Monday, September 21, 2009

The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet

Long, long ago Ms. Magazine published a fairy tale I wrote called "The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet." It was a sort of map, the way myths are, of how to grow and find our way in the adult world, and has become known as a classic feminist fairy tale. I am humbled to see tonight that it gets more hits on Google than I do. I know it is published (sometimes pirated) and studied around the world. I love to think of it being read in South Africa and China by young women who really need a new myth to help them stand up to their cultures' demands. I love that a woman in the Netherlands wrote her thesis about it. Having written this story relieves me, I hope, of the duty to accomplish anything else. I am about to turn 67. I'd like to be the Princess who finally retired.

THE PRINCESS WHO STOOD ON HER OWN TWO FEET: Student Edition with Author's Afterword by [Desy, Jeanne]Feet seem central to my story, which has taken another turn in age. All day today I kept thinking happily, "I am on my own two feet!" The Constant Reader knows I have struggled with bone problems since January. But last week I graduated from physical therapy, saw the caring young doctor for the last time, no followup needed.

I am in my new Nike's and orthotics, and can't remember when I had to take a Tylenol for pain. I can go places, I can take a mixed media art class at the rec center because I can drive there and walk through a big building without worrying about my ankles. I can cook dinner. I am getting back in condition from a pitiably sedentary state, up to 15 minutes on the Nustep now. Yesterday I loaded the van with the bags of recycle and cardboard boxes that piled up in the garage all winter, drove it to the plaza, unloaded everything in the small rain. Doing this felt like liberation. I was totally happy.

I have at times thought how much I needed to learn the story I wrote, how hard it's been time and again to know when to stand up for myself. Today it seems like I have gone beyond that struggle. But growing up is just prelude to more growing up. You don't get to relax for long before life presents a new challenge. I feel like I need a new and different story to express what I have been through this year, what we all go through if we live to an old age. The new story would feature a girl who maybe keeps falling, who gets very discouraged, but gets back up. It reminds me of the samurai saying, "Six times down, seven times up," which means to me that all you ever have to do is get up one more time.


  1. Yey!! Congratulations on getting back on your own twoo feet! I share your joy :D

  2. Congratulations on your "new feet." Orthotics have saved me from tons of pain too. My whole body used to hurt all the time. Now, nothing. All I needed was a little arch support. Why couldn't the specialist foot doctor I saw 10 years ago tell me that? Luckily for me I have an excellent chiropractor who diagnosed my fallen arches on my first visit 2 years ago. It's a blessing to be pain free.

    Namaste ~ Sara

    ps - I remember your story and I like your idea for a new one.

  3. Congrats on getting your land legs back! Enjoy all the places they can take you! As I am a new reader of yours, I am glad you mentioned your story so I can go track it down.


  4. I would like to thank you so much for this fairy tale. I first ran into it in an anthology published in the 70s or perhaps early eighties called Stories for Free Children. It was always one of my favorites and I must have reread it over 50 times as a little girl. When I left home to go to Smith College I didn't have space to take my full children's book library, but I photocopied that beloved story, took it with me and read it to the young women in my dorm when we needed a break from studying. I lived for 12 years in Europe with few English books but always had the dog eared and much read pages tucked in the back of my suitcase ready to pull out and remind myself to be strong and stand on my own two feet if life was trying to beat me into some mold of its' liking. Today I have been making a princess dress for my goddaughter and my eye lit on your story, now pinned to my wall nearly forty years later and I decided that it is time to pass your so powerful message on to the next generation so that she too can grow tall and strong and stand on her own two feet. Thank you so much for your positive influence on my life.