Jul 13

“Maid”: Emotional Abuse At Core of Series

While the highly acclaimed Netflix series Maid, based on Stephanie Land‘s memoir (Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive) has no shortage of important themes, e.g., single motherhood, poverty, childhood trauma, and mental health, what I want to single out in this post is the emotional abuse that lands 20-something Alex (brilliantly played by Margaret Qualley) into her multi-episode life-changing predicament.

Kristen Lopez, Indiewire, sets up Maid:

The audience meets Alex as she’s embarking on a transition far too many have to make: fleeing in the middle of the night, trying not to wake her boyfriend, Sean (Nick Robinson), in order to protect her daughter (and herself) from the emotionally abusive alcoholic. Alex and her child make it out, but that’s only the beginning of where series creator Molly Smith Metzler takes us throughout the series.

At first, though, even Alex herself seems unaware, or unwilling to admit, that Sean has actually been abusive. She doesn’t understand why a domestic violence shelter is recommended to her by a caseworker.

Amy Polacko, Ms: “…Alex is brainwashed by society to believe abuse is purely physical—so the young mom doesn’t even realize she’s a victim.”

The most stunning part of this series that’s taking America by storm is not that it expertly depicts the cycle of abuse. It’s Alex’s metamorphosis along the way—because this mirrors the forces at work in our country right now. Ultimately, Maid begs the question: If a few states are following the United Kingdom’s lead by passing coercive control laws, are we as Americans ready to put emotional abuse on par with physical?

Gina Michele Yaniz, Hollywood Reporter: “‘Maid’ challenges the government’s definition of domestic abuse and urges lawmakers to accept that abuse transcends just physicality and violence, it translates to emotional torture that can ruin someone’s life if they don’t have the resources to free themselves from the shackles of an abusive relationship.”

Psychologist Valeria Sabater, Exploring Your Mind, regarding the specifics of Sean’s abusive behavior:

He doesn’t ever physically assault Alex or her daughter. However, violence is exercised through shouting, threats, contempt, and the desire to isolate and emotionally control her.

An important post for abuse survivors by Amanda Kippert, Domesticshelters.org, first warns of the possible triggering viewers may experience while watching Maid. Then Kippert outlines “The 6 Things Maid Got Spot-On” (and one thing they got wrong).

1. Nonphysical abuse is abuse. 

2. Lack of money is a major barrier for single mom survivors to leave an abuser.

3. Nonphysical abuse often goes unreported.

4. Pregnancy can trigger violence.

5. Childhood domestic violence victims are at increased risk for abuse as adults.

6. Survivors are often treated less-than.

And the thing they depicted unfairly? You don’t need to have a police report to call a shelter.

If you or someone you care about needs help, please consider contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or www.thehotline.org.

Jun 11

“No Visible Bruises”: Intimate Partner Abuse

A United Nations report in 2018 put it starkly: The most dangerous place for a woman is her own home. Parul Sehgal, New York Times, reviewing No Visible Bruises

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by journalist Rachel Louise Snyder offers a well-researched and “powerful investigation into intimate partner abuse” (Publishers Weekly). It’s not just a domestic issue, she argues, but a public health problem. 

Parul Sehgal, New York Times, summarizes salient statistics from No Visible Bruises:

In America alone, more than half of all murdered women are killed by a current or former partner — 50 women every month. Domestic violence cuts across lines of class, race and religion; it is the leading cause of maternal mortality in cities including New York and Chicago, and the second leading cause of death for black women nationwide.

An important distinction about intimate partner violence, per the book review by Kate Tuttle, LA Times:

‘Love is what makes domestic violence different from any other crime,’ Snyder writes. ‘That the people involved have said to each other and the world, you are the most important person to me.’ For that love to end in injury and even death, she adds, ‘requires us to mentally, intellectually, and emotionally hurdle beyond what we can imagine.’

Julia Kastner, Shelf Awareness, describes how No Visible Bruises is organized:

Snyder presents her findings in three parts, ordered as ‘The End,’ ‘The Beginning’ and finally ‘The Middle.’ That is, she first studies what intimate partner violence looks like at its conclusion: homicide and regrets that various systems (judicial, law enforcement, advocacy, etc.) couldn’t do more. Next, she investigates the beginning of such violence. Abusers often come from abusive home environments and, along with their victims, grow up in a society that values stoicism, control and violence in men, submissiveness and emotional labor in women. ‘The Middle’ examines how services are provided to victims of domestic violence, and what changes should be considered.

