Hello, my darling readers. What I have to say may shock you. No, even more than discovering that your new Kate Spades are locked up in the concierge's office. Even more than discovering that that unidentified object you just picked up off the carpet is a toxic frog. (Could I make these up? They happened, I swear! To real people that I know! But I would never actually name La Belette Rouge and Mama Zen. The torture masters of the inquisition couldn't pry their identities from my lips.)
But I digress.
Most of you know me only as the quietly pious girl I am today. But once, I was a sloppy, out of control, raging alcoholic. At 28, after ten years of addictive drinking, I was in extremely bad shape. I found AA in the telephone book and went to a meeting. And then little fairies cascaded down from the clouds riding bluebirds and I lived happily ever after. Okay, so I made that last part up. The truth is, every time I would get about six months sobriety, I would go back out again. It took me until I was 30 to have my last drink to date. That was on a September 29th, which makes today my sobriety anniversary.
I have raised a child, sober. I have been married and divorced, sober. I have come out and been outed, sober. Thank you, Goddess. You and me, right Babe?
I just wanted to tell all of you my happy news. Raise a diet Coke for me, won't you?
Hello my darlings. It is, once again, time for Old Postcard Wednesday, the baby and brainchild of the charming and singular Lydia at Writerquake. Some of the more churlish among you may point out that today is Thursday, not Wednesday. And then I will point out that I never liked you very much really. After all, I am a poetess, today is the full moon, I am always hormonal right before that, and it is September still, in which month I am always a little wiggy. You want dependable regularity, get an accountant and fill her with Activia.
Now then, about today's postcard! This is a reproduction of an ad for Huntley & Palmer's Biscuits. These are "superior reading biscuits"! Sounds like a non sequiter to me. I am picturing a rare volume ruined by crumbs. But in fact, these are superior Reading biscuits, Huntley & Palmer having been originally based in Reading, Berkshire. This sets off my anglophobia, but it is a fact nonetheless. Still, I love nothing better than to blithely ignore facts and do what I will, and so I am going with "reading" biscuits.
I love reading, and I love books. It is a girl thing and I love girl things. Oh, I know, there is a rumor that some men read, too, but I think that only applies to Jane's auto parts catalogs and Sports Illustrated. Nothing in which our tormented but beautiful heroine braves terrible obstacles and heartless lovers, only to arrive at the season's most important soiree in the nick of time to win Best Gown and marry the doctor and become pregnant before the last page. Or, in my mental rewrite, in time to marry the female woodworker who won Best Tuxedo and they move to Northampton together and live happily ever after with seven cats and two dogs.
Okay, I am about to reveal something nerdy but wonderful about myself. I keep a book journal, and have done so since late 1987. The picture above is not the very same journal, but is extremely similar. I have recorded every book I have finished for over 22 years. And then I count the paper clips and tap my left elbow twice while spinning to the east. All right all right, I made those last things up. I'm telling you, a little bit of fussiness never hurt anyone. I am my mother's daughter to at least this small extent.
In the front of my journal, I like to write down quotes that I come across and like. This one, from Thoreau, is my favorite:
"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance, which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them, according to his ability, by his words and his life. Moreover, with wisdom we shall learn liberality."
While the notion of "wise men" may seem like an oxymoron, I still love this quote. (and people say I rush to meet trouble half way....I don't know what they're talking about.)
I am not a fast reader. Thoreau also said that "books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written." I'm going with that, rather than what Miss Stumpf, my third grade teacher, spouted. Something along the lines of "I despair of this dim and fractious child!"
WARNING: this is where my post momentarily devolves into fussy, self-involved number crunching. I have to do it. Skip ahead, and save yourself. That's my advice. Now then. Every year, my goal is to read 26 books, or one every other week. I have achieved my goal 8 times. My high was 41 in 1988, when I was off my feet with a blown knee. My low was 13 in 2002. This year I have completed only 9 books so far. Miss Stumpf is going to have my head.
I have read the most books by authors whose names begin with "B"...61. As yet, there has been no author whose name begins with "X". I have finished the most books in January and May, 52. I have finished the least in April, 33. I know why this is. Two reasons. For thirteen years, I was married to a person with bipolar disorder, who went dependably cuckoo every April like clockwork. I had my hands full. The second reason is that baseball season begins in April. By May, the Tigers are done, and I am back to my books.
