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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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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Choosing what to write

Puerto-Rico-beach.jpg

An opening line turned into a paragraph. It was glorious.  The sun, the sea, a boardwalk and a young woman who was looking out into the vast ocean and sky. The seagulls call and land at her feet. Her hair is blowing in the warm breeze. But wait…oh no. I find out she’s standing with some dude that isn’t the kind of man that shares my existence. He’s the kind of guy I avoid. He’s careless. Okay, maybe not careless. He’s violent. With his words and with his hands. Ugh.

This isn’t the type of book I want to write. But I continue to tap onto my laptop keys. The story emerges. Domestic violence. Not my favorite subject. In fact, it’s one that has kept me frustrated in my work life. I’ve sat across too many pretty young things that wouldn’t think of leaving these situations- not even for the children. So, I hesitated but the words kept flowing and I kept putting them down on paper. Because edits were due for my recently released novel Covering the Sun with My Hand I was able to put that manuscript away for a while. That’s over. That book is done and available on store bookshelves and on Amazon.com.  I took the manuscript back out and added more dialogue, more scenes, more details. The story is being to tell itself with all my reluctance.

Then I get another break. I reluctantly agree to work on Fridays, my sacred writing day, for several weeks. I’m not so thrilled about it. Doing psychiatric evaluations in a room the size of a thimble in a women’s shelter in NYC is something I can do even if I’d rather be writing. I do it. Then I find that there’s something poignant about sharing this space with mentally ill women. I begin to realize is that many of these women have fled other states in order to escape their violent husbands and boyfriends. When I begin to write their stories down I realize many of them have been physically assaulted by men in their lives since early childhood.

As I gazed into the swollen and bruised eye of one woman trying to get her to go for medical care it occurred to me that this was probably the 901th time she’s been punched. She’s tired. A scratched cornea doesn’t sound all that terrible. She probably can’t see what she looks like anyway because she’s lost vision in that eye. My heart opens and breaks a little. I can tell she feels that in the way she turns her head and gives me a half-smile. She agrees to go to the eye doctor like they told her to in the emergency room. I think the smallness of the room allowed for the intimacy and helped our energy vibes touch each other. I hope she goes.

As I write another line in the book I’d come to dread about domestic violence, I know now why I’ve been told to write it. It’s a gift from my Higher Power.  I’d wanted to write a story about ‘pretty.’ You know what they say. God laughs when you’re making plans. She must have been rolling on the floor watching me this time.

I carry on…

 

 

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Short Sleeve Weather: Domestic Violence Revealed

It’s ninety six degrees out. Do you wear short sleeves knowing that your arms will be showing? Maybe- if you’ve been consistent in your trips to the gym. Probably not, if you’ve been someone’s punching bag. Black and blues that are often hidden under layers of clothing peep out during warm weather months daring the people who see them to say something. Just like that terrorist warning advertisement says- “If You See Something, Say Something.” I can’t help myself, I have to ask.

I once had a supervisor who asked me whether I was being physically abused when I came into work sporting big bruises on my arms. I actually wasn’t being intentionally harmed but I was involved in martial arts training. I eventually figured out there was something wrong with that picture for me. Coming to grips with both emotional and physical pain and abuse at the hands of people we love is an excruciatingly slow process for many of us.

Being let into the inner sanctum of knowledge that women I’ve known have been secretly battered by loved ones is complicated. The trusted and untrustworthy people who engage in these behaviors have not only been intimate “romantic” partners of varying types but can be also be their children. During the last couple of months of tank tops, sundresses and spaghetti strap heaven, a couple of women have admitted to me that all hasn’t been sunshine and cool ice teas. How do I help?

I’ve learned, after a few decades of providing health care, is to listen to the woman (or male in some cases) tell their stories. Really listen. Then I ask them what they want to do. Be patient. This is the hardest of all for me. Most women I’ve wanted to help have immediately withdrawn their quests for release from lives of punishing blows, emotional dissection and little to no self-esteem when I’ve offered information on possible assistance.

I provide information anyway. It may take only the planting of a seed to grow a bounteous crop. I tread gently. I honor the person who has found the courage to bring up a most humiliating and potentially fatal circumstance.

Below are some links, for you to check out, if you or someone you know has decided not to wear short sleeves today.

For statistics on Domestic Violence:
http://www.ncadv.org/files/NewYork.pdf

Safe Horizon Resources

Homepage

The National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE

The New York State Coalition against Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-942-6906

The National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-HOPE

The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE

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