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-- Regina Pickett Garson --

The Writer Hermit:
On Writing, Fame and Activism

More than once and more than a day, writing has been my salvation. In some kind of way, I have been writing for public consumption since I was right at fifteen. Back then it was the school paper and helping Daddy with his sermons. I was a kid musician though, some thought a prodigy, NOT, I just practiced a lot. I loved to play, but being front and center all the time can wear on you and I got serious about writing when I decided that I never ever wanted to be on another stage again.

Fame is one of those things that everybody wants, until they get it. And as far as I was concerned, a little taste was plenty. A year into my music major at the University of Alabama, I decided that I would never play again, for the rest of my life. Truth be known, I do play now and again, but serious was over on the music thing and it never again defined me.

I wanted to be a hermit and I figured that writing was the logical way to achieve that goal. So, I changed my major to journalism and took every writing course I could find, in every department where I could find one, at least until I got bored, realized I had learned all I was going to learn about writing at the U. of A. and I changed to advertising/communications. My credits would carry over and it was a way I could combine writing, music and art into a career. Sounded good to me. Three majors, three years -- and I left with my first degree.

I soon found out what that advertising degree was good for though, every road led to sales. I hated sales. Begging was useless, and the creative departments were ever out of my reach. I always wrote though. It was my chosen art and now it is my most dependable dollar.

Eventually I went back to school to get away from sales and a little more focused in my career goals. My lofty aspirations as a word smyth have floored more than one of my more noble writer friends. It never occurred to me at the time though, that if you expect to write, sooner or later somebody is going to read what you write, and sooner or later you are going to be back on that stage again.

I'll be back to the other, but by way of: why now the page, talking about stuff, real stuff. It's with peer pressure, somewhat from above, that it is time to let go of my anonymity. I always loved Emily Dickinson, anybody else into, "I am nobody, who are? Are you nobody too? How dreary to be...." I love that poem. It speaks....

Actually, I have, let go of my anonymity that is, a time or two, and then I slid back out of sight, and out of mind. A keep my head down and color, stay out of trouble and under the radar mentality. It seems to be a habit with me, but I really am a quiet person. Mostly. But, from a kid musician, that the bets were on I'd surely be famous, to activist writing and editorial binges that were leading straight to the "pundit talking head," let us pull your strings, here's your paycheck, you think this and speak well on it mentality. Because, "You are gonna be famous!" Where have I heard this before, so it is, "NOT," one more time. What did they say the record was for ignoring requests to be on TV? Willing to help me with my autobiography? Ehhhh..., "NOPE." I did think about it, but I didn't go there either. At a certain point, you got to say, "This is my life and I am going to live it on my terms."

The last time around, public I mean, I don't think I realized what was happening, then things started happening so fast, and there were times, things just didn't feel right and I started inching back down under that radar. I stuck to my guns as some might say, but it cost me. And it cost me dearly, but I vowed then that the next time I was out there and public, it would be on my terms. I promised myself that I would be back and I would be out there, because I did have some things I wanted to say and I think for the very first time in my life, I wanted what should have been mine from the start. The thing is, I wanted it, my life, on my terms and I finally hit the point where I was strong enough to say I would not have it any other way.

When I write and my name is on it, it will be me, what I think, my own soul and my own spirit. Strange invocations from one some thought would be among the next great feminist voices. I tried, and sometimes I got close, but as far as being out there, as a writer, and an activist, I never had control of the strings. Not really. So when it came down to it, I did not want that title either, any title, whatever it was. It involved being on stage, with someone else holding the ropes. With everything in me, I refused to let that be my story.

At the time this one started, I had wanted to write about race, and I did. But few want to hear what a white Southern woman has to say about race. Or so some say. I was the wrong color, and that hit me just as surely as others at other times who had a dream that was somehow derailed by the color of their skin. When you get down to it, everything was fine, except the color of my skin, and maybe my amazing propensity to evade that thing about toes on the line when folks start telling me what I must write, say, or think.

I have done a lot of writing and editorial work with race issues though, and I've done a lot of research. I definitely have a few things to say, which is how I got onto it in the first place. However, I have come to my own conclusions as to what the current problems really are, and that too is part of my story.

Anyway, somehow, in this process, it was deemed that I would be one of the next generation of feminist spokespersons. Some folks from a men's movement group in Canada picked up on an essay I had written, they published it in their magazine, a special edition in honor of women and then some men's group folks in California read it. They were quite vocal that they too felt that I was the ideal feminist. And they declared that they wished all feminists were just like me. And they wanted me to come talk to their group. I am sorry, dearest, most gentle men, that was indeed an honor, but there was that stage thing again.

All said, I do, indeed, consider myself a feminist, but I can't say I was ever the most popular feminist on the feminist block. I am a Southern woman, to the core and we like being women down here. I am a total and complete, without apology, girly-girl woman, okay kind of nerdy -- I write, and I also have a -- without apology -- tomboy streak. These days I dig on writing about rockets and don't get me off on the martial arts. I am a strong woman and I like life better on the physical side.

Like I said, feminist I am, but I can't say I ever saw eye to eye with the feminist status quo -- whatever that means. The ones who think we all want to be, or would be better off as men, "NOT." Mostly we just did not agree on the issues. It has been written, that I give lip service to feminism. And others have said that I was a breath of fresh air. Some -- that I stirred things up, just a bit. I think if the stirring were ashes and the breathing air -- well you get the idea. It was, however, noticed that I was there, for a while.

But some had this notion about converting us Southern women and making us see the error of our ways in our total and complete enjoyment of being women, our steel magnolia mentality, and the men who make us so love being women and keep us so horribly downtrodden in the process. "PLEASE!" Needless to say, I had a problem with the whole thing. And I refused to cooperate on this thing about converting Southern women (of which I was one) to this Northern breed of feminism, whatever that is.

