"I've never had a humble opinion in my life. If you're going to have one, why be humble about it?"
- folk singer / political activist, Joan Baez
When I was interviewing the executive director and a counsellor at Gillian's Place, I kept asking them how women came to the shelter. I wanted to know if they just showed up at the door...did they call first...what did they say? Did they ask if they could come? Did they just say they needed help? What? I was trying to understand how I could write about a woman making that decision and I wanted it to ring true.
The counsellor told me the single most common thing women say to her when they phone the Shelter for the first time is: "I don't know if I'm calling the right place . . . it's not like he hits me."
I decided right then that Tamara was going to be emotionally abused rather than physically abused. I told the counsellor.
She nodded. She said people understand physical abuse because it's something they can see but have a more difficult time identifying with the devastating effects of emotional abuse.
(At the beginning of the series, I called Jake a "jerk" several times. (I called him an ass once but my editor thought that wouldn't fly with my client newspapers) I had photocopied the early strips and taken them with me to Gillian's Place. The counsellor told me I had to stop calling Jake a "jerk" because people would read it as male-bashing. She told me I had to show Jake being a jerk. I had to show how Tamara was being controlled and worn down.)
So, this is the reason for Tamara being emotionally abused and the reason I have not shown her with a "black eye." As soon as the counsellor said the words, I knew I was going to use " it's not like he hits me " somewhere in the story.
On Saturday, Tara and I went to Harbourfront in Toronto to hear Lynda Barry present.
I LOVED IT. I LOVED HER. She is just amazing. No one should ever willingly pass up the opportunity to go and see Lynda.
The line was very long because LOTS of people wanted Lynda to sign their book(s) but it also took a while because Lynda took a few minutes to chat with everyone. That was so very cool of her.
Check out her My Space page for details about her workshop for "What it is". She's travelling all over the place.
Okay, I'm back. So, you wanna know how it went?
I drove to Toronto the day before because ... well, it's a few hours away and they wanted me to be there at 8:15 and I'm really not that great at finding my way around. (I'll always get where I'm going but sometimes it's later rather than sooner) I made one wrong turn which cost me an extra half hour of driving. (with the traffic on the 401 it took me about 3 1/2 hours) My hotel was located right off the highway and when I saw it, I decided to keep going and locate the CTV television station so I would be . . . you know, on time and not in a panic the next morning. I went one exit too far but still found the station pretty easily so I drove to my hotel, grabbed some dinner, reviewed for my segment and watched a little Larry King.
I asked for a 6 am wake-up call ... here's how I figured my morning would go:
6 - 6:30 - Have a cup of coffee in my room and review.
6:30 - 7 - Get showered and dressed
7 - 7:30 - Grab some breakfast
7:30 - 7:45 - check out
Leave for CTV with a full half hour to make a five minute drive.
Here's how it went:
6 -6:30 - Have a cup of coffee in my room and review.
It was downhill from there.
I will spare you some of the details as I'm sure I'll regret it later. I leave the hotel at 7:55 . . . still LOTS of time to get to the station. This time I take the CORRECT exit. Big mistake. I end up driving around the parking lot of some big shopping mall. I know I am close but have no idea which direction to take. I make ONE educated guess and find myself in an industrial park. It is 8:05.
I park and rip open my suitcase where I have stashed my list of directions and phone numbers. I call the station. I tell the woman who answers who I am and that I'm a guest who is supposed to be there at 8:15 and I'm lost. She asks where I am. I tell her Progress Street. She has no idea where that is. She asks what landmarks are around me. I tell her a Toyota building. She pauses. "Toyata building?" I am beginning to panic. She says to turn in the direction of the big shopping mall. Ahhhh...I know where that is...I was just in their parking lot.
I am driving and ask her (I probably sounded more like I was begging) to please stay on the line until I find them. She says not to worry, she will. Then she says she is going to put me on hold for minute. I think they are trying to decide what to do about a replacement guest. She comes back on the line ... she tells me to look for a Lazy-Boy building ... I tell her I see a sign for McCowan Rd. North. She says YES! That's where I should be going! Take that!
I am in the far left of three lanes. It may even have been four lanes. Who the hell knows? The exit is on the far right. I ask her if she heard my car screeching to a stop. She did. I take the exit.
She tells me, "By the way, I really like your strip." I thank her. Later on, that will make me feel good . . . right then, I am bordering on hysteria. It is 8:10. ( It is subdued hysteria, by the way ... I don't think she detects just how much anxiety I am in . . . or maybe she does )
She asks me what other landmarks I see. I tell her the Winners store. She says they are right across the street from that. (see? I knew I wasn't too far away) She mentions a church. I SEE THAT! Then I see the station. I'm there. I made it. I have minutes to spare.
