Thursday, May 29, 2008


(Fall 2001 newsletter cover from the Lesbian Herstory Archives)

Here's the next segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. This will follow my post a day ago.

If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

Summer 2012

The following morning, Margie arrived at the hotel to drive Chris and Sima to the train station. Myra asked Ginny to pack her things for checking out and rode with Margie. Once on the street, Margie said “Well, I didn’t believe you all were keeping it from Mom and Allie, until yesterday, when it was obvious they didn’t know.”

Myra looked startled. Margie said “I told Sima you and I were talking about it, too.” Oh, clever girl, getting Chris off the hook.

Myra said “But apparently you didn’t tell Frances you’d confided in us. It was a horrible suspicion slowly sinking in, looked like.”

“Yep, we had a screaming fight about it last night” Margie said cheerfully. “I told her I need my family, and the ones who’d come after her for revenge are out of the loop.”

Myra glanced at Chris. Interesting assessment, and not the one she’d have made.

Sima asked “Are you two okay? Is that why she didn’t come with you this morning?”

“Nah, she’s sleeping in. She’ll come say bye before everyone else goes.” After a pause, Margie added “Make-up sex” with satisfaction. Making the three older women go dull red in the cheeks. Margie giggled.

Myra said “Can I -- ask you a question?”

“You can try” said Margie.

“Is Imani hoping for more? Are you sure she doesn’t want to convince Frances to leave you for her?”

Margie looked at Myra in the rearview mirror. “I don’t know Imani well enough to be sure of anything about her. But I’m sure about Frances. She says Imani understands the situation, is cool with it. Frances is not in love with her.”

“Does she tell you in advance when she’s going to -- see Imani?” asked Chris, her voice condemning.

“Yes. It’s not often, and -- Frances’s life is completely scheduled. It has to be. And while there’s a regimen in the kitchen, the fact is, every night chaos sets in there. Hopefully controlled, creative chaos. But she says that balances out the lack of wiggle room she has in the rest of her life.” Margie paused, and added “She says in the rest of her life, I’m the chaos, the X-Factor.” She was proud of this designation.

“So Frances says, ‘I’m spending the night with Imani’, and you go, ‘Have a good time, honey’?” demanded Chris.

“First of all, she doesn’t announce it, she asks and we discuss it. Second, they don’t spend the night. They did once, because it was Imani’s birthday, but it was about as hard on Frances as it was on me and she says never again” said Margie. “It’s only a few hours, when Frances has room in her schedule and I’m okay with it.”

Myra tried to imagine crawling into bed for the afternoon with a lover besides Ginny. It sounded horrible.

Sima asked “What do you do, honey, when she’s -- when you know she’s with Imani?”

Margie sighed. “This is turning into a lot more than one question.” She pulled into the train station parking lot and engaged the emergency brake.

“That’s okay, you don’t have to talk about it any more” said Sima.

“No, I’ll answer it. The first time, I made sure I was with somebody else, too.” Margie was determinedly not looking at Myra. “I also made sure I went home smelling of it. That turned out to be a disastrous idea.” Chris snorted in disbelief. “Now, I call somebody, or I go rowing, or I take Narnia on the hike of her life. And when Frances gets home, she showers and we talk’s okay. It really is.”

“Thanks for trusting us” said Myra softly. Margie finally met her eyes, and said “You were great yesterday. It felt like Xena had dropped into the room, ululating and holding her ax. Just don’t swing it at Frances.”

Not if she doesn’t hurt you thought Myra. Chris and Sima gave them goodbye hugs and walked into the station. Myra moved to the front seat.

On the drive back, Margie said “I’ve got something else to talk to you about. It’s an idea, and if you think it’s a bad one, I’m not going to do it. But I need you not to tell Mama about it if I don’t.”

Damn. Margie was going to keep exploiting this new ability to keep information from one or another mother. Myra wondered if she had things she was telling Ginny or Allie but not her. She said “Okay. I’ll give it a shot.”

“There’s a clinic that just opened in New York for women who are poor or don’t have insurance to get help them with fertility. You know, all the expensive procedures that usually only white yuppie women can afford to help them get pregnant. And at first I was going to ask the Feminist Fund to send them some money. But I got to thinking...I really don’t want to be pregnant, or give birth. I just don’t. Allie says you understand that.” Margie looked at her sideways.

“I do. I might have forced myself to go through with it if Ginny couldn’t, and maybe I’d have changed my mind. Can’t say.” Myra wondered where this was going.

