Friday, August 10, 2012

First, you bite your nails

Hey - let's get something straight.

I'm not all that excited about telling my own, true story - on these pages, or anywhere else.  I'm a playwright.  I don't do memoir.  I do comedy.

So when the Minnesota History Theatre first approached me with the idea of writing about the horrendous sexism I faced during my early years as one of the first women in the Master of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS), I demured.

We were normal.

 I could write it funny.  I could write it wild.  But could I write it true?

I'm sure going to try.

My new play - GOD GIRL- is a comedy/drama stroll down memory lane. 

The play explores my experiences as a member of the PTS class of 1979.  We were the first with a large population of women; thirty one percent. 

Prior to our class, only a handful of odd, crazy female pioneers were admitted. 

Those poor things; imagine classrooms where you are the only woman in a cloud of men.  Now, imagine all the men are professionally religious.  Get it?

When we were admitted, those poor women were so happy to see us they offered to clean our dorm rooms to make certain we would stay.

They loved us, I think, because we were so normal.  We were happy women - great friends to each other.  Few of us - only a few - were crazy, right wing-nuts.  None of my friends were fundamentalists.   Some were agnostic - attractive, critical thinkers. 

We dressed in cool, groovy clothes and jogged in the afternoon.   We practiced yoga and formed "consciousness raising groups."

We decided, as a group, we would not have sex with any man at Princeton. 

Princeton SEMINARY, that is.

But who wants to hear about those good old, bad old days?

Hard story to tell - harder to live through

As tough as it was to live through those awful times, they are excruciating to remember.

These days, I'm writing (what I hope to be) the final version of this play - and for the first time, I'm revealing that I attended PTS as a divorced woman.


A divorced woman, in 1975, seeking a credential to be a Presbyterian pastor.

I thought long and hard.

In those days,  I thought long and hard before I revealed the awful secret about myself.

A divorced woman might not have a place at the table.  Churches were known to release, shame and humiliate men who went through divorces.  What would they do to a woman, all ready tainted?

The truth, and nothing but the truth - so help me You Know Who. 

I've been working on this play for over three years.

The first version was a full-tilt-boogie musical; book and lyrics by Yours Truly.

The GOD GIRLS were a kick line of female seminarians.  Each had a story to tell.

Think; A Chorus Line - set at Princeton.

The second version was a free-wheeling drama; telling the ugly story of the dark, underbelly of the seminary leadership.  A tale of child abuse, incest, corruption and greed so ugly, the History Theatre pleaded with me to change directions.
 My final version is so close to the bone it hurts.  The truth.  Nothing but the truth.  With a little humor to help the medicine go down.

I hope you will like it. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The last homecoming queen

I worshiped her for her hair.

She was a tall woman - taller than most of us.

And beautiful. Naturally beautiful.

Her name was Sandy.  

She was a senior at Macalester College, and I was only a freshman; a chubby-cheeked, trying-too-hard freshman.

Those were tough days for me.  My mother was a single parent and we didn't  have money for dorm life.  So, like a few other geeky nerd girls at Macalester,  I attended classes during the day  - and lived at home.

That wasn't the end of my suffering.  I had other problems; chin acne, front teeth too big for my adolescent jaw.

And I still hadn't found the right bra to arrest my jiggle when I walked across campus. 

It was 1969, and I was working hard on figuring out who I was and what I would do with my life.

Even then, even with all the silly post-adolescent distractions, I knew I wanted to die leaving behind something better.  I wanted my college years to count - I wanted to become some one, some thing, some how.

And I wanted to do it looking more like Candace Bergen than Zelda Gilroy.

Surrounded by hair - and admirers

I grew up in corn-fed Minnesota, where girls with heavy, round faces and thin, floppy blond hair was the norm.

There was nothing heavy, round or floppy about Sandy. She was lean and lanky, a marvel of nature.

