Archive | February, 2011

Terri Windling and the Mermaid Myth

28 Feb

So Terri Windling is a very obvious person to ask about mermaids, considering that she writes and edits and paints and draws wondrous, magical things and is an expert generally on folklore and myth, having, among many other things,  co-edited The Journal of Mythic Arts for many many moons  and published tons of books, fictional and non, about otherworldly things. There is a huge archive of information on the Journal of Mythic Arts site, and in fact I owe a large debt to said site for my own vast and deeply impressive mermaidly expertise. Really, it is like a great big treasure chest, like the kind a mermaid would find at the bottom of the sea.

Terri graciously answered my questions and also sent along some of her favorite pieces of mermaid art for your and my viewing pleasure. They’re by Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and Sulamith Wulfing. The same art that fills the apartment of Mr. Kaluta, which is what the Journal of Mythic Arts would be if it were a New York City apartment.

Here is our Q and A:

Why are so many of us enchanted by the mermaid, do you think? What is her allure?
In the folklore tradition, she is a symbol of freedom (she has all the wide sea for her home) and of sensuality. Water is her element, and all the wonders of the undersea world are her birthright. While we poor humans walk clumsily through the world, upright on our two spindly legs, she moves with speed and grace, flying through the waves with a flip of her beautiful tail.

What are some of your favorite mermaid myths?
I find myself most attracted to the seal women and otter women of Celtic and Scandinavian lore. Personally, I’d prefer to be able to transform completely from woman to otter or seal (and to know what it’s like to be fully animal) than to be a hybrid creature: part woman and part fish.

What do these myths do for us? Why are they so important?
They are part of the Animal Bride tradition, and these tales are among my very favorite in myth. I wrote an article about Animal Bride stories a while back, and I think this line from it captures what is, for me, the attraction of such tales:

“The Animal Bride and Bridegroom represent the wild within each one of us. They also represent the wild within our lovers and spouses, the part of them that we can never fully know. They represent the Others who live unfathomable lives right beside us — cat and mouse and coyote and owl; and the Others that live only in the dreams and nightmares of our imaginations. For thousands of years, their tales have emerged from the place where we draw the boundary lines between animals and human beings, the natural world and civilization, women and men, magic and illusion.”

What makes the mermaid and mermaid stories stand out (if they do) in folklore and fantasy art generally? That is, what is unique about the mermaid?
What I find interesting is that the modern conception of the mermaid has been so heavily colored by Hans Christian Andersen’s 19th century story The Little Mermaid – and then colored again, in the 20th century, by the Disney Studio’s complete re-shaping of the Andersen tale. The mermaid is pretty far removed, at this point, from the mermaids of the folklore tradition
which are generally seen as seductive, amoral, unfathomable, and dangerous.

What do you think the mermaid represented for Hans Christian Andersen?
Now that is an interesting and complicated question, because Andersen was an interesting and complicated man. Andersen’s Little Mermaid, of course, is (unlike the Disney film) a tragic story in which the mermaid trades her tail for legs “as sharp as knives,” all for a prince who is unable to love her back. He marries another, and the mermaid is reduced to foam upon the sea. What many Andersen scholars see in this story is a reflection of its author’s own tendency to fall passionately in love with women (publicly) and men (privately) who did not love him back. But I think it goes a little further than that. Andersen grew up working class and desperately poor…and even though, eventually, he achieved great fame and fortune, moving in the highest circles of 19th century Copenhagen, the upper class society of his day never let him forget his humble beginnings. He lived among them, but he was not one of them – a situation he found mortifying. So in addition to the theme of unrequited love, I also see class issues reflected in The Little Mermaid. The prince views his mermaid as a kind of lovely pet, but he goes on to marry a woman of his own kind. It’s a painful story, and in its pain I see Andersen’s feelings about being a perpetual outsider in the glittering social world that he’d struggled so hard to enter.

(I’ve written an article about Hans Christian Andersen too, if your readers are interested. And there are some very good books about him, listed at the end of the article.)

What about mermen – have you come across a number of interesting mermaid legends?
Oh, I love mermen, and selchie (seal) men! I think they’re kind of sexy. My very favorite comes from the old Scottish ballad “The Great Selchie of Sule Skerry,” which I first heard on an album by Judy Collins when I was a teenager. It haunts me to this day. I never did understand why the selchie’s lover would permit a gunner to kill him and her child…and therein lies a whole new tale….

The first annual mermaid convention will be held this year in Las Vegas, featuring pro mermaids Hannah Fraser and MeduSirena. “Mermaiding,” or swimming in mermaid tales, seems to be gaining popularity with a number of people. Johnny Depp held a press conference last year to announce the presence of mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Are you aware of these trends – and/or surprised by the way the mermaid myth continues to move and inspire people?
I’m never surprised that myths and fairy tales move people even today. These are among the oldest stories of humankind; they’ve enchanted audiences young and old alike for thousands of years. They are powerful.

Have you yourself written/edited any mermaid tales, and/or been inspired by mermaids especially?
I haven’t written any mermaid or selchie or undine tales myself, but I’ve published them in various books and journals I’ve edited – such Melissa Lee Shaw’s “The Sea Hag” in Silver Birch, Blood Moon; Jane Gardam’s “Pangs of Love” in The Armless Maiden; and Laurie Mark’s “How the Sea Loved Margie” in The Journal of Mythic Arts. Ellen Datlow and I have recently co-edited an anthology called The Beastly Bride which has three relevant pieces in it: “Island Lake” by E. Katherine Tobler, “Map of Seventeen” by Christopher Barzak, and “The Selchie Speaks” by Delia Sherman.

There were also a couple of articles about mermaids published in my old web journal, The Journal of Mythic Arts: “A Million Little Mermaids” by Virginia Borges and “The Mermaid” by Heinz Insu Fenkl.

And some mermaid/seal-woman poems from the JoMA archives: “The Mermaid Sets the Record Straight” by Debra Cash; “Knives” by Jane Yolen; “Undine” by Jane Yolen, and “The Selkie Wife’s Daughter” by Jeannine Hall Gailey.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Please tell young aspiring mermaids that Disney had it all wrong. It’s never a good idea to give up a part of yourself (your fish tail or your voice) for the sake of love. Love is only true if you are valued for who you really are, fish tail and all.

NYC MERMAID READINGS, AND BONUS POEM

25 Feb

So I need to interrupt these interview posts to tell you about a gorgeous event this Sunday afternoon, when poetess Matthea Harvey, interviewed here, shall be reading mermaid poems in Brooklyn with members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. I mean really.

Look:

Classical Interludes: Music Off the Shelves with Matthea Harvey

Sunday, February 27, 4:00PM
Central Library, Dweck Center

The Brooklyn Philharmonic plays a program of music in dialogue with the writing of Matthea Harvey, a Brooklyn poet whose most recent book, Modern Life, won the 2009 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a 2007 New York Times notable book.

Children under the age of six will not be admitted.

About the Dweck

Conveniently located at BPL’s Central Library on Grand Army Plaza, the fully accessible, 189-seat Dweck auditorium provides a comfortable space in which to enjoy the library’s rich and wide-ranging schedule of free public programs. The Dweck features literary series, author talks, public affairs and humanities programs, film screenings, chamber music concerts, pop and jazz music, as well as programs for children. Acoustically well balanced and with unobstructed sightlines, this intimate auditorium has been attracting ever-larger audiences since it opened in the fall of 2007.For reservations and policy please contact the Central Administration Office at 718.230.2198.

