Hey Cinderella! Get your own life.

If you follow me at Chapter1-Take1 you know I'm conflicted about this week's newest Disney release, a live action Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh. Bizarre timing considering it's International Women's Week! Is it a fun, frothy, girlish fantasy or is it another example of women unable to part with a deeply buried inner Cinderella complex; that outmoded desire to have Prince Charming come along and rescue us. To save us from the mundane business of succeeding in the world, an issue that really came to the fore in the 70's when I was coming of age and the women's movement was liberating many of my fellow boomer females from our apron strings. We were suddenly free to go out into the world just like the men. Ah, but what to do when we got there? We knew how to be wives and mothers, that was imprinted on our feminine DNA, but how to climb the corporate ladder, how to make our way in the new world? Colette Dowling who coined the term The Cinderella Complex, in her 1981 classic, described it as an inner conflict:
"To have no confidence in my ability to make it in this world on my own, the new way, and to be equally doubtful of my ability to succeed in woman’s old way, which is to seduce a man into being her patron and protector."
Just between us, it's a syndrome I struggled with through my early years as a young woman. I was in my twenties, working for Max Factor as an in-house copywriter, in the midst of what would turn into a seven year relationship with a powerful, older man, when I was offered a position in New York. It was work that offered everything I'd ever wanted in a job; writing for a living —if not writing per se, it was at least work that enabled me to use my creativity— for more money, a glossy kind of prestige, an exciting glamorous place to live and work. Who wouldn't want a shot at being a female Don Draper type in the city that never sleeps? But I chose the man and stayed put. I actually quit Max Factor and went to work with my Prince Charming in a little mom and pop business. I gave up my IBM Selectric for a giant wooden paddle; instead of writing package copy in my office with the window overlooking Hollywood Blvd,  I was stirring up big batches of shampoo in a huge stainless steel vat in an industrial space in Van Nuys. Instead of following my dreams, I was happily brushing them aside to help him achieve his. Was it love of the man or fear of my own failure?

Over thirty years later, I think it had more to do with the latter. When the relationship ultimately failed because the poor man wasn't the Prince Charming I created in my own mind, my striving twenties were long gone, evaporated, and I was in my thirties. Instead of getting my samples together and seriously trying to find work where I could use my writing skills, I chose to go from one odd job to another, making a living, passing time. Instead of aspiring to make my writerly dreams come true, I opted out. I studied acting; even went on a few auditions. I went from being VP—in name only—of our little hair care company to tour guide at Universal Studios to substitute teacher to production assistant to production coordinator in films and TV to a period of unemployment that drove me to the world of telemarketing.

I did everything but write.

After marriage—little wonder it took until I was almost forty to meet my real Prince Charming, an equal partner—I cheerfully stayed home with our son—hands down, the very best thing I've ever done. Not because the first five years are so important to a child's development (they are) but because it was so much fun. For once in my life I knew I was not only doing the right thing and excelling at it but I was loving every second of it. The writing? Swept aside until he started school in earnest; again happily putting my dreams aside to help him achieve his. Those first six years will always be the happiest years of my life, and I don't care who knows it.

I've written on and off ever since, even while continuing my job-hopping ways, working as a paraprofessional in the world of special education before settling into my role as a realtor, a freelance piece here, a steady magazine gig there, always with the realization that I was not, would never be, the next Joyce Carol Oates. I finished a script a year or so back but the second and third drafts didn't go well, so it's stuck in a drawer. I started a novel, made it to about page 60 and found myself unable to gather up the enthusiasm to go on. I've got a manuscript for a children's Halloween picture book but I'll tinker it to death rather than actually do anything with it. That's my issue. There's no one to blame but myself.

Unlike Cinderella, a man can't save me. And he can't make me something I'm not. My failings are my own. My husband is supportive, encouraging me to pursue my dreams. He wants me to write. He'd love for me to be serious; he'd love nothing more than for me to be published, self— or otherwise. He's not the one stopping me from writing the Great American Novel. My son is grown; he has his own writing demons demanding his time. He's not the one keeping me from finishing that screenplay. There's no fairy godmother waving her magic wand and making me over. No one can save me from seeing my shortcomings; I see them clearly and it's okay. We can't all be Joyce Carol Oates but we can still revel in a writer's life. No, I don't do book tours, nobody is going to read my story in the New Yorker or pay to option that novel I never finished. But I do write consistently now, both here and on my book-to-movie site, and that—like being a mother—is something that makes me happier, deep in my heart, than I could have ever imagined.

That's my Cinderella story; now where the hell are my glass fuzzy slippers.

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