No Matter What, Hold onto Your Values

A Note about this blog post: I am pleased to present this guest blog by Cult Awareness Educator Gerette Buglion. Gerette creates retreats and presentations for people affected by cultic abuse. Her home, Dream Haven Vermont, is a short distance from the beautiful Green River Reservoir State Park in Hyde Park Vermont.To learn more about Gerette or to contact her, please visit her web site.: www.dreamhavenvt.com

No Matter What, Hold onto Your Values

Celeste, the colorful protagonist in A Dream to Die For is caught in a complex web that is far greater than the typical ‘who done it’ murder mystery. Author Susan Ritz skillfully shows the reader how Celeste’s psyche is enmeshed in a controlling group that has established a kind of authority over her free will and that of others in the group and led to some devastating consequences. ‘Controlling group’ is another term for cult - one of those taboo words in the English language that is fraught with variable meanings and is often avoided altogether. In this article, I am referring to destructive cults, those that can harm members through a variety of abuses and mind control.

In her latest book Women Rowing North, Mary Pipher states, “Freedom is the ability to make conscious choices in accord with our deepest values.” This fertile sentence, written to inspire resilient and graceful aging in our later years, can just as easily be applied to the potential perils of power dynamics as they manifest in groups. Freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of expression are values that many Americans hold near and dear. But what exactly are values? I like this definition, that surprisingly comes from The Business Dictionary: “Important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable. Values have major influence on a person’s behavior and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.”  

We humans are defined by our individual values and those golden threads of morality that are passed on to us from our families, our communities, our churches, our ancestors and the groups we choose to participate in. These personal values can be challenged and transformed within groups, a natural part of evolution and personal growth. But what happens when a group or the leader of a group, minimizes your values and strives to replace them with values they deem more important? Although this happens to varying degrees in numerous situations, it is always something to watch out for. Because if it coincides with the surrender of one’s autonomy, it is the beginning of mind control.

For years, I was part of a spiritually oriented self-help group that I dedicated enormous amounts of time, inspiration and financial resources to. I did not know to watch out for the gradual stripping away of my personal values. I was taught, for example that “God does not care if you recycle - what He cares about is how you do it.” This teaching, combined with a dualistic ideology, a strong set of given values, and a compelling inspiration for the spiritual freedom of “becoming a true woman of God”, sent me down a difficult, dark  rabbit hole where I became a victim of mind control and was profoundly dependent on the group leader.  

I believe the slow stripping away of my values, separating me from the core of my essential self, was one of the most damaging aspects of my eighteen years in this destructive group. Early on, I surrendered one of these core values: a deep and respectful relationship to the Earth and her resources. I grew up on a farm, was an outdoor educator and passionate about recycling and energy efficiency before joining the group. While in it, I learned to dismiss my instincts and judge others for their “frivolous sentimentality and arrogance” [Direct quote from the leader of the group.] for driving a Prius or compulsively separating glass bottles from the trash. I trained myself to not wince when loading a truck full of trash, including hundreds of pounds of food waste after a spiritual retreat. In this way, I relinquished the freedom to fully be myself, was encouraged to suppress my capacity for making conscious choices and was therefore more vulnerable to manipulation. Whether intentional or not, by diminishing and replacing my core values, the group leader broke down part of the very fabric of my soul self - that which defines me and guides me ‘in all situations’.

Since leaving the group five years ago, I have been engaged in a healing process that supports me to reckon with the abuse I experienced but almost more importantly, to dig deep into my resilience and re-discover who I truly am. From this place, I now have the freedom to make many conscious decisions each day, arising from my core values. Since leaving, I have experienced many ‘re-awakenings’ of values that still define me to this day. One such awakening occurred through a patch of Forget-me-nots - the delicate but hardy spring time flowers that re-appeared in my yard the spring I broke away from the group. In my post-cult life, these serve as both a playful reminder and stern warning of what I had forgotten. And they inspire me to share with others the importance of holding on to one’s values, no matter what.

 You can learn more about Gerette or contact her at http://www.dreamhavenvt.com/about.html

I Just Can't Keep Quiet

 I’m not sure when it was that talk radio replaced music as the soundtrack to my life. Somewhere along the line, I switched the channel from rollicking rock and roll to news of latest climate catastrophe, Congressional shenanigans, and nasty presidential tweets. But now, with the world in shambles, I am ready to go back to music. If only I knew what to listen to.

