Illuminating Statues of Women and their stories
I’m Jeanne Mullins, a speech-language pathologist who writes. I say it like that because in my heart both careers started around the same time. It was if there was a linguistic explosion going on inside my brain where both oral and written language simultaneously awakened. Communication became my raison d’être and writing enveloped me like a fuzzy blanket. I was hooked—not on phonics like many of my speech-pathology colleagues –but on the printed word.
Soon after I received my speech-language pathology license I left New York behind and headed south to North Carolina for a job with a rehab agency. I had worked on a research project with a professor in graduate school and he was presenting the findings at a national convention. I tagged along to New Orleans; a city I soon learned was rife with stories. Not even Ann Rice could contain them all. I’m not sure what happened, chalk it up to bad air or poor filtration systems in either the hotel of convention center, but I contracted pneumonia.
Back at home one night, after taking a regime of antibiotics, I had a dream that a wolf licked my ear. It perked me up from my cough-ridden slumber. It was a pleasant feeling, one that took me by surprise. I am not an animal lover and the notion of a wet sloppy animal tongue usually nauseated me. Yet here I was sick as a dog, enjoying a wet kiss from a canine cousin. The dream persisted as did the feelings of pleasure. But a few days later the dream ended around the same time that my fever broke. The wolf was gone as were the kisses. I longed for both. But what remained was the seed of a story. My first novel, Pregnant Pause, grew from that dream, and the ear-licking wolf sprouted into a smooth-talking Zen-like seductive wolf who nurtures a convalescing twice-blessed pregnant woman to term. That novel was the start of my writing journey. One that I still walk today. I can’t help but think that if my speech-language pathology career hadn’t called me to New Orleans, I wouldn’t have contracted the germ from “the soup bowl”. No germ-no germination. No wolf story. No writing journey.
Ideas come from many sources as you will see the longer you follow this blog. While my first writing idea grew from an evocative dream, my second novel found its inspiration from a statue, specifically a block of chiseled stone carved in the likeness of Florence Martus, or Waving Girl, as she is known in Savannah, Georgia. If you are new to this blog, a good place to begin is to follow the Blog or Gallery drop down option so you can learn more about the power of monuments, especially women statues and how they inspire, entertain, educate and bewitch us.
But one thing you should know about this site. It blurs the lines between fact and fiction. When I first started writing I hid behind fiction. It was much easier for me to tell the story truthfully when the characters were slightly camouflaged. Hiding their real identity wasn’t done to protect the person, given them anonymity, or to spare their feelings but purposefully to give me control of the story. Fiction allowed me the opportunity to re-write dialogue and to navigate the outcome. Real life didn’t always turn out the way I had wanted it to. People didn’t always say things I thought they should. So, pen in hand, I re-wrote the story. Most of what I thought I gained from the fiction was closure, a way for me to deal with personal issues minus the natural intrusions. But a funny thing happened to me along my writing journey; I started to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Gone were the smoke screens and the smoking mirrors. The result was an honest, sometimes brutal account of my life and all its transgressions. Certainly age played a part. The more I glimpsed my own mortality, the easier it was to confront dilemmas head on. But old habits die hard and fiction, at least historical fiction, kept encroaching in the spaces between the words and my world.
Now I write with a mix of fiction, historical fiction, creative non-fiction and fiction. I hope it doesn’t matter to you if this site is a hybrid of sorts. Some of the narratives about the women immortalized in stone are non-fiction. Everything you read about them is fact-based. This is the case with Elisabeth Cady Stanton and Martha Washington. But other women’s back stories, specifically Waving Girl and Joan of Arc have been embellished. In Waving Girl’s case is was because there was a paucity of information surrounding her bland tag line, “she waved at ships for 44 years” and for Joan of Arc it was because I couldn’t let her story rest. I needed to give her an update. Centuries later, would the world still conspire to silence such a remarkable young woman? Then there are the statues such as Fearless Girl, that aren’t about one specific female but a universal trait, in this case fearlessness. These are perhaps my favorite ones. There can be different creation stories which makes these statues so thrilling. My Fearless Girl story, essential about overcoming bulling, isn’t written in stone. You could create your own Fearless Girl tale. How fun would that be?
I hope you will read along with me as a kind of arm chair traveler. Each statue has her own voice and her own place in the world, figuratively and literally. Some statues are fixed and static, others are based on fact but embellished with grit and some beg for interpretation. But one thing is clear- all of these women rock!
Writing on the wings of words