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An illustration from a 1912 publication of the Grimms’ tales in English.

A conversation with speculative fiction authors Max Gladstone and Michael Underwood got me thinking about the importance of the “original” version of stories and other expressive culture to people. Gladstone wrote this blog post about how the Star Wars Expanded Universe is essentially a folkloric variation on a narrative, in the same way that the Greek classics displayed variation even when they were written up into plays and other literary (hence fixed) forms. Underwood, who also has folklore training, leapt in, and the discussion veered into intriguing territory, such as wondering how a version of a text becomes associated with concept of the “original” in someone’s mind.

However, as a folklore instructor, I’ve grown to loathe the concept of the “original” when it comes up in my college classes. This is due to two conflated meanings that I’ll unpack here.

The first – and incorrect – way that references to the “original” crop up in my classes is as an assertion of origin. As in, a student saying that the “original” Cinderella was dark and gory.

Um, no. First, that’s usually a reference to the Grimms’ version of Cinderella, in which the stepsisters cut off toes and/or heels to try to fit into the shoe, and get their eyes pecked out by birds at Cinderella’s wedding to the prince. But even then, are we talking about the 1812 version of Cinderella, from when the Grimms first published their collection of tales, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), or from the 7th and final revision which appeared in 1857, or any of the intervening revisions? And then what about translations? We know from various folklore studies that Victorian-era English translators changed bunches based on social norms and ideas about acceptability for child audiences.

Between publication and translation issues, it’s difficult to talk about the “original” version of a fairy tale, even when someone has a specific version in mind. Then you throw in the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to determine when the first existing version of something from oral tradition came into being, and yeah… it’s hardly worth talking about. (for what it’s worth, though, the oldest written version of something resembling Cinderella comes from 9th century China, which means it was likely circulating in oral tradition well before that)

See, I’m not drawn to the pursuit of the origins of older folklore. It might be an intriguing research question, for some people, some of the time… but it’s not why I’m here. I’m in folklore studies because we have our scholarly fingers on the pulse of what people (consciously or not) find relevant enough to transmit, perform, and enact.

Anyway, in folklore studies the question of the “original” is essentially a meaningless one, unless you’re working with a phenomenon that is so recent or so thoroughly documented that you can, in fact, point at the first instance of something. But usually it comes together from a swirl of existing cultural material that get remixed in just the right way to cohere and resonate with people.

The second meaning that the “original” can have in folklore studies (and one that bugs me far less, though I wish we had better language for it) is meaning the first version that stuck with you. So it’s a more subjective meaning, and therefore can’t really be debated in the same way as the first meaning. Which is fine – but people need to realize that the first version they were exposed to isn’t necessarily going to be the same for everyone.

In Fairy Tales and Feminism: New ApproachesDonald Haase covers reception and reader response approaches to fairy tales in his introductory essay. One of the scholars he mentions, Kay Stone, has done pioneering work with women’s and children’s memories of and responses to gender roles in fairy tales. Among Stone’s findings is the impressive insight that women selectively remembered the heroines of fairy tales, sometimes making them more active and heroic than passive, even when their roles in the text seem largely passive. Otherwise, there hasn’t been a ton of work in this area that I know of (at one point I was going to do a study, but the IRB permissions were complicated, given that I wanted to work with children).

For fairy tales specifically, yes, we can blame Disney and their aggressive copyright laws for a lot of the hype around the “original” version of something, down to the color and cut of a princess’s dress. But we should also take into account the intellectual fascination with morphologies and genealogies dating back to the Romantic era and the philological foundations of modern literary, historical, linguistic, and anthropological studies. I’ve got a rant about authenticity, and how every cultural tradition is invented, that I’ll get around to writing up eventually, which would tie in nicely here.

If we each have our own personal first-exposure version of a text – whether a tale type, or a custom, or a proper way of preparing a holiday food – then that can be a potentially interesting avenue of study. When was someone first exposed to the text? By whom? Which facets of it stuck with them (motifs and themes; structure; context) and which are more malleable? How does this color their interactions with other versions of the same plot, text, or tale type?

The personal-first-exposure meaning (we need to find a better term than your original version) is intriguing and grants that our unique life experiences shape our interactions with cultural materials. This is more empowering – and more accurate – than trying to determine which version of something came first, since that’s often a question that leads back to historically privileged individuals and groups (e.g. those with literacy, the power to record their lives, and so on).

