Saturday, April 22, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Six - Part One

This chapter is nominally about what young women should do when God wants them to be single for a time in their lives.   Practically, the chapter is very, very vague; that's rather sad since Sarah Mally had started a ministry for tweens and teens called "Bright Lights" that's still extant today.  Some actual details about how she started "Bright Lights" would have made the chapter interesting and useful.

Instead, we get some more anachronisms.....

For anyone who remembers the beginning of the book, the reason the Princess is going out among the People is so that she can be of use to them.  This was the idea of the King since the Princess will be ruling them - or another suitable Kingdom - next to her future husband.  (Actually, I added the part after "since".  The book never spells out what the endgame of succession in the Kingdom is.)  This plan started when the Princess was 16.  At the beginning of this chapter, the Princess is now 18 - and has "helped" her People by picking up the vegetables of one old woman.  The narrator tells us that the King and Princess have another heart-to-heart talk and the Princess decides to start serving her people in a more active fashion.

  • There is never any mention of the fact that the King's plan has been a total failure at this point.  The graduating seniors at the school I taught at were required to put in more volunteer hours in a single trimester than the Princess has pulled off in two years.  
After that rousing start, we learn what the Princess is up to now:
Much was being accomplished during the time of her life. The princess often represented the royal family on important occasions, and she spent many days caring for orphaned children in the nearby villages - even beginning the courtyard club for them. Sometimes she would hosts tea parties, teaching godliness to village girls. God was also teaching her much during these years and filling her with understanding and ability in all manner of workmanship. She was gaining skill in many kinds of fabric work, weaving and tapestry, candle and soap making, as well as fine artistry with dyes, paints, and gold. She did not neglect her writing, archery, or equestrianship, and she also made it a goal to learn in the useful talents of floral decorating & baking. (pg. 103-104)
  • I don't really want to know how the Princess was representing the Royal Family.  Her skill set is so meager at this point that if she has to do anything harder than looking pretty in a dress and smile someone will get hurt.
  • Sarah Mally's insular life - and lack of critical thinking skills - shine out in the half-sentence on orphans.  
    • If there are enough orphans in the surrounding villages that the Princess is being co-opted into caring for them, this means a large percentage of the working age population is dead.   The Princess' Kingdom is in the earliest stages of a demographic collapse like Europe during the Black Death or sections of Africa due to AIDS.   Disease is here; famine, war and invasion are fast approaching.
    • The response of the Royal Family is to send their least competent member out to create a "courtyard club" for orphans.  That's..... wow. Future historians will be using that as an example of leadership failure for generations to come.
  • The whole bit about tea parties and teaching godliness is a wonderful example of how Christianity often conflates following Jesus' teaching with demonstrating middle-class culture and activities.  Bluntly, the Gospel never mentions tea parties - or the concurrent obsession on manners, image and fashion.
  • The section on "skills" makes my head hurt.
    • There are lots of types of fabric work - but this book manages to miss all of them except one.
      • Weaving is a type of fabric work - but "tapestry" is a noun, not a verb.  Weaving is the process used to make a tapestry.  Learning to weave well enough to make a tapestry was done by artisans that could be guild members.  In other words, the dilettante Princess isn't going to be whipping off finished tapestries in two years - even if she put all of her time and effort into learning the trade.  
        • Also, weaving is a TRADE - there is no way a Princess would be learning weaving.  
        • There is a much less anachronistic option: embroidery.  Queens, princesses, ladies-in-waiting and other court members often embroidered all the freaking time.  Katherine of Aragon brought a specific type of embroidery from Spain to England at the time of her marriage and it created a fad of blackwork for a few years.
      • Most importantly - weaving could be used to help people if she was weaving cloth to be distributed for free.  A tapestry, though, is the definition of a decorative object.  If the Princess wasn't a Protestant from the frill-free Calvinist persuasion, I guess she could weave a tapestry for a church - but I don't see Ms. Mally taking kindly to making her protagonist a Catholic.....
    • There is no damn way the Princess learned either candle-making or soap making.  Back during these times, there were no cute scented melt-and-pour candle or soap kits at the local arts and craft store for her to use.  
      • Candle-making was a guild craft - a full-time job for some of her People.  Candle-making in N. Europe was a rather gross proposition since most candles were made of rendered fat.  That means the first steps the Princess would have learned involved boiling animal fat until the collagen, water and other non-lipid parts floated to the top.  It's not the glamorous and feminine occupation that Ms. Mally dreams of.
