Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Roses Taught Me

Something about the sun stopping
to light up one side of the yellow flesh
now shriveled up, the orange and scarlet lips
now crisp at petal’s edge

Yes, it was the sun catching as it did
the yellow to make bright glow
the sun was Mama, she said, Yes, I bless this yellow with my light
this grandchild who took these yellow roses (Mama’s favorite flower)
from my grave

and brought them home

(nieces and sisters-in-law took pinks away)

I learned as my stolen yellow roses too, dried
from Mama’s sweet, plump flesh to crackling petals and lips
lined as the desert sucking life from their tenderness
as yellow lit up everything else
and softly glowed with acceptance
Mama’s light told me, “Here is my special affection for you
here is my yellow glow
here I am, this yellow

and, I am there with grandchild

with niece and nephews,
with aunt and sisters-in-law
(I glow pink with them)

and with brother, who took no roses
but his memory of my kiss

with daughter, who nursed me
I died in her arms

with grandson who brought trays and trays of sweet pastries
to make everyone happy

that’s what I wanted!

I am laughing in Heaven with my husband, in the pulsating blue sky.”

What roses taught me
when the dried yellow twinkled back at me
the deep folds of her love held together now
with the desert’s last drop of moisture

was simply this

she glowed yellow as the sun
but she did not love me alone

Gemini, chameleon
She would shift her colors with abandon
blithely throwing off one for the other
perfectly merging
perfectly immersed
I watched helpless to hold her to me

she belonged to everyone she loved and lighted

she loved us all.

©Patricia Goodwin, 2013

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die and Dreamwater. She includes her mother, Lena in each book - in WTWD Lena is a caretaker, in Dreamwater, a very cute, noisy baby. Patricia gave her mother's red curls to her character, Rosie Low, mother of the pirate, Ned Low.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Adore: Trapped in Paradise

(Spoiler alert!)

One of my favorite scenes in Anne Fontaine’s film, Adore, is when Saul, Lil’s (Naomi Watts) dogging admirer, shows up uninvited and unannounced at her home. Roz (Robin Wright) is there. Saul is trying to have an intimate conversation with Lil, who has been avoiding both Saul and his affection for the whole film. There’s a stunning moment after Saul declares his undying love, when the two women, who have been friends all their lives, simply look at each other. No words are exchanged. The two actresses carry the communication off perfectly. Their eyes lock, then move, then move again, ever so slightly. As someone who has had that kind of communication, I was thrilled. And, I was thrilled again by Saul’s reaction. “Oh, I see! So, that’s how it is!” Saul’s undying love promptly dies. The two women are grateful to be mistaken for lesbians, considering what’s really going on, and they allow Saul to keep his misconception. They have a good laugh at his expense. (I also love the way Naomi pronounces “Saul.” Her attitude has such a lovely sneer to it.)

For me, that silent moment between the women defines the film.

Saul just doesn’t get it. In fact, no one does. Except the four people involved.

Let’s just put the sex aside for a moment. Even before the boys were grown, the four people, Lil and her son, Ian, Roz and her son, Tom, are in their own world. Another great silent scene shows the four standing together in their mourning clothes after Lil’s husband dies. Roz’s husband is looking on from the window as the two women and their sons mourn quietly together, gazing out at the endless blue sea which is their great comfort zone, symbolized by the raft to which they all continuously swim where they can float and simply be.

The film begins with Lil and Roz as little girls, bursting with life, breathlessly giddy with running and then swimming effortlessly to this raft, where they have a stash of treasures, one of which is a flask of liquor. There, the two little girls drink of the forbidden alcohol and get a bit high on the day and on themselves.

That’s it. They are high on themselves.

