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Friday, October 28, 2011

Re-Post: Dear Mom

Recently, author Marianne K. Martin wrote an article,Double Edged Blessing, which touched me deeply. In it, she mentioned the letter that I wrote to my mother on her birthday. It's going to be her birthday again (October 31). I'm re-posting this letter in honor of  her birthday.  

Thanks, Marianne, for helping to spread our message about the humanity of all people and working to end hate crimes against the LGBT community. (Please follow the hyperlinks to follow up on Martin's books and visit the Pittmann Puckett Documentary web.)

Oasis Reflection: It's October again.

Halloween is Susan Pittmann, my mother's, birthday. When I see pumpkins, black cats and witches, I think of her. Why would that be a concern, you may wonder. You see, she was murdered in a hate crime 18 years ago by our neighbor, Jim Brooks. (I wrote about the murder.) Since that time a lot has happened around her story. Isn't it strange how a life can continue in some way even after it passes? Every October brings with it a time to reflect, whether I want to or not, about that tragic event. I thought I would just go ahead and write about it here, on my 100th blog post.

Dear Mom,
I turn to you on this day because I am compelled to embrace your life. You are the door that has led me on so many life journeys. I want to thank you for your strength and open mindedness. Do you remember that you once told me that I could have benefited from a mom who was more sensitive? I want you to know that you were enough, and that I did not need any other mother.
You were a strong straightforward person- a woman bound to accomplish, an entrepreneur, and a visionary. We had our differences. You liked having a practical vegetable garden and I loved growing flowers. You liked painted properties and I liked painted canvas. You were tough and I was sensitive. You were a 'people person' and I was somewhat reserved. Let me be clear about your insight, Mom, you were wrong because you were exactly what I wanted and needed. You taught me to toughen up, and I'm still learning that lesson from you.

Do you see that book cover I posted here, Love in the Balance? It arrived in the mail last week. It has a character, Evonne, who is loosely based on you. And the scene of the murder trial, news reports, the sentencing of Mr. Brooks are all factually correct. Some of it sounds like it came right out of the TV news reports, "Our top story tonight is the double murder this morning of two local women at their home in a quiet rural neighborhood...It is unclear whether the murders were the result of a boundary dispute. The women were in the process of installing a fence separating their property from that of the suspected killer." There is one mention about a daughter, Jenny, who spoke to the reporters and at the funeral. Her words make people understand that her mother was a loving mother, grandmother, and friend-and that living a lesbian lifestyle does not mean that you are someone who is separated from the normal embrace of family life. That message is what I try to share as well. I think you would like the book. It's about self-acceptance and celebrating life.

I found out about the book because the author, Marianne Martin, was interviewed by the film maker, Brian Alexander for the Pittmann Puckett Documentary- yes, there is a film being made about you and your partner's murder, and how it mobilized the gay-lesbian community into action. Did you know that the Michigan organization you founded (with others), Affirmations, is still going strong? It serves as a community and support center for people who are discovering and/or celebrating their sexual identity. There is an art gallery named after you, too, and I copied the dedication for you:

The Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery was founded in memory of two of Affirmations founding members and strongest supporters, Susan Pittmann and Christine Puckett. The couple was killed in their home by a neighbor in 1992.

I went to Michigan last March to be interviewed for the film. It was a powerful experience, and I felt as though I could say all that was important to me about you and your murder. I hope the film is seen by many people, and that it continues to expand and open the perception of those who are narrow-minded. While I was there, I was able to visit the Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery. I was proud to know that your presence continues to be felt within that organization. I particularly appreciate that an art gallery was named after you (and Christine). Do you remember that the first college class I ever took was with you? And it was art history?
I am strengthened by the memory of how you lived your life. Your graduation from Wayne State University at 50 years young-as you would say-continues to inspire me to strive forward regardless of artificial age limits. Thank you for showing me how to change and become strong enough to obtain my goals in life.
Just before you were killed, you told me that you were proud of me and how I lived my life. Mom, I hope I always make you proud of me. I hope my life reflects the best of your legacy. I will always love you.

