Here’s The Miracle: Being in ‘The Letter Q’
“The point, I think, isn’t the quality of the advice, which can never be taken in by its alleged recipient, but how much honor, vigor and convincing life the words – and pictures! – can hold. It’s about stayin’ alive, at every age, in every sense.”
When I was in grade school, lo these many years ago, I loved ordering Scholastic books: Misty of Chincoteague. Stormy, Misty’s Foal. The Secret Garden. The name Scholastic makes me remember sitting at a desk with gum stuck on the bottom, filling in order forms with a stubby pencil. It makes my head spin to have a letter in the wonderful new anthology The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves, edited by Sarah Moon with contributing editor James Lecesne. James Lecesne is an actor, writer and co-founder of The Trevor Project, which will receive half of the royalties for this book. Sarah is a teacher and writer whose letter made me cry when I read it again today. (Confidential to dykes: see Sarah on being tough.) I don’t know what the age of the kids will be who get a chance to order The Letter Q , but all the music by Donna Summer (may her memory spin and shine) in the air is reminding me of my high school years, too. I was full of brilliant resistance and passionate confusion as a fat, queer kid circa 1977. It is intensely moving to be one of sixty-four queer writers sending letters back to our own youths, and in the course of doing that, offering our sweet, specific, messy selves to kids, no matter the age, who wouldn’t mind something to read on this subject about now.
I am not reviewing this book. I’m in it, and it means too much to me. I got a copy of the galley at a difficult time in my very adult life, and found the letters immensely comforting. Who wouldn’t want to read this from Jewelle Gomez? “Sex is good, which is another thing the faceless mob would like to convince you is not true. You get to decide about your sex life and you can have it any way you like it.” Or, pointing to the need for and glories of collective action: “Being a lesbian feminist means you’ll get to help steer through and shape the change like those people you see marching on TV on the six o’clock news.”
Who doesn’t want to be there when Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, is filling in his young self on the fact that he gets to be friends with some of his heroes? “Like oh not to name names but like MAURICE SENDAK! I know! SCREAMMM!” (May his memory forever follow firm, wild lines into creatures we are lucky to imagine.) Not to name names, but the list of writers here is enough to make me break out into my own trills of screaming: Amy Bloom, Michael Cunningham, Jacqueline Woodson, Julie Ann Peters, Eileen Myles, Armistead Maupin, David Leavitt, Malinda Lo, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, it goes on and on. One of the contributors, Paula Gilovich, writes to herself at 14: “And, since you are the ambitious type, spend your life reading the plays and books and memoirs of the writers collected here. What they have written will topple any kind of resistance to who you want to be.” It’s not bad advice.
I also loved Paula Gilovich for giving the address where fourteen-year-olds can find info on sexuality(www.advocatesforyouth.org). Me, I gave the address for Nolose, a group for fat queers and allies. We’re all scattering breadcrumbs for those coming along behind us, and there’s nothing better for that than a book. Novelist David Ebershoff writes, terribly and beautifully, about burning the queer books he manages to find at the mall, so that they won’t be on his shelf as evidence of who he is and what he loves. He writes: “Here’s the miracle: those words you burned in the trash bin? They’re still with you. Not verbatim, of course. But the feelings they created have stayed for almost thirty years. You can’t know this now, but this hot summer of books is creating your future.”
There is something a little eerie about trying to write a letter to yourself at a younger age. Cartoonist Jen Camper lets her two selves (as lions, with and without a mane) kiss. Cartoonist Michael DiMotta tries to borrow five dollars from his younger self, who wads up the paper with the schematics for the time machine and tosses it away. The point, I think, isn’t the quality of the advice, which can never be taken in by its alleged recipient, but how much honor, vigor and convincing life the words – and pictures! – can hold. It’s about stayin’ alive, at every age, in every sense. Yes, that’s another disco reference. My young self would understand.
Photo:Susan Stinson Photo Credit: Kevin Gutting