Friday, September 17, 2010

Amelia at Muriel's or in Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Amelia is here, back here in Mudford. I think the name she gives to the town her sister lives in says it all. The last place on earth she wants to end up, but the place she ends up all the same. She believes she's dreaming at first and it's one of those dreams we're all familiar with. In mind, the phone call won't go through, or I can't find the room I'm supposed to meet my class in. . . everyone has their variations on the theme of being impotent. Amelia believes she's bested it, that she's managed her dreams as she's managed her life. Mind over matter, right Dr. Freud. Amelia thinks she can do what she's always done, change the course of the narrative and make it work for her. She finds her missing charts, she discovers her navigator in the back of the plane where he's supposed to be and she never, ever gets left behind. She tells herself how the narrative of her dream unfolds and so be it.

Not this time. And that's where she gets stuck, is this a dream or is this real? We all get stuck when we realize how little control we have. Do we accept that, or fight against it. This is the question I pose to her. The answer . . . forthcoming.

Friday, September 10, 2010

things and more things: or what Amelia Earhart has in her pocket

Amelia finds a cigarette lighter and a pack of Lucky Strikes. Also an emergency fund stashed away for safekeeping. She wears a leather jacket, a man's style button down shirt and a pair of trousers. She wants for nothing. That's what it should be in the end, you should be able to let everything go but the bare essentials.

My mother couldn't, didn't, wouldn't and thus we're faced with the debris of a life. In her apartment you find all as it was the day she died. A four bedroom Upper West Side apartment with the walls hung with memories. Here is her dear friend Janice's painting and my aunt's. A startlingly accurate rendering of my sister as a high school student with her hair clipped perfectly in the foyer. Prints by well known artists. Collections of paperweights and antique bottles, Christmas plates, quilts . . .and the most macabre piece that always reminded me my mother performed abortions, a print showing a pregnant woman in a courtyard, next to her a man walking away from her with a giant shears in hand. My mother is everywhere and nowhere, although her ashes sit in the back closet, waiting for us to spread them. She is with her things, it's fitting. But of course, the things are left behind for us to disperse along with her remains.

Why do we collect so much? We come into the world alone and leave alone, yet we cart around so many possessions. They remind us of moments, and I wonder as my mother's memory failed what they evoked? I will never know. There were few things left to say at the end, and if there were, she no longer had the vocabulary to express much but her thanks and her love. Now I am left to interpret the what and the why and the how of her life . . . through the things she left behind when she vanished.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One sibling cries, the other doesn't. Sisters, brothers, and why I chose to write about Amelia and Muriel.

Everyone tells you that sibling relationships are complicated. I'm living proof. I have an older sister who I adored when I was growing up. And an older brother who basically acted as if I was non-existent. As time went on my sister's relationship with me got more and more complicated. And my brother's? Well it stayed just about the same. Now we're all adults and our parents are dead. What has changed between us exactly? I wonder about it, because I just spent the weekend being a ping pong ball. First one called, then the other. I listened. I tried to do my best to talk to both of them. And I realized that I'm in a familiar position. I'm the go-between, the mediator, and something that would surprise those who are close to me, the voice of reason. Let me add that I'm a mere ten years younger than my sister, and twelve years younger than my brother. But why does that matter now? It's not about the numbers, it's about the relationship. Theirs seems set in stone. Yet I wonder if that's true. Or if this is just the last time they're going to get to struggle. Once we finish probating the will and dispose of my mother's assets what will force them to interact with each other? Will they ever speak again?

I haven't had time for the novel in the last few days, I've been writing an essay about my own children growing up and my attempt to deal with it. It's humorous, and I hope almost finished. When it's done I hope to return to Amelia. I'm nearing the end of my time with her and with Muriel. But I understand why I've dedicated so much to this novel. I'm not just fascinated with her, I'm also fascinated by the sibling relationship. It one that impacts every other close relationship you have. It doesn't matter whether you end up talking to your siblings, or not. It's still what started you on whatever course you take. And the love, the hate, the indifference is there. It lives with you and in you and you have to deal with it.

