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When Men Dance

The city is full of business cards promoting escort services. Thrown on every pavement, the cards say, “Fulfill your dreams.” Sometimes I give up. Not on the notion that women and girls will stop being a commodity. But on managing to collect all the cards as I bend down with my laptop on the way from my apartment building to Movieing café.

Sometimes I feel like Don Quixote, only my giants are real.

Michael, a regular, sits outdoors at the café tonight, facing the street. I am sitting behind him. Three young women pass by, dressed in miniskirts, talking excitedly. Michael is staring at them, and then he turns to the guy at the table next to his and asks, “Do you see these beautiful T-H-I-N-G-S?”

The guy replies in a tired tone, “They are fourteen, maybe sixteen. Let’s stretch it and say that they are eighteen and only look underage.” My night vision is so poor, I didn’t realize they were teens. Surly now, the guy surely will reproach Michael. But instead he says, “Either way, they still look plain.”

“How old are you?” Michael, forty something, asks.

“I’m twenty one,” the guy replies, and then he adds, “they look like they are from –” he mentions a club, which seems to imply that they are dressed like sluts, hence unworthy of his attention. At least, that’s what I get from his disgusted tone and body language.

The teens cross the road and disappear. Before I get to reproach Michael, a woman shows up and approaches Larry, someone I know at the cafe. “May I use your phone, please?” she asks, looking flushed. “My battery died, and I got stuck outside of my boyfriend’s apartment.”

“I don’t have a phone,” he replies, only I know that he does.

“Take my phone,” I say.

She takes my phone and makes a call. Nobody seems to answer. She tries again. Still, no answer.

“Send an sms to your boyfriend,” I say. “So he’ll know it’s you.” She texts him, but from her own phone. I thought her battery had died, yet this seems to work for her.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“The Ukraine,” she replies. “People in your country are so kind.” Gu-Eun also used to say that.

“What was the face for?” I ask Larry when she leaves. He definitely made one.

“Last summer,” he replies, “a woman also showed up after midnight and asked for my phone with the same pretext. She also called the same number twice, and nobody answered. At 2:30 in the morning, I got the first phone call of many from her pimp, who blamed me for her absence.”

I’m thrilled for the woman and hoping she got away safely, and he continues, “The pimp cursed me and threatened me, calling me constantly at all hours of the day and night. I had to tell him again and again, ‘I just let her use my phone. She said that her battery died, bro.'”

He called a pimp “bro.”

“It took a while before the pimp believed me.”

I can tell that the experience scared him. Merely thinking about getting threatening phone calls from a pimp now terrifies me too. How tragic it is, that our fear blinds us to how much more terrified these women must be.

Isaac, a soul brother who used to work at the café, shows up with Gabe, another regular. Gabe is leering at the women who walk by. “There are many hot asses here tonight,” he concludes.

That’s what women are to him: “asses.” 

Isaac ignores him and says, “Let’s dance.”

It’s very late. The street is dark and empty now. The music is mellow. Michael, Gabe and Isaac start to dance. Their movements are slow and round, sensual and pure. As if magically stripped of their sexist roles, they let their soft, almost vulnerable side come out. And I get a glimpse into a future in which teen girls will be safe from men leering at them—the kind of future in which no woman or girl will be sacrificed because “men can’t control their urges,” or because “that’s how it has always been.”

After Sweden and France, more and more countries will make laws against Johns and will work together to bring an end to prostitution. One day, all women and girls will have equal rights and opportunities and will be respected EVERYWHERE. Watching the men dance, leisurely, as if time itself has slowed down, I can see the potential for a decent world. And I’ll hold on to that vision for as long as I live.

 

 

A Woman Called Messiah, Part II

(Click here for A Woman Called Messiah, Part I)

“What the hell is this place?” the taxi driver asked. We drove along a winding road with hardly any streetlights. Abandoned warehouses were scattered by the roadside. Taking a taxi there was a precautionary step. Her neighborhood could be swarming with pimps, or her place could turn out to be a crack house.

Driving past the abandoned warehouses, we arrived at a nice-looking neighborhood. Following her instructions, I crossed a children’s playground. A guy lurking in the dark raised my suspicions. Shortly after that, I entered a tiny studio apartment. She walked towards me to greet me with an exaggerated sensuality. She was wearing a fancy blouse, black leggings, and too much makeup. The blouse was tied above her navel, exposing her belly. A tear in the blouse partially exposed her right breast. She looked like everything that society has taught us about women in prostitution. She then asked me to sit down, announcing that dinner was ready.