Your daughter,

Cynthia "Sue"-included for you, Mom xxoo

PS. You will be happy to know that the Hate Crimes Bill was signed into law just three hours ago.

To order Marianne K. Martin's books:
Love in the Balance
Indelible Heart

Please click on the hyperlink on the sidebar (rainbow Michigan) to visit Brian Alexander's web page: The Pittmann/Puckett Documentary.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Memory Mosaic

It was the first time I had done something important. I memorized the Ten Commandments; and too, the history of the Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopalian churches. I had passed the exam with high marks and the church was recognizing me as an adult. I was to speak in front of the congregation way up on the podium. For my big moment, I had prepared a speech about honesty where I would assert that I learned this trait from my father. However, he would not be there for this first public speech. He would not be there because he never attended my special events- not in school or performances in band, choir or drama. I didn’t expect him to come, and yet I couldn’t keep some small part of me from hoping. When the day came, I wore the mantle of my disappointment at his absence gently like the embracing wrap of a surrogate parent. I would bow my head and hear my own counsel culled from other such letdown moments, “Don’t want too much or you will feel the consequences of getting too little.”

My mother was there as expected. She was the one who took the children to church, a responsibility she shouldered in spite of our resisting tears and lateness. It’s Sunday. Go to church. No questions. Up on the podium, I bravely spoke about honesty to a sparse but attentive audience. I told the story about how I learned to tell the truth from my dad. I’m telling the anecdote about eating the prohibited jelly, however I'm omitting important details, such as the truth that I didn't actually eat the jelly though I said I did. The truth didn’t fit my point well. I wanted to claim that Dad taught me to value honesty even when it was about little indiscretions. I left out the entire scene where he paced in front of a row of five scared children cracking a belt and speaking in a deepened Tennessee hills’ voice that terrified us until the guilty party was forced to confess. I didn’t say that he threatened  to beat everyone until someone confessed. I also didn’t say to the congregation or to my father that I knew who ate the strawberry jelly.

Temptation. The Lord knows the art of temptation. Do you recognize the line from Enchanted April? That strawberry jelly was just sitting on the shelf offering a special kind of temptation. We yearned for the taste of summer freedom from this forbidden fruit. My sister couldn’t resist. I knew she wouldn’t confess. I knew no one would. I knew we would all be needlessly beat if someone didn’t confess. I said I did it. My jellied legs were ordered to Mom and Dad’s private bedroom where I was taught honesty by my father- the same father I was lying about during my maiden speech.The father I was devoted to in spite of the beatings and his absence. My father who taught me to value honesty. I can still hear his voice, Take your pants down. Bend over. 

I highlighted my father’s integrity in the speech my mother attended. The speech father didn’t hear. When I finished, I don’t remember my mother's praise. I remember her tight face; it was a face that yearned for validation from a daughter and a face that could never receive. Mom was playing the thankless mother role while her middle daughter praised the absent father. She didn’t see her daughter’s hidden hope that if she were good enough she might somehow earn his love and feel safe. I admit that I was the daughter who felt sorry because she couldn’t appreciate her mother. I was the daughter who was shamed into silence. My mother didn’t tell me that day that Dad didn’t deserve my devotion though she knew about the beating. Mom, how could you allow it? You used our fear of being beat to control us. Just wait until your dad gets home then you’ll get it. Instantly, that would silence us. Why didn’t you protect me, Mom?In all of the silences between us over the years, my mother never learned the truth about that incident. She never knew how much I lied in my speech about honesty. She didn't know I did not agree to these repeated beatings. Our Father who art in heaven...hallowed be thy name. I would do anything for my father but it would never be enough. In my mind, Mom was responsible for his behavior. Why is it we always expect more from our mothers? After the service, the members congratulated me. All strangers. All empty. All those who weren’t in my life except on Sunday. Soon the final stage of my confirmation would come and we would celebrate the official ceremony. This was the day that my mother’s extended (and unknown to me) family could be invited to our house for a big party. I would wear a white dress and after my first trip to the hair salon, I would have an up-do.  Stepping in a pair of low heels, I would receive all of the attention of a grown up girl- just the way my sisters had before me.