I watch my own siblings at war. And I know that they love each other, but it's not a particularly good kind of love. And it doesn't make either of them happy. It's a trap, the love they feel. Who knows what will come of it. Frankly, I have a much better shot at understanding Muriel and Amelia's relationship. Now isn't that sad?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Amelia Earhart stopped off at the Dakota . . .I miss you John

She stands in the crowd outside the Dakota. She begins to understand what must have happened after her plane was lost. Yes the circumstances are different. She died doing what she loved best. She understood the risks in it. John Lennon was trying his best to be private, to have a life apart from being a Beatle. Of course much was made of how he'd just recorded Double Fantasy, the murder committed by a crazed fan. Is there really such a thing?

I mourned John for weeks, frankly I miss him still. And I'll admit it, I loved John the most of the four. I loved him because he was clever, and had all the quips. He was the edgiest Beatle. When he was killed, I lost whatever naivete I had left. Funny that it was this that did it for me, though it had been chipped away in pieces. 1968 was a pretty bad year, but I was young then. I suppose that the young are less connected to their mortality, by the time John was murdered I was nearing thirty. It devastated me. So senseless.The man had done nothing but bring people joy. And of course aggravate the FBI to boot.

Amelia wonders about what happened in the days after her plane was lost. And in the intervening years. She was famous in much the same way John was, they both were claimed as icons. They both were made larger than life. Of course Lennon by turns enjoyed living his life in public, see bed-in, and abhorred it. Amelia was always careful to keep her private life, private. She wanted fame then, back when the parameters were easier to fix. But would she want it now? It's certainly a question, one that she tries to answer . . .

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nature is angry, and why Amelia is the best of what we're capable of.

I find myself pondering the future. It doesn't look good. This summer the weather in my part of the country has been unrelentingly miserable. Plants that usually do well are frying. I see my new foliage, for summer palm trees, for winter pine. What plants can manage this new, obviously bizarre weather? Are we going to bio-genetically engineer them? I hope so because otherwise Russians will be fighting over loaves of bread much as they did in the eighteen hundreds. As for Pakistan, a quarter is underwater. Do you think those people are going to love each other when all they care about is getting enough to eat to make it through to the next day?

We fiddle while the world burns. We talk and talk and talk and never listen. If we could listen to what the natural world is saying, we'd be pretty scared. But human beings are deaf to anything but self interest. Or so it would seem at this point. I worry for my children, I worry for everyone.

My father was oddly optimistic about human beings, he believed we were capable of wonderful things. He was also optimistic about this country. He thought it the greatest country on the face of the earth. I don't know if he would be able to sustain that optimism now. Amelia was similarly optimistic. You'd really have to be to try what she tried. You'd have to believe that you were the lucky one. And that luck would out.

We need more than luck now, we need action. We need to change our selfish ways and our selfish lifestyles and fast. It may well be too late. I hope not. Because both views are correct, humans are capable of remarkable things. They soar, but they also crash and burn. For the sake of us all, I still hope we can manage the former.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

After the Vacation, some thoughts

First, for those who might have been keeping up, I was away. I had no internet access and so no opportunity to post. Also, I have to admit, my mind was a little blank. It wasn't the most exciting or stress free vacation, but it was a vacation. I really can't and won't complain, especially since I now apparently live in the land of eternal summer.

Although I can't claim to have been as productive as I am when I'm glued to my computer screen I did some work. And thought about Amelia, thought about families and sisters and the odd bond that starts so young and never quite lets go. It took me so long to get to what was obvious, sisters are competitors from birth. When one sister is so out-sized, the other can never really hope to catch up. Yet Muriel has what Amelia loses, a life. It's what my Amelia hungers for and gets a chance to re-experience, life in all its delicious complexity. It won't last forever, just for the course of the book, still it's something to be able to grab hold again.

I think what's sad is how much we forget this. That life is truly remarkable and wonderful. All the truisms do apply, it's a gift. Yet we spend so much of our time worrying over the small things, enjoying so little of what goes on around us. We see, but we don't take things in. I'm guilty as charged. When I'm away from my life I realize that the things I hold precious are really quite ordinary. The quality of the light on any given day, watching those I love when they're unaware that they're being observed, walking down a street I've never been down before and seeing, really seeing the people who pass. Eating. Drinking. Thinking. Loving. Wanting. Needing. Doing. Waiting. Everything in its turn.