I got alarmed. Having dinner was not part of the plan. The food could be drugged. But I understood her need to be a good host and to have a safe social interaction. And I believe that giving is empowering. So, I ate the tasty rice that she’d made and served on a disposable dish. She also put on the improvised tiny table two pieces of cake as well as delicious-looking berries.

Then she told me her story. She had lost her mother when she was a baby, and her father and stepmother had neglected her. “I got married when I was thirteen years old,” she said. This translates to an ongoing statutory rape: THIRTEEN… “My husband beat me and his parents made me work for them. We moved to your country, and I gave birth to a boy and a girl. I couldn’t take the beating anymore and divorced him. But I didn’t want to lose my children; they are my souls.” She sighed. “The social worker said that they should stay with their father, temporarily. Instead, he received sole custody.

“Selling clothes in casinos and escort services, I was doing very well financially. But I was afraid of being looked at as a prostitute and I quit. Only I was unable to stay at any job for more than a week. Soon I couldn’t pay the rent, and I became homeless for ten years. Sleeping mainly in restaurants, whenever someone tried to take advantage of me, I left.

“God revealed himself to me as a man and took care of me. But he couldn’t stay with me because there are so many problems in the world. One day we will reunite. Then people won’t have to grow old, get sick, and die. Aging and disease are a reflection of the hardships that we go through in our lives.” She smiled, then added, “Finally I have my own place, and I spend lots of time with my grownup children.”

“What’s your greatest dream?” I asked.

“To move to a bigger place, so I can live with my children again.”

“Will it be OK if I write about you?”

“Sure, I’d like that.”

It was time to leave. She offered to show me where the bus station was. Walking with her, I didn’t see the guy who had been lurking in the dark before. Still, I felt concerned for her safety because of her torn blouse and sensual gait. And it was almost midnight (as if women and girls don’t get sexually assaulted during daytime wearing burkas). I decided to focus instead on her being the Messiah. She had earned it after surviving what no woman or girl should endure.

Are her troubles over yet? Not as long as people continue to shun those deviating from the norm and to objectify and sexualize women’s bodies. It doesn’t matter what we wear or don’t wear, or how we walk. It is a basic human right to be safe, always. And our bodies are ours and ours alone, ALWAYS!

Before the bus arrived, she said, “I abstained from sex for ten years. As long as I was separated from my children, I didn’t want to experience pleasure.”

I believe her.

Heart-to-Heart Interviews Presents: Donna Everhart on Her Upcoming Book THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE

the education of dixie dupree

I wasn’t all that hopeful when I asked Donna Everhart if I could interview her, but to my surprise, she said, “That is a great idea… Send me the questions anytime.”

Sometimes it’s that easy to get what we want; we just need to ask. Only, this wasn’t enough for me. I wanted the interview to have a personal touch, a heart-to-heart vibe.

“How about having the interview on Skype?” I asked, feeling as if I were taking chutzpah to a whole new level.

Donna loved the idea, and the rest is history.

I still had to prepare questions in advance for her publicist’s approval. And during the interview, I crossed my fingers and toes (and eyes when Donna was looking the other way) that my computer desk wouldn’t crumble and fall apart. It had shown worrisome signs just before our call. And I thought she deserved more than a phone conversation from the sofa.

But all’s well that ends well. Meeting Donna live on video chat was such a wonderful and moving experience that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Most importantly, now I get to share our heart-to-heart with you. Enjoy.

Please describe what THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE is about. 
It’s a coming of age story, set in Alabama, in the late 1960’s.  The story is about an eleven year old girl, Dixie Dupree, who has a habit of lying which she uses as a survival mechanism, sometimes to protect herself, sometimes to protect her mother. She learns her mother is unhappy, and wants to leave her father, leave Alabama altogether, and go back home to New Hampshire.  This tears the family apart.  One event follows the other, and Dixie’s history of lying is met with disbelief when she needs help most, and it’s only then she realizes how much damage those past lies have done.

