So Far Away (I love you, Carole King)

Not so long ago, I went with my buddy Debra to watch the recent film of Carole King performing her groundbreaking Tapestry album at Hyde Park in London in 2016.

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Tapestry (1971) was on repeat play on the turntable in my sisters’ room when we were growing up. I have strong and fond memories of the music.

Tapestry

Debra, inviting me to go, remarked that I seemed like the type who would love Carole King. She was right.

The Hyde Park concert was amazing enough to watch as a film. It must have been magical to be there. First of all, Hyde Park in London. I’ve never been but it looks lovely in photos.

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Hyde Park, London

A huge and congenial crowd is in attendance, singing along with Carole and clearly connecting to her music, whether as a remembrance of a time past or as younger, newer listeners struck by the emotion and angst of the songs.

Tapestry itself is such a classic, every song a gem (except maybe Smackwater Jack, but I loved it when I was 10 and I still like to sing along with it). This is the list of songs on Tapestry:

  • I Feel the Earth Move
  • So Far Away
  • It’s Too Late
  • Home Again
  • Beautiful
  • Way Over Yonder
  • You’ve Got a Friend
  • Where You Lead
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow
  • Smackwater Jack
  • Tapestry
  • Natural Woman

You’ve heard them all. I’ve sung them all. It’s a legendary work of art. But what I’ve noticed a month after seeing the film is that the one song that won’t leave me is So Far Away.

 

There’s so much about this song that keeps it on my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and prone to nostalgia. The lyrics themselves provoke a sense of loneliness, time slipping away, a need for connection and love and friendship.

so far away

lyrics

I’ve been thinking of the notion of far away. It can be distance, it can be time, it can be a mental state. My sisters and my brothers are distance away–3,000 miles give or take. That’s far. Too far. My mother is time away; when I say time I mean earlier days and memories, not a discrete amount of time that can be traversed. She died in August, 2009. But I dream of her frequently and miss her every day. And then someone can be sitting right next to you and be far away, lost in thought, in another world, with you but not with you. I am sometimes that person who is far away, dreamy and distant.

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I wake up with So Far Away playing in my head. I will be listening to my audiobook of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and up will pop So Far Away. That is fitting in its way. If you know Anna’s story, she was ostracized by friends and family and the larger society, not allowed to see her beloved son. She was right there, but made to seem far away, even to herself. Spoiler alert–Anna’s story doesn’t end well. We need family, friends, connection.

anna

“One more song about moving along the highway can’t say much of anything that’s new.” So true. And it’s predominantly men who sing those moving on down the highway songs. The Allman Brothers and Ramblin’ Man as well as Midnight Rider. The Grateful Dead and Truckin’.  Ricky Nelson and Travelin’ Man. (And what’s with the dropped letter g, by the way?) Steve Miller took it to the skies with Jet Airliner. Steppenwolf and Born to be Wild. Pretty much anything from Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska (which I love).

 

 

Was it a coincidence that about 95% of the audience in the movie theater the night we went was female, of a certain age, and we all sang along? But it was So Far Away that had me wiping a tear from my eye. I can think of one other song that has this effect on me–James Taylor’s Shower the People (1976).

 

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Letting the people that you love know that you love them–it seems so simple yet it can be so difficult. It’s the subject of many a novel, play, movie. We carry such inner turmoil around showing love. Yet we crave love ourselves. James Taylor is a guy that gets it.

Again, not a coincidence that James Taylor and Carole King have a history going back more than 40 years, including him performing backing vocals on Tapestry. In addition to his own songs, he’s performed (and made famous) many of King’s songs, such as You’ve Got a Friend.

 

James has his own Highway Song; it seems to be a male rite of passage. Women want to seek out and befriend, men want to get moving along/away.

 

When I was younger, my ex-husband’s response to strife was to suggest we move. During our 20+ years of marriage, we lived in too many apartments and houses to count in several different towns, including Ashland, Oregon; Ankara, Turkey; Chico, Vacaville, Winters, Sacramento, Davis, Fairfield, and Napa in California. I think what he really wanted was to move on without me. Now, with Bob, we’ve lived in this same house for the 13 years we’ve been together. It’s a nice feeling to be at home! Yes, he travels, but I always know he’ll be back, and be happy to be back. He’s never so far away that I can’t reach him.

Come visit us sometime; it would be so fine to see your face at our door. As long as you aren’t allergic to dogs and cats. They help make this place home, too.

 

 

A Wonder of Women (or, Confessions of a Girl Scout Dropout)

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My latest adventure centered on spending 2 days with these delightful women. 

For most of my life, I considered myself to be an anti-social loner, not a team player, prefering to avoid group situations at all possible costs. My mother made me join the Brownies, which was mostly okay. We had snacks and did arts and crafts and sang silly songs. I could deal with that, and if I immersed myself in the arts and crafts I could avoid the other girls and more importantly, the troop leader. She scared the life out of me. Then came Girl Scouts. Uh oh. I was clearly not Girl Scout material. Girl Scouts are expected to interact in the world, earning badges for awesome deeds and selling overpriced cookies to people who really don’t need or want them. And go camping. Hell no. I don’t do camping.

