Fictional characters aren’t meant to be role models. They make mistakes, sometimes big ones, and if they didn’t have some sort of Achilles heel, they wouldn’t be very interesting to read about. At least for me, when I read a book, if I don’t empathisize with a character, I am not as drawn in. Except for books by Gillian Flynn. Those suck me in even though almost all of the characters are despicable!
Sometimes I get lucky and really identify with a character, feeling like I know them or am them. The first time I can remember this really hitting me deeply was reading Wind in the Willows as a child and imaging myself as Mole. Not the jaunty Ratty or crazed Toad or wise Badger, but the loyal and kind-natured Mole, who shyly longed for adventures and didn’t always make the best choices but always meant well.
Then there was Harriet the Spy. Again, there were of course differences. I was no more a “tom boy” living in Manhattan with a nanny than I was a talking mole wearing a suit. But I was still her in my mind, clever (but not quite clever enough; things backfire) and misunderstood and nosy and I loved tomato sandwiches. I wouldn’t eat anything else for lunch during my Harriet phase.
I read and read Daddy Long-Legs over so many times, I could recite long bits by heart when I was a teenager. I still feel all warm and fuzzy just thinking about curling up in a chair with this book and losing myself in the letters Judy writes to her unknown guardian. She’s small and perky and sometimes unsure of herself. Her adventures in college were probably what inspired me to want to go to Mount Holyoke, which I didn’t get to do, but I had images of myself being a 1980s Judy Abbott there. By the way, don’t bother with the movie version. It bears no resemblence to the book. Do read the sequel, Dear Enemy.
I heard on an NPR story once that part of the appeal in fictional characters and seeing ourselves in them is that they can do the things we can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t. Like spying on people (Harriet) or having lovely romances (Judy, who I lived vicariously through during my lonely teen years) or hating everything (Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye) or saying smart-ass things to others or some of the horrible things Gillian Flynn’s characters do (just read the books).
I am going through this magical experience of losing myself in a character with Shelby Richmond, the central character in Alice Hoffman’s Faithful. I am a big Alice Hoffman fan. Bingeing on her books got me through a dark and cold Massachussetts winter (long story, but I hightailed it back to California after that one winter).
On the surface, Shelby and I don’t have a lot in common. She’s young and beautiful. I picture a Natalie Portman type in the lead role should it become a movie.
I’ve never shaved my head or deliberately cut myself. Shelby is very dark and moody. Not quite Gillian Flynn dark and moody, but still dark and moody. She’s brutally honest and sometimes reckless. She loves New York City, having grown up in the suburbs on Long Island. I tend to smiles and hugs and although I’ve visited New York, I feel no need to spend a lot of time there. She mostly eats Chinese takeout; not my thing.
So, why do I see myself in her? Early on in the story, she thinks about how much she prefers sad songs that dwell on lost loves and lost lives. That’s me! Okay, not enough evidence. That’s lots of people.
I never contemplated suicide, but I spent a few years not really living, hiding in my darkened den and drinking too much while watching The Food Network. Shelby spends 2 years isolating herself in her parent’s basement, smoking weed and watching American Idol. And how does she begin to rescue herself? By rescuing animals. Bingo!
She eventually volunteers at an animal shelter (see, what did I tell you?), knowing she needs to be with animals. She even applies to veterinary school, something I would be too scared to do but daydreamed about at some point (NPR may be on to something). She’s not a vegan, but I think Ms. Hoffman could’ve easily made Shelby a vegetarian, given her love for animals.
When people talk about doppelgängers, they usually mean a look-alike, an evil twin, or an almost ghostly apparition.
But doppelgänger can also refer to a person who is behaviorally like another person. When Shelby, feeling vengeful and bitter, wishes bad luck to her former boyfriend and is glad when it snows on his April wedding day to someone else, it reminds me of me wishing bad things on people who I’ve felt wronged by. Shelby loves animals and claims to hate people, but she takes soup to the homeless girl (who seems to be her doppelgänger) she often sees on the streets. She doesn’t have a lot of friends, but she is faithful to the ones she has. She learns to care for others and for herself. I haven’t finished the book, so I can’t say how I will feel about the ending or what path Shelby takes. But I am on the path with her.
I worry about the products I buy and whether they are cruelty-free. Do celebrities, especially the animal-loving ones, pay attention to what they have their staff buy for them? First, I wanted to find out who some of these beautiful vegan celebrities might be; I know many beautiful vegans who aren’t famous, but the world seems to want celebrity to give something credibility. So here are some famous, beautiful vegans. (Note: My definition of beauty includes inner qualities, not just the outer ones.)
So how do they maintain this beauty and stick to their vegan ideals? There are cruelty-free products out there; one just has to look. Look for symbols from organizations like the Leaping Bunny or get the Cruelty Cutter app from the Beagle Freedom Project. With the app, you can scan the barcode on a product and find out whether it is cruelty free before you purchase.
