Party Train to Hippocamp

The road to Hippocamp Writers’ Conference is dark with no bathrooms and requires driving for hours through torrential rain, tunnels and construction zones, and being blocked in by eighteen wheelers. Holding my pee, I eased through the EZ pass gate where I took a wrong turn last year, nervous to get it right in 2019. I glanced at the map on my phone, but there were flashing lights all around and too many choices, so I took another wrong turn, but a different one this time, so not even the wrong surroundings were familiar. It was a brand new wrong turn, and now I’m in a detour lane with no shoulders or exits.

PROCEED TO THE ROUTE my British male Siri barks, clearly annoyed.

At this moment, from the bowels of my iTunes library, came the sound of an oncoming train-ch-ch-ch-ch WOOOOOOOOT WOOOOOOOOT ALL ABOOOOAAAARDParty Train by The Gap Band circa 1983 thumps out of my stereo speakers. PROCEED TO THE ROUTE British male Siri insists urgently. Every all aboard Anybody want to take this ride the funky beat surges louder.

My churning gut emits a fetid belch and I catch a whiff of nervous sweat blossoming in my armpits. PROCEED TO THE ROUTE PROCEED TO THE ROUTE British male Siri screams, as if somehow I can comply. I cannot PROCEED TO THE fucking ROUTE because I’m in a fucking detour lane in bumper to bumper traffic, flying through the darkening dark with orange and white striped barrels on one side and a solid barrier with angry reflectors on the other. Our reluctant trio flies on through the night, The Gap Band, British male Siri, and I.

Suddenly the highway widens into two lanes and traffic spans out.

Get down, get down, get down tonight We’re gonna party, gonna party on the train tonight…

Jesus Christ, can I take my hand off the wheel to turn off that goddamn song now?

The car directly to my left rear-ends the car in front of it with a screech and bang.

Nope.

Damp fingers grip the wheel until a blessed exit sign appeared. I silence British male Siri and an iTunes library in need of serious updating, and enter Lancaster, PA through side door.

P.S. Hippocamp19 was AWESOME and I am so glad I went. Next year I am flying.

gap band rear

Rape Culture: What the pedophilia cover-up at Calvary Gospel Church has in common with the Jeffrey Epstein case

We see it over and over in the news-priests in the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist scandal, Michigan State University, countless youth ministers in Christian churches… the list is endless. Adults rape children while other adults actively cover-up the abuse to protect their institution.

How can this be?

The short answer is that we live in a world wherein rape culture thrives. Rape culture is defined as follows, just so we are all on the same page:

Rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. Behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, slut-shaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence, or some combination of these.

Pedophilia is a subset of rape culture, when the descriptions above are targeted at children. Because, honestly, if the bodily autonomy of anyone, man or woman, is not respected, it’s a short downhill slide to minors. What’s a year or two or three when you’re already depraved?

Children are generally more easily manipulated than adults. Kids who are poor, hungry, and lonely are most often the victims of sexual abuse. We see this in every story that comes to light. It’s the kids no one is keeping track of, the kids whose parents aren’t paying attention, and don’t have the resources to sue anyway. These kids have needs and when they are offered comfort, often don’t see the erect penis coming at them from behind the ice cream cone.

If they object or tell, they are shamed, blamed, and threatened. When Debbie McNulty told her pastor at Calvary Gospel about her molestation by a man in the church she was sent away with an “I’ll get back to you.” He didn’t, but somehow everyone in the church found out and blamed Debbie, who was branded a slut at eleven. Even the molester’s wife blamed her. Debbie’s molester was moved around, forgiven, and still pastors a church.

When Jeffrey Epstein ran an international sex trafficking ring for billionaires, a whole community of people knew: recruiters, pilots, housemaids, neighbors, etc. His victims, poor kids who needed money for food and clothes, were threatened to prevent them from speaking about their abuse. His joke of a prosecution chalked it up to soliciting prostitution, as if the little girls he raped were engaged in an equal exchange of power.

Men in power allowed him to get away with it.  They protected the system in which they control the power dynamic on a global scale. It isn’t one church or university or even government; it’s a world wide web of men. Yes, sometimes women are involved, but let’s be honest, it’s mostly men. Calvary Gospel’s cover-up of pedophilia in their church is a microcosm.

Their response to accusations of abuse is predictable. Accuse the victim of being a slut or a whore, no matter her age, and instantly no one cares about her. Easy-peasy.

She had it coming.

She was asking for it.

She wanted it.

You can’t rape a whore.

What was she wearing?

And there you have it, the men involved were seduced. They couldn’t help themselves. Even women will join in to hurl blame at the victims, so immersed are we in this culture of rape.

A shift is happening now, though. Not quickly enough, but change is coming, after millennia of voicelessness. For all of social media’s flaws, the ability to tell our stories to a wide audience is a pretty big plus. All it takes is one brave soul to go first and then other victims come forward. There are always other victims.

And then accountability begins, because everyone has to pick a side on this subject.

*Eve was framed.

Write It Yourself…

Memoirists often write for understanding, as I did. There is something about seeing your own words on the page that offers tangibility and perspective to experiences. When Dr. Thomas Fudge wrote Heretics and Politics, a book about the history of the United Pentecostal Church and a story that heavily involved my father, I was thrilled to be interviewed. Being asked questions about how I experienced life as his daughter was a first. No one had ever asked before. Why would they? I was long gone from the scene. A footnote.

