“Through Our Eyes, duo memoirs written in gritty diary format, is now available at Edmonds Bookshop. Written by Zahava Epp and Jeni Glaze “Through Our Eyes” is a cautionary tale about two women making their way back from sexual and relationship abuse.
Underwritten by the Hazel Miller Foundation, the project chronicles the questions each memoir-writer asks herself in retrospect about what led to the circumstances from which they have each now escaped.
The women met almost two years ago while living at Lynnwood’s Trinity Place, which is YMCA transitional housing for homeless women and children. The story of Trinity Place is told here.
Artfully Edmonds (AE) sat down recently with the two authors and their writing coach for the project, Janette Turner, and learned more about where the two authors go from here:
AE: Janette, let’s begin this interview with you. Please let our readers know how this memoir project took shape.
Janette Turner – With YWCA’s help, I started a memoir-writing group at the shelter. I had high hopes. I believed memoir writing was more powerful than therapy because when you write your own story down, you are in charge. You can see your own selfishness, anger, and pain. And you can decide to change your life for a happy ending.
“Start,” I said, one night in 2013, and the five women in the fledgling group sighed and fought against the paper, visibly hating every second of the free write.
“I don’t know what to write about,” someone said, setting off a chain reaction of “me too’s.” I kept my pen moving. No scratching out, I reminded myself, even as the woman next to me mumbled curses that wove into my own story. At the 10-minute mark, I relented and put down my pen, adding my own sigh.
“It’s time to read,” I said, and indicated ‘Maylinda’ should start. That set off another flutter as the women shook their papers and heads. Finally Maylinda read and while I can’t tell you what she wrote, I can tell you it was good and real. And so was the next woman’s work, and all around the table. “That’s really good” and “I feel the same way,” they said to each other, and we all sat in the wake, marveling at what happened.
A few of us wiped our eyes and sniffled. The women turned as a group to me. “What do we do now?” one asked.
Do you want to meet up again to keep writing?
The women agreed and over the course of a few months that stretched into years, the group morphed from five to eight women down to two, who stuck it out and finished their stories. Along the way, a local literary nonprofit, EPIC Group Writers, provided encouragement, and so did Hazel Miller Foundation, which provided a grant to publish the book that became “Through Our Eyes: Two Women and Their Fight for Life.”
I am so proud of Jeni and Zahava, and also of the other women who joined us along the way. The book represents the many women who have been in tough situations. Some of them had the good fortune in finding refuge at Trinity Place housing in Lynnwood. Some of the women who started in the writing program were not free of their abusive men. Other women were lost to drugs or alcohol or the depressive feeling that nothing matters. Even though their stories may not be in here, their spirits are. They have struggled so much and this book is for them, and for women like them.
These are heart-breaking stories. But domestic violence is everywhere, and was named as the 2014 NFL story of the year. The good news is Jeni and Zahava’s stories are triumphant. How lucky we are to have them share their lives and hearts.
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AE – Jeni and Zahava, what’s the early history of how your memoir came about?
Jeni – My advocate proposed joining a journaling group. I always wanted to be a published writer. I was starting over from the bottom (at Trinity Place). It was a blessing to have a place to live.
While writing my story, I went through the emotions, up and down, do I hit delete, now it’s down on paper. I’m a mom. Do I want to put this out there with the swear words? It is what it is.
My parents are still married. At first they didn’t think the book would come to pass. I finally told them the book is going into print. My dad said – ‘I’m so proud of you for doing this. Be careful.’ My mom’s proud of me. We’re a very close family.
Zahava – (For years) I hid the story of my past. But being part of the YWCA, I was able to see other women and their situations. Some were still in abusive situations, and I was helping them through their traumas.”
I thought writing about my story would release the anger and animosity I had for “him”. And it did . . . we’ve become friends, and I’ve forgiven him.
“I had to let him know I wrote this story and I wanted him to have a head’s up, and he’s comfortable with it.”
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AE – Zahava and Jeni, we understand that you met each other while living at Trinity Place. Tell us more.
Jeni – Yes, we met at the YWCA. In May, it will be two years. We’re more of a family now.
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AE: In what way has writing “Through Our Eyes” taught you more about life?
Zahava – I’ve seen a few women in past months at the place where I work who (show signs of being in bad relationships). I would pull them aside. I let a few young women know about my history and Trinity Place. It’s harder now to get into transitional housing.
Writing the book freed me. Freed the anger, hatred, everything I felt towards men.
Everyone will always at some point be in a situation you are not comfortable with, but there is a person you can come to and trust.
Red flags – I was like most any typical young woman, and I thought it happened just one time, he didn’t mean it, I love him. Then he said we were going on an Arizona vacation, but we stayed there and things got worse. I forgave him many times. Then when I was eight months pregnant, I realized I have to protect my child.
Jeni –I’ve been working with youth groups for 25 years with drill team. I judge events, tryouts, and parades.
I want to assure women that if they have that intuitive-feeling that something’s “off”, then get away from the situation immediately. Trust your intuition.
— By Emily Hill