To Reach The Green Light At The End Of The Pier
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Okay, Eleanor. Proceed.
"In six hours or so, as I'm saying all of this to my biographer, it will be September. September is a good month! F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in September. William Faulkner was born in September. I'm not sure what month I was born in, but September is going to be such a good month, I'll be happy to celebrate my birthday on the very last day. So here's my guarantee. If you keep visiting me, and my biographer, we'll make September the wildest, craziest, most inspiring, "better than good" month of the adventure yet. But the truth is, I mean what I'm afraid of -- well, just this .... I sure hope that nobody is getting tired of me. I like to speak my mind, but more than that, I like to read my mind, through my biographer, when he puts down those words -- my story. So yes, it's my words and his words, and together, we need to wave some kind of magic wand over them. Or maybe not, I don't know. Anyhow, I still have some moondust left from the August Full Moon. Maybe some moondust tea would be a good way to start September. What do you think?"
"P.S. I have told my biographer that we will not post our first September entry until we have something that will set the tone for the entire month."
"P.P.S. There are more than 300 other postings to browse through on this page in the meantime. To know me is to read me, after all."
"P.P.P.S. And you're the greatest for reading this far. Maybe my biographer has already said it, in different ways, but you are helping us save our lives. Really. That's how important the words are. And if that's too dramatic, then you can think of it as defining our lives. So, well -- thank you. Thank you for sticking around. Right now it's like we're at the top of hill on the rollercoaster, and it's right before we dive head first at a million miles an hour, straight down. And I don't know if I will be waving my arms in the air, or screaming, or keeping quiet and hoping. Sometimes the best thing to do is keep quiet and hope. But then again, everybody needs a good scream every once in a while."
Eleanor and her biographer put the water on the stove, and find two cups for their moondust tea.
"The measure of moondust is in how much you believe," Eleanor explains. "Some people need more, and some people less, and one or two people don't need any moondust at all -- that's how strong their belief is. I think my biographer needs a little bit more moondust than I do. But I know he believes, or else, why would I be hanging around for so long? I mean, that's the bottom line. That's what counts."
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
Charlotte Bronte said the first part.
The second part, Eleanor says, is making it all "better than good."
Eleanor says, Repeat it, until it's part of you. Repeat it, until you understand there's nothing else acceptable. Repeat it -- until you (we) get it right.
We have a ring full of keys. There's only one door. We have more than enough keys to unlock the door.
Fear tries to kill "better than good." (Ha!) But "better than good" is too good, and it kills the fear. (Ha! Yes, laugh out loud good better than good.)
Charlotte Bronte implied the second part: (write) "better than good."
It's early in the morning. It's late in the evening. It's the middle of the night.
"We are better than good," Eleanor says. (Mantra.)
Thursday, August 28, 2008
When you walk for any real length of time, you are going to come across things you never expect to see. Even the mundane becomes something magical. If there’s a car wreck in your neighborhood, on your street, you, being human, are going to watch as the paramedics take care of the injured, and the police talk to witnesses. But that’s drama, not the mundane, and drama is not the same as something magical. Magic is like a seed that grows from the unexpected, and turns into something even more unexpected, and if it’s good magic, it can be beautiful, and beyond any ordinary description. Magic is also something solitary, something that only you happen upon, unlike the car wreck in your neighborhood that attracts everybody. You might as well set up a concession stand and sell hot dogs and popcorn. Something like that is an event – newspapers like to report on events. TV wants to show you images of events. The real magic, the magic that is indeed solitary, that kind of magic, begins as an occurrence. And an occurrence can begin as a stumble. And a stumble can be you tripping on the sidewalk, when you’re walking for any real length of time, and your legs grow weary so your feet don’t step quite as high as they should, and while you’re watching where you’re headed, you lose track of your stride. So, you stumble. You stumble, on an occurrence.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
TWO Poems by Robert Gibbons
An Introduction: Robert Gibbons is no stranger to This Side Of Paradise. We were privileged to share one of Robert's works earlier this year -- "This scroll is on a roll (Jack Kerouac)". Check it out by "scrolling down," or through our archives. Now Robert once again brings us beauty in the form of two new poems. One reflects his experiences of growing up and living in Florida. The second poem -- which we present first -- is a work that Robert stresses is NOT about Barack Obama. In fact, he tells us this twice, so we'll also repeat the statement. The poem is NOT about Obama. And that said, and these works introduced, we once more welcome (and are most pleased to present) the incredible talents of Robert Gibbons. -- Geoff
“For the Senator seeking the office of President”
(for Maria Ranier Rilke)
For the senator who seeks the office of President
if you want to go the mountaintop,
you must see Jesus walking the street with one hundred recyclable cans,
bound by a crucifix
If you seek more than the Oval office and the Lincoln bedroom
you must go past Lafayette Square, past Andrew Jackson on an upright horse, where blonde-haired woman wearing tailored suits, carrying upscale lunch bags, past chiseled –faced men with buzz cut and power ties, talking on an unreachable cell phone.
For those who dare to administer the Executive Branch of Government,
don’t drive through the tenement with executive tint rolled up separating you like a river. If you go to West Virginia Avenue and Clay Terrace
there are no Camelot horses and Hawaiian shirts.
If you seek highest ascendancy in the world,
then you will find out the stone will not be rolled away.
In fact, you may be stoned.
You may be the allegorical suffering Christ figure,
standing on a Chicago roof.
Don’t forget about Malcolm, Medgar, Mandela, and JFK. Martin had bombs beneath his steps. Even he understood that the king must sometimes be crucified for the sake of the kingdom.
(tribute to historic Florida)
At the end of the archipelago there is an expressway where the heat is so hot you better find yourself a shade tree, plant yourself, then maybe a cool breeze will pass by. Where saw grass still grows and you better stop if a family of ducks are crossing the street. The whole state is fish bowl and we recount those days.
We recount those days while yet in the third grade, the first time we saw snow, it was historic, wet, bleached, sand-stoned colored snowflakes fell from the sky.
We recount those days when yachts would dock near Old Port Cove, when mobile homes crowded Singer Island, eroded beaches allowed an invasion of lemon sharks, propeller-marked manatees, and an explosion of mangoes. Wallace’s ideas are stranded in the Bahamas, lot in the triangle and Hemingway’s cats are on a hot tin roof.
We recount those days when discovery was a real as Ponce De Leon. He discovered me as I discovered myself and conquered my coming of age. Spanish grandmother would hold her children close, wouldn’t let go. She named her Florida. Only exotic Cuban plants and red peppers grew. The smoke is still rising from the Wacissa swamp. No one knew its origin.
We recount those days when bean pickers and corn packers shucked, shelled, and jived way into the night. Even, Zora went walking up dust tracked roads. Sugar would drip from the cob of corn. We settled black muck. It grew everything. Hurricanes and tornadoes would make their annuals visits blowing Tallahassee roofs and drowning cypress swamps.
