Just meditating on my favorite poem by my favorite living poet… because it’s the only comfort I can find when I again, as always, lose someone and they tell me that I am a curse. I am a drain. I am a monster… because of my illness and how it affects my feelings and reactions. I cannot be softer. Not for long. I cannot be pretty for long. I cannot hide my fierce feelings. I can’t crush them either. And so I just keep losing people. Warsan speaks here of intimate relationships with men… but for me, it’s everyone. You get to a point, if you have this diagnosis, where you feel like everything you touch gets broken. Everything turns to ashes in your mouth. If not today, then eventually.
you are a horse running alone and he tries to tame you compares you to an impossible highway to a burning house says you are blinding him that he could never leave you forget you want anything but you you dizzy him, you are unbearable every woman before or after you is doused in your name you fill his mouth his teeth ache with memory of taste his body just a long shadow seeking yours but you are always too intense frightening in the way you want him unashamed and sacrificial he tells you that no man can live up to the one who lives in your head and you tried to change didn’t you? closed your mouth more tried to be softer prettier less volatile, less awake but even when sleeping you could feel him travelling away from you in his dreams so what did you want to do love split his head open? you can’t make homes out of human beings someone should have already told you that and if he wants to leave then let him leave you are terrifying and strange and beautiful something not everyone knows how to love.
“From the depths of the water I cried out to you, and from the depths of the earth I will call to those who pass by me. Watch for me. See me. And if you find another who is like me, I will give him the morning star.”
From the Aurora Consurgens manuscript, 15th century
I have spent my entire life suffering casualties of war. Not just during my teen and adult years, but honestly, my entire life. Since the day I was born; when Hitler was a corporal. Before I learned to walk, before I could utter human language, I’ve been a soldier of misfortune in an involuntary vanguard; engaged in nuclear hostilities and napalm death. And I have always been Awkward Squad.
When it comes to interpersonal relationships in a family dynamic, complete honesty is not something merely excruciatingly hard won with intensive and empathetic therapy and learning proper communication skills. No. “Oh, my sweet summer child.” 2 The probability of its existence is Pluto-remote, if not out of the orbit of possibility altogether. Cognitive dissonance “is a helluva drug.”3
Calling for accountability from people in your personal life on a public platform is never, ever, ever a canny idea; particularly on a space wide open to anonymous invasion from strangers’ eyes staring out from the darkest depths of the internet and beyond. Especially if the people you are playing j’accuse with are always the last ones to see themselves for what they really are. On the contrary, they are in fact overly obsessed with their social standing and what people think of them. They won’t tolerate anything from anyone, no matter how close, not even if blood related, if it jiggles or scratches at the flawless and enviable Jungian personas they purport to the world.
Their worst fear isn’t losing loved ones to death or suicide, their worst fear is what their peers might think of them if the truth came out. At forty-three, I’m still not sure what this “truth” is, really. I suppose everyone has their truth; the truth they don’t want anyone else to see. I’ve only caught glimpses of their truths, enough to know that I couldn’t emotionally compensate if their personas disappeared. I have a shuddering suspicion their full Monty is something akin to a Lovecraftian nightmare.
So, I’m not interested in crucifying guilty parties, here. Or trying to hold anyone besides myself to account for the tatty suitcases full of damage and agony that I drag around with me every day. Pursuing that goal is without merit for me at this point. I’ve established beyond all doubt that it’s utterly pointless and offers me no emotional probate or sentimental assuagement, anyway. As my favorite Marilyn Manson song goes…
I wrapped our love in all this foil Silver tight like spider legs I never wanted it to ever spoil But flies will lay their eggs.3
I will say that if you have one narcissist or superiority complex in your immediate family, you are pretty well in a state. If that narcissist is personally responsible for your emotional and physical wellbeing and development, well, you live a life on the tenterhooks. But if you’re like me, those comparisons aren’t quite even or just so. Seriously. Not even a little bit. I had three parents. Two are surviving. One, who died in 2012, was highly likely suffering from an illness or illnesses like what I deal with; caused by the pain and invisible keloid scars from layers of trauma and family violence. I’ll never know now. She never accepted that she had a problem. She drank herself to death instead. That was the most comforting and nurturing parental relationship I had, and she could be a real waspish, spiteful shrew when she wanted to be, let me tell you.
The other two are more of a sinister nature. I had not one suspected narcissist in my immediate family responsible for my care, but two. Two. In all things, despite the rarity of narcissistic personalities partnering with others of the same sick bent for a long-term relationship, they were always a united front against not just the world outside our family, but also against me personally. And to this very day, they still readily (and not without glee) embody the title I gave them: The Best Heavyweight Gaslighting Tag Team Champions in the World.
My background was a perfectly diabolical Agatha Christie set up. I never had a chance. Not even an atheist’s prayer of a hope to avoid disaster and catastrophe. So, when I moved to Arizona in the year 1999 after giving birth to my first child, my life took an even darker road. I stumbled through a self-perpetuating series of victimizations in abusive and exploitative intimate relationships full of vicious psychological ill-use, physical battery, pathological control, repeated rape and sodomy, physical torture, and accumulated and compounded near miss almost murderings.