—–

Also, if you’re wondering whether or not you’re too lazy to attend and need some extra motivation…. here is a new mermaid poem from Matthea, forthcoming in The Same:

THE HOMEMADE MERMAID

The Homemade Mermaid is top half pimply teenager, bottom half tuna. This does not make for a comely silhouette, and the fact that her bits are stitched together with black fishing wire only makes the combo more gruesome. The Homemade Mermaid floods Mermag’s “Ask Serena” column with postcards that read, “O why not half salmon or half koi?” signed Frankenmaid. Sure, she’s got the syndrome—loves her weird-eyed maker who began his experiments with Barbies and goldfish in a basement years ago—but she does sometimes wish he’d picked her prettier sister and left her tanning on tinfoil in the yard. When he lugs the Homemade Mermaid to the ocean, she always comes swimming back, propelled only by her arms. She really hasn’t reconciled with that tail. The next day he can usually be cajoled into playing a game of All Girl—they tuck her tail in a tank behind her and her human half sits pertly at a desk. Whether she’s playing secretary or schoolgirl, the game always ends when the mixture of glue and glitter that he’s still perfecting for her tail sparkles gets stuck in the tank ventilation system and the engine coughs to a stop. She sighs as he scoops out the glittery sludge. Tonight again he’ll serve her algae with anchovies and she won’t complain. The one time he brought her fries, she took them as if in a trance, and dipped them, two at a time into the ketchup. The shared memory sprang to both their faces—two severed legs, blood everywhere, and his hand gripping the saw.

——

ALSO: please note that yours truly shall be reading from my own MERMAID writings next Thursday evening, March 3, at the Tribeca B&N (97 Warren Street).

I shall ALSO be reading as part of the Fantastic Fiction Series at KGB on March 16.

So you have no excuse to complain about the lack of mermaidly prose in New York City.

Dame Darcy and Mermaid Magic

24 Feb

So I am a big big fan of Dame Darcy, who is one of those glorious artist types who can do anything and everything and makes everything – everything! – more astonishing and beautiful. She writes and draws and paints and sings and plays instruments and makes films and probably does many, many magical secret things besides and right now as we speak she’s probably doing something spectacular like changing a pumpkin to a carriage and heading off to a ball. She is also a huge lover of mermaids, and possibly a mermaid herself.

Here is our Q and A.

So have you always been attracted to mermaids?
Ahoy Mermatey! When I was a kid I used to draw mermaids, faeiries, horses, kitties, and unicorns to be popular with the other girls. I guess this is still my shtick today, hee hee! When I was Bi-costal and lived half the year in LA I went on dating shows and surprised my cheesy dates by showing up as a mermaid in the hot tub! It was so fun to mess with their jock mindset (Frocks not Jocks!). I refused to speak English and only answered their confused questions with Mermese: “Flippity floppity filp, drippity droppity drip.” I think it’s on youtube, and still gets the freakshow rerun.

What is the allure of mermaids for you?
The beauty and elusive mystery of mermaids will allure mortal imagination with its persuasion of sensual love eternally. Mermaids are the ultimate perception of femininity and untamed emotion.

A mermaid is a woman who is half human and half fish. She is the embodiment of transformation and alchemy. Half human and half Atlantian, she can reach into the ether of magic to manifest magic in reality. She is the go-between the two worlds. Her song is immortal. Girls on the verge of growing up are in a transformation stage, where the fantasy of becoming a mermaid is especially strong: the mermaid has all the alluring charms of a woman but is still free from the bonds of society.

The oldest image in mermaid mythology is the goddess Atargatis from Syria, where she is seen in the form of a statue a woman from the waist up and a fish from there down. All sea goddesses reflect the sea’s qualities. The sea can be gentle and nurturing or violent and deadly. The sea is alternately, beautiful, cruel, tender, loving, calm, or destroying, and so too can be mermaids. On a broader scale, this is man’s view of nature. The mermaid, a fantastic creature, is nature herself. Mami Wata is another timeless mermaid from Africa known for excesses. She has an inhuman beauty, unnaturally long hair, and a pale, unearthly complexion. She represents all races and her hair is combed straight back from her forehead and described as straight, curly or kinky and either black or blonde. Her illustrious, enticing gaze only enhances her ethereal beauty. In many parts of West and Central Africa, when a lady is called “Mami Wata” it’s a slang term for a gorgeous woman. She’s basically being called a mermaid, what a great compliment!

Mami Wata deities are closely associated with water. Traditions on both sides of the Atlantic tell of people who have returned from the paradisiacal realm of a mermaid which may be underwater, in the spirit realm or both. The people who were captured usually while boating or swimming were released on a mermaid demand, which may be as simple as not eating any more fish. Those who return are miraculously in dry clothing and gaze at the world with a new deeper spiritual understanding. Often these survivors in time grow more beautiful, their lifestyles more lavish and abundant, and their personalities more easygoing after the encounter.

Do mermaids inspire your art and music?
Of course, I want to align myself with the eternal magic of the Mermaid! I am searching to find the ultimate tropical paradise where I can swim and sail every day and also work on my books. I think this place may be in the Caribbean but I don’t know yet. However it my goal to find it soon and live the last half of my life there, but still keep a doll house in the NY vicinity. I love to surf and I think it is the ultimate workout. I’ve only swam in the Pacific and the Atlantic off North American shores, but I dream of crystal clear aquamarine water every day and long to find my beautiful Island home.

Can you tell me a bit about your band? You sing all sea shanties?
The apiarian folk instruments of Autoharp and Banjo are my first instruments and were taught to me by my Dad when I was 10. I always loved old ballads , folk harmonies, and sea shanties, so for the past few years I’ve been doing nautical acts dressed as a pirate or mermaid playing the banjo and singing saw.

Aye Aye Captain was my first sea shanty /rock band. We played and recorded an album in 2002. Death By Doll, my current band with Skippy Spiral recorded a more traditional sounding album, which was released in 2008 on Emperor Penguin Records. Death By Doll is currently active and Vincent D. Dominion (the spawn of a long Norwegian sailing lineage, which I see in him constantly) and I do shows all the time.

The latest album is a combination of Electro and Rococo (ElectRococo) with Skippy doing electro beats and harpsichord and Charlotte Antique and I singing operatic.

I spend most my time indoors in a sedentary kind of life, drawing and writing but there is a side to me that wants to just run away and apply to the merchant marines or sign up to be part of the crew on a tall ship off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago. I think there would be a lot of down time on these ships where I could draw my graphic novels in between ports, but I don’t know if I would lose my connection to my career if I do this, which is what keeps me land-bound.

When I was a kid and I read about Pippi and her pirate adventures I wanted so bad to search for hidden treasures in caves and sail to isolated far away islands. Sea shanties have this whimsical soul in them, but also and the realities of a rough life at sea.

I was raised on a horse ranch in Idaho and always felt land locked, I closed my eyes and dreamed of the sea, vowing to never live anywhere that I was not in close proximity again. I always thought life on a ranch and dealing with farm equipment and cattle was probably as hard and psychical as a ship.

This is the only reason why I think I could be a sailor, but the older I get the more I think I couldn’t handle it. I also think I maybe never could, that I’m too much of a sissy, but maybe one day I can be one of those pleasure cruisers and have a little boat.

I’d like to go to Caracou or Georgetown and sing shanties to the people then sail off on a ship and trade songs for coconuts and pineapple the ladies balance on their head like a Carmen Miranda hat.

Have you participated in the Mermaid Parade? Can you describe what that’s like for you?
Mermaid Parade always falls on or near my birthday which is also near the summer solstice, so it’s always a celebration in many aspects, and goes on for days.

