Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores
Photographer Patricia Gulick

Friday, May 31, 2013

3-28-13 RMB Bean-Bear
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
It’s 5am and I am up writing one of my stories, not this letter, the other works I am creating. Thank you for the inspiration, for the motivation.
It turns out Bear really was Bean. The end of the n was worn off. His family called. I took him home. “Bean” fits his size better. No wonder he perked up so at being called “Bear”. If I were a Bean, I’d rather be a Bear. He is a happy, snorty, smelly tyke who is now happy to be home.
They offered me money. Kind of them but there was no need. Bean-Bear already gave me plenty more than dollars and cents. I figured out why I was annoyed. I was fretting over what to do with him if that phone number was not good. What if his family had moved on? What would I do with a Bear?  
I hate that it all comes back to us, that we are selfish animals. Every act is weighed consciously or unconsciously as holding a good or bad affect on our lives, comfortable or uncomfortable. I would not have wanted to take him to the shelter, not sure if he would survive there, if they would let him survive. I am glad I did not have to face that decision. I already know what my answer would have been.
I know you have several animals. I have resisted taking in more than two, Misty and Smores, a shelter dog and a shelter cat. And even those I consented to mainly to keep the sister company, to give her hands an important task. I win in the long run. I have a happy dog to walk and a lap warmer we call Smores when I come home each night. I get the benefit. Sister does the work. I am spoiled.
A note to any other readers…even if you can’t adopt or donate money to your local shelter, they need blankets, toys for the animals and helping hands. Call them and find out if there is something you have or can do to help them. Everyone has an old towel or extra blanket lying around. The boys and I go to the thrift store to buy some now and then and drop them off together.
I want the boys to grow up knowing what it feels like to give, to lend a hand, to know they can make a difference in other lives, to feel what they gain from giving. I always ask afterwards “How do you feel? How did the workers you gave the stuff to feel to you? How do you think the animals that get those blankets or toys will feel?”
People are so concerned about giving something away and holding less than was held before. If they could only feel what they gain, let it register…we would have no hunger, no despair… another sweet dream.
The foster system needs help too. Maybe you can’t adopt a child, but you can help those that do or the children that are in the system. In either case, what you offer can take as little as an hour or a day. You do get more than you give. Whenever we help one another, by words written or deeds done…we save ourselves and each other.
Good night,
PS. I like that Carole in In Her Day is such a good sport with the young Ilse!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

3-27-13 RMB Chihuahua Bear
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
On my way home tonight I stopped to let a tiny white Chihuahua slowly cross the street in front of me and scoot down the road. I hoped he would run into his own yard and back where he belonged. He kept going up the street and looked to be limping.
In the past I tried catching stray dogs to help them find their way home and normally it is an exercise in, well just exercise. They run when I get out of the car and mock me “catch me if you can mere human!” I walk, they run, I trot after them. Eventually all I am left with is a long walk back to my car.
Since this tyke was tiny and limping, I thought I had a fair chance to catch him. I parked the car. Even a tiny dog can bite, so I took some time to chat with him and he came right up to me. I asked folks at the two houses he had been walking by if he was theirs or if they knew where he belonged. Nope.
Once up close I could see he is quite old with a faded collar. The limp must be from arthritis or an old injury. His leg is not hurting him, but he walks lopsided. I called the faded phone number, no answer. I left a message. I brought him home to my sister who immediately babied him, fed him and took him out to walk. The walk seemed a bit much, since he had just been roaming the streets five minutes prior, but whatever.
It has been over an hour now. I’ve called his phone number two more times, the last time to say that they can call at any hour and I will bring him home. I don’t want to leave him here with my sister having to juggle the cat and dog around with this tyke all day.
His name is “Bear” according to the tag and he does answer to it, so he is not impersonating Bear, it really is him, all one pound and four inches of him. Bear can practically fit in one hand, in two hands with some room to spare.  He snorts like he has a cold or trouble breathing and is smelly like he has an ear infection or a bad tooth. Although sis is into animals, she can’t have the dog and cat locked out of her room for the night. One guess where Bear is hanging out right now? Yep, he is retiring to my room for the night, lovely.
I gave him an old towel for a bed and he is on a leash so we don’t loose him under the furniture or behind the bed.  I don’t know why I am not happier about this. Seems like it makes up for all the times I chased dogs for the sheer joy of walking back to my car. Maybe I am just tired and cranky.
I started reading In Her Day today. Liked the “Note to the Feminist Reader” in the front and laughed at the “Note to the Nonfeminist Reader”, which was simply “What’s wrong with you?” You are a card Rita Mae Brown.
Time for smelly, snorty Bear and I to get some shut eye, night,                                                                   
Loraine & Bear

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

3-25-13 RMB You Amaze Me
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
Today is one of those days when I question myself. One of those “What the heck are you thinking? ” days. 
Yesterday’s letter prompted this response from my enlightened friend “Great probably don't even remember when you stopped on the freeway when I was with you, to help some girl...I was stunned. amaze me.”
It left me at a loss for words. I still feel that weight of needing to find peace, making everything better. It is not the crushing weight of my childhood, but it is present. It forces me to look at every situation, every person, to find the best in them. It forces me to find and offer only the best in myself. Sometimes I wonder who I would be if I were not so “blessed”. I know this has made me a better person, despite the cost.
I am near the end of A Plain Brown Rapper. It awakened thoughts , expanded others, great…just what I need, something else to think about! I jest, but I do bury some thoughts, avoid looking at them, hearing what would give them voice. I know I am talking in circles, sorry. It is late. I just dropped boys off and I’m tired.
For example, I listen to our San Diego NPR (National Public Radio) station, not to be informed, but to hear accents from around the world, music to my ears. I switch the station when things get too deep, too dark.
Today I did not change the channel quickly enough. I heard something I can’t get out of my head or heart. What I hear, it has a strong affect, transports me; puts me in the place of those that suffer. I struggle with this, yet wish more people were affected so strongly. How could they possibly hurt each other, if they felt the hurt too?
I know cruelty exists, feel it even when I don’t hear the atrocities. To make someone’s day better, to lend a hand, it seems so minor compared to the gaping wounds in our universe. I feel far from amazing.  
I see your work in the Plain Brown Rapper days as an effort to heal wounds, to build a better future. I see how others took offense, retaliated. You struggled to find a better way, tried different approaches, sought support, ventured forth over and over, meeting backlash at every turn. You saw that things could only get better for others, if you were willing to allow things to be worse for yourself first. Are you still struggling?
We all do what we are capable of doing, some push their own limits; others skate by. Maybe lending a hand now and then is my best contribution. Or maybe my best lay ahead of me. One thing I’ve learned is that we must appreciate our own accomplishments, however meager, however great.
What did you learn that settled your fire within, or does it still burn? I swallow my own flames to accept my friend’s praise.
And from me to you Rita Mae amaze me.  
Good night,
One sleepy Loraine

