Mirror Mirror

Women who grab power, or try, are generally reviled or at least held in suspicion (see the day’s news for examples). Mistrusted. This was true throughout our long history, when stepmothers were always evil and maidens always powerless and pure. When independent or sexual women were accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake-that’s not some cute historical narrative-those women were murdered. Funny how the Brothers Grimm were writing their misogynistic tales full of violence toward women about the same time. And all the women and girls watching learned a powerful lesson. Namely, it’s safer to hide under the protection of a man, shut up and keep your head and skirts down. Ever wonder how those themes play out in society today?

Much serious scholarly research has already been done on this subject, but I have written an unserious poem about Snow White’s stepmother for an assignment in my creative writing class. (See also Forbidden Fruit) I know it’s not a serious poem because my professor told me it isn’t. Maybe that is why it was fun to write.

Here it is:

Dead Madonna

Her loving arms a memory now

An intruder’s face emerges in the

Mirror, Mirror on the wall

Who is the fairest of us all?

No longer you, faded queen

The Virgin waits with her little men

unsullied body

a heady cocktail

of youth and beauty

waits to quench the thirst of the prince.

She is the only draught worthy of rescue

Resignation to fate her only

hope of elevation

Attempting escape

Renders her attributes mute

Else she will fall

To the dark magic of assertion

The witchcraft of power

The banishment of desire

In that case

Boil her lungs and

boil her liver

Use plenty of salt

Set a place for one

Lips smacking

bloody in the middle 

Mirror Mirror…

Still the young one

Why is it only Witches

demand a place at the table?

And where is her father now?

He rides away with

a nudge and a wink

 and his men and his horses

pockets full of money and deeds

and larger concerns

And so I ask you

Do we write our stories or do the tales tell us?

P.S. My memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions Of a Preacher’s Kid, releases on April 4th! It is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

I’m On Amazon!

I kinda can’t believe this is happening. But it is.

My book is available for preorder on Amazon! (New review below)

AMAZON LINK

Review from Cami Ostman:

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid is a brave, unflinching look at what happens when secrets go untold and questions go unasked. Ms. Russell’s no-nonsense voice carries the reader into the dark crevices of TWO nuclear families living in hypocrisy and shame. And when she finally finds her own way into the light, she gets there in the most unconventional way. Uncomfortable Confessions is a must-read for all of us who have ignored what was right under our noses.

Cami Ostman, Editor of Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religion and author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents

 

 

The Savage Price Of Piety

One of the great things about having adult children is when they share the music they listen to or the books they read or the things that make ’em happy. They grow up good if you don’t kill ’em. Which brings me to the song of the day: Poor Isaac by The Airborne Toxic Event.

See, it all started with Spotify and a shared playlist. Poor Isaac was on it and my son wasn’t sure if I would like it because it’s kinda rock and roll and I am not so much. But its a freaking amazing song and got me thinking about the story of Abraham and Isaac, the highlights of which I remember from Sunday school.

God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a test of faith or loyalty or whatevs. Sacrifice as in stab to death. Murder. And here’s the kicker-Abraham agreed to do it. Can you even imagine? I found this so shocking as a young child that I asked one of my parents if they would kill me if God said to, hoping they would say of course not. Instead, they explained that since Jesus died on the cross, sacrifices were no longer required. Not sheep or goats or children. God would never ask them to sacrifice me, so no worries. I could be thankful to Jesus for that lucky escape. Obviously, the penalties for murdering your child because a voice in your head tells you to are more severe now than they were back in ol’ Abraham’s day, but I didn’t know that.

Just when I think I’ve turned over all the stones… anyway, it’s a great song and I hope you will give it a listen. Also, if your kids have made it to adulthood like mine have, track them down and hug them tight, one more time.
rock band - copy

Once more:

Poor Isaac

A Braided Chain

When I was a kid, Dad always had a new car. This time it was a long, cool, blue Oldsmobile with brand new technology-an 8 track cassette player. A cassette of sinful radio hits was included, forbidden music I couldn’t wait to hear.

As we cruised along, noses full of new car smell, Dad popped the illicit tape into the player, probably in order to stop my begging. I kneeled in the back seat, head shoved into the rear deck, as Brandy floated into my ear. I could see her fine, silver necklace and her long, brown braids. I had confused the braided chain of her necklace with her hair. Don’t judge me, I had long, brown braids and had already merged myself into Brandy.

I could see the eyes of the red-bearded sailor she loved and the warm whiskey and wine glow. The scene created itself, spooling out of my six year old brain, as the road pulled away outside the rear window. I felt Brandy’s longing for a man who couldn’t stay, even though he knew she would be a good wife, and the mist of the seaport air. I hoped Brandy was safe while she walked home alone, in the dim light of the harbor. The stone streets were wet with recent rain.

I am telling you this was a detailed daydream. And they used to wonder why it was so hard to get my attention sometimes. As soon as my parents noticed my fixation, the tape disappeared, of course. The struggle to keep me focused on church music was real.

Sitting in a bar last night, listening to the best blues singer I’ve ever heard anywhere, suddenly Little Steve O was singing my song. The visuals my child brain created banged back into existence in an instant. I still remember every word to that song. How could I forget? I didn’t think about the fascinating effect of music on a child’s brain, but I did close my eyes and sing along, transported to another place by his haunting vocals and waves of guitar riffs.