Sometimes, I think aspects of NY is like what Atlantis used to be, I also feel a Roman thing there too, especially during balmy NY summers when ladies are walking down the street in light drapey sheer cotton. The best compliment I have ever had is one day a little girl, maybe only 2 years old was rolling by in a stroller and as she passed me pointed and said “Mermaid!” I think the love of mermaids is pervasive in NY and they have to let it out somehow so they started the parade. It’s the funniest, nautical celebration ever, and New York’s chance to have Carnival like in Brazil, or Fat Tuesday like New Orleans.

I understand you are in the Mermaids of New York documentary. Can you tell me about that?
Vincent made a comment today, which I thought would be perfect for this interview.
He has a theory that the movie Splash, which greatly influenced me as a kid to move to NY and be a mermaid (and also gave me hope that I could grow up and look like Daryl) was the impetus to the entire mermaid scene of NY and perhaps even started the Mermaid Parade tradition.
Either that or if the mermaid parade came before the movie perhaps the movie was inspired by the parade. We don’t know which came first, the fin or the feet. However, the mermaid obsession seems to be concentrated in NY more than everywhere else. When Jessica Delfino and I hosted the Naughty Nautical Nite at the Slipper Room in Lower East Side NYC, it was truly a bounty of the sea!

There are cabaret scenes abundant in every port town, originally more liberal and eclectic than other cities, because of the ports, I think this is why they thrive in these cities. And where there is cabaret there are mermaids.

Some of my favorite NY mermaids, are Lady Aye, Mica, and the crew of the Mermaids of NY documentary, Bambi the Mermaid, Whitney Ward (often seen as a Kali/Mermaid) Viva Knievel, Junko, Mara G. Haseltine (who does reef restoration through sculpture), Machine Dazzle and the Dazzle Dancers, Adam Dugas, Kai Altair, Shien Lee and the ladies of Dances Of Vice, Banzai featuring Muffin Head and Eric Schmalenberger, and so much more! I think the cabaret is really a place where people go in this day and age to worship the goddess in her many forms… Belly Dancers, Drag Queens, Performance Artists, Can Can Dancers, Musical comedy, Circus Performer, Freak, etc. It’s a place to be free.

Do you have any favorite mermaid movies/songs/books/art/lore?
I’m reading an awesome book now called The Chalice and The Blade which is about the origins of society and women’s history. I’m reading it so I can put the best info possible in my new graphic novel Hand Book For Hot Witches (due out on Holt in 2012).

The Chalice represents the vessel of life and creativity and is the origin of the Holy Grail myth. It is the symbol of the partnership society which is what started civilization in the first place. It was a utopia where people were equal, and women held honored positions as teachers, philosophers, priestesses, etc.

Art flourished and there was a real city called Crete where everyone had access to lovely homes, which had all four elements, light and air, indoor pluming and central fountains, community gardens, and beautiful murals and paintings, dishware, lamps and glass work. It was said to be the real story and place behind the myth of Atlantis.

The snake goddess was the origin of the mermaid, with her ever-changing cycles of life (maiden, mother, crone, and even for women now during our monthly period) is like a snake changing her skin.

She is depicted as half lady half snake (which looks like a mermaid tail) and also a mermaid with a snake, as before mentioned with Mama Wata who is black and is also like the Black Madonna.

So when lady of any age is drawn to the image and idea of a mermaid, what she is really doing is getting in touch with the Goddess, even if our current society doesn’t let us know what the Goddess is, we all know in our heart of hearts that she is alive today in every one of us, and by celebrating Mermaids we celebrate the Goddess and keep her alive in the cycle of life. What the Goddess originally represents IS life itself.

What about your own art and comics have mermaids always been favorite subjects for you?
Yes, and I always subconsciously knew they were a powerful , import and sexy alluring image, but not until now, have I pieced all the info together to see the whole picture and how it pertains to my own experiences as well as the experiences of all women on earth through out time.

Do you own a mermaid tail?
Yes, I do cabaret and perform in it at music events as well. I have a walking fin which is a long tight green/aqua skirt with a ruffle flipper at the bottom which I can walk in, but I also have an aquamarine fin which I have to be carried by sailors in or be pushed in a wheelchair or chariot because I can only swim in it. I have a silver fin that is it’s twin and I did mermaid sister acts with Jessica Delfino at NNN in those.

JD is my girl Gemini twin, and everyone always thought we were each other even though she’s a brunette and I’m blonde and I’m six yrs older than her.

I also have several mermaid dresses most of them glittering aquamarine in some form. I always know other mermaids because their favorite color is usually aquamarine, however there are coral pink, sea green, ocean silver , arctic white, and other kinds of mermaids I meet all the time.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Take a nice bubble bath and listen to sounds of the sea, swim in the ocean with friends naked under a full moon on a warm summer night, do each others’ hair, nails, and ornament yourselves with jewels and pearls, then wear a slinky dress to go out and do something special. Practice flirting and being alluring just for fun, get in touch with your inner goddess and she will guide you to a whole new magical life.

Any other thoughts about mermaids you’d like to share?? =-)
There are many secret mermaid names, and people have them and don’t even know it. You should look up the meaning of your name and see if you have one.
My name means Dark Sea in Gaelic (Dar-cy), which makes since because I love to surf but don’t love to be tan and try to avoid the sun. I like to go to the ocean to swim after 3:00 and stay at the sea until night. In Portuguese Dame Darcy is Dama De Mara-Negro. “Lady of the Black Sea” I know my parents named me after a murder ballad but I don’t think my Mom was aware of the mermaid connotation. Speaking of Mom…

My wonderful mother is so into mermaids she has a whole mermaid themed home overlooking the ocean from which I am writing this now. My dear witch friend Amber did Mom’s whole astrological chart which showed that all her houses are moving into Scorpio, the witchiest dreamy water sign that reigns over intuition and creativity, it also shows that my mom is soon going to retire from being a nurse and be able to do all her shell crafts now and not have to put up with anyone’s crap.

Oh BTW speaking of astrology, I have a rising of Scorpio and am a Gemini on the cusp of Cancer which means I am an air sign bordered on both sides by water. I think this makes for a bubbly time but also for choppy seas. And that when someone has water in their chart, especially a rising, or sun, or moon, sign, they look like or act like a mermaid and are drawn to the water.

For instance a Cancer rising means they will look like a mermaid on the surface no matter what their real birthday is.

Water sun sign is BEING a mermaid like my witch sister Mara (her name literally means ocean) born a Pisces, and the most Mermaidly lady coming straight at you from Atlantis.

Moon sign meaning what they really are under it all, like if someone has a birthday born in a very solid and logical sign like Capricorn but really has a Scorpio moon, watch out, they have a secret mermaid soul, and are not as predictable as you think.

Before I sign out, here’s a seaweed /raw food recipe so you can eat like a Mermaid without hurting any fish:

*Luxurious Mermaid Mock Tuna Salad Sandwich
Ingredients
2 cups nuts (almonds and cashews work best)
1-cup seaweed
Seafood seasoning
1 lemon, juiced
Salt
Pepper
Garlic powder
Sea salt
Brewer’s yeast
Olive oil
Celery, chopped
Romaine lettuce
Cherry tomatoes
Gradually blend 2 cups of nuts into powder in the blender. Then blend a cup of seaweed. Put it in a bowl and mix it with the seafood seasoning, lemon, salt, pepper, garlic powder, sea salt, and brewers yeast. Mix with olive oil until it is the consistency of tuna salad. Finely chop celery and mix in as well. Take romaine lettuce leaves and spoon in the tuna salad. Place cherry tomatoes on top. Wrap in the lettuce leaf.

Thanks for including me, I love your Mermaid book Carolyn!

