Friday, August 7, 2015

HOLY DAYS - The Pink Gun

     In Holy Days, in the chapter, “The First Shot,” Gloria comes up with a fantastic idea suitable only for a fantasy novel. One of those twisted tales that asks the question “what if” – What if certain privileged people had a duplicate being that lived only as a personal organ donor, in case they needed say, a kidney or a liver, after they had been in an accident or had trashed their own? What if women lived separately had no rights and only existed to procreate? What if society wouldn't let us read and firemen burned books? What if we were kept hungry and forced into combat for the amusement of an upper class? (Pause on that last one. It’s too real.)
     Gloria asks herself – and society at large – what if an abused child could legally kill her abuser? What if, Gloria asks, what if women were legally allowed to kill?
    In “The First Shot,” Gloria rushes out the door in the middle of the night to tell her new friend everything about herself; a sleepy June climbs out of her bedroom window and the two girls huddle on the curbstone to talk. After revealing to June what happened to her, even at risk of losing June forever, Gloria has an idea. This is what Gloria proposes: “I think a girl should get five shots, five legal shots at birth. She should get five pink bullets and a pink gun, numbered like a social security number, handed to her on her tenth, or maybe her eighth, birthday. If anyone bothers her, she has the legal right to shoot, but she has to decide, whether to use the bullets up or not. After her fifth shot, it would be murder. But, you see, the beauty of it would be, no one would know how many legal shots she had left! Men would have to be on their best behavior. And” - I added, considering that girls might need to be protected before their eighth birthday – “any woman who has a daughter, right in the hospital, she should be given a special mother’s gun with an undetermined number of shots, no one knows how many, not even her, to protect her daughter.”
            Junie laughed, “You’re dreamin’!”
            “I know, but think how careful men - and boys - would have to be! How - respectful! It would be hilarious to watch them cower!”
     What Gloria imagines is a kind of pink mutually assured destruction. Sure, she’s dreaming. But, for one second, imagine like a teenager might, like a bitterly angry, stunned and frightened teenager who still believes violence can solve problems. Gloria lives in a world where might makes right. She also lives by the hero’s code. She thinks she should kill her abuser. But, she knows she cannot. For many reasons – one, she’d be arrested; two, she needs him for food and shelter; three, she loves him. However, she wants to save other children from what she’s suffered, so she imagines this threat of legal retribution, like a nuclear bomb hidden in her pocket, like the power of God coming down to intervene, to literally step between child and abuser, so that the child told to suck his dick can cry out, like Gloria does when, one fateful day, she commits murder to protect June, “Suck mine!” before shooting that legal, authorized, sanctioned pink bullet into his rotten heart. What if abusers knew they could be legally killed for what they were about to do?

     What if.

Disclaimer: Holy Days is a work of fiction. I am not suggesting that we should arm our children. (Though, apparently, as I discovered when researching pink guns, many people would disagree.)

 The idea Gloria has is that the threat of a child legally shooting his/her abuser will keep the abuse from happening and give power back to the child. Like mutually assured destruction - the threat of nuclear war keeps nuclear war from happening. We hope. Gloria is a dreamer. But, she's not the only one.
©Patricia Goodwin, 2015

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

HOLY DAYS – Faith, Devotion, Freedom – It’s Not What You Think

I was doing the dishes one evening, my husband standing by my side drying, when he remarked, “You really love getting the dishes clean.” Or I was cooking something and he said, “You’re always cooking something good.” I don’t remember exactly what I was doing, but I do remember what I answered, without thinking, I said, “Of course, it’s my faith.”
What is my faith? What is my devotion?
In Holy Days, Gloria Wisher loved to turn to the end of the chapters in her History book where the art, literature and music of the period were depicted. There, she was introduced to the paintings of Vermeer, Renoir, Degas, Matisse and Monet, to name a few. In one scene, she remarks to her friend, June that she has decided the subject of the paintings – women and the work of women – is the most important thing otherwise artists would not go so far out of their way to paint women washing clothes, women cooking, women taking care of babies. Women are beautiful, she says, but the work of women is also beautiful. Gloria realizes that what we have been taught to consider an interruption of life, what we must get through in order to get to our enjoyment of life, our relaxation, our play – the chores we must do in order to survive – the feeding and washing of our bodies and our children’s’ - are not an interruption of life, but life itself, beautiful, God-given expressions of our love and care.  As Gloria says about life, "Every day is a holy day." Because each day makes us who we are. But, if it were not for the Old Italians, her grandmother and her mother, who came home from work and started cooking dinner in her coat, showing Gloria every day what devotion was, and the art, music and literature in the back of her History book, showing her what beauty was, I don't think she would have made it.

