Tuesday, July 15, 2008


(Jean O'Leary, 1948-2005)

September 2012

A week after Gillam and Carly returned to college, Myra and Ginny took the train to San Francisco for a three-day research trip. On the way, Myra said "I'm beginning to think I need to produce three volumes. One will be a timeline, plotting each event, statement or shift in chronological order which pertained to lesbian-feminism from, say, the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s."

"That would be an entire book, yes" agreed Ginny.

"But even a detailed timeline entry won't do justice to something as complicated as, for instance, Lorde's essay about uses of the erotic or the Woman-Identified-Woman manifesto. And while some of those primary source documents are available online --"

"Especially since you've been posting them" interrupted Ginny.

"Well, that's my point, this stuff is being buried, even as the next two generations ridicule and criticize what our generation did -- they won't actually print or read the real magillah, they just parrot a gender studies prof who made her career from some snotty viewpoint and they copy verbatim from one another as if they were still in third grade. But Gin, there were hundreds of newsletters and journals being produced by us, everyone's house was awash in them, and even the Lesbian Herstory Archives haven't digitized them to save them. Much less a university repository, who has the resources but of course not the interest. So, I'm thinking, one of my goals needs to be getting a copy of every single periodical and pamphlet printed during those years, scanned in to a massive database, tagged with searchable tags which actually relate to the content, and again listed in chronological order. In that way, you can see how a small article printed in Quest created a separatist study group in Austin which led to a rally in Tempe and then an art event in L.A., all within six months of each other." Myra stopped to take a deep breath.

"My god, sweetheart -- you're talking about doing the work of a major research institution" said Ginny, wide-eyed.

"Yeah, but it needs to be done. And I have the money and time" said Myra.

"Plus the understanding, which is the real issue" said Ginny. "We'll need to upgrade our computer, I think."

"We need a second one, with a dedicated server that's offline for the time being" said Myra. "And..."

"What?" prompted Ginny after a few seconds of silence.

"Well, I'm not going to find copies of everything for sale on eBay or in used bookstores. I need to photocopy, or, rather, take JPEG images of every periodical in each of these archives I'm visiting. Which means an up-to-date inventory of what I already have, a task I've not done yet. And lots of memory cards. I can download images to my laptop during the day, and transfer them to my online briefcase at night, but that's still a full-time job, just taking photos." Myra looked at Ginny, taking another breath.

"You want to ask me to do that part" Ginny guessed.

"You're much better with images than I am, and I know it's boring, but I need to be digging through the other stuff -- "

Ginny stopped her apology. "Of course, Myra, I'd be honored. The hard part will be not stopping to read it all as each page appears in the lens."

"We could do that together later" said Myra with a grin and a kiss. "It's a daunting idea, reading every word and synopsizing it for an index."

"You're up to it" said Ginny confidently. "And, again, that will be an entire volume. A massive one, that any institution in the country will want to buy. So, what's the third volume, then?"

"My interpretation of it all" said Myra.

"Of course" said Ginny. She snuggled in next to Myra with a sigh and said "It's going to be a busy year."

They rented a room in a small downtown hotel near the archive but spent all their time either at the wide table set aside for them by star-struck staff in the back of the dusty stacks or eating out in small ethnic cafes with mounds of paper beside their plate, talking around mouthfuls because they were always hungry, skipping lunch each day to make more time for their work. Outside, it rained seemingly non-stop. At the end of the third day, Myra said "I'm nowhere near done" and Ginny concurred. They extended their stay for two more days, barely making the night train home at the end of their week.

Myra had begun wheezing audibly as they packed and rushed to a taxi. She used her inhaler twice, but had to pull it out again once on the train. Ginny felt her forehead and said "You sound phlegmy."

"I feel clogged" agreed Myra. "Too much damp, and who knows what was in all that old paper."

Ginny went to the snack bar for juice and water, and ordered a meal free of dairy or inflammation-producing food. Still, by the next day when they pulled into Seattle, Myra was having trouble walking because she was so short of breath. She had not been able to sleep more than a half hour at a stretch, even sitting upright. Ginny had called Edwina from the train that morning, and Allie was at the station to meet them. Ginny said "Directly to the emergency room, please" as she hauled luggage, Myra leaning on Allie's arm, blue-lipped and sweating.

