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Melodi Gawryletz’s Interview with WIPC

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  • How does it feel to be the 1st place winner of the 2017 Women Inspirational Poetry Contest?

To have a personal work recognized is, for sure, a huge honor. I was certainly surprised to see an email from Oneal informing me that “Stolen Innocence” had been selected, especially since I had surrendered any expectations for it. I feel so incredibly grateful to have an opportunity to share this passion for the abused and trafficked through written word. It is so important for artists of all types to be activists. Creative expression can be so powerful. Society generally welcomes the artist and the messages that they bring. Voices need to be given to those who have none, and I feel this poem does that.

  • When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I have always been an internal processor, instead of a verbal one. Writing has been an extension of that inner voice, mostly through personal journaling. I remember as a little girl, sitting in a tree, wanting so much to be able to express myself through poetry; trying, but not really succeeding. I put it on the shelf. It wasn’t until I had my own children and was helping them with school poetry and early music composition that I realized that poems were coming out of me and I knew there were more. I heard recently that we spend the first half of our lives getting established, and the second half wanting to make an impact. Some people get it all together and completed in the first half, but it is okay to be a late bloomer.

  • You made a decision to place Julie before Jenny, which was great because it maintained tension within the poem. Why did you share Julie’s story first?

I shared Julie’s story first because I felt it was not as harsh as Jenny’s somehow. It leads the reader along a path.

  • What makes Julie so special to you as the writer. Is it her age? Is it her abuse? Is it the betrayal by her mother?

Julie and Jenny are both fictional characters, a compilation of women’s stories, yet aspects of each story belong to so many real life people. What strikes me the most about Julie’s story is how it progresses. It begins with betrayal, but it does not stop there. She extends the shame that was put on her by someone else into shame that she then puts onto herself through her own choices.

Any one abused at any age can believe that there is something fundamentally, inherently wrong with them that is causing them to be treated that way. That is the definition of unhealthy shame- believing you are wrong at your core. This is different from shame and guilt resulting from doing something wrong. Once shame becomes our core belief, it can then direct traffic – directing our next choices, causing us to further hurt ourselves or others. Shame attacks our core beliefs. Our words and actions are a result of our core beliefs.

  • You mentioned, “shame and torment, can’t scrub it away”, this might have been my favorite part of the poem. Why do victims want to remove the shame of the abuse when the violence against them isn’t their fault?

Doctorates have been completed on the subject of shame. It is as old as the Garden of Eden. Lies we hear and own – that we are bad or wrong, not good enough – these can get cemented into our souls in the midst of trauma. I believe that on some level, we are all schooled in shame. I think the question might be, “Why do we agree to take on other people’s shame and make it our own?”

From my JudeoChristian worldview, we are all wonderfully created with individual identity, destiny and purpose. Unhealthy shame, through abuse and rejection, is an effective ploy of the enemy of our souls to keep us stumbling in the dark, unable to find our true identity. We unwittingly agree with those lies and own them without even knowing that is what we have done. So, when we confront the lies we have believed, see ourselves as God sees us, forgive ourselves and others and receive God’s forgiveness for our own wrong deeds, we can then begin to rid shame of its power, find healing and freedom. Unfortunately, we cannot just scrub the shame and torment away.

  • Do you think society or family traditions force victims to accept unjustified blame for sexual violence?

Indeed. Our society is often part of a rape culture where sexual violence, especially against women, is justified through rape myths. Rape culture expresses itself when women are questioned about what they did to instigate their victimization, where colleges are more concerned about getting sued by the attacker than in assisting the assaulted. It is where the victim is accused of lying or shamed somehow when they come forward.

(Maxwell, 2014. http://time.com/40110/rape-culture-is-real/).

In this type of culture the rapist appears to have more rights than the raped. This all requires the individual to accept unjustified blame.

Just recently, in another country, a 19 year old woman was sentenced to death after being raped by an extended family member at gunpoint. This is not an isolated event. In some situations, family honor is placed above the value of human life and family traditions also force victims to accept unjustified blame. We try to avoid shame at all costs and a natural instinct is to blame others.

  • You mentioned in your poem, “now selling herself, hitting the street”, this is a harsh reality for young girls. Do you think it’s common for families to disown or not believe the victim?

Yes, I think it is common for families to disown or not believe the victim, and also to perhaps know about the abuse but do nothing. There may be a few reasons for this. The most aggressive reason is the fear of shame itself. To acknowledge what has gone on requires someone to take a stand, confront shame face to face and possibly become a target themselves. Sometimes, as family members we just don’t know what to do. Disowning or not believing is the easy thing to do. Also, we often have to be able to embrace our own experiences of shame or pain before we can come alongside another. Being confronted with someone else’s victimization is inconvenient. It will be uncomfortable if it brings up things in our own lives that we have not dealt with.

  • Your poem displays themes of ‘family betrayal’ and ‘powerlessness’. Which theme is bigger to you and why?

Both themes are pregnant with tragedy. I believe that powerlessness is more encompassing and certainly family betrayal can lead to powerlessness, not necessarily the other way around.

  • How important is it to share the stories of Julie and Jenny to WIPC readers?

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe the stories of Julie and Jenny represent so many voices silenced by fear, shame, powerlessness and despair and they must be told. I see no other way to bring about change than to humanize the truth, to shine light on the deeds of darkness, and raise the battle cry for freedom.

  • What words of encouragement do you have for new writers?

There is unique and equal value in talent, technique and passion. Understanding effective literary tools to create vivid word pictures and powerful emotional connections is helpful. Skillful navigation, for example, of all the elements of a story is necessary for a successful story. But, the more we can embody empathy and vulnerability, the more trust and read worthy we become. And of course, the more compelled we are to share an idea, the easier it becomes.

So, find your inner voice and allow it to flow through your fingertips. Have fun! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Look for feedback. The grand literary masterpiece of the world will not be complete without the artistry you alone can inscribe.

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