“Some people accumulate more emotional rust than others.” ~ Andrew Solomon, Noonday Demon

Savage Grace

Movie Poster for Savage Grace

“I’m living under water. Everything seems slow and far away. I know there’s a world up there, a sunlit quick world where time runs like dry sand through an hourglass, but down here, where I am, air and sound and time and feeling are thick and dense.” ~ Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

Well, I feel absolutely blah today, sort of enclosed, if that makes any sense. I wasn’t able to fall asleep until 6 a.m., and then I kept having strange visual hallucinations. I woke up with a sore throat and headache.

I started back on a medicine to help me sleep several days ago, but I think that I am not tolerating it well. I have taken this medication before without any problems, but now, I’m having all sorts of strange reactions. I looked up the side effects, and some of them include vivid dreams, increased appetite (no thank yew), feeling hungover the next day (yep, that too), and several other undesirable effects. So last night I did not take the medication, and as a result, I think that I had withdrawal symptoms, and I could not get to sleep.

It just slays me how I have become so sensitive to medications that never bothered me before. So back to the drawing board and back to not sleeping.

“For very sad reasons, human beings, unfortunately, can do really tragic things to each other and these two people went as far out on a limb as you can go.” ~ Tom Kalin, Director of Savage Grace

We watched a movie last night called Savage Grace, starring Julianne Moore. The movie, which is based on the book by the same name, is a true story about the life and death of Barbara Daly Baekeland. After I watched the movie, I did some more reading on the Internet about the Baekeland family. The paternal grandfather was Leo Baekeland, the inventor of the first plastic, Bakelite.

Barbara Baekland and son
Barbara Baekeland and Infant Son Antone

His grandson Brooks married Barbara Daly, a tempestuous woman who suffered from mental illness. The two were unfaithful to each other several times, and Barbara tried to commit suicide four times in attempts to keep her husband from leaving her. However, he eventually left for a younger woman. Their son, Antone, also suffered from what was later diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Mother and son had a somewhat obsessive relationship, with Barbara attempting to “cure” her son of his homosexuality by paying females to have sex with Tony and eventually seducing him herself. Tony first tried to kill his mother by dragging her into the street and trying to throw her under a moving car. A psychiatrist told Barbara that he believed Tony would eventually kill her, but she did not believe that Tony would ever really harm her. Shortly afterwards, Tony killed his mother by stabbing her with a kitchen knife. He then proceeded to order Chinese food.

Tony was found to have diminished capacity and sent to Broadmoor. He was released after ten years and returned to the U.S. to live with his grandmother, who he tried to kill less than a week later. Tony was sent to prison and died in 1981 from suffocation. His death may or may not have been suicide as he was found with a plastic bag over his head.

The movie did not show all of this background because, of course, it is impossible to show everything in a two-hour span. I began watching the movie in an attempt to fall asleep as I did not think that it was going to be very good; however, I just couldn’t stop watching. It was the veritable train wreck waiting to happen. Everyone in this family was disturbed, including the father who denied that there was anything wrong with his son and refused to pay for psychiatric treatment.

“The cause of violence is not ignorance. It is self-interest. Only reverance can restrain violence—reverance for human life and the environment.” ~ William Sloan Coffin 

I watched another movie this weekend based on a true story: Dance with a Stranger, starring Miranda Richardson as Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the U.K. in 1955. Ellis herself had a hard life, first having a child out of wedlock in 1944, a time in which such a thing immediately tainted a woman’s reputation. Ellis found out that her lover was actually married with a family in Canada, so she was left to raise her son Andy alone. Then Ruth, neé Nielson, married George Ellis in 1950. George Ellis was a drunk and physically abusive. In 1951, Ellis gave birth to Georgina, but by then the marriage was over.

Ruth Ellis
Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK

In 1953, Ruth Ellis became the manager of a nightclub. She met David Blakely, a racecar driver. Their relationship was fraught with violence; when Ruth became pregnant by Blakely, he punched her in the stomach, which resulted in a miscarriage for Ruth.

Ruth was also involved with Desmond Cussen, a former RAF pilot. Cussen took care of Ruth and Andy, but Ruth was never able to severe ties with Blakely. In fact, Cussen helped Ruth to spy on Blakely, who was unfaithful to Ruth several times. On the night of Easter Sunday 1955, Ruth Ellis waited outside a pub for Blakely. When Blakely ignored Ruth’s greeting, she moved around the car that he was attempting to get into and emptied a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson into Blakely.

