Review: Off Season

This is a blog devoted to women’s issues, and I don’t usually review books here. However, I’m making an exception for Off Season, and will do so again for books related specifically to the challenges women face.  See the end of this post for details about reviews on this blog.

Review Summary: E.S. Ruete tells a difficult story with compassion and bursts of eloquence. I rate it 3.8/5.0. My full review is below.

About this book: Dottie woke up wondering where she was and why she was so cold. The first thing she noticed was that she must be outside – she was lying on cold ground and snow was hitting her in unusual places. That’s when she noticed the second thing. Her skirt was pulled up past her waist and her panties were gone. Damn those bastards. It started to come back to her. Dottie is now on an odyssey; a journey not of her choosing; a journey of healing, integration, and reconciliation that will involve her partner, her friends, her enemies, her church, her whole community. And her rapists. As she fights her way through social stereotypes about rape and rape victims, she also finds the strength to overcome society’s messages of who she should be and lays claim her true self. But the memories, the loss, the anger – and the fears – never go away. No woman chooses to be raped. I asked Dottie why she chose to tell me a story of rape. She said that millions of women, hundreds every day, have stories of rape that never get told. She told her story because she could. Because she had to. Because maybe people would hear in a work of fiction a Truth that they could not hear in any other way.

About the author: E.S “Ned” Ruete is an author, speaker, group facilitator, women’s rights activist, LGBTQIPA+ ally, lay preacher, guitar picker, and business analyst. He is the author of Seeking God: Finding God’s both/and in an either/or world and Lead Your Group to Success: A Meeting Leader’s Primer.

Now retired, Ned lives in Niantic, Connecticut with his second wife. He continues to offer pro bono group facilitation and facilitation training to schools, churches, community groups and not-for-profit organizations. He has led strategic planning retreats for United Action Connecticut (UACT), Fiddleheads Food Co-op, and ReNew London. He is actively involved in LGBTQIPA+ advocacy and annually attends and presents sessions at the True Colors Conference. He is a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) formerly served on the Association Coordinating Team (ACT, the IAF Board of Directors). He was associate editor of Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal and has contributed articles to Group Facilitation, The Facilitator, and other publications on group facilitation and management consulting.

Off Season is Mr. Ruete’s first fiction work. See his consulting products at MakingSpaceConsulting.com and his books at MakingSpaceConsulting.com/Publish.

Individual Author Links for Ned Ruete:
Twitter
FaceBook

Giveaway: The author will be awarding a $50 Amazon/BN gift card at the end of the tour. Learn more and register to win.

My full review: This is only partly a heartfelt tale about the effects of rape. It is just as much the story of an older lesbian woman seeking acceptance from her church after having spent years living with her partner but hiding the true nature of their relationship.

What I liked best.

  1. At first, it is hard to fathom why a man would write such a book. Many women would be inclined to think this story should be told by those who can tell it authentically. Yet, when the author explains that Dottie appeared in his head to demand he tell her story, I understood. (I’ve had characters do that, too.) Indeed, he channels her emotions with all the understanding one could ask for. My favorite quote from the book:

We don’t have a word for what is taken from us in rape, but the only thing more intimate, more personal, more important, more irreplaceable is a life. We need a name for this thing, so we can talk about it, understand it, learn about the pain that comes when it is lost.

  1. The author picks an unlikely rape victim, I think at least partly to make the point that sexual attraction and interaction are not at the root of sexual assault. Dottie doesn’t fit society’s stereotype of beauty, she is older and a little overweight. Her complete lack of sexual interest in men makes it clear no misunderstood flirtation is involved, in spite of accusations to the contrary. Dottie’s assault is conveyed without an ounce of eroticism. In fact, the author has one of the perpetrators consider after-the-fact how different real sexual assault is from the fantasies he has had.
  2. This is not a story of despair, it is a story of courage. There is no sugar coating of the trauma or the recovery, yet there is recovery, not only by Dottie but by others as well. Assault survivor Alice, who is also the mother of a transgender child, was an excellent complex character. I loved her approach of “I’m still listening.”

What I liked least.

