Escapism and Addiction

When I was writing “Swim” I tried really hard not to play up that Lynn was an alcoholic. It’s a clear fact throughout the story of course, and she refers to it often, but the last thing the story is about is her alcoholism.

As I’d said in my video reading, Lynn is the poison form of water. She is an addict that is so addicted, she is aware of herself mainly in some kind of a past tense — in terms of what she should be or used to be like. Isn’t it interesting how the more one escapes from a situation, the more one’s life starts to be built around that situation? An interesting parallel to draw too, is the ways in which Elliot and Lynn reacted to their common grief of Shirley’s passing, and both ended up escapist addicts. (It is important to note that escapism and addiction are related but not attached.) Both of them ran away from pain in two very different directions.

An interesting sale…

Yesterday I was at a picnic with my friend and met some of her friends. One woman in the group looked at my book (I always have a copy with me) and got sucked in right in front of me. It was interesting to watch! She ended up reading a whole story right then and there and is buying the book.

People like it, I’m happy to say. A lot of people have talked to me about the different meanings they’ve seen in it and, most importantly for me, the things they’ve thought about with regard to their own life, when considering these themes.

Wrapped up in an “innocuous” suspense book, there’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on. 

Women in Strange Places: Stories

Life After Death

At the core of  “Swim” lies an obsession with death in its various forms. It is an inevitable bane, a healing doorway, a rite of passage, a complete and total end, a mystery, a surity … To the characters in the story, death is a method of realization, regardless of the method or the revelation itself.

It is, above all, a necessity. And like any necessity, it can also be bent to one’s will.

George’s exploration of death is frikin fascinating, even to me, and I made him up! He possesses a fearlessness I wish I had, and that I think we all should like to have. To him death is silence and reunification with the things he lost in his life and the questions he has. To Elliot, death was an impatient itch. He had to know what it is like, and it was something that, I think, mirrors the human instinct behind fearing death. Fear of the unknown is easy to file it under, but it is more than that. As creatures who lust for knowledge, humans love to go where we “shouldn’t” go. It was incredibly frustrating to Elliot, knowing that there was something the human spirit could experience, yet not report back from … he HAD to know what was on the other side. To Lynn, death was the ultimate slap in the face. It was a punishment for her shortcomings and the ultimate way in which she lost her battles that drove her to being an alcoholic.  In a sense, one could say Lynn is already dead, since she’s just kind of floating around and not really present in her life or in her body, until the death of her own brother, and George really forces her to explore a very new and very scary and different — yet seemingly necessary — possibility: experience the other side of death.

I believe in reincarnation. I feel that the soul, the life force, essence, energy, whatever you want to call it, can take many forms — from a tree to a rabbit to a person to a fruitfly, whatever. The easiest way I can describe what I think existence is, is as many rooms in an eternal house. When our time in one area is done, to learn certain lessons and feel and experience certain things, then we move on to the next one. I also feel that this “door” between rooms is our cessation of consciousness and our wiping of memory from our last lives, and that door closes for a reason. I don’t know that reason, but I do know why sometimes that door remains ajar to some of us, and we remember our past lives. Knowing we’ve been here already creates many frustrations and comforts for me, but I think on the whole, I like that I can remember some of my past existences because it shows this mass expanse of consciousness and ability in the spirit, and that there’s this constant need to simply be and learn and do.

I wrote “Swim” for two reasons: my belief that we do learn what we call the “mysteries” of death when we’re earthbound once we die and we take that knowledge to the next phase of our existence. But when it’s not our time to learn it, it will all go heinously wrong. This is George’s shortcoming in this issue; he has mastered the ability to get to this inbetween place but he’s not using his knowledge very wisely. I also wanted to get myself to think about my own death, and what my biggest fear is in regard to dying, for sometimes I think that I, and many other people, fear dying because of the WAY we’re going to go, not so much that we’re going to go. I HATE deep water. This story was such a challenge to create and consider. But I did learn some interesting things about myself by the end. 

The second reason is, simply, that Massive Attack gave me the idea, through the cellos at the end of “Butterfly Caught”. I’ve posted the vid below. 

What do you think death is?

These people definitely don’t believe it’s the end at all: 

Near-Death Experiences

Life After Death

Fear of Dying: Easy Death

Massive Attack: Butterfly Caught – the video about a man who turns into … something else entirely. Listen closely, especially at 3:43 through to the end. 

