Eleanor Cowan

 

A Cactus, A Pen, and Dolloped Offerings (Encouragement for Writers!)

Last Sunday, a lovely spring walk through Prince’s Island Park led me to the John Dutton Theatre at the fabulous Calgary Public Library. Time to hear Wordfest’s Zsuzsi Gartner interview American author George Saunders.

Unlike Colonel Saunders’ famous three words ‘location, location, location,’ (the reason KFC did so well), George Saunders’ situates his success with a different trio: ‘Revise, revise, revise’!

As Saunders inspired his audience, I happily recalled a wonderful CBC interview of Polish classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein; (1887-1982), who shared that his best creativity occurred not in the writing of his music, but in the editing of it.

Rubenstein likened the painful excisions, erasures, deletions and additions to the wielding of a sculptor’s knife, a sharp blade that shapes and re-shapes the ‘clay’ dolloped onto a page by the writer until finally, yes, - personal success.

Recently, my sister celebrated her 70th birthday and along with her gift, I decided to call her seven times with seven valuable quotes about creativity - to embolden her sizzling seventies! Here’s but one:

In Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Jungian scholar Marie-Louise von Franz advocates sticking with it!

“If we can stay with the tension of opposites long enough —sustain it, be true to it – we can sometimes become vessels within which the divine opposites come together and give birth to a new reality.”

Psychologist John Monbourquette created an amazing activity that amplifies her idea. Try it!

Close your eyes and extend your two hands far out in front of you, palms up and wide apart. In one hand, imagine a symbol that represents all your angst, your suffering, and your grief. Next, in the other hand, hold a single symbol for your creativity. Finally, your eyes still closed, slowly bring your two arms closer together until your two cupped hands almost touch. Imagine now, how these two symbols might interact.

As for me, in one open hand sat a small, needle cactus. In the other, an costly fountain pen that, when close enough, dipped into the prickly fruit for milky ink!  I’d be delighted to hear your outcome!

Every night at bedtime, I ask my dreamer self to inspire my writing. Journal and pen at the ready, I rouse myself to jot my own offerings. In the morning, I smile at my sleepy scrawl. I celebrate my dolloped page! 

UC Observer Magazine - Carolyn Pogue - about my memoir

SIGHTINGS by Carolyn Pogue 

Dear Mother of Judas,

I know you walk among us, still. You, the mother of the turncoat, criminal, suicide. 

Your son's name is used as a metaphor for "wicked." How did it turn out this way? You must have asked that question a million times.

I see you in the haunted eyes of mothers and fathers who have buried their children, visited them in prison or detention centres or psychiatric wards. I remember you particularly during Lent, when we walk this winding path. I always walk these long, dark days with Mary and with you. I wonder, dear Mother of Judas, did you ever sit and have tea with Mary afterwards? Did you hold one another in the unspeakable deaths of your children? Did the other women gather around both of you — or just around Mary? Did you even allow them to offer you comfort?

I see other parents, too. On the news, sometimes, a parent stands in front of a microphone and tells the world that “no, the murderer of my child or my grandchild should not go free when I live in a prison of sorrow and my beloved lies underground. No fair. No fair!"

But rarely do we see the parents or families of murderers, rapists or pedophiles. That privacy is honoured, at least. I am glad that we allow them time to try to stitch new lives together from the broken, tangled threads that they have been left with. I do sometimes wonder about them, though. I occasionally send a prayer out for them that they do not feel alone. Being sad and being alone can be such a harsh combination.

I teach creative writing at Calgary’s Alexandra Writers' Centre periodically. 

That is where I met Eleanor Cowan, the author of A History of the Pedophile's Wife: Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer. 

The title of the book, itself, took my breath away. Such courage.

The book goes a long way toward helping readers understand how women are drawn into relationships with men who are so sick that they would rape a child. It can help us to better understand what a pedophile might look for in a wife. Cowan leads the reader through her early life in a compelling way; I barely closed the book. Interestingly, she and I are the same age, and as she chronicles her childhood, early marriage and motherhood, she notes the books that she read at the time of an event.