Then, every relationship after, apart from one, was abusive too. I walked away from my last abusive relationship in 2018, and it took a widowmaker heart attack to get me to do it. All these mentioned events were also punctuated and stricken through in every part with multiple attempts to end my own suffering full stop. Even that widowmaker heart attack was self-induced.
The end results? Fifteen years of looking into a clouded, warped mirror and sorting through the DSM-5 searching for shadow answers that never fully clicked. A chronic struggle with the toxic side effects and exacerbation of symptom severity because of the countless number of psychotropic medications that were casually thrown at me in massive doses by ethically questionable psychiatric professionals with compassion fatigue, using almost pure guesswork and random experimentation to see what, if anything, might stick.
Until finally, in utter desperation and total defeat, I reached out to a trusted friend and PhD Childhood Trauma Specialist. She knew me very well from our long-time connection on social media, and she told me exactly what was broken in me and why; that it was not my fault at all and never had been. And as I sobbed in relief, she then said to me emphatically that despite me being told to my face by a licensed therapist (during a session) in the past that there was no hope at all for “people like me,” full remission was not just possible, but even probable and highly likely.
I accepted her diagnosis of Complex Trauma Disorder, or CPTSD, and fully committed to one-on-one therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy groups twice a week, every week. And I will go on with these self-improvement pursuits forever and a thousand years, or so long as I live, like that abhorrent Celine Dion “Titanic” song, if that’s what it takes.
After just ten weeks of treatment, I now have some real perspective. And hope. And faith. And trust. And I love myself, I think. Maybe. Since starting therapy, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts at all. Not even for a moment. Astounding. For the very first time in my entire life of over four decades, I believe I’m going to be okay and that being okay is positive and life affirming and feeds itself and will eventually grow. Like Boston ivy, maybe. But even so, CPTSD is no uncomplicated thing. If you want to know what it’s like living in the headspace of someone like me, someone who has an Italian Timpano di Paste of Trauma inside of their body, scarring their psyche, and a very haunted, aching, throbbing heart, I have a finespun metaphor that’s straight from the legends, myths, and lore of the fathomless sea.
People like us, people like me, we’re all drama school alumni; our first starring roles after graduation are the titular characters in the 2003 film “Open Water.” The film follows the true story of a couple on vacation who get on a boat to go scuba dive and explore a local reef. But they swim too far out and are gone too long, and the boat captain doesn’t count heads as swimmers return to the boat. The rest of the scuba divers and crew don’t notice anyone is missing, so the boat calls it a fun day and goes back to shore, leaving this couple all alone in the middle of the ocean to tread water until they exhaust themselves to death, are eaten by predators, die of exposure, or drown, whatever comes first. Supposedly, they lasted three days. No trace of the divers was ever found. And we cast mates, who took these parts as our first gig, are on location at this deep-water set doing our very best, but we are all method acting in spite of ourselves and our would-be lofty duty to craft, because we all have extreme and unrelenting thalassophobia.
And if it’s not bad enough to tread water that stretches as far as the eye can see without rescue or even a second of rest, we’re constantly all too aware of the inexorable: that at all times, we await The Kraken and the other monsters too colossal to see. They live in the pitch black of the Mariana Trench and wait for us. And when we come, they rise from the belly of the deep blue to swallow us whole and drag us down to Davy Jones’ Locker for all eternity.
To further season our character and for the amusement of a capricious and cruel Poseidon, there are also incessant Category 5 hurricanes, fetid red tides that stretch for miles, Fukushima disasters that come bearing freakish tidings and Minamata disease, tsunamis, and perfect storms that swallow any and all would-be friends and empathetic rescuers, just like the Andrea Gail, in one single gulp.
We are all of these water elements, and more, all of the time. Rampageous squalls, waterspouts, maelstroms, doldrums that induce primeval and fatal ennui, and finally, just to add more salt to the water in our mouths and lungs, we also get Megalodons and Moby Dicks. And no one can save us from ourselves. No one can rescue me.
Oh, and, if you have someone you dearly love with CPTSD and you’re thinking you’ll just wriggle a couple of floaties on your biceps and jump for it, fucking don’t. You cannot. The first rule of life guarding is when a drowning swimmer jumps on top of you, you must push them the hell away or risk your own death. I also need to point out here: we do not come from the factory with any lifesaving accoutrement. No rafts, no floatation devices, no wooden dinghy with a hole in the stern and a handy bucket, not a one. Not one solitary inflatable boat to be had aboard this vessel, mateys. Sorry. It might be best for you to go ahead and start tuning your violins for “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”5 I only hope you can someday forgive me. If it brings you any comfort, you are not the first casualty, and you won’t be the last. And every single one breaks my heart to pieces and forever after, I will grieve. I must live every single day with that too.
All these woes aren’t even personal crucibles that we can collect and count off as triumphs as they accumulate. They merely test our spiritual resolve and emotional fortitude: Sink or swim, dude. This is fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.
