Articles from May 2013

Jeff Dunn’s “Playing God with Tornadoes,” and trying to hold to faith when filled with doubt

I have written in Existential Crisis and Despair: Loss of God and Friendship and Trying to explain the wreck of my faith to a worried husband, how my faith has been sorely tested, unlike ever before, in the aftermath of the loss of my “best friend”-turned-Judas.

In Jeff Dunn’s Playing God with Tornadoes, I read:

In the BBC production of Shadowlands—the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife—Lewis (known as “Jack” to his friends) is coming out of the church where his wife’s funeral had just finished. The parish priest is walking with him and says,

“Faith, Jack. It is faith that sustains us in times like these.”

“No, Harry,” says Lewis. “This is all one big mess, and that is all there is to it.”

For the people in Moore, Monday’s tornado doesn’t come with a gift-wrapped explanation. It is one big mess, and that’s all there is to it.

That is about the only way to describe things that otherwise make no sense. We seek to understand things that are incomprehensible when we really need to trust our God. For people like Piper and Robertson to try and reduce God to an explanation that will fit in a sound bite or a tweet is idiocy.

My friend Vic is no theologian. But he knows the God of life and death, and knows that Jesus, the creator of all things including tornadoes, holds all in his hands. Vic didn’t go to find an explanation; he went to find someone who needed help.

This was written about the Moore tornado and other tremendous tragedies.  You can also apply it to emotionally devastating events in your life.

I haven’t read Job since college, when I read it after breakups as well as for class.  But the lesson is the same as in the above quote: Being betrayed by my spiritual mentor, discovering his violence (also here and here) and the criminal charges against him for choking his child, is one big mess.

I just don’t understand it, how this could happen as the response to my prayer for a friend.  But I’m told to trust God anyway…..

On Fearing Lawsuits When Writing Memoirs About Abuse

I suppose the threat of a lawsuit, which I got in Now I’m Being Stalked, had to happen eventually.  I’ve always feared such a thing because not only do I write memoir (see my College Memoirs), including stories of the good and bad times (including abuse), but I also adapt real life into my fiction.

But I read Writer’s Digest for many years (until it seemed everything I’d already read kept being rehashed), and followed its guidelines for avoiding libel suits.

But as writers, we must not let this keep us from telling our truth.  I continued telling my truth, but that lawsuit never materialized.

Now that the materials it was threatened over, have been published for at least a year, it seems the threat is over.

Also, my stalkers never said which “facts” were supposedly “false.”  I have examined the materials many times, and find nothing whatsoever that is false.  All I find is truth and opinion, neither of which are actionable.

I occasionally follow interesting Google searches which led readers to my blog.  (I see them in my stats, and can click on them.)

Today, one such search was “can i write a memoir about abuse defamation,” which had led to my post Articles about abuse memoirs and abuse blogs: why we need to write them.

Clicking on the search link led me to Peering at Privacy in Creative Nonfiction by Kaylene Johnson.  She writes many reassuring words, such as:

The influences of mass media and Freudian psychology have popularized biographies and memoirs and, for better or worse, opened the doors to a cavalcade of talk shows and tell-all celebrity.

Smith explains that “the more private our lives become, the more self-conscious, the more we attempt to define ourselves apart from tradition or communal expectations, the more we turn to memoir, biography, or celebrity tabloid to offer possibility.

When we read biographies, we search for a friend, a mentor, a kindred spirit, and ultimately for ourselves. What can we learn from his experience that will confirm, challenge, or enhance our own?”

One might even argue that the current modus operandi in media and publishing leans toward anything goes; the juicier and more sordid the detail the better. However, the freedom to discuss the most private experiences in a public forum has also given voice to the formerly silent and disenfranchised.

There is power in truth; and the freedom to tell the truth gives rise to transformation and change. It is precisely this power that authors of creative nonfiction tap into when they decide to write their stories. What to reveal and what to leave unspoken becomes, then, a decision of conscience.

…..In the end, Molly Peacock encourages writers to write first, to write honestly, and to worry about the risks later. “It’s best to go forward with your own truths and then go forward with your negotiations,” she advises. “The legal issues and the psychological trespass issues should be left to later when the work is done.”

She claims that authors write memoirs in order to figure things out, and that the writing itself is a genuine process of discovery. To self-censor over worries about privacy issues is to limit the possibilities of discovery. “Say whatever it is in you to say. You can decide later what to publish… you will endlessly be coping with obstacles if you don’t.”

