Spiritualism: Victoria Woodhull, still today’s woman

The sin of all time has been the exercise of assumed powers. This is the essence of tyranny. -Victoria Woodhull

I kept a picture of Victoria Woodhull on my altar during my doctoral process at New York University. Victoria Woodhull with a whisper of a smile gazed at me benevolently in her silver case frame. I’d begun feeling her presence everywhere. My review of the literature led me to her. Granted that my topic was not originally about Spiritism or Spiritualism but that’s what happened. Because I was engaged in qualitative research, part of my study was to enter into the participants’ world without going native. I began exploring the world of spiritualism and eventually went native.

My gatekeeper invited me to misas, séances, where spiritual messages were channeled through mediums. I began reading on the topic and met channelers, mediums for the departed, and people who readily told me things about myself that they couldn’t possibly know. It reminded me of the backstory of my early life that had brought me much fear. As a very young child, my mother took my older sister and me to visit my sister’s paternal grandmother. She was in the middle of supposedly being spiritually possessed and yelled out that mother should break a leg. I don’t think she meant that in a stage performance celebratory wish of good luck! We had a hard time with that one since my mom did fall into a wide pothole on the way home and my sister’s initial illness started with subcutaneous hemorrhage of her legs. I had to work through that before I could embrace spiritualism and all the good it has brought me.

Victoria was born Victoria Claflin and was a role model for many women. From early childhood, she practiced as a clairvoyant and fortune-teller to augment her family’s income. She was a foreperson in the suffrage movement and her primary focus was promoting the idea of Free Love. Simply, free love was the notion that women should have choice in husbands, of having children, and the option of a divorce that was unheard of in those times. In 1870 she and her sister, Tennessee (Tennie), took Wall Street by storm when they opened the first female brokerage business. When I’ve walked along Great Jones Street I have imagined her walking along the cobblestone path in her long swishing skirts. Tennessee was close to Cornelius Vanderbilt and it was rumored that he made much of his fortune on her advice as a spiritualist.

Victoria and Tennie started a newspaper called Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly that addressed issues of equality for women such as free love, spiritualism, sex education and licensed prostitution.  While some of the other women’s rights advocates such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton saw her as a champion, others like The Beecher sisters who were powerful in those circles were not as open to her movement. In fact, Ms. Woodhull spent many a day incarcerated in the Tombs in New York City because she was such a threat.

Victoria was the first woman on the ballot for US Presidency in 1872. A major concern was that the female vote was not instituted until fifty years later. Frederick Douglass was nominated to be her running partner for Vice Presidency but did not acknowledge the nomination.  While they were both tirelessly fighting for the abolition of slavery, Ms. Woodhull’s prime focus was to promote the concept of free love.

Victoria Woodhull showed up on my pages in Coney Island Siren. One of the protagonist’s, Ellen, journals about her and is taken with her ways that leads to independence. The women of those times were in desperate need of hope that life could change and they wouldn’t have their lives dictated to them by people who never thought of them as people but as mere possessions. I believe there are many women who live under those conditions even today. I think it’s time for me to replace Victoria’s picture on my altar. Her sense of cause and action is one to be emulated still today.

Two wonderful books about Ms. Woodhull are:

Other Powers: the age of Suffrage and Spiritualism by Barbara Goldsmith and

Notorious Victoria: the Life of Victoria Woodhull by Mary Gabriel

Say her name- Gladys Ricart

Gladys Ricart. Say her name out loud and she will live through all eternity. She will never be forgotten.

I didn’t know her personally, but I’d heard about her. How? I’m not sure. I think that I told someone about the book I was writing, and they mentioned the annual bride march. Ms. Ricart is one of those people who became famous after her death, although to her family and friends she was loved profoundly both on this planet and after she’d been murdered by an ex-boyfriend who purported to love her. Instead, he shot her in front of her loved ones on her wedding day. This all happened in 1999. There’s so much backstory that I don’t have. I only know the spirit of what occurred through my reading.

