Jamey Fitzpatrick, Mazer Lesbian Archives, West Hollywood, USA: Making it Personal

"Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark

of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,

the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.

At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.

At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.

I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,

and somehow, each of us will help the other live,

and somewhere, each of us must help the other die."

Adrienne Rich
In her paper, Jamey Fitzpatrick reminds us why the personal matters. She starts with the excerpt of a poem by Adrienne Rich and reveals how such women have influenced her own personal history. How, when in 2000 she walked into the Mazer Lesbian Archives in West Hollywood she felt empowered by the rich history of other lesbians and feminists. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Mazer Archives, she now calls for remembering and sharing with each of the women and men that helped us to become the people we are today.

What do you think of Jamey's argument that "our foothold to advance basic human rights relies on the personal"? Who were the people that inspired you? And which voices do you want to be heard louder in archives and libraries?

Click "read more" to read Jamey Fitzpatrick's whole paper. Read, comment, share and enjoy. 

Making it Personal
by Jamey Fitzpatrick
From the Mazer Archives in West Hollywood, California, USA

Excerpt from Twenty-One Love Poems by Adrienne Rich
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time

for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp

in time tells me we’re not young.

Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,

my limbs streaming with a purer joy?

did I lean from any window over the city

listening for the future

as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?

And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.

Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark

of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,

the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.

At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.

At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.

I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,

and somehow, each of us will help the other live,

and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

My history
When I heard that Adrienne Riche had died in March, the tears streamed down my face.  She was, for me, a deeply integral part of my coming out process.  In some ways her bravery on the page allowed me to not only know that I was not alone, but to write and live more boldly on paper than I could right then in life. I explored the textures and colors of words about women, about love, about what I was grappling with understanding within myself – in a large part because of Adrienne Rich and other women writers.  I discovered who I was through their words and my words about their words, by writing my own poetry, and by performing their work as theatre pieces.  In undergrad at Eastern Michigan, we called this Oral Interpretation, which was acting using a script that was anything other than a play – adaptations of poetry, short stories, postcards, letters, and memoirs – the stuff of archives.

Her words reached out to me bridging the space between our very different lives and the miles between the Midwest and Santa Cruz. She was the friend I needed at a time when I needed someone most.  I performed her work, I read her poetry… Actually I devoured her books -  chewing carefully the dog-eared pages, savoring each crisp beginning and clear ending, line by line, word by word. I bought her work at our independent bookstore in Ann Arbor, named aptly, Common Language.

And during a particularly devastating year – my second in graduate school for theatre in Chicago – when I was told by the dean that yes I would have to audition for the very homophobic, abusive woman who chaired the Shakespeare program at DePaul, I did three things for that audition.  I performed a Shakespearean piece I loved and a love poem from Adrienne Rich, and I sang, very boldly, and probably very badly, “If I were a rich man” as if I were.

To say that she helped save my life is not an understatement, even though I never met Adrienne Rich in person. That is the power of the written word. And, by extension, of collecting our lived experiences.

Our History
In 2000, when I walked through the doors of the Mazer Archives in West Hollywood, I was at another crossroads. A grassroots archives started in 1981, it is now also connected with UCLA, as well as maintaining it’s home in the heart of West Hollywood.  After a horrible break-up, I volunteered there because I needed somewhere to put my passion, some place to be who I was and feel like I was part of a bigger movement, helping with LGBT history. Again, moving through these doors was an act of courage, a personal leap of faith. The walls and shelves were filled with strong women who led the women’s movement or were involved in the civil rights revolution or were everyday women living their lives.

I spent hours soaking in our history, helping create materials to describe what you find there.  The Board of the archives was filled with incredible women who knew the collection like that back of their hands – the women’s collective periodicals from the 1950s, the button collections, the softball and World War II uniforms… Everywhere that the eye could see, the real histories of lesbians and feminists preserved on the page and in slides, poetry, letters that - for a moment - let them live again, as vibrant as the day they met, as powerful a teacher now, years later, as they were in their prime. 

Now celebrating our 30th anniversary, the Mazer Archives is filled with over 100 years of women’s history – and is the largest major archive on the West Coast dedicated to preserving and promoting lesbian and feminist history and culture. By creating a safe place for women to explore the richness of lesbian and feminist history, perhaps adding to it themselves, we hope to pave the way for future generations to understand more fully their own identity and history and help maintain this vital link to their own past.

Your History
Step 1:
Think back through your own process of coming out. Who were the women and men who stood by you? And whose lives of those who came before us helped you become who you are today? Who lit the fire in you that has created a need to gather, collect, care for and share our lived experiences with the world? Because of which literary geniuses and every day LGBT heroes are you still here doing what you love to do?

Step 2:
When do you ever tell that story?  The story of how you were touched in some deep way and personally became involved in the archival process.  And - if you don’t tell that story - how can you weave that into your outreach materials? Can it be an elevator story that you practice telling – one from your heart that allows people to see and feel and be touched by your collection long before they walk in the door?

If we look at the cliffs and canyons of the modern political and economic landscape, and the possibilities for LGBTI revolution - our foothold to advance basic human rights relies on the personal. Our personal just happens to be seen as political.   After all, Rosa Parks was an everyday woman who became a hero. Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelo have opened worlds to their readers that deepen our understanding, compassion and guide or actions. And Adrienne Rich was just one woman – an extraordinary woman - who wrote from her own experience as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew.

Step three:
In the time between when you read this and the ALMS conference happens, as you pass the shelves of your collection, we would like to challenge you to stand there a minute. Close your eyes. Feel the presence of the women and men who line your shelves and are sprinkled on your walls.

What are they telling you?
What part of your story in connection with them needs to be told?
Who needs more voice within your archives’ walls?
And who is missing from our rooms entirely?

In our rush to find funding, to preserve the historical artifacts, to transfer and digitize data, to catalogue and provide more access, to use technology to reach further and deeper, to chronicle the present - the history being created now– let us also remember to share with each other, and with those who visit our collections, why the personal even matters. What treasures we can learn from tucked in the colorful stories and textured tapestry of our LGBTI history.  It might just be the personal that lures new people in your doors. Or saves their lives.

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