Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores
Photographer Patricia Gulick

Friday, April 26, 2013

2-25-13 RMB The Amen Corner
Dear Rita Mae Brown,

Today in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser I read in the chapter “The Amen Corner” that you wrote “What I can’t know is what my life means to anyone else….I don’t know who will remember me or why.”

I found that an incredibly interesting line and one I would not expect from you for some reason. You surprise me often. I like that.
I also thought it serendipitous that I read it the day after got up the gumption to write to you. It was just one of those “life is funny that way” kind of moments. I had to chuckle and give myself a nod, maybe writing to you was not such a crazy idea after all.

Although the questions were written rhetorically, please allow me to indulge in the pleasure of responding. You wrote “What I can’t know is what my life means to anyone else…” Wow, where do I begin?
Your life means there really are people brave enough to live honestly, to stand up for themselves, knowing, all the while, that you stood for more than just yourself.

You spoke earlier in the book about a connection that crosses space and time, a way of knowing one another whether we have ever met or not. I concur. I further believe every being affects every other. We don’t have to meet or have lived in the same time or even know each other in any way, to affect one another.

The strength you displayed lends strength to every person attempting to do good for themselves, or for others, who face opposition, ignorance or prejudice. Whether they know it or not, whether they have read your works or heard your name, you have inspired and accompanied them on their journey. We are all a part of a mass consciousness and you have raised the bar for us all. 

It may sound a bit farfetched to some, however this is one area I have studied in depth. There are documented cases of the mass consciousness theory studied in nature and in people.

Scientists are working to prove the facts and name the widgets that make it work. Part of what drives me to study it is to find out what the scientists have discovered in this area because I myself know it to be so. I don’t know how I know…that is up to the widget seekers to figure out. I just know it is so. One of my quirks is that I know things, things I have no way of knowing, but when researched or checked my batting average is so accurate it’s scary. The widget seekers give me peace in knowing I am not alone in this thought path. So, if you can, trust me on this one.

That said, knowing your work, reading your words and observing your life, inspires many, informs others, and enlightens some.  And so I write on.
As for “…I don’t know who will remember me or why.” I will remember you. Those you spoke for will remember you. History will remember you.

The other day I saw a review written some months ago of Rubyfruit Jungle. The reviewer mentions that it was a significant work in its day, but that was forty years ago.  That is my point exactly. There is a reason it is being reviewed forty years later. It is a significant work. Period.
So that brings me to the “or why” part. It is hard to imagine what you faced in your life and how you managed to stay afloat in such adversity, let alone maintain your sense of humor. I tended to be the make everyone comfortable type, yet even I faced some adversity.

I am proud to say that the few times in my life that I was confronted with prejudice I did not turn away.  On one occasion a girl had found out that I was involved with another female employee at the fast food hamburger joint we all worked at. My girlfriend complained to me that she heard the girl was gossiping about us. I have no idea how this person found out, but I was not about to deny it.
I don’t think my girlfriend expected me to do anything about it. I was just the kid she had seduced into a relationship. Before she made the first move, which was a lingering French kiss, I had not recognized my own inclinations. I was oblivious. I remember thinking while she was kissing me something along the lines of “what is this all about???”

In the beginning I was only fifteen and in the midst of family issues (like figuring out how to help support my mother, sound familiar?). Who had time to think of anything remotely romantic? She was years older than I was and I often felt she was just toying with me anyway.
Not only was I oblivious, I was uncomfortable with anything sexual. I liked being held and grew to enjoy kissing, but beyond that any exploration felt like a science project to me. I was emotionally out of reach for reasons beyond sexuality or preferences. I carried too much baggage, way too much to expound on at this juncture.

In all fairness, I must say I was drawn to her. When I looked at her, I felt as I had when I watched Toni on the playground several years prior, a feeling I had never revisited nor examined. She was not off base by assuming my interest in her. She saw it and recognized it. I did not, even when it was literally staring me in the face.
Interestingly enough, in this same time period, another employee accused me of having an affair with a young man on the staff when I knew very well that he had a girlfriend. The girlfriend was also on staff. It was a regular Peyton Place. If you knew me, you would see how ridiculous this was. At all of sixteen years old, I was about the most innocent person you could imagine…really.  

