Book Review and My Take On-Scarred:The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life

All that Sarah Edmondson wanted to do was self-improve as a human being and help others along the path. An aspiring actress from Vancouver, Canada, she was educated on self-improvement by her parents. And while she was struggling to get acting gigs, she came across an organization that seemed to align with her self-improvement mantra. That organization was NXIVM.

However, after 12 years of being a part of an organization that was aimed at changing the world, Sarah realized that she was living in a nightmare after she was branded (with a cauterizing pen) on her pelvic area with the initials of the Keith Raniere, the founder of NXIVM. And it is in the book, How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life, she tells a story of her ordeal and her eventual emancipation from a cult.

After reading this book, I often forgot that I was reading a book. It was almost like reading a letter from a friend.  And that was what I enjoyed about the book. I saw that Sarah’s writing voice is like that of someone genuinely writing to the reader. It is very personable and relatable. The writing style is used by Sarah is a mixture of questioning, since she was a part of a cult that turned out to be an organization aimed at sex trafficking, and imagery, since it showed many person-to-person interactions with family, friends, and loved ones.

As Sarah writes, it seems like she is warning the reader of what can happen if someone ends up walking into a cult by explaining her joys and horrors while in NXIVM. One of those joys being that she thought she found her purpose in life after struggling as an actress and found love. However, the horrors she experienced were NXVIM pulling her away from her family, being told to strip naked for a photo, providing collateral (in the form of false damaging information about her), and her eventual branding.

There is one thing that got me to almost say “Thank you!” aloud while I was reading the book (thankfully, I just said thank you in my head). It was the part where she beautifully, and somewhat hilariously, described Vanguard (the name NXVIM members called Rainiere) himself. One of the ways Edmondson described Raniere was that he talked in a way that reminded her of “word salad.” Word salad, according the Merriam Webster dictionary means “a string of empty, inchorent, unintelligible, or nonsensical words or comments. Before reading Scarred, I saw one of Rainiere’s conversations with Smallville actress, Allison Mack and I could barely keep up with what he was saying. I wondered if he was just trying to sound intelligent. Or was he just pontificating his opinions on the state of acting in a way that didn’t make any sense or perhaps to mind trick Allison Mack. Just check out that conversation here and you be the judge.

When her breaking point starts, we also see Sarah and her friend, Mark Vicente question Rainiere. Raineire was praised by many as one of the worlds smartest men and that he was a Judo champion, an excellent pianist, and among other accolades. Sarah and Mark questioned if Raineire really did accomplish those things. And if he really was smart, how come he lost so much money in the stock market? Money that he was given by Sara and Clare Bronfman, two heiress to Seagram Company and also a part of Rainere’s inner circle who would later get arrested along with Rainiere and Mack.

Another person that Sarah wrote a lot about was Lauren Salzman, the daughter of top NXIVM executive Nancy Salzman and also a member of Raniere’s inner circle. Sarah wrote that she saw her as an instant friend. Sarah was so close to Lauren that she made her a godmother to her newborn son and she was the maid of honor in her wedding. But when Lauren introduces Sarah to the women sorority DOS, an acronym for Dominus Obsequious Sororium (Latin term that translates to Master Over Slave Women), that was what led to the breaking point. To me, Salzman is seen as somewhat of a foil to Sarah. Even after Lauren had her strip naked, provide her with collateral (one that could damage her reputation), and get branded, it can be seen by Sarah’s writing that she hopes for Lauren to find peace and even seems to have started to forgive her.

In addition to reading this book, I have been following the NXVIM story for sometime through watching documentaries and reading Frank Parlato’s blog, The Frank Report. One of the things that got me interested in this story was Allison Mack’s involvement. As a Superman and Smallville fan, I was flabbergasted and I felt betrayed. I admired Allison Mack who beautifully played the intrepid and dauntless Chloe Sullivan, friend and confidant to Tom Welling’s Clark Kent. As I watch reruns of Smallville, I saw that Chloe was a reliable friend and someone who would go to bat for Clark. Perhaps, Allison went to bat for Raniere, a real-life supervillain that would make Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor seem like a choirboy.

I didn’t want to believe that it was Mack that joined DOS and was responsible for carrying out Raniere’s disgusting mission but, it was her. I even had a crush on her but after finding out what she did, I felt repulsed. In a sense, this was almost like a warped real-life episode of Smallville. I could picture poor Clark finding out that his friend did something so terrible and against everything they stood and fought for. Its very safe to say how Clark would react because, I can tell you how I was feeling when I first learned the news.