At the ER, she got a breathing treatment immediately, followed by chest x-rays and blood work. She was eventually put on antibiotics and a steroid taper. They got home by dark, where Edwina, Chris and Sima were waiting with dinner and worried faces.

"She's okay" said Ginny, "just the usual bronchitis on top of overwork." Myra was settled on the couch and they ate in the living room clustered around her, while Ginny did most of the trip description. With her friends telling their tales of the past week, Myra relaxed, finding enough breath to laugh and, blessedly, become drowsy. She took another breathing treatment on her home machine before lying down in their big familiar bed, Ginny holding her, and finally found the ability to sleep.

Ginny insisted Myra not look at her research for the next two days. She dozed frequently, watched well-worn DVDs, and spent most of the following Sunday with Chris and Edwina at the dining table, poring over a Nimipu dictionary project that was Chris's brainchild. It helped to have her mind re-engaged on something which was not her ultimate responsibility. Ginny was fidgety that afternoon, eventually confessing to Allie that she felt a painting coming on but was trying to stifle it because she couldn't abandon Myra right now.

"She better, she okay enough to be on her own" said Allie. "She can order in Thai food, keep watching TV for the next coupla days. I'll check in for dinner with ya'll. Go ask her."

Myra of course waved Ginny back to her studio, saying "It's about time. Make like Madonna and express yourself."

Two days later, Myra went to her computer and began the database of women's publications. She called Sima three times in an hour to get advice on spreadsheets, and spent another half hour on the phone with her new friend at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, discussing label options. The whole time, her printer was churning out page after page of Ginny's JPEGs. She replaced the toner, added another ream of fresh paper, and placed an order with her office supply store for binders. She then focused on mentally rearranging her study to make room for a second computer and shelves of periodicals currently being studied. She'd have to save the actual moving around for when she could get help with it.

Ginny finished her painting on Thursday afternoon. This one was an abstract, a throwback to what Myra thought of as her Stsho period: pastel, borderless, and more than usually dependent on layering to convey texture. Ginny called it "The Stacks", which amused Myra: if you could get inside her brain when it was confronted with the potential information buried in a library, the electrical storm of her synapses might look very much as Ginny had depicted. It was a seller, not a keeper, which was always a mixed blessing for Ginny. She hated to let go of her creations, but it mattered to her in a fundamental way to bring in money.

While Ginny slept through dinner -- she had already feasted before her crash -- Myra fed her friends and settled at the table afterward with tollhouse cookies and more Nimipu dictionary work. They all got caught up in the excitement of beginning to comprehend Chris's language of origin and stayed at it until midnight. Finally Allie noted the time and said "Oh, hell, you've got an early meeting tomorrow, Edwina."

"Yes, well, this was worth it."

Chris said to Myra, "We'll redo your office tomorrow evening after dinner, okay?"

"All right. They're delivering a worktable in the afternoon, and the new computer comes on Saturday" said Myra.

It felt good to crawl in beside Ginny, present at bedtime for the first time in several days. However, she kept waking up, her mind full of Nimipu grammar and suffixes. She got up early the next morning with Ginny, and after eating she took a breathing treatment.

"You finished your steroids when, yesterday?" asked Ginny, worried.

"Day before. I think it's just tiredness, not a new flare. Look at how bright it is out there, that beautiful September light" said Myra, staring out the window.

"I turned on the AC this morning, it was 80 degrees in here. Unseasonably hot" said Ginny.

"I'm going to get in the water" decided Myra.

"Is exercise a good idea right now?"

"I won't push myself. I'll lie on that floating armchair and let the sun rejuvenate me" said Myra. But she carried her inhaler out to the pool with her and left it on the concrete lip. The water felt glorious, and drifting was exactly what she needed.

Two hours later, Ginny came out and sat on the edge, her legs in the water. Myra had been half-asleep. As she returned to consciousness, smiling at Ginny, Ginny said "I've been having a long talk with Gillam."

"He call to check up on me?" asked Myra.

"Yes. And...He wants to talk with you about this as well, but he didn't want me to disturb you when he heard what you were doing." Ginny paused, and Myra came fully awake with a sense of foreboding. "He's decided he wants to track down his father."

For a moment, the sentence made no sense to Myra. She thought, He has no father. She stared at Ginny, who said "I gave him the contact number for the place where we got his -- jump-off juice."

Myra didn't know what to say. She felt nauseated.

Ginny continued "He's already talked to Margie about it, who is apparently rather upset with him. She says she doesn't particularly want to know, but of course if he does, we all will and she has no choice in the matter."

Myra finally croaked out "Why?"

"Well, you need to get the whole story from him. The short version is, he was in a class where they had a big discussion about the psychological scars of slavery, about forcible severance from ancestors, and it got to him. He and Carly continued talking about it -- you know, Carly doesn't have the option of looking up his sperm donor, Pat and Patty didn't select a guy open to that possibility down the line. And apparently it's really bothering Carly. He actually urged Gillam to exercise his own avenues, as a kind of surrogate, I guess. Gillam also said he wants to know if he's facing any medical threats at some point." Ginny was watching Myra's face. "He did say he felt extremely ambivalent about having a relationship with the man, if he can locate him at all. He's not looking for another parent, he just wants the knowledge."

But it's not merely knowledge, it's a human being, thought Myra. One who shares his DNA. How can Gillam resist that?

"Say something, Myra. What's going on for you?"

"I...don't know yet. Except I feel slammed."

"He's ours, Myra. Body and soul. Always will be. Fact is, he's more yours than mine. I've often wondered how that occurred -- I mean, I feel the same indescribable connection to them both, that body sense of having shared a heartbeat. And it's no less with him, never has been. But from the outset, he slept more deeply in your arms, preferred to have you nearby even when I was nursing him. I used to think it was because he was taken away from us right after birth -- away from me, I mean, and you followed him, kept the bond alive. Maybe that's why. Or maybe it's that your souls are in tune, in some way I can't explain. But you have nothing to worry about, Myra."

Myra filed this away like a JPEG for further close examination. She paddled toward the edge and used her inhaler. She began paddling to the other side of the pool, then slipped off the float and swam to the corner where a small pile of pool toys remained, mostly unused these days. From the fading plastic items she pulled a snorkel. She rinsed it in the water, fitted it in her mouth, and lowered her body into the water face-first. Her torso was naturally bouyant, her arms and legs dangling. Only the back crown of her head was above the surface. She had not said a word to Ginny or looked her way.

Ginny blew out her lips. She had been thinking about getting in for a swim, but decided to leave Myra alone if she was going to do the Paddy Chayefsky routine. The squash needing picking again, but she didn't even want to stay outside at the moment. She stood up and went into the kitchen, starting her sponge for challah as she went over the conversation with Gillam in her mind. It was interesting that Margie was raising a ruckus about this. She would call her later, see if she could understand why.

Once the sponge was resting in a towel-covered bowl, Ginny scrubbed her hands and decided to make minestrone for lunch. She began with a mirapois in olive oil, cutting the celery extremely fine -- Myra didn't actually mind the flavor, it was the texture which bothered her. She added garlic and grated parsnips, again concealing the latter from Myra's detection. She noticed criminis in the fridge and began slicing those. It was a bit late, she needed to throw in a little butter to get caramelization out of the mushrooms at this stage. Which meant serious deglazing; she finally opted on half a cup of red wine, after she had added tomato paste and a tablespoon of strong red miso to give it heart. She poured in two cups of water and considered direction.

In the end, the never-ending supply of zucchini decided for her: She peeled half a dozen, grated them into a bowl, and added the pulp plus liquid to the soup. It would thicken the base, but also add sweetness. She would balance this with a mound of chopped greens, mostly mustard but some collards and dandelion as well. Before that, however, there was something missing. She spotted the butter beans and pulled them from the crisper, hulling them and dropping them into the simmer. She put in minute amounts of fresh tarragon, dill, and thyme, plus a heap of shredded cabbage.

She checked her sponge and punched it down again. She glanced out the window -- Myra was still a motionless torso. Her mind returned to Gillam's quest. They better not look like their father, they just better not. She thought of how Gillam's eyes held glints of gold and iridescent green, unlike Myra's which were all variations on brown. She added cracked pepper and the greens to her soup, and did another taste. A little oyster sauce, a dash of cayenne, and -- Myra was far enough out from her illness, she could handle a little dairy now. Ginny tempered half a cup of cream with hot broth and returned it to the soup pot. As she was turning down the burner, Myra came in the sliding door.

"Wow, that smells incredible" she said. She hugged Ginny, her cheek very cool and still damp.

"You ready to talk?" asked Ginny.

"Not quite. Maybe after shabbos, with our friends?" suggested Myra.

"Fine by me" said Ginny, putting some of Myra's 12-grain bread into the toaster. This soup would need something substantial to soak it up. Margie had referred to Myra's 12-grain loaves as particleboard with flavor. "Shall we eat at the breakfast bar?"

Myra nodded, slicing a honeydew onto a platter. Ginny filled two large soup bowls, retrieved the toast, and sat down beside Myra. They ate in silence, except for Myra's repetitive appreciation of the soup.

As Myra cleaned up, Ginny punched down her dough again and asked "What did you have in mind for dinner?"

"I'm craving protein. Brisket, I think. And -- you?"

"Scallops. Those thick ones, in a lemon sauce, braised, not sauteed. Plus spinach. And either millet or kasha, something primordially grain-ish" said Ginny.

"I miss the boys most when I cook" said Myra. "I love how Carly will talk to himself, how he says 'Why the hell not' when he's deliberating whether to add a certain seasoning."

"And some of his experiments have allowed us to answer that question, here's why the hell not" joked Ginny. "Like the peanut-butter mashed potatoes."

Myra giggled. "They cleaned the bowl, though." She delayed going to her desk for a minute, watching Ginny knead with glistening strong fingers. She said softly "I know you're right. What you said."

Ginny looked at her. "I wondered if it had gone in or if it was Ginger hearing blah-blah-blah" she said with a grin.

"It always goes in, when it's you talking" said Myra. She kissed Ginny's shoulder.

"I'm going to call Margie when this is baking" said Ginny. "Wanna get in on that?"

"I do" said Myra. She still didn't turn toward her study.

"Remember how during the 50s and 60s, Freudians had this whole theory about why gay men turned out gay? Because they had distant, emotionally withholding, controlling fathers and smothering mothers?" Myra said. Ginny nodded, one eyebrow raised. "It was all about how the boys didn't have a chance to connect with a strong opposite-sex role model and it turned 'em queer. So they expected it would be the opposite with lesbians, but when they finally got around to studying us, lo and behold, most of us had the same family dynamic as gay men. They were still trying to tapdance around that conundrum when a handful of radical psychologists pointed out that everybody in postwar America had a nuke fam based on Dad being absent and Mom being married to kitchen and kids. It wasn't just perverts, all of us had come from some version of Levittown and Leave It To Beaver."

"I always think that version of family is the product of second-generation Ashkenazim, filling the movies and TV screens with their fantasy of what a clean-cut middle-class existence ought to be" said Ginny.

Myra laughed. "The vast Zionist conspiracy? Could be. Certainly my mother aspired to it, although we were always covering up how much we failed at it."

"God bless Jean O'Leary and cohort in 1973" said Ginny. Myra closed her eyes and gave thanks. Ginny said "So where are you going with this?"

"I don't know exactly. I tell myself I really do want to hear from our children how we may have failed them, even as we were struggling to not repeat the mistakes of our parents' generation. But...well, as Dick Cavett said, it's a rare person who wants to hear what they don't want to hear" said Myra.

There was another long silence. Ginny said "My heart is breaking for Carly. I don't know how to make it better for him. We could have been that short-sighted as well, you know."

Myra said "No, we couldn't have. Not us. Not about that." Ginny looked at her for a minute. Myra's breathing sounded normal.

"I'm going to pull the scallops from the freezer, shall I grab the brisket, too?"

"Yeah, set it out on a cutting board. I'll come deal with it in an hour or so" said Myra, at last going to her study.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Liza Cowan said...

Whew! A massive undertaking. Aren't there some local grad students who could intern for them? Or that they could hire? All that paperwork is too much for two people to do, as we see. And not really necessary. Surely, Someone else can do the scanning and preliminary organizing, and would probably love to.

That said, I can't wait to read the books.

And it's a darn shame that the Lesbian Herstory Archive hasn't digitzed its holdings, or some of them.