We recount those days when Northern birds migrated, bubble gum pink flamingoes sat proud atop lime green art deco buildings. Blue herons would wade up Palm Beach Lakes. Now snow birds just leave their droppings -- their snow.
We want to recount all the dead, and the past, all the graveyards and plots built above ground. The ones lost at sea when the hurricane and Great Flood came.
We want a recount for Belle Glade, Palm Glade, Palm City, and every palm tree with a coconut and every nut that fell from grace and made an impact on the ground’s floor.
We want a recount for FEMA city, Little Havana, Little Haiti, Turtle Key, and very topless woman, muscle boy, Lancôme babe that struts, strolls, and cruises Ocean Drive.
For Ocala, Tallahassee, Wakulla, Sarasota, Pahokee, and every Native that ran into the swamp and hid from Andrew Jackson during the Battle of Orleans.
Finally, a recount for the disheveled, dismembered, disbarred, disenfranchised, and dissed who wash car window for a living carrying big red paint buckets beneath a Miami bridge, only eating a grapefruit and an avocado, drying their sweat-drenched bodies in the coolness of the night. For the drifter, the drifted, the beach bum, the hum drum, the ones who fell overboard, drunk from pain, lost at sea, the sea anemone, the sea spray is only temporary. The sun is the light. The dolphins will sing and the sea will be green again.
Robert Gibbons is a poet, teacher, and orator from Palm Beach County, Florida. He is a writer living in New York City. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Also check out "Robert Gibbons Live," reading two of his recent works in New York City. Go to "recent episodes" at: http://www.gcast.com/user/
Eleanor thanks Robyn, who asks in a recent comment whether we believe that fortunes, from fortune cookies, can and/or should be shared. "But we simply have to share the fortunes," Eleanor says. "Fortunes kept to ourselves -- well, that's the same as being somebody's made-up character and never being allowed to leave The Spirit House."
We cannot argue with Eleanor's logic, and today, she opened two fortune cookies that contained remarkable insights -- one about endings, and the other about beginnings.
("A round of moondust, for everyone," Eleanor says, doing her best NOT to sound like Tiny Tim, but -- also -- to capture his spirit, just the same.) (And Eleanor whispers to her biographer, "Charles Dickens must have built one magnificent Spirit House.")
Endings: "How can you have a beautiful ending without making beautiful mistakes." (Lucky Numbers 11, 14, 18, 22, 26, 41)
Beginnings: "Do not give up, the beginning is always the hardest." (Lucky Numbers 19, 22, 24, 27, 35, 45)
Monday, August 25, 2008
“If a man has talent and can't use it, he's failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know.”
-- Thomas Wolfe
One of my recent, previous residences is on my mind this late night: Asheville, N.C. And with that comes native son Thomas Wolfe, who did in fact eventually go home again, and now rests (at least in mortal form) in Riverside Cemetery. One has to think that Tom Wolfe used the whole of his talent, and one also hopes that he felt the satisfaction and triumph in the end. Though he's not on many reading lists these days (or as many as he should be), he still ranks right up there with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner, the others in my "Big Four" of American Letters from that time period.
For Eleanor, our journey is all about "finding home," or a home that she can go back to -- never mind Tom Wolfe's most famous quote. Or, a home with doors that will open wide, with a welcome mat, with tea brewing on the stove, with cookies set out and a warm bed, and yes, kind faces that speak wonderful stories.
We mark our trail with words. Behind us are the words already written, and ahead of us, some words tossed in the air, haphazardly it would seem to anyone but us, and then fallen, like leaves. We'll follow those words in front, picking them up as we go, and we'll make something "better than good." The potential is within each of us, and only the deepest self can know how far we need to travel, or how deep we need to dig.
"We can dig a hole to China!" Eleanor says, and yes, perhaps we will. Perhaps we do need to dig that deep, and go that far ... to make the final turn for the home that's out there -- the one that's ours, that destiny and fate and the alignment of planets all agree on.
"Home" -- what a terrific word.
"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will."
-- George Bernard Shaw
Eleanor says she's sorting through her collection of moondust from last night. It was carried to her piggybacking raindrops. (Quite a sight to behold, she says.)
Meanwhile, Eleanor's biographer is attempting to collect all of the energy he can so he's able to go on a creativity binge. Yes, "creativity binging."
Sunday, August 24, 2008
This Side of Paradise is pleased to introduce guest writer D.C. Massey, or as he is known in these and other parts, "The Mad Celt." Dale has graciously given us permission to reprint a poem from his site, "Musings of a Mad Celt."
Who is this "Mad Celt?" Take a little Kafka, sprinkle in some William S. Burroughs, and then add good doses of the Buddha, Longfellow, William Blake -- and, well, it still all comes back to Dale Massey. He wears his heart, gut, and intellect on his sleeve, and he's pounding out poems at all hours of the day (and night). Though he may write of "fear," he shows none in revealing himself with his words. There is a courage beyond whatever we may remark in this short introduction. That said, experience "Waiting," and then please do go visit "The Mad Celt" in person (his link is below the poem). -- Geoff
by D.C. Massey
fully loaded magazines
buses sitting at high idle
round in the chamber
and a child plays
souls waiting for judgment
God's on the Number 9...
will He need a transfer?
"Sorry, Almighty One...
this expired two hours ago."
cans on the shelves
and i wonder if they care
do they know what the hell
i'm doing with my thoughts
i can save them all
with a single hug
oppression weighs heavy on the
minds of the sheep...and they think
of becoming lions with the roar of
a goat... fiddle dee dee
crazy man on the couch
old woman sleeping on the bench...
covered only with cardboard
and i sigh heavily
what's with the white coats?
put away your badge officer
it won't do you any good
i'll give a reason to love
me... you're cute
a solitary cry from the heavens
as the angel of peace dies
and the beast rises from the
bowels of man's frail mind.
(copyright 2008 by D.C. Massey)
VISIT: "Musings of a Mad Celt" at http://dracocelt.blogspot.com/
"The wise are wise only because they love. The fool are fools only because they think they can understand love."
-- Paulo Coelho
Ah, The Writer's Almanac comes into my mail and brings me the news of two important birthdays today, Aug. 24, 2008.
1. Paulo Coelho, best known in this country for his novel The Alchemist.
2. Jorge Luis Borges -- nothing more need be said than, "Borges was born this day."
We must and we shall celebrate these two very different writers -- but both of them, writers who inspire us to the greater good, to the magical ... to meet our Muses face to face and say, "What have you for me now?" Indeed.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
You need to get up very very early to go hunting words. Some words hide behind images, and others behind the obvious thoughts upon waking. Some words have already found homes in books and film and songs, but they're good words, individually, and want to expand their horizons, so you say, "All Aboard!" And then you make something of them. Hunting words is not difficult, but it can be time consuming. Strike that last sentence. The words are speaking on their own behalf. Hunting words can sometimes be difficult and come in a flash -- a moment's notice, or no notice at all. Strike that last sentence. The words are playing games with me. They know I have my pen and notebook. They know a computer keyboard is nearby. Words are crafty critters. Words are magnificent creatures. Words like to be touched and held and savored, and placed on the tongue, kept there for an extra second or two before speaking. There are no weak words -- just weak human beings. The silliest of words can be the most profound. Words hate being alone. They prefer the company of others. Such is a sentence. Such is a paragraph. I am up very very early, before 3 a.m., hunting words.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Today is an "Eleanor Day."
