Speaking Truth to Unpleasantness

I’m reading another how-to book to energize my writing career. YOUR BOOK, YOUR BRAND by publicist Dana Kaye advises us to brand ourselves, first of all by analyzing our work and figuring out who we are as writers, then to identify our target audience, and then to polish up our brand and put it out there on social media and in other public places where our particular audience can find it and be impressed.

This is great advice. For me, it’s easier said than done.  My work is all over the map in terms of theme, historical period, characters. What all of it is is quirky with a buried edge of cynicism. And funny. So I guess that’s me as a writer. I try to look at things clearly and describe them accurately, so that even my cozies aren’t as cozy as they might be, and this is offensive to some.

Only my intimates know the worst about me, how I curse like a sailor’s parrot, how I can carry a grudge for sixty years. (Don’t get me started about my orthodontist, may he rot.) I’ve always known that my public utterances might gain or lose readers for me, and as a result I’ve tried to be careful. Maybe this is a mistake. I’m a deeply political person. Maybe I should acknowledge that.

When I was twenty-two I was a union organizer. I worked as a clerk-bookkeeper for AT&T, when it was the only telephone company. Being something of an idealist, I took on the position of shop steward in an office full of meek clerks, thinking I could work to uphold the rights and dignity of the working man (or, more accurately, the working woman). Not many of the ladies in the office were union members. My first task, as I saw it, was to recruit them.

My apartment was half a block from the office in Washington, DC, so I invited all the clerks over for lunch one day and hustled them to join the CWA. Only a few signed on, one being the boss’s secretary, an absolutely sweet woman whose name, alas, I have forgotten. She came to me the next day, full of apology, and asked for her membership papers back. The boss had talked her out of joining the union.

Actions have consequences, you see, and not always the consequences you were hoping for. Just before George W. Bush took us to war in Iraq I went down to Washington for a couple of peace marches. I tell you what, when you are upset with the government there is nothing more satisfying than to stand in the middle of Sixteenth Street and scream your lungs out. But the consequence of those marches was not peace. Instead we went to war, but not before ten women were arrested, grandmothers some of them, famous writers. I saw them led away in handcuffs while a squad of beefy motorcycle policemen came roaring up to menace the rest of us.

On November 21 a number of us are going to Washington again, this time to protest the policies of Donald J. Trump. I expect to stand in the street and scream. I also expect the people who love Trump, love him because his victory encourages them to abuse women, persons of color, foreigners, the disabled, and educated folks generally, to show up and be unpleasant to us. The police will be working for Trump. Can I say shitstorm on public media? Will that ruin my brand?

We’re going anyway, called to speak truth to power. You can come too. But be aware that it might not be a nice outing.

Screaming

peacemarchYesterday I opened the front door to the warm winds of spring and heard the happy shrieks of the children playing down the street. “It’s fun to scream,” I said to Harold. “I haven’t had a good scream since 2003.” It was March 7, 2003, International Women’s Day, in fact, when George W. Bush and his cohorts had already decided to attack Iraq and a bunch of us mistakenly believed he could be dissuaded from this by hearing from the People.

It was fun to scream. Most of us were women; it was a woman’s march. As we might have expected, W. was out of town, but the DC police herded us as far away from the executive mansion as they reasonably could and told us that twelve of us at a time would be allowed into Lafayette Square, out in front of it. We gathered on Meridian Hill and marched down Sixteenth Street, chanting. Hey, hey! Ho, ho! I forget how the rest of the chant went. From time to time we would stop chanting and simply scream.

You’ve no idea how satisfying that is if you’ve never tried it, to bellow as loud as you can together with a huge crowd of like-minded folks and hear the echoes of your screaming bouncing off tall buildings. At the end of Sixteenth Street the parade was diverted way around the White House. We couldn’t even see it, let alone be seen by anybody who might be in there. The women milled around the Mall for awhile and then marched back up to try to collect on the promise that twelve of us, at least, would be let into Lafayette Square.

The Twelve were famous writers and like that, Maxine Hong Kingston, a beloved idol of mine, Alice Walker, and ten other luminaries whose names are lost to my fading memory. They got into the square, the police asked them to leave, and they sat down, whereupon they were all led away in handcuffs.

I got there just in time to see them being led away in handcuffs, most of them grannies like myself, arrested for trying to speak truth to power. I could have been among them, if I’d been a little spryer. It would have been an honor. But the sight of better women than me being dragged off to jail, along with the sight and sound of the twenty burly motorcycle cops who came roaring up to the curb, batons in hand, to keep all the other grannies in line, took some of the starch out of me. I haven’t had a good scream since.

Pretty soon it might be time again. We’ll see how this election progresses.