Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult by Rebecca Stott

I read this via BARD ( audio for the print disabled. It was the recording released commercially--read by Rebecca Stott herself. That contributes to the experience. I suspect some of the history might be difficult to wade through for anyone not personally vested in learning it if not for the author's own voice infusing emotion and personality.

I read this book three times in two weeks. I seldom reread a book inside of a year. So that should say something about its quality even if personal motives played a role.  Which they did.

Before I proceed I must correct the record of my three readings in my Goodreads review. I'd registered the book as 'reading' the day I started the second read and forgot so tried to fit the three reads between April 17 and 28 tho a closer look would have revealed that was less than ten days when I knew it had been two weeks on the 27th the day before the thon.  The correct dates are:

  • First read: April 13-16  listening at normal speed for the full effect of Rebecca's voice. 5hrs Friday.  3hrs Saturday.  1.5hrs Monday
  • Second read: April 17-24  listening with Mom at lunch 40 to 120 minutes at a time with a couple skipped days
  • Third read: April 28  for the read-a-thon listening at 225% speed, start to finish in 4.5hr focusing on facts, keeping the emotional maelstrom at bay

I can't share my reaction to this book without sharing my own story as the two are entwined. I was raised in a splinter off a splinter of the original Brethren sect which imploded in my late 30s. I kept telling myself that one year and then five, one decade and now two should be plenty of time to get past the trauma and move on but I keep stepping in mental and emotional mine fields. Following Rebecca's story as she lived through similar experiences resonates so with me its as tho a church bell rings inside me vibrating my bones.

Bibliography, citations and notes were not part of the recording. If they exist I need to find a copy so I can follow her sources. I'd be grateful for leads to any material shedding light on the history of the Brethren sects (Exclusive, Plymouth etc) and their spread across N. America and the globe (It was news to me it went global) and John Darby, C. I. Schofield, or our founder, Nels Thompson. I'm also interested in anything regarding fundamentalism of any religion including scholarly studies, diaries and biographies of members and memoirs of escapees. And anything relating to the psychology of fundamentalism and the aftermath for escapees, including any online support groups for escapees.

This book fits three genre. It is biography when telling her father's story, memoir when telling her own story and history when she follows the family trees back to the founding of the Brethren. The history sections sound like a professor wrote it--which is so after all. The professor often seems in control of the father's story. But when her story and his story converge it becomes memoir and that's where her writing shines. The history sections can be pedantic but when it's personal her story is moving, at times poetic; wrenching and dark but with moments of laugh-out-loud humor and often glowing with the dawn of hope.

I craved the history as I knew little from before our founder split from a Texas Plymouth Brethren Assembly in the early 1900s. My mom was a toddler when her family joined in California in the 30s.  My dad was in high school when his mom joined in Idaho in the early 50s. They met while the Longview, WA Meeting Hall was being built in the mid 50s.  The Hall I attended Meetings and other functions in several times a week until age 21.

With Rebecca's relating of the early history I now have a good sense of what happened between the 1830 founding and when John Darby split the Plymouth Brethren off and left Britain to found dozens of Assemblies across Canada and America using the traveling tent revival meetings to seed them.  I know only that much about the North America beginnings and wish to know more.  Stott had little to say about it other than their leader J.T. Jr. actually lived in New York. If she explained how it came about their British Assembly was controlled by an American I missed it. Three times!

It was heartbreaking to hear of families fractured by Withdrawal from any who did not join, believe without doubt or obey the rules without fail, and the many suicides as a result.  I witnessed similar splitting up of families. We called it Removal from Fellowship. After three generations families were so intermarried few escaped the trauma of separations. In the final implosion my Mom's twin sister's husband and my dad were on opposing sides and my Uncle kept their contacts rare and brief for the last decade of her sister's life.  I forgive most offences easily but that one...

I never heard of suicides due to Removals but I was suicidal for over a year as a result of the events leading to my own repudiation of the Doctrine between 1992-4, involving witnessing the abuse of children and recognizing it for what it was--a direct result of belief in the doctrine of Original Sin.  Watching an infant disciplined for crying, I said NO to any god who requires breaking a baby's will or use of corporeal discipline on a preverbal child.