Lydia, the aforementioned Queen of Postcards (It's in your tarot deck. Go ahead, look, you'll see that I'm right. Why would I lie?) has bestowed upon me a blog award, pictured above just before being placed upon my bookshelf. I am to reveal seven things about myself. I will try to maintain the reading theme I have established, but, for the reasons outlined at the beginning of this post, I may suddenly veer off into Railroad Legends, or Common Diseases Of The Spleen or any number of other ridiculous subjects. Here goes:
1. I sometimes fall hopelessly in love with a fictional character or characters. Then, when the book is done, I miss them, and mope for days. I do.
2. This happened with my most recent novel, Robert Girardi's "Madeliene's Ghost", which I heartily recommend. I fell completely in love with the character Antoinette, who is a charismatic, pill-popping, raven-haired, lost Louisiana rich girl. Right up my street! Come back, Nettie. I miss you.
3. The first entry in my journal was Henri Troyat's "Peter The Great", on November 15th, 1987. I read it on the plane on the way to California, where my then-fiancee and I had a date with Disneyland. I love biography, have loved it ever since I was a grade schooler. I can still recall my pure, fascinated joy upon finding and devouring bio's of Teddy Roosevelt, Chief Black Hawk, and, um, Orlando Cepeda that I found copies of in the school library. The pages of these books were soft and rounded with age and handling, and were kept in a low corner, on powder blue metal shelving. My Happy Place. These days, I lean more toward Annie Oakley, Lily Langtry and Evelyn Nesbit. Less baseball, more bustles!
4. My favorite book for a long time was John Steinbeck's "East Of Eden." I still think it is, in my estimation, the greatest book ever. But it has dropped down to sixth or seventh on my personal favorites, because there are no gypsies, sexy lesbians, or ghosts in it that I recall.
5. My favorite now is Sylvia Brownrigg's "Pages For You." It is about 18 year old college freshman Flannery, who falls in love with an older, female, graduate assistant. It is the truest and best description of first love that I have ever read. It absolutely broke my heart. Really, I was a wreck for a week. My favorite, ever.
6. ....which replaced my previous favorite, "Keeping You A Secret" by Julie Anne Peters. This is a novel written for young adults (I like those; I must be young at heart) about a high school senior named Holland, who has a boyfriend and a mother who has big plans for her future. Then she notices new transfer Cece, who is wearing a tee shirt that says "IMRU." What does it mean? It means that everything is about to change. The most heartbreaking part is when Holland's mother throws her out, for loving Cece. This happens to LGBT youth all the time. I loved this book and it is still my second favorite, ever.
7. Number Seven is that, if you have read all the way to here, I love you. That's all.
Welcome to another Old Postcard Wednesday! OPW is the baby and brainchild of Lydia over at Writerquake blog. Lydia is engaging, friendly, interesting as all get-out, and if you're interested in joining us, ask the lady herself. I'm just the copycat around here. ;-)
This week's postcard is a 1900's-era card featuring two ladies (almost) kissing, with the legend "Sometimes the girls kiss each other in Detroit, but it's only between times." This is not a "French" postcard at all. Though my detractors insist that I simply have Bosco walk across the keyboard a few times and, voila!, new post, your intrepid girl reporter actually does research this stuff. And my research revealed that this postcard, in various permutations, was generally available at the time, even ubiquitous. As for the veracity of the text, I can personally vouch to an absolute certainty that at least some of the girls in Detroit kiss each other to this very day, and not even just between times. Not even just in Detroit! I know, I know, it all just keeps getting racier, doesn't it?
This postcard reveals that, across the ocean in Aberdeen, Scotland, girls were kissing each other there, too. Actually, and I warn you so you can cover your eyes if you don't want to know this, the little felt pennant could be made to say any place at all, and attached to the postcard to suit.
You might be surprised at a postcard like this being sold in the starched olden days, but "lesbian chic" has been around for quite a while. As long ago as the days during and after the American Civil War, women faced with a dearth of men due to the tremendous loss of life on the battlefields, turned to what was known as the "Boston marriage." This was a socially acceptable arrangement in which two unfortunate spinsters could set up housekeeping together. Some even viewed it as a higher form of devotion. I don't know about all that, but I have no doubt, to a certain portion of these ladies, the lack of available men was nothing but a boon. Goodnight, Jeeves, that will be all. We'll manage somehow until morning!