      • Soap-making was worse.  Making soap requires taking animal fats and adding lye to make the fats transform into soap.  Lye is very caustic, the animal fats are kept liquid by heating, and there is a distinctive smell - or stench depending on your personal tastes - during the whole process.  In this case, not only is the Princess getting filthy from tending a fire, processing left-over animal fats and managing the ashes the lye was taken from, she's sweating like a stuck pig as she stirs the cauldron to keep the reaction going smoothly throughout the liquid.  If she stops or misses an area, she'll get a mass of congealed fat with pockets of lye that will burn the fabric or surface she's cleaning with the soap.  Plus, she needs to know exactly when to pour out the soap into molds or trenchers because if she waits too long it will seize in the cauldron into one giant mass of hardened soap.
        • Also - soap gets everywhere during this process.  I've made soap from tallow and olive oil before at home and no matter how careful I am a greasy half-saponified material ends up all over the place.
    • Oh, Lord.  The Princess became a master dyer?  I call bullshit on that one. Well, to be more accurate, I call human piss on that one.  Old urine was the best form of ammonia available for dyeing purposes.  Reading the recipes from the Innsbruck Manuscript (1330) published on that same linked website can be simplified down to a few easy steps - that are no more sweetly feminine than making candles and soap.
      • Obtain a natural pigment source.
      • Grind it into oblivion if possible or boil until soft, then grind.
      • Boil the prepared pigment in a strong base (lime water), a weaker base (stale urine), a weak acid (vinegar) and/or with a mordant (urine, alum, iron, copper).
      • Place the fibers into the dye for the right amount of time. 
    • Hey, I can't disprove that the Princess learned how to paint in a haphazard manner!  Oh, wait.  Painters were guild members, too. What I find suspect is the idea that the Princess had developed much skill in painting in two years while managing to skills in weaving tapestries, soap-making, candle-making, and dyeing...while also becoming a goldsmith.  
    • The awkward transition into goldsmithing in the paragraph above reminded me of a tangentially related topic: if home-schooling is a superior form of education why is Ms. Mally clearly lacking any understanding of the nature of guilds?  
      • I am not a historian by training or trade; I took three years of high school level history and don't have a particularly deep base of knowledge on medieval or early modern life - but I remember that there were organizations called guilds that covered most skilled trades.  I wouldn't have a member of the royal family attempt to become a member of the weavers', chandlers', dyers,' painters' and goldsmiths' guilds because that is simply bat-shit crazy.
    • Well, at least Ms. Mally didn't include any samples of the Princess' writings.  Let's be grateful for small favors.  Likewise, the Princess didn't join the fletchers' guild so that's a small mercy.
    •  I'm glad we've included the critical skill of floral arrangement.  That's a skill that the villagers needed desperately with all of the adults dying off from something. *rolls eyes*
    • And now we've added a sixth guild membership - the Princess now knows how to bake!  
Many widows and weary mothers were the joyous recipients of homemade gifts or meals from the princess. She tried to use each thing she learned in some way as a tool to accomplish her assignments from her heavenly Father. Each mastery acquired could also then be taught to all the wise-hearted young ladies in the kingdom. Her days were full and fruitful. Many stories, memories, and friendships were hers. In a hundred little ways, she was a candle spreading light everywhere she went, bringing strength and encouragement to many lives that were filled with darkness. (pg. 104)
  • As a weary mother, I can attest that getting a badly completed tapestry or a gnarly-colored hank of wool would not make my life easier right now.  Now, a loaf of bread - or a mass of pottage - may have been nice during this time; anything to stave off starvation.  Of course, what I would have really wanted back then was to stop whatever was killing off my family and neighbors.
  • Let's be honest here: the local peasant girls were well-versed in the skills needed to run their households.  They learned how to keep their home - how to cook, weave, sew, trade, and care for children.  The young women didn't need the beginning apprentice-level Princess parachuting in to "teach" them how to do things they already knew how to do.
  • Notice that the People are supposed to learn life lessons including Emo-Pure from the Princess while the Princess floats unsullied above them absolved from learning anything from the People.  The idea that charity moves in one direction from virtuous paragons blessed with material wealth to the lost rabble with nothing is rife in CP/QF life.  The Princess - and all of the SAHD she represents - are presented as being better people in every way than the People.  
  • I doubt her people viewed the Princess as a light in the darkness.  At best, she'd be viewed as a harmless lunatic; at worst, her naivete and thoughtlessness could end in a revolution.
Well, those two passages have been making me batty since I read them.  I feel better now that I've gotten that out of my system.  Next up - yet another chat with the Alligator.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Five-Part Three