“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim. Swim.”6
When faced with all of this emotional intensity and the giving of my flesh and blood in personal efforts over my life just to continue to breathe, all I really know about myself, the very core of me, is one thing: Mystery. Writers and poets (me included) seem to throw out the term “mercurial” a lot in their work, too many times, in a very blasé manner. I’m here to tell you: that word and this shit is not a fucking game. Having mercury in your veins is not pretty, fascinating, romantic, or alluring at all. It’s toxic. It poisons absolutely everything.
It’s not a melodramatic, intensely hued dream full of introspective journaling, intellectual repartee with attractive people, emotional ecstasy in film noir, spine-tingling poetry, and inexplicable crying fits after fantastic sex. It’s not Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. It’s a living nightmare. I am nothing if not a force of nature, right down to my mitochondria, platelets, and white blood cells. And what is striking in that is the word force, because it distinctly lacks the essence of both choice and consent. And nobody, nobody, ever finds that “good times,” margaritas, and smooth sailing with Jimmy Buffett tunes playing in the background.
And although I can create beauty and charm and crease people up, I also love harder than love has ever loved, and it comes with an extortionate price. It’s a supple love, yes. Strong-boned. Hard wired. Nearly impossible to dissuade once it entrenches itself in my emotional folds. It can heal and levitate and overjoy and endear. And yet, in the very same strokes of over-saturated passion, it can cripple, eviscerate, maim, and kill. It has before. And will again, no matter that my heart might desire otherwise. No matter how I feel.
I’m not a source of light. I’m a vessel. I’m a vacuum. I’m a conduit for the elements. I’m a chasm hellmouth of need. The love I bear comes with it an equal measure of malevolence that I cannot fully control, because the malevolence was carved into me by those that were supposed to love me unconditionally but intentionally chose not to do so. And no matter what I want or intend, or what preparations, disclaimers, and reparations I might make in hope of avoidance or remaining need for recompense, I don’t just devastate… At my heart, even after all the skin, gore, scar tissue, and necrosis are surgically excised and pulled out of the way to fully expose me as an open wound that hemorrhages sensitivity, empathy, need, and vulnerability (often fatally), I am still elementally and utterly annihilating.
“If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.
You leave the same impression
Of something beautiful, but annihilating.”
-Sylvia. Fucking. Plath.
“Underwater Bride” is a song by the Brighton-based folk artist Passenger AKA Mike Rosenberg, off his 2009 album Wide Eyes, Blind Love.
Quote by character Old Nan from the book A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. HarperCollins. 1996.
Quote by musician Rick James referencing his personal cocaine abuse. Interviewed on The Chappelle Show on Comedy Central. 2004.
“Tourniquet” by Marilyn Manson off the Antichrist Superstar album. Interscope Records. 1996.
Quote by character Dory from the film Finding Nemo. Disney Animation Studios. 2003.
Alleged (by A first-class Canadian passenger, Vera Dick, and several other passengers) to be the very last song played by the doomed band on the sinking Titanic.
Featured Cover Photo: Artist: Toni Frissell, Title: Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida, Year: 1947
“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
So, I…. cannot write my novel, presently. My PC took a dirt nap midway through Chapter One, and I cannot make it do what I tell it to even ten minutes after I tell it to do it, much less five seconds before I tell it to, as is the proper joy sparking way. I am heavily pregnant with words, more full of ideas than I’ve been in years, and I bloody hate pregnancy. And also, I’m really bloated and crying at stupid things, and there are cramps and I really want something to eat but fucking hell, not that! Hork. But, no. No baby. I’ve been told by my stupid turkey desktop that even if I am fully dilated and in hard labor, I just have to clench the curtains tight and… “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down…” hold the baby in for a bit. Everything’s fine.
So, I can’t make any progress until my new laptop arrives. But, I thought I would post the introduction, because there are no spoilers, and I am wondering if it’s truly as effective as I feel it is.
Before you read it and then comment and start arguing with me about my statements, slow your ponies. This introduction has a formal tone, because I am using it to set the tone of the story, the testimony, I’m going to write down. I do not hold these beliefs as accurate facts. I leave that fuckery up to our government. I also needed to put some sort of subtle, non-spoilery Trigger Warning before people run across what’s coming and get incredibly hurt and disturbed without warning. No further ado:
Family violence is not a blood puddle of aberration that lurks in the dark psyches of certain criminal minds: society’s shunned dregs; those labeled as personified evolutionary misfires, the few rather than the many. Monsters and predators are the rule rather than the exception. Domestic and sexual violence and the iron fist of patriarchal entitlement will never die or fully disappear from civilization. It is too effective. It is too efficient. It is too easily done. It is embedded in the genomes of our species. It is our most natural, albeit horrific, state.
We cannot win a fight against our own biology. Not with feminism. Not with compassionate parenting. Not with safety and support systems. Not with courtroom justice or the rule of law. Not with honesty. Not with vulnerability. Certainly, not with psychiatry. The theories of nature versus nurture are just semantics. Pointless arguments that we will continue to use to dialectically soothe ourselves with in perpetual intellectual pushes and pulls; verbal and philosophical confrontations comparing and contrasting the best and worst of ourselves until the end of us all, with no purpose and no final key to the puzzle of why we fall in love, marry, fuck, give birth, fight, murder, and devour our own young.
