Tag Archives: being a woman

VESTIGES OF COURAGE by Mireya S. Vela

book cover of Vestiges of Courage, by Mireya S. Vela (cover art by the author!)

Vestiges of Courage, by Mireya S. Vela (cover art by the author!)

There are ways of saying things, making phrases and sentences that could not be any more succinct or perfect. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when I read it. When I consider the brilliance of Mireya Vela’s writing in her memoir, Vestiges of Courage, I marvel at her ability to work with a gratifyingly tight linguistic economy. In the memoir, Mireya exposes the toxicity and spirit/mind/body assaults women are expected to endure, and boils it down to the bone, illuminating the lived truth. Her act of peeling back, her lack of veil and refusal to bullshit carries incredible power. There is no time for waste, she seems to say. You just have to speak the truth.

For instance, on page 24:

“Women are trained into this type of acceptance:

‘Kiss your relatives.’

‘Hug creepy Uncle Manny.’

‘Don’t be uppity. You’re rude. Go sit on Uncle Joe’s lap.’

‘Uncle Manny gave you a gift. Show proper gratitude.’

‘Liar. He didn’t touch you. That’s your imagination. Why are you always such a drama queen, looking for attention?’

Whittle down the women. Take off all the rough edges till they are smooth and fit into the palms of men.”

***

And it’s beautiful how she writes about the armature of memory…on page 132:

“Sometimes I see people I know aren’t there. This has been happening since I went into therapy four years ago and I unhooked the memories from their anchors.

Memories float. No matter what you do, whoever you were 15 years ago can float to the surface to haunt you. It doesn’t matter if you are ready or if you are walking back to your classroom.”

***

And finally, she offers affirmation about the pain and necessity of healing. On page 134:

“I don’t talk to my psychiatrist about the people I see. I know she’ll heavily medicate me. I strongly suspect this is post-traumatic stress disorder. The problem with PTSD is that it prefers to unsettle you just as you feel you are moving beyond those memories. When you feel strong, the memories appear, waiting for resolution.

Instead, I go to my therapist. The words spill out of my mouth with trepidation.

‘Is it men?’ she asks.

‘Yes. How did you know?’ I say.

‘It’s out of the corner of your eye?’ she says.

‘Yes.’

‘Do they look like the men who hurt you?’

‘Yes,’ I say.

‘That’s common with people who have had sexual abuse. I’m sorry,’ she says.

‘I’m not crazy?’

‘No,’ she says, ‘You are just healing.’

‘Healing feels awful. Why am I doing this to myself? I just want it to stop.’

‘Because,’ she says, ‘you want something better for your children.’

‘Yes. Yes, I do.’

But for a moment, I think about quitting. Why do they call it healing when it feels like being ripped open?”

***

We need to do this work; we need something better for our children. We need more books with the inside of the human showing. We need more writers who can cut through bullshit, use deft strokes to arrange the words so that they accumulate to tell the truth. I am grateful for the act of humanity that Mireya Vela did in writing this book.

(And speaking of deft strokes, Mireya Vela is also a visual artist. Please go peruse her creations here: https://www.mireyasvela.com/)

HAGS ON FIRE!

 

shadow of person on wooded trail

(I miss the woods.)

Dear Humans,

This summer solstice, I’m elated to announce that my essay “Hot Thing #2 (2:30am)” was published in the inaugural issue of HAGS ON FIRE! Thrilled for the conflagration of sisterhood alongside Alma Luz Villanueva, Elaine Gale, Gayle Brandeis, Amy Buchwald, Michaela Carter, Amy Roost, Bridget Kelley-Lossada, Bella Mahaya Carter, Robin Harwick Jenny Forrester, Jude Walsh, and Barb Buckner Suarez…

…HAGS ON FIRE is a sparkly new literary zine featuring “Unapologetically embodied writing about menopause—minus the patriarchy.” (Extreme gratitude to Laraine Herring for noticing such a place was lacking in the world, and for manifesting HAGS ON FIRE.)