Ms. Ricart’s death was yet another in the senseless push-pull of one person’s dominance over another. She’d, according to what I’ve read, claimed her space in the world and chose to walk away from what was not healthy for her and walk toward love. This was effectively stopped by a coward who couldn’t handle the devastation he felt by her ability to be a fully independent person- functioning separate from him. He chose to engage in this act of rage and cease all possibilities for Ms. Ricart’s future.

When I began writing Coney Island Siren I wasn’t so thrilled when I realized it was going to be about domestic violence. As a mental health nurse, in all aspects of my practice, I’ve worked with women who have barely survived similar terribly harrowing situations. What I’ve desired for many has not come to fruition, in terms of my clients getting out of these disastrous relationships. It devastates, not only the individual, but families, children, and whole scores of women. I know that some of you will say it’s not only women, it’s men too. I respect that, but I’m focusing on the women in my experience.

In Coney Island Siren, the protagonist, Maggie Fuentes, lives this same type of existence. Always looking over her shoulder. Trying not to say the wrong thing. Sneaking her way to happiness. My heart is hurting for these women. I know I’ll probably sit in front of another tomorrow in my office at work. For this, I am committed.

On September 26, 2018 the 27th Annual Brides March will be held in NYC. We an join that march to honor Gladys Ricart and all women who valiantly march on this path on a daily basis.

Here’s the link for more information on how you can participate:

http://www.bridesmarch.com/

Corkboards and cash

The couple standing on line behind me at Whole Foods were annoyed with me. I could tell by their body language and the energy of disdain that seeped out at me. I can understand why. It’s because I was paying with cash. We’d just bought a cartful of groceries and I pulled out my old-fashioned purse with old fashioned greenbacks and began paying with them.

The cashier cheerfully chatted as she counted out the bills, returned my change, and gave me my receipt. I get it. I sometimes seethe at the deli counter when someone pays for their bagel and coffee with a credit card. I usually have a dollar in my pocket for my roll and often resent the time it takes for them to sign for their two-item purchase with a debit or charge card.

It may be passé to use cash but when I do I can forget about the purchase and not have to look at it again at the end of the month. Questioning myself as to the numbers of rolls and bagels I’ve eaten is not appealing.

I’ve just put up a cork board on the wall at my desk at home. There are colorful tacks to go with the pastel index cards I’ve placed on the corkboard. It’s taken me a while to accept that I function best the old-fashioned way. Using electronic calendars and to-do lists are okay but in the case of lists I like to know what I’ve accomplished. Call it silly, but I feel a certain joy when find one of my old index cards that show what I’ve done. The delete button erases all traces of my work unless it’s a novel.

My feeling of being busy is confirmed when I see that I made four phone calls for my Dad’s health insurance, worked on a poem, sent a gift to a loved one, and on and on. When it’s wiped out in cyberspace, the feeling of being overwhelmed is there but I need evidence that I’ve done something. Otherwise, I tend to forget. That’s just who I am.

I’m thrilled with my corkboard. It’s right next to my vision board. Everything I’d like to do is in front of me. I don’t have to open an app to find it. Index cards rock. Cash rocks. There’s something in the use of paper and pen that is solidifying to me. Knowing what works for me is especially soothing. I promise not to judge your debit card, if you won’t judge my cash. 

There’s a whole world of corkboard ideas out there. Hmm, I wonder about cash!

XO

Theresa

 

 

 

 

Enter Ego

 

via GIPHY

Ego elbows its way into my writing and promises to sabotage everything I’ve worked for in my latest novel Coney Island Siren. The manuscript is ready for its next trip to the editor. I’ve made the revisions and added the new sections she suggested would enhance the book. Ego’s sharp bones cut open the perfect gateway for fear to come waltzing through.

My wayward anxiety has me believe that I am the great Creator of the innovative and imaginative works that I issue forth from my being. There are such things as skill in writing and the ability to tell a story. I can learn those inventions in workshops and in creative writing courses but for me, there’s also the knowledge that I should step aside and let Spirit channel whatever Spirit wants to come through me do so. When I hang on too long to my fears, my being becomes thick with ME  leaving no room for the creative juices to flow and develop into something that is not me.