  1. This is as much about LGBTQ+ acceptance by fundamentalist Christians as it is about sexual assault. I wholeheartedly support this acceptance, but, like many readers, I am not part of this sort of Christian community. I had a great deal of trouble understanding why Dottie stayed with this church, or cared what its members thought of her. The author spends a lot of time presenting his arguments for this acceptance, including descriptions of biblical characters and actual quotes from the bible. If that is ones moral yardstick, I suppose these arguments are needed, but I thought they belonged in a different book, one written specifically for a Christian audience struggling with this issue. I found myself skipping over the lengthy sermons and religious debates, anxious to get on with Dottie’s story of recovery.
  2. On the other hand, the book is short; in my opinion shorter than it should be. I felt several secondary characters warranted having more of their stories told, and resolution reached. Many threads are dropped concerning Dottie’s struggles and concerning the criminal investigation and eventual fates of her attackers. I understand this is not meant to be a crime book, but those of us who came to the book based on its description understandably want to hear the full story we came for, and more about secondary characters we learn to appreciate.
  3. The book would benefit from a few minor corrections. At least twice the author drops into present tense mid-paragraph. While I am a fan of changing points of view, they approach a dizzying pace on some pages. Also, each chapter begins with lyrics from well known songs. I understand how tempting that is, because music is so powerful, but I doubt these lyrics were used with permission of the artists and believe a book about respect for others should do better in this regard.

In spite of these flaws, I commend the author for his deft handling of difficult topics and recommend this book to advocates of social justice everywhere.

Buy this book on Amazon.

The excerpt I liked best: (The font of the following excerpt is to indicate that the character is having a flashback.)

“This is bullshit.”

 “Now Sheri, we don’t use that language here.”

 “The hell we don’t. ‘Bullshit’ is a lot less dangerous than the language you’re using. Telling me that it was my fault, that I wanted it, that I probably enjoyed it. You weren’t there. You didn’t have some … jock sitting on your belly holding your nose while he poured liquor down your throat. … You didn’t get raped. And raped and raped and raped. “

 “Now Sheri, talk like that doesn’t help anyone.”

 “It helps me.”

 “No, it doesn’t. You’re fixating again. To recover …”

 “Recovery, hell…The girl was raped. Rape is not an issue. It’s not an obsession or compulsion or neurosis you recover from. It’s not an addiction that you are in recovery from. It’s not something you own, it’s something that owns you. It’s a violation. It’s a big gaping wound. If you’re lucky you survive it and it heals over, but it leaves a scar that is always there. You don’t recover from it. You don’t even get to the place where you say you’re in recovery. You just is. ‘Raped’ is a part of you the rest of your life. But you wouldn’t know about that, you tight-assed little white male f…”

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.
Read more reviews at:
May 8: Stormy Nights Reviewing and Bloggin’
May 17: Emily Carrington

If you are interested in a review from me: I hope to review more books relating specifically to women’s issues. I am willing to review both non-fiction and fiction. Please do not ask me to review romance novels here, or stories which promote any particular religion. If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Teddie (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Final Note:  I received a free pdf of this book, which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

 

 

Spending time

“He asked me out again. I don’t really want to go. But maybe I should. What do you think?”

It’s a common conversation among women.

We continue to have a system in which he is more commonly the inviter, causing plenty of problems for him, and she is more often the invitee, causing another set of problems for her.

She deals with the invitation that never comes, or comes too late, and with finding creative and kind ways to decline the invite she is positive she does not want. Perhaps the trickiest one, though, is the chance to spend time with someone she’s pretty sure she’s not going to want to see more often, but …

This problem, of course, isn’t confined to dating. We’ve all had nice enough acquaintances who’ve tried to include us more, but we just didn’t see that much in common. We’ve been invited to be on teams or join groups that sort of sounded like fun, but weren’t really. It’s usually flattering to be invited, and for reasons of upbringing, personality or societal expectations, most of us find it hard to say no.

We shouldn’t.

Too many people spend too much of their limited free time doing things they aren’t all that interested in, with people they don’t particularly enjoy. I think it’s time we give ourselves far greater permission to treat our time as the resource it is, and learn to say “I don’t want to join you” in a way that is both kind and firm.

Yes, doing this requires a certain amount of courage.

A few days ago I found myself on the listening end of the conversation I started this post with, and was surprised at the vehemence of my answer. Maybe it was because she had just been telling me how hard she was trying to save money, and how poorly it was going. Something clicked.

“What makes you think your free time is any less precious than your spending money? It’s more precious. Hell yes, you say no if you don’t feel like going!”

