It's some kind of rare miracle when people who created things you felt were just for you growing up are people you actually know as an adult, and who are figures in a vast cultural play that you believe to be part of all of us getting better. Getting stronger. Becoming more fully-human.
They are author of Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card, and Janis Ian, also an author - and a poet and a great musical artist. I believed I listened to "At Seventeen" about a million times when I was thirteen and felt the exact same way as she did.
I wasn't seventeen ... yet ... but I believed this beautiful girl with the exotic features was singing about me. Me.
I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth...
But Janis was and is a beauty queen.
This is Janis today. Everyone who knows me should know that when I saw a similar picture of her on a science-fiction publication cover a while back, I took the time to write her and tell her she had the BEST HAIR EVER.
When I was 13, I wanted her hair. I wanted those black eyes, those exotic features. I wanted to be able to say what I thought so clearly and beautifully, just the way she sang.
So, I'm 51. I want that hair. Of course I won't get it.
Is this about their pictures?
See, Janis Ian is openly lesbian, has been with the same woman for over 20 years, and married her in Toronto as soon as she was able. Janis was singing about something different from what 13 year old Amy thought. At 13, I was scarcely aware that lesbians might feel differently than anyone else (I was aware there was such a thing as lesbians - after nursery school - i.e. "Big Teacher and Little Teacher" whom I adored all my life - who lived together). When you're 4, and "Big Teacher" is 5'2" and "Little Teacher" is 4'10" and they live in the same house, and had even in Hollywood when they taught your brother 10 years before and improbably moved to Redlands and started a nursery school there, it is all good.
I was of course a young adult when Ender's Game (book) was published. I read this, and it was during the time I was working out every day, thinking about competing in professional bodybuilding (I know, I know) and had aggressively turned off my brain. For a variety of reasons, I no longer thought I could do any of the things I dreamed of growing up. One of those was "I want to be a science fiction writer."
Oddly, it turns out that Janis had similar thoughts. Imagine that. I fell in love with her picture. I truly loved her. I loved her voice, her music -- she was the best ever.
And time and the world turns. And years later I realized, my idol also had the same interests as I did. She too, wanted to be a science fiction writer. Was a science fiction writer.
Which brings us to Scott Card. I was told, and I do not know if it's true, that he wrote Ender's Game in three weeks. That's a perfect book. It's about all of the stuff I think about, only Ender is a boy and I would not write about a boy. I very well might have written about a boy in such a situation at any point throughout the 90s. however. Certainly in the 80s. There was no such thing as a girl who saves the world. Except Ramona I guess -- and that's just because of Beezus.
Scott Card has had the writing life most of us could only dream of. He is a one-man corporation. He's got legions of faithful readers. His talent was recognized early and he had the gift of a great readership. He's telling these stories about heroes with depth and thought and tremendous gifts. He is also a man of principle and faith; this is why he's been receiving so much brutality in the past year or so. And he has stayed with his beliefs. He hasn't "caved" to pressure and I doubt very much that he will ever do so.
So, it makes me wonder. What I only ever really wanted to do was write. Of course my childish heart wanted to fall in love. I wanted that perfect fairy tale dream, just as every girl does. And I am a beauty queen.
But when girls marry young, and then retire ... I did! But I'm still here. I'm still standing.
Here we are in a world where Janis was at last able to find love, and marry. Here we are in a world where a man who is everything a man is supposed to be, who is steadfast in everything people have always thought was good, right, honorable, decent -- is taking unholy fire on a daily basis because he has expressed his traditional views. Scott Card quite rightly, because he is a very fine writer, has written all manner of characters and done it brilliantly. He had the luck of it. He came at the exact right time with the exact right book, and has had that life I could never have had, the life that I innocently had no conception was truly impossible for me. There was no such thing as a female Orson Scott Card. Was. Not "is."
There's a difference between being a science fiction writer and living a science fictional life. I ended up living the life.
Janis has Orson Scott Card's back in this fight among strangers competing to say the worst, most hateful thing -- and the recipient is the honest, honorable man standing up for beliefs held common throughout human history.
She said, "That my homosexuality is now acceptable doesn’t change the fact that these people denied me, as a writer and performer, the right to earn a living making music." True.
She also said, "In proportion to what’s going on in the rest of the world, this is just silly.
Just think of all the artists throughout history who have been shunned, boycotted, blacklisted, even killed for their beliefs – and I would include Galileo and William Tyndale in that group. Did their personal sentiments invalidate their work? Of course not." True.
This is what I have to say to this generous, gifted, truthful woman whom I love: it happened, Janis. You are who you were born to be. A hundred years from now, young women and men will be listening to "At Seventeen" and your other music and thinking it's just for me.
Because you validated the self. You know how they put mirrors up in dolphin pools and the dolphins come and look and wonder at themselves? How the dolphins have a sense of "self?" This was said by some people to be an exclusively "human" trait; in years past, it was thought to typically be held in its highest form by people like ... Orson Scott Card. A special man, specially gifted, with the ability to express his views to many others in a protected fashion.
We will come out of this, I think, as I suggested last evening to someone, with an openly gay Pope who will use his power to stop the abuses of pedophile priests because he knows it's wrong. We may even someday see gay couples marrying in Mormon temples.
Of these two, I know who my heroine is. I know which has been most truly steadfast over her whole life. I know which of the two creative artists I feel to be more truly herself, who sees and speaks most clearly.
Maybe that's just because I'm a girl. I rather think that is the case. And my story is the story of the beauty queen who sees it not. It's the journey from rage to wisdom and love. The heroine's journey.
Imagine. If Abraham Lincoln had been a woman -- what then?