“You do not free yourself from polishing your chains…” ~Rita Mae Brown

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

3-25-13 RMB Saving Lives
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I am on page ninety of A Plain Brown Wrapper. This is one loaded book, loaded with insights, possibilities, perceptions, issues relevant to the years leading up to 1976, when it was written, issues still relevant to today.
“Lesbian silence is nothing new to me, but it never fails to piss me off.” I like that line.
I started a list of things that piss me off, including myself every time I consented to the silence and followed it by a list of things that give me hope, including you, Rita Mae Brown. Those were the highlights, the rest was boring.
If I understand correctly, in this book you speak of a possible community of equality, for men, women, every race, lifestyle, class…every person. I admire your vision and wonder if you still hold that vision.
I don’t see that possibility in people, although it is a sweet dream. I see anger, issues, pain, challenges and frustrations masked or overcome by hope, love, inspiration and compassion. And then overcome in the other direction. Like a wheel turning from one to the other. Some spin out of control, some find a balance. At any point in time some are up and others are down, some well, others ill. Someone is always needing cared for, while another becomes caretaker, instilling dominance. I don’t know that we can all live together as you envisioned. But I know we need one another to live and I know there is a better way than any we have found thus far.
Perhaps that is where the concept of God (or whatever name one gives a higher power) enters, why so many turn the focus away from self. We know our inadequacies and search to give power to another entity. No one wants to be left holding the bag, ultimately responsible, even those who dominate.
Maybe I can’t see as far as you did thirty-three years ago. By reading the words in this book, I see through your eyes what you thought possible. This grain of sand planted, in my mind, may turn into a pearl of wisdom.
One thing is for sure, whether it is by the grace of a God or not, it is through our own hands that we will be saved, individually and collectively. By “saved”, I mean that in both the ominous all powerful way and the “Have a good day” way too. The two are connected.
In Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble Rouser, you mentioned fans that said you saved their life. You wrote that they saved themselves. You are correct, as are they. You gave them hope, inspiration or the like, something that helped pull them along. And they saved themselves because their life moved on their own volition. You didn’t physically push them, but you did give them mental and emotional sustenance when they needed it, no small feat.
In Reverend Millie Landis’ classes often another would ask a question I’d been pondering. One evening a young man said he wished he could help more people, like someone broken down beside the road, or someone injured that he saw on the news, all people. Did she have advice for how one could be a better helper?
Her response was pray for them; send them your love, your strength; ask your angels to assist them. That seemed simple enough. My favorite part of Reverend Millie’s instruction was that she constantly said “Test it out.” And so I did.
I took it another step, I asked for knowledge, to know when to help and even to be put in a position to help.  One day I drove down a street just off the freeway. Cars exited fast on to this street, as did I. I slammed on my brakes to stop abruptly before hitting a car in the center lane. It had no brake lights on. Cars approaching quickly behind me swerved around. I started to do the same, but thought of that night’s lesson.
I put on my flashing emergency lights, got out of my dark blue ’66 Mustang and walked up to the driver’s door. There was a young woman in the driver’s seat. She was nearly in tears. I told her to put on the emergency lights (duh!). She practically melted “I can’t, they won’t come on. It’s the battery or something.” Her hand was shaking, as she showed me the cell phone. “I called my husband. He’s on his way.”
“I almost hit you.”
“I know and my baby is in the backseat.” I looked back to see a wide eyed baby with a concerned look. That baby knew this was no ordinary drive to the park. Its mouth was open, but not making a sound. It looked aghast.
Cars were still approaching rapidly but stopping in time because of my flashing lights. I estimated that I parked far enough away so that, if my car were hit, it would not move up enough to hit her car. Still, I wanted them out of the street. “Get the baby over to the sidewalk. I’ll direct traffic.” I called AAA (the Auto Club of Southern California) while I waved cars by.
She got the baby out and safely across the street. The AAA tow truck driver arrived and assumed it was my car in peril. I took a lot of grief for driving my old Mustang, but more often than not Little Blue was more dependable than any car the grief givers drove. It probably helped that I was dating a mechanic, my Navy guy.
The woman’s husband arrived. He was a nice Mexican guy that also happened to be a Border Patrol agent. They signed up for AAA on the spot. They insisted on getting my name and address. They thanked me over and over, for helping, for getting them out of the car in the middle of the street and then directing traffic around their empty car with mine behind it, for calling AAA and basically for caring enough to stay with the young mother.
I left feeling quite full of myself. This was the beginning of a neat objective… “Who can I help today, Lord point the way.” Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes scary, always worthwhile and heartwarming.
No, I didn’t “save” their lives. But I made their day. They were so awash with gratitude that neither one was upset about the car breaking down. That is the most important element, our hearts. Are they full or breaking, content or tortured? The next day a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived at my door with a thank you card.
Whenever we help one another, by words written or deeds done…we save ourselves and each other.
Good night and sweet dreams Rita Mae Brown,

Monday, May 27, 2013

3-24-13 RMB One Squirrel, Four Lizards and a Garter Snake
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
My stolen shoe reappeared at my bedroom door. My sister must have found it. Misty (the dog) is not so forthcoming with her conquests.
I think a lot. I listen and watch. For what…about what, I don’t always know. There are answers somewhere waiting to be found to all the questions we have and some we don’t know to ask.
Lately, I have been thinking about these letters…a lot.  Today I wondered about the last two. Send them? Don’t send them? Re-write them?
I walked alone for two hours at our Lake Murray Regional Park. I walk there often…take the boys there most Saturdays. Sometimes we see lizards, sometimes bunnies or squirrels. I haven’t seen any animal life in a long time. Maybe I just wasn’t being alert to them.
Today I saw a squirrel, four lizards and a garter snake. They were all near me. One lizard walked along the path with me for a few feet. None have ever done that before. They see you and freeze or dash away. The squirrel hopped along the shrubbery near me. Normally when they see you and hop away, “quick like a bunny.” (that’s one of my favorite phrases) The snake was the most unusual. This is the first time I have seen a snake there. I have been walking there over ten years.
This snake did not slither along with me. It flat out crossed the path in front of me…slowly, not phased by my footsteps. It willed me to stop. I stopped. I wanted to make sure anyone biking by saw him so they didn’t run over him as he crossed our paved path. He was big, about 3 feet long. That’s the closest I have ever been to a snake that size, so he was big to me. I decided he was a him. (If he is a her, no offense intended)
When something happens out of the ordinary, I take it as a response, an answer. We get these answers all the time, but rarely notice them. It’s like the universe is screaming at us and we are deaf. Interpreting them can be challenging even if we do take notice. I think this one was pretty clear. I have support, at least from my inner circle and now from four lizards, a squirrel and one big snake. The letters will stay.
Good night Rita Mae Brown,

Sunday, May 26, 2013

3-23-13 RMB A Gift’s Burden
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
It is five am and my dog has stolen one tennis shoe. She does that sometimes. Doesn’t chew them, but puts them in her bed or transports them to another room, her own version of creating a scavenger hunt, because of course she refuses to retrieve her treasures even though I know she is aware of what you are telling her to go fetch. She cocks her head with an innocent “Whaaat is it you want me to get???” Fortunately, I have more than one pair.
To clarify something from yesterday’s letter, even though I found what I believe to be your energy, I am still far from really knowing you. Again, our words, our language, there aren’t enough of them, or the best combination eludes me to convey my meaning in these matters.
Oh, my friends’ response the other night as to why they stick with me was a combination of “Yes, we know you are special” (as in weird) and “We haven’t got a clue!”
One had an interesting point. I thought I had been fortunate to meet people along the way who would be with me for decades, encouraging me, supporting me and even attempting to understand me. This friend hadn’t thought of it before but when pressed, said she felt I purposely located my friends. I unconsciously built this community where I would be safe. She may be on to something. In all cases, I was the first to follow, or make contact or establish a connection. In all cases, I thought it had something to do with the other person.
The one I followed as a teen, her father died of a rapidly growing cancer about a year into my presence. I did not yet know her well. At times I’d ask “Should I leave? Do you want to be alone?”
She’d say “No. Stay.”
“What can I do? Do you want to talk?”
“No just stay with me…like you do.” I did.
The others were similar cases, like my friends welcoming a hand with three rambunctious boys. I thought I was helping all of my friends in some way. Funny, if she is right, my actions were more selfish than benevolent.
On another note, part of my talk with my sister, her husband and son, was to tell them about these gifts. Allow them to see how the gifts had affected me. At times it felt more like a curse than a gift. In my childhood, it was too much. It led me in to being that seventeen year old walking corpse. I carried the burden of feelings, emotions and frustrations of others. In my childhood, the world was too mean, the home I lived in too angry.
My mom had taught us a bedtime prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I changed the words. I prayed God would take my soul in my sleep, prayed to die. It is the first thoughts I can recall of not wanting to be alive. I was six.
By seventeen the burden I carried took its toll. I didn’t realize this burden was not mine to carry or to fix. All I wanted was to make everything better, to find peace in my universe and for those that were in it. It was what I prayed for before blowing out birthday candles, before Christmas, daily.
Peace never came. I felt weak, unable to make enough of a difference. I thought everyone felt this way. If I could feel their feelings, couldn’t they feel mine and everyone else’s? How on earth did people survive this emotional onslaught? I simply wanted to be released from the pain, to die. I searched for whatever it was I lacked to make that happen. Since God had refused to answer my prayer it was up to me.
At seventeen the day came. I had stopped seeing girlfriend #1 in part because she was a tie to this world. I hear about a lot of people wanting to kill themselves because they can’t live with their sexuality or their world is made too difficult because of it. My experience is the opposite.
Any night I was with my girlfriend, I was not alone with blade to my wrist, searching for a way out. She was a distraction from the pain. She was one person I could focus on, make happy. I jumped through her hoops just to see her smile. It was a miniscule defeat. But even that was hard, making her happy.
When I broke down, I was finally ready to go away, no ties left. I had failed to make everything better. There was no peace to be found. In that instant the pain vanished. Maybe it was some kind of self defense thing, the extinguishing of emotion to preserve the self. I was numb.
Before I acted, I had one thought, “It’s now or never. Either do it now or lay it to rest.” A lifetime spent wanting to die taught me that is no way to live. I couldn’t go back to constantly searching for an exit. It occurred to me that if I could live without the pain, I could live. I threw the knife across the room.
I became robotic, blocked every emotion, kept distant. Some crept inside my walls, weakened my resolve, like girlfriend #2 and my guys, but I had learned something. I had found the off switch, a safe place of no pain, no emotion at all. I went there often, sat alone rocking, just being. It was not a good existence, but it was a far better place than where I had been.
The friend I followed knew about this state. When I would recede to the shadows, she would find me and try to draw me out. She was the only one who knew about the girlfriend and encouraged me to spend time with her or with my guys or find someone else to date. She would talk to me and say “What are you doing?”
“What do you mean ‘sitting’?”
“Just sitting.”
“Are you watching TV?”
“No. Just sitting.” It was an honest answer. I could answer honestly, because I was no longer in that far worse place. I thought “sitting” was an acceptable answer. My concept of life was warped.
“You can’t just sit. Let’s get some friends together and rent a movie or something.”
“No, I’m fine.” I thought I was. I didn’t speak of how far I came to get to that point.
Years later, we got together one night to watch a TV movie she wanted to see. Apprehension took hold and I tried to leave. Mad that I was leaving, she stopped me from going “Hey, you said you would watch this with me.”
“I changed my mind. I don’t want to.” The movie was about teenage suicide, a true story. I was in my early twenties. The wounds were still too fresh.  I didn’t think I could watch it without falling apart. I never fell apart in front of anyone and was not about to start doing so.
We argued. She pressed for the truth, knew there was something I was not telling her. I lost my composure. I yelled at this person that kept me from ‘sitting’ my life away “Don’t you KNOW?!?”
“Know WHAT?” How would she know? I’d never told her, never discussed myself, my life. I did that night.
She insisted I stay. She pulled two comfy chairs side by side in front of the TV where we sat, still, quietly watching the movie. For two hours she held my hand. For two hours tears ran down my face and soaked my shirt, pain overflowing for my own life story running through my mind, for all that I held inside for so long.
I realized that night how “together” she thought I was. Yeah, I was a bit anti-social and had odd habits, like “sitting”, but suicide was not in her vocabulary. She could not relate to how one would have to feel to reach that depth. She had remained my friend, pulled me in to life, without knowing the distance I travelled. Amazing.
Although every person’s experience is different, there are some universal truths. Some see suicide as a release of pain. I did. It is not. The pain shifts. It doesn’t leave with you or evaporate, it shifts to those who care for you and some that don’t even know you or know you well. I have been on the receiving end of several phone calls about suicide attempts and deaths. I’ve sat through a young cousin’s funeral and watched the pain course through his family. I hadn’t spoke with him for years, but I felt it too. It doesn’t evaporate. Find another way.
It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
It is messy. As bad as whatever one faces is, it is nothing compared to the aftermath of an attempt. I’ve stood in a hospital’s intensive care unit aside someone after an attempt and repeated a life lesson that a wise friend taught me, “Everything will always be alright.” It was the only time I ever doubted those words, but they proved true once again…eventually.
“Everything will always be alright.” If one thinks of where they have been in the past and how their life progressed, they will see these words ring true. They are true about whatever one faces, no matter how awful it seems. Hold tight to those words.  
I know how badly it can hurt, my heart goes out to anyone suffering that pain. But there is another way. Find it.
I wish I had more insights at the ready. This has turned into one of those rambling letters. If you are still reading Rita Mae, thank you for bearing with me.
Onward and upward,

Saturday, May 25, 2013

3-22-13 RMB An Uncommon Conversation
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
It is about time to send these to you. I can’t say exactly what I was waiting for, certainly not to finish, we are far from done. But I had to wait until it felt right.
People are people and each one is unique. There are ways in which we are alike and some in which we vastly differ. Some travel well with the herd, others prefer to lead, others to follow, etc. I look at the herd and think ‘what an interesting species those humans are’. I feel more akin to the trees, the clouds, the wind and the sunset. Animals speak to me and I find their conversations more engaging than those I have with people. I know you understand this. I look forward to reading Animal Magnetism.
Time and place are also in flux. At any moment there is a part of me that feels the future, the past and the present. It is fuzzy at best, like a blurry picture. An example was walking into my home to the smell of smoke. It was strong and I could not locate the source. I sought answers, I guess to say I “prayed for answers” would be more understandable, but for me it is a constant connection, an ongoing conversation. No answer came. Two days later my stepmother called to say my father’s house burned down. They were away on vacation. At the time they were getting the news I was smelling the smoke.
It was similar when San Diego caught fire. Twice in the last decade fire raged through-out our county. For two weeks beforehand I smelled smoke. My house was evacuated once, but the flames never reached it. One Writer’s Circle member lost her home; two others’ homes were within a few miles of the flames.
There is another element, I see people differently than others do. Living or not, I feel their energy and see their path. It is hard for me to be near people, electricity radiates. Even sitting in the front seat of a car together is too close. At movies I prefer an empty seat between me and anyone else.
I don’t know the whys, believe me I have sought the answers. I get a “wait and see” response.
People that don’t believe in God or psychic abilities or the likes, believe in me. My niece told a friend to come over and have me read his Tarot cards. He said “I thought you didn’t believe in that kind of stuff.”
She said, “Oh I don’t, but I believe in my aunt because I’ve seen what she can do.”
I have come to see similar gifts in you Rita Mae Brown. I know people who are far more intelligent than I, as you are. Many are more ambitious, more “together”, more advanced in numerous ways than I, as you are. For some reason, the combination does not mix easy in people: intelligence, ambition, mystical abilities, being “together”. It does in you though.
I have studied many psychics and mystics. Some have great gifts. They worked hard to develop them. I believe everyone has a sixth sense, just as anyone can play a piano if they sat down to do so. The music we make varies.
I bring this up because, in my mystical way, I feel I have finally found you. To be honest, you scare me. Your energy is strong, stronger than anyone I’ve ever known. So strong I had to question myself “Do you really want to build this bridge?” I do. More than that, I feel I must.
Also, finding you was different from my past experience. It felt as though it was you finding me. Like I had to wait until you could receive these letters, because it was you that had to know me first…not the reverse.
I know this is an odd letter, odd concepts, an uncommon conversation. Last night I questioned two friends. “Why do you put up with me?…You’ve seen who I am and yet you support me, support something…someone you know is odd, someone who lives, sees and listens on a different plain?”
I feel like they have surrounded me in a protective circle of friendship. I wish I could have been a part of your circle in the seventies. Not that I would have been a great help, this one that prefers to listen rather than speak. But I would have offered you a hand and an open mind where your words, your thoughts, your vision, were understood and supported.
I pray you are open to receiving these letters, finding their meaning, seeing the reason for them. That is a heck of a lot to ask of you, as I am the writer of said letters and am still reaching for their meaning myself. If anyone is up to the challenge, you are.
PS Have you read “Odd Thomas” by Dean Koontz? My sister got me started on the series with his name or “Odd” in each title. I wonder where Dean got his insights on what to write because I can so relate to Odd Thomas!

Friday, May 24, 2013

3-21-13 RMB Concentrate on Being Human
Dear Rita May Brown,
Your words from A Plain Brown Rapper…”I wish I could say something encouraging…I wish I could say we’d forget black and white, male and female and concentrate on being human … I wish I could say two Fridays ago I didn’t receive a phone call …. ‘You’re Rita Mae Brown, aren’t you?’……… ‘I’ve put a bomb under your stairway.’ Click. I wish I could say that it didn’t hurt.”
Some of his words, canned phrases born of hatred, those I will not repeat here. This paragraph, that started with your vision, your hope, your “wish” for us, moving through his hatred to your pain, left me appalled. It was one call, one moment in time, one in a sea of moments marred by bigotry. One of too many to count, of both overt and subversive vile deeds, that you faced. I don’t know where you found the strength, but I thank you now.
I wish I could reach back in time to comfort the thirty-two year old Rita Mae Brown of 1976. If that is possible, it is part of what these letters are meant to accomplish. I believe in such possibilities. Maybe that is a place where one finds strength, in knowing the outcome, knowing that one day it will be acknowledged, understood and appreciated, a knowing that what we do is vital in that moment and for the future. The future is now and I bring to fruition its part in the matter.
I hope you see that what you did made a difference. I illustrate a picture of someone affected by your life. Your vision lives on in us.
We must remember. We must recognize what those that champion justice face. We must know that it is not over, here and around the world, daily there is disparity of privilege.
Thoughtfully yours,

Thursday, May 23, 2013

3-21-13  RMB They Know You Now
11pm…two letters in one day, a record, you poor woman to be so cursed by me :)
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
Our Writer’s Circle meeting became a Rita Mae Brown Forum. One member that has read these letters, would not let us begin, until I came out with the project. The two members new to the Dear Rita Mae Brown letters thought they knew your name, but couldn’t place from where or what. They know you now.
Some of the letters were read aloud, conversations filled the night about rights, what each of our experiences had been, what you did, how you did it. The contemporary that had read your work, she relayed her feelings when a peaceful demonstration turned ugly in Los Angeles. Busloads of police arrived. She realized what a disadvantage it was to have three children, because she could only carry two. She managed to get them all out of there before they were arrested, carted off, or worse beaten with night sticks as others were. It was the first time she saw a police uniform and realized they are not always the good guys.
I am fortunate to gather with this group of women.
Picking up where I left off this morning…there were distinct differences in this relationship. There were discussions in advance. There were promises, commitments to one another. There was a plan. My intuition told me “No!” My body said “Yes.” This was the first relationship for me where I knew I wanted to be close to another, physically close and emotionally close.  Because we took time to think about it, anticipation built. It was intoxicating.
I thought because I had experience in managing closeted relationships before, we could make it work. It was less of a double life, because people knew about me now, not a lot of people and they didn’t know about this relationship, but I did breathe easier. Now that the ones who truly mattered to me knew, I would be open about myself with whoever inquired.
For my first forty years it was hard to accept anyone’s attention, anyone’s affection or kindness. In the back of my mind ran the tape, “yeah, but you don’t really know me.” It was like hearing kind words from a stranger, because I kept myself estranged.
Now I had no fear of anyone knowing me and what I did behind closed doors was none of their business, or so I reasoned. Schedules were worked out, life settled into an odd balance, the best possible balance that was as close to what might be considered normal in our abnormal universe.
At first it was wonderful, we were together and that was all that mattered. Some parts of it were more than I ever hoped for, a strong connection, professions of love everlasting, I wanted someone else’s body and mine was wanted in return. I was deaf, dumb and blind with bliss.
After a few years stresses began to weigh us down. The plans we made were not working, our schedules were not meshing, our priorities were splintering. When I tried to keep us on track I was “demanding”, “controlling”, “manipulative”, “expecting too much”, “seeing everything in black and white”.
When life settles, for some it leads to contentment, for others it becomes dull. I was searching for contentment. I guess that was too dull in other eyes. She needed a thrilling life. I had been thrilling once, the forbidden fruit. She had reached the end of her ride and was ready for a new thrill. (As I read your memoir I felt you stood in a similar place, more than once) My presence transformed from a joy to a burden. One day we were together and the next we were not.
I rocked the boat this time. I yelled. I hit walls. I was angry as hell…at her, at the situation, and most of all at myself. I took it all out on her. I earned more descriptions “unstable”, “you need medication”, “you need to see someone about your anger issues”. Exactly how angry is one allowed to get when the promised everlasting love vanishes, when one finds out that what was pledged to be permanent was really only temporary???
It’s been about five years since she tried to walk out of her own house and leave me standing there alone, I told her to stay. It was her home. Once again I walked out of a house I helped support. Once again, I would continue to lend that support beyond days of being able to call the dwelling “home”. Although we had discussed it, I never gave up my own household. I retreated there, to my cave.
Fortunately, at this same time, I had become close to my friends with the three boys. I found refuge in the arms of a four year old. He and his brother’s healed me. When my friends promised me they could be “my boys” too, I doubt they envisioned me playing as big a role as I have, but I took that promise to heart and held on to it like a lifeline. The boys’ presence in my life means more than shows on the surface. It means some love is for real, forever, even if all love is not.
I am glad I know you Rita Mae Brown. Maybe I should say I am glad I know of you. But I think you want more than that of people and I think, through your openness and your candor, you have achieved it. 
Your friend,

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

3-20-13  7am RMB So Blind
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I finished Rubyfruit Jungle. Thank you for writing this book, for getting it published, for sharing a life that showed a lot of somebodies something, thank you for enduring the threats and abuse to bring insight, humor and a way of life to light. That barely begins to state what I can not to find all the words to relate.
Today I started A Plain Brown Rapper.
Tonight is our monthly Writer’s Circle gathering. Three out of the five other members have read these letters. I am nervous about the others seeing them, even though one is the friend who is like family and I have known her for over twenty years. The other member I have known eight years, we worked together during a good portion of that, seeing one another daily.
The personal stuff relayed here doesn’t get shared lightly.
These letters are a departure from my normal conduct. I don’t discuss myself much, whether it is because of a secret relationship or because my world contains things others don’t understand, feelings, visions, insights, or because I was taught this is how to be or because of my own issues or a combination of all the above…I don’t discuss myself unless there is a darn good reason to do so.
At age forty I did sit down separately with two friends and two sisters and have individual conversations with them. I wanted them to know that I was considering dating again after my twelve year sabbatical and not to be surprised if I ended up dating a woman. I told them some of what is in these letters. I didn’t expect for them to be too surprised. I had often voiced my support of the gay community. I never worked to be feminine. I am a tomboy at heart and it shows.
I feared one sister’s reaction, the “adult” sister, because I have always been close to her son and daughter. Her son was twenty, already in college, but still coming home for weekends. He is a friend. He inherited my sister’s “adultness”. From the time he was a toddler, the family joked that he was the one babysitting me and keeping me out of trouble when we were together.
I called him first to ask him if he would still be my friend. I figured he would, but one can not ever be sure. I asked him to be there when I told his mother and father. His sister was much younger, only ten then. My biggest fear was that I would not be allowed to spend time with her. I drove to Orange County weekly to watch her soccer games. She and I bonded. I felt that even if we were separated, we would find our way back to one another when she became eighteen. It was still a big risk, I didn’t want to miss the rest of her childhood.
Don’t rock the boat. I considered leaving my own life on hold longer in order to stay close to this child. I was done with secrets, I had healed and thought I was ready to live again, but I would not begin something that would lead me into another double life. It is too mind splitting, spirit deflating and heart breaking. I would no longer deny half of my natural inclinations. I trusted my gut that it was time. I trusted my sister enough to risk it.
My nephew was surprised that I feared his mom’s reaction. I let him know that my own mom’s reaction over twenty years prior was a wake up call. She had never exhibited prejudice behavior before with anyone. I guess when it is your family, under your own roof, that is a different story.
The last thing on earth I expected was to be told to get out of the house I helped support. We only had one conversation about it after she saw me with my girlfriend and realized we were more than friends. She was sitting at the kitchen counter terribly engrossed in her meal. I sat beside her and waited.
“What you are doing is wrong.” No eye contact.
“It just is.” No eye contact.
“What’s wrong with it? Give me one reason why it’s wrong.”
No answer. I waited. I listened to the silence. It was Mom’s turn to speak and she didn’t. End of conversation. No eye contact. I got up and walked away.
In fairness to her, it was actually her boyfriend that threw me out shortly after that non-conversation. I called the police. They came. She could have had him removed. She told me to leave instead. I told her “If I leave, I am not coming back”. I left.
The next day she told me I should not have left. Memory loss caused by drink made her forget she had also told me to go too. “You didn’t have to call the police” she said “I would not let him hurt you.” I reminded her that she threatened to slap me when I raised my voice.
She said she would make him leave. I didn’t believe her. He moved out that week. I don’t know if she did that for me or for herself, we weren’t exactly communicating well. An angry part of me thinks she did it so I would come back and take care of her and the house. I couldn’t. I didn’t have enough strength to carry that weight. I had been through too much and I was not yet whole, not strong at all. I was a seventeen year old walking corpse. She didn’t see that. She saw a strong stubborn daughter.  
So twenty-three years later, I sat my sister, brother-in-law and nephew down at the kitchen table one morning and prayed for a better outcome. I told them much of what is here and more, the more I have not found the words to share with you yet, but I will eventually. If these words are of value to anyone than I know the others will be as well.
We had planned to go to a gathering at her in-laws that morning. After our talk and a few tears, my brother-in-law asked if I still wanted to go to the gathering. I had my things packed and by the door. I was prepared, just in case I was told to leave their home after our talk.
I asked him if he still wanted me to go to his parent’s house. “Of course” he said laughing. Over the next year, I would learn what a great guy my sister had married some twenty three year’s prior.
Both friends and both sisters were supportive, although I got the distinct impression from the Alabama sister that it was something we “ought best keep ‘tween us”.
Did I start dating? No…I met some people. Some were interested in me, but I found “I am what I am”, which is someone that never felt comfortable near anyone else, never wanted anyone else. Any person that started to get close to me was pushed away. The relationships I’d been in with the girls and the guys were all initiated by them. In all four cases, I thought they were friends…until they kissed me. God, I was so blind.
I did make more friends, including a special friend. I saw her life and thought it was safe to get close to her. She had a world of her own and she let me inside it. I was honored. I didn’t feel threatened in any way or like she would ever want nor need anything from me. It was safe to get close to her, because there could never be anything more than a friendship there. I let my guard down, trusted her, told her about my past.
One day she confessed she wanted to kiss me. She was nervous, worried about what that meant. I laughed, said I was flattered. I told her “So. I think you’re hot and I want to kiss you too, but that is not going to happen.” There was no room in her world for a girlfriend.
God, will I ALWAYS be so blind!
I fell into another closeted relationship, damn, damn, damn it all to hell!!!
Time to get ready for work, more later…