It came down to this- my mother said, “I will give you one hundred dollars if you take that instead of a party.” One hundred dollars! That was a lot of money. More money than I had ever received before. If I accepted the money there would be no party. That was the deal. Mom said I might not get that much money in gifts even if I had a party. So it was a gamble. Should I take the sure money or have a party? I could tell that my mother wanted me to take the money so I did. I knew she didn’t have time or the desire to throw another confirmation party. Now I’m twelve again. I’m angry. I’m the older woman now and I’m fighting for the girl who was tricked by her mother- her mother who was jealous of the girl’s devotion to an undeserving father. The mother who wanted to be done with this child raising drill and just get on with her own life. I’m the woman remembering the girl. I was conned. I was conned by my mother who didn’t want to do the mother thing anymore and by my father who just didn’t do.

My parents are fighting again and I don't know how to stop it. Stop the yelling. Stop it!  Only I don’t say anything. I'm listening to an old fight. It reminds me of that scene in Nine Months where the quirky character Gail (Joan Cusack) says to her husband, “I can’t believe you are fighting during my moment. My moment! My miracle! She screams at him while he is punching and wrestling with another father in the delivery room. The laughter lightens me enough to remember that Dad was absent during my birth. According to Mom, he went out and got drunk while she was having a baby. (Really she can't remember which child it was.) Apparently, he met one of my uncles and they took off to celebrate. Mom said she could have died while he was out getting tanked. I heard this fight many times over the years. I don’t know the true story but I do know that Mom couldn’t get over it. She needed recognition and support, he wasn’t there.

At home, I’m sitting on the stairs after my big ceremony. I’ve been confirmed but not affirmed. We arrive to an empty house. No dinner. No cake. No one’s there. I’m so alone. I feel this space gaping wide and wider still. Mom walks up to me with the one hundred dollars. Here’s your money. Remember our deal. Just the money. I look at the money. No card. No friendly faces. I’m sitting alone in my white dress. My piled up and sprayed-still hair is wilting. The curls stretch out on one side more than the other. The hair pins press against my scalp but I don’t take them out. No one is here. Mom’s gone. Did she know how I felt? I prostituted myself for one hundred dollars, and she made the deal.

[Enchanted April- this is a hyperlink to Elizabeth von Arnim's novel, which is provided by Project Gutenberg.] 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being

Virginia Woolf
Loss upon loss
Fears the greater loss

Imagine Virginia Woolf at thirteen. She lives in a busy household that centers around her mother, her mother who is forty...her mother who takes care of seven children-no eight because there’s one yet at home… a child not spoken of… a child who will disappear soon…a child who is called an idiot-child by Virginia as was the custom of the day. Imagine her mother is married to a man, her second husband, who is fifteen years older, a writer, and demanding. Imagine Virginia at thirteen in this busy house of guests and happenings… the same Virginia we all know through her writing… the Virginia who loses her mother on May 5, the same day of my mother’s death. Imagine Virginia at thirteen. She carries the presence of her mother (as I do) while her mother is long gone. She wrote in Moments of Being:
“I could hear her voice, see her, and imagine what she would do or say as I went about my day’s doings. She was one of the invisible presences who after all play so important a part in every life.’’ (80)
And as Virginia pours out her heart-words both troubled and turbulent in To the Lighthouse, a work of fiction that’s autobiography, she becomes empty and unbound to this once compelling presence of her mother. She asks, “Why, because I describe her and my feeling for her in that book, should my vision of her and my feeling for her become so much dimmer and weaker?” (81).  