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What I really want to hear are today’s protest songs. But I have no idea where to start. When I look on Spotify for protest songs, I find several playlists, but are filled with songs of another dismal period in our American history—Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Eric Burden and the Animals. There are a few newer ones, like the raps of Flobots or heavy metal screeching of Rise Again, but none of those good old anthems we all knew by heart and sang around campfires wherever we were in the world. They were a common language. Songs you could strum a guitar to.

There is one song that comes to mind, though, a song that stirs my heart and makes me cry every time I hear it. It is the song that emerged from the Women’s March, when it’s originator MILCK formed an online acapella group from California and Washington DC. She sent the lyrics and harmonies to each group to practice at home. On the big day, that unseasonably warm January day in D.C., the group sang it seven times as they moved through the crowd of half a million.

            A tweet by one of the members, retweeted by Harry Potter actor Emma Watson, reached over 68,000 people in a single day. The Facebook post of the march rendition has been viewed 11 million times.

            This new women’s anthem is now sung by women and girls all over the world. A choir in Ghana adds defiance and even joy to their stirring rendition.

Thirteen hundred people, mostly women, gathered in Toronto to sing with MILCK and the results are powerful.

 A flash mob of hundreds of pussy-hatted women sang in the Stockholm train station.

I get weepy when I see the joyful faces of these women belting out a song that finally speaks for so many of us. I can’t help but think of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford. I can’t help but think Malala, and of all the women and girls denied their freedom in Afghanistan. This song speaks for all of us who have been abused, who have been denied, who have been told to just shut up. I can’t help but think of #MeToo .

/// • /// • ///

put on your face
know your place
shut up and smile
don't spread your legs
I could do that

But no one knows me no one ever will
if I don't say something, if I just lie still
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let the-em hear what I have to say

I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one-woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

I can't keep quiet
For anyone
Anymore

Cuz no one knows me no one ever will
if I don't say something, take that dry blue pill
they may see that monster, they may run away
But I have to do this, do it anyway
I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one-woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh I can't keep quiet

Let it out Let it out
Let it out now
There'll be someone who understands
Let it out Let it out
Let it out now
Must be someone who'll understand
Let it out Let it out
Let it out now
There'll be someone who understands
Let it out Let it out
Let it out now

I can't keep quiet

/// • /// • ///

A couple of weeks ago I read a disturbing article in the New York Times about the manifesto penned by the shooter in New Zealand. He argued for the “Replacement Theory,” which claims the white race is dying out because white women aren’t having enough babies to replenish the numbers. This unbelievable theory is spreading through far-right circles and has even been mentioned on Fox News, an arguably main stream media outlet. The solution? Take away women’s right to work and vote. I read those words and realized it is already happening.

            On NPR, I heard about a new law in Georgia that would give a fetus full rights as a human being after five and half weeks in the womb. From that time, any pregnant woman becomes a state incubator, her rights superseded by the rights of the fetus. Miscarriages, an event that happens to a majority of women sometime in their reproductive years even before a woman knows she’s pregnant, would trigger an investigation into the woman’s activities. Did she have a drink? Smoke a cigarette? Have an addiction problem? She would be liable for the death of a child. How can we keep quiet? 

            We women will go on singing until we are finally heard. “I Can’t Keep Quiet” provides a new soundtrack to my life. Maybe I will tell Alexa to wake me with it each morning as I face another day as a woman in an increasingly hostile world.  

P.S. Here’s another great song, Lynzy Lab’s “It’s Scary Time”






Have You Ever Wanted To See The World?

Have you ever wanted to see the world, find a way to get up close and personal with the locals, and make money at the same time? Maybe a career in international bartending is for you!  Celeste Fortune, the main character in my novel A Dream to Die For, an international bartender with almost two decades of experience, can tell you about how to get started.

Susan Z Ritz: How did you decide to become an international bartender?

CELESTE FORTUNE: It all began as a whim, or maybe I should say, a dream. After my parents died, my life turned upside down. Though they left me a bit of money, it wasn’t enough to keep me in college. I wasn’t the rah-rah college type in any case, as my roommate Gloria pointed out. It was enough to get me to the other side of the world, though, and I high-tailed it out of Ohio for the big city lights of Tokyo, where I figured I could get a gig teaching English. It didn’t take me long to figure out that real money was in the bars.  Every evening, Japanese “salary men” head to their special watering holes, eager not just for the booze, but for the attention of the hostesses—especially the European girls who served drinks and put up with a lot of shenanigans for some pretty good tip money.   

