Aaah Tarzan …. can you remember the strong handsome man who ruled the jungle and swung on vines? The one who made you feel safe – in your mind at any rate – in the wild and hostile environment of the jungle, fighting poachers and ferocious animals alike? I loved watching the Tarzan films as a young girl … like my blog guest, Catherine Forster, whose memoir “Chasing Tarzan” describes how the role of imagination and her fantasy Tarzan helped her to cope with the trials and tribulations growing up.
CHASING TARZAN – BOOK SUMMARY
In the 1960s, a relentless school bully makes Catherine’s life a living hell. She retreats inward, relying on a rich fantasy life––swinging through the jungle wrapped in Tarzan’s protective arms––and fervent prayers to a God she does not trust. She fasts until she feels faint, she ties a rough rope around her waist as penance, hoping God will see her worthy of His help.
As the second of eight children, Catherine is Mommy’s little helper, and like Mommy, Catherine is overwhelmed. The bullying and the adult responsibilities together foment her anger. She starts smacking her siblings, and becomes her younger sister’s nemesis. Spooked by who she is becoming, Catherine vows to escape for real, before she hurts someone—or herself.
Catherine finds salvation in a high school exchange program: new town, new school, new family, new persona. A passport celebrity. In New Zealand, nobody knows her history or her fears. Except for her Kiwi “mum,” who sees through Catherine’s façade and pulls her out from her inner safe-house. Exposed, her sense of self implodes. Catherine must finally rethink who she is.
Publisher: WiDo Publishing (July 2022)
Print length: 278 pages
MEET THE AUTHOR
Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to chat about Chasing Tarzan. I’m Catherine. I am an artist and filmmaker as well as a writer. I have three grown children and recently celebrated my twenty-seventh marriage anniversary. As the oldest daughter and second child of eight children, I was second-mom by the age of six. I have lived in several countries and many different towns in the United States. Today, I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we are building a house on the South Sound––my biggest art installation yet!.
“Chasing Tarzan” began life as a series of drawings and evolved into the written word; what made you decide to write down your story?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather, an unfolding process. Initially, I created a picture journal with captions. I am dyslexic, not severely, but enough that words were not my friend. The idea of writing a book seemed pure folly, but words came to me, invading my thoughts and drawings. As my daughter was also the target of bullies, I elected to write private passages for her. These early writings became a series of short stories; the beginnings of a book.
Your book highlighted for me how quickly bullying can escalate, and about the role the imagination can play. What was it about Tarzan that helped you through your toughest moments?
I had a crush on Tarzan. He was so handsome, so brave, so kind to Jane and the animals. Growing up, I never wanted to be the princess. So boring. Hanging on a vine, flying through the trees, riding a top and elephant, now that’s exciting. When the bullying started and no one intervened, I looked to Tarzan; he would help me when no one else would. Immersed in the jungle with Tarzan’s strong arms around me, I could handle anything.
Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to relate than you expected?
I could fill a deep well with all the surprises. It took seven drafts to produce the book. The first four revisions were all about story; what exactly did I want to say, and how deep did I need to go (deeper than I ever thought possible). The last drafts were all about honing my writing, making the story cogent and accessible to readers.
Like many people, I’d buried much of my childhood, locked it in a box deep in my head. Unlocking that box was not easy. It was punishing to expose my powerlessness and my shame, especially considering how hard I’d fought to hide the impact of my tormentor’s cruelty. But the book would have been vapid had I not been unflinchingly honest.
I loved your writing style and the honesty that shone through. I went through a range of emotions – I wanted to reach out and comfort you during the bullying episodes, I was angry at your bullies, I sympathised when you realised you were carrying out your frustrations on your younger siblings, I was annoyed at your parents for not realising what was going wrong, I was elated when you secured a place on the exchange programme to New Zealand … phew! Did you find writing your story and sketching therapeutic?
It was restorative and at times, meditative, but always a struggle. When stuck, the story evading me, I turned to nature. I’d go for a walk in the woods, or kayak. Alone, with the hum of nature enfolding, was when some of the most troubling memories surfaced. It was safe––not unlike the jungle with Tarzan, but real––and I let go. A heightened awareness of nature and my surroundings has been one of the biggest benefits of writing the book.