Faith and devotion. To get up every morning and begin work, even as you rise, the turning of the bed covers to air them before making the bed, the opening of the windows, the turning off of the night light, opening the shades, turning on the coffee, throwing water on your face, putting up your hair, rolling up your sleeves. To continue work all day into the night, whatever is needed until your head hits the pillow at night – and even then – rising in the middle of night if need be.
What is in your mind and heart as you reach to do the task, as your hand touches the task? Anger? Frustration? Resentment? Feminists have taught women that housework is drudgery, that women are meant for so much more. The old post WWII suburban angst. Now that we’ve won the war, now what? Why am so unhappy, so unsatisfied? Could it be because women – and men, who also must contribute to the tasks - have lost the mission of their housework – which is to take care of life? I used the word housework because it is the least glamorous word I can use. But, let’s change that and say, instead - care of life. In fact, that is Gloria’s definition of a man; she has the same definition for a woman – “Someone who loves and takes care of their loved ones.”
       What is in your mind and heart as you reach to do something, as your hand touches the task? Anger? Frustration? Resentment?
Why not reach for the task with love? With care? With devotion? With faith?
That is true power.
I’ve watched as women who’ve entered the work force leave their true power at home. Women have been taught by feminists that cooking dinner is beneath them. They bring home take-out or buy microwave meals in boxes for their kids to heat up on their own. This kind of fake food only leads to illness, emergencies and long, horrific battles with degenerative disease, drug-use and other problems. But, I can tell you from experience of my own and many other families that cooking good, wholesome dinners with love and intention is your greatest freedom, your greatest power. You will create love and appreciation as well as health. Sitting down with your children, looking them in the face and truly listening to them. That is power. That is freedom. For you and your child. Many people use the phrase, “I would die for my children!” But would you live for them?
       I remember the woman who answered feminists when asked what she did, “I make future citizens of America, it’s an important job, I’m proud of what I do and it’s a full time job.” Full time being 24/7/365. Joni Mitchell, when asked if she was a feminist said she had a problem with feminists because they didn’t respect domestic women and she had a lot of respect for domestic women. Her own mother had been domestic, she said. Not to be confused with a domestic. Not someone who goes out to take care of someone else’s home – usually before and after she has taken care of her own – but someone who loves to take care of their own home. Patti Smith also commented about domesticity: "I’m not a celebrity, I’m a worker. I’ve always worked. I was working before people read anything about me, and the day they stopped reading about me, I was doing even more work. And the idea that if you’re a mother, you’re not doing anything—it’s the hardest job there is, being a mother or father requires great sacrifice, discipline, selflessness, and to think that we weren’t doing anything while we were raising a son or daughter is appalling. It makes me understand why some human beings question their worth if they’re not making a huge amount of money or aren’t famous, and that’s not right."
I recently saw a short video on Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop site of a young couple who, in an almost choreographed dance, made real food breakfast and packed lunches for their kids and themselves before taking the kids to school and going to their jobs. My own daughter does what she calls “food prep” every weekend to create healthy lunches for the week. She takes these portions to work and is able to stay well and not waste her time trying to find a meal every day.
