book reviews, celebrities

My thoughts on Out of the Corner: A Memoir, by Jennifer Grey…

I remember the very first time I saw the actress, Jennifer Grey, practicing her craft. She was in the 1984 right-wing propaganda film, Red Dawn, with the late actor and dancer, Patrick Swayze. I was 12 years old when that film came out. Red Dawn has a couple of things to distinguish it. It was the very first film to get a PG-13 rating, and it was also widely regarded as the most violent film of its time and was even listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for a time. As a 12 year old, I loved Red Dawn. I remember it got me all fired up about being American. Now that I’m almost 50, have lived in a formerly Soviet country, and have now seen Russia invade Ukraine, I see Red Dawn for the conservative agenda bullshit that it is.

Jennifer and Patrick in Red Dawn.

In Red Dawn, Jennifer Grey played a teenager named Toni Mason. She and her sister, Erica (played by Lea Thompson), were members of a group of teenaged guerillas who fought back against invading communists in an effort to save the United States from Godless Russia. Having just read Grey’s life story, Out of the Corner: A Memoir (2022), I know that politically speaking, Jennifer Grey is a liberal. She’s also very Jewish. I’m sure it’s bizarre for her to realize that she took part in making a film that, back in 2009, the National Review considered one of the best “conservative” films. Three years after she was in Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze, the two would reluctantly meet again in a low budget film called Dirty Dancing. They would play very different roles in 1987’s Dirty Dancing— and although they hadn’t been friends on Red Dawn, they would emerge from that film as forever memorable. That movie and its famous line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” would propel Swayze and Grey to 80s era superstardom.

The show stopper!

I decided to read Jennifer Grey’s book after I read an article about an uncomfortable conversation she once had with Matthew Broderick’s mother, Patsy. The article was based on a passage in Out of the Corner about Grey’s long relationship with Matthew Broderick, whom she’d worked with on the classic John Hughes film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Jennifer was caught alone with Patsy, whom she describes as someone who couldn’t abide lies and was a straight shooter to the point of being unbearably blunt. Patsy told Jennifer that her famous father, Broadway star, Joel Grey, was gay. Although it was not necessarily a secret that Joel Grey’s sexual orientation was that of a homosexual, Jennifer Grey hadn’t realized it. So, when Patsy broke the news to her, Jennifer was legitimately shocked. Not long afterwards, her parents were divorced. Joel Grey officially “came out” in 2015, when he was 82 years old.

Jennifer Grey has been in show business her whole life. Her parents were successful actors, so she spent her youth living in either New York or California with her parents and her adopted brother, Jimmy. Grey was born on March 25, 1960, which makes her 62 years old today. It’s hard to reconcile that with the young actress I knew in the 80s. It doesn’t seem like the 80s were that long ago. And yet here I sit, a week before my 50th birthday! I can hardly believe how time flies. Grey’s first professional gig was in the late 70s, when she was in a classic Dr. Pepper commercial, working as a dancer!

There she is, a nameless teenager who would eventually be known for “Dirty Dancing”.

One thing Jennifer Grey was well known for, especially back in the 80s, was her prominent nose. That nose made her unique, and she writes at the beginning of her book that she hadn’t wanted to get it “fixed”. She finally decided to have it refined a little bit, but told the surgeon that she wanted the effect to be very subtle. Even though Jennifer’s parents had both had nose jobs before Jennifer was even born, she was very proud of her proboscis. Grey was very satisfied with the results of the first surgery. Unfortunately, she had to go under the knife again when a sliver of bone was visible on her nose. When she went to have that corrected, the surgeon performed a more extensive reconstruction that made her almost unrecognizable.

According to Out of the Corner, Grey has been through other health issues in her life. In 1987, while she and Matthew Broderick were still in a relationship, they went to Ireland, where Broderick’s parents owned a cottage in County Donegal. While they were there, Broderick’s mother called and said she was going to come visit them. Grey writes that the relationship was already on the skids, but she also didn’t want to have to deal with Patsy again– remembering how she’d insensitively outed her father. So she made plans to go back to the States and prepare for the premiere of Dirty Dancing. On the way to Dublin, where Grey planned to spend the night and then catch a plane back home, she and Broderick were involved in a terrible car accident. Matthew Broderick was badly injured, and two local women– a mother and daughter– died. Jennifer was less so injured… or so she thought at the time. Years later, it was revealed that she’d suffered extreme whiplash as a result of that accident that had almost internally decapitated her. In 2010, she would have spinal surgery as she was about to appear on Dancing With the Stars. She’s also had thyroid cancer, gave birth to a daughter, and had an embarrassing interview with Johnny Carson.