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If there was a badge in cat holding, I could’ve earned that one. And color coordinating outfits.

I pretended to go to Girl Scouts, showing up at the spot in front of the school where the car pool mom picked us up so as to be seen by the other girls. Then I’d go hide somewhere until the coast was clear, play on the school playground until it was time to go home, and then walk home, pretending when I got there that I’d had a great time. I didn’t get away with it for long. But my mother was understanding and let me leave the scouts. I was free! Free to spend my time with my books and my cats and my arts and crafts projects! Happy girl!

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I grew up. I was lonely, but still convinced I was not a people person. I sat at home alone a lot, drinking too much in front of Food Network shows.

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I needed a troup, a community, a network, I just didn’t know that’s what I needed. It was suggested that I needed to get out of the house and challenge myself. What?! But I tried. I signed up for cooking classes, mosaic making classes, knitting classes. But I didn’t make friends or try to fit in. It wasn’t because the women (yes, it was all women in these groups) didn’t try to befriend me. I resisted them, cultivating my misunderstood loner status.

But life has a way of kicking us in our butts when we need it. I needed it. I got my butt kicked. I got help. And I discovered that I am a nice person who thrives among friends and enjoys the company of others. Who knew?!

Call me a late bloomer if you will.

late bloomer

It started with volunteering at an animal shelter, where I started to make friends and find a purpose in life. The animals were my bridge to connecting to people. Then I joined a book group. And had fun! I do things I would never have done 4 years ago, and they all involve other humans.

We have names for collectives of animals. A congregation of alligators, a battery of barracudas, an obstinancy of buffalo, a clowder of cats, a charm of finches, a rhumba of rattlesnakes, etc.

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We don’t have such creative names for groups of humans. Women in particular tend to reach out to other women for support and friendship. We need a name. I propose a wonder of women. I finally reached that point in my life where I have discovered that women who gather in groups don’t “cat fight” or backstab; okay, we might gossip a bit. But we help and support each other, offering good listening skills, advice if wanted, and understanding.

A study by Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor suggests that women are genetically hardwired to respond to stress by “seeking and befriending”. I most recently sought and befriended by attending the Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon, in upstate New York last week. What attracted me was the presence of one of my favorite writers, Alice Hoffman. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend 2 days in her company. I can knit, but it’s been a while. I was willing to dust off my needles and relearn casting on and purling in order to meet Alice Hoffman.

with Alice
I got to meet Alice Hoffman!

I recently wrote about having read her book Faithful and how I connected to the main character Shelby. Shelby would have loved our dog mascot for the weekend, Millie.

I had an amazing experience in so many ways. First of all, it really was an adventure for me. I went so far out of my comfort zone (which is admittedly fairly small), renting a car and driving around upstate New York, staying by myself in a bed and breakfast. I felt so grown up.

me on arrival
All grown up and ready to join my life.

Was it worth it? Undoubtedly! Everyone was warm and welcoming, helpful and interested. We talked, we knitted, we listened to Alice read, we wrote, we ate well. Our hosts, including Millie, were welcoming and made us feel at home.

It was like Brownies, only better! Arts and crafts–check. Snacks–check. Scary troop leader–no way! And no camping!

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We all made amulets after listening to Alice read a lovely fairy tale, Amulet.
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Happily crafting away.

The only thing missing from my perspective–a cat.

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The B and B was just missing a cat. One would’ve made it perfect.

I’m home now, surrounded by cats, with new knitting projects, new friends to keep in touch with, and charmed memories. I plan to go again next year if all goes well.

My deepest thanks to everyone involved in making the experience so special. It means more to me than words can convey. And you didn’t make me sell cookies or camp!

Peace and hugs.

The Mystery of the Princess Locked in the Tower (Nancy Drew meets Zelda Fitzgerald)

“The American woman is told she can do anything and then is knocked down the moment she proves it.”

I wrote this down in one of my notebooks. I circled it, underlined it, highlighted it. But I didn’t note where I heard or read it. When I Googled the quote, I was led to her an essay by former supermodel Paulina Porizkova, “America Made Me a Feminist“.

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Paulina Porizkova

“In America, a woman’s body seemed to belong to everybody but herself. Her sexuality belonged to her husband, her opinion of herself belonged to her social circles, and her uterus belonged to the government. She was supposed to be a mother and a lover and a career woman (at a fraction of the pay) while remaining perpetually youthful and slim. In America, important men were desirable. Important women had to be desirable. That got to me.”

This obviously struck a chord with me. My worlds had collided, or coincidence had taken me on a journey. My fascination with Thomas Wolfe led me down a rabbit hole to the writing of contemporary Southern literary icon Lee Smith to the tragic figure of Zelda Fitzgerald, Nancy Drew, and unpredictably, Paulina Porizkova.