This kind of faith and devotion may be what the Catholic Church or any other religion preaches, but it does not need a religion to back it up. Atheists may have this kind of faith, this kind of devotion. Atheists may also reach for their tasks with love. Mostly, however, one thinks of God. One honors God, one is grateful to God each and every minute. One feels a higher cause to the placing of the food on the table, to the ironing, to the gardening. It’s not only about one’s needs, or one’s family’s needs – it’s about taking care of life itself in every movement. This kind of care spreads into the community, and, subsequently, into the world in the form of caring people. The creation of people. People who were taught by example at home to respect life. That is quality. That is power.
        Quality of life. Many people have told me that I can keep a clean house because I’m always home. I don’t work outside the house. I don’t spend eight hours a day at an office or a factory or a store and I don’t need to commute or pick up kids or shop. But, I did do those things and I still kept faith. When I was a young mother, I did errands and laundry and picked up my kid from school and took her to painting class or her job at the toy store. For several years, I had a string of part-time jobs. Now, I’m retired from a small publicity business I ran for ten years. Of course, many nights while I worked, as I took out the clean pans to make dinner, I would think, “I’m so tired right now, I’d like to go to bed, not start cooking. Why don’t I?” The answer was so obvious, I didn’t bother with it, I just kept moving.
         I would like to add that my decision to be home came first. I am home so that I can take care of the home. I ordered my life to be as simple as possible so that I could live as well as possible. Some people may call that a sacrifice, but it was not a sacrifice. I don’t own a house or a condo or a car. I had only one child. I never wanted a career outside the home. I wanted to write and take care of my home. I wanted to do both well. That simple. I love nothing better than, after doing my daily chores, to put on a pot of beans or soup that will become our dinner and sit down to my writing.
Quality of life. Think of it this way – would you rather be stuck in traffic for two hours a day or caring for your home? Would you prefer to be bending over for an unreasonable boss just so you can buy that new grill or go on a vacation you’re dreading? Or keeping things simple so you can have more freedom?
I don’t expect everyone to do the same things the same way. I hate the word  “should” and I don’t use it. And, I’m not preaching a perfect, clean home. I get it that lots of parents want more than one kid and they want to play with them and help them with their homework and read to them and sometimes leave the dishes or the laundry. And maybe the dog hides the dirty socks or throws up on the rug. I think, maybe that’s a different faith, a different devotion, or a different expression of the same faith and devotion. I do think people would be happier if they approached their homes with love and care rather than impatience or disgust. What do you feel when you look at the mess? Is it endearing? Cute? Frustrating? Exhausting? Do you wish you had the energy to clean up? Or do you truly like the house messy?
I love a clean home. I need a clean home. I need the kind of serenity I can only receive from clean, shining, uncluttered surfaces. Wood floors, wood surfaces shining, clean windows sparkling. Sunlight. I need to have the time to really stop and admire the sunlight in my home. Lots of books, paintings, music, happy plants and most of all - happy child, happy husband. I remember a visitor coming into our home after we’d had a birthday party the day before. The balloons were still tied to the chandelier and she laughed, “This is a happy house!” Indeed.
If everything changed tomorrow and I had to go back out to work, or start up the business again, I would still try to keep as much of this quality and freedom as possible.
That is my faith and my devotion: to create happiness and beauty. To love and take care of my loved ones.