The man I was supposedly going after was a friend that I hung out with after work sometimes. He had made suggestive remarks and a couple passes at me. I always turned him down and reminded him of his girl, despite his claim that they were breaking up anyway. I laughed at him and said “Yeah right, you come see me AFTER you break up and then we’ll talk”. Little did he know I was already spoken for, at least I thought I was.
So back to gossip girl, first thing I wanted to know was why she would be saying anything about me. I barely knew her. In an effort to understand I began watching her. She was older, taller and looked stronger than I. It occurred to me that in a direct confrontation I would be at a deep disadvantage. I had always been a tomboy, but never a fighter.

In my off hours, I stood in the lobby or outside the drive thru and watched as she worked. I made no effort to hide what I was doing. I flat out stared at her. I studied her for five or so minutes at a time. After about a week, it was obvious I was scaring her.  She became incredibly nervous whenever she saw me. I found no answers through observing her and began to feel like I was bullying the bully. That’s not me, so I stopped.
I went up to her and asked if we could go to the women’s restroom to talk. Why we needed to go to a bathroom instead of just out in the lobby, I don’t know. I guess I wanted to be able to close the door, since I knew we would be talking about something that was supposedly a secret.

I demanded “What business is it of your’s who I spend my time with? Do you have anything to say to my face?” She said it wasn’t her business and she had nothing to say to me. I asked her to stop saying things to others. She said she would. I told her that if she wanted to know something about me, to talk to me, not other people.  She gave a nervous apology. It didn’t appear sincere.
Either my girlfriend chose never to mention what she heard to me again, or the gossip really did stop. I don’t know which, but I never heard of it happening after that.

This episode and the others I faced are incredibly mild compared to your experiences. This happened in 1980.  Do you think that just maybe I had it a bit easier because someone else ventured forth breaking down barriers a decade earlier? Different people in different areas face varying degrees of obstacles. However, I truly believe that each person involved in creating the awareness of the need to accept one another eases the journey for all who follow. 
Hmm, “…I don’t know who will remember me or why”, why would we wish to remember Rita Mae Brown?  You not only broke down barriers, you brought a bulldozer to the fore.

I remember because I am grateful. I remember because there is more work to be done and you set the wheels in motion at a fast enough clip to carry more than one person’s share.
Many thanks,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

2-24-13 RMB Rita Will


Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I am sitting at a coffee shop on a cool, windy California day after reading a couple chapters of Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser .

I would like to say that a deep desire for truth, or an understanding of history, or an interest in great authors and their works drew me to you. Alas, I must honestly confess the initial spark that lit a burning desire to research your work was unearthed by a single one inch black & white image which appeared to the right of your name when I Googled “Rita Mae Brown”.

Perhaps I should go back further. As early as seven years old, I can remember wanting to write, to tell stories with ink. Leap forward forty-some-odd years and the want lives on, like an imaginary friend that appears now and again, sometimes slinking away to the shadows of my life only to re-awaken with a vengeance throughout the years.

Among the works that live within, are some I hope will bring light and wisdom to future generations. Recently in effort to learn my craft, to read what has already been written as advised by many, I have taken to reading fiction. Having always preferred nonfiction anything to fiction anything, this is a big step.

This is also stall tactic number one zillion and fifteen in delaying actual writing of said works that might, if ever written, bring about aforementioned light and wisdom. Knowing I am not fooling anyone on the stalling front does little to divert me from it. And once in a while some good and even greater insight is found in the midst of the stalling.

I recently read the novel Gun Shy by Lori Lake. It describes a character, Desiree “Dez” Reilly, a Minnesota police officer. I was enraptured by Dez. She fascinated me.

Gun Shy is a lesbian love story. In searching for similar stories, works by Rita Mae Brown appeared. I had heard of Rubyfruit Jungle, but never read it. After all it is fiction, however it sits on my bookshelf now, to be read soon.