My own father, who was the gentlest of men, spanked my buttocks and thighs black and blue one July 4th night when I stood in my crib screaming 'Boom. Boom. Mama' between wails for hours. I was 19mo. He 26yr. I have no memory of it. It's just a family story and Daddy's remorse was part of the story. I never experienced conscious trauma associated with it. But hearing of the time Rebecca's father beat her black and blue at age three because she would not stop crying on command triggered a series of flashbacks so intense it must mean the PTSD, quiescent so long I thought it conquered, has not released its grip. Maybe because I've self-isolated such that I get little exposure to the triggers. Or maybe unconscious memories still fester.

Rebecca relates incidences of physical abuse by the men against their children and wives. And mother's against their children. One of her grandmothers threw her daughter across the room, breaking her arm. The same grandmother who, epileptic and 'willfull' was committed to an asylum in Australia for over two decades.  A practice not uncommon with men who couldn't control their wives. That was not done in our Assemblies. Thank God for that!

Imagine growing up without holiday or birthday celebrations, TV, radio, music other than hymns or classical, movies, parties, card games, county fairs, amusement parks, proms, carnivals, parades, make-up, dancing, comic books...that was my mom's upbringing and to some extent mine. Tho many strictures were relaxing as I entered school we knew not to flaunt it in front of those who still held to them. Enforcement for us was via mild to moderate shaming. For Rebecca's family it was all of that and more with enforcement akin to the Inquisition (including coerced confessions of imaginary sins) with emotional torment instead of the rack and shunning instead of immolation.

The strictures Rebecca lived with until age 7 were much more confining than ours. The list of don'ts was long for us but at least they didn't forbid the library. I can't imagine my childhood without the library. Rebecca lucked out when a teacher who didn't know her parents forbade it gave her a pass to the library when she finished worksheets well inside the allotted time. There she found hope and windows into other worlds than her own.

I highly recommend this book. Especially to anyone who escaped, knows someone who escaped, or knows someone in a fundamentalist sect/cult. Or anyone wishing to know what life without freedom looks and feels like--when every thought is dictated and every act is witnessed with judging eyes; when the judge lives inside you monitoring everything and finding it wanting. So what if it destroys self-worth. You are not supposed to have a self.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

My Brain on Books XX

I am reading for The Office of Letters and Lights the folks who bring us NaNoWriMo today as I love what they are doing for literacy with their Young Writer's Programs and because I've participated in NaNo every year since 2004.  I have been blessed to have it in my life and would like to give something back if only kudos and link love.  I'm putting this plug at the top in hopes some who stop by will check out their site and see all the great things they do to foster love of reading and writing and story in kids. 

This post will be organized like a blog inside a blog with recent updates stacked atop previous ones. I may be posting some updates on Twitter @Joystory and the Joystory fb fanpage. But this is where I do anything more than a line or two.  Including mini-challenges that don't require a separate post..   

Monday-- Ok.  so I've updated with bookcovers and number of pages.  Except for those three chapters in the two novels I 'test drove' the first hour.  The total number of pages read from the six books I read cover to cover = 1274

Sunday 4:44AM: - I'm too wiped to add the book covers right now so I'm going to edit this tomorrow.  

Audio sped up is a miracle.  I haven't read more than one short book cover to cover in a single day in years.  And all six of these were started and finished inside the thon hours.  I'll add the true hours and the page numbers of the tree books when I add the covers so the extent of the miracle is more evident.

4:22AM: - 6th finish. Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution by Bernie Sanders.  (Audio via BARD ) 226 pages
  Bernie was my favorite for the 2016 election. It's amazing this is the only political book I got to this thon as they represent over 50% of my reading since the summer of the primaries.

2:22AM: - 5th finish. Keeping the Faith by Carol Clewlow.  (Audio via BARD ) 119 pages
  A novel featuring a teanage girl coming of age in a Plymouth Brenthren assembly in Britain.

