"I have always thought of myth as something that never was but is always happening." ~ Jean Houston, "The Possible Human"

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" ~ Margaret Atwood, "The Handmaid's Tale"

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lucy, a Memorial

I've been absent for some time.  A lot has happened in my life that has prevented my blogging and for that I apologize.  After a lot of setbacks, I finally (finally!) released my fourth novel.  Unfortunately, what should have been a celebratory event felt rather bittersweet.  Just before I released "Haunted by the Keres," I lost my best friend, my protector, my light.  My beloved Lucy died rather suddenly in September.  I've been struggling with this loss for the past few months and have been struggling to write this blog entry ever since.  Because I desperately want to tell her story.  I want people to know that this amazing little dog existed and that she made such a difference in my life.  And I miss her more than words can describe.

[Warning:  potentially triggering material to follow]

When I entered high school, I had completely given up on humanity.  I'm not talking about the typical teenage angst and rebellion:  I made myself invisible because I was certain that people just weren't worth it.  I didn't like anyone, I didn't fit anywhere, and I preferred novels to actual interaction.  I had been traumatized by an incident in eighth grade when I was attacked by three women in a haunted manor I was volunteering in.  The trauma was exacerbated when the volunteer organization that organized the manor basically closed ranks and protected my assailants (seriously, I could write a novella on how poorly this organization handled the incident, including putting me in a dressing room with only my assailants.  Thankfully, my knack for hiding protected me from a potentially second assault).  After this incident, I kept people at arms length and developed a mild case of PTSD, something I still occasionally experience to this day.

Aside from dealing with that, I was also struggling with my asexuality, which I didn't know existed.  All I knew was that I had no interest in romantic relationships and everyone in my life was telling me that was abnormal.  A number of counselors (and friends) suggested I had depression and needed to be on anti-depressants, despite the fact that the only symptom of depression I had was the lack of a sex drive.

I've only been broken twice in my life.  When I entered my freshman year of high school, I was broken.  I was alone and in desperate need of some form of kindness or understanding, yet couldn't bring myself to reach out to anyone.  Trust was a luxury I could not afford nor one I would risk.  No, it was easier to experience the occasional pangs of loneliness than to risk being treated like a freak or abnormality.  Or worse, a burden.  Even before the assault, people absolutely bewildered me.  The PTSD just further isolated me.

I had some respite in the form of books.  I had also been an animal lover all my life.  At the time, I had a 124 lb Great Pyrenees, a great big polar bear of a dog.  After the assault, I would have the occasional nightmare, after which the only way I could sleep again was if Misty, the Pyrenees, was at the foot of my bed.  I really loved dogs and was intrigued by the human/canine bond, so much so that I started researching different activities.  When I came across agility, I found a calling.

Agility is an obstacle course that a handler runs their dog through.  It's like watching poetry:  dog and human moving as one, working together.  It's an exercise in trust and requires a lot of training, but it's quite amazing to watch.

After a massive amount of begging, my parents finally agreed to getting a second dog.  We went down to the local shelter and I went right to the big dog section, hoping to find a Border Collie (considered the top agility breed).  There were none to be found.  My dad had hung back by the small dog section, where the puppies were, and happened to spot a little mutt.  She was wagging her tail and watching the few people passing by her cage.  She was surrounded by puppies (it being close to summer, there were a couple litters).  My Dad saw something special in this dog and I'm lucky that he did, because I had completely missed her.

Dad called me back and when he pointed her out, I crouched down to take a closer look.  She had these big brown eyes and a huge smile that could light up a freaking country.  Her name was Lucy and she was almost three years old.  She wagged her tail when she saw me and we just looked at each other.  When I found out her story, I realized it was like two broken souls recognizing each other.

Even before I took her for a walk, I knew I wanted her.  When the shelter worker put the leash in my hands, it just felt . . . right.  This dog belonged with me.  We fit each other.

Lucy had not had a happy life before ending up at the shelter a second time.  Her first owners tried to drown her, which led to a fear of water.  The second owners had kids and beat her.  When the kids beat her, she started growling at them and wound up in my local shelter.  She was adopted by a man who lived in an apartment and worked long hours (19+ hours).  When Lucy started crying, the man was threatened with eviction.  Lucy wound up back at the shelter.  All before she turned three.