The degrees of separation are few. Thomas Wolfe was from Asheville, North Carolina, which he famously wrote about in Look Homeward, Angel, much to the anger and dismay of the city’s residents. Zelda Fitzgerald spent many years, and ultimately died in, Highland Hospital, a mental hospital (or “hospital for nervous diseases”) in Asheville. Lee Smith wrote a novel about Highland Hospital, Guests on Earth, and the fire there that killed 9 women, including Zelda.

guests cover

Nine women died in the hospital fire on March 10, 1948. According to the official medical report, Zelda was unable to escape the fire as she had been sedated and placed in a locked room prior to a scheduled electro-shock therapy treatment. The women who died were all trapped on the top floor of the central building

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The fire started in the kitchen wing, but there is still mystery around how it started and who might have started it. Speculation includes a former patient who was later hired to work in the hospital and held grudges against some of the other women, doubling their medications and locking them in before starting the fire in the kitchen. The windows were barred, the fire escape made of wood that quickly burned.

But was Zelda really “crazy”? She is commonly said to have been schizophrenic, but more recent studies suggest she was more likely bipolar, with periods of depression and periods of high energy and creativity. She was herself a writer (some believe F. Scott plagiarized from her writings), an artist, and a dancer; a free spirit in a time and place where that was heavily frowned upon. She was raised to be a Southern Belle, to marry well, to be a pretty and charming hostess, but not to be smart, creative, or independent. After the fire, she was indentified as among the dead from her charred ballet slipper.

slippers

 

Lee Smith, through narrator Evalina Toussaint, wrote of Zelda in Guests on Earth:

She didn’t fit in, that’s all. They didn’t know what to do with her…None of them knew what to do with her. She was too smart, too original…She didn’t fit in.

Smart women who didn’t fit in. Locked up. Princesses in a tower. While Zelda was in Highland Hospital, F. Scott would visit, staying at the luxurious Grove Park Inn, supposedly resting and relaxing and taking the “beer cure” to wean himself off of gin.

Grove Prk Inn ball photo
Grove Park Inn
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Highland Hospital doesn’t sound all that horrible when one looks back at the history of
the treatment of mental illness. Founder Dr. Robert Carroll created a program based on
exercise, diet, and occupational therapy rather than straitjackets and shackles. But there
were also questionable electroconvulsive treatments and insulin coma therapy, with risks of brain damage and death.
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Electroconvulsion therapy.
At Highland, Zelda was able to dance, to paint, to write.
The character Evalina, a talented pianist and a fellow patient, enters the hospital at age 13 in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. She loves to read. One of the nurses brings her Nancy Drew books.
Nancy Drew. I love Nancy Drew.
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 I read all of the Nancy Drew books I could get my hands on the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the best compliments a coworker ever gave me was to call me Nancy Drew.

The first Nancy Drew mysteries were published in 1930: The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery, and The Mystery at Lilac Inn all in the same year. Nancy Drew books are still being written and published, the most recent title, Riverboat Roulette, was released in early 2017. Two titles, The Professor and the Puzzle and The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane, are planned for late 2017 and early 2018.

Why do we love Nancy Drew? She’s smart, fiesty, curious. Blogger Kerry Winfrey lists the reasons Nancy Drew is such a good role model:

  • She’s not afraid of anything.
  • She’s well-rounded.
  • She has great fashion sense.
  • She’s a feminist.
  • She has staying power.

The books purported author, Carolyn Keene, didn’t and doesn’t exist. The actual writers have come and gone, but Carolyn Keene lives on. Nancy Drew was created by Edward Stratemeyer, a publisher of children’s books. He hired ghost writers to churn out the books, as well as other series like The Hardy Boys, according to a set and successful formula.

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I don’t think it was a coincidence that Lee Smith brings Nancy Drew books into a story of princesses locked in a tower. Just as Paulina Porizkova wrote recently, women are told we can do anything. Nancy did it all, while dressed to the nines. She had her roadster, her friends, her college-aged boyfriend (who doesn’t show up that much), a father who encouraged her. She was smart and pretty and everything I wanted to be as a girl. But in the case of Zelda Fitzgerald, she was locked away for wanting to be more than a good wife and mother. She had serious artistic aspirations of her own, but lived in her famous husband’s shadow.

“Excuse me for being so intellectual. I know you would prefer something nice and feminine and affectionate.” [Zelda, in a letter to F. Scott.]

 

Many women in institutions at that time were women who didn’t fit in, who didn’t want to stay in their proscribed boxes, who were uninhibited, creative, and deemed hysterical. The word hysterical itself is significant. It comes from the Latin hystericus–of the womb–and was considered to be a female ailment, brought on by dysfunction of the uterus. Gary Nunn writes of the “feminization of madness”. Take the word loony, from lunacy, and the connection to the moon (lunar). Thus, lunacy becomes a monthly periodic insanity brought on by the moon’s cycle. As Nunn describes it:

“These etymologies have cemented a polarisation of the female and male mental states: men being historically associated with rationality, straightforwardness and logic; women with unpredictable emotions, outbursts and madness.”