Then I started to think about the words we use to describe both of these concepts. We have money. We spend money. We have time. We spend time.

Do we spend anything else? I don’t think so. Even our language acknowledges that time is a resource as precious as our wealth.

A few years ago, two former co-workers I hadn’t seen in years came to my home town and invited me out for the day. They seemed surprised and miffed when I declined. The reaction bothered me, and I remembered writing a post then about saying no to things you don’t want to do. I just found it and it’s called No, I actually don’t want to spend time with you.

I reread it and I stand by it. It’s never necessary to be rude. It is fair to be tired, over-committed, in need of some down time or just plain not interested. It is okay to try something, including an activity or a relationship of any sort, and decide this isn’t a thing you want to keep doing.

We go to great lengths to keep a thief from from spending our money. I think we’d be well-served if we were as vigilant about not letting others take over how we spend our free time.

(For more thoughts on how to use one’s precious time wisely, or poorly, see Live like you are going die?)

 

 

Choice. A good thing?

I came across two wildly different pieces of information, and their juxtaposition sent my brain into cartwheels on the subject of having choices.

choiceConsider having no choice. I read the Economist most weeks, because it is one of the better ways to keep informed about the world outside my home country. If you’ve read my books, you’ve noticed that I am fascinated by the rest of the world. I also consider myself somewhat informed, so I read the following from the Feb 25 2017 issue of The Economist three times.

In a 2012 household survey … more than half [of Indian women] said they could not visit a shop, or even a friend, without someone else’s approval … and 52% thought it normal for a husband to beat his wife if she ventured out without telling him.

2012? Half the population? But I know women from India who live in the US, and my writing and the internet have combined to introduce me to women who live in India now as well. This doesn’t sound like their reality. The article adds

For wealthy and middle-class Indian women, freedoms have steadily grown.

Oh, right.  Those are the women with whom I have contact. In fact, those are generally the women with whom I have contact here as well. Both education and the influence of others work to increase a woman’s freedom. I wonder what percentage of poorly educated women in remote rural locations live a similarly constrained life here?

Then I came across this.

While people like having choices, too many options makes settling on one specific choice difficult. There is a technical term to describe this problem: the excessive choice effect (ECE). The ECE refers to the inverse relationship between the number of options and the ability of a person to make a choice. It is most famously related to a study involving jam. Authors Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper found that consumers more likely to purchase jam when presented with six choices than when they were presented with 24 choices.

jamIt was part of a newsletter from the American Association of Independent Investors. If you’ve read d4 you know that I handle stock investing for myself and other family members, and so I’ve subscribed to a wide variety of newsletters on the subject over the past decade or so. Most make money, but mostly for the people who write them.  However, the AAII aims to provide “unbiased, actionable investment education” often playing the role of a sort of “Consumer Reports” for the individual investor. Here, they were trying to help the non-professional navigate their way through mutual funds. (There are an awful lot of them out there.) So I checked out the jam story, and apparently it is true.

I have always believed that having no real choice about what you can do is the very definition of misery. The essence of happiness is the freedom to choose the alternative you believe is best. You may choose to defer your happiness, or to forego it altogether to aid or please another. You may choose to do something difficult; you may choose to take a nap. When circumstances beyond anyone’s control give you a lousy set of choices, that might make what you pick all the more valuable to you.

growing-bolder-8To artificially restrict anyone’s decisions (visit a sick friend and get beaten, or don’t) is to artificially limit their joy in life. No, you can’t study to be a doctor because we say so. No, you cannot try to run a marathon, because I don’t like the idea. This exertion of control, this limiting the potential of others with arbitrary rules, is of course not confined to the experience of women. However, women have far too often been on the losing end of it. On this blog and in my life, I cheer on the women who have found a way to regain their options.

But what an interesting idea that we also don’t like to have too many choices. At least when it comes to something trivial like what cookie to eat, a half dozen options are good. More important decisions like what career to pursue or what mate to choose presumably warrant having more than six to pick from. But can we suffer from choice overload even then?

Maybe what we all want is enough meaningful choices, in all aspects of our life. We don’t like being forced to pick among things that don’t matter that much to us. Ask anyone who has recently had to plan a wedding and pick from dozens of nearly identicle type-fonts. And yet, we rebel deeply against not being able to choose the things that matter most to us. Of course we do.

Funny creatures, aren’t we?