Today I will take one of my Moleskine notebooks and venture beyond The Little Room.
Today I will observe people, and listen to their conversations.
Today I will take copious notes.
Today I will walk, and close my eyes, and breathe it all in, whatever "it all" is.
Today I will reconnect with my inspiration.
(TANGENT: If and when inspiration does not come readily, you must form a search party and actively go looking. Your inspiration is your master, your mistress, and inspiration is also your child, and can be quite naughty sometimes, and will also sometimes take roadtrips or go into hiding without your permission, or even, occasionally, without your knowledge. Inspiration should not be confused with the Muses, who will always act independently of you, and will speak to you on their time, not your time, and in their own manner and way.)
Today is a day
for Eleanor to play.
(Today will, at times, rhyme.)
Today I will show Eleanor parts of my little world that I have not adequately explored.
Today I may need an extra Moleskine notebook.
Today I will talk to a stranger, or maybe two, or maybe more.
Today is an "Eleanor Day."
Tomorrow I will be hung over, but after buckets of coffee, I will sit down, back in The Little Room, and make sense (or no sense) of it all -- whatever "it all" is.
Tomorrow, Eleanor will tell me something I did not know before today.
But Today begins now.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
by Carl Sandburg
I ASKED the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children
and a keg of beer and an
-- from Chicago Poems (1916)
Sunday, August 17, 2008
"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
"How frail the human heart must be -- a mirrored pool of thought."
Today is Ted Hughes' birthday, Aug. 17. We must find our copy of Birthday Letters. It's in a box, one of the many boxes of books, packed up. Books deserve better than to live in boxes. Lots of "birthday" in this paragraph, and lots of (implied) confession, too.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Full Moon tonight, Charles Bukowski's birthday, and the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death in 1977.
Eleanor says, "I hope some moondust gets sprinkled into whatever you're drinking tonight."
Eleanor says, "Today is one of those days to get rid of all inhibitions, and simply be."
Eleanor says, "I'm going to be listening to the Muses, and write everything down in my thoughts, and then forget about everything I've written down in my thoughts, and then hope that the moondust helps me to remember the good parts later on."
Eleanor says, "Today is a good day to sort out beginnings and endings. The middles are always with us. We can't stop the middles from happening, same as we can't stop the beginnings or endings. But we can change the middles anytime, that's the good news. The beginnings and endings are the tough ones."
Eleanor says, "If I look up to the moon the same time you look up to the moon, will our eyes meet?"
"bad writing's like bad women: there's just not much you can do about it."
-- last line from the story, "Beer and Poets and Talk," Charles Bukowski
Eleanor says, "good writing is like good women: there just not much you can do about it. Except find a good woman, and write something really good."
Eleanor says, "I like Charles Bukowski. He always makes the ugly parts beautiful."
Friday, August 15, 2008
Final draft: I have yet to hit my groove.
Draft number eight: I am aware of my surroundings, and this frightens me. I am also aware of my potential, and this enlightens me.
Draft number seven: Sometimes I think too much.
Sixth draft: Contemplation is not a waste of time. You can never think too much.
Fifth draft: I am here, and I need to get there -- and, man, I watch the planes fly over from my bedroom window, and I listen to the trains, and man, I -- I am here and I need to get there.
Middle draft, between the fourth and fifth: Some days, I put too much weight on myself and feel that I am letting everyone else down, but then I realize that this is ego talking. Nobody much cares about what it takes for ME to get from there to here. I care about it, of course, but it really doesn't matter much to anybody else. What counts is the "there" and the "here."
Fourth draft: I know what I am capable of, and I am frustrated by that.
Third draft, somewhere after the middle: When I think I'm close, I must prevent myself from stopping, at any cost. When I'm close, I cannot allow myself to sleep. Eating makes me sleepy. I cannot allow myself to eat.
Middle draft: I spend (a lot of) time waiting. Sometimes I wait because I know that the time is not right. Sometimes I wait because I know that I am not right (for the time). Mostly, I wait, confident in the timing -- the time will be right, and I will be ready when the time is right. I know I have not hit my groove, yet. I cannot die today. There is too much work to be done. I cannot die while there is so much work to be done.
Second draft: I feel that I have so much to say, but it's trapped, and the thing is, I am not convinced that it has not been me doing the trapping.
Draft shortly after the first: I feel destined, but that's a really cocky thing to say.
First draft: I have yet to hit my groove.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
"Dear friends and gentle hearts" -- these words were written on a scrap of paper carried by Stephen Foster as he died, on Jan. 13, 1864 in New York City. He had 38 cents to his name, the story goes. When I was still living in Pittsburgh, I visited the Stephen Foster Memorial, located on the campus of The University of Pittsburgh. It's an incredible collection of pianos and other musical instruments used by Foster, along with song lyrics, and many other "pieces" of his life. Most of the collection came from one individual, who later donated it to what would become the Memorial.
To me, it's amazing to look at the long list of songs written by Stephen Foster that we still know today. Perhaps he was the United States' first pop songwriter. Think about it. What other music from that era -- other than hymns or a few Civil War songs, has stood the test of time, and was written by a single composer? We almost need to jump to the early part of the 20th century to find Broadway show tunes for the next wave of music that's still as vibrant today as it was then.
Sure, you may need to reinterpret some songs, or put in some new arrangements, but that's nothing more than putting out a new edition of a classic book. We sing Stephen Foster songs before the start of The Kentucky Derby and in grade school, and some of the songs, well, we hum them to sleep.
One of the last "hit" songs Foster wrote was "Beautiful Dreamer," and that's the kind of mood I'm in. "Dear friends and gentle hearts" -- let's contemplate beauty and dreams this day, and then create something perhaps a little bit different, a little bit new, a little bit odd or crazy ... something that comes from the most vulnerable of places.
And if that doesn't work for you, just get wild, and see what the Muses sing to you.
by Stephen Foster
Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world heard in the day,
Lull'd by the moonlight have all pass'd away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life's busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea
Mermaids are chaunting the wild lorelie;
Over the streamlet vapors are borne,
Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn.
Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
E'en as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
by William Shakespeare
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
"Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity."
-- Herman Melville
Anyone who reads Melville's personal story, and there's plenty of it, especially later in his life, must believe that hope never dies (a running theme on this page) -- no matter how we might be ignored or forgotten or left aside for the newest, best thing. What is the newest, best thing? And will it be remembered years later?
"I agree," says Eleanor, finally. "We continue to live or die by the words, no matter what."
She is speaking to her biographer, after her previous pronouncements.