I had given up on people after a couple admittedly horrible experiences.  Lucy never did.

When we started training, Lucy was the most outgoing dog you could imagine.  Her friendly personality made almost everyone fall in love with her.  Whereas I dreaded interacting with people, Lucy would go right up to them, wagging her tail as if she had known the person her whole life.  I still struggled when it came to talking with people, but Lucy would stick right next to me, sitting at my side.  As odd as it sounds, there was almost an understanding between us:  I had her back, I took her from the shelter, so she would have my back.  Nobody would hurt me when she was there.  Lucy was amazing at reading me.  There were times when I just couldn't bring myself to interact with people and she seemed to instinctively understand this.  If I were experiencing a mild anxiety attack, Lucy would just sit by me, sometimes lean against me.

While Lucy's personality endeared her to people, her natural ability in the ring wowed them.  Lucy was a freaking natural.  She ran faster than the wind and handled like a dream.  Some dogs are better with voice commands, others with hand signals.  Lucy was best when it came to reading my body.  Wherever I looked or faced, she knew that's where I wanted her to go.  This is the most desired handling style and my dog was freaking master at it.  Lucy was fearless, attacking each obstacle like it wasn't even there.

For the first time in my life, I was interacting with people and was actually comfortable doing so.  Lucy's amazing ability and personality made people want to talk to me.  I was still a ghost, a phantom, at school.  But in the agility ring, I was learning what it meant to be confident.  I was learning how it felt to be unafraid again.  It was liberating and exhilarating.  Suddenly, I wasn't alone anymore.  The loneliness wasn't as intense as it had once been.  The nightmares weren't as frequent (especially now that Lucy slept at the foot of my bed).

I eventually got Lucy a Border Collie, intending to also show him in the agility ring eventually.  Lucy always wanted to play with the Border Collies, but kept getting bit in the face (a surprising amount of show dogs dislike other dogs).  Life was starting to be more than a daily struggle.

For a little while.

Towards the end of high school, I started experiencing back spasms.  I'd been born with scoliosis.  My freshman year, I had worn a back brace for a while and it seemed to stop the progression of the curves in my spine.  Then, after senior year, the spasms started.  They got worse and worse, eventually forcing me to drop out of agility.  X-rays confirmed the worst:  I was going to need a full spinal fusion.  Not only was my agility career over, just after we had gotten started, but I was going to have to take almost a year-long break from college (which I had just started).

After the full spinal fusion, I was bed-ridden.  The pain was unimaginable, but I think the worst thing was the isolation.  Once again, I was alone.  Loneliness is an agonizing experience.  When I came home, all I could do was lay in bed.  This is torture for someone as high-strung and active as I normally am.

My beloved Lucy, my little speed demon, refused to leave my side.  My mother and brother had to coax her out of my room just to go outside.  After she was done, she would fly back into the house and up the stairs, back to the foot of my bed.  When she jumped back up, she was always very careful not to jump on me.  When I would cry, either from pain or from being alone, she would carefully move up to the front of the bed and lick my face.  As if to say, "Don't worry.  I'm still here.  I won't leave you."

Eventually, I began to feel guilty.  I just thought about how bored Lucy had to be, laying around all day.  So I forced myself to get up, go down the stairs, and let her out.  Eventually, I started challenging myself to take her for a walk around the block.  Lucy had never been great on a leash (she pulled like you wouldn't believe).  However, when I was recovering, she never pulled on the leash.  Not once.  She walked right next to me for however long I could manage.

I made one of the faster recoveries my surgeon and doctors had seen.

Life continued on with its ups and downs.  Lucy was always right by my side.  She was more than a dog to me.  She was the light in my life.  When I struggled with my asexuality, I clung to her like a lifesaver.  When I was broken the second time in my life, by someone who I trusted, Lucy was there (as well as an amazing professor).  As I struggled to get through writer's blocks, Lucy would sleep at my feet.  She was a calming presence in my life.  Whatever curve balls life threw at me, Lucy was right there at my side.

