Coney Island Siren: what’s in a title?

I was surprised when a few readers have asked me why I entitled my latest novel, Coney Island Siren. The question behind the question is the need for an explanation of why I use the word siren when maybe I wanted to use the word mermaid. That would have made the title Coney Island Mermaid.

The images of mermaids are of beautiful enchanted creatures with the bodies of women with fish-like half bodies and flipping tails. That reminds me of Ariel, the little mermaid. Lovable with beautiful flowing red locks. A mermaid will enchant a sailor to live a life of love and want and desire. A mermaid can enchant a child to love the sea and all the magic it musters. The child can wear a knitted tail and pretend to be stranded on the beach. A mermaid is on the safe side of things.

Ulysses and the Sirens by HJ Draper, 1909

A siren connotes a more dangerous type of sea creature. There are a multitude of myths about sirens. Sirens started out depicted as women with wings- almost angelic. In more modern day folk tales, sirens have tails of fish. Her song enchants sailors and men are doomed to become shipwrecked and stuck in lives they hadn’t ever planned to engage in but he had no choice because of the power of a dangerous woman, in this case- siren. After reading the various tales, that included storied of Persephone and Hades, Odysseus, and others, I decided to go into deep meditation to ascertain how siren really factored into my novel even more than the title.

Odysseus and the Sirens by JW Waterhouse, 1891

As a tool in private practice, my spouse utilizes GIM that is an abbreviation of Bonny Method of Guided Imagery in Music. She casually mentioned that one of the music pieces she uses is Debussy’s Nocturnes: III Sirènes: You can’t make this stuff up. I asked for a session to help me gain clarity on this issue. She’s been using this practice for some time now, but this would be my first session. I went in willingly and came up with a deeper understanding of the weaving of the title and the symbolism of the siren in the case of Maggie and Frank.

No bones about it Coney Island Siren is about domestic violence. Maggie Fuentes and Frank Ramirez dance a perilous and unpredictable dance. There is no way to cut in on their dance. It can only stop when one bows out. Maggie is a nurse and Frank is a police officer. Their days are filled with the sounds of sirens both in police cars and ambulances. That is a mere superficial layer to the title and its connections. There are so many layers to the choice of the title.

The story takes place in Coney Island. That part is easy. They work and live risky lives. Maggie is not portrayed as a victim such as we usually think when a woman is in a partnership where there is intimate partner violence. Maggie takes her chances as she looks for love and anything to fill that god-sized hole in her chest that is empty and in want. Frank and Maggie are intertwined in this dance of the sea. The waves collide and they roll back and forth never quite letting go of each other. It’s a devastating tale but it is their tale.

Frank says, “I’ve even tried to stay clear of you, but I always end up right next to you. I’m powerless when it comes to you. When you’re around, all bets are off.”

Maggie thinks, “His reassurance fed me like a baby and I was finally filled the way I longed to be.”

There are two parts here. Maggie calls to Frank as she sings her song of longing from the sea. Frank leaves his ship to be with Maggie and his life is doomed because he cannot resist her call of longing. That call and acceptance sounds terrorizing for those of us on the outside of this duo as we witness what takes place in their partnering.

In my meditation, I saw that these myths are basic fodder for the belief that men are loathe to give up what they believe is a life without worry or burden. A woman comes along and ensnares them. The men are doomed to live without the ability to go out and plunder other ships, find fool’s gold, or engage in adventures that are assuredly removed from them once they’ve been caught by a siren, I mean, woman. The woman’s objective of creating and procreating are looked at as an anchor that forces men to a terrible fate. Women are frequently blamed for being the downfall of men in our country and often even worse in other countries. These understanding and knowing of these connections became deeply powerful in my GIM session. There is also the expansion of a feeling of joy within me as I begin to learn more about my writings after the fact. I often share that my writings are mere channelings from the characters who ask that their stories be told. I, like you readers, learn more about the stories as I read and live with them.

My daily truth is that I sit with women who have left violent relationships, but frequently return to the people who have harmed them. I often hear health providers say that they much prefer to work with men because women are so complicated. That women are troublemakers and dangerous. Like sirens would you say? We’ve got a long way to go until we as humans stop blaming women for men’s unhappiness, lack of success, or being saddled where they don’t want to be. Maggie and Frank just happen to be a heterosexual cis-gendered couple. These violent relationships are also frequent in same sex, non-binary couples too. I’m not meaning to leave them out of this discussion, but we are talking about this particular novel here.