No one tells this bedrock truth. For good reason. Not the social workers or the police. Not the healthcare workers. Not the trauma therapists or the medical examiners that autopsy the victims unsaved. How could we ever go on breathing and thinking and carrying through if we women actually admitted the truth to ourselves about what is truly inside of the partners we need to be able to love if we want to survive?
In the broadest perspectives of Darwin’s Origin and how we two legged creatures measure time, the castes of our society whose missions are to identify, observe, record, educate, prosecute, and attempt to alter our cultural belief systems to mitigate and eliminate intimate violence and child abuse ultimately serve no purpose at all in the scope of the human condition and will never succeed in progressing our consciousness or teaching us permanent change. The only thing that distills the most concentrated and proactive forms of empathy and compassion is extreme and prolonged suffering. And only loss, pain, passion, cruelty, and crime do that. We homosapiens all delude ourselves into thinking our personal crucibles have spiritual meaning and scope and cause lasting change. Our hard scrabble climbs up to the summits of abiding peace, contentment, transcendence, and acceptance of ourselves and each other is such a slow, brutal, and perilous ascent that most never achieve it.
Even when we do manage to miraculously achieve it, acknowledging that it does not matter to anyone except our own selves is something not even one existentially aware being can fully face, especially alone. And so base predation and victimization of each other, particularly those we claim to love the most, persist in spite of our noblest efforts. Not just alongside of us where we watch it happen to other people, but also inside of us, until it has completed its natural purpose in every generation: biological perseverance of the physically and mentally strongest members of the species. The engine of that biological compulsion is distilled in our subconscious Ids and stored in the gristle and gore of our bodies in the form of unwavering and inexorable adherence to the codex of instructions carved into our bones by the Prehistoric DNA that constructs our cells… That we must personally do anything and everything it takes to make sure the blood and bone in our bodies survives our deaths, above anyone and everyone else. Yes, it is a competition. It is a race we are not allowed to scratch out of or intellectualize. Our genetics win or our species dies. And every blood cell, nerve end, synapse, and autonomous physical response in our corporeal forms are knitted around that crux. And we will do anything to achieve it. Absolutely anything at all.’
And there you go. There you have it. I must say here that this book has a more ambitious premise than what you are being led to believe by this brief piece. It won’t all be grim and dark. I have a plan, people, you’re all just going to have to trust me. I have not just one major redemption arc, but two.
I have a lot of opinions on domestic violence, and I’ve been through the cycle many times over many years, since before I learned to speak, up until two years ago when the man who said he loved me was so vicious and malevolent towards me that I attempted suicide and very nearly succeeded. My choice of poison induced a massive heart attack that medical professionals have nicknamed a “Widow Maker,” because not many people survive it. When I woke up, my cardiologist, with a deadly serious look on his face, told me “I’m surprised you’re alive.”
And that was my moment. I woke up alive and this man had failed to win the game he was playing with me. I won. And then the song “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac came to me in my hospital bed and I just nodded my head to St. Felicia and walked the fuck on.
The cover photo you see is upsetting. I know. It’s horrific. That was the point. Years ago, I tried to launch a domestic violence charity. I have always had a strong connection to the character of Ophelia from Hamlet and most Shakespeare nerds try to disagree with me, but I feel like what happened to her was because Hamlet was a domestic violence abuser. He was a bully. End of. Her death was blood on his hands.
The dream was a charity that supported all victims of domestic violence. The women, the children, the men who aren’t allowed to be a victim but get abused anyway and then aren’t allowed to talk about it… and the animals, who are usually the first victims of these monsters, because they are absolutely helpless and without a voice to speak for themselves. I couldn’t launch it. The expense and planning and legal paperwork and staffing and investment made it impossible for me to pull off on my own, with the income I don’t have. But maybe, if this book hits the right key with the right people, I will bring it back again.
P.S. Yes indeed, that is Tom Hardy in the top left of the graphic, haha. If Tom Hardy weeps, you know that shit has gone really wrong and something must be done immediately. This graphic was just a mockup of an idea and never meant for any official use. I have lost the official graphics that I had designed by a professional that turned out gorgeously (I will never forgive myself for doing so, they were just beautiful and devastating and bold), so this had to do.
The graphics were used on the charity website I had made. The theme was black and white photographs of victims, grave stones and sculptures much like you see at cemeteries like Pére Lachaise in Paris, and painfully round, heart’s-blood-red blooming roses, with tears of dew on their bloodied petals.
I had hope of eventually contacting Tori Amos to ask if she would allow me to use her song “Ophelia” to play on the website. This song was another inspiration for my soul, and very much the charity. It is just so perfect and so very me.
The Fairy Goddess Mother, Tori Amos, who I have mentioned on this blog before, is a massive sponsor for RAINN and has been for as long as I can remember and I first discovered her music at fourteen. In my personal interpretation, this song tells Ophelia’s real story, all of the parts about Ophelia that Shakey, as a male playwright existing in a patriarchal society supporting his male main character hero, decided to omit.