It’s happened before. Blue Lagoon. Again, sex aside - remember the part where the two young parents decide to turn their backs on the rescuing ship and return to their island life with their new baby? In Out of Africa, where natives said that white people went quite mad from the altitudes of Kenya, the expats created their own kingdom. Cheri – why, oh, why couldn’t Lea and Cheri just be together? I mean, as a prostitute, Lea lived in an alternate reality where she could have made her own rules. No, instead, the prostitutes pretended they were respectable. It simply wasn’t done. Cheri had to marry and Lea had to be alone. Right, that worked.

In real life -The Brontës had it. The Alcotts had it.

Of course, having it means that you cannot exist outside of it. The air outside of the small kingdom by the sea in Adore is not breathable for the four main characters. They tried it. Thinking they should, two young men actually broke out of their dream life, went out into the “real world” and married women their own age. The part of the film I hate ensues – I like to call it – the monkeys. I fast-forward through monkeys. (Like Julie and Julia – anything that’s not about Julia Child’s life is about the monkeys. I fast-forward through it. They should have just made a biography of Julia Child. But, I digress.)

Now, let’s talk about the sex. Here’s where most people bring their own children into the discussion. Why? “I would never do such a thing!” Of course you wouldn’t and you’re missing the point. You and your children are not in this story.

At the risk of being too simplistic - Sex is a natural part of the natural life. I could watch this movie all day if these healthy, beautiful characters only ate and drank, laughed and danced, swam and surfed, and slept chastely. I am a voyeur of life. The sex is a part of that. But, no more important to me than the whole natural way of life portrayed in the film, a way of life – sans sex with a friend’s son - I would adore.

Adore is a heightened reality. The cinematography portrays a sunny, stunningly blue world. The air is brightly fair or misty blue. Critics have wondered if the raft is symbolic of the womb. Sure, if you could stay in the womb. I think the raft is a symbol of their isolation. For me, the ocean is a sort of womb that you can stay in. The ocean creates the life they live. Surfing alone is an insular life in which surfers must concentrate their entire beings around the waves; they must become one with the ocean in order to ride its back successfully. The four are creatures of the natural world and cannot leave it for long, except for short bursts of work. (The Brontës also suffered when they left each other for the outside world. The Alcotts brought choice persons from the outside world into their inner one.) Lil and her son work at a yachting company. Roz runs an art gallery. Tom is a director of plays. By the way, in reality, those are the jobs that are in paradise! Some critics have also suggested that the four need to “grow up,” “move on,” “get with the program.” Ah, no, actually that’s the point. They have already arrived. The four are in Heaven. There’s nowhere else to go. When Roz’s husband wants her to put paradise behind to follow him to his new job in Sydney, he feels he is a traitor. “No one thinks that, Harold!” is her reply. But, she and her son simply cannot leave.

There's also a bit of The Garden of Eden to the situation, like Eve and her sons. Or Mount Olympus, two goddesses discussing the "young gods" they have created.

The only thing I don’t understand is the title. Yes, the two women adore their sons. And, the sons also adore both their mothers and their respective lovers. However, I don’t get the feeling that their adoration is absolute. I think they all have a very clear knowledge of who they are and who their sons and lovers are, faults, weaknesses, strengths, fears, et al.

They all adore paradise.

I think they also know, deep in their hearts, without speaking it, that the four of them are trapped in paradise, as exemplified by the very last scene when all four are stretched out, floating on the raft without relaxing, without smiling, without touching.

©Patricia Goodwin, 2013

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. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.

Note: This author did not refer to the Doris Lessing short story, The Grandmothers, upon which the film, Adore is supposedly based. She wanted to write about Adore on its own.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Granite Has a Heartbeat: The Paranormal as Normal

