As I was preparing to write my first blog post for my new website, the Dashboard flashed in front of me a message:
Catchy title. Boy have I had to think up a lot of THEM over the course of my career.
So I thunk, and I thunk, and just as the catchy blog post title was at my fingertips--my cat, Teddy, chose that moment to take a nonchalant stroll across my keyboard.
I found Teddy's catchy title quite clever, because actually, isn't this the way of it for writers? So few of us have the luxury of sitting down to a typewriter or laptop or tablet keyboard and working straight through on a project until we wish to quit.
We are ALWAYS having to deal with interruptions and annoyances and grievances--tumult and texts and satellite TV and crises of confidence and quarreling children and squabbling pets and oblivious loved ones who don't realize we are smack in the middle of a work of genius.
When I first started to write, I had a new baby and a hyperactive three-year old. I did not have a desk--only a card table and an old cast-off dining chair. The typewriter nestled down in a sort of dent in the sagging table, and I'd write there while my infant daughter would crawl underneath me and teeth on the chair leg (I could feel it all the way up my spine) while my son would be disassembling a lamp in the other room or something.
Now my grown-up daughter has designed this website for me.
It was my grown children who began to badger me YEARS ago to write a memoir about my unusual life and the rich lessons I've learned from it. To me, there was nothing particularly special about it, but they thought otherwise while I dragged my feet and thunk up a host of unconvincing excuses.
Then I got to thinking about how I was born at the beginning of a decade, and every decade of my life has seen some extraordinary historical and cultural changes as our entire generation came of age.
When I was born, there were no satellites in space above the earth--none--and it took entire buildings to house a single computer. There was no such thing as even a pocket calculator--you had to use slide rules for complicated calculations. Telephones were big clunky affairs and most houses only had one, which was connected to the wall and could not be carried around--and the whole family had to share it. Cars had no padding anywhere and no seat belts. Nobody wore helmets for anything unless they played football. Books were big and heavy and could only be bought in bookstores or checked out of the library. Cameras were blocky and required film that had to be sent away to be developed and it took a couple weeks. When a woman went into town to run errands, she wore a dress, a girdle and hose, a bra, a slip, sensible heels, a hat on her head and gloves on her hands. When men went to work, they all wore suits with white shirts and narrow black ties. You could get a hamburger at the drive-thru, but it was a single diner or family-run joint--fast food didn't yet exist, and neither did the Interstate highway system, so if you took a trip, you drove down winding two-laned roads through all kinds of little towns and you had to figure out where that diner might be. If you ate in your car while you were driving, you just threw your trash out the car window--nobody called it "littering."
White people lived on one side of a town and people of color on another, and you almost never saw women or people of color in professional or powerful political positions--white men ran the country. If a man beat up his wife, the cops stayed out of it because it was family business. If a woman was raped, she was always blamed and was not taken seriously unless she'd been severely beaten, stabbed, or shot. In court, they could taunt her with her past sexual history, and if she had not been a virgin when she got married, she was portrayed as a whore who asked for it. Single women--especially divorcees and widows--were considered fair game for men in the workplace. There was no such term as "sexual harassment." Men could paw women, make suggestive remarks, and even assault them with little or no repercussions for it.
Rock and roll music was in its infancy, and there were big public protests about it being "devil's music," or worse. People dressed up in suits and dresses for football games and movies, and they smoked cigarettes EVERYWHERE and all the time. Both my parents smoked, and I can remember walking into our living room and finding it LAYERED with smoke. Doctors made TV commercials about the best-tasting cigarettes. Not many people did recreational drugs but they nearly all drank. A LOT. Most households had liquor cabinets stocked full of booze of all kinds.
If a teenager "got into trouble," she was nearly always either forced into a shotgun marriage, or sent away to live with a relative or even an institution until the baby was born and put up for adoption. It was considered shameful, and it was not unusual for her to spend her entire life without telling even her husband that she'd given up a child for adoption. There was no such thing as rehabilitation centers for drug or alcohol addiction. If someone was an alcoholic, they would be put into a special ward in the hospital until they dried out, or locked up in a mental institution. There was no place else for them to go.
People who are nostalgic for the "good old days" are hankering for a time that never really existed except on TV or in black-and-white movies. If you were a white male born into some money and social position, life was relatively easy for you. For everybody else, it could be tough.
That's not to say it was all bad, by any means. Kids ran around like little wild things throughout a neighborhood, pretty much in packs, and played until long past dark without their parents ever wondering where they were. Suburbs had not yet exploded and taken over urban areas--most people lived in small towns within driving distance of a big city, and there was an innocence about it, an ease for people who did not question the status quo. You walked places because they were fairly close, or rode your bike. Taking a family drive into the country was a thing, and you looked forward to it. The whole family watched TV together because there was only one in the house, and you ate at the table because there wasn't any place that would deliver fast food. When you went out, it was as a family, and neighborhoods would have potluck dinners and cookouts where everybody knew everybody.
The world my grandchildren inhabit is, in many ways, still like that--but in other ways, it is dramatically different, most especially because of the technological revolution that occurred just before and at the turn of this century. That has changed many things, some for the better and some not so much.
Because I am a writer, I kept journals--going back all the way to when I was twelve years old. It has been fascinating for me to read through those handwritten journals and re-experience all those years through the eyes of a teenager, a college student, a young single woman, a newlywed, a young mother, a career woman, the mother of grown kids, and a grandmama. It is for my family that I am working on my book, "American Woman," certainly, but I am also taking each decade in the book and highlighting unforgettable events and developments that everyone of my generation will remember and everyone of my children's generation can experience through my eyes.
There will be three volumes: The Fifties and Sixties; The Seventies and Eighties; and The Nineties and Two-Thousands. I will publish them as ebooks simultaneously, and will also provide audio files where I'll be reading them aloud for those who listen to books while driving or on their headphones. What my daughter and I hope to do is provide links on this website, so that if, say, you are reading or listening to how it felt to be alive when President Kennedy was shot or the Beatles came to America or when the first home computer was made available on the marketplace--you can come here and look at pics from that period in history, along with some family photos of my own. In that way, we hope to make it a completely immersive experience.
This will be my legacy to my children and my grandchildren--and their children too, if they wish. They will hear about how their mama and grandmama was born in a small town, grew up in the suburbs, traveled across the country as a young professional, married a cowboy and moved West to a sprawling cattle ranch, launched a writing career, broke into book publishing with suspense thrillers, traveled all over the country researching those books with law enforcement officers and publicizing those book--and wound up being a part of their lives and their own stories. They will hear about history happening and cultural revolutions occurring and a generation coming of age and making their marks--some in world-changing ways.
Along the way, I hope they'll gain new insights into how they can cope with the interruptions, annoyances, and grievances in their own lives--and how they can turn those things into the unexpected joys and sweet loves that life has to offer.