How did the character of Dixie come to life?
Like many other writers, we tend to write what we know.  What I know about is living in the South having grown up here, and I love coming of age stories.  I also love feisty, gritty characters, but there’s something particularly appealing to me when it’s a child.  Like Scout in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  As a kid, I loved the way she behaved/acted/reacted. The first time I heard of TKaM book was through the movie.  I remember being impressed because she said a curse word, “Pass the damn ham,” so, she was my hero.  As I grew older, I re-read the story when the 50th Anniversary Edition came out, and fell in love with it and her all over again.  She was the first “heroine” I met who was like this, and I wanted to read about more heroines like her. Which is a perfect segue to your question below. 

What drew you toward writing this particular story?
The books which have meant a lot to me are those coming of age stories like ELLEN FOSTER (Kaye Gibbons), BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA (Dorothy Allison), SECRET LIFE OF BEES (Sue Monk Kidd) and AS HOT AS IT WAS YOU OUGHT TO THANK ME (Nanci Kincaid).  All have these strong/resilient young girls who go through a lot and in the end?  We see them grow, and grow up.  They are genuinely brave, and tough…I like that.  I like seeing trouble turn into resolve, and that resolve become strength of character.

What kind of research did you do for this novel?
I did some geographic research on Alabama, because I’m not from there, and New Hampshire too.  My mother is from Maine, so that’s the Northern state I know.  I could have used NC and Maine in this book – but I didn’t want people to think this story was about me.  I also researched a couple French words that are in it, creton, and tourtierre.  I grew up eating creton, but my mother kept spelling it as croton.  Well, when I Googled that, it was a PLANT.  There were very few references to it as croton – i.e. the meat pate I was used to, so I was glad I verified that!  My mother also ate tourtierre’s when she lived in Maine, but she’d forgotten about them, and I added those into the book.  That was about it. 

How long did it take for you to write this book?
This is going to sound crazy, but about ten years, all said and done.  I think I might have started the very first draft in 2000, or 2001.  There was a lot of dead time after I started it.  Years when I didn’t touch it.  I had about 60 pages written at one point, and I didn’t work on them for three, four years, then I pulled it out at some point, messed around with it, and put it away for another few months – or years.  In 2009 when the company I worked for went bankrupt, I decided to try and get serious about writing.  I finished that first draft in 2010.  I approached a freelance editor (she acquired THE LIFE OF PI, but she’d also edited ELLEN FOSTER) and she agreed to read it.  Her very first words to me were, “you have a voice.”  I almost swooned.  (it doesn’t take much when you’re starting out)  Someone can say, I love how you punctuate! And you’ll be on the floor with gratitude.  Bottom line, the story had a fatal flaw, and it wasn’t ready for me to work with her on it right then.  I fixed the fatal flaw by early 2011 and approached her again.  She was booked up, and offered to put me in touch with an editor who worked with debut writers.  That was Caroline Upcher, and I worked with her from 2011 to 2012 to polish/revise (repeated this a lot) until it became the book it is today.

Are you a “pantster” or a plotter, and how does your approach to writing affect your progress?  
On THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE and a second book that came after, total pantster.  On my latest WIP?  Plotted it.  I actually like both methods, but now that I’m under contract, plotting is almost necessary.  What’s good about plotting is you do have something of a guideline to refer back to, if you find yourself wanting to go off down some rabbit hole – because that can turn into a huge waste of time when you realize you’ve just written something that won’t work with a plot point in Chapter Ten.  In a way though, even plotting still requires a bit of a pantster approach because you only have an outline, and you have to fill in that outline – which isn’t planned/plotted at all.  If that makes sense.

What steps helped you to get this book published?
I’m going to sound repetitive here, saying what’s already been said, but that’s because doing these things works.  Of course being persistent.  Anyone who drags along for ten years to do one thing is either persistent, or stubborn, or something (crazy).  That, and reading, a lot.  I’ve never taken any writing courses, attended conferences, or done anything like that, but that’s not to say others shouldn’t. Writing every day.  And if that didn’t happen, then I at least read.  And hiring a freelance editor, who happened to know a lot of folks in publishing.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? 
Back when I was in my early twenties.  It’s weird because I read so much as a child, and I never had the thought, I want to write.  I envy those who talk about the English teacher who encouraged their writing in school.  I didn’t have that because I hadn’t realized it yet.  I’ve always been a late bloomer, so I guess that fits with the writing part of my life too.

