What the hell am I doing with my life?
Wait, aren’t you a life coach?
And don’t you sound off all the time in your writing?
Why, yes. Yes, I do.
So what do you mean when you question what you’re doing with your life?
I mean, in this Wild West we call journalism and in this new chaotic world order, it seems appropriate and even necessary to wonder — what is my place in all of this lunacy?
How is it possible to bring clarity to others when you yourself are so unclear?
Ah, but I do. I do.
I have this little internal dialogue on the subway en route to seeing the documentary “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” as part of 51 Fest at the IFC Center in New York. The theater is a welcome cool respite from the unhealthy heat radiating off the sidewalks of the West Village.
But quickly I don’t care about any of that. I am belly laughing. I don’t do a lot of that in my life, so it’s like all the daily Trumpy lunacy melts away for a while as I try to keep up with the rapid-fire, gorgeously delivered wit of the late Ivins. Director Janice Engel and her team have paced this so that we are engaged and loosened out of the gate before we settle in and get Ivins’ backstory.
Back in the 1980s and ’90s, I was a student of column writing. Self-taught, near constant and obsessive. It is no surprise that even though I read plenty of male columnists, I gravitated to the women, filling my journalism shelf with the works of Anna Quindlen, Ellen Goodman, and Ivins. Opinion writing will always be the love of my life.
As this film unfolds, I wipe away a tear here and there because of all the resonance. A few things about Molly Ivins that ring true for me as well:
~ Much of her childhood was spent in solitude reading books
~ Her politics were at odds with the family
~ She started a community newspaper with a friend at a very young age
~ College opened up her world
~ She was single
~ Writing was her calling and she knew her voice was her gift
~ Her natural inclination was to write about topical things
Why are these commonalities important? Maybe they’re not. Unless of course you’re me and you’ve just engaged in an internal dialogue asking what the hell you should do with your life, and life says, Hey, Nancy, I’m going to serve up some food for thought in a theater across from the basketball courts on West 4 thStreet.
So I watch Molly Ivins as a bookish little girl in Texas. I watch her get labeled the smart one. I watch her bring home a black friend to swim in the family pool and deal with her father’s ire. I watch her get educated, and educated some more. I watch her school herself on how to cover politics. I watch her keep landing on her feet at newspapers. I watch her calling out men in politics and build a following doing it. I watch her become a compelling author and a speaker.
It’s all seeping in, the content of this movie. My intellect may be getting stimulated, but my soul is getting a spa treatment.
In a particularly intimate moment, Ivins is asked if she regrets not having a family. She admits she has some regret and while I can’t relate to that, I do understand on a deep level what she means when she talks about how the writing takes over so much. She was speaking of a kind of drive that, I have found, rules a relatively small percentage of us humans.
I also may have gasped aloud when one of her friends says in an on-camera interview that Molly thought she was unlovable. This is the message that a lot of vocal women of a certain generation got, especially when their families expected something more traditional and passive. You’re outspoken. You’re too independent. You have your own ideas. Men don’t like that. While Ivins turned to alcohol to sort through that, I turned to a good therapist.
From the time Ivins changed her name from the ordinary Mary to the more apt Molly, she kept on forging her own path. In her last column she wrote, “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war.”
She died in 2007, so she never saw an Obama presidency or this White House travesty we have now, but those words ring as true as ever.
I suppose before seeing the movie I was dwelling on how lost I was feeling, an insecurity brought to the surface by the idea of Ivins’ success in my field. I had plucked one of her books off my shelf a few days prior — Nothin’ but Good Times Ahead — and recalled that I had seen her speak in Austin back in the ‘90s.
After watching her story and identifying with so much about her, what she wrote in my book all those decades ago now feels fresh and pointed:
Raise more hell, honey And keep laughin’ too All best wishes Molly Ivins
Over and out, my sister. I’ve got this.
Originally published at http://unfetteredexpression.com on July 21, 2019.