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How a Harvard grad joined a cult, learned its mating rituals, endured exile, and – finally – mated in the wild.
How a Harvard grad joined a cult, learned its mating rituals, endured exile, and – finally – mated in the wild.
How a Harvard grad joined a cult, learned its mating rituals, endured exile, and – finally – mated in the wild.
135 backers pledged $16,149 to help bring this project to life.

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Mating in Captivity: A Memoir

$16,149

135

Book:

In October 1999, fresh out of Harvard and flush with cash from a no-strings travel grant, I boarded a bus from New York to North Carolina to live at Zendik Farm. The Zendiks – rugged, fierce, mostly young – claimed to be starting a revolution to save humans from death by competition and lies, and the Earth from ecocide. Disillusioned with business as usual, and keen to learn how to homestead, I chose to give their story a try.

It didn’t hurt that the Farm was crawling with hot guys. Or that, at twenty-two, I’d yet to have sex or a serious relationship. When I discovered that the Zendiks used go-betweens to arrange sexual assignations, or “dates,” in cozy shacks just big enough for a double bed and a nightstand, I rejoiced – here, the mating dance was choreographed. And I could get help with the moves.

Within two weeks, I’d handed over my grant money and vowed to stay for life.

But behind the swarm of youth lurked Arol, an aging matriarch bent on ruling every heart. She split up lovers who grew too close, warning sexual corruption would lure us to betray the revolution. Dissolving into her panopticon, I surrendered love after love – only to suffer a brutal drop from grace that forced me to face Zendik’s contradictions and start, at last, on a story of my own.

An intimate journey through the full arc of cult involvement, Mating in Captivity is for those who’ve dreamed of fleeing the mainstream; those who’ve tried; those flailing for a role in the world as it is. Most of all, it’s for those who’ve been trapped inside stories – and those who still are.

Read Chapter 1: Interview on helenzuman.com.

Background:

I started writing my memoir in January 2006, a month after seeing that Zendik fit the cult pattern. I was amazed that I’d committed so fully to a false story – and doubly amazed that after years in captivity I was gloriously free. Awed by what seemed like twin miracles, I knew I would turn the experience into a book.

I didn’t know how long it would take. That was probably a blessing.

Eleven years later, I thank my book for pushing me towards writerhood. For showing me there’s always a way forward. For conveying – in whispers, when I was willing to listen – what it wanted to be.

Now the text is finished; now it’s time to transform it into a thing of beauty you can hold in your hands or summon to your screen. And it’s time to launch the book with a bang big enough that lots of readers will hear it.

That’s where you come in.

Budget:

$16,000 goal covers:

  • She Writes Press publishing package (includes interior and cover design, distribution, proofreading, plus technical, logistical, and marketing support): $4,900
  • Copy-editing: $1,950
  • Initial print run of 1,000 trade paperbacks: $3,000
  • Delivery of books to my home: $100
  • Producing and mailing books claimed as rewards: $3,650
  • Producing and mailing Advance Reader Copies (in quest of blurbs and other promotional support): $800
  • Kickstarter fees: $1,600

Should I exceed my goal, I will use the additional funds to promote the book, throw a launch party, expand the initial print run, and/or defray the costs of a book tour.

Not the book cover - just a placeholder - but I do like the blue frogs.
Not the book cover - just a placeholder - but I do like the blue frogs.

Note to International Backers:

Update (3.13.17): I've added options for the U.K. and Canada to all reward levels involving delivery of physical books. At the $50 and $100 levels, you pay shipping ($25 to the U.K., $15 to Canada); at levels of $250 and above, shipping is free. If you live elsewhere, and wish to receive physical books, please get in touch! Just let me know where you live and your desired pledge level, and I'll add your country to that reward, along with any additional cost for shipping.

Why Give?

  • Because our collective myths (humans are separate from nature, the economy must grow infinitely, technology will save us) need revision, and we need compelling reminders of our power to revise.
  • Because a gush of healing happens when even one member of a closed group tells “the whole truth, with love” about her experience.
  • Because Mating in Captivity is a beautifully wrought, deeply personal page-turner – and, as a backer, you’ll get to read it first.
What your illuminated manuscript might look like, should you choose to fund at that level. Yes, I've been called "The Human Typewriter."
What your illuminated manuscript might look like, should you choose to fund at that level. Yes, I've been called "The Human Typewriter."