But back to the other, the nice men who wanted me to come out to California, I don't think that at the time I even knew what my story was, and I ask point blank what was I to talk about. They said whatever I wanted. But there was that stage thing again. My mind set at the time was, "I really don't care where you might want me to go, or how much you might be willing to pay me to do it. I am not going to be on that or any other stage. And I sure am not going to be there giving a speech."

I was daunted. Compounded by, if you want to know the truth, I was not at all confident they could understand me, Southern drawl and all. Never mind the fact that occasionally I stutter, well not bad, I don't think. Or so I'm told. Anyway, I'm not the one listening and it never bothered me that much, probably because I wasn't the one listening, but anyway, I said, "NO!" Sometimes it is just hard to get the words out the way I want and say what I want said by talking. Writing I can do though, but it was more than any of that.

I had no words, I had not set out to be a feminist spokesperson, I just wrote an essay. It wasn't even that, it had started as an email to another web publisher friend and she had published it on her site. And then somebody else and somebody else. I think it has even been quoted in other people's writing. I have a copy, somewhere, I think. When I find it, I will post it. It was one of those things that, well I felt like it was important and that I needed to say it, to her, at the time, it wasn't even meant to be published and I sure wasn't ready to be out there on that one. Not like that.

About that same time frame, I was editor of a well-known women's website, published by one of the most prominent minority publishing companies in the country. "Toot my horn!" This one was supposed to have been about race though. When I finished my last degree, Behavioral Science, actually, it was a double; but I'll get back to that later. I did know who I was then and at that point, I wanted to write about race. The time and place I grew up: there are things I want to write about still, stories that must be told. I had also been influenced by my course work in several ways, and I knew that I had something to say. I also wanted to learn more, to put more behind my writing than my feelings. I knew that it could make a difference. In my heart and soul, I am a Behavioral Scientist, somewhere between a sociologist and a psychologist. When you throw "Scientist" on the end of it though, somewhere along the way you have to loose the notion that you know the answers before you write, or before you even begin the research. Yes, I grew up and yes I got things to say. And yes I did my research. Did I already say that? Sometimes I repeat myself. Or so they say.

Anyway, white Southern steel magnolia, well probably more like a barefoot wild azalea from the hills, I grew up just south of Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement. We were touched by everything that happened in Birmingham. As did many others in my generation and those before, I had an African American woman who looked after me when I was a child. My earliest memories are of her and when the Civil Rights Movement hit home, I had my own opinions. No one who lived through those times in that place was untouched.

There was also a point when I realized, probably because of my work with feminist causes, volunteer work with survivors of sexual violence and some spark of a memory of the woman who had taken care me. Through that, I realized that on some of the things that racism involved, it was so personal, and the hurt so deep, few who had been through it would talk, not about what it was really like. There were too many similarities in the response to sexual violence and the response to the indignities and humiliation of racism. A pain that cuts to your soul and seldom do words that deep ever make it to the surface.

I felt like it was important that the real truth, the down deep human truth, what racism or any kind of prejudice really is -- that it is known. Well known. It was a story that I felt like I needed to tell. That it is not forgotten and if there is one who knows and understands from what I have done and written and learned because I lived, then it will have been worth it.

I've also worked with issues of mental illness, sexual violence, and other outreach. Too many stories. And I'll get to them all. But this one was very much because of her, the woman who looked after me. I believe that when the truth is not really spoken, it not really known. How could it be otherwise? Not the whole truth, and when the story is not really told, or glossed over and made pretty -- yes, that is how I felt about the coverage of what went on in that time. I always felt like something was missing in the coverage of the Civil Rights Movement. It never went deep enough. It never cut to the soul. And in some ways, I still feel like today, that those who come after do not fully understand, not really and the pain is just inflicted on another person in another way.

There is a breach. Understanding is not turning the prejudice around to direct at the guiltless off spring of long dead sinners. It is certainly not routinely bashing another for their gender or the color of their skin. Empathy and the understanding that somehow we are all in this, this journey through life, together. That is the only real change on this one.

How different from the early feminists who were derailed from their mission by issues of race. When it got down to it, it was just another writing gig. Business is after all business. Political, yes. I have been involved. I have written. I have drawn the editorial sword. In the process, I've done some really cool interviews with some really cool people. But I was headed straight toward punditry with the talking head syndrome emerging so slowly I didn't have a clue what was happening, just that sometimes there was the pressure: write this, with the unspoken about the political or the right thing to say regarding politics, race, or feminism. "The issues."

Did I get it right? Not always.... And there is that thing, that sooner or later every writer is faced with: "Your name," what does it really mean? What is your price? I'd have a lot more money if I had been a lot more free with the use of my name. I think, therefore.... Was that the fame thing rearing its ugly head again? None of that was my intent and not with my name on it.

But something is wrong with the story just the same. Terribly wrong. And I disappeared once more, with the vow that I would not be out again with my writing, not the real stuff, until I was strong enough to own my own words and be my real self.

And thus, this site. Am I ready? I'm not sure, but there was that thing about peer pressure, and letting go of my anonymity, or was it from above. Sometimes the timing is not exactly what you planned. But yes, I do have a few things to say, lessons I've learned, research I set out to conduct, but inadvertently lived, and a book that's finally almost finished. I have done my homework. And I never stopped writing. But I've been keeping my head down, publishing my website, the "Strong mind, Strong body" thing, Magic Stream, on self-help and wellness. Taught a few classes. I am still flipping words to make a living.
And I talk now, too!

More later,
Regina P. Garson


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Copyright 2008 Regina Pickett Garson