The shooting occurred just ten days after Ellis had miscarried, and she was heavily medicated. Ellis was questioned and brought before the magistrate without having an attorney present. She was examined by a psychiatrist who claimed that Ellis was not mentally ill. The presiding judge ruled out a defense of provocation for Ellis. During her trial at the Old Baily, Ellis became her worst enemy when she said, “It’s obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him.” Ellis was hung three weeks later.

Again, the movie does not delve into all of the facts regarding Ellis, and it ends right after the shooting of Blakely without covering the trial at all. Public reaction to Ellis’s hanging was strongly against, and partially as a result, the United Kingdom abolished the death penalty in 1964.

George Ellis committed suicide three years after Ruth’s death. Her son Andy suffered emotional distress most of his life and killed himself in 1982. Ruth’s daughter Georgina died at 50 from cancer.

What happened to Ruth Ellis is still a matter of contention. The jury was not allowed to find for manslaughter because of Ruth’s confession. However, Ruth was an abused woman who was still very much affected by her miscarriage. Ruth had been provoked by Blakely’s unfaithfulness and his physical abuse, but because of the laws at the time, the jury could not convict her of a lesser sentence, and the death penalty was mandatory.

Ellis’s hanging caused such a stir because she was a beautiful woman, the mother of two small children, and she had never shown any propensity for violence. Once the public face of a criminal condemned to death became so personal, the British public began to openly oppose capital punishment. The Ellis case was referred back to the Court of Appeals in 2003, but her conviction was not overturned or reduced to manslaughter as had been requested.

“Violence is not merely killing another. It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush a person, when we obey because there is fear.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti 

Dance with a Stranger was made in 1985, and Natasha Richardson is radiant, even with platinum blonde hair. Savage Grace was made in 2007, and Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Barbara Baekeland is compelling in its believability.

That I watched both movies this past weekend is purely coincidence as I had never heard of either one, and I found them by accident on cable. However, I am glad that I watched them and then did further research on both of these women.  Both were troubled: Ellis was physically and emotionally abused, and Baekeland was emotionally tormented by her husband. Both women died far too young.

I’m not condoning the actions of either woman. Rather, I offer their stories as reminders of how unkind society was to women, and how few resources used to be available. While there are more avenues for escape and treatment, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse continue to be societal problems that have far-reaching implications, both for those who suffer directly from the abuse and for their children who have no escape from its effects.

Empty SwingsThose in society who say that they simply don’t understand why a woman stays in an abusive relationship have never suffered at the hands of an abuser, have never felt the helplessness nor experienced the complete erosion of self-confidence and self-respect. And the reality is that abuse is cyclic, often being repeated by the abused or the children of the abused.

Unless we learn as a society not to tolerate abuse and violence, the cycle will never end. Until we acknowledge that it is not just with fists but also with tongues that people cause irreparable harm to others, those who suffer will continue to be victims.

If you know of an individual—man, woman, or child—who is being abused, please do not sit by idly, thinking that someone else will intervene. You must be that someone else, lest you allow your humanity to be overshadowed by inaction.

Sorry for the sermon. More later. Peace be with you and yours.

Bird York’s “Have No Fear” 

 

 

 

Notes From the Road #2 (If I Were On the Road)

Fifteen Days and Counting

You Meet the Most Interesting People Sometimes

Yesterday I was working the phone banks at the Obama Campaign Headquarters, and I spoke with a 67-year-old woman who hasn’t voted since the Kennedy election. She told me that she hasn’t really wanted to participate in politics since then, but she decided that this election was too important not to participate. She also said that she thought that Barack Obama was the first candidate to come along since Kennedy to give her hope.

Most of the people on my calling list were over 65, and I was surprised by how many said that they were voting for Obama. Of course, several people hung up on me right away, which is always the case when you are making these kinds of calls, and then you have more people who screen now, so you leave the scripted message for the answering machine or voice mail, and hope that they listen to it. But with a lot of the elderly, you find that they are willing to talk to you because they do not get many telephone calls, so they are more generous with their time. Corey found himself on the phone with one gentleman for half an hour and ended up talking about FDR and Truman; he said that it was one of the most interesting telephone conversations that he has ever had. The gentleman was 88 years old.

One of the things that really impresses me about this campaign is how organized they are in Virginia. In Hampton Roads alone, they have over five headquarters; whereas the Kerry campaign had only one. The other thing that I think is really great is that these people are making sure that anyone who needs a ride to the polls is going to get one. Giant marker board already have lists of names and destinations. “Get out the vote” is alive and well in my town! How awesome is that. A Democrat hasn’t carried Virginia since Jimmy Carter. I’m not counting any chickens, that’s why I plan to volunteer as much as my back will let me these next two weeks.

