Many, many careers ago, I was an aspiring journalist. My territory was the small world of so-called "alternative" journalism -- that is, journalism that reached very few people and paid very few bills. I wanted to be a reporter or columnist -- one whose biting wit brought the fat cats to their haunches -- but, on account of an unfortunate tendency to develop writer's block at the first opportunity, I found myself toiling as a copy editor instead: correcting the (mostly) minor errors of the folks who actually could write on deadline.
Sometimes my little newspaper would run a column by Molly Ivins -- who died last week of breast cancer at the age of 62 -- and on those occasions all I had to do, as copy editor, was lean back and enjoy the prose of just the kind of stylist I'd aspired to be. There was nothing to correct in Ivins's writing. Also -- and this was so important -- there was nothing too "correct." Her thinking and writing were at such a high level that she never had to resort to the well-meaning but uninspiring platitudes that many of us employed to score points against The Man. She was an intellectual who wrote in a down-home style -- a good-ol'-girl humorist who could slice and dice a bogus argument while making even her victims smile. Well, maybe not all of them smiled -- but, for example, even President Bush, whose foibles, as governor and president, had been enumerated countless times by Ivins (including in Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, the best-seller she co-authored), released a short statement on her passing that you would have to describe as affectionate.
I would have to describe my own reaction as deep sadness. There are many lovely tributes to her on the website of the Texas Observer, the venerable "alternative" periodical she co-edited for several years; one of them, by the great Bill Moyers, describes a rollicking scene in what he calls "that great Purgatory of Journalists in the Sky" -- one in which Ivins is rubbing shoulders with a bunch of other great journalists who have left this mortal coil. I love thinking of her soul, and intellect, as still being alive somewhere -- though, given my secular upbringing and experiences, I cannot actually bring myself to believe it. What I do believe is that a tall and big-boned and ebullient woman from Houston, Texas, lived her too-short life with contagious humor and passion, and with an utter distaste for divisiveness.
Case in point: At a booksellers' event a few years ago -- one that became notable for featuring a mano-a-mano between Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly -- the atmosphere became decidedly polarized along political lines. Ivins was on the same panel, and her response to the invective being slung was typically clear and devastating: "One of the things that I notice is that we do tend ... to lump everybody -- you know, 'the left,' 'the right.' ... And that's interesting to me, because what I keep sayin' to people is, 'I ain't "the left," I ain't "populism." My name is "Molly Ivins."'"
February 4th, 2007