Why I use the word siren, when maybe I wanted to use the word mermaid.
Ulysses and the Sirens by HJ Draper, 1909
I was surprised when a few readers asked me why I titled my latest novel, Coney Island Siren. The question behind the question is the need for an explanation of why I use the word siren when maybe I wanted to use the word mermaid. That would have made the title Coney Island Mermaid.
The images of mermaids are of beautiful enchanted creatures with the bodies of women with fish-like half bodies and flipping tails. That reminds me of Ariel, The Little Mermaid. Lovable with beautiful flowing red locks. A mermaid will enchant a sailor to live a life of love and want and desire. A mermaid can enchant a child to love the sea and all the magic it musters. The child can wear a knitted tail and pretend to be stranded on the beach. A mermaid is on the safe side of things.
A siren connotes a more dangerous type of sea creature. There are a multitude of myths about sirens. Sirens started out depicted as women with wings – almost angelic. In more modern day folk tales, sirens have tails of fish. Her song enchants sailors and men who are doomed to become shipwrecked and stuck in lives they hadn’t ever planned to engage in but he had no choice because of the power of a dangerous woman, in this case- siren. After reading the various tales that included stories of Persephone and Hades, Odysseus, and others, I decided to go into deep meditation to ascertain how the siren really factored into my novel even more than the title.
Odysseus and the Sirens by JW Waterhouse, 1891
As a tool in private practice, my spouse utilizes GIM that is an abbreviation of Bonny Method of Guided Imagery in Music. She casually mentioned that one of the music pieces she uses is Debussy’s Nocturnes: III Sirènes. You can’t make this stuff up. I asked for a session to help me gain clarity on this issue. She’s been using this practice for some time now, but this would be my first session. I went in willingly and came up with a deeper understanding of the weaving of the title and the symbolism of the siren in the case of Maggie and Frank.
No bones about it Coney Island Siren is about domestic violence. Maggie Fuentes and Frank Ramirez dance a perilous and unpredictable dance. There is no way to cut in on their dance. It can only stop when one bows out. Maggie is a nurse and Frank is a police officer. Their days are filled with the sounds of sirens both in police cars and ambulances. That is a mere superficial layer to the title and its connections. There are so many layers to the choice of the title.
The story takes place in Coney Island. That part is easy. They work and live risky lives. Maggie is not portrayed as a victim such as we usually think when a woman is in a partnership where there is intimate partner violence. Maggie takes her chances as she looks for love and anything to fill that god-sized hole in her chest that is empty and in want. Frank and Maggie are intertwined in this dance of the sea. The waves collide and they roll back and forth never quite letting go of each other. It’s a devastating tale but it is their tale.
There are two parts here. Maggie calls to Frank as she sings her song of longing from the sea. Frank leaves his ship to be with Maggie and his life is doomed because he cannot resist her call of longing. That call and acceptance sounds terrorizing for those of us on the outside of this duo as we witness what takes place in their partnering.
In my meditation, I saw that these myths are basic fodder for the belief that men are loath to give up what they believe is a life without worry or burden. A woman comes along and ensnares them. The men are doomed to live without the ability to go out and plunder other ships, find fool’s gold, or engage in adventures that are assuredly removed from them once they’ve been caught by a siren, I mean, woman. The woman’s objective of creating and procreating are looked at as an anchor that forces men to a terrible fate. Women are frequently blamed for being the downfall of men in our country and often even worse in other countries. These understanding and knowing of these connections became deeply powerful in my GIM session. There is also the expansion of a feeling of joy within me as I begin to learn more about my writings after the fact. I often share that my writings are mere channelings from the characters who ask that their stories be told. I, like you readers, learn more about the stories as I read and live with them.
My daily truth is that I sit with women who have left violent relationships, but frequently return to the people who have harmed them. I often hear health providers say that they much prefer to work with men because women are so complicated. That women are troublemakers and dangerous. Like sirens would you say? We’ve got a long way to go until we as humans stop blaming women for men’s unhappiness, lack of success, or being saddled where they don’t want to be. Maggie and Frank just happen to be a heterosexual cis-gendered couple. These violent relationships are also frequent in same sex, non-binary couples too. I’m not meaning to leave them out of this discussion, but we are talking about this particular novel here.
The answer to why I chose to use the term siren is a complicated one. Any explanation seems simplistic. I haven’t blamed the woman, Maggie, inadvertently, by naming the book Coney Island Siren. It’s time that we, as humans, begin to understand the severity of these tales towards women. Couples dance their dances. I can try to stop the music. I can try to cut in and tap one on the shoulder. At some point, one may look up and decide to make a break in their actions. Maybe with enough light on these situations, one will walk away.
I am sure that this topic will be continued. Until then!