Colin Powell Endorses Barack

He may be a Republican, but his endorsement carries weight. Former Secretary of State said in an interview on “Meet the Press” that he endorses Democratic candidate Barack Obama for president even though he has known John McCain for over 20 years and the junior Senator from Illinois for only two because he believes that Obama offers offers a better chance to repair “frayed” relations with countries around the world. Powell also said that he is “troubled” by McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his choice of Vice President and that he does not believe that she is ready to be Vice President.

Many believe that Powell’s endorsement will be especially helpful to Obama’s campaign in counteracting charges that he is not ready to be Commander in Chief, especially since Powell commands a great deal of respect as former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush I. Personally, I really liked what the General had to say about the comments accusing Obama of being a Muslim. In essence, Powell said, he’s not, but what if he were? As a country, we have to recognize that we are a country composed of people of many faiths, and just because someone is a Muslim, does not make them un-American or not patriotic. Powell then went on to relate the story of a mother grieving over her son’s grave at Arlington cemetery. The boy was 10 when 9-11 happened, and he waited until he was old enough to enlist so that he could serve his country. He happened to be Muslim.

Sarah P. on SNL

Never thought you’d hear me say this, but props to Sarah Palin for her appearance on Saturday Night Live. The governor actually did a good job in her cameo on the show Saturday. I think that it was a great idea to pair her with Alec Baldwin. Actually, I don’t know why I’m so surprised. Palin is a born performer; it obviously her milieu. She loves the spotlight and the cameras do love her. It’s just real people that she doesn’t do so well with . . .

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the youtube clip. I would post it here, but it’s such a long clip that it would eat up my allotted space.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor

I finally managed to nab an Obama/Biden yard sign. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not it stays in my yard. I’m surrounded by McCain/Palin signs. After a quick drive through the neighborhood, I’ve espied only three other Obama signs. While Democrats might carry the state, I doubt they’ll carry my neighborhood. They definitely won’t get my mother’s vote. She’s still one of the old guard who believes that he’s a terrorist, and there is no convincing her otherwise. One of the people Corey talked to on the phone yesterday told him that she was convinced that if Obama won the election that the White House would become the Black House. Fortunately, I didn’t talk to any people who responded in that way, and I’m not really sure what I would have done if I had. Bit my tongue I suppose since it wasn’t my telephone or my call, technically.

That is one of the problems with calling on behalf of someone. When you are representing someone else, there is a certain amount of decorum required. Even I, in my curmudgeonly ways know that, but it’s still an irksome position in which to find oneself when you would like nothing better than to start spewing facts and statistics.

However, facts and statistics are lost on the ignorant and closed-minded. I should know this after encountering it numerous times on my own. When an individual has already taken a stand based primarily on fear and ignorance, nothing can change that position, least of all logic. Fear is one of the greatest motivators known to humankind. It’s what drives terrorism, wars, cults, murders, and all kinds of violence, domestic and other. What we fear, we seek to destroy. Only those who choose to enlighten themselves, to take another path to rid themselves of their fears, are able to overcome fear without violence, whether that violence is internal or external.

Oddly enough, it was a stream of consciousness quote on “ER” for the character Abby that reminded me of some of this. The first part of the quote was from Job Chapter 3. In verse 25 Job says, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” But as Abby is leaving the ER, she has moved on, and the stream of consciousness has changed to Chapter 38, which is actually god’s response to Job:

“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
       or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
       Have you seen the gates deep shadows?

 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
       Tell me, if you know all this.”

Now, I really don’t know a lot of Bible verses. This just happens to be one with which I am familiar because it is beautifully poetic, and when I heard it, I knew that I remembered it from somewhere, so I Googled it. But as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I am a believer in signs, and I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the hate and anger that has been bandied about on this campaign and what that means, and how the charges of anti-Americanism are being hurled so easily.

And all of this has reminded me of being a little girl with olive skin, newly back in this country and how hate was so easily thrown my way, and I had no idea as to why. So I ponder hate and racism and bigotry frequently lately, and I watch the clips of the rallies, and I worry about the lunatic fringe. And then I hear beautiful words such as “Have you comprehended the vast expanse of the earth?” and for a moment I feel peace and hope, and I pray that in the end, people will remember that we are all Americans, that a different name, and a different skin color is just that—different, nothing else. Not worth hating. Not something to be “greatly feared.”

Peace. More later.