But Eleanor insists she still wants to be a superstar. "Bigger than big," she says, as if this is a challenge of sorts -- beyond endurance, beyond what others already thing of her.
"I'm not Karen Carpenter," she says. "I want to survive. There has to be something more. There must be something -- more."
"It is the next level of who you are," her biographer agrees, long after dusk, but also many hours before the dawn.
However, her biographer adds, "I think Karen Carpenter wanted to survive."
YES -- Point taken.
by The Carpenters
Words and music by Leon Russell & Bonnie Bramlett
(check out both The Carpenters' version, and Sonic Youth's cover of the song, available on several compilations)
Long ago and oh so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here
It's just the radio
(*) Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do
Loneliness is a such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again
Come back to me again
And play your sad guitar
Repeat (*) twice
This Side of Paradise is pleased to introduce a new guest artist to this page. Atlanta-based writer Angela Buxbaum sends us a recent poem, and her work reminds us of the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." Angela's creative work is also reflective of exactly what this long scroll of a page is all about -- it's life, and enjoying and respecting the moment(s) even as we move forward on our respective journeys.
Angela can be reached at Maitresse1@aol.com.
by Angela Buxbaum
Eleanor is reading the contract she has prepared, in which she has made various demands and even spelled out a deadline for finishing her story. "This 42 days and 42 nights is pretty cool, on paper at least," she says. "It makes us commit to living or dying by the words. That's such a romantic notion. But it's kind of crappy, too. It's so, been done already, like an endurance test. This isn't a physical education class for biographers and their characters."
Her biographer is drinking coffee. He listens. He waits. This late-night talking can be a game sometimes, but they both know how to play, and there are no rules. Part of the process, he thinks. Which is why they got into this thing together, and why his mind is so full of Eleanor, day and night, waking and sleeping. She is his character. She is his life. No matter what Eleanor says, this is about living or dying by the words -- indeed, it is all about that. He keeps quiet, however.
Eleanor holds up the contract and tears it in two. "We work until my story is complete. We can't put a deadline on that. And besides, maybe I have more than one story. Maybe I have too many stories. But you're the writer. You're my biographer. You figure it out. I need you to make it happen."
She comes closer. "I want to be a superstar," she says. "Nothing less will do."
Monday, August 11, 2008
"You must begin by making notes. You may have to make notes for years.... When you think of something, when you recall something, put it where it belongs," he said. "Put it down when you think of it. You may never recapture it quite as vividly the second time."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald to Sheilah Graham, 1940
... from Graham's memoir, Beloved Infidel, Page 239
Sunday, August 10, 2008
His name is Evan and he is with a girl but she is not his girlfriend. The girl's name is Peggy, after her grandmother, who is still very much alive, and this weirds her out, as if she is supposed to grow up and be exactly like the elderly woman who now sits all day watching old movies on AMC. Except that Peggy, the grandmother Peggy, can't stand it when AMC puts on that show called Mad Men. Why do they try to mess with the formula? Peggy asks Peggy one day. You don't need new shows that look like the old movies when you already have the old movies. Even Peggy (the grandmother) calls the movies old, and not classic. Peggy (the granddaughter) is at William's place. William is Evan's older brother. William has given Evan the nickname Goose, for no apparent reason. At least, Evan thinks so, and refuses to answer to it, even if Peggy calls him Goose, and now every other person who spends time in William's apartment calls him Goose as well. William is the eldest by three years. Last week, William gave Evan a loan so Evan could pay his rent. William figures Evan owes him. William loves the Olympics, and he's DVR'd the dressage competition. It's late and he's hungry for a cheeseburger but he wants to watch the horses. He reminds Evan that Evan owes him big-time and gives Evan twenty bucks. Get me one of those ritzy burgers, William says. You owe me big-time, he reminds Evan. Evan says he'll go if Peggy goes with him. Evan doesn't much care for Peggy but he also doesn't much know her. This is the only way he can get back at William, he figures, for making him go out at this time of the night while William sits back in his cozy chair and watches horses jump over fences. It seems like nonsense to Evan, but he doesn't try to understand William any further than it takes to get rent money (if necessary, which has happened just three times in the past year). Evan tells Peggy that he's got some insider information on William. Actually, he whispers this to Peggy as William shouts something at the TV. Apparently one of the horses did something wrong. Peggy is interested, because William is interesting, and maybe one day, she'll throw herself at William's feet and say Take me, take me now. (To set the record straight, Peggy is working on her degree at the community college. Also to set the record straight, Peggy probably spends too much time with her grandmother. And, to set the record straight one final time, Peggy likes the show Mad Men because there's a character named Peggy, and that Peggy is a real go-getter.) Evan and Peggy walk to the restaurant. William has money from who-knows-where (actually, Evan knows where but won't say -- he's saving this information for later -- the nickname Goose is not enough to ruse his gander; he's after bigger game and he'll be ready when the time is right) so he can live close to where the ritzy restaurants are. Evan and Peggy make small talk on the way to the restaurant. What kind of cheese would you like? the man at the bar says. Well, Evan thinks, it has to be white, like the tablecloths in the other room. Something white, he says. The cheese matches the box the burger comes with, and it's now, twenty-five minutes later, that Evan and Peggy are out the door and heading back toward William's apartment. Peggy says, What do you want to tell me about William? Come on. We've come this far and you haven't told me a thing. It's true. Evan has been unusually quiet. Peggy says, Tell me, Goose. And Evan hears her words in slow motion and he has the box with the burger open and he's munching on William's late-night snack because he doesn't want to be rude to Peggy and it's all William's fault anyway. What are you doing? Peggy asks with much surprise and a bit of drama too. She flings her arms in the air and knocks the burger the box the bag everything out of Evan's hands. They both watch as the mess lands. Evan smiles. He's down on one knee and puts the burger back in the box back in the bag and lets it sit there. He looks to Peggy. Somebody will be hungry tonight, he says. Peggy swears she is going to tell William everything, but suddenly she finds this all extremely funny. She kisses Evan, on the lips, when he's standing. They walk away. Several minutes go by and an attractive woman in heels walks up to the discarded burger.
SEE: The Erin O'Brien Owner's Manual for Human Beings
"Mystery burger deconstruction"
Today I will Believe in everything. I will Believe everything told to me. I will Believe everything I overhear in stolen conversations. I will Believe in the darkness and in the light, and I will Believe in silence, as well as the noise. Every little sound is a song. Each breath is like wine, or bread, or water. Every footstep is one footstep closer. Each doorway is a way inside. Today I will Believe in everything.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
a life-in-progress excerpt,
by Geoff Schutt
The crickets sing in Winter – honest to God they have not disappeared at the coming of this season. They are singing right now, if you listen closely. I know because they stay with me, right outside the windows, and as I lay my head upon a throw pillow, and sleep on a borrowed mattress with a sleeping bag to insulate me, I can hear the crickets singing, no matter that it’s Winter, and with the singing comes their pauses, as if they are like any other singers, needing to take breaths of air between verses, a kind a pausing that both lulls and allows one to appreciate the sound of their music in the first place. It’s actually an orchestra of cricket breathing, and when the singing begins again, it is exactly like summers I used to know, when even at night, nothing really stopped moving. Things were alive, and if I needed sleep, so be it, the crickets would then sing me into this sleep, and then into my dreams, and more often than not, into my cinematic dreams – the stories I told myself like short films, sometimes in black and white and other times in color. It was perfect sleep, meant for the living, and not the dying.