This past summer, when I had to relive the attempted assault I experienced at my first convention repeatedly so the convention could sort out what to do, I experienced painful and traumatic flashbacks.  Each new revelation brought up memories that I would've preferred stay buried.  Sometimes, I would just cry into Lucy's scruff.  She would patiently wait until I was finished, sometimes licking my face and wagging her tail.  As if to reassure me it would be over eventually.

Towards the end of August this year, her back legs started failing her.  Her kidneys started deteriorating.  Some irrational part of me kept waiting for my girl to bounce back.  She belonged with me.  She had always been there.  We were a team.  Even when I had to start carrying her, I kept hoping for some kind of miracle (even though I never believed in miracles).

Sadly, it was not to be.  On September 1st, at the age of seventeen, my light went out.  Lucy died in my arms at home.  The dog who no one wanted, who had survived horrific abuse, who had become a champion despite having the most inept handler, was gone.

I'm still in a state of numbness all these months later.  I don't sleep very much.  I take my other dog out on late night walks, just to look up at the stars and seek temporary peace from the darkness and the quiet.  Some days the ache is almost more than I can bear.  Some days I still look for her.

I wish I had been a better owner because my god, Lucy deserved that and so much more.  She was cremated and I had some of her ashes put in a small silver heart that I wear everyday, so she'll never be separated from me again.  Lucy never wanted to leave my side.  It's the least I can do for the dog who saved me from a life of silence.

*I have started a memorial project for Lucy called Light for Lucy.  If you have a spare minute or two, I'm asking people to light a candle and write "For Lucy" somewhere and then post a picture of it on the Light for Lucy Facebook page linked above.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What Conventions Without Harassment Policies Look Like

This weekend, I attended a con that I wasn't working for the first time ever.  A couple friends of mine, the dynamic Twisted Twins (a.k.a. Jen and Sylvia Soska) were guests as was the actress Katharine Isabelle.   Since I have a real fondness for women in horror and I wanted to see the Soskas again, I decided to get myself a ticket and make a mini-vacation of it, something my GP has been on my case about doing.

For the most part, the convention was a blast.  In my experience, fans of the Soskas are some of the most amazing and nice people on the planet.  This con was no different.  Everyone who stopped by their table was polite and wonderful.  There was one guy who seemed to think being a fan was some kind of dick measuring contest (and he brought his little friend along, because assholes rarely travel alone), but for the most part the Soskas table was a safe space, as was the "American Mary" Q & A.

Now that we've got the positive out of the way, let's examine the absolute massive failing of this con (also known as why I'm never going to attend again and why no one should):  Chicago Flashback Weekend has absolutely NO harassment policy.  Nothing, nada.  Part of me is wondering if this might be why there is an absolute lack of diversity (no guests were POC, there were no indie women authors in attendance, and both guests and attendees skewed heavily towards white cis-gender men).

Many people often mistakenly assume harassment policies are to prevent overt sexual harassment from occurring.  Actually, a working harassment policy should prevent any form of harassment (verbal, emotional, sexual, etc.) or abuse.  Harassment policies should be to make a space safer.  There will never be an entirely safe space, but it can be made easier to navigate.  If you don't have a clearly drawn harassment policy, you are giving free reign to people to police themselves.

Let's see exactly what that looks like, shall we?

I occasionally experience extremely mild anxiety attacks.  Having experienced them since high school, I know exactly what my body is going to do and how to shorten the episode.  When I'm experiencing an anxiety attack, my body freezes and I can't move.  My heartrate jumps up and my breathing quickens.  In order to pull myself out of this, I often have to lean against something (usually a wall) and occasionally, I need to sit down.  Sometimes counting very slowly helps and sometimes thinking about a good memory will lessen the attack.  These attacks can last between 2 - 10 minutes, 5 minutes being the average.  While I'm never entirely sure when they'll happen, they're more likely to occur in a crowd.  I've had a couple at cons, but since I'm usually working behind a table, I can usually hide what's happening and pull myself out of it (working does wonders for these attacks).  It's a rather embarrassing experience, thanks to the stigma that accompanies all psychological health issues.