Revisit the reading and excerpt here: Swim

Buy the book! Women in Strange Places: Stories.

Remember, you’re not just paying an author for her work, you’re contributing to the start a very important business very soon, where I will promote literacy, empowerment through the arts, awareness for women and children, and push for the understanding of ourselves, and the wonderful things we are each capable of — regardless of our perceived mortality, regardless of the invisibility of money, regardless of the illusion of time. 

Just be.

The Great Big Doorway in the Sky

My family is a very, very superstitious family, as much as the next Hispanic family, and while I didn’t grow up “religious” it was still a presence in my household and the households of those around me. For many years, my mom told me I would have special talents because I was born with a caul, which, while a considered to be a generally good sign, a caul is a REALLY good thing to people who are superstitious. This means that you are guaranteed “second sight”, and are protected against death from drowning. 

Ironically enough, I have a mortal fear of water when it’s above my hips. Anyway… 

My mom’s side of the family grew up in a very haunted house in Puerto Rico, and there are few people you’d find in our family or friends of, that haven’t seen a ghost or encountered something fucked up. I have seen many and felt many ghostly things, though I’ve never communicated with them. Death has never been the big black period at the end of a sentence for me … I’ve just always kinda known something else was out there, but I didn’t believe it, until I was 11.

Now, this is not a near death experience, but an encounter with my guardian angel, and to me, the existence of a guardian angel guarantees certain things: we’re spirits in transit, there is an afterlife, there is a higher power (I won’t venture to try and assert that it’s an old man in the sky though), and that the world is full of possibilities, even if we don’t think they’re true. 

Long story short, I was alone in a playground behind my apartment building. There was a high platform that I could only get to via a ladder to access the slide. I lost my balance and fell back-first off the top of this ladder, and nothing waited for me below but that good ol’ rubber-and-cement Brooklyn playground base below. I would have been fucked. All of a sudden I felt two warm, strong hands at my back push me toward the ladder and set me up right, so I caught a rung mid-fall and the only thing that happened was that I banged up my knee. I got so freaked out I ran back inside.

Tonight’s link: evidence of the afterlife?

Send me your story for my big “I Had a Near-Death Experience” post later this week. Email me at womeninstrangeplaces@gmail.com. I will not use your name or contact info. I’m thinking of just posting excerpts from what people send.

Death.

Welcome to Nine Weeks of Strange’s 3rd story, “Swim”, a story about a recovering alcoholic and the dark secrets she learns about her brother upon his death. This is the most popular story in the book so far, per reader reactions and so on, and it is my favorite of the collection as well.

This week’s posts will explore death, dying, near-death experiences, addiction, immortality and much more. 

The following is an “in-person” vid introduction and excerpt of the story. A text excerpt can be found under the vid. 

If you love it already, buy the book! http://www.lulu.com/strangeplaces. Tell your friends. Pass it along. 

 

Excerpt from “Swim”, (c) Celeste Ramos, 2009 – Women in Strange Places: Stories

            Ice water fell from the sky at around four o’clock. I told George to meet me at the bar that was next to my hotel. It was an after-work bar where people came to wish they’d never been employed. I took a booth in the back and watched it rain for an hour.

            When four met five I had a glass of heady ale in front of me. As I chugged it I looked up and saw George walk in through the neon and sticker door.

            “Good to see you again,” George said. He kissed me on the cheek and sat down. His car keys sounded like broken wind chimes when they hit the table.

            “Hi George.”

            “How are you?”

            I hated when people asked me that. I shrugged it off and looked around me, to say, what’s it look like?

            “Are you having anything?”

            “No, I don’t drink.”

            It was so hard for me to make conversation with a stranger. I used to be so good at it when I was still working in sales.

But once that last beer kicked in, I knew where to start.

            “Who are you and how do you know my brother?”

            He smiled. “George Taylor. I’m thirty-three. I’m from upstate New York. My parents were missionaries. That a good start?”

            “Sure.”

            “Swimming is my life. I love it. I met Elliot when I was out one day at the lake. He was the only person there, he was sketching. It was at the end of winter, just barely spring, and the water had a nice bite to it.”