In an interview, Lee Smith said,

“A fairly sizable number of women who were at Highland Hospital had really been sent there by their husbands or their families because they were just a little too wild or creative, because they didn’t fit into the norm that society—particularly Deep South society—expected of them.”

Zelda published a novel, Save Me the Waltz, in 1932. It was written while she was a patient at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She was there after “an episode of hysteria”, and spent 2 hours a day writing as a part of her recovery. The novel was autobiographical and apparently angered F. Scott, who forced extensive revisions before it was sent to the publihser. He then used much of the same autobiographical material in his own book, Tender is the Night, published in 1934.

F. Scott himself was clearly mentally unstable, yet he, the tortured novelist, stayed at the Grove Park Inn while his wife Zelda was confined to Highland Hospital. Ring Lardner Jr. referred to the couple: “Scott is a novelist and Zelda is a novelty.” During their courtship, Zelda routinely evoked jealousy from F. Scott with her flirting and “outrageous” ways. Before their marriage, he was quoted as saying something along the lines of “I used to wonder why they locked princesses in towers.”

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Nancy Drew, if she were real, would probably have been locked in that tower too. But hopefully she’d solve the mystery of the fire and escape before she was tied down for electro-shock treatment.

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The Princess in the Tower, by Otori Reka

I am currently reading  Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Zelda’s story as she herself might have told it.

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I’m not very far into it. Zelda doesn’t seem crazy, though, just bored and stifled by the expectations placed on her in 1918 Montgomery, Alabama.

There is also now a television series on Amazon, Z: The Beginning of Everything, with Christina Ricci as Zelda.

 

The Fitzgeralds’ daughter, Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith, died in 1986. When she was born in 1921, Zelda said she hoped her daughter would be a “beautiful little fool”, a line which F. Scott had Daisy utter in The Great Gatsby.

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Scott, Scottie, and Zelda Fitzgerald

 

She was definitely not a fool; multi-talented, Scottie graduated from Vassar in 1942, and over the years worked as a writer and journalist, wrote musical comedies, and was a tireless figure in the Democratic Party as a fundraiser and promoter of Democratic candidates. Completing the circle in a sense, she moved from Washington, DC to Montgomery, Alabama and spent the last years of her life in her mother’s hometown. Two of her daughters control the Fitzgerald Trust. The house Zelda grew up in was set to be demolished in 1986; instead benefactors purchased the home and donated it as the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. The F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald Papers are held at the Princeton University Library.

Meanwhile, Nancy Drew is still a badass girl detective.

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keep calm

Alternately purring and spitting

Yes, the title could refer to a kitten, like little Jarito (I don’t name them!), the current foster kitten in residence.

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Jarito. I call him JJ.

 

But what I was thinking of with the words “alternately purring and spitting” was Southern writer Eudora Welty and Southern women in American literature. That so aptly describes Southern women to me.

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Eudora Welty (1909-2001)

 

I had heard of Eudora Welty.  GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) tend to look out for Southern writers.

GRITS

 

Even though I’ve lived most of my life in California, I spent my childhood years in Atlanta, Georgia and was raised by proud Southern women. Yes, there are a myriad of social justice and human rights issues to discuss when one brings up the Southern United States, but there is also a unique and sometimes beautiful culture that I wax nostalgic over, even though I didn’t necessarily experience it.

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But what led me to Eudora Welty and a fascination with her was hearing actress Stockard Channing read Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the P.O.” (written in 1941) on Selected Shorts, one of my favorite NPR podcasts.

American actress, Stockard Channing
Actress Stockard Channing.

The story is hilarious and poignant and so very Southern. The characters have names like Papa-Daddy, Uncle Rondo, and Stella-Rondo. The narrator is Sister. When I heard the story read aloud, I felt right at home! The story was published in her book A Curtain of Green and Other Stories. Despite its quirky, humorous overtones and absurd (or not, you decide) characters, there is an undertone of isolation and bitterness in Sister’s narration of the 4th of July holiday in small town Mississippi. The P.O. refers to the post office; Sister is the town’s postmistress.

 

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You can read the story here or listen here, if the links work. It’s well worth the $2.99 to buy your own download if the audio link doesn’t work. I tried, but sometimes I fail!

Welty herself was born and died in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to being a writer, she was also a talented photographer, capturing the lives of the rural poor for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression of the 1930s.

 

Her photographic work is being shown at the North Carolina Museum of Art in the exhibition Looking South: Photographs by Eudora Welty, on display until September 3, 2017. Art critic John Szarkowski wrote:

“Like those of [Helen] Levitt, Welty’s photographs do not show us the only truths of her subjects’ lives; perhaps they show us only the rarest and most evanescent truths, in which case we are the more grateful for these proofs of their existence.” 

