There’s so much in Heidi Schreck’s wise, witty, profound play, What the Constitution Means to Me that resonates but an anecdote touching on an encounter with a young man during her college days struck a particular chord. They were saying good-night and the question of sex entered the picture. More accurately, it was a question of presumption. As I understood it, she didn’t especially want to have sex with this man and he was not using force but somehow acquiescence played its part.
I challenge any woman to say this hasn’t happened to her. For reasons that still surprise me when I recall it, I once experienced a similar encounter with a different end result. I was in southern France, on a date with a curly-haired Frenchman, a bartender. He picked me up at the hotel where I was staying, took me for a drive. We ended up at his apartment, at which point he wanted what I wasn’t having. What made it worse was his unwillingness to drive me back to my hotel. He said he was too stoned. Maybe. Maybe not. I left the apartment in a huff, no idea of where I was, pre-cell phone days. The streets were dark, quiet. And for all the corners we turned as we drove around, somehow I found myself on an easy path back to the center of town. Maybe that sense of direction my husband thinks I lack came to my rescue like a shot of adrenaline.
In the years since Heidi Schreck so proudly won the American Legion contests that paid for her college education and ultimately gave rise to her current Broadway hit, life experiences have played their part to shape the woman and the writer she is. As a writer myself, possibly what moved me most is the realization that profound moments in our lives—the disturbing as well as the joyful—morph into newfound means of expression. Insights evolve.
Ultimately, the political is personal, and the brilliance of Heidi Schreck’s play is the way she intersperses recollections of her life with a deep love, knowledge, and appreciation for the document that is the bedrock of our nation.
She captures so perfectly a 15-year-old self, intent on winning, who did not yet have the wherewithal to process what she would later come to understand as the abuse her great-grandmother and grandmother tolerated. With no didactic diatribes, she infuses what’s right and what’s wrong with what the Founding Fathers gave us into the times in which we live. She never has to say the words #MeToo and #GunControlNow even as she gives the shocking statistics re: the number of women killed by domestic partners.
She reminds us, too, that the Constitution was mostly aimed at protecting the rights of the men who wrote it. The ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights would come within three years of the Constitution’s ratification. Privacy became an important issue, as did the right to bear arms.
Who could have imagined that we’d now find ourselves at a time in our history when fierce battles would ensue over the very meaning of the amendments that gave rise to those rights?
I love language in all its nuance. In the years I worked as an editor of employment law journals, I would marvel at how comma placement could change the meaning of a statute. So now, enthused and inspired by Heidi Schreck, I take a peek at that ‘we the people’ document that became the foundation of our system of governance. Amendment 2 jumps out at me:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
That first phrase is no linguistic flourish. It’s central to the premise of why the Founding Fathers saw a need for the amendment. I can’t help thinking they would weep at the distortion of a right on which their survival may have hinged. Abraham Lincoln had a thing or two to say about rights as well, and this winning entry in the 2019 Texas Sandfest Competition might make anyone weep.
Saturday night found me watching The Pelican Brief, the 1993 John Grisham novel-turned-movie starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. I’ve seen it more than once, but this time had me focused on Alan Pakula’s use of Hitchcock-like camera angles that heightened the suspense. And how could I help but be riveted by a film in which the assassination of two Supreme Court justices signals a conspiracy driven by politics and greed and an idiot in the Oval Office whose main focus (other than making sure he’s not implicated) is training his dog. At least, when everything unfolded, the fictional FBI director owned up to the president’s obstruction justice.
These are very distressing times. Doublespeak and stonewalling from the Oval Office. Family feuds across dinner tables, not to mention Facebook. I avoid engaging with family members who think the president is doing a terrific job but the other day I had to put in my two cents’ (make that a dollar’s) worth of thoughts, mostly to clear up the misjudgment and misinformation. I’m not likely to change this family member’s mind but I had to say it:
Read the Constitution. Find out what it should mean to all of us at a time when the very fabric of our nation is threatened.
I want to scream. I fear this presidency is shattering my nerves. Men coopt what belongs to women and turn it on them. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times gave some perspective on the likability factor in politics (the comments are worth reading, too). Eisenhower may have used it well in his ‘I like Ike’ campaign. But only a woman, instilled in the ways of being a good girl from the get-go, knows the power she relinquished for the sake of being liked.
For all the recent setbacks, there are signs of progress. Women are raising up their voices, shaping art that speaks to the cultural and political climate.
We’re taking power in record numbers. And all this has little if nothing to do with likability.