Lynn’s non-fiction has been published in the Mystery Review, The Brattleboro Reformer, Out in the Mountains, Foster Families and the Southeastern Audubon Society newsletter.
Yes, I am a feminist
What is a woman if she is defined by women? This was what I thought the women’s movement was all about. In early consciousness raising groups, we encouraged women to speak up and speak out. Implicit in such encouragement was a promise to listen. Feminist presses sprang into being. Poetry readings were held in every town. We all had subscriptions to Ms. and, at least one other journal. No doubt in the 60s feminism was my faith. I know I grabbed the books as fast as they were printed: Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, June Jordon, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood. And those that were history rediscovered: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Bronte, Zora Neale Hurston. By god, we were women and we were going to “dream of a common language” and save the world.
I listened to Anne Bradstreet:
I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
who says my hand a needle better fits,
a poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
for such despite they cast on female wit:
If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,
they’ll say it’s sto’n, or else it was by chance.
Building on her anger and my own,
I spoke up………..
I was a child born, not into poverty, but certainly into the working class. There never was much money. What wealth we had was in family. I grew up surrounded by women: aunts, cousins, sisters, mothers, grandmothers. As a baby I was passed from arm to arm. One of my first learnings was, if one woman was too busy, go find another. My grandmother held me in her lap. She sang softly over my head. If she was busy, there was always an aunt; another lap, another song. Each woman sang a different song. A love for women, not just a woman, was rocked into my bones.
Out of this love, I became political at the age of ten. By insisting, despite teasing by a boy cousin, I could so talk to the birds. And by biting one bully on the arm and then running like hell. Living in a tenement, I identified with the many voiced laughter of the streets. But I saw my destiny to be a wife and mother. I adopted two children, gave birth to another. Our family was asian, anglo and afro. This was what it meant to me to be a woman, to celebrate diversity. And when women began to speak out, to write, to march, I was ready to go. My inner process and the Women’s Movement were in tune. I was ready to seize the moment and demand equal pay, equal access to opportunity, the right of every woman to be heard. Adrienne Rich put words to it. Cris Williamson sang it. Audre Lorde declared it. We were going to change the world and we were going to do it right now.
Today, we still struggle for equal rights. (Remember the Equal Rights Amendment?). We still struggle to have a voice. It has finally reached my consciousness that what I first saw as my own struggle was really a world wide struggle. It’s about being our own authentic self.
There is so much to do. Like Susan B. Anthony we need to keep coming back over and over again. Especially today. Diverting all the money to war is another way to keep us looking the wrong way. The anti-war movement is a civil rights movement, is a feminist movement, is a gay rights movement. It’s all the same. There isn’t anything else to do but keep on trying, one dream at a time, to create a better world. It will never be perfect, because we aren’t perfect, but it can be better.
Psychologists, New Agers, Twelve Steppers and people you meet on the street all say it: Letting go is the first step toward healing. Autumn lets go into winter, adolescence into maturity, sorrow into joy. Hospice helps the terminally ill to let go of life and enter the sleep from which no one awakens. We are continually letting go of dreams, illusions, toys, unlived stories, the worn out, no longer possible and the no longer working.
But what if you are always seeing the first two-wheeler bike you ever had leaning against the Co-op wall? Or what if your best friend has just died and you see her strolling the Common, her shadow touching the bandstand as she walks by? Or waving at you as he hurries through the door of Brown & Roberts? What if an endless procession of the young who died of AIDS appears in your dreams nightly?
It isn’t as if I haven’t tried. I have written good-by a hundred times. I have joined others in rituals and memorial services. I’ve cried endless tears and then I get up and greet the new day each morning with anticipation and wonder. I’m grown up enough to know losing a bike and your youthful self is not the same as losing a friend.
It is easy to imagine letting go of a red balloon. As easy as opening your hand to the sky a blue heartbeat away. It is easy to imagine a leaf kidnapped by the West River and tumbling it’s way to the sea. But I can’t seem to let go of love. Memory insists.