Years ago in Los Angeles, I almost joined an organization similar to NXIVM but, I left at the very last second due to them trying to pressure me into purchasing one of their self-help curriculums which was a whooping $800 USD (Probably as cheap as rent would get in Westside Los Angeles). And after seeing Sarah’s account on an interview with ABC News, I feel that I might have dodged a bullet by not joining that organization and giving them my money.

This past Sunday, I spoke to my pastor about NXVIM since he knew I was reading the Scarred. We talked about just how easy it can be for anyone to get ensnared into a cult despite intention or emotional state.

Sarah Edmondson wanted to help herself and anyone out. Even when she she began to detox from NXIVM, she did just that by helping people find a way out and being the very person who helped put Rainiere behind bars. She became like a North Star to those who were lost in the dark. To me, she is more of a hero than Allison Mack. She was intrepid and said no to Rainiere despite the collateral that he and his NXIVM cronies had on her. And many people who once carried the NXVIM flag followed suit and all that culminated to the arrests of Mack and Rainere.

As someone who once admired Allison Mack, I hope that Mack find peace and rebuilds herself to be a better person.

I definitely hope to meet Sarah Edmondson one day and just tell her how brave she was. She is a real superhero and one that even Clark Kent would praise for her mission to help others and seek justice.

I see this book not only as a warning but as a healing for Sarah and many others who had to endure the hell and torment NXVIM had put them through.

This book taught me that even people with the best intentions can get mindtricked into something that is seemingly wholesome while in reality, sinister. I encourage anyone who is going through, or even suspects, a similar ordeal to read this book. You will learn about loving yourself, helping others, and forgiving yourself and others.

For those of you who are reading this, especially if you had went through the crap NXVIM dished out or something akin to it, please understand that you are not bad or evil. You are loved no matter what and to not be afraid to seek those who truly love you and want to help you. You have my support.

-Brian From Earth-16

sarah
Sarah Edmonson: Survivor and the Real Superhero of the Story

 

 

 

Veteran’s Day Review/Tribute: Superman Up In the Sky #3 Story-Just A Little Farther

Superman Up In the Sky#3-Just A Little Farther

Writer: Tom King

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Artist: Andy Kubert

I have always enjoyed the stories my Grandma had told me about my Grandad. I never met him but he was a hero who answered the call to enlist in the United States Army during World War II. Grandma also told me that Grandad fought in the Battle of the Bulge which was a huge battle that escalated the end of the War in Europe.

Sometimes, I tell people that Grandad was Captain America. When doing so, people often give me funny expressions and I just smile. I tell them what my Grandma told me: he fought in the war and returned a hero. Maybe my Grandma and her storytelling was why I love stories about heroes or superheroes. Heroes like Superman. Heroes like Captain America. Heroes like my Grandad.

But on this Veteran’s Day, as I think about Superman: Up in the Sky-Just A Little Further, I begin to wonder if Grandad was perhaps, Sgt. Rock? My mom told me a story where he had gotten shot at like any other soldier, seen many of his buddies die, and probably seen a whole lot of narly shit that only could be birthed from war. As Rock narrates his meeting with the guy in the red cape, he explains how “when you’re in the hurt of it, you don’t have time to think.” I am certain that Grandad thought the same thing after seeing the men he likely considered his brothers get hurt.

When I think of Just A Little Further, I think of two generations meeting in a time of uncertainty. I am also reminded of those stories my Grandma and Mom had told me. Now that I think about it, this story is similar to just that but with one of my favorite heroes added in it.

Just A Little Further is the meeting between a hero from the 21 century and a grizzled American soldier in the 20th century. It is a part of the Superman: Up in the Sky issue where Superman goes on a quest to find a young girl name Alice who was kidnapped by an unknown alien.

The very first scene of Further was moving. It showed Sgt. Rock carrying a knocked out Superman while shooting Nazis. A real bad ass drawing and one of my favorites next to Superman taking a green car and smashing it on a boulder in Action Comics #1 or Spider-Man saving a man on the cover of Amazing Fantasy #!5 (Just to name a few).

As Superman comes about, Rock asks who he is and where he is from. Superman response that he does not know who he is but that he is from Kansas. What is so funny in this comic is Rock calling the Man of Steel “Kansas” and gives him an army uniform to hide his costume and “long underwear” plus a pair of glasses.  The sargeant was probably thinking “who the hell says they are from Kansas and dresses like a circus person in a red cape?”  Nonetheless, Clark Kent becomes a memeber of Easy Company and takes part in the Company’s mission to take St. Ruth’s church.

What I enjoyed about this story is that Tom King wrote Sgt. Rock as this man who, despite obviously not having superpowers, is hellbent on completing the mission by going further. Rock even saves Clark’s life of several occassions until Clark becomes Superman again and helps out Sarge whoop some Nazi ass.

