“A Laugh-out-loud, Side-splitting, Train Wreck”
Oil painting, Wine Glass, (above) by Kevin D’Amico
Introduction to Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto by R.P. Saffire
Intro By Suzanne Hudson
This has to be one of the more bizarre tales in literary lore. And I am sincerely honored to have been asked to write an introduction for it, for my dear, dear friend and fellow author, Ruby Pearl Saffire. I would be remiss if I did not make you aware that the substance of this remarkable tale consists of the grotesquely aberrant—yet it is exquisitely relatable. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking. I am tasked, in introducing Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto, with making you want to read about, well . . . a laugh-out-loud, side-splitting train wreck.
But first . . . about a shoe burnin’ . . . it is a tradition that we (my friends and I) launched back in the 1970s, out in a cow field, in a ramshackle farm house, on a frigid night. When the host began throwing shoes in the fireplace (rather than braving the cold to fetch wood), those of us in attendance (yes, I was an original shoe burner) began making up stories about the shoes, the symbolism, the poignancy of letting them go. Fast forward to the 21stcentury when we revived the tradition out at Waterhole Branch, near Fairhope, Alabama, holding shoe burnin’s whenever the mood strikes us, and we have declared shoe burnin’ season to be anytime between Halloween and Fat Tuesday. And yes, R.P. Saffire took her title from that tradition, symbolically I believe, which is to say that shoe burnin’ season really isa season of “letting go,” which in reality can be anytime it is needed to be. For her, though, the “letting go” has been pretty much excruciating. Let me explain:
Ruby Pearl Sapphire’s first manuscript began in whimsy and free-spiritedness, ferried along by her carefree soul, wholeheartedly engaged in the written word and the pursuit of publication. She was genuine, still is, and earnest and bawdy and politically incorrect and god-awful funny. Our paths first crossed back in 2007, re-crossing many times over the next couple of years, a sure sign of some kind of sublime energy in the ether. I adored her immediately. She was slightly my elder, thus I refer to her as “my little old lady friend, Miss Ruby.” She exuded such a light, a playfulness, along with an enviable stubbornness, the sheer will to find her niche in the ever-changing writing biz. I tried to warn her, about the buzzards and such, but she would not be deterred. As a result, unfortunately, her world became a trifle darker, when the hammer dropped, in 2009.
It is now nine years since then. It has been quite a lengthy recovery for Miss Ruby, but she has grown into her art—one either grows from trauma or retreats into it. You will see for yourself, within these pages, a slight contrast from then until now, the gestating transformation of her phrasings. And with her next book, The Fall of the Nixon Administration, a comic novel that I’m salivating over, as a co-author, due out within the year, you’ll see an obvious change of attitude and a seriously new-found gravitas. And all because of a toxic waste dump of a woman, whom she names flat-out in the book but to whom I will merely refer as “Annie Wilkes.”
We’ve all know an Annie Wilkes, an emotional arsonist with an affinity for drama, a woman whose energy screams, like that Lost in Space robot, “Danger! Danger!” Your gut roils, your neck hairs rise, and you almost know you should be running like hell, like a politician on steroids, to escape that pull, that lure, that unthinkable part of the human psyche we are loathe to acknowledge: evil.
But is there really any such thing as “evil”? Yes, it’s a loaded word, and some folks think it is nothing beyond that. But I say it’s sort of like really good art—hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Or, like Miss Ruby, sometimes you have to hang it on the wall and get used to the lines, textures, and colors, before you can really decide if it’s for you or not. Yet art can’t really betray you, give you a proper back-stabbing, like an Annie Wilkes, who exhales on the blade, huffing thrice, and gives it a good and proper shining, on her sleeved forearm, before finding her mark, right between your shoulder blades. Evil enough for you?
Here’s the thing: one really does want to look for the good, in everyone, and I’m optimistic enough that I can find it, the vast and overwhelming majority of the time. For example, maybe Annie is truly ill, mentally; that would be “forgiven,” would it not? Problem is, Annie Wilkes fits so many pages in the DSM-V that it’s hard to know which “diagnoses” to apply—that is the frustration that moves me to use the “e” word. Can one really be a walking, talking, example of so many mental disorders, all at once? She absolutely, bullet point for bullet point, meets just about every descriptor of the “Cluster B” personality disorders: borderline (one of the toughest nuts to crack), histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorder. Or is she just your garden variety sociopath? All of the above? Does it even really matter, given the scorched-earth rendering of a perfectly lovely little old lady’s life? Who cares what lies behind such a vindictive soul? And I just referenced a soul, which, in Annie’s case, is either nonexistent or is as wretched as her heart of darkness. Which brings me back around to that “e” word again.
At any rate the damage was done, so you decide. Take a look at Miss Ruby’s life, pre- and post- Annie. Look at the original manuscript, which was embraced and subsequently sabotaged by the machinations of said sociopath. It was a gem—an unlikely mish-mash of memoir, poetry, social commentary, and self-help, a “sure thing” according to Annie, before she did the deed. Yet here is the bittersweet irony: Annie might have temporarily succeeded in wreaking havoc in a sweet little old lady’s life, but she ultimately succeeded in making our dear Ruby a markedly better writer. You see, Miss Ruby knew her original book was a lot of fluff—ingenious and funny as it was—destined to do well at the box office. That is, commercially. And it was on track to do just that, when the rug was snatched, which was the beginning of a very long, sometimes lonely shoe burnin’ season for Miss Ruby—nine winters’ worth.
Context matters. 2009 was a lifetime ago, in our country, in our culture. With the election of the first African-American president came an infusion of optimism in the face of an economic crash, almost defiantly so. Back then, the female experience was subverted enough that Ruby’s play on the word “slut” would have been seen as caustically funny. The #metoo movement was gestating and would be carried for years before its birthing, not long ago. The harassment called “slut shaming” was nonexistent. Miss Ruby will, indeed, address these two worlds-apart zeitgeists, but asks that you read the words of her original manuscript in the context of the time—2009. What a difference nearly a decade makes, politically, socially, in every way. I have pointed out that this is an aberrant tale; do we live in aberrant times? These days feel uncertain at best, with our darker angels circling like birds of prey, while we seem to be waiting . . . does history tell us to wait? What will the outrageous R.P. Saffire have to say about these outrageous times?
I hope I have not painted too depressing a picture here—this tale is the flip side of depressing; it is uplifting, joyful. Because ultimately, Miss Ruby did what most of us do—got up, dusted herself off, and began to let it go, word by word, phrase by phrase, a la shoe burnin’ season. Then, because she is talented and highlarious, she did what most of us cannot do, via her mighty pen, proceeded to dish up serving after serving of sweet, sweet revenge—not in a mean-spirited way (well, not much), but in a coming-back-from-the-betrayed, tongue-kind-of-in-cheek, in-your-face-funny kind of way, which is on much higher moral ground that any high ground an Annie Wilkes could ever reach (and she’d better be wearing her rock climbing gear). If one has no insight, one cannot really have a sense of humor about oneself—and if we can’t laugh at our flaws, our inadequacies, or, as Miss Ruby says, “our big ol’ hairy warts,” then where is the humanity? R.P. Saffire knows that laughter brings warmth, nourishes insight, feeds the spirit. She knows that giggles grow the soul in ways exponential. Miss Ruby, who loves Jesus and Buddha and all things spiritual, knows that, in the end, it is humor that sustains us—in fact, humor is our ultimate salvation.
Prepare to be saved.
And if you want to cut to the chase, flip on over to Chapter 1.