All of these subjects and more are covered in Out of the Corner. Grey writes pretty well, occasionally using creatively constructed phrasing to tell her story. On two occasions, she also incorrectly uses the word “jettison”; I think she was confusing it with the word “rocketed”. In her book, Grey uses “jettison” as if it means to “blast off”. The word “jettison” actually refers to casting off things from a vessel in order to lighten the load. But that’s a minor quibble that will be easily missed or overlooked. Overall, I found Out of the Corner to be an easy page turner. Grey is very forthcoming about her story, and includes some juicy tidbits about well-known actors she worked with or knew as friends or lovers. Apparently, Grey was quite the partier back in the day, too, but she’s since cleaned up her act… at least when it comes to drinking and drugging. Her language, on the other hand, is pretty salty. I don’t mind that at all, though. I like cussing, too. But if you’re sensitive to cursing, Out of the Corner might not be a good book for you to read.

The style in which Grey shares her story is, to use a musical term, a bit staccato. Each chapter within the three parts of the book reads like separate stories. The book isn’t strung together in a continuum, which may bother some readers. Personally, I didn’t mind it too much. There were a few parts of the book that were a bit slower to get through than others. Once I got to the 80s and Jennifer’s career was taking off, the pacing of the book accelerates. I got into it yesterday and couldn’t put it down… and in fact, I even watched Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off during the afternoon! That was a hefty dose of nostalgia between allergic sneezes (another reason I stayed home).

Some readers who remember the 80s may find themselves forming new opinions about people like Matthew Broderick, Penelope Ann Miller, Johnny Depp, and Helen Hunt. I could tell that Grey and Broderick had a very intense relationship in which there were also a lot of painful memories. Unfortunately, Broderick wasn’t the most faithful boyfriend. On the other hand, although Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze hadn’t been friends on the set of Red Dawn, they later understood each other better. I enjoyed reading Grey’s comments about Swayze, especially since she writes that he wasn’t her type. I understand how that goes… yes, he was a very handsome man and a brilliant dancer, but I can understand why he didn’t ring her chimes, in spite of their incredible on screen chemistry.

I enjoyed reading Out of the Corner. I would probably enjoy knowing Jennifer Grey. I don’t care that she cusses. I enjoyed remembering the 80s, not just by reading her book, but by watching the films Jennifer Grey has made. Hell, I’m even watching her on Dancing With the Stars now, completely amazed by her dance skills. And now she can call herself a writer, too. She’s truly a woman of many talents!

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book reviews, mental health, narcissists, psychology

A review of My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me: A true story of betrayal and a shocking family secret by Helen Naylor…

Today, I made a concerted effort to finish reading my latest book, My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me: A true story of betrayal and a shocking family secret by Helen Naylor. This book was just published in November 2021. I decided to read it because I’m a sucker for true stories, especially when they are about people who have psychological issues. I’ve always found Munchausen’s Syndrome to be a fascinating disorder, although this was the first time I had seen a book about Munchausen’s Syndrome and not its related malady, Munchausen’s By Proxy.

Munchausen’s Syndrome, also known as “factitious disorder imposed on self”, is a psychological disorder in which a person either feigns illness or injury, or deliberately makes themselves ill. They do so to get narcissistic supply, attention, comfort, or sympathy from healthcare providers, their friends, and especially their families. People with Munchausen’s Syndrome exaggerate any real symptoms they have, often insisting that physicians do very thorough examinations, procedures, and tests. They are often hospitalized, and they have a tendency to know a lot about diseases.

If you search this blog, you’ll find that I’ve already reviewed a couple of books about Munchausen’s By Proxy (MbP). One book was written by a woman who was raised by a narcissistic mother who constantly and deliberately made her ill so that she could get narcissistic supply from medical professionals. The other is a true crime book about a social worker who adopted two babies from Korea in the 1970s and deliberately made them sick, resulting in the death of one of the babies. Again, it was so she could get attention and regard from medical professionals, praising her for her devotion and dedication to her children. MbP is an especially horrifying disorder, as it’s often imposed on people who are helpless, like children, elderly people, or the disabled.