On a whim, I Googled Rita Mae Brown and there to the right was your image. I didn’t see it as you. I knew little about you. But I knew Dez, having read Gun Shy and two subsequent sequels by then. The image, your image of twenty or so years ago, was exactly as I would have imagined Dez’s face. I was smitten. That image drew me in.
I checked out the first novel I found by you from my local library. It was Alma Mater. I read it and went back for more. By the time I finished Rita Mae Brown by Carol M. Ward, I began to see you as you in that photo and in others. Now I am midway through Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser and am in awe of you. 
I am thankful to Lori Lake for a novel that moved me, because I found myself connected to her characters in a way that made me think, more than that, it made me act.

I am also thankful that indirectly, she led me to you.

To say that I am thankful to you and all you’ve done would be an understatement of the highest degree. Everyone knows that each generation paves the road for the future. Then there are those singular individuals that pave the way for the greater good. You are among those individuals.

I am far from an expert on anything such as history, humanities, or social studies. I am an expert on me. I arrived in the summer of 1964. By 1969 I had my first crush. I was a bright kindergartner and he was the smartest boy in the class. He was also black. I am white. I was told he could not be my boyfriend and I could not marry him when I grew up. It just wasn’t done.

Unrelated to my kindergarten crush, our family split shortly thereafter. An older sister and I went with our mother to California. We spent summers in Alabama with my father, our other siblings and the humidity. In 1974 my father sat my older sister and myself down for a talk. He said the black young man (a different, much older young man) that had been stopping by to visit, could not visit with us on the front porch.

“We thought you wouldn’t want us bringing company in the house when no adults were home.” Dad confirmed he was not allowed in the house. Out back, in the backyard??? No, not there either. We were not to visit with this friend at the house at all.

The young man had been a perfect gentleman and treated us kindly. That argument didn’t hold water. How could good manners and kindness mean nothing? I was confused. Somewhere in the conversation Dad mentioned that the neighbors would see him there. I had never met nor seen any neighbors. The houses were spread out quite a bit. Since when were the phantom neighbors in charge of our house? I was still confused.

In fifth grade I developed three new crushes, although I only understood two of them. I began to notice two boys and a girl named Toni. Although I knew I had crushes on the boys, society or family or whatever, had not taught me that having a crush on a girl was even possible. I assumed the draw she had on me was admiration for the kind of person she was. The fact that I couldn’t keep my eyes off her was puzzling, but I enjoyed watching her from afar just the same.  Although we were barely acquaintances in grade school, I still think of her often.

I never gave much thought to rights, mine or anyone else’s. There is so much of our past that I learned but neglected to fully comprehend, so much of our present that I have taken for granted. And yet there is more to do, so many more ways in which we can move forward.

In grade school, one teacher in particular walked us through our school pointing out how it had changed. How this bathroom or that classroom used to be for the colored kids and how we had all come together now. It didn’t really register for me. In my mind we were always “together”. I got along with everyone. My classes were never segregated.

I spent a lot of time with that teacher and another female teacher she hung out with. During breaks I would leave the playground to visit with them while they played cards in one of their classrooms. Looking back now, I see they were a couple. I wonder if they saw in me what I would later become.  I wonder if their determination to show us progress reflected their hope that more progress would follow for others.

It is people like you that make progress possible. The lives altered by your work, by your very existence, are too numerous to count. Society as a whole is affected. Every person, beyond any categorization of black, female or gay is affected. White people, men, families, friends, all ages, genders, everyone benefits from honoring the truth, the best in each of us and the best that we can be for one another.

You spoke a truth that needed to be said, words that a rare few were brave enough to speak, words that some could not conceive and others would do their damnedest to suppress. I realize you must know this, that I am not telling you anything new. I also realize there is no way you, or anyone, can measure the distance of your voice’s echo.

I determined to get this message to you and soon realized I had more to say than I could fit in a single fan letter. It also dawned on me that if your words are new to me, there are others that will undoubtedly benefit from them and find them new as well. That is where the idea of doing a blog developed, for letters such as this.

You may feel that it has all been said. You have written and spoken and been interviewed over and over, and yet to those that have not heard and to those that may have heard but were not ready to understand, your words are new. The lessons they teach continue to enlighten. They are moving, inspiring, and above all for our continued progress, the likes of them are necessary.

Bless you,