…..Although libel laws are set and enforced by various state laws, authors cannot be sued for statements of opinion. Neither can they be sued for telling the truth.

However, the MLA notes “Belief in the truth of an offending statement is different from the ability to prove the truth of such a statement.” In other words, writers should research and make sure their facts are accurate.

And finally, “actual malice” must be proven for a libel suit to be successful. Publication had to be made “with the knowledge that the material was false or with reckless disregard of the truth.”

The bottom line is that responsible research and honorable intentions are usually enough to keep authors and publishers out of legal hot water. Truth is considered a complete defense and the more tangible the evidence of truth (public records, etc.) the better.

……Fear of legal entanglement and concerns over the trespass on another’s privacy can cripple a writer’s ability to get at the heart of the story she is trying to tell.

That is not to say that these issues are not legitimate concerns. However, if the work is honest and the writer is truthful, she has little to fear.

Perhaps the most important question to ask in the process of writing is whether or not the disclosure of private thoughts, events, conversations, and anecdotes will serve the work at hand.

……Connie May Fowler said she started writing her memoir, When Katie Wakes, as a tribute to her dog, yet the story graphically describes the horrors of domestic violence.

“I went into it innocently, not knowing how hard it would be. I wasn’t ready to write it, but in an odd way that helped contribute to its rawness,” she said. “Writing the book helped me get to a new point in my life. From here on my art and work will be artistically bolder.”

A creative nonfiction writing exercise at a Spalding MFA in Writing residency proved how wrenching the writing of personal narrative can be.

MFA students of all genres were asked to write a personal response to a public event such as the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Voices shook, hands trembled, and tears flowed as seasoned writers shared their writing in small groups. No one anticipated the emotional cost of this exercise or the “down time” some students needed afterward to recover.

The risk of crossing boundaries is not just limited to trespassing on another’s privacy: the ultimate challenge may lie in breaking through our reluctance to move into the tender and vulnerable places of our own lives.

As writers we must be willing to take those risks, not for journalistic reasons of the truth as fact, but for the sake of shaping the work into an art that transcends the circumstances about which we are writing.

Writing hard truths with candor and compassion legitimizes and validates not only one’s personal experience but, when artfully done, offers a passageway to universal truths that can illuminate and liberate.

Seasoned authors such as Terry Tempest Williams, Molly Peacock, Connie May Fowler, Rodger Kamenetz, and Thomas Lynch all had to tackle privacy issues when writing their memoirs and essays.

Theirs were not the questions of “amateurs” but the legitimate concerns of writers everywhere.

It turns out that permission to write about these hard truths is more easily gained than one might imagine-so long as truth, compassion, and empathy are braided throughout the work.

All authors agreed that writing is often a process of painful discovery. However, the movement toward greater honesty-writing about hard truths in the light of compassion-will serve the work by creating a room for the reader that is alive with presences.

In other words, we must tell our truth without fear of reprisal, if we want our work to be honest, if we want it to mean something.


Reblog: A Writer’s Guide to Defamation and Invasion of Privacy

Here is a good article from Writer’s Digest:

A Writer’s Guide to Defamation and Invasion of Privacy

From what I see here, it looks like all my i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, legally.  There’s also the fact that my stalkers’ threats never turned into anything: Here it is a year later.  But it’s always good to get confirmation from an authority such as Writer’s Digest.

Also see:

Frequently Expressed Fears About Publishing a Memoir

Progress Report on Inching Along with Healing Over Cluster B Abuse

I spent Sunday with an old college friend, the one whom I told about Richard and Tracy‘s abuses of their children, and who begged me to report them to CPS.

I updated her on what had happened in the past year since I saw her last.  I recall her being a Psych major; she told me Richard sounded like a psychopath, that Richard and Tracy reading my blog all the time is creepy, that she couldn’t figure out why they would want to.

I told her about Richard screwing up the forum of a friend of six years, and she said it sounds like he has some issues.  Since she’s known me all these years, she said, “You tend to attract these stalker-types.”

Todd put out a call on his forum the other day to go back to an old browser-based game (Cyber Nations), where you run your own nation, and to start an alliance based on the forum.

I hesitated because Richard and Tracy used to spend a lot of time on that game, until it went down for a while, and for all I know, could still be there.