The rest of us lugged our back packs across campus, on our way to important lessons in political science and the history of civil unrest.

Sandy had a boyfriend.

Sandy didn't schlep text books like the rest of us. She was too smart for lecture notes - too cool for that kind of action.

I didn't worship her, however, for her smarts. I worshiped her for her hair.

The most striking thing about Sandy was her long straight, glistening curtain of gold.  Parted in the middle, it fell down her back in a clear, unencumbered cascade of beauty.

It was the longest, most beautiful head of hair I've ever seen.

The first time I saw her was at the off campus student's hangout - the Grill at Macalester College. When she walked into the room the coolest guys dropped their cheese sandwiches - turned - and stared.

Wide, floppy bell bottoms, slung low on her narrow hips, arms free, moving in graceful cadence with each stride, Sandy was the quintessential flower child.

She strode to the center of the cafe, and sat on the floor.  Within minutes, five, six other girls followed her lead.   And so Sandy sat on the floor, surrounded by a few other girls, the boys who loved her  - and her hair.

Six, eight, ten inches of steaming, flaxen silk lay around her.  As she talked, laughed, listened, I watched her pick up a handful here, untangle the ends there, brush the dust from these golden strands and toss her hair back on the ground.

All of this - and a man too.  

Wherever Sandy was, I couldn't look away.  Something there was about her that fascinated me.  How long did it take to grow her hair to her butt?  And how did she keep it so glistening? So free?  My hair landed on my shoulders and refused to grow further.  What did she eat?  Did she take vitamins?  what was her secret?

And where did she meet her boyfriend?

Sandy became our homecoming queen.

He was her match; beautiful, intense, dark, brooding, and so hip it hurt.

My friends called him "Jeremy"  - and that might have been his name.

Then again - it might have been Bob, for all I know. Jeremy was a fantasy name for the ideal hippie boy.

And his name didn't matter.  Sandy and Jeremy were together, for all the world to see.

My friends and I were the world - and we were eager to see.

Tough times 

Macalester College - like every other institution of higher learning - went through an identity crisis in 1969.

The students - all of us - resisted traditions that represented the old order.

The cruel war was raging in Vietnam.  When our boys graduated Macalester, if they didn't have decent deferments through marriage or a stint at seminary, they would be cannon fodder for the North Vietnamese.

With such considerations, we didn't take much stock in things like homecoming, football and the rituals of our dying innocence.  We were focused on the weekly, silent, black-shirted protest we created every Wednesday on Grand Avenue; the "Honeywell Project," where we attempted to shut-down Minnesota's link to the arms industry; and the weekly protests throughout the city, shouting, singing and sitting for peace.

Macalester students didn't have time for homecoming. 

I think it was Jeremy who first suggested it.  The rest of us went along, gladly

Sandy became Macalester College's homecoming queen that year;  the last homecoming queen in the history of the college.

I didn't go to the game - I didn't see Sandy crowned and celebrated.  I wasn't a part of the community in those days - I didn't have anyone to sit with - the right poncho to wear.

And I didn't smoke dope.

Like so many other "off campus" students, I stayed home that night with my mom.  We watched Perry Mason on television, made Chef Boyardee pizza and worked on the socks we knit each year for the rest of the family's Christmas.

I heard that Sandy and Jeremy got married.

I heard that Jeremy and Sandy got married.  I like to think it was a hippie wedding, with hippie clothes, hippie jewelry and hippie vows.

"I do my thing - you do your thing - and if we meet each other, it's beautiful."

or -

"For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health - as long as we both shall love."

 Time marches on. . . 

Sandy, wherever she is today - is in her late '60's.

Old enough to be a grandmother.

She probably cut her long hair decades ago.

In my memory, however, she will always be Macalester's flower child;  sitting on the floor, surrounded by the adoration and solicitation of lesser beings.

In my imagination, she is perpetual summer; shimmering and free.

The last of a tradition of women, and the last queen of my alma mater.