And thank you fellow mermaid lovers for reading. To contact me or see my art/books/and music please go to DameDarcy.com.

Anton Strout’s Dead, Mermaidless Waters

22 Feb

So as you undoubtedly know, America’s Favorite Lower Midlist Urban Fantasy Writer Anton Strout has a new book coming out today: Dead Waters, book #4 in his Simon Canderous series.

I knew that a book with a title like that would involve sea creatures of some type or another, and was rather appalled to learn that it contains no mermaid or mermaid-type creature whatsoever. What does Anton DO for all those pages, then? I suppose we will all find out soon enough. In the meantime, I ask Anton about this shocking oversight and its many implications in the following interview.

But first: let me point out that Anton is not the only one with a shocking lack of sympathy for the mermaid kind, as you will see in this guest post I did for Warren Ellis last week.

Also: let me point out that Anton is one of the loveliest, sweetest, funniest, charmingest peoples around, despite his obvious shortcomings. In fact the writer Jeanine Cummins and I workshopped with Anton for many years in New York and we all wrote our first books together, over bowls of nachos and large margaritas, and then all ended up joining a workshop with novelist Jennifer Belle, where Anton earned infamy and nonstop mockery for writing a scary story about a donkey lady.

Also: for his 40th birthday last year, Anton’s wife threw him a surprise ZOMBIE PARTY. Even yours truly dressed as a zombie for Anton, so you know he can’t be that bad.

So Anton, I understand that your new book involves sea monsters and sea mythology. Can you tell me about that?
Without giving away too much about the plot of Dead Waters, let me just say that most of my books take place in Manhattan, where strange paranormal things occur more regularly that delays on the F train. I write about all aspects of the city, but let us not forget… Manhattan is an island, surrounded by water as my 7th grade teacher taught me, so I thought it would be fun to explore the allure of where the rivers and ocean meet and what type of creatures might lurk beneath the waves. I think it’s that unknown world that is so close yet oh so unfathomable to us that called out to me with its wet, bloated, waterlogged hands.

Does your book involve mermaids?
Sadly, it does not. I do have some lovely aqua-zombies and ghosts that linger on certain bridges leading in and out of the city, though. Plus a few surprises I can’t share with your readers here. If it did have mermaids, though, I think they would be vicious with pointy teeth and razor nails. Definitely a tail that could whip around and the fin’s sharpness would flay a man open, leaving him to drown underwater in a pool of salty water and his own blood… man, I’m hungry now. But no, I have no mermaids in my series…yet.

Do you feel this lack of mermaids was a terrible oversight, or do you have some more subversive reasoning?
I’M COMFORTABLE WITH MY SEXUALITY.. WHY DID YOU ASK? *cough* I’m sorry, what was the question? Oh right, my lack of mermaids…. Listen, Carolyn, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this sick obsession you have with these half fish/half women creatures… you need to stop. It’s unhealthy.

But still, isn’t it strange to have a book called Dead Waters that involves magical creatures and to leave out mermaids?
It’s not strange at all! First of all, they’re just… weird, right? There’s too many questions about them that go unanswered, and that frankly, means they’re not fit to be in my fiction! For instance, does a mermaid ever have opposite body parts? Like, do you ever see the bottom half of a lady with a fish torso and head? Hmm.. wait. I think they have that in my first edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.. it’s called a maidmer. I think I remember being seduced by one when I was playing D&D in college. See? They’re confusing!

As a man who wore silver unicorn cufflinks to his own wedding and writes stories about donkey ladies, clearly you have a deep love of hybrid creatures. So you must love you some mermaids, deep down. Right?
But my main series is urban fantasy! See? Urban! Right there in the title. Fish ladies don’t belong in a city environment… well, maybe if the city is Atlantis… perhaps I’ve judged them too harshly.

Party invitation for Anton's first book


What is your feeling about mermaids generally?

The general philosophy of Manhattan’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs (the supernatural policing agency in Dead Waters, the fourth book in the Simon Canderous series out as of 2/22) has usually been pretty simple: Shoot first, Stake first, Holy water first, Silver bullet first, Ask questions later. Given that, I think there’d be a real risk of a mermaid ending up with a harpoon through her before an opinion could be formed on the merpeople of the world. Me, however, I’m a lover of all the ladies of the world…I be the Lando Calrissian to their Princess Leia… and I have been known to do a rousing rendition of Under the Sea.

You told me that my book Mermaid made you cry on the bus. Was that guilt you were feeling?
Sometimes a writer reads something by another writer that moves him to tears, that makes him say ‘damn, this is some fine writing! I wish I had written that!’ This, however, was not one of those times. I may have been a little bit motion sick. It certainly wasn’t the compelling characters or the interesting take on a familiar tale you crafted with warmth and exacting attention to detail. Hmmm.. familiar tale? Or should that be tail?

Are you planning to write something about mermaids soon, to make up for your terrible oversight?
I don’t think there have been any zombie mermaid tales out there that I’m aware of, so perhaps!

[Actually, there totally are, as you will see in an upcoming ZOMBIE MERMAID interview with zombie queen Michelle Suhar McCrary]

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids, other than to avoid your books?
Oh please. It’s not just mermaids… I tell all readers to avoid my books! I mean who wants to read books that are kind of a mix of Ghostbusters with a Joss Whedonesque sensibility that will delight readers, as it did Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse books), who gave me this kind quote: “Following Simon’s adventures is like being the pinball in an especially antic game, but it’s well worth the wear and tear.”

And finally and most importantly, who ARE the Dorks of the Round Table?
The DotRT were a group of misguided young writers who thought maybe they’d get off the butts—fishtailed or otherwise—and start writing instead of slacking around as they had been. And guess what? Those three writers all became published authors! One of them, Jeanine Cummins, wrote a telling tribute to some lost members of her family that went on to do quite well in the stores before turning her eye to fiction. The other one, a Miss Carolyn Turgeon, went on to write glorious works of literature, or so she thought… I always knew she was really a fantasy writer I mean she writes about magical fish ladies, and if that isn’t like an episode of Star Trek or something from The Lord of the Rings, I don’t know what is!. And me? The last Dork of the Round Table? Well, I became America’s Favorite Lower Midlist Urban Fantasy Author™! You see? If you have the perseverance of a certain little mermaid, maybe you too can make something special of yourselves in this world… just… like… us! See what I did there? Full circle, baby, full freakin’ circle!

The Mertailor Eric Ducharme and his Wondrous Tails

21 Feb

So a few weeks ago I was in Florida for familial reasons and selflessly took a day out to drive over to the city of live mermaids, Weeki Wachee Springs, which if you don’t know about now you will soon, to meet some extremely glamorous former mermaids – 71-year-old Vicki Smith and 61-year-old Barbara Wynns, both of whom are completely gorgeous and inspirational and will appear here in the next week or so to possibly blow your minds. Vicki and Barbara both perform in alumni shows at Weeki Wachee and run the Sirens of the Deep mermaid camp that yours truly will participate in in May.

I know. There is still room in said camp, FYI.

In between meeting Vicki for lunch in Brooksville, Florida, and Barbara at her mermaid-filled river home in Weeki Wachee early that eve, I drove up to some Crystal River, Florida, past manatee parks and clam shacks and signs that warn you to look out for loose bears, to meet Eric Ducharme, the Mertailor, a 20-year-old merman and tailmaker, at his home studio. It was a wet, smoldering kind of afternoon in West Florida, which is really the ideal kind of afternoon to meet brilliant young mens in their houses after being told how amazing they are by former and did I mention highly glamorous mermaids.