In British author Helen Naylor’s case, she was not a victim of her mother doing horrifying things to her physically in order to get attention. Instead, it was Helen’s mother, Elinor, whom Helen describes as a narcissist, who was making up illnesses and demanding attention from her family and friends. Elinor is now deceased, but Helen writes that her mother pretended to have chronic illnesses for about thirty years. Helen’s father, who predeceased his wife by some years, actually was debilitated with a serious heart disease. When he passed away, Helen, as the only child, was left to take care of her mother, whose constant pleas for attention and emotional outbursts caused real hardships for Helen, who was also married and raising two small children.

For years, Helen endured the constant dramas and stresses surrounding her mother’s mysterious illness, called ME in the book. I looked up ME and found it defined as myalgic encephalomyelitis, perhaps better known to us Yanks as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS made a lot of news back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Elinor Page had supposedly contracted ME at around that time. The ME made it difficult for Elinor to care for young Helen, whom she described as a “difficult child”. Helen writes of her mother not having the energy to take her places or spend time with her. Or, so it seemed, anyway.

Throughout her life, Helen’s mother required her daughter to attend to her every need. She convinced many people that she was very sick, and Helen soon found herself being scrutinized and judged by other people, who expected her to take care of her mother. Most of those people never saw Elinor’s true personality. Most of them never saw Elinor when she was full of energy and fully capable of socializing and taking care of herself. They only saw the fake persona she put on in a pathetic bid for sympathy and attention. Elinor would do things like deliberately starve herself so that she looked sicker and weaker. She would stage falls near emergency pull cords and insist that she was in dire need of medical attention. She would get the attention, and nothing notable would be found. Elinor would demand full time “carers”, but she didn’t really need them. So she would call her daughter, who was very busy with her own life and raising her own children.

After Elinor died, Helen found her mother’s diaries, which she kept quite religiously. It was after she read them that Helen realized just how psychologically sick her mother was, even though she insisted that she was debilitated by ME and later by Parkinson’s Disease. Elinor did have mild Parkinsonism, which is not the same as the full blown disease. But Elinor wanted to be regarded as very ill, and she would do all she could to convince people that she was unwell and needed hospital care. I think it’s important to point out that again, this book is set in the United Kingdom, which has the National Health Service. So, while these repeated medical episodes would cost a lot in the United States, money to pay for Elinor’s repeated medical visits and hospitalizations was much less of an issue in England.

I’ll be honest. I found this book compelling, but kind of hard to get through. There were a few parts of the book at which I started to think I didn’t like it very much. But then, toward the end of the book, when Helen writes about the extreme drama her mother put her through as she was trying to raise her children, my heart went out to her. I realized just how incredibly toxic that situation was for everyone involved. Yes, it was very hard on Helen, her husband, Peter, and their two children, Bailey and Blossom, but I think it must have been very hard on Elinor, too. At one point, Helen writes an insightful comment about what had caused Elinor to behave in this way. She was desperate for attention, and must have felt she would die without it.

Of course, it’s easy to have sympathy for the person with Munchausen’s Syndrome when you’re not the person having to deal with their constant emergencies and pleas for attention, coupled with the angry tirades, dismissive hairflips, and outright dramatic scenes that come from narcissists. Having heard from my husband’s daughter about what it was like for her to grow up with a narcissistic mother, I definitely felt for Helen Naylor.

It really is tough when your mother is not a mom. And you are forced to grow up years before your time, taking care of things that children shouldn’t have to worry about. And that demand for duty continues even after you’ve come of age, left the house, gotten married, and have small children of your own to tend. In my husband’s daughter’s case, at least there are siblings– notably, her older sister, who has been recruited to stay home and take care of their mother and youngest brother, who is legitimately disabled. Poor Helen was an only child. And her mother had enlisted a number of “flying monkeys”– friends who were there to help do her dirty work, guilting, and grifting. Helen Naylor didn’t have a “mum”– as she put it. She had a mother who parasitically fed off of her own daughter– for narcissistic supply and to serve as an emotional punching bag. Later, when she found her mother’s diaries, she realized that not only had her mom been faking everything for decades, but Helen was also severely neglected as a helpless baby. She suffered an unexplained and untreated broken arm at six months old, and her mother would leave her alone for hours while she went out drinking.