Ego tells me that my work is not creative enough. It tells me that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. It tells me a million lies that attempt to keep me quiet and not share my voice or the voices of the story characters. I don’t need outsiders telling me grating and awful things about my work. I can do that all by myself.

Fertility needs a nurturing bed that is given tender care and eventually a new being is born. Angst doesn’t belong in this enterprise. The protagonists in Coney Island Siren, Maggie and Ellen, told me their stories and they were a challenge to write. They were both women who had been silenced too long and whose days were filled with the belief that they were somehow at fault for wanting lives filled with love and the ease of fulfilling their dreams. Surely, women aren’t the only ones to suffer the indignities of persons who harm them but this is the story of two women who did.  I listened to the best of my ability and now I share their words with my editor and hopefully, soon with you.

As a more seasoned author, I’ve chosen to publish my work through my company, Pollen Press Publishing. Just as the name of my company indicates, writers are meant to grow and to spread their creative works across many lands. My company isn’t meant to stifle the growth of new seeds of creativity or to brusquely step on tiny green shoots just emerging from the earth. I’ve experienced both and my ego was healthy enough to encourage my developing Pollen Press Publishing. It’s all a balance.

XO

Theresa

Thank you, Latina Book Club

https://www.amazon.com/Answered-Silence-collection-Theresa-Varela/dp/1539371638/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1514667808&sr=1-4

A friend’s share on Social Media alerted me that my first volume of poetry Answered by Silence was included in the Latina Book Club’s 2017 listing of Books of the Year. It made my heart happy to be included with other Latina/Latino/Latinx writers, some of whom I know and many I respect. So cool!

Answered by Silence was such a personal project. It started without months or years of planning. My muse told me that I’d healed enough regarding the death of my sister to share some of that experience for not only myself, but for others too. There’s a saying that no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. I believe that. Losing my sister at the age of eleven shaped my life that and included some very raw and dark days. Those days are behind me, and my profound love for her remains unscathed.

I haven’t marketed the thin volume as I have my other books. But I’ve loved that book and it has loved me in return. My daughter, who is named after my sister, created the simplest of illustrations for it exactly as I envisioned. I am grateful for today and the people in my life.

I’m glad to be on the list with the others who all have their stories behind their stories.

Check out the other selections at www.latinabookclub.com

XO

Theresa

Listen to me! I count too!

A friend of mine often reminds her four year old to use her soft voice. The child indiscriminately yells her wants and needs to the unsuspecting world who hasn’t noticed that there’s a little person in the vicinity with something to say. Give me attention! I don’t care who you are, but I want your attention! She’s practicing to get her message across early. I was never that child. I was the kid who was always quiet and if you looked at me for a prolonged period of time I’d burst into tears. That was long ago but my introversion is not easily surrendered to the person I think of myself as today. I want your attention. I have something to say! That’s a conundrum for a writer.

In my last post I wrote about my disappointment about not having my plan for play direction go exactly as I had envisioned it. I had never translated my vision into words. I thought I did. If I had it was in my soft voice. There was a flurry of discussions after that post and I practiced using my assertive voice with my play mentors. I had no expectations of what the outcome would be. It was important that I develop these wonderful relationships, enrich my learning experience, and to use the gift I’ve been given. My gift is using my words effectively.  We came to mutual understandings of our expectations, future possibilities, and supported each other’s enterprises as we sat together at the table.

The following weekend my spouse and I went to the Women’s March in Washington. I didn’t carry a placard. I carried myself with pride. The person I am this lifetime has  again been disregarded. As a woman with beliefs and convictions I had to stand out there and yell out, I need your attention! Give me your attention! I count too! The state of my country is alarming. Using my voice can be a frightening enterprise. What if I get in trouble for using my voice? These thoughts are not easily discarded.