My cinematic dreams have now evolved into part of everyday life, so much so that my lives past and present converge and overlap. It could be a result of the isolation, or any combination of the isolation and shorter days, the bitter cold outdoors and spiraling drafts of gusty cool air inside, and a backdrop of spare, white walls, covered in tiny globs of orange poster fastener, seemingly sprinkled about like stars, left behind when my friend, who so kindly sublet to me this studio apartment, moved downstate. I just haven’t had time to clean these stars from the walls, nor have I found the time to hang up much in the way of decorative arts that could turn the apartment into a home. I don’t want a new home. I already have a home, though it is becoming more distant each day – each day that brings my cinematic dreams into more detail, with long conversations of friends and loved ones, and actual adventures ventured into this great city called Chicago.
It is New Year’s Eve. I’m not sure that a New Year will add anything good to my life. It could be fear talking, this fear that takes hold of me each day, when I honestly don’t know if courage means going forward or giving up – or giving in (is there a difference?). And maybe I like the tiny globs of orange poster fastener left on the walls because they do remind me of stars, and if I can keep the stars inside, the walls aren’t spare at all, but covered with the sky, and my cinematic dreams can then attempt to make sense for me of this place and point the way to the proper definition of courage.
During a cinematic dream, the same night the crickets seem to be singing at their loudest and most beautiful, coming to a crescendo of cricket caroling, a good friend of yours comes to visit you in Chicago, to this small apartment.
Anyhow, here’s the setup. There’s so much space in the studio because you don’t have a lot of things, personal belongings, with you. This is like camping out. You offer the bed to your friend, but he decides his back does better with a surface like the hardwood floors. He’s brought his own blankets, his own sleeping bag even, and what you don’t have, you can get at the store. Nothing fancy. You can visit the dollar store that’s within walking distance, or take the train a couple of stops over and visit the grocery store. You need groceries, that’s for sure. You’ve managed to make the rent through the temp jobs you’ve been working. These aren’t glamorous jobs, but they give you flexibility, and keep expectations low. Nobody thinks a temp is going to set the world on fire. The best temp job you get only lasts a day, at the famous Merchandise Mart. You get to be an administrative assistant to one of the vice presidents. You get to answer her phones, and make copies, and generally, just sit in her regular person’s chair. She’s expecting some big clients, and she needs somebody to sit in the chair and look professional. You have a suit, and you can do this, look professional. (Another temp job you get is for a video game software company. Now here is a dynamic place, like one of the old dot coms, with young people filled with energy and not realizing how good they have it running around, ready to set the world on fire with their latest video game, a violent sort of thing wherein characters like to do backwards somersaults and cut off heads and try out every sort of weapon and generally spill lots of blood. Your job is in data entry. You have a box of video game warranty cards to enter into the computer. Many of these are from six-year-old children in North Carolina or Michigan or Nebraska. These are kids who live in small towns, and they just love the violence and the blood and guts and are asking for more. They love the fighting best of all. Now you just do your job, even through such observations as these, and earn enough for rent and a few groceries.)
You convince yourself that this kind of job purgatory will lead you somewhere, that at the end of the assignment, there will be a revelation.
But time passes. And time keeps passing. And your friend is generous enough to visit to help ring in the New Year. You have no extra money, but you can show him the places you’ve discovered, and together, you’re going to paint Chicago whatever color is in these days for a good time. Your friend fills your refrigerator with groceries. You have enough liquor to really get wasted if you want. And on the night in question, New Year’s Eve, you head downtown to one of the parties that hasn’t yet sold out. So now you’re in this club and both you and your friend are checking out the girls. You convince yourself you will be your friend’s wingman and find him a girl to kiss at midnight, but you are an absolute failure at this - tonight, you just don't have it in you.
The midnight hour is upon you, and passes, though your friend is on his game and convinces a pretty girl to dance with him. The dance lasts long enough that you can snap a photograph. This is New Year’s Eve, so rules are mean to be broken, and people can ask for things like dances from pretty girls they'll never see again, and kisses at midnight.
Soul-searching is pretty hard when you’re isolated not by choice, but by action. Your nature is to be inside one of those video games for the company you did all of the data entry for – to be a fighter and discover how to beat the game, be a winner, get your confidence back, get everything that you can’t put a finger on – the intangible parts of you that are gone – your nature would lead you to getting these parts back.
About an hour after midnight, already into the New Year, a girl who works at the bar comes around and approaches you. You see her coming, and you’re composing words inside your head, but nothing comes out, nor needs to. The girl, who is very attractive, comes right up to you and kisses you on the cheek. And it’s one of the sweetest kisses you’ve ever felt.
Your friend, who is suddenly your wingman, has come through. He has actually offered to pay the girl to kiss you, but she does it out of kindness. And she chooses your cheek, because a kiss on the cheek isn’t a passionate one, is not a kiss of intimacy between lovers, but is instead a kiss of kindness, and most of all - an honest kiss. There's not enough money in the world that can buy an honest kiss. An honest kiss just has to happen, even if by suggestion - but organically too, as if this was part of a master plan far beyond our own comprehension.
Cinematically, it works beautifully, indeed - like a dream, as if it really were a dream, or conversely, really was real. There are fireworks exploding outside. Days after the New Year, when you are alone again in the apartment, people are still setting off leftover fireworks, and when you can't sleep anymore, you just sit up and wonder if the crickets are going to return, or if they've been scared off by the noise, or if they have succumbed to Winter.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Eleanor's fortune cookie today delivered a fortune in French, which Eleanor is taking as a sign that she's meant to go to Paris in the near future. (Her biographer has no comment on whether or not this will be included as part of her story.)
"A Chinese fortune cookie with a fortune written in French -- how wonderful is that?" Eleanor says.
"Vous avez beaucoup d'energie et jouissez d'une autonomie sans commune mesure."
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
"Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?"
-- Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol's birthday -- August 6, 1928. For at least 15 minutes today, everyone in the world should create something. Eleanor thinks that would be very cool indeed. We are going to begin right now.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
"Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash."