When I finished My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me this afternoon, I came away with a basically positive opinion of it. It’s reasonably well-written and offers a different look at Munchausen’s. Again, most of the books I’ve seen about Munchausen’s are written about mothers who make their children sick. This book is about a woman who deliberately made herself sick or schemed to make herself look like she’d taken a fall. She fooled a lot of people, except for those who caught her when her facade had slipped. I would imagine that when that happened, it was also traumatic and embarrassing for Helen, who had to deal with the fact that her mother did this stuff. It’s pretty clear to me that Helen is normal and just wants to be a good mom and wife.

People who have to deal with narcissists often hear about going “no contact”. I’m pretty sure that Helen’s husband eventually advocated for that. Or, at least not coming right away when Elinor called. But it’s very hard to turn your back on your own mom. I’m sure that is what kept Helen trapped for so many years. Now that her mother is dead, Helen no longer gets the dramatic phone calls from her mother or people taking care of her mother or worse, finding out that her mother has been hospitalized or moved days after the fact. She no longer has to deal with her mother’s friends, trying to horn in on overseeing her mother’s care and take her things. The traumatic memories linger, however, and I’m sure she is still haunted by them. When I stop and think about just how much this must have been for Helen to deal with, it just blows my mind.

Anyway… I think My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me is well worth reading for those who are interested in psychology, narcissists, or unusual psychological disorders. I will warn that this book is written in a distinctly British style, so some of the terminology and slang may be foreign to American readers. Personally, I found this book kind of hard to finish, but I appreciated that it offers a different perspective of people who need attention so badly that they have to make themselves or other people sick.

It’s pretty clear that Elinor is primarily very narcissistic, but she has a number of other behaviors that augment that already unbearable personality trait. She has the Munchausen’s, but there are also elements of a potential eating disorder and perhaps body dysmorphic disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. She must have been a miserable person, and I am sure she was very miserable to be around. I hope wherever she is now, she’s finally resting in peace. And I hope writing this book helps bring peace and closure to her long suffering daughter.

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celebrities, disasters, music, obits, YouTube

Hana Horka bets and loses on deliberately catching COVID-19…

Yesterday, I wrote that I’m really tired of reading and hearing about COVID-19, and all of the preaching related to the virus. That’s still a true statement. However, this morning I read a very sad news story about Hana Horka, a woman from the Czech Republic who deliberately exposed herself to COVID-19. Why? Because like Germany, the Czech Republic is making life harder for the unvaccinated by denying them entry to restaurants, theaters, saunas, and the like. Unfortunately, her decision cost her dearly. Instead of heading for the nearest spa, newly recovered from COVID-19, this woman– only 57 years old when she died– is headed to the Great Beyond– whatever that is.

The story goes that Hana Horka, who was a member of famed Czech band Asonance, was against being vaccinated. Her son, Jan Rek, said that it wasn’t because she believed in any ridiculous conspiracy theories. She didn’t think, for instance, that anyone getting a vaccine was going to be implanted with microchips or have their DNA changed in some way. Rather, Rek says that his mother simply preferred to get COVID and have “natural immunity” to the virus instead of getting a vaccine.

According to Rek, over the Christmas holidays, he and his father, who are both fully vaccinated, both tested positive for COVID-19. Horka determined that this would be her chance to finally contract COVID-19 and qualify for a health pass. So, instead of isolating herself and avoiding her sick family members, Hana Horka deliberately exposed herself to COVID. She looked forward to getting the virus and eventually recovering, which would allow her the ability to, once again, access fun venues that are denied to unvaccinated people in many parts of Europe. Having recovered from the virus, Horka would also have been allowed to perform with Asonance without having to be vaccinated.

At first, it looked like her plan had worked. Two days before she died, Horka posted on social media, “I survived… It was intense. Now there will be theatre, sauna, a concert… and an urgent trip to the sea”. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

On the morning of her untimely death, Horka was feeling better. She got dressed to take a walk. But then her back started to hurt, so she went to her bedroom for a rest. Ten minutes later, she was dead, having choked to death.

I obviously don’t know what happened to cause Horka’s sudden demise, but I have read that COVID can cause blood clots. Perhaps she had a pulmonary embolism, which I know can and does kill people very suddenly. But her son mentions choking, which doesn’t sound like the same thing. Anyway, it’s a very sad loss, especially for her family members and friends, but also for anyone who enjoyed her talents. Asonance is the oldest folk band in the Czech Republic. I have no doubt that Horka’s music was beloved by many of her fellow Czechs as well as others around the world.