Welcome to the last installment of Chapter Five on how to deal with crushes.   The advice and exhortation section in this chapter is pretty formulaic while the anecdotes run the gauntlet between terrifying and sad.

The first chunk of the chapter addresses the fact that most people have crushes during their life and explains that the issues surrounding crushes have to do with how people behave when they have a crush, not the fact that you are attracted to someone.  None of this is particularly ground-breaking, but it's nice that Ms. Mally at least sets a reasonable bar that actions matter more than thoughts.

The first anecdote is a doozy:
"What if I have a crush?

Have you ever made your dad panic?

Once when I was about 8 years old, I scampered into the house and with a mischievous smile I announced, "Dad, I fell in love today!"

Believe me, that got his attention! He looked up at me with a worried expression on his face and said, "You did?"

"Yup! I fell in love with this adorable Dalmatian puppy at the pet store. Can I get it? Please?" Dad smiled with a look of relief. "(pgs. 91-92)

  • I've never made either of my parents' panic before - and Sarah's Dad didn't panic in this anecdote either.
  • If this story is true, Sarah's Dad needs to get a freaking life.  I had a crush on a kid in my first-grade class named Brad.  We were inseparable for a few months and then drifted apart over the summer - mainly because we were EIGHT years old!  That was the same age that I wanted to visit the Starship Enterprise from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" because I thought it existed somewhere.  When my parents tried to explain the idea of movie sets, I just figured that someone built an entire replica of the actual Enterprise and was filming the series inside the life-size replica.  An elementary school crush is very normal - and not something for an actual adult to panic about.
  • I am very skeptical of the authenticity of that story, though.  With Sarah Mally being a few years older than I am, this story apparently happened before 1988.  This either means that the Mally Family was way ahead of the curve on implementing Emo-Pure or the anecdote has been burnished a bit to make the Mally Family seem more like the ideal CP/QF family of the 2000's. 
This leads into a few paragraphs describing how everyone will have crushes from time to time (which is true) and how hard it is to train your mind not to dwell on a crush.  I don't remember my crushes being all-consuming, but I had a lot of things to keep me busy between school and sports when I was in junior high followed by harder classes and extracurricular activities in high school.  This meant that I didn't have a lot of extra time to think about my romantic interests outside of when we were interacting.