 

During my morning run today, I was suddenly surrounded by a group of Park Slope fathers who were in peak athletic form. They laughed about their daughters who were pledging sororities in spite of their patriarchal roots. They also explained that their 11 minute mile timing was because they were running 17 miles this morning. I knew all this about them because they built a wall around me with their bodies and I became angry during the activity I engage in that keeps me sane. I didn’t want to lose my quiet time. I managed to break their wall. It meant I pushed my run and my breath was shorter than usual. But I was free of them. That was a statement. I wasn’t invisible. At least to myself. This time I didn’t use words just action.

There is a synchronicity to these events as I hone the skill of using my voice appropriately. Listening to a munchkin practice her tone and volume, my speaking with my professional mentors, and marching on Washington grounds are all connected. There is no ending here. I’m still in the process of learning to use my voice in the best ways. Actions. Writing. Discussions. There are many ways to communicate. I may not have to stand on a chair and scream out my wants but I can still get my messages out.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Writing: On Thin Ice

Park Slope sidewalks are covered in thin, crunchy ice this morning. I know this because I navigated my two doggies on their walk. I kept my balance because I’ve added the occasional plank to my basic workout. My core is strong. I was grateful that when Ginger refused to budge and Chutney cut circles around me with her leash that I didn’t slip.

These streets are a great metaphor for the slippery paths in our creative worlds. In writing and publishing, the landscapes are always changing. What is solid ground today can turn into a slick surface at rise. I’m learning to find and create railings to hold on to like I did this morning on my walk.

Last week I wrote about my excitement returning to the playwriting course. I’m still excited about the writing but was  disappointed to hear that my mentors are not interested in staging my play after all. I was stunned when I received that talk. I was still in the same emotional and mental place as I was during our last conversation. But a change had taken place. People change their minds all the time. It’s part of human nature. They move on to what is beneficial for them. I get that. There are no contracts signed.

Life is a process. I’m learning to surrender. What I may want or think is right for me may not be. I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with the changing landscapes over a lifetime, but especially so during this last year. I’m listening to the voice that whispers in my ear, Hold on to the railings, Theresa. I’ll help you find them. More will be revealed.

Happy Writing!

My guilty pleasure: playwriting

After watching La La Land at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinema, my spouse and I chatted about what might have made that film an award contender. The idea of someone fulfilling their dream in a style that might not have been in their original vision can be rewarding.  Maintaining the discipline that brings joy to the private self is also something I find satisfying. We spoke about going along willingly with the transformations that come along with being artists while also being loving to our original ideas about ourselves.

In my early twenties, a friend asked me what personal goals I had. I told them that I wanted to write children’s books. One day. I was deep in caring for my own little ones, maintaining a traditional relationship, and working as a bedside nurse. That last one left me exhausted. Having the responsibility of forty two patients on a surgical unit while supervising two nurses aides didn’t leave me much time for writing, much less thinking about writing.

Many years later, I’m a writer. My life has changed in ways that I could never have predicted. While there are still often engulfing responsibilities, such as my Dad’s care, I’m cognizant of developing my creative self. I write novel and poems. I also love writing plays. My first novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, inspired me to re-write it in play form with several twists. The play version takes more risks, is funnier, and as plays demand, brings forth the strength and richness of certain characters that want to take the stage. Next steps in staging the play are on my agenda and I’m excited about moving forward.

This week, I’ll be returning to my playwriting course. I have already started my second play. It’s in baby form. I look forward to sitting with my mentors, Mario Golden and Andreas Robertz, and the other group members at the Allen Davis Playwriting Lab. They are encouraging, hold me honest, and demand that I am rigorous in bringing a piece to fruition. In my earlier life, I never thought about playwriting. Plays were something other people did. I grew up going to Broadways shows and plays because my mother loved them and treated us to many matinees. Not many kids in my neighborhood attended plays and I have her to thank for exposing me to this aspect of life.

Plays and playwriting have become my guilty pleasures. They weren’t part of my game plan when I thought about writing but have emerged as essential to my writing self. Having the ability to merge the joys of my private self with my public writing transformations is a gift.

Happy Writing!

When the story changes…

In real life we all change whether we want to or not. We try new foods, get involved in new jobs and relationships and basically do things that may seem different to our persona. Usually though, unless it’s to an extreme, we aren’t kicking and screaming.