Regarding the profile of abusers, Snyder tells NPR the following:

Narcissism is one of the key components of an abuser… [Most] abusers, in fact, are not people with anger problems. Generally speaking, they are about power and control over one person or the people in their family. They’re often very gregarious. Only about a quarter of the abusers fit that stereotypical definition of someone who is, you know, generally angry. And so the narcissism plays out in the idea that they are owed something, in the idea that they are entitled to their authority, that their partners have to be subservient to them. There’s very often traditional gender dynamics in abusive relationships.

Some of Snyder’s proposals for safety (New York Times):

Prosecute cases without the victim’s help, as we do murder trials. Treat restraining orders like D.U.I.s and keep them on file, even after they have expired. Train clergy members and doctors to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Promote battering intervention programs. Choking nearly always precedes a homicide attempt; teach police to recognize the signs, and instruct doctors to assess women for traumatic brain injury. And, of course, there is the near-unanimous recommendation from law enforcement and domestic violence advocates: ‘You want to get rid of homicide?’ a retired forensic nurse asks. ‘Get rid of guns.’

Aug 09

“Maudie”: How Her Folk Art Bloomed from Within

 ...(A) story of art rising from adversity. Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail, about Maudie

Director Aisling Walsh‘s Maudie was inspired by the true story of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who lived with a form of progressively debilitating arthritis and struggled to find love, independence, and inner peace.

A few brief descriptions of the portrayal of Maudie:

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “Sally Hawkins turns a crumpled misfit into an affecting figure of fortitude and optimism…”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Hawkins plays her as always possessing a kind of coy, rueful smile, but it’s one that betrays a hardscrabble life marked by trauma and abuse.”

Thelma Adams, New York Observer: “…an obscure figure who couldn’t stop her arthritic fingers from painting the world around her in vibrant colors on whatever surface she could access, from walls and windows to boards and post cards.”

Early in the film’s timeline we learn that Maudie has lost both her parents to death and has been abandoned by her only sibling. When she abruptly leaves the home of her unwelcoming aunt, Maudie is in dire need of a job and place to live. She applies to be a live-in maid to Everett (Ethan Hawke), the “crabby, orphanage-raised, antisocial misfit who makes what passes for a living peddling fish and chopped wood” (Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter).

For various reasons, their challenging coexistence quickly evolves into a marriage; their challenging marriage gradually evolves, over the course of many years, into a deeper, though awkward, love.

Watch the trailer below:

Maudie and Everett

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “Despite his meager circumstances, grumpy Everett makes it clear Maud rates only third in importance in the household, after his dogs and chickens.”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Maud and Everett Lewis’s relationship can be tough to watch—he’s at times plainly abusive (physically and emotionally), and at other times hurtful and dismissive.”

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times:

Between Everett’s blunt insistence on traditional gender roles and Maud’s patient long-game to blur those lines and fill the space with who she is — literally too, since their painted house is now on display at an art gallery in Halifax — ‘Maudie’ is like a charmingly cracked domestic play about waiting the other person out. As she blossoms — just enough, not too much — he grunts and softens, just enough, not too much. Unlike the thick directness in Maud’s work, the movie about her is almost pointillist in detailing the tiny steps that make up an enduring marriage.

Selected Reviews

David Sims, The Atlantic: “This is neither a forgettable biopic nor a piece of shameless Oscar-bait; it’s a film that feels no need to make easy judgments about its subject, or any vague assumptions about the origins and meaning of her work.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

How much of it is true…remains unclear; certainly the movie deviates sharply in sweep and detail from some accounts…
Like many screen biographies, ‘Maudie’ vacillates unsteadily between the brute realities of a difficult existence and its palatable imagery. The movie doesn’t erase the hard edges of Lewis’s life. Instead, it attenuates them — a brutal slap across the face, you suspect, stands in for more instances of physical abuse — and casts many of Maud and Everett’s difficulties as personal ordeals, playing down the institutional forces, like an orphanage, that discreetly hover in the background. There’s an argument to be made against such softening, though, as Lewis’s work suggests, there’s something necessary about the fantasies we make of our lives as we spin beauty and hope from despair.

Thelma Adams, New York Observer:

Maudie celebrates the capacity to appreciate the world that lies framed within a window, to see the cruel beauty of the everyday and transform it into art. This wedding of craft and imagination also describes Walsh’s textured filmmaking, connecting frame after frame of gorgeous vistas to an emotionally rich female-driven narrative about art’s healing power and the potential for redemption in everyday acts of grace.