So please remove the “original” from your vocabulary when in a folklore context. And check out my other folklore pet peeves, too, such as when people assume we write children’s books, or that all folklorists are obsessed with origins, or that everybody already knows everything there is to know about folklore.

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A selfie as I’m on my way to teach (while undoubtedly juggling a billion other tasks in my head).

For the second installation in my blog series on being a workaholic, I’d like to talk about my lack of social life.

If you know me IRL, you might be thinking, “What?! Jeana, you have a thriving social life, what on earth are you talking about?!”

And… to a degree you’d be right. When there’s an event or a group that I prioritize, I’m there. For example, I’m dedicated to promoting the belly dance community in Indianapolis, so I’m teaching classes two nights a week, spending other nights rehearsing or performing, and so on. I help run a local sex-positive meet-up group, so I’m visible in that community. And so on.

Except I don’t actually have that many personal social commitments. And I prefer to keep it that way.

Part of the way I experience being a workaholic is an intense commitment to, and inflation of the significance of, the causes which are important to me. So it’s not just that I’m an educator, it’s that I’m saving the world through education. I’m not just a sex educator, I’m saving the world through sex education. My research and writing and teaching and blogging and dancing and art are all part of my mission to bring progressive thought and acceptance of non-heteronormative sexuality/gender and bodies of all kinds to the rest of the world.

I have the fervor and zeal of a new convert, and in some ways that’s true: since turning away from academia and pursuing an alt-ac career, I’ve felt newly infused with a sense of purpose and a drive toward relevance. Getting a PhD was fun, but I wasn’t overly concerned with improving anyone’s life but my own for the majority of that process. Now that I’ve hopped on the alt-ac bandwagon, and become more of an activist in sexuality circles, though, I’ve become rather outspoken about the need for more education (sexuality and otherwise) in pretty much every aspect of life. And it fills me with a righteous sense of passion and indignation and must fix this now.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound naive, but I truly believe that educational opportunities and communication skills and tolerance for diversity can help save the world. So when someone asks if I have time to hang out, time during which I could be blogging or preparing a lesson plan or conducting research or networking at a sexuality professionals meetup – all converging toward this glorious end goal of saving the world – of course the answer is no, I don’t have time to hang out.

Be right back, saving the world.

It’s cool to get coffee with you a couple times, but I have more important things to do.

Gotta cancel that lunch date… it’ll be my only time to blog today. And so on.

It’s a harsh reality of my world that most people aren’t as interesting to me as my work is. There are exceptions, of course, since I’m not a total hermit: the people I make an effort to stay in touch with, to include in my life, to see somewhat regularly. But the majority of the people I encounter, while lovely individuals, simply do not hold my attention in comparison with (or rather, in competition with) my work.

I do this mental math every time I receive an invitation to a social event, whether it’s a group thing or a one-on-one hangout. I hate to admit this publicly – or at all – but it’s what happens in my brain.

If this is the price I pay for helping to change the world through education, well, I’m kinda okay with that. I try to train the people in my life to not take it personally. Not sure how much success I’ve had, but ah well… since this is is Workaholic Missives post I can point people toward it in the future, right?!

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Dressed for the academic classroom, posed in front of my voluminous bookshelves.

I’ve had this website for a few years now, and the tagline at the top of the site has always been: “Jeana Jorgensen, PhD. Folklorist, Writer, Dancer.”

Now that’s changed.

The three main words haven’t changed. I may not be seeking full-time employment in academia anymore, but I haven’t stopped being a folklore scholar. In fact, just last month I attended a small working symposium on digital trends in fairy-tale scholarship. I’m a little cranky (to put it mildly) in the general direction of academia right now… but being a folklorist is too ingrained into my identity for me to ever give up identifying as such. It influences how I understand the world around me, how I learn, and how I teach.

Similarly, I’ve been dancing for over half my life, and I plan to dance for the rest of it. I now direct a professional troupe, Indy Tribal, and I’ve learned tons from my students about trust and teaching. Dance is somewhere between a hobby that pays for itself (YAY) and an all-consuming passion, and as such it’s an essential part of my identity.

