Several years ago, in another life altogether, I worked with a talented group of men and women at the Ozark Gazette, an alternative publication in Fayetteville.
Since I served for a time as editor, folks are prone to ask, “Who were your favorite writers or artists at the OG?”
My usual, flippant response is usually, “The ones who got their stuff in on time and met their word limits.” And then I’ll laugh. I don’t like to exalt one writer or artist over another, especially with something like the OG, where it was essentially a labor of love - despite the occasional screaming match.
People created what they did because they cared about their community. That’s kind of idealistic, and may not always hold up under harsh sunlight, but for the most part it’s true.
But I was thinking about one writer in particular the other day, and it has a lot to do with me, and the passing of years, as much as it has to do the excellence of her writing.
In the mid-1990s a young woman came to me and wanted to write a column about her life and experiences as a lesbian growing up in our society, dealing with today’s issues.
I was delighted when the young woman, who wrote under the name of “Lillian,” came to us. We had been reaching out for some time to folks in Northwest Arkansas who didn’t have a voice in other publications, and what Lillian offered us seemed a perfect fit.
And so we were were happy on several levels when we began running “Over the Rainbow.” It was reaching a readership that no other paper was attempting to reach, and, even better, Lillian was a damn good writer.
Which brings me to why I was thinking about Lillian and “Over the Rainbow,” this past week.
Along the way, an interesting thing happened. Over time, it became obvious that , although the column was pitched as telling the story of of one woman’s life, and in particular her life as a lesbian, she was reaching a much wider audience.
Sometimes I would just sit back and marvel at Lillian’s story telling abilities, and would be moved by passages in her columns.
Okay, maybe this was just me. I cry at movies, and while reading books. I remember once as a child crying during an episode of Mister Ed.
So, okay, I’m mushy. I’m no judge. But then something happened, something totally unexpected. Older men, guys in their 50s and 60s, who didn’t have to pretend to be tough anymore - but some still were - would sit in front of me and tell how much they were moved by the latest installment of “Over the Rainbow.”
And yes, some of these guys said they cried.
There was a simple, clean universality to Lillian’s writing that reached across all lines and told stories that everyone could relate to, no matter their sexuality.
And I think the honesty that came from her writing probably convinced more people that gays and lesbians were one with everyone else than a thousand well-meaning sermons or speeches.
I found myself thinking about Lillian’s work last week, now that I have officially reached the medical condition known as Old Fart, and have been rereading some of her old columns. I sit back and read them not as an editor, but as a reader, and I am delighted.
One day perhaps she’ll actually take my advice and publish some of her best work in a book. In the meantime, I know that her column will soon find a new home, and I look forward to traveling over the rainbow with her again.
Quote of the Day
What isn’t tried won’t work. - Claude McDonald