I consider the paranormal to be normal. Not that I wouldn’t be scared if my bed suddenly took off across the room or if the windows slammed up and down, but I would ask myself if I wasn’t causing all the ruckus with my angst or pent-up emotion, much like a teenaged telekinetic. Of course, the first thing I would do is pray.
I believe that our ancestors took the paranormal on faith, without proof. For the most part, in modern times, we refuse to take the paranormal seriously because we don’t understand it. That’s the key. One day we will have all the scientific proof we need. But, for now, the paranormal is truly “para” – outside the normal.
I used the paranormal in Dreamwater as a device to help my characters move ahead – not as a deus ex machina – God coming down from on high to intervene – but as a normal, every day tool used by extraordinary people who know how to use it.
I hardly know where to begin when talking about Dreamwater. The paranormal abounds! That’s just the way it is. 
In Dreamwater, two psychics warn New Low that he must return to Marblehead because his mother is in danger of being arrested as a witch. Jordana, a young prostitute, Ned’s friend and consort, tells him that “the Devil is in Marblehead” and Jordana’s mother, an Oracle, gives Ned instructions on how to rescue his mother, “Hide her in the sacred temples, the ones that are built of heavy stones, stones that are aligned with the rising sun, along the path of the snakes.”

Marblehead is laced with tunnels, or so the legend goes – called the snakes in Dreamwater. Several shops and houses in Marblehead are joined by tunnels that also lead to the sea. These tunnels were probably once used by smugglers, and later, most likely used again by escaped slaves in the Underground Railroad. However, like most secrets, the use, even the existence, of the tunnels is very hard to prove as little evidence survives. In Dreamwater, the snakes have paranormal powers.
Marblehead is built on granite. While researching Dreamwater, I wanted to find a book about phenomenon associated with ancient sites such as the Witch’s Cave in Nahant where Ned hides his mother. I found only one – Paul Devereux’s Places of Power, Secret Energies at Ancient Sites: A Guide to Observed or Measured Phenomena.

Burial Hill, Marblehead, MA

It was Devereux who had some success in measuring the sounds granite makes when he used ultra-sound and was rewarded with what I like to call granite’s “heart beat.” I gave the Witch’s Cave a sunrise alignment (a real cave I discovered in Robert Ellis Cahill’s New England’s Ancient Mysteries) as well as a drumming beat that only Molly can hear. In real life, I can tell you that one is transformed in Marblehead. Marblehead is enchanted. Perhaps the living granite has something to do with its powerful force. However, most places, when left natural, have that very power. Earth is beautiful and powerful. If only we didn’t pave over Nature or build malls where marshes should be, we would still be experiencing this force more directly.
In Dreamwater, Molly is an innocent young girl who is attracted to Ned’s dangerous character. When Molly is accused of witchcraft, Jordana has a dream in which the sun and blue sky are hidden away in a dark hole. She knows Ned’s true love has been arrested and thrown into a cell. Reluctantly, she sends Ned a dream. He wakes in terror as he witnesses the black hanging sack being thrown over Molly’s fair head.
As someone who is sensitive and just a little bit psychic, the idea of sending someone a dream in order to communicate or the idea that granite has a heart beat, is not so far-fetched. These are matters of course. Modern psychics live their lives every day using psychic tools the same way they would pick up a knife to cut a vegetable or turn on the faucet for water.
I know how normal the paranormal can be. I know psychics have dreams of great consequence, and true psychics can send information to others, psychic or not, through forms of energy like dreams, visions, sometimes even TV or the internet.
An interesting example of this kind of communication happened a few years ago when I was doing research for When Two Women Die. I came across the website (no longer available) of the psychic, Lynne Olson, who said as she watched TV, in this case, the show Ghost Adventures, she had spoken to one of the spirits in a particularly evil Las Vegas house. She asked why he was still there, and the ghost answered, “There’s no heaven for the likes of me. This is a pretty good deal for me. Me and this house clicked.” Later, lead ghost hunter, Zac Bagans remarked, “The house and I clicked.” Zac had no way of knowing what the psychic had heard or what the ghost had said.
I’ve been following ghost hunting for decades now. I have never forgotten a ghost hunting show (years before the Dan Ackroyd’s Psi Factor) by Peter Ackroyd, Dan Ackroyd’s father, that revealed some of the best film footage I have ever seen to this day, including night footage of a very lively kitchen where drawers and cabinet doors were opening and closing, plus some lovely ghost writing in the air. This show is also no longer available. Early ghost hunting used a lot of Polaroids, recordings, and night cameras, still used today. In Dreamwater, in 1995, Peter Treadwell is struggling to come to terms with his wife, Beth’s murder (When Two Women Die). Meanwhile, his little girl, Emily, sees and speaks to her mother’s ghost. Peter’s son, Pete, is eager to invite ghost hunters in to investigate. Young Pete takes a quick Polaroid after his little sister says their mom is right there in the kitchen. The snap develops right before their eyes into a shining orb with a world of special effects within it. Later, the fifteen-year-old ghost hunters – using early 1995 technology - find more evidence, including Polaroids of ghost writing, EVP recordings, night vision (One of the fifteen-year-old ghost hunters has a laptop with early Army technology.) and night film of a stuffed animal being petted (obviously, night vision filming is more “earlier-than-the-rest-of-us” U.S. Army technology). In Dreamwater, a psychic is used by the ghost hunters to communicate with Beth’s spirit. Questions are asked and answered through a child’s toy. Later, Beth’s spirit has a unique interchange with her husband, comforting him as only she can.