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

3-17-13 RMB Mattress Only Days
Happy St. Patrick’s Day Rita Mae Brown,
Not one to seek reasons to party, it is just an ordinary day for me, with the caveat that I did wear a forest green, baseball style t-shirt with the number 85 on it. I bought it from a thrift store because I liked the color and it is soft. Now that matters of importance have been aired...
I am enjoying the trials, tribulations and mischievous endeavors of Molly Bolt in Rubyfruit Jungle. My heart goes out to Molly in places, but even more so to a young Rite Mae whose path was so similar.
Where you wrote of Molly getting her first apartment in New York and dragging in an abandoned mattress, it took me back to our move to California after my parents split. My mother, sister & I ended up in 29 Palms. It was where I had been born seven years earlier during my father’s tour at the Marine Corps base. We returned to the house we lived in before, sans father and other siblings.
When we moved in, we had one queen sized mattress and that was the sum total of our furnishings in the big, empty house. It was placed in the center of the living room floor. The three of us slept there for a little while, maybe a couple of months, memory is fuzzy. On our first morning in the house, my sister and I trotted into the kitchen to get breakfast. Mom had bought groceries, including our favorite cereal. It was her treat to us.
We got out the cereal and the milk then stood barefoot and dumbfounded on the linoleum floor. We laughed and thought “Hm, now what?” It hadn’t occurred to anyone that we had no dishes. We had a mattress. No bowls, plates, cups, spoons, nothing we could fashion into a container for our cereal…but we had a mattress.
Starved as only a seven year old can get, I had the grand idea that we should pour the milk and cereal in the sink and eat it with our hands. The sink was where one washes dishes, so it must be clean. I thought it would be fun. My sister, Miss Prim and Proper herself, would not hear of it. Even at eleven she exhibited a certain manner. I would come to realize that she was then, and has been since, the most “adult” member of my entire family. She’s carries that cross well.
Alas elderly friends down the street, who we called Grandpa and Grandma, loaned us silverware and two plastic bowls, a brown one and a yellow one. My sister, always fond of brown, took that one to be her’s. Both bowls now reside in my cupboard. (Why brown??? I asked that too, something about earth tones she said)
A TV appeared, a gift from a friend. Someone gave us twin beds for the room we sisters shared. I guess the mattress went to mom’s room. A chair appeared in the living room. It was an early version of the recliner. It was all wood with two big cushions and levers that adjusted the back. It lives in my garage. Someday I will have it restored. It was our captain’s chair as my sister and I watched nightly Star Trek re-runs. She liked Checkov. I liked that she liked the show and it was time we could spend together.
Our first NEW furniture was a kitchen table and four chairs. The set wreaked of 1960’s, white table with white and bright yellow fake leather chairs. They swiveled, that was the best part.

By the time we had beds, a TV and dishes, I already missed the mattress only days. It was the closest the three of us ever were. Friends soon entered our lives. After school, I was out the door to go find lizards with the boy down the street. Sis would go to her friend’s house. Mom found someplace else she’d rather be each night.
There is an amazing element in making something from nothing. We did it. We made a new life. Molly Bolt did it. Rita Mae Brown did it, a few times.
It’s bittersweet to look back on having so little and know that we held so much. We held the future in our hands. We held a bond forged with those that lent assistance. We held hope.
Molly seemed to understand the ladder one climbs to their future. We three didn’t understand, but we knew we had each other. Together we faced sadness, loss and fear. We had each other like we had never had before and have never had since those mattress only days.
I wonder how much Rita Mae Brown understood, what got you through cold nights? Maybe your future was clearer to you than ours’ was to us. You made it through. You did it and you did it all on your own.

Monday, May 20, 2013

3-16-13 RMB Rubyfruit Jungle Expectations
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I started reading Rubyfruit Jungle today. Since it was written so early, I expected it to be choppy, less polished than your recent work. Yet even though I was expecting less from an earlier work, because I have read the reviews and already bought into the Rita Mae Brown hype, I thought I built this volume up in my mind to unattainable heights. It exceeds my expectations.
Once again, Rita Mae Brown delivers. 
Being in the midst of three young brothers who constantly argue and then ally themselves with one another, I was touched when Molly thinks “Leroy I love you” for sticking up for her. Then as his allegiance waivers only few lines later she thinks “Leroy you ain’t no friend of mine.”
The story in this book is captivating, drawing in the reader. It reminds me of the art of storytelling, in a non-written fashion. It reminds me of sitting around family when someone says “There was one time…” and a story begins. Or if it’s the family from down south in Alabama “I’ll tell you what, we were fit to be tied when….”
A pleasantly surprised, fit to be tied,

Sunday, May 19, 2013

3-15-13 RMB Remarkable…Beautiful
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I shared your letters with another friend today. Four out of four are encouraging me. So if I am crazy, apparently my friends are as well.
This friend is one of your contemporaries, maybe a couple of years older than you. While you were making a stand on the east coast, she was marching for similar causes on the west coast.
She is an artist that lived a colorful life. She continues to encourage others to think outside the box, to remember the past and to seek a better future. She introduced me to the work and life of Peace Pilgrim. In a community church I watched plays she directed and helped produce about survivors of the Nazi regime.
Although her efforts are more altruistic than mine, I thought she most of all, would understand the letters. I called her a couple of days after I sent the letters to inquire if she had read them. She exclaimed “Yes I did. I have got to read some Rita Mae Brown books!”
That was the most perfect response I could have hoped for. In actuality, she knew of your work. She had told her daughter decades ago to read Rubyfruit Jungle. But, just as old friends sometimes do, she lost track of you. She has some catching up to do.
I find nearly all of the people from all walks of life that I mention your name to have heard of you, some for a certain series of books or your novels or your activist work. Most know of you in some way. They are all intrigued that there is more. It is like resuming a conversation began at another time. “Oh, you have read that, have you read this?” They are heartwarming conversations.
The responses have all been positive, even down to one gentleman’s observation when I showed pictures of you in Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. After hearing me go on and on about your work, your writing, your mission, his initial comment was “Wow, she was a really pretty woman.” He is such a guy.

