Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir

Big Sex
Little Death

A Memoir
by Susie Bright

Big Sex Little Death
A Memoir

Copyright © 2011 by Susie Bright

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission from the publisher, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bright, Susie, 1958-

Big sex, little death : a memoir / Susie Bright.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-9708815-6-4

1. Bright, Susie, 1958- 2. Bright, Susie, 1958---Sexual behavior. 3. Feminists--United States--Biography. 4. Women radicals--United States--Biography. 5. Women socialists--United States--Biography. 6. Women adventurers--United States--Biography. 7. Lesbians--United States--Biography. 8. Sex--Political aspects--United States--History--20th century. 9. On our backs. 10. Socialist International (1951- )--Biography. I. Title.

CT275.B6824A3 2011

305.42092--dc22

[B]

2010030224

Design by Susie Bright, Title Photo by Honey Lee Cottrell. E-book creation by 52 Novels.

 

Ebook edition published by
Bright Stuff
POB 8377
Santa Cruz, CA 95061

Print edition published by:
Seal Press
A Member of The Perseus Book Group
1700 Fourth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710

Audiobook edition produced by:
Audible.com
An Amazon Company

Table of Contents

Preface

First Bites

Baby Teeth

India

The Irish Side

Way Out West

D – I – V – O – R – C – E

Runs Through It

Bleeding

The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said

The Red Tide

The Bunny Trip

The Churning Mist

Swim Banquet

George Putnam’s Show

Sex Education

You Are Now a Cadre

Patty Hearst

Dago Armour’s Apartment

The New Branch Organizer

The Master Freight Agreement

Greyhound to Detroit via Amarillo

The Aorta

Commie Camp

Relocation

The Perfume Counter

Expulsion

All Along the GirlTower

School Days

How I Got Introduced to
On Our Backs

The Feminist Vibrator Store

The Baby Showers

Models Crying

Les Belles Dames Sans Merci

The Daddies

Motherhood

Rotation

Aging Badly

When I Came Back from My Honeymoon

Santa Cruz

Acknowledgments

Notes

Photo Credits

This book is dedicated to:

Elizabeth Joanne Halloran Bright
1925-2004

&

William Oliver Bright
1927-2006

 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— W. B. Yeats

Preface

A
t the risk of making a dozen devoted enemies for life, I can only say that the whiffs I get from the ink of [women writers] are fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maquillé in mannequin's whimsy, or else bright and stillborn.

— Norman Mailer,
Advertisements for Myself

H
ow does a woman, an American woman born in midcentury, write a memoir? The chutzpah and the femmechismo needed to undertake the project go against the apron. I was raised with, “Don’t think you’re so big.” Yet to be a writer at all, you have to inflict your ego on a page and stake your reputation. To be a poet, the effect should be transcendent, and disarming.

I already knew the best result of my memoir, before I finished it. The days of my writing — a couple years in earnest — inspired many of the family and friends around me to write their story, to put a bit of their legacy in ink. Reading what they had to say was a revelation. If more of us knew the story of our tribe — and carried it from one generation to the next — it seems like the interest would pay off.

I know so little of my own family history that, when I was young, I often read memoirs in search of blood relation. I wanted to be Emma Goldman. I wanted to digest Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebooks like biscuits. I felt like Harriet the Spy, looking for a dumbwaiter to hide in, scribbling down all I witnessed.

At the onset of my memoir, I thought I would bring myself up-to-date on the autobiography racket. I researched the current bestsellers among women authors who had contemplated their life’s journey. The results were so dispiriting: diet books. The weighty before’s and after’s. You look up men’s memoirs and find some guy climbing a mountain with his bare teeth — the parallel view for women are the mountains of cookies they rejected or succumbed to.

The next tier of bestselling female memoirs, often overlapping with the diet tales, is the tell-all by a movie star, athlete, or political figure. The first two subjects are designed to exploit gossip — the last are so boring and circumspect you wonder if they’re funded by government cheese.

The last group of popular memoirs — and this goes across the gender divide — are the ones in which the author unloads a great deal of weight in the form of psychic burdens from childhood. The subject is nearly driven mad by lunatic or intoxicated parenting, sidetracked by years of self-destruction bred into their family line, only to be redeemed at the end by a clean break from addiction and pathology.

I’m as vulnerable as anyone to the toxicity of the American nuclear family. But I wouldn’t call it disease or moral failure as much as I would point the finger at a system that grinds people down like a metal file. Who doesn’t need a drink? Who isn’t going to crack and lash out at the people they love? I have a lot of sympathy for the dark places in my family history, while at the same time repeating my mantra, “This can’t go on.”

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