The answer to why I chose to use the term siren is a complicated one. Any explanation seems simplistic. I haven’t blamed the woman, Maggie, inadvertently, by naming the book Coney Island Siren. It’s time that we, as humans, begin to understand the severity of these tales towards women. Couple dance their dances. I can try to stop the music. I can try to cut in and tap one on the shoulder. At some point, one may look up and decide to make a break in their actions. Maybe with enough light on these situations, one will walk away.

I am sure that this topic will be continued. Until then!

Coney Island Siren, 2019, Theresa Varela

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Domestic violence lives on

We’re nearing the end of October and the time for recognition of those who’ve perished or are in the act of perishing to domestic violence. But the violence will continue. One out of three women and one out of four men have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. One in seven women and one in twenty five men have been injured by an intimate partner. These numbers don’t include the ones that live with mental, emotional, and spiritual torment on the daily by their loved ones.

In my work life, I am a psychiatric practitioner at a women’s mental health shelter. I would say that ninety percent of the women I speak with having lived through some form of sexual, physical, or mental abuse as children or have watched parents who are in DV relationships. Sometimes it is a biological parent and sometimes its a step parent. The violence continues at foster homes and in group homes during adolescence. There is always someone ready to violate another. In the shelter this colors the relationships between the women. The lack of trust and fear of or actual betrayal is impressive in its significance. Really, how does one trust after being involved in such violence sometimes intermittently or constantly in one’s life?

There’s lots of alcohol and cannabis use that comes along with the territory. This substance use works until it doesn’t anymore. Until one finds themselves in a shelter because there are no more sofas to safely sleep on or the non-ceasing train rides prove to be too much to handle. According to the AA Grapevine, 21 percent of women and 23 percent of men have been harmed because of someone else’s drinking in the previous twelve months. These harms include threats, harassment, property damage, vandalism, and physical aggession, or family and financial problems. The list goes on.

This isn’t my usual blog post. But I was moved to share some of the specifics about domestic violence. Because I sit with these affected women most days at my place of work, maybe my perspective is skewed. Maybe if I worked in a bank I might see a bruised cheekbone or a woman wearing sunglasses indoors. Instead, the abuse is upfront and placed on my desk in my tiny office. The experience is offered to me. I in turn offer some possible healing techniques from referrals to maybe just listening because she isn’t ready to make a change and has told me flat out that is her decision. My placement with these women is my spiritual work. It’s my calling. I guess this is why it was important for me to write my novel on this awful disease of violence.

Coney Island Siren: a novel

Each time I’ve read Coney Island Siren my novel about domestic violence at events someone has come to me afterward to tell me that it is their story. They tell me that I must have been in a relationship where violence ensued. They tell me the story is real. It is. It’s a hard story for the protagonist, Maggie Fuentes, who I believe whispered her story in my ear. It is real for many and maybe even some of you reading this post. https://www.amazon.com/Coney-Island-Siren-Theresa-Varela/dp/1732716714/ref=sr_1_1?crid=ZP84NNMBJSNZ&keywords=coney+island+siren&qid=1571796205&sprefix=Coney+Island+si%2Caps%2C139&sr=8-1

Here are some contacts if you or someone you know are in this type of relationship:

If you are in immediate danger, call 911

NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. www.opdv.ny.gov/help/helpfor.html

Domestic Violence and Abuse: Recognizing the Signs of an Abusive Relationship and Getting Help https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-abuse.htm

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ILBA 2019 Winners!

Best news to receive in Paris! International Latino Book Awards-Latino Literary Now Thank You!