-- Leonard Cohen
Sometimes, in the deep dark middle of the night, in that magical time between dusk and dawn, you want only to listen. -- Geoff
Monday, August 4, 2008
It's Day 15 of 42 -- our 42 Days and 42 Nights to get my story down, even in longhand, even without punctuation, even without chapters or paragraphs -- just to GET IT ALL DOWN, the words, I mean, about my life, from before I was born to age 17, and then after that, there can be sequels and all sorts of new adventures, but right now I am looking at the calendar and I know that I am as responsible for the outcome of these 42 Days and Nights as my biographer, so I just want to state all of this, for the record, and to also let you know that I am really appreciative of everybody who is reading and who is interested in what happens and how it happens and whether or not WE WILL GO MAD during this whole creative process (I mean, can a character, as real as I am when I blink my eyes, go mad, as in reality, not fiction? -- I haven't even brought this up to my biographer but I suppose it's a question to ask on my part, to clarify, at least -- what are my limitations as a character who wants so desperately to be as real as any of you reading this -- I keep using the word REAL because, well, its definition eludes me, at least in my current circumstance) ... anyhow, in one of the earlier postings on this long scroll of a page, my biographer wrote that "motion is a good thing," and so, I guess, the stage is set and everything is clear, what needs to be done and accomplished, and the work is up to us, but we do get strength from you, every time you visit (did I say "Thank You?") ... and it may seem as though I am rambling on here, but I am just repeating those words in my head, the words besides the Thank You, the words -- "motion is a good thing, motion is a good thing, motion is a good thing ...." -- Eleanor Spain
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Once again, I return to a past life to "center" my current life, and my current writing. What follows is a short fiction, written as autobiography, but from the point of view of Susan Brady, an imagined actress who never quite hit the big time, but was in the movies during their Golden Age.
The question asked is this: What would you do if your defining career moment was a bit part -- as an extra -- in arguably the "greatest film ever made," Citizen Kane? And then, long after your career in film is over, a young high school reporter comes to interview you -- about your career, your life, what you gave up and what you held onto.
This fiction was originally published in The Laurel Review. -- Geoff
"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." -- Jorge Luis Borges
"Dancing With Orson Welles"
by Geoff Schutt
Would you like something to drink? I've got some coffee brewing, and there's a Coke in the refrigerator. Or I think I have orange juice, if you'd want that. Can I get you a beer? No, I'm sorry, I don't have any beer. However, I do have one bottle of red wine I've saved all these years. This was a very long time ago. My friend Louisa gave me the bottle after my scene was shot in Citizen Kane, which is the reason you're here interviewing me, isn't it?
I've watched the film on the VCR. And I still wonder at what instant Susan Alexander's soul became my soul. You look closely and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's in the eyes. Watch Susan's eyes.
Do you remember the scene right after Charles Foster Kane buys the best newspapermen in the country, when he brings them from the Chronicle to the Inquirer? He throws a big party to celebrate his success and the future success of the Inquirer with such talent working for it. He brings in the dancing girls. I'm one of the dancing girls. I went to the library and looked it up so you'd have something specific to write. It was scene forty-one in the shooting script. Anyway, depending upon the camera angle I'm either the third girl along the left side or I'm in the center, when the line moves full circle. For that one moment, I'm in the center, you see.
This is important. If you look closely, you can see the hunger in my eyes, because just as Charles Foster Kane recognized the talent in the newspapermen, Mr. Orson Welles himself recognized my talent. Mr. Orson Welles! Mr. Orson Welles never danced with chorus girls, at least not off camera.
My first husband Monte was the one who said it. People don't understand talent. Of course Monte lost his head over my friend Louisa. This was down at the club. Back to understanding for a second. Take Susan Alexander as your example, when Charles Foster Kane discovers her and puts her in front of the public like some sort of Christmas present. But the public didn't know what to do with her, isn't that so? The timing was bad, maybe. Maybe a lot of it had to do with timing. For both of us.
At first we were happy, Monte and I were. We had a little place in the city. I always preferred New York to California, though I worked on both coasts, and you might think this strange coming from a motion picture actor to say I didn't enjoy Hollywood. But I didn't. I loved the business but not the community, and in New York were my friends and my husband.
We had two bedrooms (we used one for storage, so much room!). We'd sit and listen to the radio on Saturday nights when I was between shows. We would follow those voices and that music and we'd wake up somewhere far away, in other bodies it seemed sometimes, with different voices and different ways of thinking. More than once. Because, you see, I believed in fate then. Nothing more than fate and what fate would do to me. Pay close attention to this, that it would be what fate would do to me, not for me, not the way it was for other people. Make note of the distinction, please, when you type this into your article.
When I met Paul, my second husband - you may have heard of Paul Dennis, I insisted I was going to be a star. I was dancing in a little club at night and taking acting lessons during the day. Paul was writing something for the new act. He sat at the front table, along the right side, this is how I remember him. But I was careful not to lose my head over him too quickly. I didn't know he was a writer. I didn't know why he was watching me.
Even today I'll go to the supermarket to pick up some groceries and as I'm leaving I'll glance behind me. There's almost always a stockboy or a cashier with his or her eyes on me, sticking to my skin, as if they know. They must know! They think they've seen me somewhere. If they'd ask I would tell them. Watch the movie, I'd say, and there I am, in the scene with the newspapermen. Of course it's been quite a long time since I danced so gracefully, but the power stays with you. You see me there, the third one on the left side, or there in the center? Look closely and you can see Susan Alexander's eyes.
People didn't understand Susan Alexander and finally Charles Foster Kane had to lock her up in a palace just to keep her. Isn't that what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about Zelda? That now he could understand why they kept princesses locked up in high towers? You live isolated like that because it's the only way you can remain safe. You find you're fragile. You're full of life, naturally, but terribly fragile too. You can't accept false criticism because it's just that. False. You have to wonder, what do those people know?
Well, Paul began writing for the radio. He met Mr. John Houseman, who later became an actor but was a radio producer back then. Mr. Houseman worked with Mr. Welles on The Mercury Theatre, though by the time Paul met him, the glory days of the show The Mercury Theatre of the Air were past. This was after they did The War of the Worlds, which was back in 1938. They had also made this glorious production of Les Miserables, do you know the book by Victor Hugo? I remember - and this was even before Paul and I got together, it might have even been when I was still with Monte, near the end, but I can't recall exactly, it might have been afterwards - but I remember how wonderful Mr. Welles himself was as Jean Valjean. The program was done in six episodes and everything else in memory is blocked out, this is how affect by the performances I was. All I can tell is I was glued to my radio, because this was art and making art was ultimately what I wanted to do, not just some silly musicals or melodramas. Of course Citizen Kane was great art and almost transcends the word "art," wouldn't you agree?
Let me tell you, there was this actress, I do still remember her name - she was Alice Frost - who played Cosette. I always loved the name Cosette and I thought if I had a something to name, like a pet, or if I ever had a daughter, God forbid! - if I had someone or something I could name, I would call her Cosette, after the character first and then after Alice Frost, because she made me weep, her performance was so good.
Anyway, Paul got to meet Mr. Welles once, though Mr. Welles wasn't around much at that time because he was off doing his movies and then he was in South America. I told Paul to ask Mr. Welles about me if he saw him again. I was sure Mr. Welles would remember the time we danced, when we were alone and the cameras were turned off, the exact moment I became Susan Alexander.
