April 23, 2020

Beating Quarantine: Carterhaugh School’s Rapunzel’s Circle

Editor’s note: Enchanted Conversation is undergoing a facelift, but I couldn’t wait any longer to post about the fabulous course coming up at The Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic. So read about the course, and please pardon the construction at EC.

Got cabin fever? Bored out of your skull by the quarantine? Feeling overwhelmed? Worried?

Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, who both have PhD’s in English and Folklore, are the masterminds behind the Carterhaugh School, which offers courses (and more) on fairy tales and folklore. I recently ran across, and then enrolled in, their newest course: “Rapunzel’s Circle: Finding Enchantment Under Quarantine,” and knew I had to share the info with EC readers. Below is a Q&A on what’s what with the course, which entirely online and starts on April 27.

1) “Rapunzel” seems like the perfect fairy tale for a quarantine. After all, Rapunzel is in quarantine her whole life and when she leaves, well, things take a long time to get positive. How did you come to the decision to do this course using this story right now?

Sara and Brittany: Actually, it started off as a bit of a joke! When social distancing was first going into effect, we were trying to think of what we could do to help right away. We ended up making a blog post listing every awesome, magical self-isolation resource we could find: fairy tales to read for free, streams of plays and operas and ballets, virtual guides to beautiful places, etc. As we were putting the list together, one of us (who knows which) said it was basically “Rapunzel’s Toolkit”… the things she would do to keep busy in her tower! On a whim, we decided to use the name for the blog post, and after it was shared for the 1000th time, we realized that the need for enchantment right now was even greater than we’d imagined. It prompted us to think about how we could do something more to help people during this time. We’re all Rapunzel now, so it seemed like a course that could also function as a fellowship, a circle, a gathering for those of us who are buoyed by magic and stories would be the perfect thing!

2) I’m intrigued by the idea of using enchantment and magic as a way to survive emotionally and intellectually, which is how I perceive the course’s potential. Could you give readers a little bit of a tease on these subjects and goals?

Sara: Everyone has something they turn to when things are difficult. For some, it’s religion. I had a teacher in college who said that when she felt terrible, she read Shakespeare, and it made her not want to smash things anymore. Some people turn to nature: gardening or going on long walks. For us, it’s enchantment and everyday magic. There are as many definitions of what that means as there are people in the world. For us, enchantment is a spark that illuminates the mundane and transforms it. It’s a sense of possibility, a moment of recognition, and a chance for connection.

Brittany: In times like these, when everything is hard and the bad times feel never ending, we rely on our belief in the everyday magic that comes from folklore and creativity. We absolutely use these things to survive, and one of the goals of Carterhaugh is to show others how they can do that as well. Each week of the course will be devoted to a different challenge of the pandemic - we’ve named them “The Tower,” “The Dark Woods,” “The Spinning Room,” and “The Courtyard.” In “The Tower” lesson, we’re going to talk about quarantine itself using stories like “Rapunzel,” of course, but also a few other ‘trapped in towers’ tales, like “Maid Maleen” and “The Sea-Hare.” In “The Dark Woods,” we’ll get more into anxieties and fear using tales like “Snow White,” “The Handless Maiden,” and others. “The Spinning Room” lesson will be all about nurturing creativity in this strange time via tales of making art, and “The Courtyard” will involve stories of cultivating relationships and community, both in the group and at home (even when you want to bop all your family members over the head!).

3) I notice in the course’s description, you mention creativity and helping “calm your restless mind.” Creativity and a restless mind often march together. What inspired you to link them in the course curriculum?

Sara: We’re kind of anxiety queens—we’re both really susceptible to stress, and let’s just say that 8 years in grad school did not do anything to improve the situation! But we’re also both intensely creative—we write, make jewelry (Brittany), cook (me), and sing (let’s just say we commit hard to karaoke). And it’s hard to tap into that creativity, to do the things you want to do and make the things you want to make, when your mind is caught up in a stress spiral or too awhirl to settle down. (If you’ve found yourself actually screaming “STOP” out loud, to your own brain in the last few weeks, know you’re not alone!)  We’ve found that it can be really powerful to just have someone say, “you’ve done enough” or “you’re already magical enough” or “you deserve to do things that make you happy.” This is especially true for extra Type A people, but everyone deserves to hear it! And, paradoxically, this kind of affirmation can make those stubborn doors to creativity swing open again. Getting that message from other people can help so much, especially when it feels like you can’t quite give yourself permission to feel like it’s true.

Brittany: Grad school definitely didn’t improve the stress situation, that’s for sure! Neither does a pandemic. But we both also find that, if we can just get those doors to squeak open, even a little bit, doing something creative helps us in innumerable ways. It’s part of the reason both of us got serious about writing poetry while in school—we had a million other things to do, but poetry helped us feel connected to our magic in a different way, a way that was sometimes very hard to hold on to while under so many stressors. In “Rapunzel’s Circle,” we want to offer people that opportunity as well. Let them know it’s okay, fantastic even, to do creative things while worried and stressed. Amazing art might come out of it, you might find a new hobby or career—who knows?—but it’s so valuable even if you never show your work to anyone but those in the circle. Art and stories are two of the greatest and most magical tools we have, it only makes sense to us to bring them together.

4) You touch on community in the course description and in exploring your site as a whole, it seems like community is an important aspect of The Carterhaugh School. Why is that and how does it work?

Sara and Brittany: The biggest and most incredible surprise since starting Carterhaugh has been the community that has grown up around it. The people who have found their way there are so kind, genuine, and creative. They blow our minds every day with their insights, their curiosity, and their compassion and respect for each other. This just isn’t something that we anticipated when we started out—we knew our students would be interesting and cool (because who isn’t, if they love fairy tales enough to sign up for a course to learn more about them??) but it never occurred to us that it would become a real community—a place where people knew each other’s names and cared about their creative goals and offered each other real emotional support and validation on their journeys. We are grateful and astonished every day by this magic—because that’s what it feels like to us: magic.

5) Anything else you’d like to tell us about?

Sara and Brittany: Sure! “Rapunzel’s Circle” is obviously the biggest thing we have going on right now, but we’re doing some other things too! Every month we have a magical book club that’s supported through our Patreon. Those at the Willows level and up are invited to a live event where we talk about each month’s mythic fiction book. Thus far we’ve done The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, The Wood Wife by Terri Windling, and we just did Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier on April 19th. Our next book is The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, and we would love to invite everyone to join us for our discussion on May 17th, 2020! We’ve also been doing a variety of one-off talks in collaboration with Profs & Pints, a wonderful organization dedicated to bringing university lectures to people outside the academy. They usually host their events in bars, but since the bars are closed, they’ve moved online! We did a talk on fairylore for them last month and this month we did a lecture about the magical women of King Arthur legends (that one will remain up for the foreseeable future, so although the live event is over, you can still check out the recorded version!). Lastly, we’ve also been posting a lot of fun, free things in our Facebook group we’ve done a few live watches of various events via Discord (which have been SO fun!), and we’re planning on posting a totally free video lecture on “Folklore and Shakespeare” there soon! That’s not even to mention all the wonderful content our community members post all the time—it’s a fantastic place to connect with others who love folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy!

KW: I can attest to how much fun Carterhaugh’s Facebook group is. And I hate Facebook. So check out “Rapunzel’s Circle.” I’d love to see you there. But hurry up, it starts on the 27th!

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