Slow and Messy Change

The 1960's were loud, idealistic, and divisive with a lot of good music and free love. Outrageous was the norm for a counter-culture that approached activism as theater and turned personal statements into political manifestos. As the nation shook off the sleepy '50s, it found JFK in the White House inspiring hope and symbolizing a generational shift in power. But then there were all those assassinations, the Vietnam War, cities on fire, and a stormy civil rights movement. It didn't take long before the U.S. to find itself in one serious identity crisis. And that was where I wanted my novel to begin.

I'm interested in what happens below the surface, away from the spotlight, inside the crowds. Great events are as much about the leaders as they are about the participants. Individual stories contribute to the moment and add up to a movement. We all collaborate to create history. It's a team sport.

Finding Bluefield chronicles the lives of Nicky and Barbara, two women who sought love and family during these turbulent times. Finding Bluefield is located within arm's length of some of great moments of the '60s, '70s, and '80s: segregation, the MLK march on Washington, JFK's election, Woodstock, the Apollo moon landing, the Sanctuary Movement, etc. As the nation searched to find its footing, Nicky and Barbara were finding theirs. Kennedy's victory, which included winning Nicky's home state of Virginia, inspired her to action. The election victory gave her hope. She already had courage. She thought it gave her cover.

Later, Nicky attended the Martin Luther King March on Washington -- where Dr. King shared his dreams with the world -- because she wanted to see history. But the march did not have her back. While working on the first draft of Finding Bluefield, I read a number of accounts of cases where courts from the 1950's and '60s gave custody of children to fathers in divorces where the mother was 'rumored' or confirmed to be a lesbian. This was in stark contrast to the almost universal approach, at the time, of granting custody to mothers.

Change, it turns out, is slow and messy. It often stumbles. And there are always, always casualties. Sometimes the casualties are caused by friendly fire. Many 1960's 'revolutionaries' grew frustrated with the pace of change in the '60s and became disillusioned. Others simply burnt out. But still others, maybe the ones who avoided the "loud and proud" megaphone, in your face lifestyle that was so much a part of the time were able to stay in it for the long-term.

Nicky and Barbara never apologized for who they were and they never pretended to be straight. Their focus was to create a life together and have a family. Like a great many of us who participate in political events, they were trying to get from one moment to the next safely, with grace, integrity, and love.

Blending stories into the study and contemplation of the past has the potential to turn history into the active experience that it is.

Everyone enters the world in the middle of great events -- not all of them good. We can choose to embrace our lives or whine loudly about our circumstances. Or we can muster the courage to imagine a different life, a life that has yet to exist.