Please consider sending your work to HAGS ON FIRE! “We are specifically looking for work to feature from BIPOC folks, neurodivergent folks, non cis-het folks, and folks with physical disabilities.”

Love,

Rebecca

essay “Cushion & Frame” in Bayou Magazine

Cover of Bayou Magazine #72

Bayou Magazine #72

(This post was written using the imperfect yet helpful voice typing feature on google docs, because I am recovering from wrist surgery. Please forgive typos!) 

I’m excited to announce that my essay, “Cushion & Frame,” was recently published in Bayou Magazine Number 72. Founded in 2002, Bayou Magazine is a biannual, national literary magazine published by The University of New Orleans. Bayou’s mission is to publish exceptional, exciting work by both established and emerging writers. “Cushion & Frame” is part of my memoir-in-progress. 

“Cushion & Frame” is also likely the most personal piece I’ve ever put into the world. Its publication leaves me heady and vulnerable. The essay deals with trauma and my history as a survivor of sexual abuse. When the essay was accepted, I realized that beyond the sweet sunshine of strangers believing in my work, they also believed my story. To a survivor, being believed is essential. And while I usually like having my work accessible online, I’m a little glad this one is only available in print. That fact makes me feel somewhat less exposed.

 I am grateful to beloved humans who read this piece at various points along the way, or in other ways provided nourishment, including Deanna N., Jahzerah B., Lisa P.,  Renee A., Diane B., Nick F., Jennifer N., Lisa B., Candace R., Elaine G., Kristin W., Vanja T., Rachel F., Anne E., Susanne F., Mary H., Amy C., JoJo K., Puy N., Dina P., Gayle B., and especially Melissa T. 

And especially Mama. And especially Hummy. 

I’m also grateful to the humans who invited me and heard me read and read with me in 2018 at AWP in Tampa for Tiferet Journal. And extra-rainbow-sprinkle grateful to Gayle B. for encouraging me to read that piece. And Mireya V. for a beautiful connection after the reading.

I hope I did not forget to thank anyone. So many have helped me survive and write this piece. Thank you all. 

(And may we all continue to heal.)

Issue 72 is available for purchase from https://bayoumagazine.org/.

 

Many Restless Concerns by Gayle Brandeis

many restless concerns book cover

Many Restless Concerns (a testimony)  by Gayle Brandeis

(This post is being drafted using voice typing on Google Docs. I am using this technology because I broke my dominant wrist and had surgery, and am still recovering.  Please excuse any Typos and imperfections!)

In thinking about my friend Gayle Brandeis’ new book, I recalled Joy Williams essay “Why I write” from her book Ill Nature. In the essay, Williams writes, “The good piece of writing startles the reader back into Life. The work– this Other, this other thing– this false life that is even less than the seeming of this lived life, is more than the lived life, too. It is so unreal, so precise, so alarming, really.  Good writing never soothes or comforts. It is no prescription, neither is it diversionary, although it can and should enchant while it explodes in the reader’s face. Whenever the writer writes, it’s always three or four or five in the morning in his head. Those horrid hours are the writer’s days and nights when he is writing. The writer doesn’t write for the reader. He doesn’t write for himself, either. He writes to serve… something.  Somethingness. The somethingness that is sheltered by the wings of nothingness– those exquisite, enveloping, protecting wings.”

I was thinking about how to talk about my experience of reading the new work of Gayle Brandeis. How these riveting verses accumulate into story, and along the way, yes, enchant, for their lyrical brilliance, and yet still, for their horrifying imagery, explode in my face. Although (please know) they are extremely unsettling and certainly violent, the voices of these (imagined or channeled) victims of Countess Bathory make their impression in part because of the importance of not looking away.  The lives of these girls and women, from the perspective of their torturer, were incidental, always a casualty to Bathory’s drive to torture.

The victims survived by adapting. As victims often do. On page 29, Gayle writes,

“We learned to stay upright, to work even when wounds wept beneath our sleeves; we learned to keep our voices down, learned to not look her in the eye; we learned fear becomes another organ in the body, pulsing gall through every vein.”