I’ve grappled more with the title of “writer” than the previous two. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in 4th grade, but I gave up writing fiction and poetry (my primary two loves) in favor of nailing nonfiction skills in grad school. And it worked. I wrote and published a lot. Recently, though, I’ve been getting back into the idea of writing more for pleasure, and returning to some of my early ideas about writing. But no matter what I’m writing, or for which audience, writing has been a constant in my life. I write for myself in the form of journals; I write for various blogs; I write endless to-do lists; I write scholarly articles. It’s a part of me at this point.

Now, however, I’m adding the tagline of (Sex) Educator to this website. I have a separate site devoted to my sex education work, but I want this site, which is my main web presence, to reflect that this is a part of my identity too.

See, I didn’t set out to become an educator of any sort, let alone a sex educator, but it’s evolved into a huge part of my identity, and it’s time I recognized that.

I’ve become a person who will have a conversation about rape culture with just about anyone, in the hopes that even though it’s an emotionally fatiguing topic, maybe someone will reach a new understanding of it. I’ve decided to keep adjuncting in large part because even though it’s exploitative labor, I love teaching too much to remove that venue from my life. I teach dance two and sometimes three nights a week, much to the consternation of my life partner and anyone else who likes to see me socially, because I just can’t get enough of it. I educate on gender and sexuality topics for little to no pay more than I should, not just because I’m still establishing myself in the field and am taking those pay-in-prestige opportunities for exposure (mixed bag because of undecutting, I know), but also because  this knowledge is too damn important to not be sharing at every chance.

This is why I’ve added “Educator” to the site tagline, with “Sex” in parentheses. I’m an educator who also happens to be a sex educator. I love making knowledge and concepts accessible and relevant… and I’m particularly good at unpacking the tangled mess of gender, sex, and sexuality, thanks in part to my upbringing. At one time, with only a few years of sex education blogging under my belt, I balked at calling myself a sex educator. Now? I embrace the title.

Anyway, I’m still deciding if I visually like the addition of (Sex) Educator to my website header, but I’m probably going to keep some version of it. It’s been neat reflecting on the process of getting here!

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Me walking on... onto a pier in Lithuania. Like ya do.

Me walking out… onto a frozen pier in Lithuania. Like ya do.

Before bursting into tears, I managed to shut the door to my office.

The shared computer I normally use to print my lesson plan wasn’t working, and I didn’t know if it was one of the other adjuncts who used the office who’d mucked it up, but I didn’t have the right permissions to print off any other nearby computer. One of the tenured faculty took pity on me and let me print my lesson plan from his office. Normally tech frustrations aren’t enough to make me cry, but there was also some stuff going on in my personal life that enhanced my feelings of helplessness, so out came the tears.

As I sobbed, I remembered thinking: At least I have an office to myself, unlike when I was teaching at ____ University.

Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day. I am not walking out, though I am recycling a (relevant) lesson plan and planning to talk to my students about what adjuncting is and how it fits into some of the power dynamics we’ve been discussing in related topics in our anthropology and gender studies curriculum.

Then again, I’m currently working as an adjunct in the way that I think it “should” be done: it’s not my main income stream. As I’ve written in the past, comparing academia to a very expensive hobby for those of us who aren’t full-time, trying to make it in academia can be very time-consuming and financially all-encompassing. Now that I’m more aware of this reality, I’m able to allot my time and resources better. I seek part-time work to fill in the gaps in my adjuncting schedule (and paycheck), and I’ve adjusted my expectations accordingly (a process I document in my blog post series at Conditionally Accepted).

The system is very broken. My place in it is very unstable (especially since I teach about gender and sexuality, always touchy topics – though perennially popular ones!). Under different circumstances, I might’ve walked out (I’m already canceling a class this semester so I can attend a conference, and I want to reserve an emergency/sick cancellation possibility, etc.). As my anecdote above shows, many adjuncts lack the institutional support they need. The fact that I was so grateful to have an office to (temporarily) call my own, when I was having a break-down before class (which I don’t recommend, by the way), boggles the mind.

I definitely support other walkers-out… but I think, right now, it’s best for me to go in, and teach, and be generally awesome, and gently encourage my students to consider where their tuition money’s going.

Because if other tactics aren’t working – activism, unionizing, and so on – perhaps getting the people paying tuition (students and/or their parents) to start asking the hard questions might get us somewhere. Maybe it’ll take a combination of these things. I don’t know what’ll work, if anything’ll work. But I’m trying.