This led me to the thought of how I could make my own, since DIY is always more fun than buying something. I often have a bowl of okara, the ground soy beans left from making soy milk (see The milk of human kindness (is non-dairy) in the refrigerator, and I’ve been trying to find ways to utilize it. I sometimes add it to soups and stews and even baked goods as a protein boost.
In the directions that came with the soy milk maker, there is a recipe for an okara facial mask. The recipe uses honey, which is not a vegan product. I gave it a try, mixing the okara with some agave as a binder instead of honey, and a little Vitamin E oil in place of the various essential oils recommended, since I didn’t have any of those. It actually did make my skin feel soft and smooth after I rinsed it off.
What are some other simple, do at home (with things you probably already have) vegan beauty recipes? One good source is the DIY Home page of the blog Vegans Have Superpowers. I am not volunteeering to do the banana facial mask; just sayin’. If you have things at home like apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, oats, sea salt, baking soda, olive oil, and essential oils, among others, you can make your own skin-care and hair-care products.
The editor of The Vegan Beauty Review, Sunny Subramanian, has a book with co-author Chrystle Fiedler, The Compassionate Chick’s Guide to DIY Beauty. I just ordered my copy.
Don’t want to make your own products but want to try some fun and different products from a variety of cruelty-free manufacturers? You can subscribe to the monthly Petit Vour cruelty-free/vegan PV Beauty Box.
Nerd that I am, I also find smart people really sexy. You think being vegan is stupid? Just ask these people.
And then there’s me, kinda cute, kinda smart, and kinda silly, but not doing too badly at age 55. I’ll never be a star, but I do what I can to lead an ethical and compassionate life, and that’s a beautiful thing.
There’s no place like home. I’ve been awake for a while, listening to the rainstorm outside. Despite what people from other parts of the country say, we DO have weather in California. And right now I am watching out the window, waiting for an ark full of animals to float past.
I did sleep for a while, and in my dreams, I tried to buy my childhood home. I called the owners. I have no idea who they might be. I’ve written about my dreams and phobias (see Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar… ) before; I must’ve really wanted that house in the dream if I used the telephone. I offered them half-a-million dollars for the house. No, I don’t have that kind of money. Never will! When you talk about those sums, it might as well be play money.
Granted, half-a-million dollars doesn’t get you anything in the real estate market in the Bay Area of California, but maybe it still does in Atlanta, Georgia.
I often dream of the house in which I spent my early childhood (see Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said). When I can’t sleep, I try to draw the floorplan in my head. This morning, I actually tried sketching it out. I have the proportions wrong, but the basics I think are right. Note that my mother sold the house in 1972 and I have not been inside of it since, and have only seen it from the outside a few times when visiting my family. But I remember this house better than almost any other house I have lived in. The memories include sense memories like smells from the kitchen (and the boy funk smell of my brother’s room); the taste of tomato sandwiches; the darkness in my sisters’ room at night, where I often slept on the floor between their beds; the feel of the green recliner chair in the den, where I curled up with books and cats.
I don’t have many pictures from those times; my mother lost a lot of the old photos in a house fire in 1987.
There’s no place like home, so they say. Dorothy had Toto and Auntie Em, I had Luke and 3 older siblings.
I also had my trusty stead, which I also said goodbye to when we moved to California in 1972.
Is there really no place like home?
Why are the memories of our childhood homes so vivid? And are they accurate? According to writer Lauren Martin,
“The past is as elusive a dream as the future. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. It keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality. It’s seen as something beautiful, something irrevocable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now.”
In The Psychology of Returning to Your Childhood Home, psychology professor Jerry Burger “found that almost everyone who visits a childhood home goes to the place they lived from the ages of five to 12. Burger says people have an emotional attachment to their childhood home because it’s a part of their self-identity, and the self is developed between the ages of 5 and 12.”
He distills this need to revisit our childhood homes to 3 main reasons:
-a wish to reconnect with childhood.
-a desire to reflect on the past when going through a crisis or problem.
-unfinished business from childhood.
Okay, I can see some of all of those in my dream forays to 1737 Dyson Drive.
Especially the unfinished business from childhood. In my case, an unfinished childhood. My widowed mother remarried in 1972 and split up the family, taking me and my brother from Atlanta to Sacramento while my sisters stayed in Atlanta. Mom’s second husband was a mean drunk who called me Little Shit. We moved several times, necessitating changes in schools. I spent my pre-teen and teen years mostly in my bedroom, drawing pictures, reading, and talking to the cats. I married young and drank too much myself. It’s no wonder I’ve idealized those years before 1972, and the house has come to symbolize that time.
“While most people say they want to return simply out of curiosity, psychologists say the visits reflect a subconscious desire to bring childhood into perspective as an adult. For baby boomers stressed by aging parents and teenagers, the visits may offer a quick route back to memories of a better time—an era when parents were healthy, families were still intact, children felt loved and the world at least seemed safer than it does now.”
Jungian analyst Dr. John Beebe describes it:
“A lot of people haven’t fully left home,” Dr. Beebe says. “Some people need to go back [in order] to move on.”