So Eric has performed as a merman for years, and is one of the top tailmakers in the business (there are others, too, whom I will talk to here). If you want a realistic and gorgeous-looking mermaid tail and are far too lazy to make your own a la Hannah Mermaid, you might want to get one of his. I first read about him, by the way, because he made Cynthia von Buhler’s mermaid tail for an infamous Manhattan party she threw last fall whilst reclining in a bathtub, surrounded by oil spill mermaids. More about that in an upcoming post. But when planning such stupendous soirees and in need of tail-like accoutrements, Eric would be the one to call. Super luxurious and incredibly gorgeous, his tails can range from a few hundred to few thousand smackers.

While we talked, Eric did mysterious, magical things to a black latex tail as a line of super stunning silicone tails glittered and winked alluringly in the background.

So how long have you been making mermaid/mermen tails?
I started off as The Mertailor Eric Ducharme and formed Mertailor LLC. I have been in operation for approximately five years.

What got you interested in merfolk generally?
My grandparents lived behind Weeki Wachee Springs. The mermaids and their tails intrigued me since I was five years old. My first memory at Weeki Wachee was standing in front of the glass, so close I could hear and feel the bubbles as I watched a dark-haired mermaid swim by in a gold lame mermaid tail.

When did you begin performing as a merman? How does a 15 year old get into this line of work?
I began attending mermaid camps at Weeki Wachee in the summers and when I was nine I met Barbara Wynns, my “mermaid mother.” She is a great woman and mentor. I love her dearly! Barbara was like me and knew how much I wanted to get in that spring on the airhose [Weeki Wachee mermaids breathe through an airhose]. She saw my potential and passion. She gave me my first mermaid tail, and had me scuba certified at thirteen. After that she had permission to train me on the airhose and showed me all of the ropes to becoming an underwater performer. I learned from the best – from Barbara and the other former mermaids. On the weekends and after school, Barbara would come pick me up from home and bring me to Weeki. We would swim in the spring, practice my ballet, and work on putting together underwater routines just for fun. Those were the days!

At sixteen years old, I was hired as a merman/underwater performer. They call the guys princes, but I saw myself a little bit differently. I knew all of the ballet. I had always gotten complimented from fellow current/former mermaids on my form and underwater talent. I knew all of the numbers to each show in and out, every part, and every character. It was very unusual to get hired at sixteen. The rule was you always had to eighteen years old to become a mermaid, but they made an exception for me. It normally takes six months to train for a part in the show, but I was in my first show within a few weeks of getting hired. My biggest fear was jumping off of the roof into the water. After my first time jumping in, they could not stop me! It became one of my favorite things to do.

When did you first start making mermaid tails — and what inspired you to do it?
This is a tough question! I cannot remember the first time I ever created a mermaid/man tail, but I can think back to all of the time I tried! From garbage bags, masking tape, fabric, bed sheets, you name it, it was a mermaid tail! I guess I always wanted my own tail. Unfortunately, my parents did not understand at the time, so I got creative like every young child does. I used what I had and tried my own. My grandmother has sewn me tails. One after another. She eventually got tired and said that I needed to learn how to make me own. She taught me some basic sewing ropes and I took it over. I got pretty good with my little sewing machine!

I was making underwater costumes for Weeki here and there when I was about fourteen. I would donate mermaid tails, just to see them in the show and take photos of them! When I was fifteen, I received an order for fourteen tails from Weeki, then at sixteen, another order for fourteen tails, and it just went on from there.

What is involved in making a really great tail?
Love, passion, sweat, and tears always go into making each and every one of my mermaid tails. It’s not easy to create a workable mermaid tail. The great thing is that not only do I make them, but I also perform and swim in them myself. This allows me to make the best of the best.

Do people seem to transform when they put on one of your tails — and in what ways, aside from the obvious?
Let’s just say many of the models that I work with on photoshoots have no idea what they were expecting until they put one of our mermaid tails on. For many children, the ability to have and wear one of our mermaid tails means the world to them. That is what makes my job so special, making dreams come true.

I understand that you rent performance-sized aquariums as well. How does that work?
We do not rent the tanks. However, we hire out our traveling performance. Our traveling performances take place in a 900-gallon acrylic aquarium that is mobile. It fits into most venues with some restrictions. The tank allows us to perform short underwater ballet numbers or underwater posing mermaids or mermen. This type of performance is normally hired for night clubs and large scaled events.

You have mermaids and mermen for hire for events, right? How do you select mermaids and mermen? What makes a good mermaid and a good merman?
Yes, we do hire mermaids and mermen for events. From time to time we get phone calls from clients wanting mermaids for a pool party or a corporate event. Most of our mermaids are models or performers that we have worked with in the past. A great personality and positive attitude makes a good mermaid. It takes a lot to put on a tail and make it work.

Does it ever seem that mermen get the short shrift?
It’s funny you should ask that. When I first started out at fifteen years old, I was always put down for being a guy who wore a tail. However, with a positive attitude I am able to gain respect for what I do. Mermaids are more popular, but mermen do get a fair amount of attention! I always say; “How do you get mermaids without mermen?”

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids and mermen?
Live your dream. Don’t stop dreaming. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do what you want to in life. Always give 110% to everything that you do. If you want something bad enough, you will eventually get it!

Jane Yolen’s Mermaids

17 Feb

So Jane Yolen has written about a zillion books and won a ton of awards and been called the “American Hans Christian Andersen” by Newsweek and a “modern day Aesop” by the New York Times and she knows all about myths and fairytales and folklore and fables and, of course, mermaids. I met her at FaerieCon last November when I was on a panel or two with her and she sat there all sage and glamorous saying all kinds of smart things, which was really very obnoxious of her, almost as obnoxious as receiving six honorary doctorates in literature,which she’s also done. I mean really.

She’s the kind of lady you want to sit down in front of a fire with on a dark night and listen to her spin tales and tell you all kinds of secrets while you drink hot cocoa and watch them stars glitter above you. But much as I would have liked to have done this and to have brought you along with me I was forced by the cruelty of the modern world to send her a few mermaidly questions over Facebook instead. She graciously answered as follows.

I understand that you have actually seen a mermaid. Can you tell me about that?
Well, not a real one, but one of the Malysian mers that the native people constructed, sewing a monkey’s head and torso onto the tail of a very large fish, possibly a carp. They then sold these to believing young British tars in Victorian and Edwardian times as “mermaids washed up on the shore.”

I was in Greenwich, England, and had found a wonderful antique store and was pottering around. There in a large glass case with brass fittings was this horrific stuffed creature staring glassily at me. I gasped, said, “My God, a Malysian Mer!” and the shopkeeper suddenly materialized by my side, “You know what it is!” he whispered in my ear. Luckily it was already sold. Don’t know WHAT my husband and kids would think if I’d shipped the thing home.

I took a photo, though alas I have NO idea where that is now. Had it pinned to my bulletin board for years.

Can you tell me about some of your mermaid fiction, and what inspired you and continues to inspire you to write about mermaids?
I love mermaids as one of the great metaphors, mermen as well. Swimming in the world’s amniotic fluid. Sexy and mysterious and sometimes vituperative, and often predatory. Ah yes.

Wrote a number of stories about mer creatures, including several about selchies. I have always lived near bodies of water, am drawn to it. The Hudson in New York as a child; Long Island Sound as a teen; now the Connecticut River is a block from my house and I love walking there. And my house in Scotland is only a few minutes from the North Sea.

What are some of your favorite mermaid tales?
The Little Mermaid, of course but the original Andersen, not the Disney. The Great Selchie of Sule Skerry.

