Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Interview with Amish Author Lucinda Streiker Schmidt
I'm nervous as I dial Lucinda's number. Her book, A Separate God: Journal of an Amish Girl, is creating quite a buzz. Lucinda is doing a national book tour, and her fictional story which is based on true events from her life has sold out on Amazon. She's been contacted by the Oprah show. Will she really have time for to speak to a book-loving Mennonite librarian with a modest blog? Will I be interrupting her favorite television show when I call? These are my thoughts.
"Oh, I'm just an Amish girl from Indiana corn country," she reassures me. "You don't need to be nervous." And in seconds, when I can feel her genuine warmth and sincerity, and the nervousness is replaced by excitement. Lucinda has a lot of energy and you can tell immediately that she is a real people person. I hope it doesn't sound cliche when I say that a few minutes into the conversation it feels like I am talking to an old friend. In fact, our conversation is so harried and lively as we both could not contain sharing our common stories, thoughts and observations that it was hard to take notes and pull together an interview.
In her book, Lucinda's story is told from the viewpoint of Rachel, a young Amish woman from a good family. Rachel finds herself pregnant by her Amish boyfriend "Alan", and as is expected, marries him. As it turns out, Alan's family is deeply dysfunctional, corrupt with violence and sexual abuse.
Lucinda: The media interest has been unbelievable, I had no idea. I had such fear about writing such a candid book about a closed culture. I was especially worried that the book would cause pain to innocent victims. That still troubles me and I do worry about that.
Mennobrarian: It must have been so difficult to tell your story.
Lucinda: It sat for eighteen years on a shelf, I actually wrote it that long ago. But throughout the years a voice kept telling that me I had to do this, I had to write this and put it out there. Two years ago I took the manuscript off the shelf and told my children (now grown) "There will be repercussions for telling this story, and I want to protect you." And they said, "Mom, it's about time." I sent it off to two publishers and there was instant interest from both of them, so I chose the publisher that I felt most comfortable with. There was such a freedom in writing this book, in making my story known, and that freedom is more fully described in a second book that will be released in the Fall. Right now I'm having such fun doing book signings, my publisher calls it the "Barnes & Noble tour." The publisher really knows what they are doing and they send me to places where there is a lot of interest in the Amish, which right now is just about everywhere. Next I'm going to Sarasota, Florida-
Mennobrarian: There should be a lot of interest there! (Pinecraft)
Lucinda: Right! And I am so happy with my publisher, they have just been wonderful and I wanted God to bless this experience. God is taking the lead, and I'm just following His path for me.
Mennobrarian: Your book touches on the abuse issue, an issue that the Amish don't want to deal with in their own communities and certainly don't want the rest of the world to know about. Being Amish, your first concern must have been, "What will people think of me?"
Lucinda: You hit the nail right on the head! Anyone with an Amish heritage is deeply worried about what other people think. It is a culture of approval-seeking behavior. And I love the Amish culture, I love my people, I can see the beauty in it. But the approval seeking behavior is a problem that I dealt with for years until it eventually went away. I divorced an abusive Amish husband (and have never remarried) but I was still holding on to the darkness. The approval seeking behavior hides abuse, hides dark things, and upholds the culture of secrecy. The approval seeking behaviors also caused me to keep making unhealthy relationship choices, which is something I write about on a deeper level in my second book. Honestly, I still find myself slipping into those behaviors, and I have to catch myself.
Mennobrarian: But in a closed culture, to have that approval seeking behavior is the only way to survive.
Lucinda: It is the only way to survive.
Mennobrarian: I can feel it in the Mennonite community too, this fear of what people think. It's the drive to live up to the idea of being a "good little Mennonite girl"...
Lucinda: ....or a "good little Amish girl." And as those good little Amish and Mennonite girls, we are such enablers.
Mennobrarian: Exactly. Another reason I was really excited about your book was that I knew people would see it at the store, Amish and Mennonite women, and they would read it and maybe learn how to identify abuse and find courage to get help.
Lucinda: That was EXACTLY my reason for writing the book. I have gotten calls and e-mails from all over, people who were touched by the book. Even e-mails from women inside the Order (Amish). I have had girls who have touched me, held me, wept, and have said "Thank you for your courage to write the book." The story is one that is not unique to my community, it could be from any Amish community, anywhere. I even had a young Amish man call me and he said "Thank you so much, there has been this darkness in my culture for generations and it will kill us from the inside out."
Mennobrarian: From the book, I can see that your family was not abusive or dysfunctional, and you have a good relationship with your father.
Lucinda: I love my family, and we did not grow up in an abusive environment at all. There was a lot of integrity and my father and I have always been close. In my second book, I also go more deeply into that relationship. He knew I was different, outspoken, and I believe that he was hopeful that by my marrying into a wealthy, powerful, and influential Amish family it would encourage me to stay Amish. My father left the community when he was young, he went to college, he's an Architect! But he returned to marry my mother, and I believe he regrets that he stayed in the community. In a strict, repressive community some of the youth thrive on that, but the ones who are critical thinkers are not able to survive it. At Christmas, I asked my dad, in German, I asked him whether he regretted coming back, wasting so much talent? He said, "I love my life with your mother." Our family is very blessed, I thank God a thousand times a day. You can see the beauty in the life he chose, his love for my mother, his farm, his land, his beautiful horses.
Mennobrarian: Have you heard of some of the new counseling and mental health facilities the Amish have opened in Pennsylvania and Ohio? What do you think of those?
Lucinda: What do you think of them?
Mennobrarian: Well, I think they could be the gateway to opening up the issue of domestic abuse in Amish communities and helping people to identify abuse and get help for it. It helps that those places are in a plain setting and the counselors speak Dutch, making people comfortable.
Lucinda: I think the same. And while I think it's commendable that these larger communities are now recognizing the issues and the culture is addressing them, those facilities are still just like the church. There will still be indoctrination and rules that don't make sense. They are dealing with an issue (domestic abuse) that was not recognized for centuries, as if it didn't exist. It is the indoctrination, the rules that make no sense and have no Biblical standing that I don't like. The Amish completely confuse religion with Christianity. I told my father so at Christmas. Jesus threw the Pharisees out of the temple. Of course, my dad expects to hear that from me.
In writing, my passion is never for the money. It never was. It is to be the voice for the women of my culture. I'm now talking to people who are interested in making a film about the book, but it's not going to reach the women who need it. What Amish woman is going to see a film?
Mennobrarian: Do you meet people with an idealized view of the Amish?
Lucinda: (Deep sigh) You have no idea, you have no idea what that does to me. I recently had a book signing at a college where all I heard from people, educated people, was a fantasy notion of what the Amish are like. BUT they have this idealized version because the Amish culture only allows people to see what they want people to see.
Mennobrarian: There is also a lot of popular Amish fiction out there right now that reinforces the idealism.
Lucinda: Yes, and those books are written by outsiders, and they have an outside perspective on who the Amish are.
Mennobrarian: It's been such fun talking to you, thank you for taking the time to let me speak with you. I look forward to meeting you someday soon.
Lucinda: Thank you! I love talking to my readers, I love all of God's children.
Then Lucinda tells me that she'd rather talk to me than Barbara Walters, which I get the feeling she should not say because with her drive and determination, she could very well end up talking to Barbara one day.
Poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote, "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." Get ready for the coming earthquake.