Hana Horka at work with her band. The music is over for her, now. I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat listening to this.

Horka’s son, Jan Rek, says that he blames the many “anti-vax” groups across Europe who have been protesting vaccine mandates. Approximately 63 percent of the population in the Czech Republic are fully vaccinated. Many of those who aren’t vaccinated have been protesting and rebelling against the government’s new restrictions. There are also reports of anti-vax groups holding “COVID parties”, in much the same way people in the 1970s deliberately exposed children to chicken pox. People who can prove that they have recovered from COVID-19 don’t have to be vaccinated, and they aren’t subjected to the restrictions that punish those who refuse to comply with vaccine mandates.

Rek says the anti-vax groups have “blood on their hands.” According to the Daily Beast, Rek also added:

“I know exactly who influenced her… It makes me sad that she believed strangers more than her proper family… It wasn’t just total disinformation but also views on natural immunity and antibodies acquired through infection.”

Rek said that it was pointless to discuss the merits of getting the vaccine with his mom because the discussion would very quickly become “emotional”. I heard similar comments about one of my unvaccinated sisters from my own mom, who had expressed concern to me that she refused the shots. Mom told me that she couldn’t talk to my sister about her worries, because my sister would very quickly get upset with her. Rek says that now he’s telling his mother’s story, hoping that might persuade some people to get vaccinated. It occurs to me that my sister, who has spent too much time in North Carolina, has a habit of saying “Holy Hannah!” as an exclamation. I can’t help but realize the next time I hear her say that, I’ll probably think of “Holy Hana…” in honor of this singer, who may very well literally be holy now.

I know that yesterday, I complained about the pandemic preaching and lectures on social media. I still do find that an annoying practice. However, I think sharing stories like this one is a valuable practice. The main difference is, like anyone else who has had direct experience with COVID, Hana Horka was a living, breathing, singing person who made real and measurable differences in people’s lives. In Hana’s case, it was obviously with her music, but I know there were other gifts she had that other people enjoyed. She made an unfortunate choice, that ultimately led to her destruction. Her story isn’t a “stale” meme, and it’s not been passed around social media like a plate of microwaved hors d’oeuvres at a party. This is real news, and unfortunately, Hana Horka is just one more face to add to the tragic tapestry of COVID-19 deaths.

Look at how much Hana Horka loved to perform. I wish I had discovered this band in a different way… not because a member died of COVID, but because they make beautiful music.
I think it’s profoundly sad that Hana can no longer sing with her band, all because of a tiny, destructive, deadly virus.

So, as much as I am sick and tired of face mask preaching social media posts, COVID-19 lectures, and arguments among friends and family, I do appreciate stories about real people who made choices, and how those choices worked out for them in the end. I do pay attention to their stories and I don’t laud their deaths. Listening to the videos above, I know that Hana Horka’s death is a real loss to many people. I wish she had chosen differently, and I hope her story informs those who need to know about it. But obviously, people are going to do what they’re going to do, and they’re going to believe what they’re going to believe.

My heart goes out to Horka’s family… especially her son, who obviously grieves for her. I’m sure it’s especially heartbreaking for him to know that his mother got the virus from him and his father. He probably lives with an especially hellish form of survivor’s guilt over that. I wish peace and comfort for them all.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Not Without My Sister– an absolutely appalling book on many levels…

Here’s a very serious trigger warning. This book review is about a story that includes discussion of child abuse on all levels. If you are particularly sensitive to such content, please consider moving to your next Internet station.

Last night, I finally finished a book I’ve been struggling to finish for the past few weeks. The 2012 book is titled Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed by Those They Trusted. It was written by Celeste Jones, Juliana Buhring, and Kristina Jones (I’m assuming her name was Jones at one point– she is an author, but wasn’t noted on Amazon). Obviously, based on the title, I knew the book wasn’t going to be particularly light and uplifting. I decided to read it because I am fascinated by weird religious cults. The three authors of this book, half-sisters who had the same father, Christopher Jones, grew up in a very sick and abusive sex cult. Their parents were followers of David Berg’s Children of God cult, now known as The Family International.