            I listened as his voice painted a wonderful picture for me: my darling Elliot sketching the rusted metal trees of winter, calm as could be.

            “Well, I wasn’t familiar with the lake and just jumped into any old spot. There were a ton of rocks there and I banged my head, knocked myself right out. Elliot saved me and we were friends ever since.” He sighed. “After a while, he went on some trip to an Indian reservation in New York, not far from where I grew up actually. When he came back he said he had to buy that house.”

            “He would never, in a million years, want a house,” I said.

            “Well he wanted that one. I came to live with him after me and my wife divorced. He offered me the bottom floor. That’s the way it was for about a year and a half, until he got sick.”

            A year and a half. Why hadn’t Elliot told me?  I tried to imagine him dealing with housework and decorating. He must have done a wonderful job.

            “And he got sick last summer right?” I asked. How could I have forgotten?

            “Yeah, that’s right.” George rubbed his sleepy face. “He hated doctors.”

            “I know.”

            “He kept complaining about his chest hurting until finally I asked my ex-sister in law to check him out. From there on out he just got worse and worse.”

            I downed the rest of the beer as I ran from the image of Elliot in pain.

            George leaned in and asked, “Are you alright?” He asked me in such a way that I felt in the loving company of a priest. I hadn’t felt that way since the last time I had a heart to heart with Elliot.

            “Fine,” I said.

            “Lynn, I know we’ve just met, but the way Elliot spoke about you all the time … I feel like I’m already close to you. Does that make sense?”

            “Sure.”

            “No, listen.” He leaned in closer this time and took my right hand. “I’ve traveled a lot in my life. I’ve seen and done many things for my age, met many people. There are few things that don’t change, and to me, it’s when someone’s hiding something.”

            I took my hand back from him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “You drink pretty fast, don’t you?” He didn’t ask in a judgmental tone.

I felt as one does in a dream where they’ve shown up to work completely naked. “It’s none of your business, George. I’m fine.”

             “I know I can’t force you to talk to me. That’s fine.” His dark eyes dropped for a moment and then came back to mine. “I’m sorry. I just want us to be friends. If you need someone to listen – ”

            “Thanks, George, but you know what?” Don’t shove him away, don’t do it, I pleaded to myself. “My brother just died. And at every corner I turn there’s all this stuff I learn about him. I’m upset. I’m going to drink.”

            Poor George. I came to find out later that this was a soft spot for him. His ex-wife had been a terrible alcoholic.

            He leaned back against the seat. Silent minutes moved past us. I was fidgety as George was still. He stared at me off and on.

            “Do you want to come see the house?” He asked finally. “It’s nice. Nothing fancy, but it’s nice. Really quiet. Maybe it would be good for you to spend a week or two there, with me. Maybe it would be good for both of us.”

            “And the boxes?” I asked sharply. This caught him off guard, though I realized in my rising stupor that he hadn’t mentioned them.

            “Well … they’ll be there for you too.”

            “What’s in them?”

            He shook his head. “Nothing I’m going to try and explain to you if you’re not sober. Really, if you’re going to drink the whole time you’re in town it might be best to just mail them to you – ”

            “Wait a minute, who the hell do you think you are? Elliot was my brother and he left those things for me. I think I have the right to see them when I damn please!”

            “There’s a lot you don’t know, Lynn. I don’t want to sound so mysterious but it’s just a matter of fact. Please, for the sake of his memory, you need to be there for this. He left you some very special things. Very important things.” George rose and gave me a tender smile. His eyes were a little angry at me. “I have to go. Just tell me when you want to come by. Okay?”

            I wasn’t sure what awaited me. But as near to the bottom as I was, I had to get something right. It was my duty as his sister to go be at the house, and George was right – I had to be present.

            “I’m staying next door,” I said.

            “I know.”

            “Come get me tomorrow afternoon?”

            “I’ll call you when I’m on the way over. And, just out of curiosity, do you happen to know what happened to a fish Elliot had in his room?”

            “Yeah. I have it in my room. Why?”

            He looked relieved when he said, “Oh good. I was worried the hospital had tossed the poor thing. I gave it to Elliot.”

            I nodded without concern. It was just a fish.

            “I’ll see you,” George said, and walked away.

            Soon after he was gone I was alone at the bar. I felt like an old party streamer tangled in a tree limb.

