Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Patricia Renn-Scanlan.

It is International Women's Day, a fact which I learned on Facebook this morning but didn't learn what that actually means, which is I guess typically the relationship between Facebook and facts.

It has set my mind to thinking about women, more than usual. I've become a little obsessed with the Democratic primary, solely because of the gender issues highlighted by Clinton's candidacy. Other aspects of it are much less interesting to me. And this week I've been actively trying to find a story I can make into a musical -- though I have projects in progress with collaborators, I have time and energy enough as well as a strong urge to write something all by myself -- so I've been thinking a lot about how my last two shows have been about women. And not just that the protagonists happen to be women but that the fact that they are women is integral to the stories.

A couple related thoughts: One, I'm not really interested in telling stories anymore that don't have some queer element. I'm just not. I could pick it apart as to why, but I don't see it as pathological, so why would I need to do that? And, two, by way of justifying my permission, as a man, to tell women's stories, I've said it before but it bears repeating: I've always believed that homophobia and misogyny are two faces of the same phenomenon, so to battle one is to battle the other.

When I was in high school I worked after school and summers at the DePauw University library. My mother worked there and got me the job. For part of that time I assisted the head reference librarian. Her name was Patricia Renn-Scanlan. Mom always identified with the women's libbers (as they called them then) but Patricia was a feminist in a whole new league. She introduced me to Andrea Dworkin and Adrienne Rich, blowing a hole in my mind a mile wide. I wasn't out yet to anyone but myself, but Patricia knew damn well what the story was. She frequently mentioned in passing her gay and lesbian friends, and though I didn't come out to her I had never felt so safe in my life. She was an ex-nun married to an ex-priest, so she knew from queer. She was overbearing and loud, fat and wore lots of purple, and most of the women at the library, including Mom, didn't warm to her. I adored her.

And she wasn't much of a speller, as you can see from this letter she wrote recommending me for a college scholarship.

Toward the end of my senior year, she took a job somewhere far away, moved, and we didn't keep in touch. From time to time over the years I've Googled her with no luck. But this International Women's Day thing today spurred me to try again only to find that she died three years ago.

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