I have blogged excerpts from my novel That Christmas Morning Feeling in progress previously—the first excerpt here and additional ones here and here. This blog serves as an “artist statement” regarding the novel in progress.
I want to discuss in this blog thoughts on my own creative process—how a project can percolate for years (this one for well over ten years) and be in pieces in several places (handwritten, hard drives, on a laptop, here in FAR) and then some magical “tipping point” comes that creates the necessary conditions to put other things aside and work on that project, birthing it forward.
Certainly the death of both my parents in one year, and the resulting fallout in the last two years, complicated relationship struggles both to be sure, prompted me to want to write this novel and put it out into the world in a finished form, which is what I’m trying to accomplish now.
This book is not an autobiography…it’s not “my story.” But, to be sure, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the feelings and experiences from that time have been published in autobiographical form in my poetry book, I Am Your Daughter, Not Your Lover, a play (of the same title, while much of this dramatic work is out of print, my work is catalogued at UCLA; here is the finding aid) based on the book produced in Los Angeles, and a one woman show I did entitled Blessed Virgin. I also created the activism project, Dandelion Warrior, which awarded medals to survivors who came to my numerous readings in the nineties who were willing to give up the option of suicide. To date I awarded well over a thousand buttons/medals to survivors in the States and internationally. When the buttons ran out I simply shook hands with the survivors who were willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with me and make the commitment to stay on the planet.
I was the first artist the state of California awarded an Artist in Residence grant to, to work specifically with incest survivors, and I worked also with women from forced marriages, and also prostitutes, creating dialogues with them and with survivors of childhood sexual abuse and created projects that showcased their voices coming together in the struggle for survival. I performed slam poetry about incest survival when it was just called reading poetry in bars; I did one woman shows and got flack in my reviews, as well as praise. For instance, one reviewer simply said “Speak Repressed Memory,” as he went on to say he didn’t believe survivors’ stories coming forward and did not at all review my play or performance except to say I was an “accomplished actress.” The rest of his review was about how he hated incest survival stories, and therefore the reader was to assume also my play.
I continued with my work.
I have seen survivors wearing the Dandelion Warrior buttons proudly and secretly. I have seen survivors break down in tears because they could not yet make the commitment to not kill themselves. I have seen a survivor flash me the button under her karate gi after passing a karate test in the dojo we were both enrolled in. I have seen men, boys, girls, women, young and old stand shoulder to shoulder in a reading holding hands and announcing for the first time simply by standing up that yes, they were survivors, and they were willing to make the commitment to not kill themselves.
I have met all kinds of survivors and I have been one—and am one—I have been surrounded by the Kleenex and tears and … I know for sure that there is no way through but through. You can know a lot about feminist process, you can see the other side, and you can still be in the middle of the crap… feeling the feelings that were unsafe to feel at the time. And the only way through—is through.
Why did I start this novel? At the time (over a decade ago) I wanted to explore how someone in a family would feel if they discovered something that indicated a member of the family had been molested—but it was clear that she herself (as my main character in the novel is male, but the story he finds out happened, happened to his sister) did not remember it. That is the story of my novel. But it is not my story. Nor is it the story of my biological family.
I am exploring in this novel what a family member does with this information—does he force someone to remember? Does he “forget” he ever discovered this information himself? What is the process of being in a family where this occurred if it didn’t actually “happen” to you, but did happen in your family? And so, in fact, did happen to you? These are the questions I asked in my novel; they are not necessarily the questions I ask about myself or my own story.
So, the above is a brief explanation and discussion about my “artist process” in this project and where I am positioning myself. Survivors have many stories. I know—I heard 100’s of them. The story I am writing as a novel is not their story, necessarily. It is not my story. It is not “real.” But it is informed by a reality I know well myself, and I know well from observation of a community I respect deeply. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse who live to survive and tell their story are resilient—hence the name Dandelion Warriors.
So, as I move forward with this project, and I occasionally post excerpts as my FAR contribution, I wanted to make clear—it is not my story, but yes, it is informed by my feelings. And it is not my life—but informed by what I know about life. For instance, my main character is male (and I am female) is an academic whose specialty is Virginia Woolf (I am an academic—but my specialty is not Virginia Woolf, but bar culture lesbians and the religiosity of gay bars pre-Stonewall as sacred space). My main character is a straight, married man (I am a married lesbian). He is wrestling with discovering what happened in his family that he did not know about and what to do about it, as it happened to his twin. I always wished I had a twin…I did not, but I have siblings. It also questions what is family, biological family, family of choice, family of opportunity, and family of the borderlands. These are all questions I wrestle with in my life, and in my classroom.
Look for more excerpts in the future.
Marie Cartier. Dr. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine. She is also a published poet and playwright, accomplished performance artist, scholar, and social change activist. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) and an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting), both from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is co-chair of the Lesbian-Feminisms and Religion session of the national American Academy of Religion and co-chair at the regional level of the Queer Studies in Religion session, founder of the western region Queer Caucus, and a perma-blogger for Feminism and Religion. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style, and a 500 hour Yoga Alliance certified Hatha Yoga teacher.