Best known for her short stories, she also published 5 novels. She never married or had children, and kept her life mostly private. Her stories focus on individual lives and stories, using local color and humor to convey sometimes stifling environments and families.

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Illustration by Ryan Sheffield for The Eudora Welty Portrait Reader.

 

As described on the website The Bitter Southerner:

Why Welty? For a lot of us who grew up in the South and liked words, Welty represented not only what we knew, capturing the characters and cadences of our region, but also the range of what was possible — telling honest stories about a place that continues to struggle and progress.

As President Jimmy Carter put it when he presented Welty the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980: “Eudora Welty’s fiction, with its strong sense of place and triumphant comic spirit, illuminates the human condition. Her photographs of the South during the Depression reveal a rare artistic sensibility. Her critical essays explore mind and heart, literary and oral tradition, language and life with unsurpassed beauty. Through photography, essays, and fiction, Eudora Welty has enriched our lives and shown us the wonder of the human experience.”

 

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One can visit Eudora Welty’s home and amazing garden in Jackson. The garden was created by Welty’s mother, Chestina Welty, in 1925 and carefully restored by garden restoration consultant Susan Haltom.

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Eudora Welty’s mother, Chestina tends her roses.
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Eudora Welty’s garden.

Welty’s home is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Eudora lived there from 1925, when she was 16 years old, until her death in 2001. It is located at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson. She gifted the home to the State of Mississippi and it is a museum of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, Mississippi.

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I myself am not a gardener. I love the IDEA of gardening, but the REALITY of gardening is another story.

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If you are at all intrigued by the life and work of Eudora Welty, please check out the Eudora Welty Foundation. You don’t have to be one of us GRITS to appreciate her writing or photography. Or of any of the others who I would add to the pantheon of great Southern women writers. Clockwise from upper left: Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Conner, Kate Chopin, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston. There are many more; these are just a very few.

 

Hopefully you feel inspired to read, write, or take some photographs. Or dig in your garden. Or whatever makes you happy, be it painting, cooking, sewing, etc. They can all be therapeutic activities, good for your mental health and sense of well-being. Even observing creativity is good for you–reading, listening to music, or going to a museum. According to the lifestyle website Verily, such activities:

  • Relieve stress
  • Increase and renew brain function
  • Help prevent Alzheimer’s
  • Improve mood
  • Cultivate your social life

So instead of going to the gym, I think I’ll go read a book. In the garden. With some music. Getting healthy!

painting
Painting by Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen (1855–1941)

 

 

 

Oh, to be Queen (all 5 feet 0 inches of me)

I don’t really have a desire to rule a queendom. Okay, maybe I do a little bit. My inner 10-year old does still daydream of crowns and sceptres and beautiful gowns and having all of the coffee and chocolate I want. And kittens everywhere. And peace on earth. And rooms full of books. And time to read them.

my throne
The throne room in Genevieve-landia.

 

But who doesn’t have those daydreams?

Queen for a Day

 

My beautiful sister Cathy was Homecoming Queen at Druid Hills High School. She looked so glamorous in her gown and sash, wearing the tiara, and carrying roses. Her beaming boyfriend (later husband) stood proudly at her side. My equally beautiful sister Ellen raced across the football when Cathy’s crowning was announced, as excited as anyone. I could only dream.

By the time I got to high school, it was clear the title wouldn’t pass down to me. I was a bookish, quiet wallflower. I never was asked out on a date or to the prom. I pretended I didn’t care.

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A popular song in the 1970s was Seals and Crofts King of Nothing. I actually managed to use it a reference in an essay at the end of my senior year. It was something about how I saw my future. I got an A, and the teacher read it to the class. I was heavily influenced by J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), the paean to teen angst and alienation, of course.

Seals and Crofts
Seals and Crofts.

King lyrics

 

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I was trying to be all Bohemian and anti-preppy. I made dresses out of fabric remnants on sale from the bin at the local fabric store (there were such things then) and quit eating meat. I dreamed of going to Mount Holyoke with the other girls like me, and being like one of the characters in Wendy Wasserstein’s play Uncommon Women and Others (1977), which I saw as a teleplay in 1978, starring Jill Eikenberry, a young  and upcoming actress named Meryl Streep, and Swoosie Kurtz. If you can find it, watch it!

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What has renewed my queenly aspirations? Recently, Bob and I binge-watched the Netflix series The Crown. So good! I got to Googling Princess Margaret, and for some reason looked up how tall she was–5’2″. So of course, I had to look up Queen Elizabeth II–5’4″ (maybe shorter now that she’s 91 years old; we tend to shrink as we age).

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It made me happy to realize these women were on the small side. I am 5′ 0″. My mother was 5′ 2″.  There are a lot of average height and tall people in my family; we women of small stature are the anomolies. I’m fine with that. I’ve never wanted to be tall. But queen? Maybe.