I built the charity’s now long defunct website with this song on repeat. Ironically, when I was still seeing that beast that tried to kill me dead two years ago, I dumped him at a cheap hotel to sulk all night while I went to see Tori live for my first time in Mesa. Yes, sobbing was sobbed. I went with a dear friend, I bought us tickets for her birthday, and when Tori began the first refrain of “Ophelia,” I couldn’t. I tried as hard as I could to keep it in, but the sob punched past my throat and came out as a very bizarre noise that was somewhere between a strangled goose honk and a sneeze. Feelings were felt. I saw Tori play this song. It felt like she played it just for me.
I have decided to legally change my name again (for the last time) to finally free me of all of my abuse and family violence trauma… I’m dropping the hyphen in my surname and deleting the middle name my mother gave me after herself that I’ve always hated, and I’m replacing it with the French name, Ophélie. Because I will always have Paris.
I lived in Paris for a short while, when I was young and fresh; on the cusp of sixteen. Some of my most sacred memories of my life are of my time in Paris. Halcyon days, really. I spent many afternoons in the gardens of Musée Rodin in the Parisian air, hearing the birdsong and the metropolitan hum of the City of Lights, sketching the people and the statues, fully mindful in the embrace of tranquility. That is my safe place, the place I have trained myself to go to in my mind when flashbacks from my abuse kick in and I need to put the brakes on or else. That park bench is everything. I will always have Paris.
Finally, (sorry this was so long), I want to end this post with a little darling of mine that I wrote years ago, now. I’ve written a lot of poetry to be proud of. But, for whatever reason, this teeny little sharp-shaped box of precisely neat words is my all time favourite.
Happiness is a wild animal that I only glimpse for seconds at a time before it bolts for its own well-being. When the fox and the wolf and the roe actually approach and lie down in the dark forest next to me, I am so profoundly grateful for their fragile trust and desire for my company that it crushes my heart into a fine powder and I can only wrack in agony. I freeze. Can’t even breathe. For fear that they will realize the poison of my mercury and lose all faith in me. This is what it’s like to live with Complex Trauma Disorder.
I have so much going on right now, and all I am physically doing is staying in my own home. But there are happenings. So many happenings. So many things to talk about or keep secret, never completely sure what should be which, save one… And that is: #AMWRITINGBITCHES!
I have started a crackling new manuscript and I already have the bulk of my next novel (a rough beginning, middle, and an end) tacked together in my head with mental paperclips. I have a jittery itch to sit down in front of Word and type until my keyboard (or my eyeballs, whichever come first) melt into a stinking puddle of hissing goo. The Introduction aka Vague But Incredibly Forboding Trigger Warning is finished and snappy with fresh starch. The first chapter is in swing in less than twenty four hours, and if you knew me personally, you’d know that this is fucking incredible progress. I’m so very like GRRM, except maybe not quite such a diabolical, remorseless, and cunty old fart.
The photograph you see over this blog post is the true to life setting of my working manuscript. I could get in a car right now and drive north for two hours and be in roughly that exact spot, give or take directional orientation, a perilous hike that I don’t have the shoes for, and specific saguaros. The photo is gorgeous, is it not? It’s so very deceptive, though. The Sonoran desert is magnificent; purple hazed mountains and sunsets so supersaturated in glorious hues that you think the very sky has been photoshopped. This desert, and the community it contains, is also a death trap. This podunk, half abandoned town in Pinal County, Arizona was ground zero for the most horrific violence I’ve suffered in my life and it’s finally time to tell my survival story to the world… Sort of.
San Manuel, Arizona is the subterranean contaminated water table which is the source of a deep, dark well of my most persistent PTSD flashbacks, severely depressive suicidal episodes, and near death experiences that I really wish that I could forget. This little stupid town full of little stupid people ruined my life and took everything away from me that I had ever truly loved, including my own soul. It’s a dead end town that sprung up around a copper mine that was the only real employment opportunity for many miles around. The earthbound veins that were once throbbing with copper were already long since played out by the time I had moved there almost two decades ago.
What remains is decay. There are secrets there. Rumors. Bodies abandoned in the wilderness. Missing people that are known to be murdered, but never solved. Abandoned mine shafts so deep and impenetrable that whatever you might drop in them by accident or otherwise, will never be brought near any sunlight ever again. You’re starting to expect a horror story, right? Well, you’re right. But only partly. But, I will for now, keep my secrets.
A generous portion of my stories, essays, and even poetry all start with a spark from an enduring (and usually highly disturbing) myth. This one is no different. The following excerpt that I found during research will give you a good gist of the main theme. I’ll add a link to the original article at the end of this post.
Mining is an ancient profession and along with the back-breaking work and dangers of working in the dark underground, comes century-old superstitions, the most notable being that of the Tommyknockers.
These impish, gnome-like men are the Cornish equivalent of Irish leprechauns and English brownies. Germans called them Berggeister or Bergmännlein, meaning “mountain ghosts” or “little miners.”
The Cornish believed these wee little men were the souls of the Jews who crucified Christ and were sent by the Romans to work as slaves in the tin mines. This belief was so strong that the Tommyknockers were allegedly never heard on Saturdays, nor at times of Jewish festivals.