            If I could get anything right in my imagination about Elliot owning a house, it would be situated in the middle of nowhere. This meant I couldn’t go to the store, or for too long a walk, and I definitely couldn’t run out for something to eat.

I carried a picture of him in my purse, and I told it that my trip to the store down the street would be the last time.

            I wandered the aisles for a half hour as I stared at the mad array of liquors, beers, wines, vodkas. In the long hall of fridges that housed the beer, I stared at the shiny twelve and twenty-four packs, the frosted, rotund aluminum jumbo cans, and the variations of brown, green and red bottles. It felt like these mosaics of poison were pressed against the glass, like fans of me, all wanting to get inside and ingest me.

            I ended up back at the hotel room drowned in wine. At one point during my silent debauchery I thought I saw Elliot cross from the bathroom door to the closet, just around the corner. I could even smell his old cologne.

“It wasn’t your fault, get off that bottle,” I heard him say.

            No, it wasn’t mine, that’s what Elliot always said. I started drinking a few years after our sister Shirley drowned in a river. I was thirteen and she was eleven. I couldn’t swim fast enough to save her. She was right at my grasp, but it was as if every time her frantic hand was within an inch of mine, the current would yank her away from me hard. I had to fight to catch up to her and not let myself get ripped away, but it was useless. I was exhausted. I could only watch as the river rolled her around in its torrents that sounded like a million windows breaking at once, and then her thrashing frame was gone.

            I was depressed for several years until I discovered drinking. I drank to drown out Shirley’s screams. Then I drank to get through classes and break-ups, movies, and drives home. I drank to get to and out of work.

Now I drank because I couldn’t protect Elliot, my remaining sibling. I drank because everything was my fault.

            I didn’t want George to know this. The humiliation was so deep whenever someone found me out in some parking lot or hanging off a stool at a bar. I was afraid that George wanted to be my friend. I knew that if he met the real me, he’d want to forget I was Elliot’s sister. Elliot, who had done nothing wrong to anyone, and had lived his twenty-eight years in peace.

            On the way to the house, Langford’s drab streets gave way to the land surrounding it. The nothing of trees warped the horizon as the main road wandered through them. I had a dry mouth and a head a mile wide. George had bags under his eyes. After some time I made the decision to talk, even if it was just to hear the sound of my voice.

            I shoved mint gum into my mouth before I spoke. I even gave a little smile.

            “Where are we going?”

“The house is in a bit of a limbo. It’s not quite part of Langford, not quite part of Alter Grove. That’s the next town to the west. Usually I tell people I live in the woods.”

I nodded. “How are you today?”

            “Tired. I didn’t get to swim this morning. I haven’t slept.”

            “How come?”

            He looked over at me periodically, saying, “Too many things on my mind. Elliot, and then comes the problem of what to do with the house. I’m not going to stay there… not for much longer. I don’t know what to do with myself anymore, you know that feeling? Sometimes I worry I’ve done it all. There’s so much in my head. I get so agitated when I don’t swim. I can’t focus.”

            “Really?”

            “Mmhm. It’s a necessity for me. I swim four times a day.” He leaned forward onto the steering wheel. It looked like he was trying to stretch his lower back.

            “Where do you swim?”

            “In the lake outside the house.”

            “The house is on a lake?” I looked out the window, trying to imagine it. A house on a lake reminded me of summer and lush trees, barbecues and insect bites. Not ice.

            “Oh yes.”

            “Where’d he get the money?”

            “I fronted it to him. He had his savings too.”

            George made a left turn onto a dirt and gravel road. The house became visible immediately, along with the shore of the lake. It was an enormous stretch of glassy water. The house was modestly sized and colored, buttoned into the hilly land.

            I stared at the lake, thick with cold, as it was jostled by the breeze.

Get Involved!

Hi everyone, 

An invaluable tool to protect our children, each other, and to end  sexual violence and abuse to is to educate and to get involved. This is a very real and very pervasive problem, and more people absolutely must get motivated and involved around the world.

A great place to start is to check out the tools at the Stop it Now website. This is a site aimed toward the protection of children. 