Queenly and queen-size are reference to large women in the fashion industry. I am in the petites category. Sadly, a lot of petites clothing looks like it was made for little girls, not adult women. I imagine queen-size runs to the matronly, if designers and their stereotypes are at play in other size categories. Designers–get real!

Anyway, shortly after we finished The Crown, we started watching Victoria on PBS. Also excellent! There are many references early on to Victoria (1819-1901) being too small and too short (and too young) to be queenly. That piqued my interest! I Googled. Queen Victoria was–get ready for it–5′ 0″ tall! I am vindicated. I can be queen!

victoria_portrait at 24
Queen Victoria at age 24, portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1842.

 

Victoria reigned from 1837 to her death in 1901. She inherited the throne at age 18. As depicted in the costume drama, she had to be feisty and stand up for herself to be taken seriously. Now it is with great seriousness that we picture her.

The Queen 1887
Queen Victoria in 1887.

 

And sing of her. The song by Leonard Cohen (1972) comes to mind. I won’t pretend to understand the lyrics. But it sounds serious.

 

Of course, as portrayed by Jenna Coleman (5′ 2″), she is heartbreakingly lovely and delicate looking. And spunky.

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Actually, it’s pretty good casting when one sees portraits of the young Victoria. Not quite as lovely, no, but there is a similarity.

1842 portrait Franz Xaver Winterhalter
1842 portrait of Victoria, Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

 

Once down the rabbit hole, I had to know how tall other queens had been. Elizabeth I is estimated to have been about 5′ 4″ as well. One of my favorite queens to read about is Anne Boleyn (1501-1536), the ill-fated second wife (1533-1536) of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
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The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I, c. 1575.

Anne Boleyn’s body was exhumed in the 19th century (I try not to think about that too much), and she was estimated by a Dr. Mouat to be between 5′ 0′ and 5′ 3″. (Insert inevitable joke about “with or without her head” here.) I first became intrigued with Anne Boleyn from the 1969 film, Anne of the Thousand Days, with Genevieve Bujold (5′ 4″) playing the queen.

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Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn in 1969.

After watching the series Wolf Hall (2015), another excellent drama based on the Hilary Mantel novel of 2009, I decided to read up on Anne, who was portrayed somewhat less sympathetically than in Anne of the Thousand Days.

Conincidentally, Claire Foy (also 5′ 4″), who portrays Elizabeth II in The Crown, played Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall.

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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn.

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After struggling a bit through the Mantel novel, I decided to go a little, shall we say, more readable, with Philippa Gregory’s book, The Other Boleyn Girl (2001), told from the perspective of Anne’s sister Mary.

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I know there is a movie version of The Other Boleyn Girl, but I just can’t get behind Natalie Portman (5′ 3″) as Anne and Scarlett Johansson (5′ 3″; I thought she’d be taller) as Mary. Don’t ask me why; I’m not sure.

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My paternal grandfather’s Aunt Genevieve was Queen–Queen of Mardi Gras in 1888.

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Genevieve Cottraux, 1888.

I have royal blood, so to speak. Do I wear the crown well? Maybe that’s why I like a good headband so much; it’s kinda like a crown. Combine a headband with cat ears, and there I am!

 

I’ll be a kind a benevolent queen. Genevieve-landia will be a happy place of peace and harmony. The motto will be Peace and Hugs. I tried inserting this in a Latin translator and got this:

pacem et cubantem piis foveamus amplexibus

Peace and Hugs is a lot easier. No need for Latin.

By the way, Genevieve Cottraux of 1888–her father was a coffee merchant and her uncle was a confectioner. So my royal blood includes coffee and chocolate. I’m taking applications for Royal Barista and Royal Chocolatier. These are appointments of the utmost importance.

Until my coronation, you can find me wherever there are books, kittens, coffee, and chocolate. Wait, that sounds like home.

 

Mary Pickford, the Girl with the Curls (and the cat, and the cool Google doodle)

I don’t usually pay attention to the ever-changing Google doodle. I don’t always get it, not being all that culturally hip, and I am often on a Google mission that keeps me from lingering on the home page. April 8 was a day on which I did linger. I was attracted to the blue background, the vintage female figure with the movie camera, and of course, the cat on the figure’s shoulder.

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Who was the woman, a woman I immediately wanted to be? I clicked. April 8 would have been Mary Pickford’s 125th birthday. I realized I knew very little about Mary Pickford. I had a vague idea of her being a silent-film era damsel in distress, an early cinematic American Sweetheart. But she was so much more than that.

Here is the Google blurb:

 

    • Lights, camera, action! Today’s doodle honors the “Queen of the Movies,” Mary Pickford. An actress, a film director, and a producer, Mary Pickford proved that actors weren’t relegated to careers in front of the camera. She co-founded the film studio United Artists and was one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

      Before she became one of the most powerful women who has ever worked in Hollywood, she was “the girl with the curls,” and one of the most beloved stars of the silent film era. She appeared in as many as 50 films per year, and eventually negotiated wages that were equal to half of each of her films’ profits. She went on to demand full creative and financial control of her films, a feat still unheard of to this day.  