Tom King’s Rock narration had a lot of references to comic books and even Action Comics. I also loved how King wrote Rock and Superman being respectful toward each other as men and as heroes. Sarge’s narration of Clark telling him that he had read a lot about the war reminded me of my high school self reading a lot about the U.S. involvement in the war when wanting to learn what it was like for my Grandad. Another cool thing about the narration was when Rock said that he believed in the mantra of Truth, Justice, and the Amercian Way and that he also believed in Superman. The story ends with Rock bidding farwell to the Man of Steel, or Kansas and Superman thanks Sarge for saving the world.

To all the veterans, past and present (Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel and definitely Grandad), men and women, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, neices and nephews and also to Tom King (who served in the CIA)…this day is for you. Like Superman, I want to thank all of you for answering the call to fight for our country and for saving the world. You guys have a special place in my heart.

Thank You.

Happy Veteran’s Day

Review: Becoming Superman

When I read the book, J. Michael Straczynski’s book Becoming Superman, I became quickly engrossed by the story of a man who fought and kicked adversity’s butt like Superman did to villains who would repeatedly threaten Earth or those he cared for. This autobiography painted a picture of a man who had to leap every tall building adversity erected in a single bound to become Superman. It was a story that I enjoyed reading because like Straczynski, I aspired (and still do) to be Superman and a writer.

The story starts off with Straczynski’s family background that is laced with a dark secret that involves deception, Nazism, and tragedy. However, as the story progresses, we see a young Straczynski slowly develop a resilience that is fueled by his aspiration to becoming Superman. And that aspiration was birthed when, as a boy, he started reading Superman comic books and science fiction novels. And that aspiration also fueled his love for writing stories.

As Straczynski hones his craft as a writer, he slowly but gradually breaks out of his family’s shadow of misfortune and poverty. To me, Straczynski’s resolve to overcome adversity as shown throughout the book,  is more powerful than a locomotive.

In his youth, Straczynski had to face an alcoholic father who was a Lex Luthor, or perhaps a General Zod, to his Superman. He also had to experience repeated moves to different cities in the country. He also encountered schoolyard bullies and slap-happy Catholic Nuns. He also had to experience his share of financial ups and downs while using his gift as a wrtier. He learned to love himself by following his goal to becoming a writer which eventually gave him several opprtunities like writng for newspapers, writing scripts for cartoons and TV shows, writing and producing Babylon 5, writing comic books like The Amazing Spider-Man and Superman: Year One, and writing the scrpt for The Changeling.  And with that, he created an awesome career as a writer.

My favorite part in the book was when Straczynski is at the Cannes Film Festival in Paris. It is here where we see Straczynski envisioning himself unbuttoning his shirt and exposing that familiar red and yellow “S” shield of Superman. In that vision, he flies off to the sunset. This scene symbolizes him coming to grips with his past and his accomplishment of living his dream as an accomplished writer.

This book had taught me that despite our adversity, we need to fight for our dreams regardless. Our circumstances, while understandable, are irrelevant to how we approach our goals in life. Straczynski reminds us that we are not victims and that we can all aspire to be like Superman and do the right thing.

To me, J. Michael Straczynski is Superman. I say this because like Superman, he is brave and never gave up on his dream of becoming a writer despite everything being thrown at him. He could have given up and blame his upbringing or childhood but he let it become a motivator for him to be where he is at today. He inspired me to do the same when I read this quote from him in the book:

“I think that the reason so many unlikely things happened to me is because I never listened to those voices; because I came out of the womb snarling at anyone who told me there was something I couldn’t do; because I learned that to win, I only had to ‘say yes I will’ one more time  than somebody else could say ‘no, you won’t.’ I never walked away from what gave me joy, never surrendered my dreams to those who would profit by eradicating them.”

-J. Michael Straczynski

I often used to blame my problems or shortcomings on other things or people.  Only after the fact, I would feel sadness for doing such. Recently, I had to come to grips with the fact that I have to take ownership for my mistakes or shortcomings. I am beginning to love myself enough to say: “No, this is my fault and I am the problem but you know what? I am also the freakin’ solution, son!” That is what real successful people do. Whenever you come up short, there is a time to be upset but, you have to dust the crap off and keep moving forward. J. Michael Straczynski is a reminder of that.

This book really hit close to home for me because, like J. Michael Straczynski, I wanted to be like Superman. As a kid, I emulated Clark Kent by wearing toy red glasses. I pretended to fly and run around the house with a dish rag for a cape. And Superman became one of the reasons why I wanted to become a writer and tell stories.

I recommend that you read this book. It is not just an autobiography of a writer who broke out of the Phantom Zone of adversity and poverty. It is an autobiography about a man who became Superman.