In your research, have you come across any surprising mermaid lore?
Certain merfolk are extremely predacious, especially in Slavic stories, and while they shouldn’t have surprised me, it did. I was also surprised by the number of mermen stories around, and ended up writing a book about it, called THE FISH PRINCE and other mermen stories.

What do you think about mermaids in popular culture?
I think we need to remember that, as with all magical creatures, thinking of them as simply pretty and cute is a mistake. In the old tales, they are tricksy, seductive, amoral, uncaring. They are simply. . .NOT human, and we shouldn’t try to make them so.

How would you describe the allure of mermaids generally?
It is the allure of the beautiful, unattainable, mysterious Other. In every culture in every clime, there are stories of such creatures in the oceans, rivers, ponds, wells. Water is such a mutable, magical substance itself, the human imagination simply cannot believe it’s not peopled as the earth is. We WANT there to be such underwater civilizations and
not finding them we invent them and then turn around and believe in our own invention. I love that.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Snorkle.
Learn to swim.
Watch out for Man-of-wars and sharks.
What you don’t know about the water CAN kill you.

Patti Stanger on the Little Mermaid and Unrequited Love

14 Feb

So I have a deep love for reality television, I can’t help it, and I am a fan of The Millionaire Matchmaker, Ms. Patti Stanger, who sets up lovelorn and often deeply offensive millionaires and millionairesses with lowly folk who have a high tolerance for basic unlikability and lots of ca$h. She’s outspoken and funny and possibly psychic.

Now, Patti has no real connection to mermaids, I know. But if you want to talk about lovelorn would-be lovers who have a whole lot of bad luck and might need the help of a tough-talking professional matchmaker, one need not look much further than the little mermaid herself, and I am talking about Hans Christian Andersen’s little mermaid and not that flame-haired harlot Ariel. Because as you should know, in the original little mermaid story the mermaid doesn’t get her man at all, she just swoons and longs for the hot human prince—and his soul—and she lets a witch cut out her tongue, and takes a potion to change her tail to legs so she can leave the sea behind and stare doe-eyed at the prince who never loves her back and ends up marrying someone else altogether.

It is not coincidental that Hans Christian Andersen himself was rather spectacularly unlucky in love as well, always falling head over heels for ladies and gentleman alike who never loved him back. He was always heartbroken, most likely forever celibate, and considered deeply unattractive by his peers, even when he was totally rich and famous and hanging out with people like Charles Dickens, who posted the following sign on the guest room door after Hans came to visit him: “Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks which seemed to the family AGES.” Poor Hans. He actually wrote The Little Mermaid in a fit of heartbroken despair when his good friend Edvard Collin was off getting married to a ladyfriend rather than giving it up to Hans.

So I thought a professional matchmaker and love expert like Patti Stanger might have some advice for the woeful Hans and his lovelorn creation—not to mention for those among us who might follow in their unrequited pathways this Valentine’s Day morning.

So after talking to her assistant over email, I called Patti one bright morning a couple of months ago and caught her at the breakfast table, where she and I had the following conversation.

So Patti, I’m wondering if you are a fan of mermaids?
Yeah, I am a fan. I think they’re mystical and magical and sexy and romantic and I kind of wonder if they exist.

Do you think humans can use mermaid allure to attract the opposite sex?
Probaby… if they exist. To be honest, that’s kind of a stupid question. I mean it’s kind of weird. But I do believe there’s something magical about them.

Are you familiar with the original Hans Christian Andersen story?
Umm yeah. They fall in love and she gets legs or something?

In the original story she makes all these sacrifices to get to the human world to be with him. She gives up her tail for legs, she makes an exchange with the sea witch where she gives up her most valuable asset, her voice, for a potion that will allow her to change her tail into legs. She gets her tongue cut out, she leaves her world, she goes up on land and has this painful transformation and the prince actually never falls in love with her.
Oooh. I don’t like that story.

It’s actually very beautiful, but it’s very sad. And Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote it, also had a very sad life where he was very unlucky in love and he fell in love with everyone, men and women, and no one ever loved him back. And he never had sex, ever. And so I was wondering, and I know all these questions are kind of silly.. but I was wondering if you had any kind of advice for humans who wanted to avoid those kinds of fates, or for the little mermaid specifically?
Well I think you have to stop living in a fantasy world, and fall in love with someone who falls in love with you. Stop going after people where it’s unrequited. He was obviously obsessed with unrequited love.

He was, yeah.
He dated out of his own league. Maybe he went for too pretty girls instead of for someone in his own comfort zone.

Is this something you come across a lot?
Oh yeah. Everyone wants somebody they can’t have. Absolutely. It’s everyday life.

How do you deal with those people?
There really is no way to deal with anybody. You basically just have to grow up, stop going after people who don’t want you. I mean that’s basically the case.

As a professional matchmaker, what do you think a more appropriate match for the little mermaid might have been?
How about a male mermaid or a pirate? Are there male mermaids?

Yes, they’re quite underrepresented but there are some, I believe.
Well if they’re there, she should go for someone in her own world.

What about for women who kind of share that problem in the real world, that over-fantasized approach to love?
I think you have to stop it, stop pining away for someone who doesn’t want you. The more you keep doing it the more fucked up you’re going to become, to be honest with you. It doesn’t serve you any purpose to be hurt every single time. You’ve got to be crack crazy if that’s what you’re going to do.

Well then what do you do? How does someone refocus that energy on more appropriate people?
You have to learn your lesson. It’ll take some time, but you’ve got to move on. One time should be enough. I mean, you need to find a fit. Sometimes people will like you and you don’t like them back and that’s okay. There just needs to be a fit. It’s not just go for someone who likes you, you need to go for someone who likes you who you like, too.

But that’s part of what you do, right, to figure out what that fit is?
My job is to make revibrations. Maybe there’s a matchmaker for mermaids out there in the ocean, I don’t know.

What is revibration?
What people don’t say. The subliminal things. That’s vibration. What you’re thinking or feeling but you can’t really see. It’s kind of ethereal. See, it’s being psychic, its being psychic. The little mermaid needs to see a fortuneteller. Or better yet an astrologer, that’s what I would say. An astrologer who can look at your planets to see why you keep attracting people who don’t love you back and tells you what the problem is.

So you need to seek outside help?
If Hans Christian Andersen kept going for women who were out of his league and never had sex and never made love with anyone, someone needed to set his ass straight, he lived in a fantasy world. Seek outside counsel, is what I would say.

Well I guess that’s everything, unless you have any other thought about mermaids that you would like to share?
Well. Has anyone ever captured a mermaid?

I don’t think I’ve found that yet. But there’s a town in Israel where they’ve been sighted and the mayor is giving out a million dollar reward. I’m interviewing the town’s spokesman soon.
Oh! What’s the name of the town?

I can’t remember. It’s near Haifa, but I’m not sure…
Near Haifa?! Wow. That’s wild.

The mayor’s giving out a million-dollar reward for the first person who can provide a photograph.
Tell them not to kill it. Don’t kill her.

Okay, I will.


Then Patti asked if I wanted to talk to her best friend, world-famous astrologer Terry Nazon, who happened to be sitting across the table from her. So there was more talk on mermaids and love, but that will be part two of this interview. Maybe later this week. If you’re lucky.