Jan 20

“The Wild Truth” Of One Family’s “Secrets and Lies”

The elder McCandless [Chris] perished in 1992, but his sister fills in holes where Into the Wild author Jon Krakauer could not, specifically centering on the family history of abuse and deception that drove her brother to sever ties in the first place. It has been a long time coming: ‘I felt like I was doing a disservice not just to Chris and his memory but a disservice to all of the people who seek inspiration from [him],’ McCandless recently told me in an interview. The Wild Truth is a moving narrative of domestic abuse, grief and survival, and for the perspective and revelations it contains, an essential addition to the Into the Wild story. Zach Schonfeld‘s review of The Wild Truth in Newsweek

If you never read the book you may have seen the film Into the Wild (2007), about Chris McCandless, who in his early 20’s died alone in an abandoned bus in Alaska about two years after leaving everyone and just about everything behind to start a cross-country journey.

And maybe you’ve wondered what possessed Chris to go out on his own in the first place.

Last year Chris’s sister Carine McCandless finally clued us in with her book The Wild Truth.

ABC News: Chris’s “expedition was not just about his love of nature and his adventurous spirit, but also reflected his intent to sever ties with his parents after what [Carine] calls a traumatic childhood.” Letters he’d written to Carine indicated, in fact, his desire to divorce his parents forever.

Part of Carine’s decision to write the story lay in her frustration with their parents’ skewed version of events, a common dynamic in many families with big secrets. As Jane Isay says in Secrets and Lies (2014), If you need to keep a big secret, here’s a tip: Invent an alternate story to tell, and tell it so often that you believe it yourself.

Psychiatrist Susan C. Vaughan on Isay’s book:

Whether we are Finders or Keepers of secrets (or both), Jane Isay vividly shows how secrets and lies render the very fabric of our lives shot through with a corrupting thread of untruth. To move ahead, she argues, we must unravel these tangled threads and rework the tapestry of our inner worlds and intimate relationships that dishonesty and dissembling has distorted…

Family therapist Ron Taffel (author of Childhood Unbound):

…(I)f you or someone you know needs to be encouraged to take that bravest of steps toward the truth, get this page-turning book. Jane Isay is a gifted story teller with the soul of a poet and the wisdom of a master teacher. Secrets and Lies is not only about betrayal, it is about courage, the kind all of us need to negotiate the hidden currents and sudden riptides of life.

Nov 09

“She Used to Be Mine”: Seeking a Lost Self in “Waitress”

The powerful She Used To Be Mine is the first single from Sara Bareilles‘s new album, What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress. Next April “Waitress,” an adaptation of the 2007 non-musical movie of the same name, debuts on Broadway.

Some Important Background: The Movie in Brief

In the dramedy/romance Waitress Keri Russell plays Jenna, a young diner employee who’s unhappily married to an abusive husband. She also happens to be a marvel at making pies and often names them after her bad moods and worries; making them helps raise her spirits. Examples: I Hate My Husband Pie and Earl Murders Me Because I’m Having An Affair Pie.

The screenplay was written by Adrienne Shelly, who never got to know of its success. At the age of 40, before Waitress even made it to the Sundance Film Festival and then to theaters, she was murdered. A construction worker in her building, to whom she’d complained about bothersome noise, was found responsible. He’d hurt her in an altercation, then staged what at first seemed to be a suicide by hanging.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “Shelly was not just someone who happened to make a likable little movie. Like the film itself, she was seriously good, and her tragic and almost unthinkably sad murder was an incalculable loss.”

Notably, Shelly plays one of Jenna’s waitress friends in the film. The trailer:

The Musical Adaptation

The newest “Waitress” debuted this past summer at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bareilles performed its songs in the studio for the album released last week.

At the point at which “She Used to Be Mine” is sung by the lead character she still has the abusive spouse and now is pregnant. That “she” is actually her. Basically, How did she (I) get so disconnected from who she (I) used to be? 

The Lyrics of “She Used to Be Mine” (Genius.com)

It’s not simple to say
That most days I don’t recognize me
That these shoes and this apron, that place and its patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used be, although it’s true
I was never attention’s sweet center
I still remember that girl

She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine

It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person and makes you believe it’s all true
And now I’ve got you
And you’re not what I asked for
If I’m honest, I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew

Who’ll be reckless, just enough
Who’ll get hurt, but who learns how to toughen up
When she’s bruised and gets used by a man who can’t love
And then she’ll get stuck
And be scared of the life that’s inside her
Growing stronger each day ’til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone, but used to be mine
Used to be mine

She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine

Listen to the Song:

Watch it be performed on Broadway: