R sat in the living room of her home in Fayetteville, looking out through large windows to a deck that hangs over a steep, wooded hillside. Born 1949 Ohio.
The summer after I graduated from high school, we moved to the Bay area in California, and I started at a convent school in January. While I was at that school, the first Vietnam moratorium was held. That and some flyers that were put up about women’s needs and nobody paying attention to them, and the women’s movement – on the fringes, I noticed it. I was finally away from my parents, away from Cleveland, and in a place where I could think for myself without anyone around to measure it against, and that’s when it finally hit me. What was really strange, was that I’d been going to work – my dad drove me to work every day in Oakland, Berkeley – that was when the People’s Park stuff was happening, we drove right by it. I just thought there was a bunch of junk going on there. I had no concept of what was happening, probably because I was in the presence of my dad and had I said anything, he would have said, oh, just a bunch of troublemakers.
I was heady with the idea that we had all this power and we could think about all these things and change the way our lives were going to go. It wasn’t predetermined according to, in my case, what the nuns, the church, the parents thought I should do. I thought I should do it too. But I thought I should do it within the scope of realizing there was a wide world of possibilities out there and that politics was open, a wide open field. As it turned out, in the ‘70s I was very political. I ran for quorum court, stood up for women’s rights at my job, and got myself fired a few years later. But in the meantime, I got equal pay and compensation for all the women. I got really political in the 70s and it was something I didn’t realize was available to me when I was in high school. I only had two years of college before I went into VISTA. I left college to go into VISTA.
My parents weren’t happy with all these new ideas that were coming out of my head. The protests were very minor, just gathering on the steps in front of the cafeteria. This was a girls’ college of 300, so it was really small. I didn’t have a car, so I didn’t have mobility. We were protesting the Vietnam War. I remember them saying that the war was economic, being waged for economic reasons. I wasn’t really fully aware of what the Vietnam War was while we were still in the ‘60s and while I was still in college. It wasn't really until I got married – I met somebody in VISTA and got married and that’s how I got to Arkansas – his parents talked politics all the time. And he and his brother had both just come back from Vietnam. That’s when I began to realize that I was very much opposed to it – and Senator Fulbright was here at the time, and opposed to it.
Joining VISTA was a result of my new feelings in college and wanting to serve, wanting to do something, make a difference. I had thought about Peace Corps, but my parents said, whoa, why not take care of the people at home first? And I thought about going into the convent, but they told me I would have to wait until I graduated, and they told me I was not ready to be a nun. I had already been accepted into the convent in Cleveland Ohio, and was supposed to go immediately upon high school graduation. But when I went to college and spent two years there, they made me go through all these psychological tests, and they said, you’re too close to your family, and you’re too rigid, and you don’t have a real comfortable relationship with God – well, of course not. So as a result, I couldn’t go to the convent, which is where I thought I was going, and I started looking around because I didn’t want to stay at that school, because it was really expensive. So I decided to take a break from college and come back later on, and go into VISTA and the parents said that was better. They ended up hating VISTA too.
I trained in Oregon and worked in Santa Monica. I worked in a Chicano area. I was supposed to work with preschoolers. VISTA allows you to pick your slot. In fact, we were at one of the new classes where there weren’t enough slots for all the trainees, so we went on strike up in Eugene Oregon while in VISTA training, and refused to leave for our slots until they made the promise that everybody who wanted to have a slot would have one. So I went to Santa Monica and was working with the preschoolers and the community agency I was working with down there decided they would hire somebody to work with the preschoolers – and mind you, I’m 20 years old – and that I could work with Chicano teenagers.
I didn’t know the word ‘fuck’ at that point. I mean, I’d never heard it. But I was beginning to hear it. I still didn’t drive. I was going to have to get my license. And they were going to have me work with Chicano teenagers. I had absolutely no ability and no confidence, and I said, this is crazy, and about that time, V. who had been one of the last people up in Oregon, said this is ridiculous, we’re asking people what kind of housing they want and we’re not able to give them what they’re asking for, so why are we asking them. So he got out, and came down to where I was. I stayed a couple more months, then talked to the director and said, I can’t do this. And they said, how about running the newspaper, and I said, I’m out of here. So V and I got married and came back to Arkansas.
Then I had about three years of being apolitical in Arkansas. We were living in the country with his parents. It was brand new. It was like I traded the cocoon of my parents for another cocoon. Except they talked about different things and they had different viewpoints. They were more Democrat, whereas my parents were more Republican. And then the time came when I realized V wasn’t ever going to want to leave there, and I might, and I left.
As far as drugs go, I couldn’t smoke. I understand Clinton completely. In high school and college, I tried to smoke cigarettes, and the way I would smoke a cigarette was just taking the smoke into my mouth. That was it. And I didn’t enjoy it. And I wanted to try marijuana, because V and his brother were very much into it, and they got their dad into it, and their mother had glaucoma. I don’t know if they ever gave her brownies or not. Anyway, I just couldn’t get it into my lungs and whenever I did, it just didn’t seem to help. V and I were working at the Yellow Brick Road, doing drug counseling for people who were doing heavier stuff.