©Patricia Goodwin, 2015

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days, her third novel, is about the seduction and transformation of Gloria Wisher.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

HOLY DAYS - Love & Horror

“They tried to kill me in this place of love and horror. They tried to kill me, but they couldn’t because I loved too much.” – Gloria Wisher, Holy Days

This morning I read an AP news story about the terrorist shootings at a Tunisian resort in which a shooter opened fire on tourists relaxing on a beach. The writer, Elaine Ganley described the scene: “From accounts of the attack by shocked survivors, tourists who stayed on, lifeguards and beach employees who helped at the site of the massacre emerge stories of love and horror.”
The same can be said for the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, during which some people ran from the disaster and others ran toward the horror to do help all they could. Or the 911 terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers, most people ran away, others, some of them trained professionals, some extraordinary citizens, ran toward the danger to give aid. Our own soldiers rush toward horror in war and they do so out of love, love for country, love for duty, love for honor. Abused children, it has been noted, suffer from the same PTSD as our soldiers. However, in the case of child abuse, the trauma is ongoing like war, not past, until the child grows up.
This morning, I was struck by the similarity of the words Gloria speaks about her home and the description of a terror attack. I have often compared my character, Gloria Wisher to someone who is being terrorized. Nothing so overtly terrible as gunshots or bombings is happening to Gloria. She is being covertly harmed by the very people who are supposed to love and protect her. However, unlike the other terror victims, Gloria is too small to run away. In Holy Days, Gloria Wisher has no choice but to remain in the place of her horror, in the family and the neighborhood where she is being molested.
In another sense, Gloria also runs toward the horror. Gloria never stops loving her family, and her father. In a larger sense, Gloria also loves her home and her neighborhood. She clings to them as a kidnapped victim clings to her kidnapper for food, shelter, comfort – and identity. She loves the boy who will rape her. How can this happen? Maybe it’s because Gloria, though young, is a devout Catholic. But, this love does not involve the Catholic Church or Catholic doctrine. She loves as Jesus loved. This love is not about forgiveness. It’s pure love. Love of life, love of the pain as well as the joy. Gloria’s rapist was hit by a truck when he was little, but survived with a disfiguring scar over his eye that mirrors his disturbed mind. Gloria admires him for surviving such an ordeal. She admires his toughness and his bravery. But, she is also afraid of him. The rapist in Holy Days is a metaphor for the larger scene of horrors that Gloria must struggle with every day. How much of what happens is a part of her? How much should she transform or reject? Gloria loves the people, the smells, the roughness, the softness, the fear and the comfort. On one hand, we love our homes, on the other; we are sometimes hurt by what happens there. By no means am I suggesting that women should love their rapists. It is a fact, however, that the terror of a bad home is very bound up with love.
            A few years ago, I was asked to write a poem for peace. The occasion was a Day of Peace, and I wrestled with this request. Many of my friends were going to be present. They were all writing poems. I was expected to come up with a poem about peace. But, I was bitter. I did not believe in peace. I did not think mankind could ever achieve what my wonderful friends and colleagues were so starry-eyed and hopeful for. So, when I sat down to write, I began with those words, “I do not believe in peace.” I ended the poem with these words, words that describe terrorism of all kinds: “And, I do not believe in hate, because all hate is really love of something else.”  

©Patricia Goodwin, 2015

Patricia Goodwin is the author of Holy Days, about the survival and transformation of Gloria Wisher, When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