"When I was about 13, our family became acquainted with another Christian family who had a son a few years older than I was. I liked him right away. He seemed so considerate and nice. I admired some of his talents, and most of all, he seems like such a strong Christian leader. He was the first guy I ever really liked, and I felt so embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know how I felt about him. After all, I was only thirteen! I wasn't considering getting married for years. I tried to avoid him so that no one would guess that I was attracted to him. I tried not to talk about him with my family or others because I worried that they might be able to figure out that I liked him. "(pg. 92)
  • I find 13-year-old Sarah's attraction to a "strong Christian leader" who is 15 or 16 years old absolutely adorable.  That's such a normal 13-year-old thing to do!  (Well, maybe not the "strong Christian leader" bit, but I've had crushes on equally flimsy footing before.)
  • I was pretty embarrassed about having crushes - but not because I was too young to get married.  A crush is an intensely personal experience and I was acutely aware that my view of Matt or Jason or Patrick was not shared by the entirety of human kind.  The embarrassment phase passed quickly for me because my parents and friends didn't tease or bother me about my crushes.
  • For me, the issue wasn't that I didn't want anyone to know how I felt; it was that I had no idea how to explain how intensely I felt attracted to Scott or David or whoever.  There are just not enough adjectives and adverbs in the English language to describe how floatingly giddy I felt when I was around my newest crush.
  • Like Sarah, I completely believed that I could avoid anyone knowing when I had a crush by keeping my cards close to my chest.   Looking back, the only person that tactic fooled was myself - and I'm willing to bet that no one was fooled by Sarah's tricks either.
"But inwardly I was struggling. Even though I didn't see him very often, I frequently found myself wondering when I might see him again and questioning if he could be the right one for me. I remember that when I would practice the piano, ride my bike, or have spare time, I would frequently be struggling with these thoughts and asking the Lord to help me not be so distracted.

A few years later I got to know this young man a little bit better and realize he was definitely not the right one for me. I lost interest, but I wondered when my next crush might happen and if I would be able to handle it any better (pg. 93)
  • Ironically, 26-year-old Sarah isn't much better at putting the dots together than she was at 13.  
    • The best way to keep a crush going is to never interact with the person you have a crush on at all.  I've had a crush on Geordi LaForge for Star Trek: The Next Generation for 20 years or so.  He's smart, handsome and imaginary so I never have to deal with any of the annoyances of finding out the flaws and irritations that come with real people.
    • Conversely, the fastest way to get rid of a crush is to spend a lot of time with the person you have a crush on.  Everyone has really annoying habits and quirks.  Since a crush is predicated on having the ideal romantic partner, finding out your crush has the table manners of a hyena or sniffles all the time can do a lot to end a crush.
  • The last paragraph is inadvertently terrifying.  First, it implies that Sarah kept a candle burning for this guy for three years at least!  Second, she only had a single crush on that one guy in those three years.  I'm chalking that as another unintended example of how lonely her life was as a home schooled teenager with two siblings in Iowa; it sounds like she didn't meet enough guys to have more than one crush.
  • For me, having crushes on real guys disappeared pretty rapidly in my late teens because I had no exposure to Emo Pure doctrines.  I had plenty of male friends.  When I found myself highly attracted to a guy - friend or not - I could get to know him better without obsessing over giving pieces of my heart away.  On top of that, I could date.  That means I didn't have to keep my expectations low while waiting for my crush to notice me, become marriage-eligible, and get my father's approval before finding out that my crush bores me to death.
The rest of the chapter is how to deal with crushes.  I can condense the gist into a nice bulleted-list for you!
  • When you have a crush, hide your emotions so deeply inside of you that no one - not even you - can feel what's going on.
  • Pray.  A lot.  Pray for him, for you, for your future husband, and his future wife.  (She missed "his future kids", "your future kids" "all of both lines eventual descendants", and "the livestock acquired when you and/or he marry including, but not limited to pets".  May as well be thorough.)  Don't forget to memorize chunks of Scripture.  
  • Get your parents involved.
Ms. Mally shares how getting your parents involved helps:
"The second way to deal with your crush is to talk to your parents about it. This might be difficult, scary, or embarrassing for you, but most likely your parents have already guessed how you are feeling. If you tell them, they will be better able to pray for, protect, and advise you. Confiding in your parents often relieves the pressure on you and may lighten the intensity of your "secret" crush. Sometimes they're able to help you think more realistically about your future and give you a new perspective about what type of man they believe the Lord has in store for you.

