Friday, November 28, 2014

Through the Fires: Writing, Life and Motherhood

By Alicia Ogg

I started reading and writing when I was 4-years-old. I used to make little books, mostly about my cat (c-a-t being the first word I ever wrote). I still have some of these books, which my mother would cut and staple together for me to read to her. My creativity was always encouraged and realized; as I got older, it was something I took for granted. I've written in a journal since the age of six, using it as my safe place to organize my thoughts—a form of catharsis and therapy.

Photo of Alicia Ogg - Mom Writer
In 1995 when I was 14, my home burned down while all of us were sleeping. I'm the oldest of four and everyone was able to get out safely, but I couldn't stop blaming myself for putting the clothes in the dryer before I went to bed, the cause of my family's loss of all of our possessions and home.

I lost almost all of my writing in the fire. My mom did find a box that had some of my art and some of the little books I'd written that had been stuffed under the bed and between other things, so it was protected, so I still have a peek at what I was like. After the fire, I separated my life into two sections—it was always “before” and “after” the fire. I feel like I lost a huge part of myself, and while I've been able to gain some of it back, I've lost so many memories from not having my early journals available. It still makes me sad, especially when I hear of others who go through situations of loss. Writing helped me get through it and have an avenue to express myself.

Writing notebooks of poems was my way to purge my teen angst. I was then diagnosed with clinical depression as a sophomore in high school. I felt that I was unlovable and even if I ever found someone to marry me (did I even want to be married?), I would never bring children into this horrible world to suffer so much pain. I was hospitalized for two weeks because I couldn't think about anything except death, although the actual act of dying terrified (and still terrifies) me. All I remember while being there was writing and drawing pictures to pass the time.

I'm ready to revisit my past through writing and am in a much more objective space now that I'm older. Writing for me has been a private act for the most part, although I've never had trouble telling others about my experiences. My hope is that letting others read about my circumstances will help them in some way, moms particularly.

When writing or painting, my biggest concern is that I won't be able to translate my thoughts and feelings as explicitly as I want to, to get my meaning across the way I want. College was spent learning that no matter what you do, you can't control what someone else will get out of your art. My concerns and excitement about putting my writing out there are sort of one in the same and for me depends on the reader's reaction or response.

I recently tuned into NPR when they were talking about memory and new findings about how they've actually formulated a drug that can erase things that you don't want to remember (at least in mice for now.) The more often you revisit a certain memory, the less real it becomes. Each time you're actually just revisiting the memory of the memory of the memory. While listening, I felt glad that I had written down my past while the event and feelings were occurring because I always have a fresh, original memory to go back to. Sure, the meaning changes depending on age and circumstances, like reading 'Catcher in the Rye' when you're out of college vs. 12 years old, even though the words are the same.

Since having children, two boys, one just turned five and the other will be two at the end of January, time has flown by. When I had my second, I couldn't believe that my older boy had ever been that little. You think you're going to remember every single moment, but in two years I'd forgotten some of the things I went through during pregnancy.

Photo of Alicia Ogg and her children
You can call it 'mommy-brain' or 'pregnancy brain,' but the reality is, you can't remember every minute of every day of your or your children's lives. If it's true that you're just remembering a memory of a memory, I think it’s important to write down experiences when they’re fresh in your mind.

I'd always send my friend (what he found to be hilarious) emails about all the weird things I was going through during pregnancy, or the funny things my boys do and say, so I go back and read those, too. It doesn't have to be a lot, just little tidbits can jog your brain into going back to that day when he said his first word or she started to unzip her own coat, or that weird thing your baby's been doing in your belly that makes your kidneys feel like they're in your throat. I'm so glad I've documented my life and my kid's lives through writing so I have those memories preserved.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When Celebrities Rape: Blame the Victim?

The Daily Mail UK reports on Bill Cosby's lawyer's statement:
Cosby's lawyers slammed Valentino's account—and the 15 others—as 'increasingly ridiculous'. Martin Singer, an attorney for Cosby, said in a statement on Friday: 'The new, never-before-heard claims from women who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40, or even 50 years ago have escalated far past the point of absurdity.  
'These brand new claims about alleged decades-old events are becoming increasingly ridiculous, and it is completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years.' 
Cosby’s lawyer’s statement has raised such anger in me as I can only imagine it has for the women directly involved in any similar rape or attempted rape experience.
Full tv bill cosby  mitc 1024x682
 Bill Cosby Creative Commons Image
Regardless of whether Cosby is innocent or guilty, what is “absurd” is that a lawyer has no knowledge or understanding of what a rape victim goes through or how unlikely it has been in the past for a woman to come forward with allegations.