Around the turn of the century, lesbian attachments became trendy once again. President Theodore Roosevelt had a lively and attractive daughter named Alice. One day he was discussing matters of heavy import with some bigwig dignitary or other, when Alice came blowing through the room chattering and carrying on. The dignitary suggested that Teddy might ought to exercise more control over his girl. T.R. famously responded that he could run the country, or control Alice, but that he could not possibly do both!
Alice grew to be quite an attractive young woman. A gossipy friend let it drop that another girl had declared herself to be in love with Alice. To her everlasting credit, Alice answered, "How lovely. I'm so glad that she is." That must surely have taken the wind out of the gossip girl's sails! If you don't know about Alice Roosevelt Longworth, hers was a fascinating life, well worth finding out about. She was famously credited with the line "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me." I would love to sit by her. I admire her tremendously. The image of her above is from a 1906 postcard.
But back to our almost-kissing ladies. They seem to have gotten around, because here they are again, on a 1904 postcard with the legend, "Starving In The Midst Of Plenty." Poor fellow, he certainly does seem to have been forgotten in favor of other pursuits!
I hope that you have enjoyed this little foray into Old Postcard Land. See you next week!
The non-reaction to my last poem, Virginia Dare, which I thought was just pret-ty damn good, has me feeling like throwing away all my pens (I'll pierce myself and use blood if I need to make a grocery list) and throwing the chains around the door at Danny's Coffee Shop. Whose idea was all this poetry-writing junk anyway? So that's it, no more poems in perpetuity, or until I stop being a pissy, impossible bitch, whichever comes first.
I am thinking of starting a self-help group for Women Whose Emotions Sometimes Lead Them Around By The Nose. There is no venue large enough in Detroit, and so we are thinking of using the Rogers Centre in Toronto. There will be no speakers. You just get up there and shriek or cry or swear, as the spirit moves you. Or, you can just refuse to leave your seat, huddled miserably with a tub of Ben & Jerry's on each armrest. Everyone's former lovers will be trooped in, roped, and then trucked to a landfill. Horrid Lifetime movies will be shown on a big screen. Anyone who survives the weekend gets to go back to work on Monday. Yeah, I know....I'm still tweaking it.
So, poetry is out. But my hands twitch if I don't write. So let's try this: the story of my adopted girl, Delilah. I have posted this story a couple of times in other people's comments, but here it is on the Word Garden stage for the first time. Enjoy. Me, I'm going to go look in the mirror and cringe, then cut all my hair off with a jack-knife. You know....girl stuff.
There is a place hidden between two apartment complexes that I used to deliver the mail to. It's easy to miss. From the street, there is only a sign and one narrow driveway leading up through overgrown greenery. You can't see what's back there without driving down it. It starts out black-topped but quickly turns to gravel, or, in the Spring, mud. But if one perseveres, after about a quarter mile, there is a cemetery there. I used to like to eat my lunch back there.
It's quiet and there is never anyone there except perhaps another person sitting in their car, seeking a moment's respite from their day. I've been going there for fourteen years now and have only seen one or two people, ever, visiting a grave. Sometimes city workers are there, but that's not the same.
Time seems suspended in this place. The trees are large and ancient. The stones date from the early 1800's. Entire families are buried there. The stones go right up to the edge, facing the wild bushes and nuisance trees that conceal the apartments beyond. There are hedgehogs and crows there. When I first visited, there was a great deal of statuary on top of the markers, weeping angels and innocent cherubs forever watching over their people. Not long after that, though, all the figures disappeared. I don't know if they were targeted by thieves--I know this happens--or if they were removed to foil the thieves, but the effect was the same; the little cemetery's "soul" was injured. I can feel it. It weeps.
Near the place where I used to like to park, there is a family plot. There is a large central marker for Cornelius and Nancy. Arrayed to either side of them are their children. On the right, tilted in the ground, is a heartbreakingly small stone with the name "Delilah" on it and nothing else. A check of the side of the larger marker beside it reveals the words "Our daughter. Delilah. Died Dec. 26, 1840. Aged Four mos., 20 days." Little Delilah was someone's precious baby. Her first and only Christmas was almost certainly marked by illness and grief, as she passed the very next day, her life spanning only from late summer to early winter.