“The thing is...I have these Bates eggs in me. No matter what Mama believes of me, I want our line to go on as much as she does. So, I checked into donating my eggs to the clinic. They’re not taking donated eggs per se, they’re only transferring them from women at the clinic or through another service. But then I called an egg donation service here in Portland, and -- I could undergo treatment to increase my own production, get them harvested for six months, sell those to the service and send that money to the clinic. It’s an obscene amount of money.”

Myra had too many ideas in her head at once to make a sentence. She was stammering, and Margie cut in with “The service I talked to, they have high standards for placement of the eggs, I mean our kind of standards, not just het or white or, you know. And -- I can register, and if my eggs get used and turn into a pregnancy, in 18 years that kid can track me down, if he or she wants to.”

Myra said “Oh my god.”

“It’s kinda like how you got a sperm donor, only in the other direction. I’d be sending Bates genes out into the world, and eventually we might even get to have them join the family, but I don’t have to do the mothering. Plus, it makes money I can give to help women who do want to mother. I think it’s a very cool idea. But I can’t decide how Mama will feel about it. For that matter, how do you feel about it?”

Myra stared at Margie. “I will never, as long I live, be able to predict where you mind goes” she said hoarsely. She swallowed and added “I think it’s brilliant. And your mother will fall down on the ground and weep with joy.”

Margie was glowing. “Okay, good. Don’t tell her yet, I have to work out more of the details. It’s gonna be a pain in the ass, the actual process will play yahtzee with my hormones and they said it would hurt, but -- Frances says she’s looking forward to me as the fertility goddess.”

They had reached the hotel again. Myra said “I need a Coke. Let’s see if they’re at breakfast.”

That night they were in the beach house, eating fresh crab and chilled watermelon. It was cooler than usual this year, and all of them were ready for whatever constituted a real vacation. For Ginny and Allie, this meant art from dawn to dusk. Margie went out in the kayak they had stored in the new shed and Myra sat on shore, watching her and trying to come up with a new book idea. Carly cooked and slept, Gillam slept and cooked, and Edwina bent over the laptop to research genealogy until she was so stiff she could hardly stand.

The third day, Myra’s cell rang. When she answered, it was Liza.

“Hey, I got you. I’ve been trying to call Ginny for two days, I’ve got a contact for a possible gallery show in DC but her phone goes direct into voice mail” said Liza.

“She must’ve left it unplugged and the battery’s run down, that happens. I’ll get her for you” offered Myra.

“No, wait, I’ll talk to you first. How’s it going?”

Myra filled her in on the latest news. Liza asked, “What are you writing these days?”

“Not much. I’m casting about for a new set of characters, I think. No pun intended.”

Liza said “You ought to write the history of lesbian-feminism. Somebody needs to do it, besides all the academics who never set foot at a riot or lived in a collective. You could put together the real story, at least for the West Coast.”

Myra closed her eyes against the dizziness that hit her. “My god, you’re absolutely right. It’s what I was born to do.”

“You have access to the non-white crowd, the genuinely working class rather than downwardly mobile until the trust fund kicks in” said Liza. “Plus you can out all the owning class women who were too scared to come clean.”

“Which never included you, my hera” said Myra. “Let’s collaborate, you could do the East Coast. And I can manage Texas as well.”

“Oh, I don’t collaborate” said Liza. “Not ever. Either it’s my name on the door, or I’m a cheerleader.”

“Well, then...will you cheerlead enough to review an outline if I send you one?” asked Myra.

“Sure. But you have to do all the work yourself. I’ll give you thumbs up or down, that’s about it. I’ve got teenagers, you know” said Liza.

“I pray for you daily” laughed Myra. “Wow, you’ve started a prairie fire in my head. Okay, let me hand you off to Ginny, she’s here in the kitchen looking at me quizzically.”

Myra went to find Ginny’s cell and plugged it in. She called the housesitter to make sure everything was okay at home, then pulled out a legal pad and a pencil, taking one end of the table while Gillam shucked oysters at the other.

The rest of the trip was a blur for her. Edwina offered her the laptop, but Myra said she planned better on paper. By the time they flew home, she had 56 pages of outline and notes. She missed seeing the school of dolphins who cavorted with Margie in the distant surf one day, and left all the cooking up to the boys. When she got home, she went straight to her desk and turned on her computer to type in her work thus far. Beebo sat patiently by the cubby which held the webbing toys she had brought back from Anacortes. Ginny finally noticed him, pulled one out and threw it toward the kitchen, laughing at his wild leap after it. But Myra was already buried again in what her family was now calling “The Epic”.