Side note: The Red Hot Chili Peppers also did an excellent rendition of Brandy.

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

The final, as-good-as-I-can-make-it version of my memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, just swooped through space to my publisher.

After weeks (months?) of editing, reading, proofing, re-reading, re-editing, re-proofing, I am STOKED to be done, at least for now. My dog will be so happy to have my attention again. I am so grateful to those of you who have hung around while I went down the writing rabbit hole. The picture is my proposed cover (yes, that’s me). What do you think?

Pre-orders will be available in early spring. If you want a personal notification when they are available, you are welcome to email me at ronnarussell23@gmail.com and I will put you on the list.

And now, it’s time for a very large glass of wine. Or three.

This Place Feels Sticky

I remembered something.  There was this weird thing that happened to me a lot in the Pentecostal church, so it must have happened to others, too. Maybe it happened to me more often since I ran wild on bible college campuses as a child. I don’t know.

Men would offer to be my boyfriend.  They would call me their girlfriend in intimate and flirtatious ways and pretend to want to date me. I usually knew they were not serious, but to have the attention of grown men as a ten or twelve year old girl was confusing and head-turning stuff.

Now I know their words were sexual predation. Grooming, if you will.  Had any of those men, most only eighteen or nineteen themselves, some older, had a more nefarious bent and tried to corner me in a dark room, I would have complied.  I would not have thought to resist.

As #MeToo moments go, being noticed in sexually or romantically suggestive ways by men is “not that bad.” I was never raped, have no violence to report, no molestation, no physical contact, except for that once, but I knew no one would believe me. And yet… I remember them all.

My value as a human was defined from day one by my appearance and my sexual value.  “You’re going to be beautiful when you grow up,” they would say, with a glance up and down, while everything sexual was condemned and shamed within the cult of the United Pentecostal Church.  Sex education was non-existent, information forbidden, genitals unnamed, normal developmental desires were an unspeakable sin punishable by the fires of hell. They were not joking.

Add in the Biblical philosophy of the second class nature of women and the demand for their submission, acquiescence, and silence.  The female body was vile and a dangerous threat; our shoulders and kneecaps an abomination to the eye, designed to tempt unwitting men. Scriptures seemed to be full of stories of women whose offense was to be curious or smart or beautiful (Eve, Lot’s wife, Jezebel) and they were always killed or banished for their infractions. Jezebel had the audacity to decorate herself and so was fed to dogs. Her story was a little more complicated than that, but the Sunday School literature blamed it on makeup and jewelry.

But, still, be pretty. Be pretty and wait to get laid by your future husband, a man of god who will pick you to have his children and play his piano. The scrutiny of every detail of females’ appearance played into this culture of sexualization, even of children. Our only value was sexual; our sexuality was also our shame. What a twisted fucking message.

In defense of those males, except for that one who knew better, they were victims of the same culture. I doubt any of them gave a second thought to the things they said to the Bible college campus child-pet and would probably be horrified to have their words marked as predatory or even inappropriate. Who knows what they got out of it.

“A woman’s body always stands on the outskirts of town, verging on uncivilization. A thin paper gown is all that separates it from the wilderness. Half of its whole being is devoted to remembering how to live in the woods. This is why Witch, this is why Whore, this is why Unlucky and this is why Unclean. This is why attempts to govern the female body always have the feeling of a last resort, because the female body is fundamentally ungovernable.”   —from Priestdaddy, a memoir by Patrick Lockwood

Of all of the books I’ve read that I wish I had written, this is the one I wish I had written the most.

Isolation

I’m thinking about isolation.  Not what you do on a Sunday morning? Just me?

Several recent conversations with my sisters and my mother have reminded me how isolated we all were from each other in years past.  The stage was set within our family for absolute obedience and we were a perfect storm of noncommunication.

Firstly, the cult of Pentecostalism required isolation from the world in general, effectively taking away any context for normality.  Intrinsic to that religious culture is the submission of women to men.  Women cannot hold positions of power or have a public voice.  Their submission must be evident in behavior and appearance.

But you know that.

Add in an ambitious, power-hungry, sexually frustrated narcissist on a mission from God with a public persona to protect and we have a family of women who were not allowed to talk to each other.  Not because we didn’t want to, but because we were forbidden and didn’t know how.

When crises came around, we were already in a state of silence.  By the time my teenage fallopian tube exploded (see Close Call for the story) and I was near death, we were all perfectly trained. All Dad had to say was do not speak and we didn’t.  Our silence went far beyond lying to church people who would judge him for having a wayward daughter.  He didn’t have to tell me not to speak.  I hadn’t spoken out loud in my family for years and was not about to start.

Mom knew I was sick but was not allowed to visit me in the hospital, nor to comfort me afterward.  Dad told my sister that Mom didn’t know what happened to me and not to tell her, so she didn’t.  My sister was the only person who spoke to me during my six weeks of recovery following surgery.  I sat home alone with no one to blame but myself. My other sister was told nothing at all.

Silence filled our home, the air too thick to breathe. Not one word was spoken between mother and daughters nor sister to sister about the fact that one of us had a tragic, terrifying, near-death experience.

Thirty-ish years later, with the threat of Dad’s wrath long gone, we talk.  Now we know what we were forced to deny.  Now we say the words.  Now we are free to love each other.  And breathe.