More resources:

NAWD awareness-raising slideshow presentation

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP)’s background facts on contingent faculty 

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I’ve been thinking recently about where my time and energy get spent, and what I get out of these expenditures. I’m fortunate in that I have a partner who supports me while I’m in my third year on the job market and my second year adjuncting, so I really am in a position of getting to teach because I love it, not because I need to do it to support my household. And yet… there is some cognitive dissonance surrounding this issue.

In a guest post at Conditionally Accepted, I wrote about the difference between valuing my experiences adjunct teaching based on internal vs. external criteria. I find myself returning to that dilemma now, but from a slightly different angle.

Basically, if I’m teaching because I love it, and if I’m uncertain that I’ll ever get hired to do it full-time, does that make it a hobby? Or if I continue to have the mindset that I developed in (hell, before) grad school that working hard enough will eventually net me a job, does my adjuncting become a stepping stone to a full-time career? What are the consequences of either mind-set, for me personally, and for my investment in these options?

Looking at the way I’ve been approaching adjuncting (in the hopes of it turning into a full-time career), it’s difficult not to liken my lived experience of it to a hobby. A very, very expensive hobby. Even if I’m only going to two or three conferences a year, assuming that they’ll be out of state and hence in the $1K-ish range each, that’s still a big chunk of the paycheck that already isn’t enough to support me. Factor in the cost of materials for research, even if it’s mostly books and stuff, and gas money to get to the library, and print articles, and such… and academia – the really involved kind, with publishing and presenting in addition to teaching – can cost a lot of money and time.

For comparison’s sake, I also spend a lot of money and time on my dancing. That one’s also somewhere between a hobby and a career, as I can sometimes swing paying gigs as a teacher and performer. But maybe because I didn’t go into dancing with the expectation of being able to make it a career it doesn’t bother me as much. It’s not like my dance teachers from Day 1 primed me to expect a career in the field if I would just work hard, be persistent, and be very good at what I do.

I wonder if I should be looking at my time in academia more along the lines of the way I look at dancing: something I enjoy doing, something that helps me connect with others, something that lets me teach and help along students while also expressing myself. I really do feel that my dancing contributes something to my community, if only by example (by conveying positive messages about body image, about making art accessible to everyone, stuff like that). I don’t expect to support myself solely by dancing; maybe I would feel less stressed and icky about academia if I didn’t expect to support myself doing it. That’ll no doubt require some more mental work on my end, though, as I definitely went into academia with the intention to make it a full-time career.

I could write more, but I’ll wrap this up. It’s a busy time of year, and if I spend more time thinking about where my energy’s going than actually going out and doing things with that energy, then I’ve likely got something wrong.

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I’m really concerned about education in America. For one thing, the education senate committee in Indiana is recommending that public schools teach creationism. I don’t know whether the motion will pass, but I cannot believe that religious topics are being discussed in a school system that’s still struggling to eradicate bullying and improve literacy rates. I have nothing against people wanting to teach their own creation myths but not in the science classroom, please, and don’t waste time on debating this when basic needs go unmet.

In addition to the tension between religious and secular concerns, the problem, I think, is partly that the quality of American education varies drastically by region and economy, and partly that we focus on competitiveness and testing over promoting equality in the classroom.

This article on the Finnish school system addresses these concerns. Finnish schools have no standardized tests, and there are no private schools. Yet their schoolchildren have some of the top test scores in the world. The hypothesis is that in creating an equal education opportunity for everyone, and by allowing teachers to evaluate the needs of their students rather than conform to a national curriculum meant to produce high test scores, Finland’s children are made to feel comfortable and cooperative in their classroom endeavors, which leads to better learning.

All Finnish schools must be safe and healthy environments: “Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.” Can you imagine what that would be like in America? If kids who were somehow different (shy or nerdy or LGBT or whatever) didn’t live in constant fear? If the kids who weren’t different didn’t feel the social pressures to bully? If kids could focus on their schoolwork because they were adequately fed?

I don’t know if I see Americans coming round to this viewpoint anytime soon, especially since it seems like we’d rather invest our money in other things. But I think that our policy of devaluing education will make things much worse both in our country and in our interactions with others. Having an poorly educated population (or a population with drastic discrepancies in education) in a democratic nation is a terrible idea – and it also means that we’re not well-equipped to compete with the scholars and inventors of other nations. Or, you know, just have intelligent conversations with people from other cultures. Because let’s not forget that America is multicultural, and if we’re not giving our children the education to maneuver in our own society, we’re doing them a great disservice.

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