Bio:

My writing has appeared in The New Farmers’ Almanac, The Park Slope Reader, The Park Slope Journal, The Linewaiters’ Gazette, The Harvard Salient, Peter Parasol, and Cellar Door. I’ve been awarded multiple residencies at the Byrdcliffe Art Colony, a Hertog Fellowship at Hunter College, and a George Peabody Gardner Traveling Fellowship (through Harvard, from which I hold a B.A. in Visual and Environmental Studies). My old blog, After Zendik, offered the first comprehensive insider’s view of a cult that touched thousands of lives over forty years; my new blog spirals around themes like purpose, gift, coercion, and the catastrophe of industrial civilization. Raised in Brooklyn, I now live in Beacon, New York (and Black Mountain, North Carolina) with my husband, Gregg, and my perennial quest for new stories.

Excerpt (from Chapter 2, "Moving In"):

I brought my journal to the living room, to show Cayta. Sitting next to me on the couch nearest the wood stove, she read the three columns of neat black print as the embers crackled and hissed. I wondered if she’d praise me for my honesty. If she’d spot hidden patterns. My chest tingled with the thrill – and risk – of sharing secrets.

Cayta reached the bottom of the last column and turned the page to make sure she’d seen everything. Palm resting on the passage revising my take on why I hadn’t fought, she turned to face me, a shrewd glint in her dark eyes.

“You were raised Catholic, right?”

“Yes,” I said. This was common knowledge. My stock response to Zendiks’ questions about my religious background was, “I’m a recovering Catholic.”

She made a fist and pressed it against the blocks of text. “Don’t you think you drew those assaults to you, since it was the only way you could have a sexual experience without feeling guilty about it?”

The tingle stilled. Maybe she was right – maybe this was a precious insight – but it hit me with a condemning thud.

“Well, maybe,” I said.

“So if you start going after sex on your own terms, you’ll stop vibing into that shit.” Cayta smiled. “That’s pretty cool! And here you can do that.”

I flashed on the Zendik dating scheme, its tantalizing possibilities. Could it really encase me in a shield of consensual touch? If so, then – maybe – this was the place.

Want more? Go here for a longer excerpt - all of Chapter 1!

An original artwork (5"x7") featuring a quote from the book - yours with a pledge of $300!
An original artwork (5"x7") featuring a quote from the book - yours with a pledge of $300!

 

Risks and challenges

The text of the book is complete; all it needs is copy-editing and proofreading, which I will procure through She Writes. I have a publishing contract, and a spot on the She Writes list for Spring 2018. I have been careful to create rewards that I know I can deliver.

Then again, industrial civilization could crash within the next year - in which case I'd need to learn bookbinding, brush up on my quill skills, and track y'all down by passenger pigeon. In that scenario, reward delivery could be significantly delayed.

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    The inside scoop...

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    Your name in the book's acknowledgments.
    A one-hour phone conversation with me - about Zendik, cults, the power of stories, the wisdom of the body, or whatever (within reason) is on your mind OR FIVE hours of writing/revising/editing work on a project of your choice.

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    A reading by me (with Q&A) at a venue of your choice in the contiguous 48 States OR TWENTY hours of writing/revising/editing work on a project (or projects) of your choice.

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    Plus: You and I will pay a visit to a group you’re curious about. Maybe it’s a cult, maybe it isn't. (Cultishness, I’ve found, is really a continuum.) You find the group fascinating, but you’d prefer to go with a guide, an interpreter, with experience spotting signs and patterns. Together, we'll explore, learn more. (Note: This would be a day trip only, to a location in the contiguous 48 States within a reasonable distance of public transportation.)

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    A handwritten copy of the book, transcribed by me, in the tradition of the illuminated manuscript OR FORTY-FIVE hours of writing/revising/editing work on a project (or projects) of your choice.

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Funding period

- (30 days)