Naming the literature created a bridge between us. For example, I would think, “Yes!” I read Margaret Laurence at exactly that age too, and Laurence helped me to see women's lives differently. 

Dear Mother of Judas, I know that you have seen it all and heard it all. What is new under the sun, after all? I wonder what book you would write about being in the family of your son who became so reviled? What words from your shattered heart would you share with us to help us to stand bravely with you?

Sending you gentleness this day,

Carolyn

 

Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..

Review of my memoir on 'Not the Life We Chose' by Author Janet Mackie

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Honoring one Mother's courage to speak out: Comparing our stories with theirs, and discovering pathways to protect the next generation of children that we love

 A History of a Pedophile's Wife by Eleanor Cowan is that rare memoir written from the perspective of a wife and mother with courage to speak out. This memoir is well worth reading. (the link to Eleanor Cowan's  web page/ blog is http://www.eleanorcowan.ca/contact.


Eleanor Cowan's  memoir focuses on her traditional upbringing in a Catholic community in Canada. She recounts the lasting influence child sexual abuse had upon her early life, her choice of husband and, sadly, upon her children's fate. A History of a Pedophile's Wife is a personal story told with clarity and courage. It is a sadly familiar story many women on Not the Life, and perhaps making their own choice to  stay or go, will recognize:

"Bending his face to his knees, Stan wept. His shoulders shook. He told me I had stabbed him through the heart, that I was killing him, that I was merciless and vengeful. In the past, Stan's powerful emotional outbursts, especially his tears had convinced me that he was genuine. But this time I unraveled the bizarre twist that had confounded me for so long. I realized that Stan's feelings were, in fact, a hundred percent authentic, but they did not extend beyond himself. He wept with deep feeling only when his own safety was threatened.  Even as his tears fell, he blamed me. His predation was my fault. I dressed our daughter in flannelette nightgowns he found seductive. Mere seconds after I'd caught him molesting her, I was the guilty one. I should apologize," (pg 215 A History of a Pedophile's Wife) 

I found Eleanor Cowan's courageous memoir unique. It lights the path for many of us showing the steps she took in her own recovery from the effects of child sexual abuse inflicted first upon herself and subsequently inflicted by her husband, Stan, on Eleanor's daughter and son.

I highly recommend this insight-filled memoir to women, wives, and mothers like me, searching for shelter, solace and community here on Not the Life I Chose.  www.notthelifeIchose.com

Review by American Playwright Carolyn Gage

A History of a Pedophile's Wife: A Highly Personal Reaction by Carolyn Gage

 ‚Äč“How could a mother NOT know that her child was being sexually abused in the home?”

I’ve asked that. But it was never a real question. I was always sure I knew the answer: “She couldn’t.” In other words, guilty.  Because any mother who was so indifferent or oblivious to the signs and syndromes of her victimized children and/or the inevitable trail of clues from the perpetrating partner should be found guilty of criminal negligence… right?   And then, of course, if the mom did know… well, lock her up as an accomplice.

When I asked that question, what I was really saying was, “How could my mother not have known?”  As a child, I was a bundle of behaviors, from food refusal to self-mutilation. My father had a disgusting collection of pornography, which included torture pornography. He was compulsively adulterous, even taking a date to an office party when my mother (his wife) was in the hospital giving birth. He was violent, forcing sex on her immediately after an episiotomy. He was cruel to animals and a bully to children.

I was completely terrified of him. How could she not have known?

Self-righteousness is the pendulum swing to the far side of shame. Both emotions carry sweeping indictments. With shame it’s a personal indictment. With self-righteousness, someone else is guilty. Both engage black-and-white thinking. Both have a tendency to flash-freeze an experience and prevent growth or movement forward. Both are motivated by a desire to protect. In the case of shame, the desire to protect the perpetrator(s) has become internalized. This brainwashing has been part of the perpetration.  In the case of self-righteousness, we are protecting ourselves from blame.

For the first three decades of my life, I experienced a great deal of shame and confusion… from the trauma, but also from the complex PTSD that pervaded my young adult years. It was a great relief when I became politically aware of the oppression of women, because it enabled my swing over to self-righteousness. Still stuck, still rigid, but at least not at fault anymore.