About two feet tall, and often described as greenish in color, they look like men and are most often spied wearing a traditional miner’s outfit. Living beneath the ground, they have been “known” to have committed both good and bad deeds through the centuries, often playing practical jokes and committing random acts of mischief, such as stealing unattended tools and food.
The Tommyknockers were first heard of in the United States when Cornish miners worked in the western Pennsylvania coal mines in the 1820s. When the California Gold Rush began, these experienced Cornish miners were welcomed and often sought after by the mine owners. Attempting to recruit more minders, managers often approached the immigrants, asking if they had any relatives back in England who might come to work the mines. The Cornish miners would reply something like this: “Well, me cousin Jack over in Cornwall wouldst come could ye pay ’is boat ride.” Soon, these many immigrant miners took on the nickname Cousin Jacks, who formed the core of America’s early western mining workforce. As such, their superstition of the Tommyknocker thrived and spread throughout the mines of the west.
The name “knockers,” pronounced “knackers,” comes from the knocking on the mine walls that often happens just before cave-ins. Actually caused by the creaking of earth and timbers, some thought these sounds of “hammering” were malevolent, indicating certain death or injury, while others saw their “knocking” as well-meaning, warning the miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent. Yet, others believed that the knocking sounds would lead them to a rich ore body and or signs of good luck.
When these grizzled little gnomes were good, they were thought to bring miners favors and wealth. But when they were bad, they were said to bring about misery, injury, and death to those who doubted their power or who did not believe in them.
These highly spirited characters were also known to perform many of the mining duties, working right alongside the men, as well as being blamed for many a prank, and credited with saving the lives of many miners. If a hammer was missing, it was the Tommyknockers who had taken it, but if a miner escaped a collapse, the Tommyknockers were given credit.
Later, the legend of the Tommyknockers evolved into the idea that the knockings were caused by dead miners who were kind enough to give warnings of danger to the living. In praise of these kind gestures, the miners would leave offerings of food and other items in order to secure their good graces and protection.
In some mines, where the Tommyknockers’ presence was known to be overwhelmingly malevolent, the mines were forced to close because of the mens’ fear of the spirits. When the mines played out, the legend continued, as many said the Tommyknockers found “work” in the homes surrounding the old mineshafts. Superstitions continued when many a family death or disaster was allegedly foretold by a knocking in the house.
This project is a novel. It’s fiction. But some of the events that take place in it really did happen because I am telling you, I was right there experiencing them in real time, many years ago now. These Terrible Things are all very real and they happened to me. And even now, more than fifteen years after I barely escaped with my life, I look back at some things I saw with my own eyes and and heard with my own ears and still, a shiver of unease rat-a-tats over my skin and I fail at making even a little rational sense of it.
It will also be a painfully poignant love story. A chronicle of psychological warfare. A mother’s story. And a story of a haunted house. Not the windows and the walls. The family who lived there. And the monsters under the beds are less slithering shadows and more just geological layers of family trauma that infected everyone who lived in the home before and after it was left empty. Trauma so insidious that it seeped from the cracks between the brick floors and the grime in the corners of the broken windows and wormed itself into my pores where it replicated in my DNA and hitched a ride into the souls of my children and made a hellish permanent space there.
It’s the stuff of nightmares, desperation, and the ugliest ranch style squat houses I’ve ever seen in my life. Murder, corrupt law enforcement, sexual sadism, the squalid American trailer park aesthetic, crystal methampetamine, and elemental vengeance that rips all meaning from the continuance of linear time. And that’s just the start. I am strapping in and going into the depths of my personal estate of crucibles documenting my unlikely survival, serious mental illness, spiritual identity, recovery, and the afterlife….
I’m confronting my demons so that maybe they’ll quiet down and my stormy moods will be more easily banked and tranquil so I can actually get a good night’s sleep, finally… Finally.
Working title of this novel of as yet unknown is obviously: A KNOCKING IN THE HOUSE. Because honestly, did you not feel those goosebumps when you read that legend like I did? Damn. Just you wait. I will do my very best to hurry, I swear. Thanks for reading my blog…
I decided to try and make a novel out of a well lauded and beloved short story I wrote back in about 2007 called Witch of the Bayou. It was going to be a Southern Gothic like the short I wrote and I got through about 30,000 words and could go no further because I just had a nasty case of self doubt and angst and indecision over the content and subject matter. There are many writers and creatives that don’t give a fuck about how their work may effect change in our modern society. They don’t feel a duty to put more good into the world at all, they just do what they like and if others enjoy it as well, that’s good enough.
That’s not good enough for me. I feel that as a writer and creative, I have a responsibility to use my talents to raise awareness, speak the truths that only fiction can, and do right by the current audience and potential future generations of people who may appreciate what I do. I feel like the status quo that exists right now has existed for far too long and it is my duty to change hearts and minds and help humanity find a better way. A massive aspect of that is confronting white privilege and inequality and the oppression of people of color. As Ibram Kendi has said, you are either a racist or an anti-racist, there is nothing in between. The same goes for LBGTQA people too. If you don’t fight the injustice, you are complicit in its perpetuation.