I recognized Paul's reluctance. It was as if, you know, as if he were protecting me. I told him I appreciated his protection but sometimes a person has to take a risk, and so I said, please, let me see Mr. Welles. For old time's sake, I said.
You know when Susan Alexander is talking to the newspaper reporter after Charles Foster Kane is dead, and she thinks back to their marriage and her life in the palace? And she says to the reporter that everything in their life together was Charles Foster's idea, except in the end she was finally able to be free. It didn't take away from the fact Charles Foster Kane had tried to make her a star, or that he had built for her everything that existed in her wildest dreams.
If the people don't see it in you, you have to take their eyes and make them see you. That's what I've always considered to be truth.
So I told Paul it was my time, that it took nothing away from my feelings for him. Every now and then I heard or read about Paul's accomplishments. He became a producer as well as a writer and made radio programs entire families grew up listening to. He went into television later. But I had to leave the palace Paul built for me. You must remember that no matter how isolated you are in your palace, you still have control over your dreams. And if you lose that control you lose your life. You lose everything.
My third husband, Alan, was a banker. I was the star in the family. There wasn't any competition. I didn't love Alan, and looking back, I realize now how much he was a career move for me. When you are unable to marry for love you must do so for practical reasons, like Charles Foster Kane marrying Emily Norton because she's the niece of the president of the United States. You marry for that power. You would hope both sides get something from it, as they would in a business partnership. You must equate life and love in these terms at certain points in your life.
So I suppose I never took marriage all that seriously. I took sleeping with a man seriously, however, and I wasn't promiscuous. You know Humphrey Bogart? It's been said he never slept with a woman that he didn't eventually marry. I admire that. My difficulty was this, that once I was inside a marriage, and after the commitment was proven to me, I would lose interest. It happened sooner or later but it always happened. It might've helped had I married the right man at the very beginning, which I thought I was doing with Monte. I was barely nineteen. I had thick blonde hair. I had smooth skin and a sparkle in my eyes, can you imagine?
My fourth husband, William - I hated the name "Bill" so I never called him anything but the full William - was an accountant for one of those big firms you find in every large city. William was extraordinarily businesslike - polite, I guess is the right word. He told me about the pride he took in his work, how he felt a man's work was his child and as one nurtures a child to maturity, so must one nurture work. There's that sort of responsibility to it.
I was waitressing at a little place called Guiseppe's Tearoom, which was within eyeball distance of Central Park. You know where the Dakota building is? Where that rock star John Lennon lived? Guiseppe's was right around the corner. Had the Dakota a few other buildings not been there, it would've been entirely possible to see Central Park from Guiseppe's.
When I told William I'd been married three times already and I was still on the underside of thirty he didn't make any comment. I couldn't tell what he was thinking and I remember being somehow frightened by that, because before William I could tell what my men were thinking. I suppose you think it's funny, me telling you this. But I felt daring to open up like that, to William. I thought for a long time that some things are better talked about without talking. Now I'm not saying I didn't enjoy sex, because I did. I may look old and wrinkled now but I've always pictured myself as a sensual creature, a woman out of D.H. Lawrence without being so obvious. I thought I knew where William's mind was, in my sex, but he wasn't interested in that, you see, and so I did not, for the first time, know what to do or how to think or react. He did frighten me. It was the only time I felt vulnerable. Except when I was acting. Because when I was acting I was very vulnerable, you understand. One has to be vulnerable in order to get past one's inhibitions.
But it was necessary, all of this - what I'm telling you, it was necessary. Don't you see? My husbands. Don't you see? All that I did was necessary. I didn't want to be a flash in the pan. I didn't want to peak early. A career is more than one part, just as love is more than love one time.
Dorothy Comingore? No, I didn't know her. Dorothy was nothing compared to Susan. Dorothy got the credit in the books but Susan transcended her. They had to give credit to someone. I'm only saying that wasn't acting. Nobody could act her own self away. That's all of our goal, of course, but it is simply impossible. Nobody's that good. A John Wayne is a John Wayne in whatever character's guise he puts on. So is a Cary Grant, or a Tyrone Power, or a Clark Gable. You can't escape yourself, and if people like you, why should you even try? All I'm saying is this, that Dorothy Comingore was the receptacle, the device if you want to call her that. And Susan Alexander, she came from somewhere else. Like possession.
But I knew where Dorothy Comingore came from. She'd been working with The Three Stooges. She'd come from Charlie Chan movies. She was called Linda Winters then. She was unemployed when Susan appeared in her life. The rest of them, they were mostly radio people, you've heard that. They couldn't see past closed doors. The fact that you could take radio people and put them in front of camera and expect everything to click, it was almost a fluke, don't you agree? Like there was something else at work, some higher power, don't you agree?
Some mornings I see Susan Alexander when I'm still groggy from sleep, after I lift my head from my pillow, when the light has begun its creeping across the blankets. She'll be at the end of my bed, watching over me, as if to tell me it's all been worth it. If you have one person who sees you, really sees mind you, you've been discovered. Take the story of the writers. The old writer and the young writer are talking, and the young one wants to be famous. He asks the old writer how many readers he should have to be declared famous. The old writer looks at the young one and answers "Four." So you see, I had four husbands who believed in me. When you, young man, grow old and frail a few decades from now, mark my words. If you've had just four people who really appreciate you, you've made yourself into something. And it's something permanent, too.
Would you like some more wine? Let me fill your glass. Would you like some cheese? I forgot to offer you some cheese. I'll be just a second. I think I have some in the refrigerator. Wait right here, won't you? Don't go away.
Let me give you something of mine to look at. My scrapbook, all of my early publicity stills. Most of these I had to pay for myself. My reviews. See that one, from the Times? I realize it's small, but read what it says. Let me read it for you. Read the date first, see, it's yellowed, but you can read the year: 1944. I'd spent a good thirteen years in the business, both in Hollywood and back in New York. This was my comeback. At age twenty-nine, can you imagine! Already in need of a comeback.
I had a part in Knickerbocker Holiday when it was on Broadway back in 1938. It was a strange story, if you don't know it. It takes place in the 17th century, in New Amsterdam, and Washington Irving is the narrator. And there is all of this stuff about dictators. I don't imagine FDR was very happy, because a lot of things were implied, you see, even though we could say, look, it's the 17th century, not today. But the most glorious moment in the whole production, at least on Broadway, was when Walter Huston, who played Governor Peter Stuyvesant, sang that beautiful number, September Song. Did you know that Walter Huston was never in another Broadway musical? I felt so privileged to be a part of a show with Mr. Walter Huston.
Anyway, in 1944, the film version of the musical was released, and it was supposed to be even more slapstick. We had such a weird collection of actors. Shelley Winters, do you know Shelley Winters? And Charles Coburn. He was in a lot of shoot-em-ups later. But read the review. My review. My God how I lobbied for a part, any part, and look, I'm singled out! "A bright light in an otherwise worn production is the small but memorable performance by little-known screen veteran Susan Brady." Well, you can read the rest of it on your own, can't you?