      She used her stardom to bring awareness to causes close to her heart. She sold Liberty Bonds during World War I, created the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and revolutionized the film industry by giving independent film producers a way to distribute their films outside the studio system. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress, for her role in Coquette (1929), and an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 1976.

      Today, we pay tribute to Mary Pickford’s enterprising leadership on what would be her 125th birthday.

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      Born in 1892 in Toronto as Gladys Marie Smith, she began in a traveling theater company at age 7, with her family, and was known as Baby Gladys Smith.

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      In 1908, a producer gave her the name Mary Pickford, changing her middle name Marie to Mary, and using her mother’s maiden name, Pickford. She appeared in her first film in 1909. 

      It was her performance in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1917 that finally gave her the fame and fortune that she built on to become the Queen of Hollywood.

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      This is from her first talking picture, and the one for which she won an Oscar, Coquette (1929). She is said to have been dismayed at hearing the sound of her own voice.

       

      In her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow (1955), she wrote that as a young girl in Toronto, she would buy a single rose and eat the petals, believing the beauty, color, and perfume would become part of her.

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      Here she is in 1976 receiving her honorary Oscar; I was dismayed at the zebra skin rug in the foyer at her home Pickfair, but more on that in a bit. It’s a bit sad to watch but remember she is 84 years old in the video clip.

       

 

Pickfair, the estate where she lived in Beverly Hills until her death in 1979, was a gift to her from second husband Douglas Fairbanks.

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Sadly, so-called actress Pia Zadora (“Who?” I can hear you ask) razed the house in 1990, having purchased it in 1988 from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Russ. In its place, she build a “Venetian-style palazzo”, eventually claiming after much criticism that she did so because the house was haunted, not by the ghost of Mary but by one of Douglas Fairbanks’ mistresses. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. said in a public statement after hearing that the house had been destroyed, “I regret it very much. I wonder, if they were going to demolish it, why they bought it in the first place.” In its heyday, Pickfair was second only to the White House in American house fame.

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Pia Zadora, literal home wrecker.

Zadora sold the “palazzo” (17 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms) in 2006 to Korean businessman Cory Hong. It was listed for sale again in 2008, with an asking price of $60 million.

Despite the zebra skin rug, which seems much more Pia Zadora than Mary Pickford to me, made me think about Ms. Pickford and animals. Many images of her include animals, particularly dogs and cats, but also rabbits and birds.

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Of course this one is my favorite.

I wonder, even though in some images I found she is wearing fur, if that is also of the era (like the zebra skin rug), and if she was in fact an animal lover. I feel she might be a kindred spirit.

She was a trailblazer, and even today not many women have the creative control and power she had.

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American woman finally get the right to vote in 1920. Canadian women first received the right in 1916 in Manitoba. The last Canadian province on board was Quebec in 1940.

 

 

I’m never going to be an actress or a director or a producer or any kind of “powerhouse”, but I admire Mary’s determination and seeming sweetness. I’ll have to read more about her. In addition to her autobiography, there are quite a few books about that early era of Hollywood and the people who made it happen. The one I am going to look for is Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood (2007) by Eileen Whitfield.

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In the meantime, this will have to suffice as my homage to Mary Pickford and women like her: strong, determined, and happy to have a cat climbing on her shoulders.

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Peace and hugs from me and little Chiclet, foster kitten extraordinaire.

P. S. Please support me in my fundraiser for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. My goal is fairly modest. Mary would approve.

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Be It Ever So Humble…

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.

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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.

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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.

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I don’t have many pictures from those times; my mother lost a lot of the old photos in a house fire in 1987.

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Early days in the backyard of the house, before the additions in the 1960’s. I am the little one on Mom’s lap.
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The street view on Google Maps.

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.

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Apparently I really liked that outfit.

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.

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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.

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My relationship with my stepfather in a nutshell. I’m the pissed off one being held into the picture by my sister Ellen.

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Kathleen Hughes writes in The Wall Street Journal of our desire to return to our childhood homes:

“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.

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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.

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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.

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I also like this quote from Muhammad Ali; just substitute person for man.

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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.”

Peace and hugs.

Folding laundry naked while baking a cake (no, it’s not sexy)

Yes, I found myself the other day folding laundry in my underwear while keeping an eye on the birthday cake in the oven. I normally do not fold laundry in a state of undress. I was multitasking. And making a hash of it.

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I didn’t manage to finish folding the laundry and I was cold (yes, I live in California, but we are having what passes for a cold spell here right now).

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I was in a rush to get to the grocery store (not sure why, it was my day off).

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The cake turned out raw in the middle. That hasn’t kept us from eating it; it still tasted good.

The point is that multitasking really doesn’t work. We women, especially, pride ourselves on our multitasking skills.