For anti-rape education, projects and community involvement: 

End Rape

Men Can Stop Rape

A Petition to End the “Corrective” Rapes of Lesbians in South Africa

Claire Renzetti’s “Violent Betrayal”, a book about lesbian rape

The Clothesline Project (on violence and ending rape against women)

This is all clearly just a start. One of the most helpful things I’ve done to find ways to help in the community is simply to google “community action against rape” and the name of a city or town. And if there isn’t something where you live, start it. All it takes is one person and one action and one voice to get wonderful things started.

If you find other resources on your own, definitely let me know and I’ll post them here!

It’s been a great week to talk with some of you who’ve been interested and moved by what I’ve written and what I’ve discussed here. Please, please share this with people whom you think would benefit, especially the posting of the short story, “I Don’t Hope for the Trees“.

Please know that when you buy my book, your money isn’t just going to my “pocket”, but it’s going toward the start of my own business, where I aim to work with and for women, men, children, families and so on, and empower and educate and write about people whose voices need to be heard. Not just people who have survived sexual violence, but societal and moral injustices and so much more. There is so much I want to do and say for others. I want to work with as many people as possible. So even if you don’t like the things my book is about, or if you don’t feel that you relate to this week’s story, but you want to help, buy a copy and give it as a gift, or donate to me personally. If you’re interested in doing the latter, email me and we’ll work something out. 

I am a lone author, a “one woman show”, who is doing this all from a laptop with a mic, a cheap webcam, seated at a desk under her IKEA loftbed, supported currently by the love of her many friends and new and wonderful strangers who have become friends. This is all one big project out of love, obsession and joy for the craft of writing.

Long live the word. 

Tomorrow: Nine Weeks of Strange – Week 3 “Swim”, a story about existentialism, death, and some secrets in boxes. It’s the most popular story in the book. Enjoy.

Survivor Success!

We made it through the terrible event(s). That’s instant success. It is, believe me. We are here, alive, and wanting to turn this history into a tool to help ourselves and others.

How to be a “successful survivor”? Constantly love and take care of yourself. What happened is NOT your fault. It takes many people who live with self-blame years to understand this, but it is the truth. Work toward it, if you are not there yet. YOU are your own best friend, and understand yourself best and live with yourself the most. YOU are an instrument of power. Believe these things, to the fullest degree. It takes time to — I KNOW — but it is the truth. 

The ramifications of sexual abuse work toward robbing us of our power, selves, self-worth and so much more. Recognize and believe that it is NOT a bad thing to like yourself and to do things for yourself. Understand and believe that you may not know how to care for or love yourself now because as a child you may not have been taught these things. But as the saying goes, it is never too late. Start today. Start right now. Be kind to yourself, patient with yourself, and love yourself.

Surround yourself with healthy influences. Good friends, good habits, good surroundings.

I define Success as not finishing what my father tried to start in me: a continuation of his own cycle of self-hatred, anger, shame and more; things that were never mine to inherit. I am creative, powerful, beautiful and driven woman, and every day I am working toward complete ownership of myself and my life through seeking good friends, creating things to help others, and being an empath and a friend to my fellow beings on this earth.

What else can you think of to pave the way toward Success? What do you define as Success?

PTSD

PTSD is a common thing that the majority of survivors of abuse live through or with. Some smptoms may be as predictable as panic attacks after having been “triggered”,  while others are incredibly random and severe, like self-harm, violent outbursts, etc. 

Many therapists, especially ones that deal solely with survivors, have very effective coping techniques for PTSD. Up until the last 3 or 4 months, I was dealing with some severe self-harm problems and depression as a result of PTSD. There was a wonderful therapist/healer, Teri Roth, whom I saw during my short time in Denver, that had some tremendously helpful techniques to help with my then-copious amount of PTSD symptoms. With the help of other therapists that I’ve seen after Teri, I managed to “whittle down”, as I call it, the range of things I was dealing with.

Here are some things I think may help if you are suffering from PTSD as a result of sexual violence and/or childhood sexual abuse:

1. Have a reliable, trustworthy person you can talk to about what’s going on. This is tantamount. Sometimes you need to vent, sometimes you need distraction, sometimes you need something in between, but it helps so very much to have someone that can give you a safe-space, be it a literal space or an emotional space, for you to regain control. If for whatever reason you do not have someone to talk to, you are very, very welcome to email me. I am not a therapist and I cannot “fix” you, but I am a great listener and hopefully can at least give you some good advice for resources where you can seek permanent help. 