 My new mantra became:  “How could a mother not know that her child was being sexually abused.”

 So, here comes this book that takes my question more literally than I ever did

A History of a Pedophile’s Wife is a page-turner memoir by Canadian feminist Eleanor Cowan, describing the toxic landscape of her family life in the twentieth century, surrounded by secrets and patriarchal theology and institutions.

Reading Cowan’s book, the question in my own mind began to morph into “How could my mother have known?” 

Unlike Pandora, my mother knew what was locked away. My own mother would never admit the truth about her first husband or about my experience.

At one time, when I was asking her about the nature of the pornography collection, she became uncharacteristically emotional and said,  “You don’t know what you’re asking me to do! You don’t know what you’re asking me to open the door on!”

Following Cowan’s journey, I had many occasions for remembering those words. The perpetration I experienced was probably the tip of an iceberg. My mother, a lifelong practicing alcoholic, had protected her marriage in so many arenas, hiding her drinking, hiding his philandering, standing by him in political scandals, making up excuses for her bruises, rationalizing the chronic emotional abuse … I really have no idea what was behind that door she was so afraid to open. And I have no idea what that avalanche of truth might do to her. She knew the answer to both when she begged me to drop the subject.
 
The author of A History of a Pedophile’s Wife has the courage my mother lacked.She does open the door, and there is an avalanche. And she shares it in compelling detail. 

New question: “Why are some mothers able to open that door, while others cannot?” 

One of the answers is “support.” Cowan’s journey led out of the 1950’s into the explosion of feminist consciousness characterized by the 1960’s and the 1970’s. Women were telling the truth, naming the real perpetrators instead of policing each other. Social services were being provided for battered women and rape victims. Birth control happened. Divorce began to lose its stigma. Health care providers began to break their silence. Mandatory reporting became law.  Cowan found something else: a group called Parents of Sexually Abused Children. The attrition rate was very high, but those who stayed learned how to shatter the silence about family secrets. In this group, the author lost her shame, found her voice, took ownership of her experience, became accountable to her children… and shared the story.

My own mother went to her grave with her secrets, and the best I could do was to manage a diffident wave “good-bye” across the enormous gulf of denial that separated us. No closure, I thought.

But actually I did get closure, and I got it from A History of a Pedophile’s Wife. I saw the parallel universe, the alternate reality, and I think that has healed me a little.

So, with that, I recommend this memoir to survivors, to mothers who failed to protect, to providers working with trauma patients, and to survivors of religious abuse… especially those whose trauma was perpetrated or enabled by Catholic teachings and institutions. Also a great read for anyone who appreciates a courageous and dramatic memoir!

carolyngage.weebly.com

 

There's No Other You!

There's No Other You!

In his book, Hauntings, Jungian scholar James Hollis writes about the most valuable of life savers that each of us owns – a personal endowment NOT subject to tradition, cultural mores or family history.

Imagination is a capacity born to each of us, completely unconnected to our birth history or inheritance. Each imagination is brand new! There's no other you!

In counseling those haunted about the past, Hollis presents the image of thousand pound mill horses, tethered to a restraining pole, trudging round and round, pounding down the same dirt path without cease – all of their horrible lives.  He likens the pole to our inherited histories – not our DNA, color, or race, but to our beliefs, prejudices, and most importantly of all, to our unresolved grief.

What happens when a bully refuses to acknowledge the horror he experienced as a vulnerable kid when his dad kicked him in the pants? Guess who’s the bully/pedophile/liar/thief now? What happens when a mother denies her child's declaration of abuse? Guess who remains dissociated until the truth is told? 

Today, my humanity is about picturing my own best life and taking baby steps towards living it.

The support group part, the healthy vegan diet and daily exercise part, the forever reading part and the daily volunteering part - greatly support my happiness. I have become what I imagined! 

Imagination is my life saver. I manifest happiness history one committed hour at a time!