Something about this one little girl, in this hidden and forgotten cemetery, went straight to my heart and has stayed there ever since. It would be fair to say that I have adopted her. I visit her and talk to her. I keep her marker clean. I want her to know that, though she lived only so briefly, so long ago, that she matters to someone, even now. It would be fair to say, I have come to love her. I don't think that is morbid or crazy. It is just a gift that costs me nothing.
Her mother, Nancy, lived until 1890. Doing the backwards math, she was just a girl of eighteen when she bore her daughter. How hard it must have been to love her and have to let her go so soon. And now Nancy herself has been gone for more than a century, even after a long full life.
I went to see them yesterday. I think they know that I do this, wherever their spirits are. Then I drove back down the long gravel path and out, the dust rising behind me like a ghost. See you next time, ladies. Then I was back to my day, with work to do. Life goes on. For me. For now. You know? _________
Hello, my friends! Today I am participating in a new feature! It is called Old Postcard Wednesday and is the brainchild of my friend Lydia. If you haven't been to visit Lydia's blog, Writerquake, then I'd like to know why ever not? Well? I'm waiting. God, I love me when I'm bitchy! Anyways, Old Postcard Wednesday consists of Lydia, and me, and...Lydia...and...me...well, you get the idea. It's always a good thing to get in on the ground floor of these things. Okay okay...thanks to Lydia for letting me horn in. You're a sweetheart. Now stop twisting my ear.
Now, on to the star of the show, the Old Postcard! This postcard is from someone named Elise, who is promising her friend Frieda (in Newark NJ) that she will be home on Saturday. I wonder if she made it? I wonder who these two ladies were? I have loved old post cards nearly all of my life, and I always wonder who the people were who chose them, wrote their little messages and mailed them to someone, so long ago. The truth is, I am drawn to anything from the 1890s through the 1920's. Silent stars, gangsters, gilded age financiers, all of it. It tugs at me. Part of me has its heart there, and I can't explain it.
This postcard is of Evelyn Nesbit, and her story is absolutely fascinating. She would be on my short list of famous people I would love to meet somehow. If I could do lunch with Evelyn and Marlene Dietrich, that would be it. I could just keel over after dessert with a huge smile on my face.
When I was a library rat wayyyy back in high school, I discovered a series of coffee table books put out by Time-Life, about each decade of the 20th century. (thanks, Daddy, for making me love history) In one of them, as I leafed through, I saw such a remarkable face staring back at me through the years. I thought, "who IS this?" There was such a soulful, beautiful, heartbroken quality to her. I became fascinated with her, and fascinated I have stayed. That incredible face belonged to Evelyn Nesbit.
She was just a girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Pittsburgh, when she was noticed by an artist, who paid her to pose for him. She was only fourteen. Soon, she was in demand as an artist's model, though she hated having to stay still for long periods. It brought in money, and a little bit of independence from her mother, and so she posed away.
In time, she found herself in New York, and in less than a year, at the age of sixteen, she was essentially America's first supermodel. You can see her face in hundreds of vintage advertisements, for everything from soap to magazines. She was, in fact, the inspiration for Dana's famous "Gibson Girl." She was supporting her mother and brother and working non-stop. (I have found that many famous women of the era were the breadwinners for their families at a very young age, Mary Pickford and Mabel Normand among them).
Evelyn's mother wanted to marry her off to a millionaire. Any millionaire. And indeed, she did marry an unstable millionaire named Harry K. Thaw. But the most important man in her life was the celebrated architect Stanford White, designer of Madison Square Garden and numerous other New York landmarks of the day. Before she married Thaw, the much older White had a secret hideaway just for Evelyn and him to meet. (White was a married man). It was in this apartment that White had a giant swing suspended from the ceiling for Evelyn to swing on, nude. Yes, she was the famous "girl on a swing." But despite all of her bewitching beauty, and success as a model, when White found her she was still a virgin, just a teenage girl from Pittsburgh. That all ended the night he spiked her drink and, as Evelyn lay groggy and helpless, had his way with her. Why he did this, who knows? It broke my heart for her when I read about it. In any case, in that era, Evelyn considered herself damaged goods after that and so began a long affair with White.