V and his brother were upset that I couldn’t get high. They made brownies and that didn’t do anything for me. The only time I’ve ever done a drug was a few years later, when I went to Iowa and this guy told me for the second time that he was going to dump me, and here I am, stranded in Iowa, and I had to wait a couple of days to get out of there, and I did some speed. Just one tab, and I was amazed how it made me ignore all the pain I was feeling. So I never really got into drug stuff. My son’s making up for it, I think, with marijuana only, I hope.
K and I have talked about how to deal with this with the kids, and it’s like, that’s a real hard question. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about it, because then you’ve still got the police officers out there, so then my disgust with police officers comes through, and becomes a stereotype, especially now that I’m working at the newspaper. Every chance they get to bust somebody – I mean, they’re looking in cards illegally. And they’re doing it and it just irks the hell out of me, and then I tell [my son] that he has to pay attention to the police because the bottom line is that they can throw him in jail.
By the time I left V, I was reporting on politics. I was looking at a career in journalism. I had been studying that in college. I never went back to school, because after we moved here, I just kind of ... I took a proofreading job at the Times when one of the reporters never showed up for an interview – just walked off the job one day – then I lobbied my way into the job. I knew I could do it, I’d been reading other people’s stories for the last year. So I really knew I could do it. I covered Springdale, which was very conservative. Black people weren’t allowed into the town. The police beat up people. And I saw the police beating up people, just when they were irritated with them. So the justice thing – and of course in ‘74 Nixon resigned and I was at the newspaper when that came in, and we were very excited about that.
The environmental movement – that’s when I really started to push. I talked them into letting me have an environmental page and I covered all the environmental issues for the newspaper. I was against the highway, which is about to open. Against the airport, which is open now. All these things – but then, it is 30 years later so maybe it’s time for them now. And they did change some of the routing and do some things differently than they might have if we hadn’t been in there protesting.
Then Arkansas made this big change in county government that was going to take effect in January of ‘77 – so our newspaper had an editor who sat on the civil service commission and somebody else there was on the planning commission. I had run for the planning commission and no one had said anything. I was covering Springdale so I decided there would be nothing wrong with me running for justice of the peace for my district in Washington County, because the three years I had done Springdale stuff, it hadn’t involved any county stuff. But I had also brought the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit in against them during that three years. They watched me campaign and never said a word until I won the primary with 74% of the vote against three other candidates. They thought I had no shot at it – there were these three men. And I won it! Then I had this Republican opponent for the general election – and they let it get down to October and then they said, you know if you win this, you’ll be fired. And I said, what?! Can’t you put me on another job, like, a copy editor or something? And, no ... Then I realized they saw this as a way to get rid of me.
I started stringing for the Gazette, and I was on the quorum court, which took a tremendous amount of time, especially that first couple of years when they were putting everything into operation. And I was one of the really active ones that didn’t have a full time job, and I was married to N then, who was the assistant city manager. He actually helped a little in my campaign before I married him. We were living together by the time I started serving and then we got married in 1977. So I had so much politics in my life. I was still writing stories for the Gazette.
A lot of the rural quorum court members didn’t think it was right for the county to spend money on social service agencies, like the Economic Opportunity Agency, Abilities Unlimited, SCAN, the Battered Women’s Shelter. Those were things I fought long and hard for and chaired committees on it, and thought it was really important that we continue to use some county funds toward them. In the past, _ had been the county judge’s right hand man and had been good to these groups, so they were used to getting it. Now there was a quorum court of thirteen who they were going to have to deal with , and it was bad for awhile. But we were able to do it.
I’ve continued to do a lot of environmental writing. I was working for the Grapevine for awhile too – generally, just focusing on making government right. Making people responsible for their actions. I ended up on __’s case because he was taking money for travel, double dipping. He was getting double reimbursement, paying for it on a county credit card, and then turned in receipts for money. Eventually he resigned.
That was in the ‘70s and the Times came down pretty hard on me for doing that. It didn’t seem like they were treating me fairly – even people who campaigned for me – saying it was politics. I remember being so irritated, that they would say it was politics when it was just me doing the right thing. Of course, then things in my head were a lot more black and white than they are now. That’s what you go through. There comes a point in your early 20s when things are black and white and the grays don’t come until the 30s.
I feel like I did a lot of things but the question is, did we make a difference? I say yes, we made a difference, but it’s like you have to keep making a difference, or you have to have new people coming in making a difference. One of the reasons I finally quit writing for the newspapers was that it felt so public, and K and I were having such a hard time getting out of the public eye. I realized I’d been writing on wastewater treatment for nearly ten years. I’d been writing on solid waste problems for ten years. I’d been writing on all these issues for ten years. Ten years later, twenty five years later – the quorum court is still arguing about social service agencies, a piddling amount, and they spend all this energy wondering how they can divide it up so that everybody gets as little as possible, and it just made me upset. It made me feel like, what a waste, to still be doing all this stuff all these years later.