My novel was shaping up to be a potential white savior complex train wreck. I had a lot of black characters, mostly Haitian, and a lot of Voudon references. I had written a suicide scene, a lynching, a burial, referenced child murder and talked a lot about slavery. But, my main character was a white woman with a gift of supernatural powers, and she was learning the ways of Voudon from freed slaves and Haitian Voudon Gods and spirits. I began to look at my manuscript and feel disturbed and indecisive about pushing on because I felt like it was turning into a story that wasn’t mine to tell. I started feeling that this story could only be written by a person of color whose ancestors were enslaved and then only symbolically “freed” but remained oppressed, murdered, ignored, hated, and feared ever since.
I just felt like, who the hell did I think I was as a person and a writer? I had no call and no right to tell a black person’s story when there are so many gifted black writers and filmmakers who don’t get the same opportunities that white writers and filmmakers do. If I’m to support the Our Voices movement, then I need to support Our Voices. I don’t belong in the front of that march, I’m behind those in the front, the Voices who KNOW. I’m there to march behind them and back them up. I can never replace them and be an authentic and genuine writer or social justice activist if I wrote a novel that took away their agency and erased their experiences and reshaped the narrative with my own.
I may have been born in Alabama and I may have studied Southern Gothics and other Southern literature in school, but it is not my right as an author to tell a story about a vanquished and oppressed people when I have never been vanquished and oppressed as they have. So, I shelved it for good and I’m not picking it up again, because it’s not about just me and my words. If I truly want equality, I need to practice it in my own life and work. So, I’m sorry, Amelia Rose. I will leave a daffodil at the threshold of your fictional tomb at Lafayette Cemetery. You were a brave witch, who could bring souls back from the dead and summon hurricanes, skinny dip with alligators, and speak to all manner of swamp things. New Orleans would have collapsed to their knees at your feet had your full story been told. I will miss you dearly.
“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
I started this book without expectations, only intense excitement, but by the end of the first chapter, my mind was racing and my very soul was fully engaged. Pages into the first chapter, I started getting flashbacks from the first time I read Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. The first chapter of The Only Good Indians put me right back into the first chapter of Love Medicine, which is a book I read as a teenager that honestly changed my life and put me on a different path.
It was visceral and heady and overwhelming. My heart ached with the memories of the joy and melancholy Love Medicine awoke in me. I was a world away, right back to sitting on my bed in my childhood room in Florida, door locked to keep my mother at bay, ceiling fan clacking softly as it spun artificial wind in my hair, leather scented flea market incense burning next to my window, my cat Kiddo curled in my lap.
I was right back to the moment in my mind watching June stumbling out into a blizzard, walking away from that oppressive, degrading truck, and disappearing into the freezing cold.
“The snow fell deeper that Easter than it had in forty years, but June walked over it like water and came home.”
I never could decide if it was accidental or suicide. I must think that it was a bit of both, and it broke my heart, but I couldn’t blame her, even at the tender age of fourteen. I was a girl going on being a woman and I, like June, already had filth foisted on me by men that I couldn’t scrape off to save my soul.
In Jones’ book, Ricky’s first chapter was almost a mirror image of June’s, only with more violence. And then I knew. I knew that once I finished this book it would go on the shelf next to Louise in a place of permanent honor. It deserves its very own spotlight. Jones has taken the horror genre and split it open with a jack knife like a ripe melon. The seeds and pulp gush out and run down your chin as you read. It may have brought back an echo of Love Medicine, but after that first chapter, I couldn’t sit and absorb the words to measure the beauty of the poetic prose, like I have always done with anything written by Louise Erdrich. I just had to run. Jones had written here an ancient spell and reading it had consequences and now, some starving, mad blood-eyed beast had been summoned from the bowels of the earth by Cernunnos for his Wild Hunt. Its only intention to eat my soul. Flight was the only instinct that might save me.
I had to run as far and fast as I could until my lungs started bleeding, with a pagan earth mother monster on slashing hooves crashing through the bramble right behind me. Exhilarating. Terrifying. Surreal. Genuine. Fierce. Honest. Eviscerating. Almost literally. I couldn’t repress the memory of the sinister scent of a successful deer hunt, when the belly is slit open and the hot wet guts spill out, still steaming, onto the desert rocks of where I live in Arizona. The smell that rises up is at once both life and death and the metal, bone marrow, and dirt of it never leaves you, as much as you wish it would. You just have to live with it and ruminate on why some people are prone to passionately love such irrevocable and gory endings and look at them as fleeting “fun” and “sport.”
The final chapter ends the hunt in such a moving way, sending the spirits of the damned on to their own glory in the rightest, truest, most Shamanistic and full circle way, that when I was finally finished, I wanted to wrap myself around the story and lie down with it for rest. There are not enough indigenous voices in popular culture and relevant media. Our Voices stories are just becoming a trending popular genre and concept. The world right now, and especially America, has become a place of terrible reckoning. Social injustice has always been the ongoing theme of American life and it is now all coming to an ugly head.