On Sunday, while on my way to the registration desk, I suddenly got that feeling of my heart speeding up slightly.  Quickly recognizing that I was probably about to have an attack, I leaned against a wall and shut my eyes.  I started hearing angry grumbles and within minutes, people were shouting at me and about me about there being a line.  I muttered something about needing a minute, but they kept shouting.

Not.  Okay.  You know the #1 thing that is not going to help somebody experiencing a panic attack:  shouting.  Shouting is going to make it worse and it makes you a horrible person.  I literally have no tolerance for the kinds of cunts who are so insensitive and rude to people who suffer from psychological disorders and anxiety attacks.  Fuck the lot of them.  There's this whole mindset that cons are a refuge for people who have been rejected and bullied their entire life for being passionate about things considered geeky or nerdy.  I'd like to know:  when did a good portion of these attendees become bullies themselves?

As I attempted to force myself to walk, I watched as these rude assholes proceeded to shout at an older woman walking with a cane, who asked if there was a shorter line for people with mobility issues (you would have thought this woman beat a child with her cane the way these people were speaking to her).  They also shouted at a woman and her young daughter who were just a little lost.
Let me make one thing clear:  everyone in this line had already paid for the weekend.  Everybody had a ticket, everybody was getting in.  There was no need for the kind of behavior I witnessed on Sunday.  None at all.  If that's the way you behave in public, you are a horrible worthless excuse for a human being.

To me, this is a perfect illustration of the stigma attached to mental disorders.  I have friends who suffer from different psychological disorders, some more severe than others.  I have friends who have chronic anxiety and it is a shitty thing to live with.  Too often, mental disorders are blamed on the individual.  I can't count how many times I've heard someone say something like, "Oh you just need to be more positive" or "You're putting too much stress on yourself" or "Why did you put yourself in that situation in the first place?" or, my personal favorite, "Shouldn't you be on medication, if that really happens?"

Newsflash:  people can't fucking decide when they're going to have an anxiety attack!  They can't decide that anymore than they can decide when they're going to get the flu or, for cis-gendered women, when they're going to get their period!  I'm lucky that my occasional anxiety is so mild.  People who have full blown panic attacks sometimes think they're dying.  Not everyone who experiences anxiety needs to be on medication.  Sometimes they just need people to act like decent fucking human beings for two minutes.  Oh, but I'm sorry, that requires effort.  And if it doesn't directly affect us or someone we know, effort is just too much to ask, right?

I'm getting a bit off tangent:  my point is, had there been a working harassment policy in place, this kind of behavior could be dealt with (ideally).  You'd have a security officer come by and say something like, "What you're doing right now is really not okay.  If you don't take it down a notch, you will be asked to leave."  Instead, you had a bunch of ignorant people getting into a needlessly defensive territorial pissing match and making the entire situation a hundred times worse.  I'm actually surprised there wasn't actual violence, because let me tell you, it was building up to that.

After that incident, I sat in the hall and read my book.  I did not trust myself to be inside any space with those jackasses (I'm still angry, hence my writing this blog).  Cons need to be safe for everybody and that's why working harassment policies are so vital.  Not all harassment is sexual in nature.  Berating people with psychological conditions, people with mobility issues, and young children, those are all forms of harassment too.

Though I dearly love my friends who work in horror (most of them women), I don't know if I will ever attend another horror convention.  I certainly won't go to one with absolutely no harassment policy.

Chicago Flashback Weekend:  yet another convention that needs to get its damn shit together.


*Sorry for this unscheduled break in my spy series.  Rest assured, the Josephine Baker post is going up very soon.  She just led such an incredible life that it's hard to condense all the information down into a single blog post :)

*I should mention that almost all fans of women horror directors that I've met have been really kind and amazing individuals.  It's the people who are into the testosterone-driven macho bullshit that are overwhelmingly assholes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mad Anne Bailey: Pioneer Scout

Anne Bailey wasn't exactly a spy per say, she was actually more of a scout, but I chose to include her because her story is an entertaining one and she was quite the badass.  She was also a storyteller and I can't resist a woman storyteller.