2. BELIEVE that this is not the way it is going to be forever. It may feel that way, but trust me, it gets better. The more help you seek and the more honest you are with yourself and the people who are here to help you heal and succeed, the more in control you will be.

3. Breathe In times of nervousness, shock, panic, pain, etc, a tendency the human body has is to hold the breath, or to take it in far too fast. Take a moment, wherever you are, and find a place where you can be safe and alone for a few minutes, and take slow, DEEP breaths. Even if (especially if) your heart feels like it’s going 200 mph. As you’re breathing, focus on your body. Tense and release your feet, calves, knees, thighs, butt, stomach, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, face, everything. Be present in your body, remind yourself now is now, and you are safe, with yourself and wherever it is that you are. If you are NOT in a physically safe place get to one ASAP.

4. The White Sheet This is something I suggest to many people when it comes to clearing your head. Sometimes a PTSD attack consists of racing thoughts, thoughts about anything. I’ve had racing-thoughts episodes due even simply to stress, especially at night before bed. The white sheet is a visualization, in which you think of a white sheet, hanging on a clothes line, and you’re standing in front of it. It is in a peaceful place, maybe between two trees in a forest, or behind a beautiful and safe house, or wherever you may choose. The longer you stare at this sheet the bigger and whiter it gets. Don’t listen to any thoughts going through your mind during this time. Just watch the sheet flow in the breeze.  Breathe deeply, steadily, and remind yourself of this: “I have the time and the capacity to solve each challenge that lies before me. “

5. The Cork The Cork is another visualization technique. This is one is best for meditation, not necessarily during the time of a PTSD episode but it may help. Sit or lie somewhere comfortable and safe, breathe steadily, and imagine a cork floating and wriggling on the surface of a VAAAAAAAAAAAST body of water. That’s it. Focus on this for 10-15 minutes at a time. Your thoughts may wander, but keep coming back to the cork. After some time you’ll find that this will help keep your emotions and thought patterns a little more aligned. I’ve had some INCREDIBLE things happen during this exercise, as have some of the people I’ve referred it to. 

6. Create or Destroy Something Depending on what you’re feeling, you may want to do one of these two things, and both are healthy. BUT!!!: be careful with what you destroy. Use common sense — don’t do anything that will harm other people or animals, or frighten or trouble others. Why: as you release the negative energy that’s in you when you destroy something, you want to get it out and out for good, not out and passed on to something or someone else. No one is an inherently “bad” person, and at the core, we do not want to hurt others people or animals. Your thoughts may differ on this, but as a general rule, stay safe and keep others safe when you release negativity.

If you decide to create something, be just as careful, and be liberal with whatever you create. You’re creating to release, inform, empower, develop, exist, be and do. Write something, paint something, make signs, clothing, jewelry — what it is YOU create — and use all this energy that’s inside you to make something that will benefit you or/and others. 

In the News, Pt. 1

Stress does some terrible things to people. We’re admonished frequently against it getting the better of us, if for nothing else, the sake of our bodies — stress weakens the immune system, causes disturbances in sleep and digestion, and of course, disrupts the body’s natural “flow”. Muscles become tense and backs blossom with knots. 

The deeper the root of stress the worse the reactions can be, and we’ve all been there to some extent or another, when mood swings become a reaction to stress.

Sadly, a highly common reaction is domestic violence in times of financial woe. I just caught this headline on Yahoo!News stating that child abuse is on the rise, linked to the economic times.

This is not okay. This is NOT okay. It is never, ever excusable to harm another human being or animal to “blow off some steam”!!!! Think! It is a child, that relies on you for protection, sustenance and love, and only has love for you. Do not resent that child for its dependence upon you. Children are OUR and YOUR future, and they don’t stay children forever. Give that child every ounce of goodness and love you have, it costs nothing, and through that you’re insuring your own peace of mind later in their life and in yours. Introduce them to a world of opportunities, even if it may seem like there are none to introduce them to. Encourage their dreams, even if it feels like the lights around your own have gone out (and that’s rarely even true). Don’t perpetuate your own frustrations, failures and worries. Don’t harm people, especially people who cannot fucking defend themselves. Especially people who only live to love you.

STOP the goddamn violence.