DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Claiming her story in her own words

This is a 99 percent match for you, Netflix told me. Maybe the algorithm knows I live in Port Townsend, where “Maid,” the 10-episode series based on Stephanie Land’s book, starts out.

The show calls the town Port Hampstead. But Land, in the memoir that inspired it, started out in Jefferson County. Port Townsend is where she got herself out of an abusive relationship, and it’s where her family provided little refuge.

In the Netflix series, after “Alex” leaves “Sean’s” place, she sleeps in her car until a police officer knocks on the window to tell her she can’t do that. She then seeks help from a social service agency and is initiated into the inadequate, often-humiliating system.

Alex finds work cleaning houses. If she works too many hours, though, she’ll lose her benefits. At one point, she’s receiving seven kinds of public assistance — and is standing on the edge of the welfare cliff. Earn a little too much income, and the government help evaporates. Not that the wages could cover rent, groceries, gas, utilities, child care and health care.

When I asked friends if they had watched “Maid,” several said yes, excellent show, highly recommended.

I couldn’t imagine, however, spending several evenings with a brutal, true-to-life saga of frustration, injustice and emotional abuse.

My friend and counselor Victoria Jazwic-Sanford of Sequim empathized: Whether one is a reporter or a therapist, an actual reality show such as “Maid” is especially hard to see.

“Many of us in healing or support services already feel the weight of this true story. We get our dose of reality in real time,” Jazwic-Sanford said.

It is also painful to relive Alex’s struggle, vividly portrayed as it is by actor Margaret Qualley.

Both Jazwic-Sanford and I left unhealthy situations and started our lives over. Both of us, I am so happy to report, are in joy-filled marriages now.

As an alternative to Netflix’s treatment of “Maid,” I recommend reading the memoir Land published in 2019. There is a book-club kit with multiple copies at the Port Townsend Library.

Land, meanwhile, is prominent on social media — and pretty much all media — as the show, which premiered Oct. 1, makes its mark. Her 2019 interview with Terry Gross of public radio’s “Fresh Air” was recently rebroadcast; newspapers and magazines are publishing long articles.

Last year, I got a few minutes to interview Land on the phone. This was for a story about her forthcoming keynote speech at Peninsula Behavioral Health’s annual fundraising gala. That was canceled amid the pandemic shutdown of such events. PBH’s Rebekah Miller told me this week the agency hopes to reschedule the fundraiser in 2022.

I wrote a column about Land and her book, and I do hope to go to that fundraiser, some day.

Meantime, my curiosity won out. I watched a little of “Maid’s” episodes 1 and 6, and then all of the final episode. That’s the benefit of streamed series like this. You can binge or just dip in, especially if you’ve read the book already.

Alex, like Land, writes a triumphant ending to her own story. In a group for survivors of domestic abuse, she connects with other women and encourages them to write about their lives.

“Writing is where I go to tell the truth,” Alex says.

In a stroke of brilliance, she invites each woman to write, then and there, about the happiest day of her life. When a few choose to read their words aloud, the rest snap their fingers as applause.

Your words are exactly right, Alex tells these women. And they are yours.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] dailynews.com. Her column runs the first and third Wednesdays of the month; the next one will be published Nov. 3.

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