But what happens when it’s one or more of our beloved characters that changes? I’m in the midst of experiencing this as I ‘adapt’ my novel Covering the Sun with My Hand to a play. I guess you can say that I’m in the acceptance phase now. Based on all the changes in the story, I’m now calling the project ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘adapted’ and have also thought about changing the title.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still Julia and René Acevedo as our leads. Mami and Ana are major characters. Papi has unfortunately crossed over. There are characters at the forefront who weren’t mentioned in the novel but who are germane to the story.

It’s still going to be a while before they take their places on stage. I need time to get used to this changes. I’ll be writing more about these as I move forward in the play. The one thing that hasn’t changed in the writing of this version of the Acevedo family tale is that I love each character so much and I’m getting to know more about each as you will. Looking forward to sitting with you in the theatre.

Writing: Timing, distance, and target

I was briefly a martial arts student at the age of twelve and returned to training when I was in my thirties. My first instructor, Mr. Aaron, was a great storyteller. He told tales of how he could kick as high as his head but when I attended his Saturday classes he couldn’t quite reach that height anymore. I stopped attending because he thought I should be able to “handle” dressing in the room with the boys. The other girls in the class had already stopped taking the classes. I eventually figured out why they left one by one. I tend to hold onto things tenaciously-most times that quality is a strength of mine.

The second time I began training was because my children were taking classes and my friend, another mom, and I decided that we could do more than sit and wait for hours on end for them on Saturdays. The style was Okinawan Go Ju Ryu. I learned about the nuances of walking the warrior path between hard and soft ways-which is what Go Ju means. I ended the training just shy of testing for my black belt. It was a tough decision to stop a discipline that I’d become committed to over the years. I guess, ultimately, I learned that I’m a warrior that leans toward a peaceful way of life from a different path. There were several things that I learned through the years of learning Karate that have changed my life forever. One of them was the concept of ‘timing, distance, and target.’ This concept shows up every now and again and I experienced one in my writing life.

Being a quasi social media junkie, I was in full glee mode when I shared on Facebook that I was changing the title of my new mystery, Nights of Indigo Blue, that was published in September of 2015. Facebook did what it does best and I quickly received several ‘likes.’ I also received a private message from an acquaintance who advised me ‘writer to writer’ that I should employ the help of a proof reader for my book. She made it clear that this would help me to avoid my previous issue of having multiple editing errors as in my first book, ‘Covering the Sun with My Hand.’ I must admit that the message quickly put me in a funk. I  know how important it is to have the ability to self reflect and self critique and I try my best with that. What smarts is that I think it was meant to ‘take me down a peg.’ The message is that while I’m being published that my work is not quite good enough. The person’s spouse had already confided to me that there were glaring errors in my book that should have been avoided when we met for lunch about a week after that particular book launch- a time that I was pleased as punch after a fantabulous event for my beloved book. Sigh.

I’m not perfect and don’t do any of this alone. I have a great team and we work together well. This message had already been shared. I think her advice was a definite case of poor timing, distance, and target. It reminded me of standing in the dojo, training place, with a fellow student who should have been trading taps to the ab region. Instead, after the fifth or so repetition he somehow punched me right in the face. It was wrong in every way but he shrugged and said he hadn’t meant to hurt me. The timing, for me, was awful. The ‘writer to writer’ message could have been shared during a more neutral time. The distance was too close to home in terms of my default state of negative thinking of “not being good enough.” The target was perfect for the messenger but, alas, not for me.

Writing helps me to make sense of my world. Talking things out do too. When I shared this with my editor she reminded me we worked together on the book and the publisher was on the team too. It reminded me that I hadn’t done this alone and there was nothing to feel shame about or to hide. Being part of a writing team is awesome. There will be messages given in a poor manner. I don’t have to wait for a sucker punch, there will always be someone there who will be happy to do the honors. If and when a punch does come sailing toward me and I don’t duck in time, I know that it may smart for a while and then I’ll be okay.

Happy writing (and editing)! Go in confidence of who you are and the knowledge that life can be challenging just as we are simultaneously rewarded.