Our Voices have never been more necessary and relevant and vital to our modern culture. Jones skewers the stereotypes that Americans want to hold closest to their core beliefs about “American Indians” and attacks their cognitive dissonance in a way that gives a revelation to those who don’t know who and what tribal cultures are in North America and how they still experience a long, slow, brutal genocide in real time even today. The ugly truth is that Americans forgot our First Nations the moment we dumped small pox blankets, rotten meat, and vermin filled flour on their postage stamp reservations and pulled our wagons out to leave them there to starve and sicken and die. They are still a forgotten people in this country now, at least until we want something from them, like an oil pipeline or a profitable casino, or a cool looking feathered war bonnet to wear at Coachella for the Instagram obsessed.
I hope this book is read widely by all of us. I hope that we see it in film, although it would be tricky to pull off, I suspect. CGI has come a very long way, but there are still some monsters you can’t even believe when you see them, and Jones’ monster is definitely one of those and she has a message not just for these characters, but for us all; about what we should hold sacred and what we should respect in a newly more progressive, feminist, and open minded world. Ancient beliefs come full circle and stay relevant in the twenty first century.
I write to you of love. Over seas and dizzying crags, silent forests and deep drifts of snow. I crzave it all. Handwritten letters and secrets spoken in twilight. I’m a heady woman, a woman you won’t understand, but I will love you. A supple love. Streaked with rapture and rage, hemorrhaging my heart and soul across the pages of your most private diary. And from you, I need the same.
You must know how to swim. I am a blue pearl, rarest of all, in the great belly of a chopping, frothy, black sea, and my reefs are dying. When I was a girl I dreamed great dreams. As I found myself a woman, I was torn down by all of them so I locked them away. I let myself fall into the blackness, the addictive pull of pain, in hopes that one day, you would find me and have the key. The key to everything that unlocks me. The gears will tick and creak. The box will open slowly and I will unlatch. A tiny, luminous thing. A night blooming rose, a goddess pulled free from eternity.
It would take a certain soul to do this for me. A soldier bearing steel, but only when he must. Armor dented, dulled with rust. When you come home to me, only I can strip you bare and bathe the mire from your tangled hair. Tend to your scars, pull your hands to me, and heal you again. Give you reason to fight another day, if for nothing else, then for me. And I need you to fight for me. Fight hard, with courage and ferocity. Fight for me and for our family. Love my children as you love me and never less. They are my breath and bones as you will be. Always a cellular part of me.
Be the Braille for my blindness, for sometimes I cannot see what is right in front of me. No forest for the trees. A lost wolf howling from the darkest parts of the heart of wilderness with a hoarse voice in the darkest of night. I need to feel you-know that you’re there, even in the absence of light. Come close to me. Let me run my fingertips over you, body and soul; learn the shadows, dips, and curves by memory. Know you through and through but only because you allow me to.
Be vulnerable to my vaulted heart and be honest with me. Give me your trust and trust in me wholly.
Know better than to put a wolf on a leash. I’ll chew through the chain links and you’ll not see me again. And in return, you’ll always be somewhat separate from me. But I will be right there whenever you reach for me. My rock, my second self, my man.
Sometimes, leave me alone in my darkness, for you will not know what to do. A knight you may be, but you cannot fight my battles for me. Give me a shawl of your plaid to wrap myself in, and I will always come back to you.
Be tender and gentle to all warm, furred, and feathered things. Leave a spider to her web, a lady bug to her leaf, a moth to her candle, because they all remind you of me.
Forgive me every time I falter in my faith in you. Because I have been through hell and sometimes I doubt and dwell.
Cope with my crazy because I’m worth the time and the effort and that’s one of the things that you love about me.
Tell me I’m lovely in a million different ways. Tell me you love me in a million different more.
Be quick of wit and laughter. Have things for me to learn and explore. Take me to places I’ve never been before. Distill time, moments that remain clear and bright for the rest of our lives. Sacred seconds between us that shut out the noise.
Understand what gets me out of my own head and take me there. I may resist but please persist because you need me to care. And when I’m in my own personal hell, sometimes I don’t. Hurt is all that I see. Remind me of your touch, your love, your kindness. Remind me that you’re forever a part of me.
Listen to me, even when it’s just inane, and read my words, for I am made up of handwritten script looped together to form humble flesh. My words have been all I have had for so long and I need you to adore that part of me. It will help me be sane.
Read to me. Tell me stories to put me to sleep, stroke my hair as I succumb and curl up next to me.
Give me forehead kisses and candlelight because it suits me.
Protect me, your life for mine and likewise forever.
Adore every scar and flaw in my skin because they belong to me, they are the memory of my survival of insurmountable things. And god, are you grateful that I am still alive, because you know it was a very near thing.
Help me to be more me than I am without you.
Catch me when I throw myself to the wind.
Tie a red string between us, so that if we separate, we will always find each other again.
Struggle to keep yourself in check when you look at me. Want me more than you can stand. Touch me like it could be the last time. Kiss me like it’s the first.
Never shelter me from the rain. Instead step out and dance with me.
Make pagan love to me. Take me home to the Standing Stones of Scotland, make me your half wild bride, and you’ll be sacred to me.