Saturday, 02 December 2023

Molly Ivins' legacy

She captured me for life with the unforgettable first line by Molly Ivins I ever read:

"I was sitting here in my office, trimming my split ends, when the phone rang ..."


It was, of course, a call from one of her informants in the Texas legislature, about some new and absurd political scandal. She was then writing for the Texas Observer (Sharp Reporting From the Strangest State in the Union), where she stayed until 1976, when she joined the New York Times.

She took everything – except herself – seriously, and greeted most of it with laughter.

The farewell column she wrote for the Observer before leaving for New York started, "I have a grandly dramatic vision of myself stalking through the canyons of the Big Apple in the rain and cold, dreaming about driving with the soft night air of East Texas rushing on my face while Willie Nelson sings softly on the radio ..." and ended, "I wanted to call this 'The Long Goodbye' but Kaye won't let me. She wanted to call it 'Ivins Indulges in Horrible Fit of Sentimentality.'

"I love you. Good-bye my friends."

It's a good way to remember her today, as we mourn her death at 62, from breast cancer on Wednesday at home in Austin.

So is the evening in 2002 when she appeared at Santa Rosa's Luther Burbank Center for the arts (now the Wells Fargo Center, and wouldn't she have hooted at that?) with her friend Anne Lamott. They seemed an odd pair, the big Texas gal (who was born in California) and the wispy novelist from Sausalito with her blond dreadlocks, but they shared "the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."

They talked of the absurdities of politics, of Molly's first bout with breast cancer ("I'm sorry to say cancer can kill you but it doesn't make you a better person"). Of Annie's adventures in recovering from alcoholism and as a single mother (chronicled in Traveling Mercies and Operating Instructions – both worth reading. And by the way, would whoever has my copy of her Bird by Bird please return it?). And of the nights they called each other to puzzle over life's strangeness.

Molly had already written Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, and later would produce Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America.

Both women went on to join Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan in working to stop Shrub's war. Other writers called Molly Bush's scourge and nemesis. Who had a better right to that? She'd known him since schooldays in Houston.

She just kept on writing, and laughing.

Her near-last column, published Jan. 5, started "The president of the United States does not have the sense God gave a duck – so it's up to us. You and me."

And that's Molly's legacy. Honesty and laughter and irreverence are what she left us. She'd want us to use them well, and often, every time we catch a politician in a lie.

E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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