On page 35, Gayle writes about how the body keeps the score, writes about the words burn, drown, freeze, scald, verbs which were among the methods of torture, how they stay with the spirit even when the body is gone.

“…These words have become something more than words. They have become weapons, ready to get under the surface of you, pry you back open.

Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body.

(some tender part of you still flinches.)

( some immaterial nerves still flare)”

This short, crystalline book is not an easy read. After diving in and becoming quickly engrossed,  I was unsure how exactly I would get through it. But I trusted that Gayle–and the survivors’ spirits–would lead toward light. And they did. The victims, so many unnamed survivors, found and picked up their power through making a circle, banding together. And they needed to tell their story. Ghosts need witnesses. 

We need to witness.

From page 102,

“It’s fine you don’t know our names now.

 You know our testimony.

 You know enough to yell “Meat!”

 when we call out “Bone?”

 if you are listening

(are you still listening?)

 You know enough to lay some flesh upon our forgotten skeletons,

 to feel the weight of our death inside your own body.

 You know enough to remember how alive you are

(how lucky).”

***

I am grateful for the reminder, for knowing enough to remember how alive I am, and how lucky. 

CALMS (helps calming anyone, not just babies!)

check in with yourself, allow a breath, listen to your baby, make contact, mirror feelings, soothe your baby
Recently, I recalled something my amazing beloved doula-sister Amy Chavez gave me when I had a baby (maybe she gave it to me before I had a baby). When my child was a baby, this image was on the wall in at least one room of my house, maybe more than one room. (You can see a slice of aqua bathroom wall of our old house behind this image.) At that time, it was extremely helpful. It’s a good reminder, still, always—whether there’s a crying baby in your midst or not—it occurs to me now that anything or anyone needing our kind attention can be substituted for the “crying baby” on this CALMS list, actually…
Thank you, dear Amy, for this wisdom, which still applies!
And may this be a blessing to anyone who needs it.

The Art of Misdiagnosis, by Gayle Brandeis

The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis

An exceptional act of humanity is discoverable between these covers.

Sometimes I encounter a book I know I want to reread again and again, to understand grief, and humanity, and move my psyche toward wholeness. Among these glittering narratives is The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide, by my friend Gayle Brandeis. (Gayle Brandeis and I met when we both attended the Antioch Los Angeles MFA program—and then, as now, she seemed an angel in the world, though with the beauty of authenticity shining through.)

In her memoir, Gayle captures the static that is chronic worry about a damaged loved one…when someone close is suffering in an inescapable stew of chaos, the background noise of concern is constant…and Gayle depicts the grim throb that can be brought on by the phone’s ring…she shows how complicated is the very human wish for relief…

As I read her memoir, I imagine I’m sitting alongside the narrator in the patrol car of the heart, witnessing firsthand the human struggle between connection and release, touching the complicated fiber of existence as we intersect with & knock against other broken humans…how we each bend into the shape necessary to survive the life we’re born into…how we try not to drown as we reach (often involuntarily) toward the drowning beloved…

I’ve been obsessed lately with how trauma shapes our bodies: literally, the physical body, and the spirit/psyche. The Art Of Misdiagnosis meditatively walks this terrain, and also somehow inoculates against trauma and grief, or at least wakens antibodies for understanding those parts of a life.

I read Gayle’s memoir for pleasure, allowing myself not to take notes, just to take it all in…and as I’m processing some of my own traumas, the book provides a balm, strangely reassuring. (None of us are alone.) Taking notes sometimes pulls me from the reading experience, but couldn’t I resist this part, near the end, on p. 222, after the narrator has experienced an intense physical release of trauma…

“When I am ready, Celia helps me up and hugs me back into the world.

‘Thank you,’ I tell her, but the words don’t feel strong enough. How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart? For helping release a burden you’ve carried all your life? For resurfacing just when you need her? For saving you again, almost twenty-four years after she saved you the first time?”