Bailey earned the nickname "Mad Anne" for her exploits, which made her a bit of an eccentric for a woman of the time.  She was born in Liverpool, England in 1742.  She was an educated woman, but a poor one.  Anne lost both her parents when she was 18.  At the age of 19, she sailed for America in the hopes of a better life.  Some sources suggest she worked as an indentured servant to pay for her trip.

In 1765, Anne married Richard Trotter and her life seemed to take a turn for the better.  The couple had one son, William, and lived in the Kanawa Valley in Staunton, VA.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of settlers moving out west and it was causing a lot of tension with local Native Americans.  Numerous fights were breaking out, which led to the governor of Virginia to organize a militia to keep the peace (because if there's one way to ensure peace, it's organizing a bunch of angry settlers into a militia).  Anne's husband joined the militia and took part in the battle of Point Pleasant.  This battle prevented the Native Americans from allying with the British during the American Revolution.  Both sides suffered heavy losses in this battle and Richard Trotter was one of the ones who fell.

Anne Trotter was pissed.  The "swearing bloody vengeance" kind of pissed.  She dropped off her seven year old son with some neighbors (she had no relatives) and promptly took up arms.  I like to think she said something like, "I'm going out to spill some blood.  Look after my boy while I'm gone."

Baily began wearing men's clothes and taught herself how to shoot, ride a horse, hunt, and soon becoming a very adept scout.  She volunteered her services as a scout and messenger.  She was dedicated to the colonists cause and wanted to make sure they won the war.  She drummed up support for Washington's army, often riding from station to station along the Potomac recruiting volunteers.  Anne would carry messages between Fort Randolph and Savannah, a distance of 160 miles.  She knew the paths like the back of her hand and the settlers along her route highly respected her.

In 1785, Anne married John Bailey, a member of the Rangers (frontier scouts), who loved her somewhat wild ways.  She was known to enjoy drinking, cursing, and telling stories, behaviors that were anything but lady-like.  The two were a good match for each other.  In 1788, John began duty at Ft. Clendenine.  Again, the settlers and local Native Americans were clashing and the situation was becoming volatile (probably in no small part to the settlers once again trying to push the Native Americans off their lands).  Anne still worked as a courier and warned settlers of impending attacks.

In 1791, the militia learned the Native Americans were planning an attack.  Worse, they were severely low on gunpowder.  So low, they would not be able to hold off the attack.  Someone had to ride 100 miles to Lewisberg to get more gunpowder, a suicide mission.  The colonel in charge asked for volunteers to ride over a hundred miles through hostile territory and very likely to his death.  The men remained quiet, likely looking at their shoes, which probably became inexplicably fascinating.  Anne, realizing none of the men were going to volunteer, raised her hand and stated that she would do it (probably after insulting the men).

Anne hopped up on her horse and raced off into the wild.  Legend says she rode day and night, up the Kanawha Valley to the Greenbriar Mountains.  Once she reached her destination, Anne retrieved the gunpowder and a horse to carry it.  She was offered an escort, but turned it down (probably saying, "fuck that.  He'll just slow me down!").  She returned to Fort Clenendine and the soldiers were able to fight off the attack the morning after she returned (hopefully while she took some much deserved rest).  Anne's impressive ride was eventually immortalized in a poem by Charles Robb (Anne Bailey's Ride).  It's a somewhat embellished version of the ride and the description of Anne is entirely wrong.

John Bailey died in 1802.  Anne Bailey went on to be a trader and storyteller.  She often slept outside, having no desire to remain indoors for long stretches of time.  She continued to act as a messenger for settlers, bringing supplies they needed.  She made her last trip in 1817, at the age of 75.  After that, she went to live with her son.  William, knowing his mother valued her independence above all else, had a cabin constructed next to his home where she lived out her days, often entertaining guests with vivid tales of her adventures.

Anne Bailey never feared death.  She often bragged that she could chop and shoot as well as any man.  Coming from a humble background, Anne lived the life she chose and on her own terms.  To me, that is incredibly impressive.

Image found here

Works Cited

Howlett, Charles F. "Anne Trotter Bailey." Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006. 46-47. Google Books. ABC-CLIO. Web. 11 July 2014.

"Anne Bailey." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 May 2014. Web. 11 July 2014.