David Berg founded the Children of God in Huntington Beach, California, back in 1968. He originally called his group Teens for Christ, and it mostly consisted of young “hippie”, “lost youth” types, many of whom were musically talented drifters. The group eventually changed its name to Children of God, and communes were founded all around the world. Members of the cult would busk, sell tapes and literature, and collect donations. The members would build their memberships by engaging in what they called “flirty fishing”, using sex to hook new people. Basically, they would bring in “hormonal converts”, a tried and true way for religious organizations to get more bodies.

Interview about a Children of God Survivor. This lady is also very graphic about what she went through.

By 1972, the Children of God cult had 130 communities around the world. By many yardsticks, that number of communes meant that the movement had achieved great success. However, the members were living in squalor, and the poor children who were born into the cult suffered horrific abuse on every imaginable level. That horrific abuse is basically what Not Without My Sister is about.

Celeste, Juliana, and Kristina were three sisters who were lucky enough to sort of know each other on some level. Celeste’s and Kristina’s mother left the cult when she was very young, so Celeste grew up missing her mom and barely knowing their dad. Juliana, and another half-sister Mariana (by a different dad), were daughters of Christopher Jones’ next wife, a German woman named Serena. Celeste didn’t like Serena, at least at first. As she grew older, she realized Serena wasn’t all that bad. Their father had other children, too. He had a Greek daughter named Davida that he barely knew, and a son named Victor who was passed around to different couples to raise. In fact, all of the children were taken from their parents and shuffled around to different people or training “schools”. They were forced to call their minders “Auntie” and “Uncle”, or if they had new foster parents, they had to call them “Mummy” or “Daddy”. To not do so would result in severe beatings that would leave their backsides bruised and bloodied.

As disturbing as all of that is, I haven’t even gotten to the worst part of the story. (and here’s where you might want to stop reading) I mentioned that this is (or was) a sex cult. That meant that adults were having sex in front of children… sometimes huge crowds of them. And it also meant the children were forced to engage in those relations with each other, even when they were extremely young. And when I say young, I mean barely out of diapers, baby teeth young. But the leaders and other adults did not refer to that act as anything sinister. It was called “making love”. And the children had to do it, whether they wanted to or not. They were often filmed, and the videos were sent to David Berg. In fact, they were even expected, as very small children, to choose “dates” for nap time. One of the authors was very chagrined, because she was almost never chosen for a “date” (keeping in mind that she was a very young child). Sometimes, she had to “make love” with the teacher.

As the children got older, there were unintended pregnancies. However, Berg, who was called Mo by his followers, eventually did make a ruling that there could only be “lovemaking” for girls who were under age 12 or over age 16. There was an emphasis on religion and learning the Bible, and it was coupled with extreme abuse of all kinds. I will warn that the sisters do write about the abuse quite graphically. It was enough to make me very uncomfortable, hence the length of time it took for me to finish this book.

Schooling was haphazard, and discipline was rigidly and violently enforced. The children had very little time to play and were often forced to do hard work, usually as punishment. Sometimes, the children were forced to be silent, and no one was allowed to speak to them. They would wear a sign that said something like “Don’t talk to me. I’m being punished.” At one point, duct tape was used on the mouths of children who were deemed willful. They had few things to call their own, which caused them to want to hang onto things that most people would prefer to discard. The sisters write about how two of them fought over a pair of their father’s underwear and his holey socks, because they missed him so much and thought of anything belonging to him as “novel”.

Anytime cult members were sick, they were assumed to be sinning. They mostly rejected medical care, save for worm medication. The children were lucky if they got one hour with their parent for an hour at a time, one hour a week. Celeste writes that she often missed her hour with her father because she had to make music videos for the cult. The sisters were also forced to change their names on a regular basis. Celeste changed hers at least three times. This was to keep the authorities from finding them.

A 1972 documentary about the Children of God.

Celeste got to know a “friend” named Armi. I’m pretty sure Armi was profiled in a televised special about the Children of God cult, which I watched on Apple TV.

Why is this book so appalling?

Obviously, I think it’s appalling because of the subject matter. It blows my mind that so many children were born into this cult, where they were so horribly abused. Cult members got away with it because they lived in places where authorities tended to look the other way. Although there were communes worldwide, the authors of this book lived in the Philippines, Thailand, India, and Japan. On occasion, they would go to Europe. At one point, Kristina’s mother, who lived in England, managed to “kidnap” her daughter and got her out of the cult. The other two authors stayed in the organization for a bit longer. The three of them are about my age, so they’re in their 40s.