What did you do, other than writing, to make your dream of becoming a writer a reality?
Hiring a freelance editor, who happened to know a lot of folks in publishing and loved my story.  I read a lot too, but I’ve always, always read – since I was taught back in first grade.  I was even excited over the Dick and Jane primers back then.  Once I understood what those funny squiggly lines were on that paper?  Read, read, read.

What would you like readers to know about you?
Honestly, Lilac, I don’t want to put people to sleep.  Seriously though, I’m sort of a driven individual.  You have to be to keep at writing, right?  I also love a schedule, so I’m very schedule oriented, which is good for my Little Dog.  It’s not like I’ll fall apart if I don’t do this thing at this time, but, I pretty much do the same exact thing, every day.  I’m reclusive, but I love people.  On the occasional outing to socialize, I’m there to interact 110%.  I’m a runner and have been for thirty years.  I’m a huge animal lover, especially DOGS, and donate monthly to the ASPCA.  I like to work in the yard.  Ride my bike.  Cook or bake.  I’ve been told I bake THE BEST POUND CAKE ever.  I mean honestly, see?  YAWN factor off the charts. 🙂    

Which book has had the greatest impact on you?
BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, but there are many others I’ve loved, that are not coming of age, and have influenced my writing. COLD MOUNTAIN.  THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE.  THE LOVELY BONES.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Aside from never giving up, what kept me going was hearing from a “professional” about the work I was doing.  A freelance editor is invaluable.  Figure out a way to fit it into the budget if you can.  Don’t let your family read your early first drafts – maybe don’t let them read any of it at all.  I let my “Moms” read, but I don’t rely on their opinions.  They’re going to love it anyway, right?  Write what you love.  Not what you think will sell.  I tried that, and the book was good (per agent anyway) but it was a SLOG, and likely read/felt forced.  It was a hard crime novel and my niche is upmarket/Southern Fiction.  If you start writing something and you just can’t seem to get it off the ground?  Maybe that’s not the book for you to write. 

Is there anything that especially stands out for you in the process of publication?
How exciting it is, to say the least but, there’s also this sort of calmness that comes with knowing it’s happened.  Almost like the years of work have finally paid off, and it makes me feel settled down, and definitely happy.

All the work done by the publishers.  It’s very methodical process, and timelines/deadlines are critical.  

Do you have a website?
www.donnaeverhart.com

You can use either of the links below to pre-order THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE:
http://www.amazon.com/Education-Dixie-Dupree-Donna-Everhart/dp/1496705513 (Amazon)
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-education-of-dixie-dupree-donna-everhart/1123344392 (Barnes and Noble)

A Woman Called Messiah, Part I

The first time I saw her was last summer. She was waiting in line at the neighborhood supermarket. Her exposed belly was round and perfect. Speaking in a soft and polite tone, she asked Maya — the cashier — if she could pay on the following day. “I forgot to bring money,” she said with downcast eyes. Maya told her that there was no charge for a day-old croissant anyway.

I love Maya.

She thanked Maya and left. I bought food for the homeless people I’d seen in the nearby park, but they were gone by the time I got back. Leaving the park, I ran into that woman again. The large designer shopping bags she was holding caught my attention. They seemed odd because all the shopping centers had closed hours before.

She was probably homeless.

I started a conversation with her, looking for an excuse to give her some food: sometimes all people have left is their dignity. Then she mentioned that the bakery next door had refused to heat up her croissant.

“I happen to have some food that I don’t need,” I said in the most casual tone I owned. “Would you be interested?”

She wouldn’t take the food before I assured her I wasn’t hungry.

When she was about to leave, I asked, “Do you have anywhere to stay?”

“I have nature,” she replied.

“That’s great. But maybe you have a family; someone to go to.”

“I have no one.” She paused, and then added, “But God takes care of me. I trust only in God. And I can sleep at a café that’s open 24/7.”

I didn’t know what else to say without being too intrusive. We went our separate ways, and I regretted it almost immediately.

I stopped by the supermarket again and told Maya that I was concerned about that woman. I speculated that maybe she was pregnant. Maya knew her from her previous visits to the supermarket.

“She is not pregnant,” Maya said. “She is a prostitute and an alcoholic.”

“A woman in prostitution: not a prostitute,” I said.

“You should be careful,” Maya continued. “She could get violent.”