She surfaced a week later for shabbos. She was drained and beginning to be frightened by the amount of work to which she had committed herself. She helped Gillam grill burgers and steaks, and let Carly create a new exercise regimen for her on the machine upstairs. She was able to enjoy her friends’ conversation without making mental notes. That night, when she and Ginny went to bed, Ginny said “Welcome back. I was starting to worry you might miss this entire summer of having young folk in the house again, a brief respite from our empty nest world.”

“Have you talked to Margie this week?”

“Yeah. She’s tired. She’s taking a full load both summer sessions, she’s determined to finish her Master’s this time next year. How on earth did we come by such driven children?” They laughed together.

Two nights later, Carly and Gillam went out dancing after their classes with Davonn and friends. Chris and Sima stopped by a bounty of baby asparagus from a friend’s garden and organic chicken livers. Myra looked at the livers and said “Oh, and we’ve got fresh ricotta! I can try that recipe Frances told me about.” Ginny went to the back yard to harvest chard and onions, Sima helped Myra make pasta dough and roll it out for ravioli, and Chris sauteed the livers in butter, added onion and chard, and chopped it fine when halfway cooked and cooled. The liver chop was mixed with ricotta and used to stuff extra-large ravioli. Sima steamed the asparagus while Ginny made a tomato and broccoli salad, Myra cooked the ravioli, and Chris grated romano to sprinkle on top, then set the table.

After two bites of the ravioli, Ginny said “This is now my official favorite dish.”

“Me too” said Sima. “It’s like Vilna meets Umbria.”

Chris said “I’ve got another interview lead for you, Myra. A Lenape dyke who lived in New York City in the early 70s. She’s gonna want the right to edit your piece about her before signing consent, though.”

“My agent is dropping kittens out her ass about all these consents” said Myra. “But tell her okay, and send us an e-mail with each other’s info.”

“Why is Mai upset about you letting people review their work?” said Ginny.

“It’s not the upper class way” said Myra. “I’m supposed to come up with brilliance that surpasses all the petty objections of folks who were actually there, and screw them if they disagree. Plus, on a practical level, it means later stages of editing may require additional consent. She keeps warning me this book may not make any money at all.”

“Which, again, leaves you the perfect woman to write it” said Sima. “You don’t need the money, and you’re not after academic cred, and you’re famous already. You can afford to tell the truth as it was, however unpopular that is with the boys.”

Myra liked this assessment. She said to Ginny, “The fact is, once I start traveling for research, the costs will add up to more than any advance I get.”

“Lesbian Herstory Archives?” asked Chris.

“Yes, and Mazer in SoCal, whatever San Fran is calling it’s archive now, Columbus, Cornell, DC, Chicago, ALFA in Atlanta, one or two in Florida, Bloomington, Philly, uh -- what am I forgetting?” said Myra.

“You talked about Canada and maybe the U.K.” said Ginny. “I’m looking forward to those trips.”

Chris said “You going with her on her research? As stenographer?”

“No, I’ll stay at the hotel and paint” said Ginny sharply.

“But not every trip, so if one or both of you wants to sign on for a jaunt, let me know” said Myra. Ginny’s face was unsmiling. “For sure Allie’s going to DC and Philly with me.”

“Are you trying to get first-person interviews with women in all those locations, in addition to the archive research?” asked Sima.

“No, I can interview over the phone, thanks to my built-in recorder. The problem is, I discovered it’s taking me four hours to transcribe a one-hour minidisk” said Myra. “And I have to have written text, I can’t do without it.”

“Myra, I told you, we’ll hire a transcriptionist. There are talented lesbians out there who’d love to get paid well for this work” said Ginny.

“More expense” said Myra.

“I can’t believe Liza isn’t jumping at the chance to do this with you” said Sima.

“Well, she’s got kids at home” reminded Myra. “As it is, I’m feeling antsy about leaving our two here in the Northwest with only the throbbing excess of older women they feel burdened by. Plus, she’s painting and running a gallery. I don’t know where she finds her energy. Plus, she’s owning class and not guilty about it.”

“What does that mean?” said Ginny.

“One of the values owning class kids are raised with is a sense of entitlement. Which, when they work through the crap attached to it, is a great thing to have. Liza’s not afraid of being in charge. If she’s going to heavily invest her creativity, she’d rather have her name on it. I get it” said Myra.

“What about you? Are you okay with being in charge?” asked Chris.