It could be that you hear this kind of stuff all of the time. I hope you enjoy hearing it now and don’t mind me relaying more. You are a remarkable and beautiful woman through and through.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

3-14-13 RMB Words Only Felt
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
“Hello, how are you this morning?”
Today I started reading The Hand that Cradles the Rock.
I sleep with the radio on a Spanish station. I am not fluent in the language, although those that don’t speak it at all think I am. I can follow most conversations and get the gist. I can respond when asked questions, but the words I piece together are clunky at best. It is a beautiful language…just a bit beyond my grasp.
The words in your poetry are like that. Some I understand, like a Spanish phrase here and there. Others are in a language beyond me. I could understand them, if I knew you better, if we sat and discussed them at length, if you were able to remember the thoughts and emotions that combined those particular words. Somehow I think you could.
The phrases I do understand…with those I am limited as well, limited to my own experience, my own perspective. I could say I understand all of your poems in that way, in my limited way. That is what people do. We take hold of words, images, actions, everything and make them our own, retell the story with our own slant.
In this way, we think we understand, we think we are understanding. We think that is enough, the best we can do. Will we ever evolve to understanding from one another’s perspective???
As I read today I wonder about your words written yet unpublished, even more so words thought yet never written and the words only felt. There is another language there. Perhaps that is a part of these letters, to find that realm. Can reading between the lines give one passage there?
Some days I make more sense than others. This is what I do in general…many days I reach for meaning in life’s mysteries yet to be realized. How can we understand something that is beyond our grasp, beyond our time? Does seeking it draw it near?
Onward and upward,

Cool lines from Songs to a Handsome Woman
“After all,…We’re just a pair of identical strangers.”
“Whisper it…So that I might grow rather than age.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

3-13-13 RMB Little Eyes, Big Ears
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
Little eyes have big ears.
When I read the first line of “The Subjunctive: The Empire of the Shadow Senses” chapter in Starting from Scratch: A Different kind of Writers’ Manual, I was in my living room with three boys and my sister watching TV.  That first line is “If I were you, I’d read this chapter.” Because it struck me so funny I stopped to laugh then told my sister what I found so funny in your book.
Several days later, the youngest who is now eight, was riding with his mom in her big white truck and reading a book in his lap. He looked down at his book and before starting a new chapter, very seriously said “Momma.”
“Yes Austin?”
In his deadpan way he informed her “If I were you, I’d read this chapter.”
She knew of the line in your book that cracked me up and immediately made the connection. She laughed. He laughed. They shared a special moment, a Rita Mae Brown moment between two people that had not even read the book where the line was written.
It wasn’t a story retold, or a joke passed on, it was one line, one Rita Mae Brown line published in 1988, twenty-five years ago, one line that crosses age, gender and time, one line that struck a chord. That line, read by me, shared with a sister, overheard by a child…carried on to his mom.
What a wonderful phenomenon, the distance of your voice’s echo.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

3-12-13 RMB Endless Prairie
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I started reading Songs to a Handsome Woman. I am enjoying it and wondering if you still write poetry. There are poetic phrases in your work, so maybe that is where your poetry lives now.
“The Sun in January” is one of my favorites so far. In eighteen words you convey emotion, transition, a relationship, landscape of soul and earth, action and drama. Can I quote the whole poem? It is so brief, but I don’t want to infringe. I will just encourage others to find it on their own. It is worth the search.
This book seems so clearly about love, its journey, yet even in the “To the Reader” preface you end with “a society or individual who denies love is a step away from denying life.”
The individual… the self, whether it be yourself, ourselves, or a character’s self is so closely linked to the whole, society, community… in your work. The strength of that connection is a distinctive marker of Rita Mae Brown.
Others write about love and become engrossed in their own emotion, enraptured by their own passion. A young Rita Mae Brown writes about love and discusses society, an “endless prairie” and the Statue of Liberty.
How can one person see so much and so many people see so little?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

3-11-13  RMB A Tree Friend
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
In Starting From Scratch: A Different Kind of Writers’ Manual you write “I would classify plants and animals as arational. No, I’m not saying they can’t think; they can.” The chapter was not about plants and animals of course, but that sentence meant a lot.
I was driving with my ever so enlightened friend home after work one evening, before I knew her really well, before I had ventured to show her all my mystical musings. I knew I trusted her, rare for me. Not that I don’t think people are trustworthy, however I know people are people…enough said.
Something about her was different in a way that I thought she would understand my differences. As I drove, I asked if she would like to meet a friend that lived a few blocks away. “Sure” she said, always game for an adventure. I love that about her.  We drove to the street of the church I attended. I pulled over and got out of the car, standing on the sidewalk in the dark. She came over to stand by me. 
Second thoughts sprung up, but I figured it was too late to chicken out. I stepped onto the small patch of grass between the street and sidewalk, placed my hand on a gorgeous, giant tree and said “This is my friend the tree.” 
One may ask how one becomes friends with a tree. Well, you might not, because you probably have tree friends. The way it happened for me was that I often walked past that tree on my way to church. On nights when I needed to pace, or walk around the block, to work through my own thoughts, I found myself drawn to that tree. When near it, I felt more at peace. It was a good friend, offering comfort on a regular basis for years. Sometimes swaying in the wind in a smooth and inviting dance, sometimes flinging raindrops down on me from its waving leaves, it could be playful and it could be serious.
On that particular evening it was beautiful, its roots had spread, lifting both the concrete of the sidewalk and the blacktop of the street. Its trunk was massive.
Without missing a beat the woman beside me said “Well hello there.” My first thought was that she was only humoring me. Then she did something that warmed my soul. She stepped closer to the tree; put both hands on its old, rough trunk and spoke to the tree without saying a word. I watched the exchange, watched them get to know each other for a couple brief moments.
She had told me about a favorite tree she had when she was growing up. It wasn’t exactly the same kind of relationship but it was very close. We talk about that night now and then. It was a turning point for us. She saw a part of me that may have opened up how she would see everything from then on. I watched a friendship spread from one friend to another, even though the older friend was a tree.
The tree was removed a while back. It lived a full, long life. Sometimes I visit the roots that still linger there, poking up mischievously. More often though, I visit my friend in my heart, it will live there forever.
Thank you Rita Mae, for shedding light on nature and our connection to it in your work,