And while writing again about her mother, 
she worries that she will erase her completel.
Columbine surrounding the bust of Virginia Woolf, sculpted by Stephen Tomlin.
Photograph by Pamela A. McMorrow

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Say No to Hatred, Discrimination and Prejudice!

Oasis Feature: Stand Against Injustice

I stand in support of the LGBTT Community. Gay Pride Parade June 5, 2011. Condado, Puerto Rico.

On May 5, 1992 my mother Susan Pittmann and her lesbian partner Christine Puckett were murdered by their neighbor James Brooks. Newspapers in Detroit and Huron Township, Michigan reported that the double homicide was the culmination of an ongoing battle over property lines. My mother was fifty-five, healthy and vibrant with positive ideas about the future. Christine was thirty-nine, energetic and busy raising her teenage son. Brooks was slow to reflect and quick to anger. He became enraged when he saw my mother and Christine publicly expressing affection. By erecting a privacy fence between these two rural properties, Mom and Christine intended to bring a peaceful resolution to Brooks’ complaints. However, it became clear that he was enraged about their gay relationship, and that not seeing them together was not enough. He vigorously complained to neighbors where he found support for his rage, and he formulated his murder plan.

From police reports, it’s clear that he shot Christine first from the side door of his house and then as he walked over to view her body that was face down in the grass, he lifted his gun and shot her in the back. I imagine just before he pulled the trigger, he thought the words he told the police later, “It had to be done”. My mother was on the kitchen phone with the emergency operator reporting that Brooks had threatened their lives when Christine was first shot. She immediately dropped the telephone, ran outside and stood in front of Brooks, weaponless. I imagine she asked him why he did it, and in answer, he shot her just below the heart. Brooks’ determined discriminatory attitude has troubled me ever since. How did he become so certain about his decision to murder my mother and Christine? After the deaths, I watched in astonishment as the actual motivation for the crime was determined to be a property dispute instead of a hate crime. Newspapers reported exaggerated stories casting my mother and Christine in a harsh light, which apparently had nothing to do with their sexual preference.

I was shocked to see my mother, a dynamic loving people-person characterized as a temperamental abuser of animals while Brooks was portrayed as an elderly man who was pushed to the limits of tolerance by his unreasonable neighbors. Neighbors reported that he was upset about my mother’s Pit-bull trespassing onto his property. No one explained that my mother’s dog, Ms. Pitt, was an elderly overweight, exhausted and non-territorial dog that was given a daily dose of thyroid medication just to stay alert. No mention was made of her activism within the gay community, and that she and Christine were founding members of the Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Downriver-Detroit. No mention was made that she was a loving mother of five children and devoted grandmother to eight. No mention was made about how much we would continue to miss her for the rest of our lives.

After reading these news reports, I quickly understood that Brooks had not acted alone. In fact, it was a narrow-minded society that provided ammunition for this crime. It was only the gay community that stood strong and honestly told the truth about these murders. They loudly proclaimed that this double homicide was not a neighborhood feud but a hate crime. As a continued tribute to the gay community, I am honored at Marianne K. Martin’s request to write the forward of her latest novel, The Indelible Heart. This novel extends some of the plot threads related to my mother and Christine that appeared in Martin’s first novel Love in Balance and succeeds in giving a personal face to the events surrounding the murders. Though it is a work of fiction, the narrative highlights how in fact, the gay community rallied together to fight homophobia and violence in response to this shocking crime. I encourage people to read this profoundly moving novel and realize that it is our duty as members of society to stand together and continue a united struggle against intolerance and violence.

Cynthia Pittmann

Brian Alexander is making a documentary on Mom and Chris' story, and the LGBT community in the Detroit Metropolitan area in the early 90s. You can visit the new website http://pittmannpuckett.com to find out more about it. He contacted singer/songwriter Susan Hendrick and asked her to share her talents, which resulted in the moving music video, "Fight 2 B Whole." You can view it below, or click on the link at the Pittmann/Puckett website or plan to watch it during the closing credits of the film.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Private Blog Has Gone Public

You are invited to peruse my research blog:

Autobiographical Dynamics (TM) and Jamaica Kincaid.

