A book editor once challenged me to write a memoir. My first reaction was, "Ugh." Also my second. I thought I had used my inside voice.
She ignored my response and suggested I could narrow the project down by writing about five events I had participated in during my thirty-plus years in the LGBT movement. A March on Washington? The ride I hitched with the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes? The campaign against the Briggs Initiative? Protests against the Mormon Church after Prop 8?
I agreed to think about it. If torment is thought, I thought about it.
The raw material for a memoir was not a problem. For years, I had seen my mom write quotidian details into tiny boxes in small monthly calendars from a local florist or insurance agent. I have her cryptic entries in a five-year leather diary she kept in her teens. One day she met "the gang" for skating after school. The gang included "Jack," my dad.
Inspired by her, I began the habit of daily notations that later extended into fuller journal entries with recreations of conversations, physical descriptions of people, bits of dialogue, and, of course, relationship analyses that now seem so tortured and juvenile they could have been written in pink ink with tiny hearts to dot the i's. I am talking 2011.
I still keep a brief barebones log. Not OCD-ish, like Florida's former Senator Bob Graham, though, except maybe during my rigorous Weight Watchers point counting.
The info comes in handy. At dinner one night, friends were having an increasingly fractious dispute about the exact night they had met. Since I had been at the semi-propitious moment, I said if you give me the month and the year, I can tell you exactly what day it was. I got a chair, stretched for a pile of date books on a high shelf, found the year, the month, and, soon, the day they met. They were both wrong.
Truth be told (an important memoir goal), I think I was shocked to realize that the suggestion to write a memoir meant that I was of a certain age. Older than Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber. I was, however, consoled by the fact that my paper/pen format was something that even I could access. If my journals had been on floppy diskettes in this age of cloud as memory, the project would have been a nonstarter.
So I started. Or I tried to start. For weeks, while sitting at my desk, I could feel the bookshelf of journals boring I's into my left shoulder. Finally, one day I rolled my chair over and chose a journal from 1979 and decided to look at October 14, the day of the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
In 1979, I was newly out. With my "friend," I was visiting my sister, who lived in Washington, D.C., for the long Columbus Day weekend. My sister had heard about the march. We all went as if we were going to a parade, but seeing the 75,000 marchers gave me my first sense of a movement for equality, and I wanted to be part of it.
I cracked open 1979, found the date, and read my entry:
"Met Audre Lorde, had the grilled cheese."
And that's the title for my memoir. If I ever write one.
Kate "Shredder as Memory" Clinton writes every other month for The Progressive magazine.