So – you make a difference, and I guess in the scheme of things you can see how things move forward, but it’s just so slow. And I think it’s so slow because of something Carolyn Myss said – she was talking about how the seven chakras in the body have counterpoints in Christianity – the seven sacraments – and in the Judaic tradition with the tree of knowledge, which actually has ten points, but only seven levels – and she was talking about the lowest chakra, the tribal chakra – she says we all start out at the tribal chakra, and the tribe tries very hard to keep everybody at the same place. It can move forward but it is glacially slow movement to get the tribe to see things in a little more enlightened manner. And that just really clicked for me. So she says if you can get out of that tribal chakra and get it up to your heart and throat and head chakra, to where you’re consciously not plugging in and not thinking you have to do everything the way everybody else is doing things, you can move more quickly. And the more people who are doing that, maybe we can get everyone out of the tribal chakra eventually.
That’s the hundredth monkey theory, that you reach a point where you have enough people behaving in a certain way that everybody sort of falls over and starts behaving that way. When I finally understood that, which really was in just the last couple of years, I began to realize that it’s OK that the world is the way it is, but I don’t have to be that slow. And if it takes forever, it takes forever. Everything is happening in the way it needs to, and my way is not necessarily the best way for the world, which is really hard for me to be OK with. I see things and I think that’s how it ought to be, by golly, and I have to catch myself a lot. So staying away from news really helped me a lot, letting go a lot of it. Now I’m back reading the news every night in my new job, and it’s like all night long, I have to remind myself to breathe, say this is all ok, this was all going on when I wasn’t paying attention to it, and all I can do is make sure that I’m as enlightened as I can be and as loving as I can be and that I try to have good contact with whoever is in my life and help raise them up into the light, so to speak. That’s all I can do about Israel, and Kosovo, AIDS in Africa, and all these things.
I used to laugh when I read about a hunger movement, where they didn’t do anything but think about it differently. They didn’t go out and raise money, and they didn’t do a gleaning from the fields, or anything like that. It was just an organization that did nothing more than agree to think about it. I used to think that was a real joke, but now I think there’s even more power in thought than there is in deeds, but I don’t think you can have that power in your thoughts without acting out some of it. I don’t think you can just think about it. I think when you have a chance to give somebody who’s on the street money for food, you do it. But it’s more important to hold it in thought the way you believe it needs to be. So instead of protesting, running to every rally, I go inside and say, what do I need to do in terms of this, and then I can act on it. If it’s just praying about it, or letting it go, realizing I’ve done everything I can do and letting it go, that’s now OK.
I went through a period where I couldn’t find anything spiritual and I kind of developed some thoughts on my own, like – there can’t possibly be a hell because I could never send anybody to hell, so how could God? Things like that. When I saw that the Catholic church – I went to see the priest here and he said you need to involve your husband, he’s the head of your household, the head of your spiritual family – that was the end for me. I thought, there’s no place for women in the church. I’m sorry, I don’t think nuns and all that – it’s so chauvinistic. I know women do a lot more, but it still seems chauvinistic – I didn’t have any use for that. I really thought that everybody had divinity within them. Then – somebody told me about Unity – I went a couple of times and liked what they said, that God was inside, and you followed your inner God, and that everything is as it needs to be. All these things rang true with what I had come to believe.
But it wasn’t until 1992 that I became involved [in Unity]. I did the newsletter and I was on the board for five years. I just got off the board when I got this night job. Reaching a palce where I could be spiritual in a way that fit me – because obviously I felt that way in the ‘60s if I was thinking about becoming a nun – reaching that place has been really joyous. I went through a period where there wasn’t very much joy in my life, and I still go through those periods. But there’s a lot of joy in my life right now, but it has to come from the inside and go out. It’s just a matter of how you think about it, because nothing has changed. You know, nothing on the outside has really changed for me in the last few years. Time is one of my issues – I never seem to have enough time.
I started doing a monthly column in the church newsletter, about how I could take everyday events in my life and show how I could see these in terms of lessons. I would start with a problem and come through. I started doing that, which made me realize that the writing I’d turned my back on was an important talent that I had. It was a way I could express God, or divine ideas, or whatever, and that I should be doing that. But then here I was needing to make money, so there was not a lot of time for it. But I did do that and this year I decided to try to write a little more, and it’s almost like the tribal chakra. I did get a little more output and I did get accepted in a couple of places, all spiritual stuff, and I decided what I would like to do now, if I could find the time to do it. I have a column idea and I’m working on three or four columns that I want to do, called ‘working ethics’ which would run in the business section, which would talk about spiritual principles in the work place, in nondenominational terms. So that’s where I see me headed, and I keep asking God to show me how I’m supposed to get there a little more quickly.
I wish I’d known in the ‘70s that I had so much time. I felt desperate then, doing the writing, doing the wifing, on the quorum court. My days were so full and I was feeling like I didn’t have time. I didn’t even have kids then, or a full time job.