Thursday, June 30, 2005

Of Chicken Dinners and Condoms

A comrade of mine, J. Quinn Brisben, is a fellow I greatly admire. For many years he taught in the Chicago Public School system, and he published a book of poetry entitled, "The Significance of the Frontier: Selected Poems 1966-2002" that is quite exceptional. I met him in 1992, at the Socialist Party USA National Convention in Chicago. Within minutes of meeting me, he insisted that I join him and his wife Andrea for a chicken dinner.

Over dinner, Quinn told me how he had recently smuggled 3,000 condoms into Russia for a gay and lesbian rights organization. It was love at first sight. Smuggling contraceptives anywhere is just plain cool. Quinn was and is used to talking to young people who don't say very much, so he didn't find fault in my general silence. I did mention, on occasion, my high level of admiration.

As a result of that convention, Quinn ran for president with a fellow named "Big" Bill Edwards as his vice-president. In case you're wondering, they lost. In 1996, Quinn visited me here in Boston and stayed at my flat for a day. Andrea, his wife and the owner of Changing Woman Design needlepoint, stayed here, as well. I've never actually seen them apart.

When Quinn Brisben passes on, he almost certainly won't be remembered and considered as much as he deserves to be. As a tireless activist, primarily for civil rights and people with disabilities, and as a poet who has traveled to every US state and 38 foreign countries. Tireless intellectual activists who modestly try to improve the world are rare these days. People with loud mouths and nothing thoughtful, compassionate or even interesting to say clog the airwaves. If you want to meet Quinn and discuss the direction of our species, you have to go out and hear him speak at a venue, which can be a university or a bookstore or out in the rain during a protest. Right now, he's toddling around London with his grand daughter.

So to you, Quinn, I tip my cup of coffee in deep respect. And to David McReynolds, Bill S, Greg Pason, and the late Ann Rosenhaft, know that I will always love you. My lack of activism may seem to indicate my apathy, but that's not accurate. Mental illness has made me a man of little consequence to the movement. My passionate concern for those around me, and strong class consciousness, compel me towards activity that I am too cowardly to take. But it's anything but apathy. Think of me as a startled, hunted animal that hasn't the feet to flee nor the ability to defend himself. Pathetic, eh?

Bread & Roses,
Darren W. Lyle


Melanie said...

Darren, send me your email address I have something I want to send you.

Hint: I'm writing a paper about involuntary mental health treatment.

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