But I would be with Todd and the rest of the forum, who have supported and believed me during this time.  I don’t know if Richard, Tracy, or the Creep who sexually harassed me, are still there.

But Todd tells me I can avoid game drama simply by avoiding the game forums.  For me it would be a chance to do three things:

  1. Though I hadn’t played this game before, I have played another one like it with Richard.  This would help me put new memories into this genre of online games, ones that don’t involve Richard.
  2. Fight my fear of Richard and Tracy by not letting the dread of their possible presence keep me from things I want to do.
  3. Support Todd’s wish to play a game with the forum.

Also, today I tackled a piece of equipment at the gym which scares me.  When I last tried it last summer, it turned out to be far too heavy for my abilities at the time.  It looks scary, and the thought of trying it again has been daunting.  But today, I tried it again.  Now I’m finally strong enough to do it!

Not only do I want to reverse the trend of weight gain as I age, a trend which continued despite my walking/exercise biking since 1996–but I want to feel strong enough to hold my own if Tracy ever comes after me.

(Or Richard, since I know he’s crazy enough to do it, after he came close to assaulting/possibly killing the woman who evicted him.  Even Todd called him unstable.)

One reason for my fear of Tracy since I met her physically in 2007, is her huge size, towering over and far heavier than petite me.  When she gets angry, it’s even worse, as her size combines with her abusiveness.

But if I keep getting stronger by lifting weights, and improving endurance through cardio, I should eventually feel strong enough to defend myself if needs be.

The physical confidence could also extend into emotional confidence to fight off Tracy and Richard’s psychological mind-games and ability to cause emotional trauma.

As the Fonz once said on Happy Days, you can win a fight without throwing a punch if people believe you are a force to be reckoned with.  (Not an exact quote; I don’t feel like chasing it down.)

Triggered by Tonight’s Breaking Amish: Kim raging at Sabrina: Reminder of Cluster B Rages

As I watched the last few scenes of tonight’s episode of Breaking Amish (yes, I do watch some lurid reality TV), I got triggered:

Jeremiah and his girlfriend Kym stayed with Sabrina for a while; Jeremiah and Sabrina have history from their time on the show; it’s over now; Kym came afterwards; Kym is insanely jealous; Sabrina is naive; Sabrina has a boyfriend; all the former cast members have now gone down to Florida and rented a house together.

Jeremiah had told Sabrina that he broke up with Kym.  Sabrina did not go to Kym, Kym went to her on tonight’s show, and began railing on her: cussing, accusations, telling her to stay away from Jeremiah, etc. etc.

Sabrina kept saying she doesn’t want Jeremiah.  Sabrina is a sensitive sort; another cast member, who soon went to stick up for her, noted that Sabrina does not know how to stand up for herself.  Sabrina began crying, and Kym called her a baby.

ARGH!  I can’t STAND women like this Kym (at least as she’s portrayed on the show)!  She’s just like Tracy–I can see it right off.  She thinks her opinion is absolutely correct and she has the right to say anything she wants to you and you deserve to hear it, even though Sabrina was gracious enough to let them stay at her house for a while.

I can also tell that Jeremiah is a narcissist, based on everything I’ve seen on the show so far, and it’s entirely likely that he manipulated Sabrina into a kind of psychological “spell.”

Like Tracy, Kym is much larger and more intimidating.  Like me, Sabrina is much smaller and more of a shrinking violet against such a raging machine.  Like me, Sabrina at first tried to calm her down, but finally began striking back verbally.

It was so familiar that I got triggered and the tears returned.  It made me want to hug Sabrina and reassure her that she’s not the only one who’s been through this.  It made me want to share my own story with her of having a shrew living in one’s own house and making life miserable.

It made me wonder if the triggers will ever stop.

It was a troubling ending to an otherwise good day, which led to troubling dreams.  I had spent the day with an old college friend, the one whom I told about Richard and Tracy’s abuses of their children, and who begged me to report them to CPS.

I updated her on what had happened in the past year since I saw her last.  I recall her being a Psych major; she told me Richard sounded like a psychopath, that Richard and Tracy reading my blog all the time is creepy, that she couldn’t figure out why they would want to.  I told her about Richard screwing up the forum of a friend of six years, and she said it sounds like he has some issues.  Since she’s known me all these years, she said, “You tend to attract these stalker-types.”