But let me tell you, whenever I hear September Song, I think back to Mr. Walter Huston's voice and I actually get shivers down my spine. There will never be another Mr. Walter Huston. Kurt Weill may have been a musical genius, and I'm sure he was, but it takes a genius like Mr. Huston to make a genius' work like Kurt Weill's something which goes beyond what we can explain in human terms, in mere words. Which is what art is, isn't it? True art, I mean. What we artists all strive to achieve.
Did I tell you I got what I considered my first real education in the movies with Busby Berkeley, in that movie Footlight Parade? There were a hundred of us girls sliding and shivering down a waterfall into a little lake. The water was like ice but I was going to be a movie star! Busby Berkeley taught me this without ever knowing so. I never got the chance to thank him, but he's another one who is in my heart forever. I would like you to list him as one of my major influences as a young performer.
You want more on Citizen Kane? I've told you the highlights, my experience, and still you want more?
I never spoke to Joseph Cotten. I know some of the other girls liked him, he was dashing in his own way, but he was only an actor. He was not like Mr. Welles. He did not have the spark of life like Susan Alexander.
Please listen to me: I know my beauty has passed, indeed my whole life is passing. I live through parts of it each day, but all in order, like a film. I know exactly what happens.
I feel you're not really listening to me. Please listen to me.
You say you're a senior. Where? At West Jefferson High? Oh, so that's how you found about me? Because your principal is my next-door neighbor. Yes, we've spoken. Neighbors should speak to one another. Yes, I wave to him when he leaves for school in the morning. I'm an early riser myself. Old habits die hard. Now tell me about your newspaper. Is it a good newspaper? I'll let you borrow one of my old still photographs, one of my publicity shots, if you promise to give it back when you're finished. Come here closer to me. Sit on this sofa with me, won't you? Have some more wine. You haven't touched your glass. Sip it, like this.
We'll look through my scrapbook together.
I suppose your parents are going to hate me for giving you wine, but when in France, as they say. Well, do you know what they say? You are of the legal drinking age, aren't you? What is the legal drinking age these days? Well, never mind. Don't tell me. Please, let us have our secrets. It's fun to have secrets. I haven't had to keep a secret in quite some time and frankly, I miss it. God in heaven, listen to me go! I have had too much of it myself, but Louisa was exactly on the mark. This is a fine, fine bottle of wine.
You ask, what if I had children of my own? What a strange question to ask an old woman. Would I have been a good mother, let me ask you. Put away your notebook. Yes, put down your pen. This is personal, but just the same, I'd like you to hear it. Maybe I like you, that's all. Don't sit there and look so surprised. Anyway, you wouldn't go passing stories, would you?
My mother was an actress. Except while I danced on Broadway and in the movies, my mother was part of a circus act. People would come from miles around to the city where mother was playing. That's what they called her act, Scandal. There was a movie called Scandal and I was in a film called George White's Scandals, but they aren't any relation to mother's act.
She met my father in one of those towns. She left show business to raise a family. But I was an only child.
I think my mother loved me, although when I turned out beautiful like her, she grew jealous. I was beautiful early in life. I could make myself up just like one of Mr. Ziegfeld's American girls, the ones he put on his stage. We were all young. There is such power in a youthful beauty.
But jealousy, yes, it was true, take my word, it can happen. When I turned beautiful and said I wanted to become an actress, just like her, she got angry. She said a fifteen-year-old, sixteen-year-old girl had no business thinking about being a showgirl.
Would I have been a good mother? Well, let me ask you this. Let me ask you, what if I had a daughter, and what if I was jealous when my daughter turned beautiful? Because I know she would turn beautiful. Beauty is a curse passed down through the generations. It is a curse, I tell you, because how do you tell beautiful people apart? We have no distinguishing characteristics. We are perfectly formed. And there is no good in that. It only increases the competition. We lose and the ugly girls, or the plain girls with the perfect smile, or perfect body but physical flaws elsewhere, they win. It isn't fair, but I know - I know - life isn't fair. So you make the best you can.
Now if I had a daughter of my own, you see, she might even want to be a showgirl. She might be better than I was. It is selfishness, I understand, but this I could not bear. Not unless I had achieved my dream first.
When a talent isn't recognized, but someone close to you is recognized, it's not a crime is it to feel something? Especially when you've worked so hard your whole life?
Let me tell you one story. When you are acting, you take chances. There was this one audition. It was an open call for girls to be in the chorus for a Judy Garland film. There were ten or twelve girls including me all lined up. One by one we were supposed to introduce ourselves. We were going to do a number as a group. Those girls the director liked would get to perform individually.
I wasn't going to leave anything to chance. I danced in front of the rest of the girls. I can imagine what they were thinking in their confused little minds, that I'd started the group number early, but this was my own number. I danced from one end of the stage to the other. When you've given them your soul, there's nothing left, nothing to fall back on. You do what you were born to do. There's nothing more possible.
Stop for a moment. You're writing too fast. Don't you new-fashioned reporters always use tape recorders?
My last part was in a Fred Astaire film. The Belle of New York was released in 1952. I was 36 when we shot the film. Most of the girls in the chorus were 20. We were in the bachelor dinner scene. It was only a few seconds long. The film lost a lot of money, even with Fred Astaire's name on it. But that's not the point. The point is I could blend in with any of them, any of the twenty-year-olds.
Then, of course, everything stopped.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Excuse me, I should assume you are grown up and I should say, after high school. Do you plan to be a writer, to go to college and be a writer? Listen to me with all of your strength when I tell you don't compromise your dreams. I didn't compromise mine. You may write that into the article. Write that I never compromised. If you leave this house today a changed person, even slightly changed, I will have fulfilled some purpose.
This is what I believe.
Here, stand with me. Put your notebook and your pen on that coffee table and stand with me. Hold out your arms and give me your hands. No, don't be frightened. I'm going to show you something. I don't expect you to be able to put this into your article. But maybe it will inspire you, the way I was inspired once a very long time ago, before your parents were even born. Maybe you'll remember this, years from now, when you're off being successful. Or when you're old like me with nothing else but memories holding you together. Put your hands in mine. Good. You have good hands. I'll hum the song and you follow my lead.
Close your eyes.
Your shoulders are tense. Please do not be afraid when I touch your shoulders.
Wait - I'm not going to hurt you. I'm an old woman, how could I hurt you? Don't you think about running off, please don't.
If you believe in me as I believe in you - and I do believe in you, after this hour we've had together how could I not believe? - stand up straight and allow me to show you something.
This is what we'll do. I'll picture you as Mr. Welles. We're on the set and I'll imagine nobody's around. Mr. Welles starts up some music. He leads me and I dare not make a noise or fall out of step.
You follow along close, like that. That's good. You're a natural dancer, young man.Now, let me ask you, and you do not have to answer, and if you do, don't answer this without thinking long and hard about the question, doesn't this make life worth its trouble? It's all in how you believe, isn't it?
Not in what you believe.