March 18, 2003
Food for Thought
On Wednesday, March 5, I had the distinct pleasure of getting to hear critically acclaimed author Patricia Weaver Francisco speak at the Food for Thought lecture series. In addition to being an author, Patricia is a professor in the English department’s creative writing program at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. The presentation was titled “Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery.” Throughout the evening, Patricia read excerpts from her book by the same name; in 1981, she was raped by a stranger. I was impressed by not only her emotional recovery but her willingness to share it. In fact, she is the first person to ever write an autobiographical story about the journey from rape to recovery; that makes her all the more courageous, as I see it. One thing about Patricia is that she speaks just as eloquently and cleverly as she writes. When talking about how hard it is for most people to talk about rape, she said, “Paradoxically we have this reality but we don’t have the words to describe it very well,” implying the extent of the psychological trauma that such crimes trigger. After such a tragedy befalls someone, the brain is essentially driven to the brink of madness, and the person becomes a prisoner, trapped in the maze that is their own mind. Patricia gave vivid imagery of what the reality of rape is; stripped of rational thought for a period of time, and with the entire world immediately turned topsy-turvy, activities which were once mundane and everyday are now surreal, and the world which was once so structured is now a treacherous place. It’s the collision of one world with another; there is physical survival, but along with it, spiritual and emotional death.
According to Patricia, one of the reasons it was so hard to talk to anyone after the rape is because of society’s unwillingness to listen. She summed up how society seems to react when faced with the awkward truth of something that has happened, saying that the collective mindset seems to be, “If we aren’t talking about it, maybe it isn’t happening...”
Initially, Patricia told very few people about what had happened to her. She began to talk to certain individuals after a few months, but it took a long time to reach even that point. In reference to her period of verbal isolation, she talked about what she had coined “the economy of silence.” There were both advantages and disadvantages, or as she put it, “what it got me; what it cost me.” Speaking of time, just for reference, she penned her story ten years after the incident.
I don’t remember the context in which it was used, but one memorable quote of Patricia’s which I wrote down was “Curiosity is the safeguard--not the death--of the cat.” I would assume that this is essentially her philosophy, though; Patricia Francisco is not a woman to be held back or to cower in fear. Remember the story of Pandora’s Box? When it was opened, it unleashed all of the evils, plagues and sorrows into the world, but one thing remained -- hope. Patricia didn’t open the proverbial box, though; nobody asks to be raped. We live in an imperfect world. Ultimately, however, Patricia chose to make known what had happened to her; as she put it, “The knowledge of evil is a force for good.” If we can’t see what we are fighting, how can we hope to defeat it? Patricia also says about unsung heroes, “Individuals working in small, unnoticed ways can change the world.” She is not working in a way which is small or unnoticed, yet she is doing her part to change the world. The truth of the situation is that few rapists are caught or arrested; few of those go to trial; even fewer still actually get convicted.
I liked the way Patricia painted the picture: vivid and intelligent, two qualities that describe her as well. She is a lively, animated woman whose insights are a pleasant change of pace from the usual humdrum conformity and one-dimensional thought. I went up to speak to Patricia once the discussion was over; I would have liked to get to talk to her at length, but other people stayed around for so long to speak to her that I only got a few minutes. That wasn't a big deal, though; I got the most out of listening to the talk and hearing her excerpts from the book. I can’t quite describe her writing style any more than I have already ... I will just say it is something you have to read yourself to understand. However, once you read it, you’ll find it’s like being drawn into another world, so dive in and see what’s down the rabbit hole.
Patricia Francisco is also the author of two other books, Cold Feet and Village Without Mirrors.