HOLY DAYS - Sexual Memories

     Holy Days used to be titled Sexual Memories. Sometimes I wish it still were. It wouldn’t have a child on the cover, though I often talk about Gloria Wisher’s early sexuality in the novel, in such chapters as “Feeling the World,” for instance, because that’s how I remember life. “What a riot, what an orgy of living my little life was for me! I wondered at the peculiar mixture I was of Mama and Daddy, Nona, Grandma and Grandpa and all the things I saw and felt and ate and breathed. A part of me was perverted as though the good in Mama and all her generations had met the bad in Daddy and all his generations, had somehow twisted like a curious string of DNA creating this perversion, putting me beyond them both and everything.”
    Early chapters are structured around strong male and female images, sensual eating, beautiful gardens, wine, powerful paternal and maternal figures, brothers, sisters, men in uniform, women in soft sweaters, cigarette smoking, laughing, lipsticked lips, and the barren city street alive only with people. From the chapter “Love Parties,” “The house banged and stomped and ran with people; it called out and answered in happy shouts. They didn’t talk to each other in normal voices, they bellowed from deep in their bellies, with joy, with rage, with a deep relish of their joy and rage; from room to room, up the stairs or down, from the refrigerator to the stove, from adjoining beds, they loved the sound of themselves.”
     I describe the streets of East Boston in a chapter called “Sexual Law.” Gloria’s mother, Rosie, was forbidden by her father to ride a bike or skate in the street. Gloria’s response was this, “Grandpa knew how provocative these motions could be: her limbs rising and falling, her behind, a smooth, stiff outline, her red curls beckoning in the breeze. Mama on a bike! Mama on roller skates! I can feel Grandpa’s shudder going through me!
     But, Grandpa’s law couldn’t stop sexual law and restraint made Mama even more innocent and desirable. Especially to the bad boys. Boys like Jake and Daddy. Mama was really good. She prayed and went to mass and confession. She received Holy Communion every Sunday. She obeyed her father and her mother. She had that good look: round and soft and unaware of her power, a labyrinth of red curls, chubby legs in ankle socks and thick high heels stepping up into the corner store. The bad ones, without jobs, without homes, dropped out of school, squinting through the haze of cigarettes, were pulled right to her, without knowing what on earth had happened to them.”
     I remember life in the poor neighborhood as being shot through with sex: “When a young woman stepped out of the house, her sex went up like a shot and young men, standing around all day in the company of other men - like soldiers or sailors who’d been deprived of softness and a sweet smell - stood alert suddenly, even though they seemed not to have altered their slouches against the tenement wall or the store window. They squinted over their cigarettes and a hush, as though decided communally, instinctively, fell over them and inwardly, their feelings swelled as she walked by. Maybe one or two didn’t look at her: they watched her without looking. The others gave her the eye, up and down, through the haze of smoke. In the hush, the tension gathered, to be let out as soon as she passed, when they could still smell her, when she could still hear them, they’d let it all out, swoosh, as remarks she could just barely - or not - hear, but could feel, in a rush of heat through her veins.”
     The poor neighborhood is especially vulnerable to sexual power: “The tenements were close, less than two feet of alley separated them. Sometimes one wall held two houses together. Clotheslines crisscrossed, colored flags flapped from them; women’s voluptuous arms tugged the ropes and pulleys. Windows slid open and women’s arms tossed buckets of water out the windows. The women sang out to each other all day, their voices calling Italian like a song. We lived window to window, door to door, radio to radio, telephone to telephone - how many times did Daddy answer another man’s phone, picking up our receiver, saying “Hello?” into the dial tone? How many times did he look across to see another man’s wife naked in the dark?”
     Gloria is a victim of incest. For years, therapists have been telling victims of incest, “Incest is not about sex, it’s about power. Rape – and incest is rape – may be about power for the rapist, but it is about sex for the victim. Incest is about sex.
     Sex is about power. At it’s best, sex is about the mutual power of the beloved: being loved is empowering, being made love to by the one you love who also loves you is empowering. If either partner is unwilling or uncomfortable, then the power structure becomes unbalanced. Sex becomes seduction at the least, rape at the most extreme. My definition of rape – would it have happened if you were in charge?
     Therapists mean well when they tell victims that incest is not about sex; it’s about power. But, victims know better. Therapists admit that sexual pleasure experienced during incest confuses victims. Victims ask themselves or their therapists, “Then how come I had an orgasm?” “How come I sexually fantasize about incest?” “How come incest has become the source of my desires?” “How come I cannot have a happy sex life?” “Why do I always feel guilty or dirty when I have sex?”
       The answer to all of those questions is for the victim, incest is about sex. For most victims of incest, incest is their first sexual experience, one that can both mar and make their sexual identity.  Their rapist is usually someone familiar, someone in authority, someone they trust: the very person who is teaching the child about the world, about reality. Incest becomes the child's view of reality. In Holy Days, Gloria envies what she calls "real people doing real things." She watches other kids, rich kids, going to a local baseball game dressed in real baseball uniforms and feels excluded from such wholesome activities.