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But in my case, I end up doing a half-assed job of the various things I am trying to do, feel stressed out while doing them, and don’t save any time.

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As some of you may know, I am a fan of the Greater Good Science Center (see The Art and Science of Awe). Last year, I went to a talk and book signing by sociologist and Greater Good Science Fellow Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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Dr. Carter is a wise woman.

Here is a link to her article How to Only Do Things You Actually Want to Do. Who wouldn’t want to follow that advice?!

She also teaches an online course, The Science of Finding Flow, through the Greater Good Science Center. I am going to sign up, but I will finish what I am doing first.

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But apparently I didn’t listen well enough to Dr. Carter at the talk. (I was probably multitasking during her talk, reading e-mail or some such nonsense.) And I ended up folding laundry, in my underwear, in the cold, while underbaking the birthday cake.

There will always be more laundry to fold.

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I love cooking, so why not bake the cake and enjoy the process?

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So, let’s quit multitasking, slow down, and enjoy a cup of coffee in a real cup instead of that darned travel mug.

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I always manage to dribble coffee down my shirt if I drink it while driving anyway.

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At this moment, I am sort of multitasking: sitting in the foster cat room, playing with kittens, writing this, and drinking my coffee (in a real mug). But those are all things I love to do. I am not at all stressed out. And I think I am doing a pretty good job.

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I found my flow.

Proud to be a Crazy Cat Lady

Hi, my name is Genevieve, and I’m a Crazy Cat Lady.

Yes. I admit it.

Now that you’ve gasped in surprise, let’s talk about where this label comes from; how Crazy became part of the equation when a woman loves cats.

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The Urban Dictionary definition of  Cat Lady is my favorite:

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And what about a man who loves cats?

One of my favorite books as a child (and still as an adult) was Harriet the Spy.

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And one of the characters she spies on is a MAN who has an apartment full of CATS.

“When Harriet was all through with her dinner and bundled off to bed, she began to think of Harrison Withers and all his cats. Harrison Withers lived on Eighty-second at the top of a dilapidated rooming house. He had two rooms, one for him and one for the cats. In his room, he had a bed, a chair, and a work table at which he made birdcages, and a whole wall of birdcage-making tools. In the other room, there was nothing but the cats. In the kitchen there was one glass, one cup, and twenty-six plates all stacked up.”

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Harrison Withers, illustration by Louise Fitzhugh, 1964.

 

I have a room just for cats too. The foster cats I bring in from the East Bay SPCA. They stay as long as they need to, then go back to the shelter to get ready for adoptions and then to forever homes. Is that crazy? Okay, the room is a mess, but it’s for a good cause. Look at momma cat Yuki and her babies!

 

Yes, I own more than one dress made out of a cat-print fabric.

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But I am a relatively normal, articulate, coherent person who functions in life, unlike the Crazy Cat Lady (Eleanor Abernathy) on The Simpsons, who does crack me up even if I question the cat tossing as part of the cat ladiness.

I own a Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure (thanks, Bob). My hair does sometimes look like that, and I have a penchant for wearing a stretched out gray cardigan sweater over my bathrobe (see Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar…). But it is warm and comfortable, and great for kitten snuggling.

 

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I love dogs too. In fact I love all animals. Except maybe banana slugs, which give me the creeps. But I stay out of their slow-moving way.

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There is a dog who lives with us. You might have met him. Einstein. He has his own Facebook page, and being a tireless self-promoter, he requested I put a link to it here so he can get more followers.

Einstein’s Facebook page

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I grew up with dogs; most of my family would consider themselves to be “dog people”. One of my favorite movies is Christopher Guest’s Best in Show.

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I do believe that, if there is a god, she does love a terrier.

 

I found this story of the origins of the term Crazy Cat Lady, and it goes back ancient cultures where cats were worshipped. Yes, worshipped. I was born too late!

The True Story Behind the Crazy Cat Lady Stereotype

In Japan, the maneki-neko, or beckoning cat, is a good luck charm.

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The whole negative spin on women and cats came about with the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum in 1487. Also known as Hammer of Witches, it was your guidebook to identifying witches, who could then be tortured, burned at the stake, etc. Because we wouldn’t want any independent-thinking women running around. (Remind you of a current someone with his Nasty Woman comment?) This was during the Reign of Terror of religious persecution in Europe. Not good times.  A good clue to identifying a witch–her association with cats. I guess I’d have been burned at the stake. It didn’t go well for the accused cats, either.

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From the 1555 Swedish guide to witches by Olaus Magnus. Witches with cats wreaking havoc.

Well, I think these days, Crazy Cat Ladies and Nasty Women are turning their pejorative titles into positive ones.

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And in the United States we might just end up with a presidential spouse (First Gentleman?) who happens to like cats, too.

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I suppose his title will actually be President Clinton and not First Gentleman.

I shall leave you with these awesome images of real men who love cats. If you want to call them Crazy Cat Men, go right ahead.