Others, while claiming to be “just curious” about seeing their childhood home, may have a deeper motive, he suggests: a desire to reconnect to the way they felt as a child before life—school, careers and families—required so many compromises. “In adapting to the world, we all lose some of our soul,” Dr. Beebe says. “When we make the journey back, we find some of our soul again.”
For me, it often leads to the question, how would my life be different if we had stayed? I also ask the question, how would my life be different if my father hadn’t died when I was a baby? These questions are interesting to ponder, but ultimately don’t change the paths our lives took. And the paths are what make us who we are. It’s taken me a long time, but I like who I am now.
I am studying story and narrative this semester prior to going into the writing and research phase of my PhD. One can’t study narrative structure without running into the inimitable mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and his writings on the Hero’s Journey.
In 1988, Bill Moyers released on PBS “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth”, 6 1-hour conversations with Dr. Campbell on what enduring myths can tell us about our lives and how the Hero’s Journey translates into our personal journeys.
There has been feminist critique of Campbell’s “somewhat lopsided and masculine view” (Laura Kerr). In his lifetime, Campbell did not publish a book on the woman as hero, but he did leave writings and lectures, which were published posthumously in 2013 as Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (Joseph Campbell Foundation). A short excerpt is available at New World Library.
I also like this quote from Muhammad Ali; just substitute person for man.
I definitely don’t view the world the same way in my 50s as I did in my 20s. I probably have more in common with the 9-year old me with my bike and my cat and corkscrew curls than the me in my 20s! And that’s okay. When I feel homesick, I can travel to Dyson Drive in my head, reliving the feeling of the sun coming through the window while I read Doctor Dolittle in the scratchy green reclining chair. I can even see the dust motes in the light. I’ll set it to the soundtrack of James Taylor singing his 1968 song about homesickness, “Carolina in My Mind.”
Smart phones and social media have made it possible for me to indulge myself in my fantasy world of talking animals that I so believed in as a child. I was a shy, quiet, bookish girl, lost in my stories of animals and little people like The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers (see Some of the books that made me a life-long reader). If I had access to video and the internet in the 1960s, I am sure I would have been unbearable, dressing the family pets in clothes and making them act in weddings and other such human activities. But I can have my second childhood now and let my mind go back to that precious place.
Today was the day that the most recent family of foster kittens left our care to return to the shelter for their next steps in the adoption process. So the 10-year old that lives in my head decided we needed to make a graduation ceremony video. My cameraman (cough, cough, Robert Ward) kept getting his hand in the picture, but we are still working on our technique.
You can’t have a graduation without playing Pomp and Circumstance.
Which is where the story takes a turn from kittens to musicians. As we were driving the kittens to the East Bay SPCA, Bob, who happens to be a classical musician, said, “Elgar is the James Taylor of classical music.” Um, what? This required some explanation.
James Taylor has a way of creating a sentimental, nostalgic, introspective mood that often seems to look back on better days and times.
Matthew Riley wrote an entire book on Edward Elgar and the Nostalgic Imagination (2007, Cambridge University Press). He uses terms like vanished greatness, a lament for times past, childhood and the countryside of an old England as musical subject matter. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were times of great change, and Elgar’s music was a look at times past, not a look forward to the future. Arguably, the same can be said for James Taylor reflecting on the late 20th century/early 21st century.
While driving me and the kittens (I see a new story called Driving Miss Crazy Cat Lady in here somewhere), Bob put the car audio system on Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor. It’s quite lovely. Here it is performed at the North York Moors Festival in 2013.
It was suggested by my instructor that I might like the Enigma Variations as well. I do have a taste for both nostagia and melancholy, but I usually lean toward sad and folky singer/songwriters since I am still fairly ignorant of the classical music world after all these years (sorry Bob).
The Enigma Variations (1898-1899) comprise 14 variations on an original theme, each variation being a musical sketch of a loved one or close acquaintance. I won’t post all 14, but here is a selection, Nimrod, the 9th variation and tribute to Elgar’s great friend Augustus Jaeger, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Daniel Barenboim in 1997.
Another singer/songwriter in the musical world I inhabit is Natalie Merchant.
Whenever I take a foster cat family back to the shelter, saying goodbye to them always makes me think of the song Break Your Heart.
Did Sir Elgar like animals? I have no idea. I assume Natalie Merchant does, although I couldn’t find an image of her with any. She did allow the use of her song My Skin on one of those heart-breaking and tear-inducing ASPCA ads, which is too hard to watch so I am not showing it here. But this is the song:
I know James Taylor likes animals. His cat, Ray Taylor, is often featured in JT’s social media.
Now that we’ve come full circle back to cats (I knew I could do it), I will leave you with this. Please consider fostering for your local shelter. It will add joy to your life, and help the shelter save more lives. You might even meet your new best friend, like Marble here, who entered our lives as a foster and now is a member of our furry family (see The one that didn’t get away).