Diece, Albrey. "National Women's History Museum." Education & Resources. National Women's History Museum, 2006. Web. 11 July 2014.


Next week:  the force of nature that was Josephine Baker

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sarah Aaronsohn: The Heroine of Nili

Picture can be found here

Though she only lived to be 27, Sarah Aaronsohn lived a remarkable life.  Like many women, she was often overshadowed by men.  Reading about her, one can't help but be impressed with how much she was able to accomplish in such a short life.

Sarah Aaronsohn was born on January 5th, 1890 in what is now Palestine.  At the time, it was still under the Ottoman Empire.  Her father was one of the founding members of Zikhron Ya'akhov, an agricultural colony.  The Aaronsohns became one of the most prominent families in the colony.  This was partly due to her brother Aaron, a respected agronomist and botanist.

Sarah was highly intelligent, despite never completing formal education.  Encouraged by Aaron, Sarah studied languages and became fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish, Turkish, and French.  She taught herself English and knew some Arabic.  Sarah also worked as her brother's apprentice, often accompanying him on his travels while learning about agronomy and botany.  She also had an active outdoor life and was an accomplished rider and shot. Being an attractive woman, Sarah also had a lover in the charismatic Avashalom Feinberg, a close friend and later ally of Aaron's.

This affair ended and Sarah wound up marrying a wealthy merchant, Chaim Abraham.  This union didn't last very long.  Abraham took her to Istanbul and Sarah did not like the bustle and chaos of the big city.  She had nothing in common with her husband and soon left him to return home to Zikhron.  The trip home would not be a happy one and Sarah would witness something that changed the course of her life.

In the autumn of 1914, Turkey joined with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) in their war on the Allied Powers.  Around mid-1915, Aaron and Feinberg established the spy ring Nili.  Their mission was to supply the British with intelligence and the spy ring became one of the largest pro-British espionage network in the Middle East.

On her way home from Istanbul to Haifa, Sarah witnessed the Armenian genocide.  She may have seen as many as 5,000 people murdered and others loaded into trains.  The horrific incident traumatized her and for the rest of her life, she would experience severe panic attacks when she heard anything about the Armenians.

Upon returning home to Zikhron, Sarah joined up with her brothers and sister in their underground resistance.  Though Nili started before her return, Sarah soon took a leading role in Nili.  She oversaw most of the activities of the ring, decoded information, encoded it and passed it to British agents offshore, often using carrier pigeons.  Whenever Aaron had to travel, he left Sarah in charge.
She was frequently in charge of at least 40 agents as well as her brother's agricultural station, which was important to Nili's success.  Sarah was also in charge of finances and had to make sure Nili was fully-funded.

Sarah sometimes traveled throughout the Ottoman Empire to collect valuable intelligence and meet with contacts face-to-face in Egypt to exchange intelligence.  Though some tried to brush off her activities as a result of familial ties, the British never saw her as a proxy for her brother.  She was a respected and valuable asset.

As hostilities began increasing and the Central Powers began closing in, the British urged her to leave Palestine and return to British-controlled Egypt for her own safety.  Sarah refused.  In 1917, her brother begged her to remain in Egypt.  Sarah still refused and returned to Zikhron to continue Nili activities.  She was the only one in Nili's top hierarchy to do so.

In 1917, the Ottomans intercepted a carrier pigeon from Nili and decoded the message.  Knowing the Ottomans were onto her, Sarah worked fast to disperse the evidence of Nili in order to protect her agents.  On October 1st, the Ottomans arrived at her door and arrested her.  What followed was four days of torture as they tried to force information out of Sarah.  She refused to yield.  No matter what they did, Sarah remained silent.  She didn't reveal anything.

Upon finding out she would be transferred to a prison deep inside the Ottoman Empire, Sarah requested she be allowed to return to her parent's home and clean up.  Her captors, obviously not having realized the determination of their prisoner, agreed.  She somehow convinced her escorts to allow her some privacy in the bathroom.

As soon as she was alone, Sarah quickly got to work.  She wrote a quick note, expressing her wish that Nili's activities continue and explaining that she did not think she could withstand anymore torture.  As soon as she was done, Sarah removed a pistol that had been hidden in the bathroom and shot herself in the mouth.  It took her four days to die.  She never gave her captors a single bit of intelligence.