I read Heretics and Politics avidly when it was released only to discover I was still little more than a footnote and felt unreasonably crushed. What was I expecting? To have my life explained to me or perhaps to have my father explained to me? How could anyone, even the estimable Dr. Fudge, do such a thing?

And then I remembered Toni Morrison’s words:

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

And so I did. Thank you, Ms. Morrison, for your words of truth and beauty, and the sharp nudge. Rest in peace.

Do you have a story to tell?

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

Slacking

Rumor has it I have been slacking with the blog posting situation. It is true. I have taken a giant step away from social media lately in order to enjoy my school break and to relish the completion of my book launch. I have been hanging out with the hubby, the dog, my daughter, reading, going to yoga, and breathing. Whew.

Here are some things I have learned during my first year in Ohio:

Midwesterners are kind.

Gentle landscapes are just as beautiful as dramatic scenery.

Wildlife is completely different-giant groundhog things and muskrats, cardinals and yellow finches. No whales.

It takes time to relax into love.

And trust.

The sharp pointy edges of emotional armor require conscious effort to dismantle and set aside. Taking them off is merely the first freeing, weightless step. Then comes inching away from the weapon pile. Letting them gather dust and rust. Wandering so far away you can’t remember where they are or how you ever got them on.

Thunderstorms rock.

 

The Uncomfortable Confessions Of a Preacher’s Kid is available now.

Who Loves Cheese?

What is that one thing you always come back to? That one thing you can never not adore? For me, it’s cheese. Cheeeeeese.

I came up with this while playing around with poetry as short-form memoir during Creative Writing class.

Only Love Remains

How did we begin, my one true love? My passion for you endures unabated. I remember in the early days, a hastily ripped cardboard box, frantically searching for the indented foil seam and ripping back the shiny slick casing. Carefully fingering you onto my tongue as that first mouthful dissolved into creamy liquid that slid slowly down my throat. The melting plasticity of Velveeta cheese food product will always take me back to our first time. As Mom swirled Velveeta into hot elbow macaroni noodles in her blackened bottom pot, the liquid gold slithered through the curved tube creating a heavenly goo so runny it had to be eaten with a spoon.

Changing circumstances took their toll on our relationship over the years. An absent father with dark secrets coincided with subtle shifts in refrigerator contents. Slabs of dense government cheese-American, of course, Ronald Reagan’s gift to the Dairy Farmers of America, filled cheap bread several meals a day. My abandoned, anxiety-ridden mother despised my gluttony, hated me fat, but couldn’t stop me from eating. She had enough on her plate. Dad showed up long enough to forbid her from taking charity and then there was no cheese at all.

How I missed you.

Then, the joys of marriage and two modest incomes provided several packages a week where we could hide the knowledge that we had made a colossal mistake. What better way to fill the holes of missing pieces than with grated four cheese Mexican flavored topping.

Inevitably, backlash came in the form of self-imposed hungry years. Fat-free feta and scant sprinklings of parmesan marked by long periods of abstinence. I shunned you, please forgive me.

And now, now that we have reconnected, slim slices of Manchego and pungent veiny Amish bleu, artfully arranged with seasonal fruit and paired with a crisp Rosé fill my palate with undertones of bourgeoisie as we stroll into the sunset. I will never leave you again.

cheese

Love Notes

I received this message on Facebook and got permission to share. These notes come to me occasionally and remind me why it is so important to SPEAK.  For years I would have given anything to know I wasn’t alone; my heart is full knowing that somebody out there needs to hear what I have to say. 

“I received my book yesterday at work (the girls were excited for me) and devoured it when I got home last night. The girls at work want to borrow it but I told them to buy their own copy to support you. (Sometimes lent books don’t find their way back home too)
It was such a great read, so relatable. My heart broke for you and healed all in a matter of hours. Such strength, Ronna❤️ Thank you again for putting your story out there. Thank you again for being there on exchristian.net when I needed you years ago. You gave me the strength and validation to sort out my feelings and to realize that I’m a great person and that all spiritual shit fed to me was bullshit. Abuse. That it kept me questioning my good self for almost 5 decades. Whatever your reason was to write this book, will impact your readers on a healing and life changing level, I’m sure.
Thank you for being a puzzle piece in my life! Much love!”

hearts

Click the title to order The Uncomfortable Confessions Of a Preacher’s Kid from Amazon.

Reviews on Goodreads

YAY! A Review!

Reviews of The Uncomfortable Confessions Of A Preacher’s Kid are rolling in! I am excited to share what Valerie Tarico (author of Trusting Doubt) has to say:

“Caught between the archaic religious dictates of her Pentecostal family and the complexities of the world outside, Ronna Russell fights for survival and more in The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid. Loneliness, raw sexuality, unexpected kindness and cruelty, and through it all an understated endurance with solid granite at the core, Russell’s memoir is alternately hard, hungry, raw, and tender–like sex and love and parenthood and simply being. I sat down to read the first chapter on a busy day and instead read straight through.” 

I am beyond grateful to the busy authors who have taken the time to read and review my memoir and will share their reviews over the next few weeks.

The Uncomfortable Confessions Of a Preacher’s Kid, release date April 4, 2019, is AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER at a 15% discount directly from the publisher.

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher's Kid full cover