A woman greets me and I'm sorry but I can't recall her name. She takes me into make-up and introduces me to Linda. (I think that was her name) She is very nice and calm. I stare at her and I ask her, "Do you know who you look like? People MUST have told you ... " She looks at me and smiles. She looks EXACTLY like Shirley MacLaine. A younger Shirley MacLaine but Linda is cuter. She touches up my make-up and applies concealer under my eyes THREE times. The anxiety of the drive is showing I guess.
The other woman says she is going to take me to the green room. I ask if there is a mirror there. I want to fix my hair. Shirley motions me to another table with a mirror and says to use anything there I want. The woman who is directing me says I have a few seconds. Fixing my hair and a few seconds do not compute. Shirley, bless her, tells me I look fine and gives me a shot of hairspray.
I am now in the green room with another gentleman. I ask him if he is a guest. He's not. He's some kind of set designer. I tell him I think I may have made a mistake coming on the show. He tells me not to worry, I'll be fine, it will be over in a few minutes and no one remembers what anyone says on televison anyway. I burst out laughing. I feel much better.
I now have my mic on and I am led to the set. It's smaller than I imagined but it has a very cozy feel to it. They lead me over to the sofa chairs and I sit down, trying to remember all the advice everyone has given me... like sit up straight. There was lots more advice but this is all I can remember.
Bev Thomson comes over. She is cute as can be. We chat very quickly before my segment. I tell her I'm worried I might lose my train of thought. She says not to worry, if I do, she'll cover for me. She tells me to feel free to jump in at any time if there is a point I want to make. She is fabulous. Really, she couldn't have been nicer. She really puts me at ease. The driving fiasco is now a distant memory.
And then it's over. The set designer was right. I go back to the green room. The set designer and the mic guy are all telling me I did a great job. These people are all so nice. Really.
So it's over. I haven't had the nerve to watch the segment yet but you can watch it here.
Look for the "video player" section and click on "Comic strip tackles domestic violence."
And what do I have to say about the whole experience? Well, first, the people at Canada AM are just fabulous. When I watch the program on television, I get the sense that it is a fun place and the people are warm and friendly. And they are . . . both the on-air hosts and the behind-the-scenes people. There is a great atmosphere there.
And second . . . this whole thing has been very cool. I really had fun. I'd even do it again.
Man . . . my job ROCKS! :)
I am going to be interviewed tomorrow on Canada AM. (Thursday, Oct. 23 @ about 8:40 ... AM obviously)
I wasn't going to mention this to you. My thinking was that if I ended up babbling incoherently, I wouldn't want anyone to know. However, since Canada AM is a national Canadian morning program, I'm pretty sure a lot of people are going to see me anyway.
Actually, I'm looking forward to it. I don't get to watch television in the mornings but I did watch a couple of the Canada AM programs this week and it's a very fun and friendly show.
So wish me luck. I'll tell you about it when I get back.
. . . and we all know the money for take-out is what they're going for in the first place . . .
As a side note to this, my son is LOVING high school . . . the wider circle of friends, the freedom, all the new extra-curricular activities, the freedom . . . ( he's doing well in his classes too )
And . . . they have a cafeteria. I have convinced Tim that the cost of me packing my son's lunch is actually more than just giving him some money to buy it.
I have not packed a lunch for Devin since the first school day of last September.
My son is not the only one loving high school . . .
When I began writing the domestic violence story line in Between Friends, I really had no idea what the story was going to be. This story line has literally been pieced together from discussions and tidbits of information I've found through my interviews with shelters and domestic violence agencies and through researching web sites and literature.
A few of you have asked me to share the writing process with this series. I find that a little bit difficult to do because there isn't always a major event or reason that determines why I wrote something in a particular way. Sometimes it's just one simple thought or emotion that swings the story in a specific direction. In the above strips, Tamara's situation is beginning to unfold as she tentatively confides to Maeve.
The main reason for the gist of this confession is that I had to find a way to tell readers that Tamara does not have children. And why doesn't she have children? There is a very simple explanation. I couldn't bring myself to write about it. The whole idea was just too upsetting to me and I didn't want to go there.
At Gillian's Place, I was given a brochure that they give to women for creating a safety plan. Here are the check points listed for developing a safety plan for children:
1. Stress the importance of being safe, and that it is not the child's responsibility to make sure that his/her mother is safe.