Because of Jewish views on suicide, Sarah was originally refused burial in a traditional Jewish cemetery.  Refusing a war hero tends to be an unpopular stance and it was no different here.  Sarah was allowed burial in the cemetery, but as a compromise, a fence was erected around her grave to separate it from the other graves.  Her mother is buried beside her, as per her last wishes.

The intelligence gathered by Sarah greatly helped the Allied forces.  Much of Sarah's legacy was attempted to be censored by conservative historians.  Thankfully, they were unsuccessful.  Sarah eschewed most traditionally feminine roles.  She frequently cross-dressed when in the field and sometimes referred to herself with male pronouns.

Occasionally described as the Jewish Joan of Arc, Sarah Aaronsohn led a heroic life.  WWI is a strange period in history, one that generally isn't studied in depth.  If it were, I wonder if students would learn about a brave young Jewish woman who stayed behind in enemy territory when even the men fled.

 Melman, Billie. "Sarah Aaronsohn." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 8, 2014) .
 "Sarah Aaronsohn." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 Jan. 2014. Web. 08 July 2014. .
"NILI." Freedomfightersofnili. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2014. .
Warner, Jennifer. "Stiletto Spies." Google Books. Golgotha Press, 13 June 2014. Web. 08 July 2014.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Elusive 355

"I intend to visit 727 [New York City] before long and think by the assistance of a 355 [lady] of my acquaintance, shall be able to outwit them all" ~ Samuel Culper Sr. (Abraham Woodhull) to General George Washington
This is the one specific reference to 355, a much debated figure in the American Revolution.  So little is known about her that it's incredibly difficult to sort out fact from fiction.  Some consider her to be the first American woman spy.  Others doubt she was anyone of importance, merely a convenient acquaintance Woodhull used once.  This doesn't quite stand up though when you look at the circumstances surrounding this message.

In June 1779, Woodhull recruited Robert Townsend (who used the alias Samuel Culper, Jr.)  to gather intelligence from New York.  Woodhull operated solely out of Setauket.  Because Townsend had business in New York, he was less suspicious.  He also interacted with the British officers frequently through his various businesses (newspaper, tailoring, and a coffeehouse he had an interest in along with James Rivington, another member of the Culper Ring).

In August of 1779, Townsend was having difficulty gathering decent military intelligence, which is when Woodhull wrote the letter.

This is when the information gets a little murkier and difficult to sift through (thanks in part to an amateur historian at the end of the 19th century and his tendency to over-embellish things).  Around the time of Woodhull's visit, information on John Andre was more plentiful.  The British Major John Andre was the head of England's Intelligence Operations in New York.  Andre had a reputation for being a ladies man and frequently kept company with a number of women.  It is likely 355 was able to gain access to him this way, hence the sudden abundance of information.  Washington would later order Andre hung for being a spy.

Many speculate she also crossed paths with Benedict Arnold at some point and could very well have helped expose his treason.

In October of 1780, Woodhull wrote of the capture of several friends during one of Arnold's spy hunts and referenced "one who hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence," leading some to speculate this was the 355 he traveled to New York with.  Many point to Townsend's emotional devastation after this event as evidence that 355 was among those captured.

There are skeptics about the existence of agent 355 and point to the fact that she is only mentioned once in Culper correspondences.

Personally, I think its more likely she did exist.  It just seems like common sense that the Culper Ring would make use of women.  The women of the time would be under less suspicion and could go places men couldn't.  Women have been underestimated for a good part of history and many have used that to their advantage.  I like to think Woodhull recognized this and made use of his friends, both male and female alike.

As a writer, my imagination runs wild when reading about someone as elusive as 355.  I imagine her being a feisty woman with strong sense of morality, braver than most of her contemporaries.  Perhaps a little reckless, which may have led to her capture.  She is a woman who will forever be a mystery, someone whose name is forgotten in the ages, but she has become legendary in her own right and she will never be completely forgotten.

Picture is from here
 Phelps, Mark A. "Agent 355." An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. By Lisa Tendrich. Frank. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013. 528-29. Print.