Another reason I think this book is appalling is because I think it needs a massive overhaul. There are so many people involved in this story that it’s hard to keep everyone straight. There’s so much disturbing, distressing, and graphic information, that I found myself skimming a lot. And it’s also over 400 pages, which makes it a very long and convoluted read. I was definitely ready for the book to end, and relieved when the end was finally in sight.

And yet… even though I think this book won’t appeal to a whole lot of readers, I am glad I read it. If anything, it proves just how dangerous religious cults can be, and just how many defenseless people are caught up within them. My heart broke for the authors of this book. They are definitely resilient, and I commend them for sharing their story so candidly and bravely. But a lot of what they’ve shared is just shocking and horrifying. I can see by the Amazon reviews that a lot of people had the same impressions I did.

I think if this book had been streamlined a bit, and the more graphic parts toned down somewhat, Not Without My Sister would be a much better read. On the other hand, I do know more about The Family International now, and there’s something to be said for not sugar coating things. This book simply verifies other stories I’ve read about this cult. Some famous people have been members, which is not surprising, since it started out as a musical ministry. The Phoenix family were members in the 70s, as was the actress, Rose McGowan.

David Berg died in 1994, and his second wife, Karen Zerby (aka Queen Maria) is now in charge. I’m not sure if they’re still doing things the way they did them in the 70s. I sure hope the hell not!

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psychology, true crime

True crime bonanza… Gabrielle Petito, Brian Laundrie, and Alex Murdaugh…

The featured photo is an idyllic spot in Germany… I posted it because both of these cases involve idyllic places where crimes were committed.

This morning, I woke up to the news that it looks like the authorities might have found the body of 22 year old Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito in a “remote, but popular” camping spot in Wyoming. I will admit, I haven’t been following this case very closely, but I would have to be living under a rock not to have seen her young, hopeful, smiling face on the Internet, as worried friends, family, and authorities have been searching for her.

At this point, it looks like her fiance, Brian Laundrie, could have done something terrible to the pretty young woman. She was known for driving around in a tricked out van and vlogging about her experiences, seeing the country. Gabby and Brian were traveling across the United States, documenting their experiences on social media. At one point, they were stopped by the police near Moab, Utah. Gabby was almost cited for domestic violence because Brian had visible injuries, but police ultimately decided to just separate the couple for the night.

Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, says that she and her daughter last communicated by FaceTime on August 23rd or 24th, and there were a few texts after that. Petito and Laundrie were visiting the Grand Teton National Park when Petito disappeared. And now, a body matching her description has been found. Laundrie has evidently lawyered up and isn’t speaking to the police. He’s now back home in Florida. His family members have offered “thoughts and prayers”.

Bill and I were talking a little bit about this case yesterday. While it’s very suspicious that Mr. Laundrie has lawyered up and doesn’t want to talk to the police, we both came to the conclusion that getting a lawyer is probably the smartest thing Laundrie can do, even if he’s innocent. But it sure doesn’t look good for him. He’s now a “person of interest” in a potential murder. It does look pretty certain that the body found in Wyoming might very well be that of Petito’s.

Gabrielle Petito’s case is a compelling story, and one that I would probably avidly follow, if not for the other stuff in the media. Also tracking in the news right now is the very weird story about prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh. Mr. Murdaugh, who is 53 years old, comes from a long line of lawyers in the Low Country of South Carolina. A few months ago, he came home to find his wife and son, Paul, murdered. Or, at least that’s the story he was telling.

Recently Murdaugh was sitting in jail, having turned himself in after he admitted to hiring a hit on himself. He allegedly paid a client to kill him, so his older son, Buster, might get a $10 million insurance payout. Murdaugh recently resigned from the law firm that bears his surname because he allegedly embezzled money to pay for his supposed addiction to opiates. Younger son Paul, who was found dead with his mother, had been facing criminal charges at the time of his death. In 2019, Paul Murdaugh caused a drunk boating accident that left a young woman dead.

