Dandelion Warriors, Incest Survival and An Artist Statement on That Christmas Morning Feeling by Marie Cartier

MarieCartierforKCETa-thumb-300x448-72405I 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.

dandelion 1I 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.

dandelion 2So, 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 CartierDr. 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.


Categories: abuse, Art, Authorship, Family, Fiction

Tags: , , ,

10 replies

  1. “It also questions what is family, biological family, family of choice, family of opportunity, and family of the borderlands.”

    Been thinking about these questions, as I, the threatening and underappreciated “black sheep,” of my immediate family engage in intensive research on my ancestry.

    I think you are right that deep feelings we have about experiences that have very personal contours can become the basis for empathy with experiences with very different contours.

    If I understand what you are saying the story you are writing is “true” to deep feelings you have and have had, but the story you tell expresses those feelings through “someone else’s” specific experiences.

    How do any of us empathize with the experiences of others? I say it is by plumbing the depths of our own experiences until we get to the place where we know that our deepest feelings are shared.


  2. LOVE the dandelion warrior button, thanks Marie!! I too was abused as a child. I don’t really want to look at that, but I agree with Carol, that plumbing the depths of painful experiences can often lead to compassion for others.


  3. Fascinating! I love your persistence in the face of critics. I bet you’ve got good stories in your novel.


  4. I wonder what your critic was struggling with, to be so vehement.
    I do love dandelions! They breathe life, strength, and a certain “perkiness”. They are also very nutritious roots and leaves, and flowers make good wine. An excellent “mascot” for us survivors.

    Thank you for your post and for your work.


  5. Marie, thank you for talking and writing about incest and for supporting the survivors of incest. Over the years I’ve known many women and some men who were the survivors of incest and I’ve been appalled at how common it is, and amazed at their strength. I was particularly moved by your dandelion pledge. Dandelions are wonderful and they are great survivors, so they are the perfect symbol for survivors. Keep up your good work and I look forward to reading your novel!


  6. I love you, Marie! Thank you so much for sharing this post. Powerful and important.


  7. Reblogged this on Emotional Bandwidth and commented:
    I’m so privilege to know Marie personally. A true inspiration and heroine.


  8. The title with Dandelion in it got me to read your post. Thank you for sharing your feelings and struggle. As a survivor I still struggle with choosing to stay in this world on many days. The main choice is to stay, and I have many reasons to help me know that it is okay to stay alive.

    For a few years I published a newsletter, called Roots of Healing, for survivors of abuse. My premise being that in order to truly heal you have to get to the root of the problem. If you don’t, then, like a dandylion root only partially pulled out, it will return. And also, that in order to really thrive in this world, you need sturdy roots.

    I love the image of the dandylion as survivor, and certainly she is one of my favorite herbs to work with and to see all around me.


  9. What a beautiful initiative you’ve described, Marie. Thank you for your work for survivors, and for sharing your stories.


  10. Thank you for your post. It had me break down at “I am your daughter, not your lover.”

    ‘Outbursts’ of intense sobbing are a regular occurance and I welcome and accept those times, when something triggers an emotional reaction, as it is all part of the long, long time of healing.

    I love the dandelion warrior medal and will print it out and place it on my altar space.

    I have often likened myself to a soldier and, even recently, placed a quote on my wall from a Keanu Reeves film (not sure which one – maybe John Wicks) which says “Don’t give up – the hardest battles are given to the strongest soldiers”

    I have had many moments of feeling suicidal over the years. Approximately,4 years ago, I did attempt a serious suicide attempt which, ?fortunately, failed. I vowed and continue to vow that that is the only time that will happen and I have said to my children that I will never do that again. It is no longer an option. I might get depressed and die of lack of self care but I will never actively attempt suicide again.

    Hopefully, I have learnt enough skills and gained enough knowledge over time to recognise that however bad I feel at times, “this too will pass”. My deep faith is invaluable. God did not do this to me and man has free will. I no longer feel “why did God do this to me?” – He didn’t – my father did. I no longer feel “why didn’t God stop it?” – He gave us all free will. We are not robots. He had no power to stop it, unless he interfered with Free Will.

    I am not surprised at the negative response of the reviewer. It’s tempting to say that it maybe because he is a man, but I am staggered at the lack of empathy of women as well.

    The article got me thinking about my sister, who has always said that she was not sexually abused by my father and has given me the impression that she believes I may have distorted/’untrue’ memories. It took her 12 years to finally tell me that she blames me for the fact that my father does not speak to her. When I opened up about the abuse, he went to her in tears, proclaiming his innocence and then, fairly shortly after, cut her out of his life.

    It is tempting to think that if someone like him abused one member of the family, then he would obviously abuse others in the family. Whilst I believe it is true that he abused all of us, there were levels of abuse and he singled me out for the most vicious. An example of this would be his mistreatment of my dog, who I loved beyond belief (more tears here…..)We had many, many animals – dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits etc etc. I never saw him abuse any of those animals and yet, for the ‘misdemeanor’ of pooping on the kitchen floor, my dog was brutalised (I won’t go into detail). The outcome of that, was that my dog’s behaviour changed (due to stress and trauma) and my parents made the decision to have him put down – needless to say, without my permission.

    It is a “wonderful” technique used by people like him to divide the family. He must love it that I am not in contact with either my mother or my sister – whilst he continues to live a comfortable family life with his new partner (new, as in not my mother) who backs him up completely.

    I am in awe of the amount of work you have done and I personally thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    I do the work that I can but nowadays it concentrates more on myself – although for the last four years, I have gone to war with the Church of England for allowing primary school children to go on school visits, without their parents’ knowledge and permission, and participate in role playing the marriage ceremony, in front of an ordained Priest – in my book, that is a kind of child abuse, and I have also been embroiled in trying to get people to understand that it is not appropriate (that’s putting it mildly!) to ask sex abuse victims/war veterans like, via a PDQ4+ questionnaire if they are rapists, arsonists, liars or torturers of animals when those people approach their local mental health services for support/help. Needless to say, that happened to me.

    I will not/can not engage in any therapeutic relationship with organisations that think it is ok to ask those sorts of questions of people like me. No way.

    God/Goddess bless you


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