Matthea Harvey’s Mermaid Poems

11 Feb

A few months back The New Yorker printed the following astonishingly awesome poem by poetess Matthea Harvey:

The Straightforward Mermaid

The straightforward mermaid starts every sentence with “Look . . . ” This comes from being raised in a sea full of hooks. She wants to get points 1, 2, and 3 across, doesn’t want to disappear like a river into the ocean. When she’s feeling despairing, she goes to eddies at the mouth of the river and tries to comb the water apart with her fingers. The straightforward mermaid has already said to five sailors, “Look, I don’t think this is going to work,” before sinking like a sullen stone. She’s supposed to teach Rock Impersonation to the younger mermaids, but every beach field trip devolves into them trying to find shells to match their tail scales. They really love braiding. “Look,” says the straightforward mermaid. “Your high ponytails make you look like fountains, not rocks.” Sometimes she feels like a third gender—preferring primary colors to pastels, the radio to singing. At least she’s all mermaid: never gets tired of swimming, hates the thought of socks.

——
I know. So of course I felt it was my duty to contact Matthea and see if this poem was an anomaly for her or if she has a larger interest in mermaids and/or mermaid poetry generally, and it turns out she is mad for mermaids! And that she is writing a whole series of prose poems, which she sent to me in its current form and which is so gorgeous and lovely and strange I fell asleep immediately after reading it and then woke up days later with glittering fish scales on both hands. Well, figuratively.

She also sent said poems in a Word doc entitled “mermaidsforcarolyn” which I secretly think should be the title of every document, especially those created by poetesses. I cannot of course reprint these mermaidsforcarolyn poems on this blog, much as it resembles The New Yorker, but here is just one teeny tidbit from one of them, “The Backyard Mermaid,” which is about a bored mermaid in a bird bath and contains lines like this one: “On days when there’s no sprinkler to comb through her curls, no rain pouring in glorious torrents from the gutters, no dew in the grass for her to nuzzle with her nose, not even a mud puddle in the kiddie pool, she wonders how much longer she can bear this life.”

I KNOW.

So my interview with Matthea is below and here, too, is a picture of her as that less appreciated and perhaps before-its time hybrid, the human-rabbit.

So Matthea, how long have you been writing about mermaids?
“The Straightforward Mermaid” was my first poem about a mermaid. There was a year and a half interval between the first and the second one, and then I wrote mermaid poems all fall (“The Backyard Mermaid,” “The Homemade Mermaid,” “The Tired Mermaid,” “The Impatient Mermaid,” “The Deadbeat Mermaid”, “Inside Out Mermaid” and I’m still at work on “The Morbid Mermaid.”) They arrived in a flock. What do you call a group of mermaids? A school? A flurry? A frenzy? I guess if you put my mermaids together they’d have to be a mob, since they’re all pretty badly behaved.

What is it that draws you to them?
I love that when mermaids die they turn into sea foam. More generally, I’m intrigued by hybrids, though I dislike unicorns. My last book, Modern Life, featured centaurs, griffins and some invented hybrids: gazelleboy, catgoats and Roboboy (a character who is half robot and half boy.) Hybrids are fun to write about because they physically embody the divisions and contradictions we all experience on the inside. Imagine if we looked on the outside how we felt on the inside. Yikes.

Can you describe your mermaid poetry?
They’re prose poems (since prose poems are hybrids of poetry and prose it seemed like the right form) and they circle around a mermaid who is labeled with an adjective which has to end in “t” or “d.” I made that rule up arbitrarily since I wrote “The Straightforward Mermaid” because I liked the sound of that pair of words. My mermaids are the opposite of Ariel, the Disney mermaid—one is unsure of her gender; another abandons her children (“The Filets”); another has her organs on the outside.

What do you think the appeal of mermaids is generally?
Well, we learn about them usually when we’re quite young and can still believe in things like mermaids and fairies, so I think that’s a large part of it. Also, maybe it’s a case of “the seaweed is always greener…” I’m mixed about them now—on the one hand, they’re these powerful mythical figures whose beautiful singing can make sailors go off course and drown, so they’re the ultimate distraction—like the internet! On the other hand, the Hans Christian Andersen story of the little mermaid is so sad. It’s beautiful, but she gets a terrible deal—to live on land she has to lose her voice and have legs that pain her (feminist symbolism anyone?), and leave behind her family and friends. Then, after all that, she tries to kill herself (rather than kill the prince which is how she could become a mermaid again) and instead is made into a spirit and told she will eventually go to heaven. It’s romantic to imagine giving everything up for love, but not very practical. Have you read Barbara Ensor’s Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Already Know the Story?) and Thumbelina (Tiny Runaway Bride)? They’re illustrated with marvelous papercuts and have main characters with more volition, which I like.

Do you yourself have any secret (or not) mermaidly aspirations?
In a way, I’ve already been one! My sister Ellen Harvey is an artist and many years ago I was the hand model for this painting of a mermaid in her “Low Tech Special Effects” series.

We went to Chinatown and bought this large fish, which she then laid on her messenger bag and had me put my hands (note the blue nail polish) in that mermaid-y pose. She took some Polaroids and then made this oil painting, which I love. Ellen and I made a joint new year’s resolution that this year we’re going to go to the mermaid parade in Coney Island. Her son Toby, age three, has an amazing babysitter/jewelry designer, Molly Rose, who participates in the parade every year. Once he licked her and told her that she tasted “like a mermaid.” She was very pleased.

Do you have any favorite mermaid art/writing/films etc?
I adore Aimee Bender’s story, “Drunken Mimi,” about a mermaid who can get drunk by having her hair in a beer. The second movie I ever saw was The Water Babies, a nicely hybrid animated movie in which the “real world” was filmed and the underwater world turned cartoon. I don’t remember the water babies having tails though, so they’re not technically mermaids. Underwater small humans. Later, the movie Splash made a big impression on me, though I’m not sure whether I was more envious of Darryl Hannah’s curls or her tail.

I knew Yeats’ and Tennyson’s mermaid poems, but since writing mine I’ve found some great contemporary mermaid poems. I particularly admire Paul Muldoon’s translation of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s “The Mermaid in the Hospital”(when the mermaid wakes up with legs she calls them “two long, cold thingammies) and Douglas Kearney’s “Swimchant of Nigger Mer-folk (an Aquaboogie Set in Lapis).” I’ve just ordered a copy of Paul Muldoon’s translation of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s The Fifty Minute Mermaid.

What about mermen, do you find them inspiring as well?
Apparently not. I seem to have no desire to write a merman poem. But then I had no desire to write a Robogirl poem. Sometimes these characters just arrive with a gender. Why is it that mermen seem somewhat ridiculous? Maybe because they seem a bit neutered? I do have Triton in a poem in my first book, but somehow it’s different if you’re a god.

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Aspiring mermaids should practice swimming with their legs tied together and acquire a pet seahorse.

Come back Monday for some valuable advice from the Millionaire Matchmaker herself.
So I love every show on Bravo, so what. (Next month I’ll put up my interview with Tabatha, too!)

Danielle Uhlarik’s Advice for Young Girls from the Little Mermaid

8 Feb

So you may or may not have seen the following extremely informative video on youtube, Advice for Young Girls from the Little Mermaid, which pulls out some of the main lessons from the Disney film for the edification of young girls – and aspiring mermaids – everywhere:

The video was created by Danielle Uhlarik for The Second City Network (as part of her Advice from a Cartoon Princess series, which also features Danielle as Snow White and Belle) and has been viewed, like, a billion times. So it is sort of weird if you haven’t seen it, frankly. (Second City also brings us the Sassy Gay Friend series, which includes this Hamlet spoof and really should include a little mermaid one, since if anyone needed a sassy gay friend that wasn’t a singing fish, it was Ariel.) There will be much more little mermaid talk, Disney and Hans Christian Andersen style, on this blog in the future. For now, I hope this video and illuminating interview will remind you of the profound message at the heart of both stories: giving up your voice for a hot prince is always a good idea.

So Danielle, what inspired your Advice from a Cartoon Princess series?
A little bit of common sense and a lot of desire to dress up like a princess.