One of the things that endears Evelyn to me, is that she loved to eat good food. She was so different from today's starvled stars, and White had the means and the inclination to provide spreads of things that she not only loved, but had never even tasted before. Also, Evelyn took a childish delight in any kind of mechanical toy, and any time White spotted one, he would buy it for her. I share that with her, too, I adore the old toys from that time.
In time, as she got older, she grew restless, and made demands of White that he would never satisfy. And so she married Harry Thaw. She told Harry about the way Stanford White had raped her, and he became obsessed with it. In the end, in a public place in front of dozens of witnesses, Thaw fatally shot the great architect. So ensued the first "trial of the century" at which Evelyn had to endure days of painful and embarrassing testimony. She handled it with grace, for which I admire her tremendously.
Harry went to prison and Evelyn divorced him, but her life was never the same. She was forever the "girl in the swing", the temptress who had driven one wealthy man to murder another in spectacular fashion.
Evelyn for many years became an out of control drunk, getting into physical fights in saloons and getting arrested. But she pulled herself up from that, and died, decades later, a sober woman.
Her story tugs at my heart. She had singular beauty and allure, and yet, men much older than herself, and her parasitic mother, controlled her life all through her young womanhood. Her beauty was her blessing and her curse. I don't think that anyone really could see past it, and see her. One of the most poignant stories from her life, to me, is this one: Stanford White arranged a photo shoot in the apartment they used, with a well-known photographer White had engaged for the day. Many of her most famous photographs were taken that day. Evelyn grew tired and wanted to stop, but the session went on and on. Finally, the shoot seemed to be over, and Evelyn put on a kimono. White and the photographer found her so beautiful in it, that they had her pose for a few more shots on a bearskin rug that had been used as a prop that day. Evelyn, exhausted, fell asleep on it. The photographer took one more shot.
Evelyn Nesbit never did find genuine love in her life, except from the pet dogs she adored. Now she is gone but her photographs survive, looking out hauntingly across a century. They still fascinate me today.
Please come over here, into the shadows. That sound? Oh, I'm sure it's nothing. Just the sound of me making my heretofore private short story blog Night Blooms public. I expect the decline of western civilization within the hour.
But wait! It is not for everyone. If the idea of vampires, succubi, ghosts, horror of every stripe, or girls holding hands makes you nervous, then by all means, stay here in the Garden.
To borrow a phrase, unpleasant dreams my darlings! See you after midnight.
Note: this is the result of a prompt "I could have told you, Vincent", which has something to do with Echostains, who I don't know, and Adam Dustus, who I do. I'm not clear on the progression. I'm probably supposed to link and sign something and bow to the east, but you know how I get. I'm exhausted already. Can I just post the poem? Thanks. Gawd. The things a girl has got to go through.
What? Oh, I'm fine. You're sweet to ask.
"Dawg". Ha ha.
Are you, like, still doing drawings and stuff?
Yeah? You're pretty good. Seriously, dude.
You should, like, maybe take a class or something.
Have you ever signed up for an art class? No?
I think the community college offers them.
I took, I don't know, some computer thing there once...it was okay, I guess.
I met Rick there.
Yeah, Rick, this guy I'm seeing, or like, we're hanging out and that.
Look, Vince, I need to tell you,
You're a nice guy and all. Some girl is out there for you.
No kidding, a lot of girls really like beards. For real!
My friend, she's totally all about dudes who look like these mountain men or something.
Hey, I didn't mean...
It looks good. No lie.
I'm not really into art or that, and Rick, he's kind of into the whole surfer, keg party thing.
Well, what I mean is,
Here's your ear.
I wrapped it in, I don't know, this napkin from Chicken Shack.
I didn't, like, use it at all, it's clean.
Maybe they can re-attach it?
But dude, seriously,
Don't, like, send me the other one or anything, you know?
It's gross, I have to be honest with you.
Gross. As hell.
What were you thinking?
Don't go all crumpled looking,
My dog does that and I can't deal.
He's at my mom's now...
Well, I know, like you care, right? I just ramble, whatever.