It’s possible that the drunk boating accident and subsequent murders are related to the senior Murdaugh’s legal troubles. One day after Alex Murdaugh resigned from the law firm, he was shot in the head. He claimed that he was changing a tired when someone opened fire on him. Later, it turned out that Murdaugh had hired a former client named Curtis Edward Smith to kill him for insurance money. Murdaugh mistakenly believed that his son, Buster, would not be able to get the insurance money if Murdaugh took his own life.

The “hit” didn’t go off as planned; the bullet merely grazed the attorney. Smith has admitted to shooting the lawyer for money, and he’s now in trouble. He faces a number of criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, assault and battery, assisted suicide and possession of drugs.

Murdaugh did go into rehab for his drug problem, prior to turning himself in to the authorities. I would be very surprised if Alex Murdaugh doesn’t go to prison very soon. At this writing, after posting $20,000 bond, Murdaugh has been allowed out of jail temporarily, as he continues drug rehab and awaits his legal fate.

If I were the type of person to write true crime– and maybe in another life I would have been– either of these stories would make for compelling subjects. I think I’d probably be more interested in Murdaugh’s story. It sounds like there’s a fascinating family dynasty history behind the perfect storm that led to where he is right now. I would guess he has had a privileged life up until this point, but for some reason, that wasn’t enough. Next thing you know, he’s hooked on powerful opiates which have ruined his life. How does a high-powered attorney from a long line of high-powered attorneys wind up facing prison? I’m sure greed, a thirst for power, and succumbing to basic instincts have a lot to do with it.

I would also be interested in knowing if his son, Paul’s, troubles were related. They probably were, in some way. Obviously, boating while drunk is irresponsible… but driving a boat when you’re as young as he was indicates a privileged lifestyle… and perhaps an attitude that one is above the law. Of course, I’m speculating. It could be that that the truth is a lot weirder. I’m sure some ambitious writer will eagerly take on researching this case. I’d also be interested in the Murdaugh case because I used to live in South Carolina. I can pretty much picture the type of people the Murdaughs are, having worked in a country club near Columbia.

Adding to the intrigue, of course, is the death of Murdaugh’s long-time housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, back in 2018. Satterfield was 57 years old when her life ended. Murdaugh had said at the time that the housekeeper died after tripping over Murdaugh’s dogs and falling down some stairs. An autopsy did not conclude that Satterfield died due to injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident. And Satterfield’s sons have complained that Mr. Murdaugh never paid them damages after their mother’s death.

Ever since the Murdaugh story broke, I’ve been watching with interest. From the beginning, I thought it sounded like a story that would make for a good true crime book. But now, it seems that everyone’s talking about Gabrielle Petito’s tragic story. I think that story will also end up being covered by a true crime author.

True crime is an interesting genre. It’s based on tragedies that come about from the worst impulses and instincts of humans. It seems immoral to be “entertained” by stories about crimes perpetrated against other humans. And yet, true crime is interesting, because in incorporates so many fields within it. The stories are also true, which means they weren’t necessarily dreamed up by someone with a vivid imagination. I usually find myself drawn to them because I’m interested in psychology, and true crime stories almost always have an element of psychology within them. I’m always intrigued as to how people, often folks who were previously law abiding, end up in so much trouble. And I always wonder what makes them think they will get away with their crimes.

But as I have found out, having blogged about other stories I’ve read about in the news, there’s always a family or friends behind every story. And those people read about their loved ones and are hurt anew. I’ve written innocuous posts about news articles I’ve read on people I don’t know. More than once, someone has contacted me. Sometimes, they’re angry because they think I’m “insensitive”, even if all I’ve done is report what was in the news and offered speculation on what *might* have happened. Other times, people have contacted me, asking me to write more about their loved one’s story. I don’t mind doing that, for the most part. I’m sure it’s frustrating to read what’s in the press with no way to add to it.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of these stories. I’m sure there are writers lining up to research these stories and write best selling books about them. I may even read and review them, although I’m finding it harder to read things as quickly as I used to, so I’m more selective about my reading material than I was in the past. I do think Mr. Murdaugh’s story will be one I’ll want to read. Hell, if it were 30 years ago, I would expect Murdaugh’s story to become a televised miniseries. Isn’t it interesting how we in America turn tragedies into televised entertainment for the masses? As my Italian friend Vittorio would put it– weird-o-rama.

Either way… it’s nice not to be writing about the usual 2021 topics today… and now I have to stop writing, because the dogs are bugging me for a walk.

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