One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver says,
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal,
to hold it,
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
This is such wise, beautiful advise. Let go and love again is what it says to me. I long to do so. If only someone would tell me how. It’s hard to let go of how grown up and proud I was as I raced through the streets on my big bike. It’s difficult to recall my friend arriving rain spattered and laughing to insist on a wet walk. Or a certain young man saying, “They will find a cure and I will be its first miracle.” He died five months later.
If I knew how to stop these soft, caressing voices, letting go would be a cinch.
Something real to hold in my hand: the joy and lost art of letter writing
Today I picked up a pen. The kind you get 10 for a dollar. And a pad just like the pad we all used in school. The pad cost $1.49. Then I wrote a letter. If you are very young, you may never have written or held a letter in your hand. It is a missive between two people delivered by the Post Office anywhere in the United States for 45 cents. It is a way to connect with another that most anyone can afford. As one friend writes, “You are the only friend I have who still writes letters and sends them with a stamp. I love it.” I enclosed a tea bag in one of my letters to another friend saying receiving a letter from her was like sitting down to tea and talk. Since then we both include a tea bag drawing at the end of each letter.
I have, collected in boxes, letters written to me from aunts, uncles, my mother, my sister, my brother, friends dating from the 1940’s on. I have letters from my children chronicling their lives as they wrote from camp, from college, from various places they traveled to and from as they grew older.
One of my favorite letters says, “Your New Year’s letter arrived in time to celebrate my 92nd birthday, which I actually didn’t celebrate, as none of my family were here. Your “determination to hold fast” was exactly the message I needed to counteract depressive thoughts—it’s probably not a bad idea to take someone thirty years younger as a role model!”
And, I have been corresponding with a high school friend for 60 plus years. She lives in the west; I live in the east. I have all her letters stacked on my shelf. These letters document our lives and our friendship. Something real I can hold in my hand. The same hand that is connected to my inner being, that not only talks to my friend but helps me understand myself. We describe the weather, what it is like to be in Yellowstone National Park, what it is like in Vermont on a -20 degree morning. I describe the joy of a poem accepted for publication; the disappointment of a rejection. She tells me of collecting jade in a ghost town, of seeing Bighorn sheep on a recent camping trip.
Nowadays we are helping each other grow older. With a lifetime of knowing each other, one sentence can evoke whole stories. We can complain and yet know we are both survivors. We know we will keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter what the challenge. After all we have been cheering each other on for a long time.
Today the pen I pick up is inscribed Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. This gives me enough material to fill paragraph after paragraph. Dear friend I say, and I’m off.
But I’m definitely a jay
The Pine Siskins have found the sunflowers on my deck. They have stopped for a brief visit on their way to somewhere else. Siskins are “landers and stayers,” clinging to the feeder until something scares them aloft. Unlike the Chickadees who take one seed at a time and fly away to private places to eat alone. Unlike the Jays who stuff their cheeks and then deposit their loot in some nearby tree. I’ve heard they then forget their hide-a-ways, thus benefiting some small animal who stumbles across it by accident in mid-winter.
Even when I open my door the Siskins don’t fly away. I thought only Chickadees were that brave. Jays leave as soon as they sense my shadow. The smaller the bird, the greater the chances they must take to get their share. That few extra seconds before I get too close means that many more seeds. According to a children’s book I once read, birds must eat their own weight in food every day. What if I had to eat that much every day? How many hamburgers are in 120 pounds?
When it comes to gathering knowledge, how I wish I were a Pine Siskin. To visit awhile, gather all I can, and then depart. Such powers of concentration those little birds have. They hang on to the very last minute. I’d even settle for being a Chickadee. To return again and again, discovering each seed one by one, and consuming it in privacy. But I’m definitely a Jay. I grab what I can, stuff my cheeks, become alarmed at the slightest disapproval, deposit what I’ve managed to capture, and forget where I put it. That’s why I have to learn some things over and over. Of course the Jay has many compensations. It is quite a flashy bird. Brash and given to strutting, the Jay is gifted with a variety of calls.
At the end of the day, the Siskins are gone. The Chickadees are perkier than ever in their absence. The Jays are shouting, “Do it! Do it!” I’m not sure what it is they are shouting at me to do, but I’m going to do it anyhow.