The Book, Revealed
Here’s how much that mysterious book to which I’ve been referring of late has entered not only my consciousness but my subconscious: I woke up all of a sudden this morning at three o’clock with the outline to Chapter 1 in my head. It was magic, I tell you.
So, I got up and wrote it down.
And now that I’m actually, y’know, sorta writing the damned thing rather than just gathering material for it (which is why I’m on hiatus from the daily chore of penning this blog), I figure I may as well reveal officially and for the first time in a public setting what it’s about.
Since August I’ve been working with Bloomington’s beloved political maven and dowager, Charlotte Zietlow, on her memoir.
For those of you who don’t know Charlotte, she’s the very embodiment of South Central Indiana’s Democratic Party. She and a cadre of similar newcomers and boat-rockers smashed Bloomington’s Republican Party hegemony back in the early 1970s, turning this from a one-party town into…, well, another one-party town.
I met this delightful woman back when I first arrived in town. Margaret, the owner of the Book Corner, intro’d me to her. “You should know this person,” Margaret whispered to me the first time I saw Charlotte flounce into the store.
Charlotte, then as now, cut a dramatic, dynamic figure. She still runs around town like a 25-year-old — she turned 80 last year — wearing her trademark big floppy hats, her handmade artisanal jewelry, and her flowing scarves.
Charlotte With Marc Tschida & County Prosecutor Chris Gaal
More than four decades ago, she and the other Democrats transformed this town and county from a strictly Republican stronghold. Strange as it may sound, up until that time many college towns were exclusively Republican. Then the majority of them flipped with the rise of political activism in the 1960s and the 18-year-old vote in 1971.
Anyway, her story is that of a determined, ambitious young woman who grew up in an era when there were precious few role models and mentors for young women. Her mother never failed to remind her that she was “independent” — and that was no compliment. She was a brilliant student, earning her PhD in Linguistics from the University of Michigan. When she looked for work, she applied to the CIA and the State Department. She got interviews at both places and was told twice that she could have been a great spy or diplomat but that, more practically, she’d make a terrific wife of one instead. She was enraged by those interviews but not hindered in her will to do something in the world other than keep house.
She began her political career ringing doorbells for JFK in the summer of 1960 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she and her husband were working on their doctorates. Their studies brought them to Mainz, West Germany, and Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where she saw first hand the crushing effects of a demandingly conformist culture and a police state. When she got back to America, she was determined to make sure that the voice of the people would always be heard and that powerful special interests would always be resisted.
She was a city council member, a county council member, and ran for Congress in the late 1970s. Democratic women here see her as a leader and an inspiration. She still serves on countless civic boards and has had the ear of the mayor, the governor, and our district’s Congressional representatives through the years. The county named its courthouse after her a couple of years ago.
Charlotte With Mayor Mark Kruzan
So, we’re writing her memoir. At least one publisher is extremely interested in her story, having asked her to do it years ago. I harangued her for a couple of years to get going on it (with me helping her, of course). Then, one day last summer, she said, “Michael, are you serious about this?”
“Serious as a heart attack,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “Let’s get to work.”
It’s been exciting and fun. If you don’t know her yet, trust me, you’d love her. By the way, she’s also a crackerjack chef. She and a business partner opened a boutique kitchen supply store called Goods for Cooks in 1975 on the west side of Courthouse Square. (They’ve since sold the business but it’s still thriving.)
Charlotte and I have been laughing and crying together for five months now as she tells me of her life, the digital recorder catching every word, every guffaw, and every sniffle. As I gain a more complete picture of her years on this mad, mad planet I’ll be crafting the story of an ambitious, caring, important human being who today rightly serves as a role model and a mentor to women young and old, here and elsewhere.
Stay tuned for further progress reports on the project. And stay tuned, too, for the return of my (almost) daily screeds and screeches here.
Peace, love & soul.