(Each one as unique as each spirit!)

Last, but hardly least, I haven’t mentioned Edward Dimond’s magic telescope, which allowed Ned’s mother Rosie to view her son far away in the Jamaicas, a comfort that got her arrested for witchcraft. Dimond’s telescope is legendary in Marblehead and was used by the old psychic to watch for Marblehead’s fishing vessels in trouble on the high seas (When Two Women Die).

When we think of the paranormal being “para” or outside normal experience, we are ignoring, or at least, taking for granted the wonders going on all around us. When someone says to me, “I don’t believe in all that crap. I need scientific evidence,” I like to say, “Look around you. Do you see anything that is less fantastic than the paranormal? Anything science truly understands? A tree? A flower? A dog? The sun?” I doubt it.

©Patricia Goodwin 2013

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. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.

Monday, August 19, 2013



    In order to write Dreamwater, the sequel to When Two Women Die, I had to follow my character, Ned Low to some very dark places. On the surface, he is the powerful, evil character we love to hate. But, Ned is more than that.
    When Ned was kidnapped at the end of When Two Women Die, I knew in my heart what would happen to him. Upon researching the time period, my suspicions were confirmed. Because I thought the most obvious position he could hold was cabin boy, a lowly servant on the ship, the first thing I did was look up the definition of cabin boy. I found this sarcastic reference on “Often buggered by the professional sailors onboard until they get shore leave.” Buggered is a slang term for sodomy, though both terms have been used to mean other forms of sexual contact, or even loose living in general. Further research reinforced what I thought would happen. But, the clincher came from the articles (ship’s rules) of pirate Captain Bartholomew Roberts, which stated “No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them.”
    From that rule alone I knew I was right. The fact that a rule needed to be made said very clearly that the situation was real. Ned would probably have been sexually abused. I felt, in Dreamwater, Lowther would have taken Ned for himself exclusively.
    17th Century attitudes toward sex were very different than our modern ones. We think in terms of child abuse, and rightly so. As late as the 19th Century, however, child prostitution was rampant. Decent people will always find adult sex with a child to be abhorrent. Nevertheless, for many children in the 17th Century adult sex may have meant survival - a very sad kind of survival. Every day, Ned wants to “slit Lowther’s throat” but he needs him to survive.
    Pirates were savages. Not followers of rules, though historians will tell you, “Oh, yes! The ship’s articles were taken very seriously.” I think historians are referring to privateers, those civilized beings that bathed, dressed in silk and played violin. A privateer was a different animal. A privateer had a license signed and sealed by royalty to commit theft and bring the spoils back to his King or Queen. If a privateer killed while committing this royal theft, the law might look the other way.
    Pirates were criminals. They had no license to steal or kill. They may have had articles but, from my research, I doubt a real pirate followed stringent rules. Even now, shipboard rules are in place to keep order, as a ship cannot sail in chaos. However, pirates were wild. They were almost constantly drunk, and often fell overboard because of it and drowned. To illustrate the bedlam that was normal on a pirate ship: the articles of the real pirate Ned Low included rules about drunkenness during the taking of a vessel, as well as rules against shooting pistols below deck. Sex between men aboard ship, where quarters were cramped and privacy nil, seems to have been a matter of convenience and mutual consent; it happened regardless of rules. The rowdy celebratory sex that occurs after successfully taking a ship in Dreamwater was a well-chronicled part of pirate revelry. Pirates’ lives were based on risk and murder, thievery and instant gratuitous pleasures that were to be grasped quickly and savored lest the chance be wasted. Death was quite literally at their door.
    In my research, I also learned this harsh truth: pirates loved to torture. Pirates were vicious. They celebrated their victories by playing with their victims in ways that rivaled the Inquisition. Every form of torture I mention in Dreamwater was documented and performed at one time or another by actual pirates or slave traders. For instance, as an adult, the pirate Ned Low really cut off and roasted the lips of a captain whose ship he had taken, and forced the man to eat them. Slave traders could be just as brutal as pirates, using torture to control their captives.
    However, Ned Low is more than a villian. He has redeeming virtues: his strength, his vulnerability and his love for women.
    In Dreamwater, Ned is taken up by the whores of Isabella as a kind of toy or mascot. Ned is also in love with Molly Treadwell. Ned Low is more sociopath than charming rogue, but his appreciation for women and especially his affection for the good and beautiful Molly Treadwell redeem him. And, yes, a part of Ned’s attraction to Molly is his desire to have power over goodness. Perhaps to defile goodness, but after doing so, he is in love. Goodness wins.