One thing I did feel was how strange it must have been for you to go from your own family where you had a lot of responsibility heaped onto you and travelled to New Zealand where the “kiwi” family functioned in a different way. How difficult was it to adjust to living in a different country with a different family dynamic? Coming back home, what habits from New Zealand did you retain?
I still have residue of the accent. I have a keen ear for accents and they don’t wear off easily. I have traveled extensively, including living for ten years in London. As a result, I occasionally utilize words and phrases not normally used in the US, or pronounce common words differently. My children find this quite humorous. And it all started in New Zealand.
New Zealand was shock to me. I was completely disoriented. Now I was the popular girl, but didn’t know how to be one and feared being exposed as a fake. My host parents were so different––and in my eyes, too prying. Why did they keep asking me questions, want to know what I was thinking, feeling, doing? No one had enquired about my day before, had asked, “Penny for your thoughts?” It was terrifying and aggravating. I had to learn how to have a conversation about me. I also had to learn how to be a different kind of sibling. In my real home, teasing was our way of showing affection; in NZ it was deemed abuse. In time, I would learn how to be present, how to enjoy simple things like sitting around a fire in the evening, everyone with a book in hand.
What advice would you give to a young girl in a similar position?
That is a good question. I wish I had a magic solution to eradicate bullying, but I don’t. Despite anti-bullying programs, bullying has only increased. What progress is made on the playground is quashed online, where everyone can now be the target.
Studies show that if a bullied child knows they are not deserving of abuse, they are less likely to suffer the long-term effects of bullying (substance abuse, depression, poor relationships, suicide). I hope the book provides evidence to those suffering, that they do not deserve this treatment. They are survivors, victims of cruelty that has nothing to do with them. I believed my tormentors: there had to be something wrong with me (fat, ugly, stupid) or otherwise I would not have been targeted. I hope Chasing Tarzan demonstrates that the bullying is an untruth, devised to hurt. They do not warrant attention.
I advise young girls to seek comfort in positive voices; a teacher, a parent, a friend, a kind stranger. We tend to clench on the negative, the cruel words and events, repeating them over and over in our heads. Hold on to the positive comments––not likes on social media––but real words and moments. Seek out allies and be one, too. Know that there are actions you can take, other than self-medication, or becoming a bully too. It is tough, it is horrendous, it is exhausting, but you have power too. The power you possess will surprise you, just as it did me.
Since your foray to New Zealand, you have travelled quite extensively across 6 continents – Any favourite destinations? What’s top of your bucket list?
Italy. I love the food, the countryside, the people, the language. I lived in Milano for six months. It wasn’t always easy. My language skills weren’t great, communicating at work and on the street was a challenge. I was lonely at first, but Italy embraced me. Peru is also up there as a favorite. A four-day unrelenting struggle up the Machu Picchu Trail taught me I possessed a resilience I never knew I had. Plus, the Andes Mountains are breathtaking. On the top of my bucket list: Bhutan
Is “Chasing Tarzan” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes. So far, I’ve received enthusiastic responses from readers in Iceland, Croatia, England, and New Zealand.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
Ha! Right now, I am wearing boot-cut jeans and a navy sweater with stars embroidered on it. When I go outside, I’ll exchange my slippers for black suede boots.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
I don’t buy clothes, textiles, or shoes online. I like to touch and feel what I’m wearing. Same goes for items like furniture, though I will browse in person and then buy online. Currently, my husband and I are building a house, so house items are big on my mind. Favorite online shop at the moment: ETSY
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
New pair of running shoes. Jeans, if I can find a pair that doesn’t have those ridiculously high cut waistlines. So uncomfortable, yet I wore them ages ago.
Boots or Shoes?
Sandals and comfy flats in summer, boots in winter––one for hiking, and one for ambling around town. In terms of boots or shoes around town: boots! They just seem more put together. With boots, a casual outfit magically becomes fashionable.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Website Tarzan page: https://catforster.com/chasing-tarzan/
BOOK TOUR DATES
Thank you for chatting to me Catherine – I loved reading your book and thank you for allowing me to be part of your book tour!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Catherine Forster.