Growing up, my sisters and I loved the fairy tale princesses, as did most little girls, and I also loved shows like Saturday Night Live, The Muppets and Monty Python.  When you marry those inspirations you tend to see things you adore with skepticism, humor and playfulness.

My sisters and I loved to make fun of each other.  But sometimes we’d need breaks, so we’d find other things to mock like the messages in those tales. Definitely was not anything new, and I’m sure many people had the same realizations about the stories. I played around with the idea through various sketches in my Chicago performances. When The Second City started The Second City Network, I decided to convert the messages as “advice for little girls” so it would fit better in a web video format.

What kind of response have you gotten?
The response to the series has been so phenomenal. I have to credit The Second City for their incredible work on the production, because they visually brought the material to life. The series has been featured on various entertainment sites: Entertainment Weekly‘s PopWatch, The Huffington Post Comedy, Jezebel, and many more.  But I adore how much it has been passed around Twitter and Facebook.  When The Little Mermaid video was released, it was the #4 Tweeted video that week, thanks to everyone who passed it along.

I have received everything from Hollywood studio meetings to marriage proposals to gender studies papers to this blog’s interview. But I love hearing that people are entertained by it.

Is the little mermaid secretly your favorite cartoon princess?
She definitely has my favorite costume. Seashell bikini tops = never out of fashion.

How was it, dressing like a mermaid and being surrounded by animated bubbles and sea plants?
The most fun I’ve had as an adult since last weekend, when a bartender didn’t believe I was older than 21. That was so much fun.

Do you ever secretly suspect you might be a mermaid?
No, absolutely not.

I mean, I can breathe and sing underwater pretty effortlessly, but no.

There are some sailors who have sculpted images of me on the front of their ships, but no, the idea of being a mermaid is ridiculous.

I maybe thought Splash was a documentary of my people, but to answer your question, no.

How would you compare the little mermaid to the other cartoon princesses?
Like the other princesses, she has no problem falling in love with strangers pretty quickly. She’s also absent a mother figure and maybe doesn’t have a full resume of work experience/skill sets that would impress, say, anyone.

However her hair is red, and she’s a pretty successful hoarder. So, you know, she’s got that going for her.

What do you think Ariel/the little mermaid should have done instead of giving herself a complete physical overhaul, giving up her greatest asset, leaving her family and world, and heading up to the prince’s castle?
Googled or Facebooked that prince first before undergoing so many dramatic changes.  Stranger danger. I know those resources didn’t exist then, but she’s a princess of a sea, so her father had to have some kind of foreign leaders database, or at least knew a guy who knew a guy.

Were you yourself ever unduly influenced by cartoon princesses, as a young lass?
Of course!  I wore the finest princess gear (read: hand-me-down tutu) to help my mom with highly important royal matters of business (read: Walgreens runs for toilet paper). In fact, I still believe there is a little bit of princess in me (read: I’m just waiting for my father to reveal that we’re a super rich royal family, so I can collect my treasure, get a fancy driver, and sleep in past 10am everyday.) 

And what do you think of the Disney movies as opposed to earlier versions of these fairytales (like Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid)? The HCA little mermaid didn’t even get the prince at the end!
I actually remember reading Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid when I was young. I was familiar with the concept that the book’s always better than the movie. That mermaid didn’t succeed and for punishment of trying, she evaporated. The message to kids was more like, if you’re bad, the mermaid will have to live in air molecule limbo for more than 300 years, but if you’re good, maybe we’ll get her out on bail after 299 years.

I’m not sure I was always good kid, but I’ve been known to ring a few bells in my days to make up for any not-so-perfect deeds. If that didn’t save a Hans Christian Andersen mermaid, at least some angel somewhere sprouted wings.  So we’ll call it even.


Later this week: poetess Matthea Harvey and Berlin’s singing mermaid, Lorelei Vanora. Next week: the Millionaire Matchmaker herself, Patti Stanger, gives the little mermaid advice, just in time for Valentine’s Day….

(And Weeki Wachee, later next week!)

Professional Mermaid Hannah Fraser

3 Feb

Hannah Fraser aka Hannah Mermaid is a professional mermaid who swims among coral reefs alongside dolphins and whales and sharks and other sea critters and performs as a mermaid all over the world, educating people about ocean conservation (she works with the Surfers For Cetaceans and Whaleman Foundation to end the slaughter and captivity of whales and dolphins), inspiring others to put on tails and go “mermaiding” which seems to be a new and growing phenomenon and generally being gorgeously dreamy and aquatic. You might have seen her on 20/20 last summer:

And here are some photos in case you don’t believe such a lady exists:

Photo by Stuart Macleod

Photo by Jeff Bedrick

Photo by Ted Grambeau

photo by Cipto Aji Gunawan

I sent Hannah some questions over email, and shall meet her in person in Las Vegas this August, where she’ll be a featured performance at the first annual World Mermaid Awards. That is right. Mermaids from all over the world will converge and be mermaidly together…

but more on that in a riveting future post.

Here is my Q&A with Hannah:

When did you realize you were actually a mermaid? =)
I always identified with being a mermaid when I was swimming as a child, and made my first tail at age nine after seeing the film Splash starring Daryl Hannah. I made my first adult tail nearly eight years ago after doing an underwater modeling  job and realizing I looked more at home underwater than on land. Once I began swimming in the tail I felt that it was a natural movement and very familiar, as if I had found a part of myself that I had just forgotten.

Why do you think mermaids are so popular and appealing to humans?
I thinks it’s because all life originated and evolved out of the ocean and even as humans we swim in liquid for the gestation period before birth. We come from water, we are made up of over 70% water, and when we are swimming we feel like we have come ‘home’. It’s also a way to experience what it would be like to fly, the closest we can get to total weightlessness.

The mermaid myth is a perfect combination of earth meets ocean in a combination of two species.

What is it like, swimming in the ocean with your powerful tail? How different do you feel as a mermaid versus as a normal human woman?
It’s amazing how once I put my tail in it’s like I am imbued with a few extra super powers! I can swim faster with more power and maneuverability, I can hold my breath longer because I am more comfortable and at one with my surroundings, and I have less fear of underwater animals because I feel like I am one of them!

Has any art or literature or film inspired you in your mermaid career?
Splash was instrumental for me in inspiring me to create a mermaid tail. It was the first time I saw a mermaid in film and realised I could create a tail for myself. There was a lot of beautiful mermaid art around as a child that fed my quest for beauty and mystery. I never found many good novels about mermaids… I am still searching!

[disclaimer: obviously Hannah has not yet read Mermaid]

Have you ever seen or met a merman?
I haven’t met a merman with a tail yet ;) but I have had the pleasure of swimming with true watermen such as David Rastovich (pro free surfer) and others who are at one with the ocean and connected to its inhabitants in a way that is truly magical :)

What advice do you have for aspiring mermaids?
Go through the process of creating your own tail. [Hannah offers tail-making and other tips on her website's FAQ page.] It’s hard and there is a lot to consider, but you get a much better understanding of how it works, what fin shapes create power, and how to create a tail that is original and unique. It does bother me that there are so many people just copying a design that someone else created rather than letting their own creative juices flow! Your tail is your signature! Make it unique! As far as getting started as a professional mermaid model, I suggest that you do modeling first so that you understand how to work with cameras, angles and looks. You can also learn to perform by appearing at kids’ parties for free to get started. Talk to dive ships about people who are doing underwater photography to see if they would take your photo to start a portfolio. Get involved in ocean preservation projects to help conserve the mermaids’ home!

Next week: Weeki Wachee!

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