SZR: So you were a hostess?

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CF: No, I figured I was too tall and skinny to get in on that, but I did know how to mix a few mean drinks. Growing up with my drunken parents gave me years of experience pouring some pretty stiff ones. That got me in the door of my first bar, Café Absinthe, in Osaka. In just a few months, I’d made enough money to move on, travel to Southeast Asia, volunteer in a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border, do some freelance reporting. Every time I began to run low, I’d find another bar in some resort area or big city and save up, then take off exploring again.  

I was living the dream!

SZR: How would someone get started in this business? Do you have you be a great bartender first?

CF:  First, I’d take a quick bartending class, get a certificate, learn to make a few of the classics, like Manhattans, Old Fashions, Harvey Wallbangers. A very dry Martini is a must. You don’t need to be a fancy mixologist, but you should have a solid repertoire that you can mix up fast. Speed is the key in a busy bar.

SZR: But how can you legally work in another country?

CF: Believe it or not, some countries like Singapore and Korea where foreign, mostly Western, barkeeps are a big draw, offer Working Holiday Visas for young Americans between 18 and 30.  


SZR: What did you like best about bartending overseas?

CF: Have to say, the money and tips. But hanging out with the local barflies taught me a lot about the countries I was in. And I even made a few friends.  I’d tell anyone ready for a grand adventure, bartending is a great way to see the world. And when you get ready to go back home and settle down, you know you can find a job like I did at the Broken Gate in Riverton Falls!

https://www.fourlinesupply.com/stories/how-to-travel-the-world-as-a-bartender  

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Why She Writes

When I started writing A Dream to Die For, the idea of actually publishing it seemed remote. I was a creative nonfiction writer trying my hand at something new, a novel that was a diversion from the memoir I had half-written. The memoir, about my years living in a village outside Dachau, Germany, was both daunting and crazy making. I didn’t really want to go back to many of those memories of a marriage gone wrong.  I thought it might be more fun to make up someone else’s life than to keep digging down into my own past. A fiction writing friend gave me the advice to include some mystery or question in my novel. Though I’d never been a big mystery or thriller reader, I decided to take his advice and then some by turning the whole novel into a mystery. I learned as I wrote, largely from my writing group members who all had their second or third novels under way.

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I also watched them struggling to get their wonderful works published. Finding an agent seemed daunting and time consuming. One gave up early and went on to self-publish four wonderful novels, including the Virtuosic Spy series, learning a lot in the process about how to design and publicize her own work. The others opted for Vermont small presses with mixed success.  As the oldest member of the group, I didn’t have years to search for an agent who wanted a sixty-something- year-old author with only one book in the pipeline and no “platform” from which to launch it. I knew I didn’t have the perseverance or talent to self-publish successfully. Then I remembered stumbling upon a women’s writing community, She Writes, years earlier and thought I might find some advice there.

Instead, I discovered that She Writes had branched out and added She Writes Press (SWP) and from what I read, it sounded perfect for me:

“She Writes Press was founded by Brooke Warner and Kamy Wicoff in June 2012 for the purpose of providing an alternative publishing option to women writers. She Writes Press is for authors who want the freedom, control, and financial rewards of investing in their own books up front, without sacrificing the credibility and status that come with publishing under a highly selective imprint.”

Just what I’d been looking for! As a women’s rights advocate, I was thrilled there was an option just for women. As an older emerging writer, I felt valued by a publisher for the first time. Though my book was far from finished, I knew where it was headed and once I had this viable option, I wrote more seriously and finally got it done.

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She Writes Press is a hybrid press that is leading the charge toward a new way of publishing as the traditional houses, like Random House and Penguin, consolidate and focus their resources on celebrity writers or younger, more edgy authors. As a hybrid press, SWP acts like a traditional house in several respects. First, submitted manuscripts are curated, not every book is accepted and not all are accepted at the same level. Some need help with major issues and authors are sent back to the drawing board with an option of editorial help for a fee from the publisher. Some need copyediting by SWP before they are ready for printing. Others are accepted for publication as is. She Writes then guides the author through the design and publication process, providing support at every step along the path to publication. Like many traditional and smaller presses, SWP uses Ingram Publishers Services to distribute the books to book stores across the country.