My Way

This is a post about Aretha Franklin and wearing a hijab and my mother’s funeral, and it comes to you from a cafe in Marrakesh Morocco.

img_3256I’m staring out the window at the crowds of tourists and locals crossing a busy street in front of the Koutoubia Mosque as I write. I’m alone in this city, far out of my comfort zone, and I’ve just ordered my first couscous. I settle into the ornate red pillows, ready for a genuine Moroccan experience, when I recognize the unmistakable voice of Aretha Franklin in the background.

Now I like Aretha as much as anyone and maybe more than most, but she is kind of getting in my way here, and it’s not even one of her better songs. I listen more closely and I feel the ghost of my mother snuggle into the pillows beside me.

What is my mom doing here? She died a few years ago and, in spite of her having been a difficult woman in many ways, I admired her a great deal. She was passionate, smart and so headstrong that when my sister and I were looking for music to play at her funeral my sister jokingly suggested the song “My Way.”

Mom’s death was sad, of course, but also bittersweet. Her body was tired and her mind was worn, and her independent spirit was struggling to maintain its identity as the rest of her began to fail. Because the Frank Sinatra classic was a favorite of her generation, I went ahead and searched out the words. To my surprise they weren’t silly; they were rather touching and perfect for my mother. (And apparently not only for my mother. Inquisitr reports that My Way is the number one song used at funerals in Great Britain. Who knew?) We used the song and yes, my sister and I both cried profusely as it was played. I realize that’s the song Aretha is now singing.

One of the things that I most admired about my mother was her strong sense of justice. A white woman from a farm in Kansas, she somehow found her way to a strong belief  in the dignity and equality of all humans and she spent her adult life arguing for the rights of every non-privileged group she encountered. Except for one.

blog1My mother was mostly unaware of Muslims until late in her life, when the events of 9-11 and the subsequent wars put this unexplored culture front and center in the worst of ways. Her feminist side responded first, and her anger at the much touted restrictions on Islamic women flared at about the same time that her ability for nuanced analysis was fading. She came to hate the hijab and all other forms of religious covering worn by Muslim women, refusing to see the head coverings as anything but a sign of male dominance.

I work in the oil industry, and I know many Muslims who I admire and enjoy. I tried to explain to her that head coverings were worn for many reasons that often included a woman’s own choice. That choice might be influenced by her desire to please her family, her society, or her God, or it might center around her own feelings of comfort or safety. My mother would not listen.

So now I am looking out the window, watching the world walk by, and her spirit is staring out the window with me. Half of the humans we see are female, and a few are covered from head foot, only showing eyes. “I still think that’s horrible,” she mutters to me.

blog2Some wear all manner of scarves, including some of the tourists. Others let their hair fly in the breeze; long tresses and short bobs, the blonde, the black and the grey of the women of dozens of nations and all ages. They move happily, most of them talking and laughing no matter how their head looks, sometimes jumping out of the way of the many women and men riding motorbikes and bicycles down the crowded street. I turn to my mother’s ghost and she nods.

Aretha Franklin is well into her rendition of the song “My Way” now, and I decide that the overall effect is not bad, even though I wish she would have changed the lyrics to say “what is a woman?” instead of “what is a man?” Nonetheless, I think that mom likes the song, and that she is beginning to appreciate the scene outside the window. All those women out there, each one doing things her way, even if not everyone in the world understands it.

blog3I sip on the mint tea that is everywhere, and my waiter brings the vegetarian couscous cooked in the wonderful clay pot called a tagine. It is as delicious as anything I’ve ever eaten. I consider how I am a feminist, too, and I share my mother’s belief that no one should force a woman, or a man, to wear garments that restrict her (or his) freedom to move, see, talk, eat or enjoy life. But part of that belief is that every woman should get to live her life her way.

Mom is fading back into the velvet pillows now as I concentrate on my lunch, but I like to think that she and I reached some sort of understanding. Freedom to make personal choices matters. That freedom meant the world to my mom; it means a lot to me. And it is what Aretha has been singing about all along.

(Enjoy this video of Aretha Franklin singing “My Way” and check out the lyrics below. For more about my trip to Morocco go to I see ghosts, That’s Why you Make the Trip, It’s an angry world in some places, and Happy International Day of Peace, Lahcen and Najet.)

My Way

And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew when I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried, I’ve had my fill my share of losing
And now, as tears subside I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that and may I say – not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.