Several times when I've told my dad or brother that I've noticed a certain young man, they have said that if they get a convenient opportunity they will try to get to know him better. Often they're able to come up with interesting observations that I didn't see, and they will come to me saying,"Sarah, have you noticed this area?" Dad usually say, "I question "such-and-such". My brother Stephen will say, "He's kind of weird!" But I'm serious - dads and brothers can be great analytical agents! When they notice an area of weakness in a young man, it gives me a clearer perspective of the whole situation and makes it easier for me to stay focused on the Lord, rather than dreaming about the possibility of "so-and-so" . It frees me from any pressure or temptation I might be feeling to try and get to know him better, and keeps my emotions from getting involved unnecessarily. (pg. 94-95)

  • I don't think that it is a good idea to chat with your parents about a crush if you feel scared at the prospect of doing so.  That's a sign something the kid is picking up on something being off in their family dynamic.
  • I know lists are supposed to have at least three items, but the prayers of a parent do not become magically more effective when the parent is sure that their kid has a crush on their classmate instead of being mostly sure.
  • Talking about your crush may lighten the intensity - but so will doing almost anything!  Crushes are most intense when a person sits around and broods on the subject alone and least intense when the person is doing a captivating activity.
  • Crushes do not require a chat about your kid's future since crushes dissipate once your kid gets to know their crush better.  Plus, that's bringing an AK-47 to a longbow archery demonstration in terms of overkill.  
  • When your children are infants, parents can plan just about every aspect of their lives.  By the time your children are teenagers, parents guide and facilitate the teen's plans for their lives.  If your kids are old enough to be considering marriage, parents need to have stopped planning their offspring's lives for them - and that includes detailing who the parents thought the kid should marry.  After all, CP/QF is a small, insular community.  Describing the type of person a parent thinks the kid should marry has a huge overlap with saying "I've always thought you would marry Billy-Bob's son Jimbo".
  • Nothing says placing your daughter's interests first like trying to get to know her romantic interest if an opportunity happens to appear.  Getting to know a person with the undeclared intent of figuring out if they are good marriage material for your child is so creepy - and generally a case of putting the cart before the horse since the other person has not expressed an interest yet!
  • Taking your brother's advice on dating can make sense if your brother has enough life experience.  Sarah Mally was 26 when this book was written and Stephen is about 6 years younger than her.   I might have taken my younger brother's advice on if he liked my boyfriend when he was 20, but only in terms of "my boyfriend is non-crazy, right?"  Since this book seems to be written for girls in their teens, I would hope that Sarah Mally wasn't sending her 13 year old brother out to do recon on her crushes when she was 18 because that's just odd.
This whole book is about ways to avoid interacting with guys, honestly.  There is a palpable sense of relief in each anecdote when Sarah has collected enough negative information from her family to shut down any more contact with a specific guy.   That theme reaches back into the allegory for the last few chapters as well; Sir Eloquence's main flaw was that he was attracted to the Princess - the rest of the negatives about Sir Eloquence were based on the King's gut feeling that Sir Eloquence was not telling the truth.  Likewise, Sir Valiant's only demonstrated virtue is that we are not certain he knows the Princess exists.   That's one of the largest flaws in raising kids to value Emo-Pure.  When a person has been raised to fear accidentally giving away a chunk of their heart, reaching out to form a bond with a romantic partner can be impossible.

The next chapter is titled "When God Says To Wait" which feels redundant to me; the Princess has spent five chapters waiting around the castle daydreaming already.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Five - Part Two

In the last post on this chapter, the Princess was still worried - and pining a tad - over Sir Eloquence.  The Queen told her to get over him.  The Princess voiced her concerns about how the People viewed her obsessive purity with a surprising amount of insight; the Queen declared that the Princess was wrong since the silent majority of people supported her...silently.

Now, at this point, the book has been pretty clear that the Princess doesn't really have any friends among the locals.  The Princess has mentioned that she worries about what everyone else thinks of her; her parents and the narrator insist that the Princess really doesn't give a shit about what anyone else thinks - but either way there has been no sign that the Princess has real friends who she sees on a regular basis.