    In history, the real pirate Ned Low was a romantic. In his youth, he had been something of a playful thief back in England. He tried to go straight in Boston, where he wed his true love, Eliza Marble. The real Ned Low did not become a pirate until his beloved wife died in her second childbirth. He had already lost a son. After some trouble during which Low killed a man, he turned to piracy. Low left his daughter behind, an action about which he expressed deep regret. Sometimes, when he was lucid and not drunk, he would “weep plentifully” for his lost child.[1] Because of his own romantic experience with love, Low always asked a man if he were married before pressing him; he would only press single men on to his ship. He was known to free female prisoners.
    Loving Molly might be Ned’s redeeming virtue and Molly may essentially be a good person, but her affection for the wicked Ned proves her youthful attraction to the forbidden: Molly is not completely innocent. Like a typical pre-teen, Molly is off dabbling in things she shouldn’t – magic and romance with a bad guy. I had no intention of joining Ned with Molly. She threw her scarlet ball of yarn according to the courtship game in When Two Women Die, but when Ned’s foot came down on it, and all the girls giggled, I realized Molly loved Ned. I had intended to marry her to another character. It was clearly an instance of characters taking off in their own direction away from the author’s intention. I felt something shift in Molly and I followed her lead. I always listen to my characters and consider where they want to go. I am in charge, but after all, they are the ones who love and fear and struggle.
    I want to talk about age. In Dreamwater, Ned and Molly are very young. Because of their youth, I wanted to stress in 1995 how advanced young people can be; that is why I made Pete and Sarah very smart at only ten, and why the ghost hunters are fifteen years old.
    In the 17th Century, there was no age of consent, as we know it, because fathers gave their consent, not girls or boys. Children were betrothed or even married at age two or three, sometimes because one parent, or both, had died. Marriage was an economic necessity of life. A partnership of survival. A classic example of early marriage is in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, when Juliet’s mother chides her for being unmarried and middle-aged at fourteen. Elizabeth Treadwell herself was married at fourteen. Molly Treadwell, at ten. Therefore, we do have a marriage consummation scene between eleven-year-old Ned, who has been tutored by the prostitutes of Isabella on Isla Hispaniola, and Molly, who is a ten-year-old virgin.
    Ned is also strikingly handsome. We seem to have a deep psychological need to be attracted to our villains. Some of our most popular villains are handsome. From Robert Lovelace and Alec D’urberville to Patrick Bateman and Tom Ripley, we love to hate an appealing villain. Ned is certainly good-looking. In When Two Women Die, when we first see him, I describe him thusly: “His sharp features cut a darkly handsome profile into the bright day.” Some have called Ned a hero, because of what he accomplishes in Dreamwater, but I think we have blurred the line between hero and villain. Sometimes, in our stories, our villains become our heroes.
    I want to take a minute to discuss the liberties I have taken with history. The real Ned Low, according to records, was born in London in 1690. I wanted Ned to be a character in When Two Women Die and I needed him to be at least nine years old in 1690, so I adjusted his birthplace and his age.
    There were other, more inconsequential, details I altered for my own use in When Two Women Die. I changed Edward Dimond’s house to be much simpler than historians believe because I disagree with them about the house. I think it was built much earlier than the 18th Century, because Edward Dimond was in Marblehead before the 18th Century. For the sake of drama and character, I wanted Ol’ Dimond to be a loner in a very small fisherman’s shack. I also made Elizabeth’s house more humble, with a ladder instead of a staircase in order to add tension and danger to events that happened on that fateful stormy night when she and the children hid from pirates in the upstairs bedroom. I changed Roger Williams’ name to “Codger Williams” for effect. By 1690 he was already dead when I needed him to ride down the road so that Rosie could throw raspberries at him. However, the real Roger Williams really did try to force the women of Salem to wear a veil over their faces and John Cotton really spoke against him. Just at a slightly earlier time. I wanted to show how attitudes were beginning subtly to shift in Salem toward the dangerous and frightening situation of the witch trials. In When Two Women Die, Rosie goes to see Ol’ Dimond to ask his psychic advice about her pregnancy. In Dreamwater, just two years later, she will be arrested for practicing witchcraft with the old seer.
    Dreamwater, like When Two Women Die, is full of magic and paranormal occurrences. Marblehead, with its simple historic homes, old winding streets and dramatic rocky shores, lends itself to mystery. Pirates are still sighted climbing over the rocks and the mysterious Englishwoman’s screams are still heard at midnight. I hid Rosie, Molly and the baby, Lena in the “Witch Cave” in Nahant, possibly a site of ancient worship, where an accused witch and her daughter actually did hide in 1692.[2] Magic and the paranormal (more normal than we realize) were ever-present in our ancestors’ lives and are still present in our own. We’d recognize these constant, daily phenomena if we only looked with open eyes and open minds.