11:22PM: - 4th finish. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd.  (Audio via BARD ) 304 pages
  Kidd had a spiritual awakening in her forties after witnessing two men oogling her 14 yr old daughter as she kneeled on the store floor stocking shelves.  She overhead them joking that that was how they liked their women--on their knees.  This forced her to take a closer look at the damage patriarchy was having on the hearts and minds and lives of women in our culture--Western culture in general but most disturbing to her was its entrenched influence in the Christian churches.  Her spiritual journey led her to learning about the female mystics in Christian history and the Goddess myths going back past Greek civilization.This reflects my own path since my journey began in 1994.

6:22PM: -  3rd finish. In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult by Rebecca Stott.  (Audio via BARD ) 320 pages  
 I started this shortly after posting the last update.  And 'read' this 9 hr BARD audio in just over 3 hours by listening ate 175$ and 200%.  Listening at light speed.  LOL.  This was the third time in 15 days that I've listened to this book from start to finish.  The first time alone and the second time with Mom.  Did not listen fast either of those times as this memoir was read by its author so I considered the value of the author's personality and emotion being undistorted higher than the value of speed.

It is rare for me to read a book twice inside a single year let alone three time inside a month.  That's a measure of the importance this book has for me.  It has had one of the most profound impacts on me of any book in the last decade at least.

It is a memoir of a woman the same age as my sister who was raised in the cult known as The Closed Brethren in Scotland in the sixties, which imploded over doctrinal disputes and a scandal involving it's leader in the early 70s.  It is about a rocky father/daughter relationship over the several decades after their family abandons the Brethren and they individually struggle to figure out how to conduct their lives after their understanding of God, faith, meaning, reason and the role of community and family has been shredded.

Not only is this similar to my own experience, her childhood was the same decade as mine but the troubles in our sect/cult that led to its implosion began around the same time as her family walked away it just took ours two decades to play out.  Probably the fact there was no sleazy scandal splashed across the international media.

The similarity of my experience to Rebecca's doesn't end there.  The reason I've read this three times in two weeks is that the cult itself is the same one ours splintered off of before WWII and i have only vague understanding of that history and crave any facts I can get and have had little luck finding reliable sources.

Our assembly broke away from one of the Plymouth Brethren assemblies in Texas that had been one of the many planted across the US and Canada in the late 1800s by John Darby himself after he'd splintered the Brethren assemblies in Britain which had had a fairly stable existence for over a generation before he joined them.

Rebecca Stott wasn't just any ex-fundie writing a memoir.  She is a professor and thus trained in research and had access to primary sources that enabled her to trace her family's involvement with the Brethren back five generations to it's founding in the 1830's.  Both of her parents' ancestors were there at the beginning.

As you can imagine I could go on and on about this story making connections to my story but that doesn't belong here.

12:22PM: - 2nd finish. Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You're Worth by Mika Brzezinski  (Audio via BARD ) 208 pages

Also listened to 50% of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd

Both books deal with the cultural patriarchy and its effect on the minds and lives of women.  MIka's focus is on equality in the workplace--especially parity in pay between men and women.  Sue's focus is the marginalizing of girls and women in the church community and the confining role definition imposed by doctrine and the effect that has on the spiritual life of a woman.

I love it when the ideas in two or more books are having a play date in my head.

While listening listening fast (150% +) I was busy transferring stuff out of drawers into boxes and  schlepping boxes of stuff between my office/crafts room and the room across the hall I share with Mom, Piling them on her bed.  Then with the room to move around the room that created and the sorting stations in the bedroom I proceeded to sort through all the jumble for the items I needed to have available whenever the need for them arose and putting them away in old or new 'homes'.  One of my goals for today is to move my printer from the cubby desk across the room to the desk beside me so it will be easier to access and the cubby desk will be available for a small sorting station I can use during the week when Mom is home and I can't pile her bed with stuff.

7:22AM: - First finish.  Scriptorium by Melissa Range.  A talking book via BARD 'read' on my Kindle Fire.  The blurb on Goodreads says it's 97 pages.  Must have been a lot of white space around these poems on the theme of meaning that combines deep theological and metaphysical musings with piquant prose renderings of the people and landscape of her Appalachian childhood. This will definitely require repeated readings to glean its full measure of goodness.  Especially since I was listening fast.

As a bibliophile I found her vivid descriptions of old pre-Gutenberg books and illuminated manuscripts fascinating.