DESIGN AWARDS

Best Latino Focused Book Design

FIRST PLACE Graciella la Gitana Oracle / El Oráculo de Graciella la Gitana, Theresa Varela, illustrated by Mara Alicia Cordova; Pollen Press Publishing LLC; USA/Puerto Rican; New York City

Best Arts Book

HONORABLE MENTION Graciella la Gitana Oracle / El Oráculo de Graciella la Gitana, Theresa Varela, illustrated by Mara Alicia Cordova; Pollen Press Publishing LLC; USA/Puerto Rican; New York City

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Rowing down that river

The Emmons Avenue bay that looks like a small river

Life can be a river. We encounter rocks that throw us off balance. We slip and slide as our canoes lurch along. We hang on to the oars as our kayaks hurtle through unseen falls that crop up when we least expect it. I’ve been away from my website since the end of July. We’re now deep into September. I had a series of glitches that I couldn’t fix. I couldn’t post. I had to reach out for help. Fortunately I was connected with a very bright and lovely woman who went behind the scenes to fix it all. She’s done a wonderful job! Thank you, Piper!

When I got back on I decided to change my website look. Ho-hum! It had to be clear, easy to use, and lighter than the previous setting. I like it. What do you think? I also thought about this extended leave from blogging. Is there anything I’d like to do differently? Yes, but time takes time. Now’s a good time to talk about my current in-progress creative works. There are plenty of them. If only in the thinking stage. That’s an important phase of development too.

My second Daisy novel is going strong. Right now I’m calling it Murder at the Gowanus Canal. Anyone who lives in Brooklyn knows about the Gowanus. It’s the perfect backdrop for a murder. In fact, if you’ve driven on the Gowanus Expressway, you might want to murder someone. The traffic is awful twenty four hours a day. Daisy encounters some unexpected complications with her beau, Rod. There’s more to him then we ever expected. I’m the first to admit that. When I write I hear the story for the first time. You’ll be surprised too, I bet. Jose and Rubio, my best couple of all times, have problems that aren’t for the weak of heart but remember this is a cozy. Wrap yourself in blankets to read it when it’s published. That will still take a while. I’m halfway through the tale and it’s a good one, if I may say so myself. Thank you!

Graciella la Gitana, my spirit guide, is ever encouraging me to go further. We are deep in meditation together many nights as she shares her insights on the concepts of her oracle. The lyrical prosy poems were not enough for her. She’s also showing me some new spreads that will be in this book. If it were up to her I’d be done already. I think things go faster in spirit world. I have to stop to make tea. To light candles. To smudge. I wish I had Samantha’s nose. You remember Bewitched, don’t you?

Those are two of my current endeavors. I do want to keep you updated as to events coming up. October 13 is the Festival of Books in East Harlem, NYC, and November 23 is the ever amazing Comité Noviembre at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. I’ll be at both. Will you? Sign up for my newsletter so you can know all the news as soon I get it. The link is to the right of this blog on this page.

Love that we’re together again

Theresa (Graciella says hi too! )

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Unlikely writing inspiration

During our recent trip to Key West, Florida, we made it a point to visit the Butterfly Museum, the Lighthouse, and the Haunted Ghost tour. We joined groups of people at America’s most southerly point where a little girl gave us the evil eye for enjoying our lime fruit bars. Yes, our tongues had turned green.

One site we visited was Ernest Hemingway’s Key West Haven. We went on a whim. I’m not particularly enamored by his writings. Less so of his multiple marriages and even less so his dance with spirits that I’m sure contributed to his suicide. Nevertheless, I was taken by his life as I climbed the stairs, ambled through his garden, and enjoyed the many five fingered cats that lounged throughout the house and grounds. Hemingway had a full life, had boxing matches on weekends with his pals, and lived passionately doing what he loved. Much of his life focused on the military and his writing.

We had glimpses of the tools of his trade. There were several typewriters on display throughout the house. Photographs and letters written by and to him had places of honor on the walls.

I was very much taken with his writing room. While I could do without the mounted heads of hunted animals, the cushioned chair and ottoman were definitely something I could and wanted to sink into. The writing table and book shelves that lined the room were absolutely enchanting. It reminded me how important it is to take up space as a writer. I often feel as though having a laptop is enough. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be that way all of the time. 

Something moved in me as I gazed at his office. I imagined my own room changed a little bit here and a little bit there. While I have a space, it’s gone through multiple reincarnations, if only in my own mind. With all of my baggage and history with owning myself as a writer, Hemingway has inspired me to take up some more room as I develop my art and craft. He’s again sparked the passion I have for living as a writer.

I’ll let you know how it evolves ❤️

Theresa


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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

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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/

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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!

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/corkboard-ideas/

XO

Theresa

 

 

 

 

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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

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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

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