    Of course, in Dreamwater, I have a whole set of other characters in 1995 who are also struggling to make their dreams come true: Peter Treadwell is trying to come to terms with his young wife’s sudden death, while his daughter sees and speaks to her mother’s ghost; his son Pete wants to study ghost hunting, but finds himself caught up in internet dangers; Jo Simmons just wants to enjoy her new business and her new husband, but she is being stalked; Cassandra is working very hard on understanding reality as well as she understands her psychic visions.
    We’ve learned a great deal about how to live since the 17th Century, as you will see, when you read Dreamwater. Now we have someone to call when we are in trouble. But, we still struggle. 
    As ever, Marblehead emerges as an extraordinary place. A place of almost paranormal loveliness, a place of history, of magic, a place where people still strive, but a place where many, rich and poor, have divined how to live, how to find their dream and how to make it real.

[1] Edward E. Leslie, Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls, Houghton Mifflin, 1988, account of the captive, Philip Ashton of Marblehead, p. 95.
[2] Robert Ellis Cahill, New England’s Ancient Mysteries, Old Salt Box, 1993, p. 32.

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about the legends of Marblehead, and Dreamwater, the sequel to When Two Women Die, about the terrifying journey of Ned Low in 1692 and the restless ghost of Beth Treadwell in 1995.