Thankfully, times have changed somewhat for the crime and some women do feel the strength to press charges. But the reality of the alleged situations with Bill Cosby is that when someone in a position of power, wealth and adored status by society is accused of something like rape, the “absurdity” created in the culture’s collective mind cannot make sense of that public figure actually being a villain and so must belittle the victim or victims instead to allow for the dissonance.

My celebrity attempted rape experience differed in that my perpetrator was well-known at the time for being a “pickup artist.”

“His libido was so legendary that in 1989 Spy magazine published an eight-page foldout chart of his exploits called “The Pick-Up Artist’s Guide to Picking Up Women.””

James Toback

The fact that what Toback did to na├»ve young women, and for all I know, probably still does today, is considered a “pick-up” and not rape says a lot about the problem of celebrity in our society.

My “pick-up” by Toback started just like his others, but I did not know about his reputation at the time. I was a struggling New York City actress who fell for his line of making me a star in his next film.

Yes, even though red flags kept waving in my mind, I kept squelching them because of who he was. This was the big time; this was a real film director.

So, as the flashing signs became brighter, my mind continually told me that what I thought was happening, must be wrong. This was someone I could trust.

It was not until he stripped all his clothes off and slammed me up against a wall that I knew I was in trouble.
After I escaped his apartment, I was beyond embarrassed and hurt. I felt betrayed and ridiculous.

I was unable to speak about the experience because I knew what people would say: you asked for it; you walked right into it; no one made you go to his apartment.

But does any of that make me guilty for his actions?

What is this world becoming that we can’t trust someone’s words? That we can’t trust in the people we’ve been taught we can trust?

But the bigger problem we need to worry about is the fear that many women must live with—will I be raped? And if so, will I even be believed? Or will I be treated like the responsible party or possibly even the villain?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Writing and Chai (Because It's Cheaper Than Therapy)

Please welcome guest blogger Maryann Morehouse to Stripping Down as she discusses how she managed to balance single motherhood and writing…

Writing and Chai 

(Because It's Cheaper Than Therapy)

by Maryann Morehouse

For me, writing became my therapy; my former marriage left me with some emotional scars. Now, compared to other divorced people, my scars are more of the Harry Potter, sort of cool looking scars, rather than the deep tortured scars that so many others harbor. I choose not to dwell on the pain of the divorce; instead, I focused my energy on making sure I raised my kids to be happy and healthy, both physically and emotionally.

Maryann Morehouse
I wrote my first book several years ago when my son was forced to partake in summer school due to his apparent allergy to homework. At the time, I was unemployed, a single mom with two kids and had a mortgage that I couldn’t afford. Gas prices were averaging around four dollars a gallon and he attended school seventeen miles from home. My daughter and I would get up each morning, drag him out of bed, drive him to school, kick him out of the car and head to Starbucks where we would sit for the next five hours while he attended make-up classes. During that time, I began writing a story, as I had done since college. The story was just for fun and I did not intend to share it with anyone other than some select friends, but it seemed to take on a life of its own as other people asked me if they could read it.

I would write during the day and at night publish the chapters on Facebook, each time getting positive feedback and encouragement. This was like pure gold to me. I could even justify the cost of the gas because it meant I had time to sit and do what I love while also having the bonus effect of making my son realize that he never wanted to go to summer school again.

Mom for the win!

Nowadays, my children are adults, I work close to fifty hours a week at a job that I enjoy and unbelievably, gas prices are lower now than they were back then. My love of writing has only grown stronger and I’ve been fortunate enough to self-publish a couple of books, together they have been downloaded more than 8,000 times, which blows my mind.

My schedule is more hectic than it was when they were younger, but because my writing is important to me, I schedule my writing sessions like I scheduled their doctor’s appointments when they were younger. I book time for me and my “therapy.” I will block off several hours on a weekend, head to my local Starbucks, grab a Venti, eight-pump, nonfat, no water Chai latte and park myself at a table for the afternoon with music playing in my headphones and my fingers making music on the keyboard of my laptop.

My children have provided me with more than twenty years of laughter, tears and love and there are many more stories waiting to be told. 

Born and raised in Connecticut with five siblings, Maryann Morehouse was surrounded by the people she loved and spent time in the place that spoke to her heart. Maryann found herself in search of the right words to convey her thoughts and feelings, even through life's bumps, nothing could detour Maryann from her path of finding solace and strength by creating worlds of her own. Her books are available on Amazon, Nobody Would Believe and A Promise on a Star.