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.