“Not all the time” admitted Myra. “Since so many of the women I’m interviewing are working class or raised poor, I’m getting challenged on it all the time -- not just with the demand for editing rights, although that’s one symptom of working class distrust. We don’t want others putting words in our mouth, or taking credit for our ideas, but we don’t want one of us rising up too far, either, getting full of herself. It’s one of the problems in the Second Wave that I have to cover, that working class ethic. Which was often exploited by insecure, dishonest owning class women pretending to be downwardly mobile, or even more savagely by middle class women determined to make sure everything was ‘nice’. It’s the middle class women I have the hardest time with, personally. Especially the ones who want to chop the legs out from under natural leaders who happen to be owning class -- middle class women have an imperative to climb up the class ladder, but it has to look like it’s based on merit and being concerned for others. That deceit is the hardest of all for me to recognize and work around.”

Chris leaned over for a high-five, and Myra gave it to her. Sima glanced at Ginny, but said “I know what you mean.”

Myra continued “It’s different when it’s a woman of color who’s reached the middle class or climbed into academia. She’s still not considered an automatic member of the club, and that difference keeps her able to communicate on a different level, usually. Like Edwina.”

“And what about Jews?” said Ginny, with a slight chill in her voice. “Where do middle-class Jewish dykes fit in your constellation?”

“Oh, sometimes like women of color” said Myra, helping herself to more asparagus. “Sometimes not. Depends on how urban they were, how early and in what clique they came out -- Socialists can be incredibly elitist, in a perverse sort of way -- and, of course, the old class divide, Russian or German Ashkenazi.”

Ginny said suddenly “The only time I ever heard the word ‘kike’ was from my mother’s family, in Richmond. They were talking about Jews at their Temple who were of Russian descent. I remember my mother laughing with them, hard, and even though I was only six or seven, I knew they meant people like Daddy. I hated them in that instant.”

Now Sima leaned over and shared a high-five with Ginny. Ginny’s face relaxed and they kept talking.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

(Thanks to Liza for all the conversations that enabled me to write this section.)


letsdance said...

Wow, great and challenging project for Myra!

Liza Cowan said...

Now, will this new project be like Skene, and become a book of it's own?

Maggie Jochild said...

I'm already doing it, except as fiction. (grin)

Or, I could do the nonfiction version if I had a COLLABORATOR...

Jesse Wendel said...

It's clear to me as an outside observer, that such a book should be written in two volumes -- East Coast, and West Coast.

Non-Fiction, published by the same Publishing Company, edited by the same editor.

You get ONE guess who I believe should write the East Coast volume, and who should write the West Coast volume.

Liza and Maggie, why don't each of you take one guess each... *smiles sweetly*

Liza Cowan said...

Oh, and PS, one of the buttons in your illustration is mine, I mean, I designed and published it. The fingerspelling DYKE, in black and lavender. Part of a series I did of ASL buttons.

And Jesse, yeah, I know, and I've thought about it for years, but, as Maggie says, I've got a full time job and two pre teen girls. In other words, I've got my hands full. I'd be a great consultant or collaborator if I weren't such a Control Queen. (which I told Maggie to say about me, but she didn't, which irks my control queen heart - kidding)

Maggie Jochild said...

Lize, I THOUGHT that was your button. Cool!

I think I have it somewhere. The ones I wore often, from this photo, are the women's lib fist (and mine yellowed the same way), the linked women's symbols (in that awful, Margie-esque pink), the Lesbian Avengers, we are everywhere, and my favorite of this batch, I got this way from kissin' girls.

Others I wore chronically were: A housewife looking like Beaver's mother carrying a machine gun with the caption "I Hate Men"; I Might Like You Better If We Slept Together; Dyke; I Like Dykes; Mother Nature Is A Lesbian; Vagina Friendly; What Are You Looking At, Dicknose?; Castrate Rapists; More Madonna, Less Jesus (got me into scary trouble at Dollywood); a Judy Stone enamel Jewish star; and Poverty = Violence.

I've had a kajillion bumper stickers, but the one which got the most comments was "Use an Accordian, Go to Jail, It's The Law". (Long story...) The ones I like the best were: My Mother Made Me a Lesbian/If You Give Her The Yarn She'll Make You One, Too; God WAS My Copilot But We Crashed In The Mountains And I Had To Eat Him; and Die Yuppie Scum.

kat said... much going on here....
if you do start working on the history project, do I get to become its foremost expert as well? (besides the people involved, of course).

I quite enjoy being the world's foremost Ginny Bates expert. I'm still trying to figure out which section you should submit, though.

kat said...

I once saw a shirt that could be on the next generation of dyke buttons. It said "dip me in chocolate and feed me to the lesbians!"