This memoir appears at the perfect time in my life. And as my body types Gayle’s words (above), I notice they echo how I feel about her memoir, and her writing in general: How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart?

An apology I owe Dylan Farrow (what bends/what breaks)

thumb_IMG_9602_1024In the past, when talking to my classes about comedy, I’ve used a clip from Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors: Alan Alda’s character being interviewed by Allen’s character, and Alda talking about humor. (“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it isn’t.”) It’s part of a discussion about discerning when something has gone just far enough but not too far, and where the boundary resides (highly subjective and context-dependent, but worth considering). Much as the clip makes a good point, and much as I adore Alan Alda (despite his not having disavowed Woody Allen, yet), this time, I didn’t use the clip. I didn’t want to elevate or even look at Allen, and didn’t feel equipped to have the necessary discussion about why.

This omission is a tiny act, almost unnoticeable.

I am not above reproach: for years, since the accusation that Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow, I’ve been in denial, thinking HOW COULD HE HAVE DONE SOMETHING SO AWFUL? (For Buffy fans, it feels like that “Wait, Ben is Glory?insta-forgetting…as if my brain cannot contain the possibility that someone whose work I admire—and whose work provided me an early understanding of what art could do—could have molested a child. And then essentially married a child, another of his children. If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks…)

I grew up watching Allen’s films. His movies were formative to me, the early ones, the funny ones. Since hearing Dylan Farrow’s initial accusation back in 1992, I have been ambivalent enough, or in denial enough, or self-loathing enough to not boycott Allen. I haven’t actively defended him, but I’ve seen Wild Man Blues (featuring Allen and Soon Yi Previn) more than once. I own the soundtrack to Everyone Says I Love You.

My own broken psyche apparently couldn’t excommunicate the filmmaker…was I passively accepting the notion that Dylan Farrow imagined her abuse, or had been brainwashed? As a seven-year-old child? At any rate, I was minimizing her pain. I looked the other way, just kept singing along to those catchy tunes, because HOW COULD HE? (Ben is Glory?)

I worked at the summer camp from which Soon Yi Previn was fired (a few summers before she was fired) and heard stories from friends about that big mess. I’m ashamed that I am only now thinking about this, and wondering what I can or should do (or not do), as a sentient being in the world, a person who believes the victims.

I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. Why did it take me this long to stop with the Woody Allen apologies? Why have I turned away?

By continuing to celebrate Allen’s art, am I complicit in the abuse, by not condemning the artist?

A couple weeks ago (the same week I read about Eliza Dushku’s stunt man, and the Michigan State University nightmare), I read the NY Times piece, Dylan Farrow Accuses Woody Allen of Sexual Abuse in TV Interview.

That was a very triggering week.

And I started drafting this distant apology to Dylan Farrow. Believing the reality of abuse is hard enough for survivors. To paraphrase Bessel van der Kolk, from his book, The Body Keeps The Score, a big part of healing is feeling what we feel, and knowing what we know. Moving away from dissociation, from minimization, from forgetting. From looking away. It’s not as easy as it sounds, when a body has been violated. We don’t want to feel what we feel. We don’t want to know what we know. It is an ornate and twisty thing, memory. It’s hard enough without the disbelief of everyone else. We start to feel like we’re living a fiction, or we’re invisible, or don’t even exist.

People—usually those who disbelieve, or minimize, the stories of victims—often claim that if a person’s not coming forward or speaking loudly enough, it must mean memories are false.

I asked Dylan if there was any chance that this was a false memory, that she had been brainwashed.

“No,” she said flatly. “I think it’s more logical almost that the people who accuse me of being brainwashed are brainwashed themselves by the celebrity, the glamour, the fantasy, the pull they have to Woody Allen, their hero on a pedestal.”

The larger point, she said, is not her own suffering over the years, but the need to listen to victims.

And later in the same piece, Kristof continues:

One demographer’s new estimate is that at least three-fourths of women worldwide have been sexually harassed.

I am sorry for any time I have looked away, or minimized someone’s pain and suffering.

I’m left with the question of what to do about the art of perpetrators.