      In Holy Days, incest is but a symptom of the over-riding sexual power of the neighborhoods and the families. Gloria is incested by her father. She is also raped by the boy next door. Her brother, who “sells” her to her rapist, becomes a thief at 10 years old. All these crimes are symptoms of the larger, overwhelming Stockholm Syndrome going on in Gloria’s life. The way of the poor neighborhood is to overpower those who live there. Gloria’s father, though good at his job and able to solve monumental problems in the factory, is overlooked by the bosses for advancements that go to, according to Billy Wisher, “college men with their heads up their ass.” In the Chapter “A Child’s Christmas in Revere,” Billy tells a black man that he knows what it means to be black. Why? Because he perfected the shrink-wrap machine and didn’t get any credit or reward while his boss walked off with the patent and the profits. Class becomes another form of slavery.
    In a very real sense, the neighborhood is raping the people every day through violence, poor conditions, neglect and disrespect, and the people, in turn, abuse each other and are proud of being abused as red badges of courage. “I come from Revere, I come from Southie, I come from East Boston,” become wounds worn with pride, a daily war that has been survived with an injury to show for it like a Purple Heart, a shining medal of honor.
     Gloria’s father acted his power upon the one thing in his life that he could control – his daughter. But, for his daughter, incest became a sexual battle she had to fight in order to regain her self-respect. Gloria begins to sink down into sexual promiscuity. Only the love of another troubled girl can help bring her out, into the light of her own promise and recovery. 
   As Gloria says in the chapter, “An Ounce of Pride”: “Romantic and idiotic as I was, what gave me that ounce of pride to keep myself safe? So many kids before and after me went under, looking for love in an alley, oblivion in a bottle or bliss in a joint or a needle or a pill, hit by a Mack truck, rolled and left under an overpass, buried under layers of pigeon shit. So many kids ran away from home. I knew I was supposed to run away, but I was afraid.
            I thought street kids must be very brave. I admired them that they were filthy and slept in doorways and drain pipes, that they ate out of trash barrels like refugees of war, a trash can lid for their plate, maybe scraping it with a spoon. I admired them that they coughed and bled and washed in the gutter, that they went crazy with disease and malnutrition and the street. They were brave! Brave!
            I, on the other hand, ate and drank at my father’s table. I sat right next to him and sincerely laughed at his jokes. I snuggled under the cool, crisp sheets my mother washed for me and, on them I had sex of varying sneaky, cowardly sorts with her husband, her boyfriend, my own father. Under the illusion of a contract of innocence and obedience, I let my parents keep me safe - yes, safe - from murder and robbery, beatings and what I came to think of as violent rape.
            But, there are so many subtle violences. And I was tormented by guilt. For having done bad things, for having enjoyed them much of the time, for having become these things out of doing, memory and time, and for not having the guts to run away. I was guilty. I didn’t want to leave my mother’s lap, soft and flowery in her cotton housedress. I used to sit at her feet and kiss them in their old slippers. I loved their smell, like warm, roasted nuts just out of the oven. I couldn’t leave her refrigerator that I could open anytime for fresh bread and butter, a half wheel of Romano cheese, pounds of sweet ham and hot salami, cakes, pies, ice cream, puddings, apples, peaches, grapes, strawberries, milk and cream. The warm, steaming windows dripping with cooking and tables warmly full of people as the winter howled or sizzling barbeques outside in summer. I was weak and as I tasted these things and wrapped myself in warmth, I nearly vomited with shame. And, among these things, I wouldn’t leave my books and my drawings. And, on Sunday nights, as though I deserved it, I wanted to watch “The Wonderful World of Color,” in black and white and imagined the colors. I reminded myself of the Jews who stayed in Berlin because they couldn’t bear to leave the piano and of the Jew who admired a weed blowing in the icy wind because he knew it was as alive as he was, while the bodies he buried were not alive.
            Why didn’t I go under? What gave me the pride that swelled in me like the dirty grey storm waves at Revere Beach, the pride it took to not get pregnant and the gall instead to tease Boy Scouts and sailors? What gave me the madness to bat Rick Likus about with my paw? It was Mr. Lanza giving me a large gold star for my stories. It was Mrs. French and her long-taloned hand on my shoulder telling me I could write. It was Ma and Daddy - yes, Daddy - bragging that I might be a teacher, that I was going to college and that I would be the first in the family, telling their friends and neighbors with pride about the books I read, about my grades, asking me for information like I was an expert or an encyclopedia. Grown men and women, neighbors, calling on the phone to ask me how to spell a word. They let me know I was worth something: but, they didn’t know how to help me. The very people who confused me, hurt me and neglected me also exalted me. They gave me life, but it was a long struggle out the birth canal.
            And, my angel was out there, looking for me. I had one more very important step to take before I could meet her.”

©Patricia Goodwin, 2015

 More to come about Patricia Goodwin's latest novel, Holy Days, now available on Amazon.

Need help? 
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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