But This Is Different: Why I Created a Fictitious Love Affair Between Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead -- by Mary Walker Baron
In the push toward and pull away from cycles of social justice, same-sex relationships are closer than ever to becoming legally sanctioned on a national level. The pullback by religious and political conservatives across the land attest to the strength of those in the trenches of change steadfastly pushing toward that moment of ultimate equality. Despite all of our progress, though, teenagers are still bullied, often to the point of tragic death. And despite all of our progress, far too many men and women still grow old living secret lives on the margins of society. I am driven to give voice to those silenced by stigma.
With my novel, But This Is Different, I acknowledge and honor the struggle of any two women to find a place for their passion. While the story is fictional, the identities of my two women leap from history onto the pages of But This Is Different: Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead. Fiction is all about plumbing the question, "What if?" to all possible depths and directions. A decade ago, without any noticeable preamble, the question, "What if Margaret Mead and Amelia Earhart were lovers?" etched itself into the very core of my being. That question was followed almost immediately by another: "What if Earhart's disappearance was a ruse carefully orchestrated by both women so that they could live together away from the world's prying and judging eyes?"
History could hardly claim that either Earhart or Mead was without voice. Decades after her disappearance Amelia Earhart continues to captivate. Decades after her death, Margaret Mead still informs. The story's irony is that with public voices heard even now throughout the world, their private voices were as silent as those of any couple loving the love that even now struggles for a name. The "what if" joining of these two women, improbable though it seemed, haunted me until I finally had to step wholeheartedly into their world and write my book.
My initial research stunned me. From her brief tenure at Columbia University until her disappearance somewhere between Lae, New Guinea, and Howland Island, Amelia Earhart and Margaret Mead were on a number of occasions in the same general locale at the same time. After the disappearance history documents in exacting detail Margaret Mead's many field trips to the South Pacific. During the final months of her life, Dr. Mead was visited frequently by a mysterious "healer" who disappeared when the iconic anthropologist died.
Even as I assured myself that But This Is Different was fiction born out of my imagination, I felt as though history was making room within itself for the story of two very famous women who just happened to, albeit fictionally, love each other. Of course, anyone who makes up a story must at least during the telling believe the story. And, of course, anyone witnessing the story must also, at least for the length of the story, believe it.
But This Is Different begins when Amelia Earhart is 80 years old. Amelia, or Mere, as she is known on the tiny, hidden island where she has lived in seclusion, is summoned to the bedside of the dying Margaret Mead and must decide whether or not to keep a promise made over 40 years earlier. By telling their story when both women are what society calls "old," I give voice to another all-too-often silent and silenced people. Moreover, because I am compelled to speak on behalf of the disenfranchised, But This Is Different also gives voice to our homeless, our veterans, and our mentally ill as its narrative guides us into a passion so intense that the oceans weep and the birds cease their singing.
Every compelling moment of But This Is Different takes place on an island. Islands, even the tropical paradises, separate us from the mainlands of our lives. Society's stigma can also exile us to emotional islands. A significant task individually and collectively should surely be bridging the oceans that separate us from each other and from ourselves.
I wrote But This Is Different not only to tell an amazing story but also to urge us all to dare to love and live with dignified courage, integrity, and commitment while honoring and discovering the very best humanity holds. Ultimately, then, we can, as did the Amelia Earhart of my imagination, sit in the cargo hold of a boat built from parts never intended to float and laugh because we know that all pure things the heart desires are ultimately possible.