For now, I’ll find another way to talk about what is bending and what is breaking.

(because there’s always more.)

thumb_IMG_9602_1024

More than 160 women say Larry Nassar sexually abused them.

MORE THAN 160 WOMEN
Who are likely many, many more than 160…because we don’t always feel safe coming forward. Because it’s sometimes too unsafe for our bodies to feel what we feel, and to know what we know. Because sometimes it’s scarier to speak than to remain silent. Because we were warned not to speak, because others who knew minimized our experiences, or looked the other way, or (fill in the blank). Because we don’t remember. Because why would we want to remember. Because because because a million times because, just because.

The exuberant reaction to the conviction of Larry Nassar, which I heard in the voice of the woman reporting it on NPR last week, which was impossible to hide, because she is a woman and who knows, maybe a survivor herself…that exuberant reaction is a feeling that’s been shimmering for me, below the surface of #metoo and among groups of women I talk to who are horrified but not shocked about these stories, these minimizations, these erasures, this looking away.

(The other day, I was writing the above blog post about several recent headlines dealing with child sexual abuse, and then I saw I was right, sadly, there’s even moreLarry Nassar, Sentenced in Sexual Abuse Case, Is Back in Court.)

**

And p.s. to any predators out there:

“Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.”—Aly Raisman, gymnast and six-time Olympic medalist

“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”—Kyle Stephens, family friend

 

 

Letter to the Inner Critic (11/19/17)

photo of book, confessions of a prairie bitch

Spotted at Dark Star Books

Here’s a leftover I meant to post from my November inner critic letter-a-day challenge (to myself). Uncooked, raw, basically how it came out. Also: in the letter below, where I write “I was born to fly”, I would clarify that we were all born to fly.:

November 19, 2017

Dear Inner Critic,

Well, apparently you are a risk manager and I’m curious what’s the risk? What is it that is on fire? The house already burned down, it’s gone. What are you afraid of? You seem to be afraid I’ll make any noise, that I’ll embarrass you or be noticed (or just seen) and that somehow scares you. You don’t want me to stand out, you want me to fit in & do what the world seems to want safe people to do. But I was born to fly. It’s not a safe thing, but I can try and work and fail and try again. I am a survivor, you know that, and if I fail, or get ignored, or rebuffed, or insulted, I will be okay. I’m stronger than you think I am. Also, I do appreciate your care—I know it’s a twisted kind of caring, the risk managing, the alert and hyper-vigilant posture. I know it’s because you want to protect me. But I need to follow the call and take risks and I need to be allowed to make a fool of myself, and I need to jump off the cliff and trust my strong wings. I’ve been flapping them and practicing with a helmet long enough. The helmet blocks my vision, the pads are too heavy. I don’t need them. I am strong and my body can sustain a fall. Because we work in metaphor and I’m not literally going to jump my unwinged human body off a cliff, I need you to know I’ll be safe, I am safe. I am using my words and my heart for this work, and my body is safe, and my spirit can only be fulfilled if I try and don’t shrink down from your alerts and warnings. I need you to know that I understand the alerts and warnings come from your wounded love for me. How you remember all the hurts and how they feel like they are happening now, but I survived those nasty in the woodsheds, and I can survive what’s to come, so I can do my work, and soar.

I love you.

Love,
Rebecca

Essay at Tiferet Journal!

IMG_20170805_110509302

(un-edited, sweaty, post-Zumba author photo/selfie.)

I’m thrilled to announce that my essay, “(Perfection) DEFECTION” was published in the summer issue of Tiferet JournalYou can read the essay by clicking on the link below. Please also consider purchasing the full issue for $4.95 through Tiferet’s marketplace.

This essay grew from a rant I wrote and performed at Women’s Voices Out Loud in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 2016. (You can read more about Women’s Voices Out Loud here.)

I’m grateful to Gayle Brandeis and all the good people at Tiferet for the opportunity to share this piece, and for the work they are doing in the world.

Enjoy!

Kuder-TiferetSummer2017