Copyright © 2009 Henrietta W. Hay
Writing this Column
Decebmer 4, 2009
January, 2010 marks special anniversary for me. I am now 95 and have been writing a weekly column for the Daily Sentinel for 20 years. That's a lot of words. Failing eyesight cut it down to bi-weekly the last couple of years, but I have enjoyed every bit of it - well, most of the time. Looking back, I came across this column from 1994 which shows that my values and feelings have not changed very much in 15 years.
This week is the fifth anniversary of my talking to you once a week here in the Sentinel. I only hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.
After twenty five years as a librarian, a job which I liked very much, I retired -- I thought. Wrong! Now I have had five years doing what I always wanted to do when I grew up - write. It doesn't get much better than that.
Several years ago I spoke to a third grade class. One of the little boys asked me, "How long does it take to write a column?" Answer: a lifetime.
Whether you write fiction or biography or history or research or a newspaper column, a lifetime of experiences, education, reading, memories, observation and beliefs goes into it. And all the people around you go into it. I can't imagine writing anything in a vacuum, although Thoreau did it.
I have been especially fortunate in having my friend Terry to bounce ideas off of. How she can make sense of my first drafts I'll never know. Every writer needs an alter ego and I thank mine.
Rita Mae Brown in her book, Starting from Scratch, has a chapter called Writing is a Moral Act. She says, "All communication rests on inequality. That's the sheer excitement of it.
Language is the common thread by which we explore our differences and, if we are both lucky and mature, the thread that will bring us to a form of agreement or at least understanding. Therefore it is imperative that people write and speak the truth."
Many years ago a group of us spent about ten years reading and discussing the Great Books. We kept hunting for a Universal Truth. We never found it. Since truth is relative and our ideas of it change, the best I can do is write the truth as I see it today, so at least you won't think I'm a fake.
I wrote one day about the new political buzz word, "family values." It is ridiculous, since no two families have the same values and values, like truth, change even in the same family. If we mean compassion and loyalty and love, let's say so.
I wrote of my parents, for whom I have great love and respect, but one of their values was prejudice. In my childhood they considered the few blacks in our town to be "different". They also bought into the Protestant/Catholic conflict. That was "truth" in small western towns in America in the twenties. It is not my truth now and probably would not be theirs.
The truth that I found in adulthood was not prejudice, but that did not change the love and warmth and laughter that were in our house.
I've written a lot about feminism, or the equality of men and women, because that is my "political truth." Men and women are different biologically, but as a universal rule, one of us is not superior to the other.
I wrote once about Molly Yard who was at that time President of NOW. I asked, "What makes Molly run? A lifetime of passionate concern, a lifetime of anger at injustice, a lifetime of willingness to fight for the things she believes in. YES!
As a political person, I have expressed elation when women gained power in the political structure, and indignation when they have been defeated/insulted/fired/kicked around/demeaned/harassed, because the good old boys have not caught on yet. It will come - but will I live long enough to see a woman President? Maybe, but in 1995 it does not look promising.
Another truth has to do with age. In mythology the Trinity is female: Virgin, Mother, Crone. I wrote, "... women of my age are the logical activists. The Maidens tend to be so starry eyed that they don't know there are problems. The Mothers are busy trying to hold home and children and job together. So it's up to us, the Crones to save the world." We can do it.
Another truth is humor, but it is January, I have a cold, and nothing seems very funny. Besides, reminiscing over five years of columns is very serious business. I look forward with great pleasure to continuing this conversation with you each week. (Fifteen years later we are still having the conversation.)