I’m such an addict. Nicffwhisperer is my Steven James pusher, but I partially blame CarrieZM for my obsession with this picture, after a funny conversation where I begged someone to fic this picture on Facebook. She jokingly suggested I do it. Months later, I doubt she knew it would be impossible not to take her literally. 😉
The idea of THIS Edward as an older man, with an innocent Bella who is viewing the world for the first time, was too tempting not to take a bite of. Max agreed when he saw this picture too.
Edward is everything that Bella has never seen, having no familiarity with. Originally, we had Edward working along side Jasper at the wedding, as another camera man. In an early draft, Edward found that his camera lens was drawn to the pretty, quiet Bella…the daughter everyone dismissed and took advantage of. The story evolved through Edward’s camera frame. It had a sensual, voyeuristic quality that we liked, but in the end, we realized that story line was too ambitious for the contest’s 15,000 word limit. That change allowed us to focus on Bella on the first half of the story, and THEM, collectively, in the second half, always keeping Bella’s growth in the readers mind. The story felt more balanced to us that way, so we are happy with that shift in plot, in the end.
Also, it was fun to allow Bella the sensual experience of seeing Edward first (via the book), in the way she does. Alone, within the safety of her new sanctuary and in the privacy of her own company, she’s allowed to see and feel things she doesn’t understand. The same can be said for the Song of Solomon scene, where she’s alone in her room before Alice walks in. We believe that by giving Bella the privacy she never had in her previous life, we were allowing her additional power over her inner discoveries, and that the reader would sense that power too.
JASPER, ALICE, ESME AND CARLISLE
Jasper was the character that most surprised me while writing him. I’m not a Jasper fan in general, but this character came on strong and with such empathy that I had little choice. Max enjoyed him too, and played a huge part in creating the scene where Bella discovers the book. Max’s reactions to watching the wedding episode with our daughters can be seen and felt clearly in Jasper’s dialogue there in the study, after Bella puts the book away.
Alice, Esme and Carlisle were so much fun to write too. That entire family, and their unconditional acceptance of Bella, symbolizes the kind of parenting and family unit we hope to promote in our own household. It’s not always realistic, but it’s an ideal we strive for.
CHARLIE SWAN (AND THE MOTHER THAT WASN’T)
Fuck Charlie. What more can we say? Good riddance! We’d considered the last scene to be a Christmas Card being sent to the Swans including a family portrait of a joyous Bella and Edward holding their baby while in front of the Eiffel Tower or something like that. Max and I were torn on this, but he ultimately left it to my gut feeling that the story needed to end as it did, with the power of the message hitting home the hardest, as the last thought.
I think that the best “revenge” doesn’t have to be about having the last word, or causing the feeling of regret in others … but rather the best kind of “revenge” is happiness found in the power of living a wonderful kind of life on your terms, without trying to influence the reactions of others – of planting yourself where you bloom and truly thrive. Would this Bella want that mental revenge on her parents, by sending them a reminder of what they threw away? I wrote the scene and showed it to Max. In the end, we both agreed that it didn’t feel as satisfying as we thought it would. When she learns about Charlie killing her off, she feels relieved, so this ending felt right to us. It’s the kind of message we would like out daughters to walk away with, if they were to ever read this when they’re older.
OY, THOSE DUGGARS
Lastly, some of you may wonder why we allow our children watch this show, if we have such strong feelings about it? Max and I are in disagreement about this, actually. I’ve won the argument for now, but even that win is tenuous, and rightly so. The Duggar politics are poisonous to individual freedoms in our country (against gay rights, freedom FROM religion, etc), so if they start pushing that on their show too hard, I’ll join my husband’s side of things.
As I see it now, our daughters rarely watch TV at all, and if they do, they love HGTV House Hunters International or the home design shows. If I’m being fair, 19 Kids and counting is a wholesome kind of show, yet something they watch sporadically, so yay for that.
These adorable young ladies love their pickles and Root Beer Floats, and so do Sasha and Bella. Our daughters seem to be drawn to the story-lines of the older girls, and I know that we have our own little ladies on the cusp of womanhood, so I understand their being drawn in that direction, curious about what will happen to this brood of siblings – if they’ll get married, if any of them will come out of the closet, if any will rebel, what their chores will be, and what little “Buddy’s” they get to herd around every episode.
Sasha told me recently that she was happy I didn’t have any more children that she’d have to babysit after Bella…so I think this show has served as a subtle yet substantial form of birth control and lesson in life planning.
Bella told Max and I that she’s happy that we’re never late to things like the Duggars are. w00t! Lessons about appointment management and being considerate about the time of others!
Lastly, and in my mind, most importantly…letting our children watch this show reaffirms why we are now agnostic and remain where we are on the political spectrum. Our children see the difference and it teaches them a lesson about critical thinking, about assessing the life choices of others, and how that affects the greater world and even ourselves. I observe Sasha and Bella watch the episodes where this family goes to the Bible museum, where evolution and science are thrown out the window…where the daughters slave over their devotionals, cooking and laundry…and am assured by their reactions and conversations during the episode that our little ladies have a handle on what they want in their own futures, what their own beliefs are or may become. I witness my own daughters talk about the lack of virtually all individuality of the Duggar children, and that puts their own life in perspective – after watching this show, they feel thankful for the freedoms afforded them (within reason) in our household.
It may be reverse psychology, a total Jedi-Mind-Trick, but I’m OK with it for now, and as long as the girls have fun watching it, Max and I are OK with it too. Watching this show is like the ultimate lesson of why being “planted” may not be such a great thing. To us, as parents, that lesson is golden!
So that is the story behind Dragonfly Dreams.
To all of the readers who voted for us, favorited and reviewed our entry in the contest, you overwhelmed us with your generosity and support. We hope that you’ve been touched by the themes in the story despite what your personal spiritual beliefs may be. Just as we have this wish for our daughters, we also hope you find the strength within yourself to decide to plant yourself where you bloom.
We wish you all sunshine and warmth!
Becca and Max
Interested in what the Quiverfull-influenced Home schooling curriculum means?
We think this picture about sums it up: