Sunday, August 4, 2013

2013.08.03 Writing Alumnae Blurb

What to do, besides tap delete, when your class secretary sends an email asking for Class News for the Smith College Alumnae Quarterly from the college you graduated from 55 years ago, and you’re happy but not a hot shot.

What do I remember about college?  Exams, papers, panic, bridge, good friends, overstudying and becoming a true nerd while dreaming of a weekend date or a weekend at the local bar playing “The Prince of Wales had no tails.....”—a beer game designed to get you loopy.  

I also remember falling in crush with the college chaplain, a handsome dreamy type who guided me to the Episcopal Church where I found my spiritual home and eventual vocation. And, swooning over a Spanish (my major) professor, a suave Iberian poet who helped me appreciate Spanish poets. My favorite  poet was Nicolas Guillén, a surrealist whose one line captivated me enough to remember it :Todo en el aire es pájaro. (Everything in the air is bird.) Not translatable, which was its attraction. I learned to swallow it whole.

We lived in houses not dorms. I remember our housemother Mrs. Breakey. She presented a stern front and when she walked her ample thighs rubbed together making a swish-swish sound.  I grew to like her.

Most seriously, at Smith I re-learned what I’d learned in my all-girls NYC school, Nightingale Bamford, where I went from from grades 1-6: that girls could think, learn, and have strong voices intellectually and aesthetically. 

But the class secretary wanted to know our thoughts about The Seventies.  How do you blurb a decade, especially one that for me felt completely out of control?

So I wrote:

The 70s was a time when everything seemed to happen at once—all the good, bad and beautiful. It was the decade when, awakened by the furor of the 60s Civil Rights and the feminist movements, I broke out of rule and role in some mighty sloppy ways. Words of Smithies, Gloria Steinem, "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" and Betty Friedan "the problem that has no name"(that is, women discontent even though they’d followed their generational prescriptions for happily ever after) rang in my ears. They drove me on, along with my religious faith.  In time I became an Episcopal priest, a kind of brass ring I'd always wanted but never dared grab for.

I would not have had the chutzpah to do all this if it weren't for the 70s and for Smith where I learned to think, ask questions, and dare.