I went to Movieing café, and just as I walked in, it dawned on me: if she was a woman in prostitution, maybe an alcoholic as well, I knew of a great organization that could help her. Either way, I shouldn’t have left her without finding a solution for her.

Mishori, a good friend who worked at Movieing, saw my distraught face. “Are you OK, Lilac?” he asked.

“I just missed an opportunity to help someone,” I replied.

Despite Maya’s warnings, I hurried back to the park. It was dark and deserted. Then I went back to the supermarket and asked Maya to let me know if she ever saw that woman again. Maya didn’t see her again. Then Maya quit her job at the supermarket.

A few nights ago, the woman resurfaced in the neighborhood. She was holding one of the same designer shopping bags, this time just one small bag. She was dressed fashionably yet casually. Wearing a huge hat, she held many little plastic bags in her hands as well. As I watched her, she walked into the bakery. I didn’t know what else to do but wait until she headed in my direction.

“Hello,” I said when she finally left the bakery and started to walk past me. Feeling very awkward, I asked, “Do you remember me?”

For a second, she looked confused. Then she said, “We talked a while ago.”

“Yes, and ever since then, I’ve been worried about you and looking for you.” I paused. I couldn’t miss this opportunity. “I want to help you.”

“There is nothing to worry about. I’m doing great, and I even have my own place now.”

“That’s wonderful.” Then I asked, “Can I buy you dinner?”

“No need,” she replied. “And I can buy you dinner, too.”

“Fair enough.”

“I have to go now. I don’t want to miss the last bus. But call me and come to visit me. I will tell you my story.”

“What’s your name?” I asked after she had given me her phone number.

“Messiah,” she replied. And then she left.

(Click here for A Woman Called Messiah, Part II)

The Man with the Purple Hair

My car was stolen.

And now it was lying at the bottom of the ocean in Yachats, Oregon.

When I’d arrived at the Oregon coast for work-related workshops, I was enamored with the wild and ferocious ocean. But then I started to have nightmares. One of them was about my car. The constant sound of the crushing waves made me anxious and paranoid. In a matter of seconds, it could swallow us all.

Toward the end of my trip, I was sitting on a bench in a small town in Oregon, waiting for a colleague.

Then a man with purple hair appeared out of nowhere.

“Hello, beautiful lady,” the man said. He was dressed in neon-bright clothes. Maybe he was there for the town fair. “Would you like me to tell your fortune? It will only cost you fifteen dollars.”

I’m not really into fortune telling. I’d rather find out what I need to know in my own way. Plus at this point, I had very little cash left.

But when the man heard where I was from, he wanted to tell me something anyway. “For gratis.” After he talked about my interest in metaphysics, he asked, “Are you writing?” Then he told me that I should be writing “many books.”

Maybe that’s what he told everyone he met. But I’d already written a draft for a novel. It was based on the five volumes of my documented dreams, one volume for each year I’d lived in the States. In the last two years, I had asked my subconscious mind a question each night before going to sleep. The response dreams were fascinating — sometimes I had five dreams a night. I woke up after each dream and wrote it down.

Maybe I had become such a prolific dreamer thanks to my friend Pauline. She had gone to San Diego and had met a psychic in a city fair. I came up in their conversation, and the psychic gave her a dream-stone for me. “This will help her to connect with her vision and get out of the difficult relationship she is in,” he said.

I washed the stone, as he’d suggested. When I put it under my pillow and closed my eyes, what I saw in my mind’s eye was incredible. My dreams then became clearer and more vivid than ever.

But my novel based on my dreams was a romance — and I suck at writing romance, even the mystical kind.

“Take this coin,” the man with the purple hair said. And he gave me a huge silver coin. “It’s for good luck.”

My colleague arrived a second after he’d left.

“Did you see the man I was talking to?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “Are you OK, Lilac?”

“Yes. I was just talking to a man with purple hair and neon clothes.”

“It’s hot today. Drink some water.”

Not long after that, I found my voice as a writer. What I write involves dreams, but in a completely different way than before.

Sometimes I think that the coin the man gave me is indeed magical, like the coin in American Gods. Maybe he wasn’t a man at all but a deity. And maybe it was also he who’d given me the dream-stone.

***

While I was writing about a magical coin, Donna Everhart wrote a post about magical coins as well, or in her case, pennies. Synchronicities intrigue me, and I love Donna. Check out her post. It’s wonderful.