Cynthia Pittmann's blog that collects research, processes thoughts,and evaluates both formal and informal information about her concept of Autobiographical Dynamics(TM), with special interest in Caribbean authors and Jamaica Kincaid.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Old San Juan

Oasis Feature: A Series of Views;
The cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
The cobblestone streets in Old San Juan are still well maintained. The stone is cobalt blue and provides the pedestrian with a feeling of another age. History in the present! Teachers, if you want to prepare a lesson plan on this old city you can locate great information at this link that is provided by the National Park Service. If you're coming to Puerto Rico, the best way to enjoy El Viejo San Juan is on foot and enjoy your walk down these narrow and often busy streets.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Taking Refuge" in the Beach

Oasis Photographs

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Condado, Puerto Rico

Sometimes you just need to take a little time and immerse yourself in the beauty of the day. Puerto Rico is gorgeous!

Photo credit: Amber Villanueva

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"What is essential is invisible to the eye."

Oasis Questions

"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Wise words of the fox in The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

What if all that you dreamed possible 
were within your reach? 
Would you allow life's geyser to flow?
Or would you cap the steaming pressure 
and remain, determinedly, contained? 
Would fear stop you from accepting 
everything that is coming your way? 
How can we feel worthy enough to accept 
and open up to the life we've always wanted?
How can we know that this gift is not only possible,
but here?

Interrogating reality...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sky and Sea

Oasis Feature: A Series of Views

Sea birds fly through the cloudy sky. Ocean Beach, San Juan

Ocean waves gently caress the sand. Condado Beach, Puerto Rico

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Buddy on the Beach

"My Buddy"
Buddy Holly is learning to walk his stress off on the beach. He used to live in a big grassy yard but now lives in an apartment near the beach. Poor Buddy! He need a good home where he can run and play. (We can only keep one dog.) Buddy is loyal and patient. He is a fluffy black and white collie mix...so charming! Would you like a new friend? If so send me a message at cpittmann@gmail.com.

Bye Buddy!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Moving Forward

Oasis Feature: A Series of Views

Getting ready to sail!
Ocean Beach, Puerto Rico

Birds fly in a cloudy Caribbean sky.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
My current mood is expressed by these two photographs. First, the sunny day anticipating new seas to cross, which is the colorful boat resting on the sand and second, the actual action of adapting to a new location and the natural adjustments to changing weather- which is represented by the birds flying through the cloudy sky.  I've made a deal with myself. Whenever I feel undo stress, I'll take a walk. I have taken up to three walks a day! (The dogs love the exercise.) I continue to remind myself that all change-even the best kind- involves stress.

Breathe, just breathe.

I love my new yoga class. If your in Puerto Rico be sure to stop by It's Yoga in Ocean Beach and take a yoga class. It will make you feel stronger and ready to face new challenges. It works for me!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Embracing Change

Condado Beach near the Conrad Hotel

Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living.
Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.

Bruce Barton

Walking by the beach inspires me to reflect on all that has changed this past year- so many endings and beginnings:  my daughter has graduated high school and is attending college in the States; my brother-in-law, Joel, passed away; we moved from the mountains to the beach, I was laid off and my career is in flux. All of the changes have a tendency to make me feel I'm standing on shaky ground. Actually, we even had a couple of earthquakes this past year. While my daughter and I were shopping at JC Penney in Plaza Las Americas for Christmas gifts, the stacked boxes around the center escalators suddenly began the rock back and forth. We're having an earthquake! I yelled.  Not knowing where to go or what to do, we held on to each other while the boxes fell. People scattered and an employee fainted. Afterwords we laughed in relief once we were certain everyone was fine. Events such as these make you re-evaluate what's important in life, don't you think?