What sets SWP and other reputable hybrid publishers, like Rootstock in Vermont, is that the up-front costs are paid by the writer. In other words, the writer rather than the publisher takes the risk on the book, but also reaps higher rewards from sales than traditional publishers seeking to make back advances paid to the author. As the traditional, big house publishing world shrinks, options like nonprofit presses (think Graywolf), small indie presses (think Fomite Press), self-publishers and hybrids are emerging as the places to find unusual and diverse voices. They’re not looking for blockbusters, they’re looking for good writing, unusual stories, and authors whose work may not sell thousands of copies but add something new and daring to our cultural discussions.

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 Publisher Brooke Warner is leading the charge to give this hybrid publishing the respect it deserves. In her book, Green Light Your Book, and her TEDx talk she urges us to take charge of our own creativity:

“Green lighters are not sitting around waiting for someone else to say yes to their dreams. They are artists, creators and makers who know that their creativity comes from someplace within and not out there.”  

Warner, formerly of Seal Press, is the champion for all the writers like me, who have a tale tell but may not fit the platform profile agents and the Big Five publishing houses are looking for.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when She Writes Press accepted my book as ready for publication, something only 5%-7% of manuscripts achieve. I have received much support in the form of group phone calls with the other authors in my cohort of Spring 2019 authors, webinars, and a helpful handbook. I find encouragement and tips on how to proceed and succeed from the She Writes community on a private Facebook page. I also had a chance to meet many of my fellow authors at the SWP retreat last fall. At She Writes Press, I found a home not just for my book, but for me as an author. And knowing She Writes is there, I dare to start my sequel!

A Dream to Die For Playlist

I know a lot of you are having trouble waiting all the way to July 16, 2019 to get your hands on a copy of A DREAM TO DIE FOR, but here’s a way to make the time fly by!

Get out your headphones and your dancing shoes and listen to this line up of “dreamy” songs on the A DREAM TO DIE FOR playlist on Spotify.

Let me know if you have any suggestions of music to add. Happy listening and sweet dreams!

https://open.spotify.com/user/1228729754/playlist/7FqbVDft0QV12nWl0UtBt5?si=-S6TqnJsSb2nID3Ogra1PA

My Writing Journey

I have been a writer as long as I can remember. I was one of those little girls who made up stories about my dolls and wrote them down in handmade books. Here is a picture of one of my early works, Misery, a hint that even as a kid, I was drawn to the darker side of life. I stole shamelessly from my fellow Minnesotan, Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts and best sellers like Happiness Is a Warm Puppy. Instead of happy incidents, I wrote sources of misery. “Misery is when you invite your best friend over the night and your brother socks her in the stomach and then she’s not your best friend anymore,” is one of the more memorable pages. The doll is meant to be the poor injured sister, aka me disguised as a blonde.

One of my first books

One of my first books

These initial forays into the world of writing were followed by fifty years of journaling, beginning when I was fifteen. My journals are a record of my traveling years first as a Friends World College student of social work and cultural anthropology. I was lucky enough to spend four years living and working in Kenya, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia. Later I recorded my years as a mother and hausfrau in a Bavarian village outside of Munich, Germany. I carefully documented my days in preparation for the memoirs I knew were in my future. But first, I wanted to live a life worth writing about.

A few of my journals

A few of my journals

In 1989, I moved to Montpelier, Vermont with my husband and three young children and decided I’d had enough adventures to finally get going on those memoirs. I joined a writing group and earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College to learn how to turn memories into stories for others to read. In the meantime, I wrote articles for many nonprofit newsletters and articles about women in agriculture, politics and small business for Local Banquet and Vermont Woman. I taught creative writing to adults and high school students and edited the Montpelier High School literary journal, Wild Onion Review.

 But those memoirs, the stories of my adventures overseas? They are still many works in progress. Writing about myself has never come easily for me, and the memoirs seemed to be going nowhere. As an escape from digging into my past, I found myself writing a mystery, a genre I knew little about. That mystery kept me busy off and on for many years, but finally I had a finished product, A Dream to Die For, to be released by She Writes Press on July 16, 2019. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it for you!

My ARCS arrived!

My ARCS arrived!