Before I started listening to Scriptorium at 6AM I started two novels unintentionally.  I was scrolling through my GDrive with my Moon Plus reader ap on my Zen Pad, looking for a particular book I thought was already there and twice opened a book accidentally.  Both times I had to 'test drive' before deciding whether to unload or not.  The first one I read one chapter with my eyes and the second one I read two chapters with text-to-speech, increasing the speed by increments until I sensed comprehension suffering.  I backed off of 200% to 175% and listened to two chapters.

I don't usually listen that fast to fiction and probably won't when I return to the book.  That was an experiment which convinced me I could nearly double-time non-fic that wasn't too complex.  That's still far from as fast as I read when my eyes were younger.  Normal speech averages 240 wpm so at 175% it's probably still under 500 wpm and that is less than half the speed I was clocked senior year.  But 400+ is much better than the 120-150 my Kindle and Zen Pad have been measuring me at for the last year or two.

The two books were, in order, Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel and Our Daily Bread by Lauren B. Davis.  The latter I may return to before the end of the thon as it fits one of the themes I'm currently focused on as related in the intro meme below.

4:44AM - l am prepping this ahead and scheduling it to post at 4:44 AM which is also when my alarm is set.  That gives me time to get up and take care of biological business including fixing coffee and water bottle.

Am including the intro meme here so I don't have to spend the first hour preparing it as so often has happened before.  In fact much of it is copy/pasted from previous Thons.

I'm going to spend the first hour actually reading!

Intro Meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Longview, Washington USA.  On the north side of the majestic Columbia River approximately 25 miles from the coast and 50 miles from Portland, Oregon as the crow flies.

From my Mom's house.  The house I lived in from age 18 to 21 and again since January 2013.  See earliest posts under the label Lifequake for explanation.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

For fiction: The Miracle Life of Edgar MInt by Brady Udall

For nonfiction: The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd

But mostly I'm looking forward to free range reading.  The most important part of my plan for this thon is to not have a plan.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Spicy Avocado Humus and Chili w/tortilla chips
And Chocolate. Anything chocolate.  Even if it has to be chocolate powder out of the can.
Not at the same time!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I was raised in a cult that imploded over doctrinal disputes in the early 90s as I neared 40.  I then began to teach myself to think for myself.  The last few years there has been an internal struggle between the need to own my own thoughts by speaking them and the fear of doing so.  The fear has been winning.  First my blog posting fizzled out then all my other writing.  This is not sustainable.  Without my writing I am not I.  What's the use of knowing how to think for myself if my self won't own herself.  Several of the books on my stack today address these issues--fundamentalism, thinking, selfness, courage, activism, writing....

I'm legally blind from RP aka Tunnel Vision with less than 2 degrees of vision left.  I can no longer read even large print with my left eye.  I now prefer ebooks for the ability to enlarge fonts and control line width so I don't loose my way between end and beginning of lines.  I used to read nearly 1K words per minute but now read slower than I talk.  Very discouraging.

But in the last year I've started listening to audio books via my access to LOC Talking Books and BARD.  And also via text to speech.  And often I speed up the delivery to between 110-175%.  I discovered that I listen better when i listen faster--better focus, comprehension and retention.

I intend to use audio predominantly this thon as I am in the middle of a huge sort and organize project that I can only work on when Mom is away on weekends so, as I've been doing a lot lately I'm going to listen while I work.

I've had a mood disorder since childhood featuring depression, anxiety, panic and insomnia.  Several times professionals have considered the possibility of bi-polar but finally ruled it out definitively in late 2015 when they diagnosed me with High Functioning Autism aka Asperger's.  Over fifty years of feeling 'wrong' and not knowing why.  I've spent the months since reading nf about the autism spectrum and novels and memoirs featuring autistic individuals which has gone a long way toward helping me understand much that once confused and shamed me.  Since I have several of those books in progress I'll probably dip into them today.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

The most important difference after actually sleeping the night before is to go with the flow--less plan more fun.

Stay hydrated!
Get up and move once an hour.  You can read while you pace you know.
Blink.  Seriously.  Dry eyeballs can't see.  And the hands rubbing them can't hold books.

Ode to Dewey
by Joy Renee
We Miss You Dewey


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