2. Have your child pick a safe room/place in the house, preferably with a lock on the door and a phone. The first step of any plan is for the children to get out the room where the abuse is occurring.
3. Teach your child how to call for help. It is important that children know they should not use a phone that is in view of the abuser. This puts them at risk. Talk to your children about using a neighbour's phone or a pay phone if they are unable to use a phone at home. If you have a cell phone, teach your children how to use it. Instruct children not to hang up the cell phone to ensure police can locate them.
( I was crying by this point in my reading. What a burden for a child to carry ... )
4. Teach your children about Neighbourhood Block Parents (if available) and how to use them.
5. Teach them how to contact police at the emergency number.
6. Ensure that the children know their full name and address (rural children need to know their Concession and Lot #)
7. Rehearse what your child/children will say when they call for help.
An operator will answer:
"Police, Fire, Ambulance."
Your child says:
Then your child says:
My name is ___________.
I am _____ years old.
I need help. Send the police.
Someone is hurting my mom.
The address here is ___________________.
The phone number here is _______________.
I don't do Thanksgiving Day gags. I talked about the reason for this a while back. So the above strip is the the best one I could think of to post in celebration of today's food fest.
Every year my family and I go to Balls Falls for the Thanksgiving Festival Craft Show. There are all kinds of artizans displaying their work...from paintings to garden sculpture to jewelry to Christmas decorations to jam, chocolate and the best apple cider. There is lots of food to buy (we always go over lunch) and there's entertainment for adults and children. The best part is Balls Falls itself. It's a conservation area and the area is beautiful. Trees everywhere and at this time of year the foilage is turning and it's just gorgeous.
Unfortunately, my son has gotten to the age where a better offer from his friends means he won't be going with us today. (Probably never again ... I'm a realist) But my daughter still wants to go ... at least for now.
So...I've gotta tie a few things up and get going. Happy Thanksgiving!
I didn't actually write the above strip. I just made a few refinements to the sentiments expressed (and they were expressed vehemently) by the women I interviewed both at Gillian's Place (Women's Shelter in St. Catharines, Ontario) and the Community Director and the Liasion Officer from the Centre for Reseach & Education on Violence Againist Women and Children. (The University of Western Ontario)
Talking with these women and reading through the Neighbours, Friends and Families web site has been extremely helpful to me in writing the Domestic Violence story line in my Between Friends strip. Although, as much as I've learned through these sources, I know full well that I've only skimmed the surface of this issue.
I've written this series through the eyes of Maeve who is the friend looking at Tamara's life from the outside. Because I haven't experienced spousal abuse personally, I don't think I could have done justice to the story by writing it from the abused woman's perspective. The aspects of Tamara's life are told subtly . . . for the most part, readers have to make their own assumptions about details.
Maeve suspects there is something wrong but isn't sure. Tamara has tentatively reached out to her at times and then drawn back. Maeve is conflicted by feelings of concern, doubts and frustration for her friend.
Maeve is a fiercely independent character. Her volatile personality makes her the type of person to respond to situations with authority, confidence and strength. When she asks (in the first strip above) "Why doesn't she just leave?", she's relating to how she would respond in a similar situation, not with any understanding of the complicated grey aspects of Tamara's life. Kim, on the other hand, is a more introspective character. She is the type of person to stand back, take stock and react in an objective way. Kim provides Maeve with a broader view.
Beginning on October 6th, Between Friends will feature a 4 week story line that brings the domestic violence story to a head and reveals Tamara's situation with what I would call, "subdued clarity." Four weeks is a long time to stay on one topic in a cartoon strip, particularly when it is a heavy handed story line. I tried to keep it down to three weeks but I found I needed the extra week to bring it to a natural break.
I know how I will end the story but I haven't actually written it yet as I work pretty close to deadline. I am planning for the series to end mid-ish November and I decided early on that I wanted Tamara's story to end on a positive note. And . . .I am writing the ending based on a letter I received from a reader who is a survivor of domestic abuse. I have many people to thank for this series . . .
Here are some links to two recent newspaper articles regarding this story. . .
This charming drawing is done by Richard Thompson who is the creator of the wonderful new strip, "Cul de Sac". I love the looseness of his line work and I particularly love the watercolor. He has written a post about drawing faces on his blog. I chuckled when I read that he finds himself twisting his facial expressions to match the ones he's drawing. I do the same thing. It's completely unconscious. He has a great blog. Give him a visit.
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
. . . or if I may . . .
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy trying to get your strip written."
I don't know if the above comic is the best one to illustrate this post . . . but it's better than a blank spot, isn't it? Gotta go . . .