Post Traumatic Living At It's Best

 

I’m not in charge of the thoughts pacing around in my head, but I felt heavy as I awakened this morning. There was a toxic splash towards my ex-husband at waitressing every Mother’s Day - time I'd so love to have spent with my children if only financial sharing had happened. It took only two seconds:  “No!” I told myself, and swung my legs out of bed and onto terra firma.

While I am NOT in charge of unbidden thoughts, I am responsible about the time I spend on them.  And so, with a hot cuppa tea, my agenda book resting on a colorful pillow on my lap, I begin to plan today – not re-live yesterday ad nauseam.

Today, I’m mailing a special birthday card to a dear friend, and then I’ll prepare a tasty meal to share with a guest this evening. Carol loves my cooking, so I have a Tupperware dish set aside so she can enjoy a second helping at the office tomorrow.  There are a half dozen other objectives on my list, some for others, some for me, some that just need to get done.  I may not feel wonderful as I obey my own orders, but so very, very often, a lovely little surprise occurs, a little unexpected event or a fresh idea that propels my energy forward to a place of pride. 

I am a disciple of my own best vision – and that is exactly what disciple means: to follow your inner eye.

Once I asked a psychiatrist about the fact that sometimes at night, just as I am wading into delicious sleep, I am shocked awake by images of murder and mayhem:  I'm slicing the jugular vein of an abuser who is hurting a child or me.  I’m precise with my Exacto knife as my heart beats like crazy - and sleep is chased away.  The doctor explained this phenomena to me:

“Part of post-traumatic affect is a commitment on the part of your brain to protect you for the rest of your life.  It seeks to ensure that you are always secure.  Nodding off to sleep may leave you vulnerable. Maybe you could get hurt, just as happened in the past. And so your brain finds a clever way to wake you up so you can defend yourself if necessary.”  

The doctor said these distracting flashes of violence are called hypnagogic sequelae of post-trauma.

"They will never stop: A commitment on the part of the brain to protect you is life-long,” she added. 

“So what can I do? “ I asked

Without any hesitation, she spoke words I've treasured for years:

“Make sure that your creative life is so passionate, and that your day is so well-lived, that you rob every ounce of negative defensive energy and re-direct it into your creative work, whatever that may be.

Your violent images will still occur, but you’ll be so exhausted at the end of a well-lived day that they won’t last long – and your own happiness will soothe you as fall quickly to sleep. 

Now, images of murder and mayhem alert me that I'm slipping in my creative purposefulness. 

I refocus on my job : my happiness. 

You Can Begin Now

I began my memoir at sixty years young! 

Often excruciating, it was worth every minute. 

Do you believe that an examined life is worth living? At sixty-six, my memoir complete, I understood so much more about where I'd been, what happened, and what I chose now.  

My life is so worth living!

This blog is dedicated to answering questions about my memoir, sharing insights about prevention, and examining positive pro-active measures against pedophilia. At the Calgary Sexual Health Center, and at most Sexual Health Centers around the world, remarkable supports are available for those who wish to deal with their own sexual abuse issues, those of their children or for their own disturbing inclinations towards children. Today, those finding themselves attracted to children are offered help too. Why not? Personally, I don’t blame or vilify anyone for their mental or emotional compulsions.

I do, however, hold everyone responsible to get the help needed before causing harm.

Many supports are an inside job, too. Your own mind and body will always support healing and betterment.

If, in your writing, you reveal one difficult truth and tackle it well, then your own mind will come to trust that you mean business. As a direct result, you’ll earn your next insight. Once you’ve challenged your dread and told the truth, your own mind will help you to delve to an even deeper level.  

If, on the other hand, you avoid truth, your mind will quietly close the door to further revelations. But you'll still suffer.

I found that one page at a time, deeper and deeper layers of my own history occurred to me. While I wept many times, I was never so overwhelmed that I couldn't continue. In fact, I couldn't stop. 

The major difference between truth-seeking and burying oneself in denial is that eventually, the person in denial succumbs to the toxic effects of their silencers.  Truth-seekers pay a high price too - but eventually, we experience a new kind of freedom, one that is truly triumphant and lasting. 

 

 

 

RSS feed