Oh, wait.

Here's Maiden Flirtelia - a young woman who appears out of nowhere and is apparently unobjectionable enough that the Queen is fine with the Princess hanging out with her unaccompanied and unchaperoned while also being worldly enough that she gets the virtue signal name of "Flirt".
"Maiden Flirtelia and the princess spent the next few hours looking around Market Street, visiting the tapestry shop, and picking up some pastries at the bakery. They then sat down at Fountain Circle to talk." (pg. 87)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Five - Part One

At the end of Chapter Four's allegory, Sir Eloquence disappears from the story.  I find that disappointing for a few reasons.

First, for all that he was portrayed as brash and probably lying about his exploits, he's the real person to have shown up so far.  The King and Queen have no negative traits at all; the King is the ever-benevolent, all-knowing Father and the Queen is a nebulous figure in the background.  The Princess allegedly has some negative traits, but the only one we've seen so far is that she's lightly questioned her Father's dictates without rebelling openly in any way.  Sir Eloquence was more like a real teenage boy in that he misjudged the right way to approach the Princess, bragged about exploits that he probably didn't do, and had the audacity to be more interested in the Princess than her parents.  (How shocking!).

Second, I've always liked it when rejected suitors simply disappeared from my life.  Alas, that's only happened twice - and mainly because I met them online for the express and sole purpose of dating to find a marriage partner.  (God, that sounds so romantic, I know....)  In real life, dating - and courting - often involve people who are going to be in your life even if the romantic relationship ends.  I've yet to see a CP book for unmarried singles deal with that outcome so that's a niche waiting to be filled.

Well, now that Sir Eloquence is gone, the Princess has returned to her usual activities which seem to be standing near the moat and daydreaming.  In terms of the King's goal of having her help the people, we are still at "picked up some veggies for an old woman once".

There's a saying that a stopped clock is right twice a day.  In this allegory, Ms. Mally write a few surprisingly insightful moments along with the usual tripe.  Here's one:
"The Princess was glad that the knight had stopped pursuing her hand, and she did not expect him to be bothering her in the village anymore. Yet, now that he was gone, she did miss him just a little bit - or maybe it was simply his affectionate words and attention that she sometimes wished for..." (pg. 85)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Before You Meet Prince Charming: Chapter Four - Part Two

In this chapter, Sir Eloquence followed the Princess home to ask the King if he could marry her.  In short order, Sir Eloquence realized the family was absolutely insane and took off to find greener pastures.

What do you mean that wasn't the point of the allegory?

The exhort and encourage section of the chapter is absolutely mindless.    In one section, readers are given a list of questions to think about when courting - or pre-courting or whatever term is used for the run-up to a courtship - and some of the questions aren't half bad.  If you ignore the insanely high number of questions based on theology, I agree with Ms. Mally that a girl should view him as decent father material, see that he's capable of supporting himself, and that he's truthful, generous, kind and loving.  That's about 30 words of material I agreed with out of a 20 page chapter.

The beginning of the chapter rehashes that "MARRY A GOOD CHRISTIAN" should be tattooed on the foreheads of anyone reading this book because this topic has been covered too much in this book already - but Ms. Mally seems to think that her readers need yet another reminder.  After all, a wife serves her husband and if he's not a GOOD CHRISTIAN (TM), she's pretty much going to be miserable her whole life.

Sarah Mally shares this captivating anecdote:

Vicki, for example, started to date a nice young man named Christopher. She wasn't sure if he was a Christian - he certainly wasn't a very strong Christian, but she was hoping to have an opportunity to lead him to the Lord. Soon they were best friends. They did everything together. At first, Vicki didn't realize how attached they had become, but one day she faced reality and determine that she couldn't stand the thought of breaking up now. Vicki decided that since they loved each other so much, everything else would work out. She assumed that after they were married she would be able to encourage him to get involved in church and grow in the Lord.