Muriel offers Amelia the opportunity to do all this and Amelia gives Muriel the opportunity to take hold herself. Because grief is potent, it can make someone lose whatever optimism they had. I want Muriel to learn how to live past her grief, and I want Amelia to understand what living out the rest of her life could have meant. I want both of them to engage with each other and to rediscover what they had as children, that incredible sense of wonder. Really, to be honest, I want that for all of us.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Surviving Amelia: or as Elvis says 'Accidents Can Happen'

Some people believe that everything is fated. Some religions teach us that. I think this is human, the desire for order. We want to believe that we have control even though everything that happens around us proves otherwise. We also seem to believe that we do everything we do for a reason, I think this is because human beings are certain that change is possible. Yet now that I've matured a bit I wonder, does any of us really change all that much? Our vision of who we are is at odds with reality in this respect. Or so it appears to me. I look at the image of myself on this website and I hate to admit that I'm more like that little girl than not. And I look at my children and see personalities that were vivid the moment they were born. Yes, there are small changes, people can learn how to be less fearful, or more. They can learn how to take chances and find that taking chances makes them happy. They can learn to appreciate food, music, art, writing . . . they can enrich their lives. And they can fall in love and open themselves to someone else, or not. . .all these things have an effect. . . still.
The basic temperament, the basic person is there underneath it all. The question is what you do with that.

What was Amelia like when she was young. If you believe her sister's version, she was always the leader, always up for experimenting, always willing to take risks. She always empathized with the plight of those less fortunate. If you believe her sister she was always "Amelia." But of course this novel is about the versions of truth we tell ourselves. I don't buy Muriel's story. I think it too tidy and too convenient. What I do think is that Muriel protected her sister by writing such a neat version of their history together.

I think of this, the sisterly bond and I think of how best friends, best friends who are women share the same sort of bond. We protect each other, and we manage somehow not to see how the other person is clearly. Particularly that is, when we're young. There's something about being young that obscures the truth. It's a fortunate thing too because it gives us an opportunity to become close to people we might otherwise avoid as too risky, or too intimidating, or just too damaged. We see their potential when we're young. We see what they might become.

Muriel knows what her sister became, so her story is told in reverse. It's interesting to deconstruct it and imagine what really must have happened. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is simple. Nothing is tidy in life. It's the untidiness that fascinates us.
If I can get that right, then I have done my job.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Old Man via John Prine and of course Steve Goodman

I saw Steve Goodman sing this song long ago at a club that no longer exists in NYC.
Steve is long gone, but John Prine keeps on keeping on.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Amelia Earhart Lives! Gotcha.

If you could come back and change one thing what would it be? I've asked that one before and I happen to think that those of us who aren't in Hollywood movies or characters in fiction don't have one thing. We have a series of events that shape our lives and change the course of our own her/his story. I was born a Jewish child, a late breaking red diaper baby in the town of Washington D.C. many years ago. I grew up there for the best five years of my life, but then we moved to NYC and that was where I lived out the rest of my childhood. I'm not sure I can call it a childhood exactly since I spent much of it mothering my own mother while my father worked weekends and nights and flew away to some very communist countries, working on copyright law etc. He was in Cuba and East Germany and helped to represent both of those governments. My mom and I stayed home, she worked as most of you know, she was a doctor and I was her sidekick. I helped out at the hospital when I was in high school. I was going to be a doctor too.

Hey, so was Amelia. She nursed in Toronto, which certainly helped to confirm her view that war was wrong. She nursed the wounded men returning from World War I and saw firsthand how vicious human beings could be . . . and asked why? And said, "no." Then she moved on, each time it seemed as if she was stopping but indeed she was passing through. Of course, my story centers on her stay at Columbia when she was trying to add credits so she could apply to medical school.

Today as I polish and prune and mostly frankly add details to connect the threads of this novel, (feeling good, hopefully looking good), I think about how much of what we do ends up being out of our control. Yet as we do it we feel certain that we are living the life we wanted, or avoiding that life somehow. It's not exactly luck, or fate, or even chance. It's a collection of so many things; and I believe much of it begins with our beginnings. If we're born to parents who have some money we're already better situated to have choices, that being said, the choices aren't always what we think. We start off wanted to win the world for ourselves, and possibly for them. We end up winning what we can, and accepting who we are. . . that is if we're lucky enough to learn that life is really lived best in the moment.

I was always a writer, but I have had to learn how to become a successful writer. That's a different sort of process. I wish I was a quicker study, I am at other things, frankly most things. But not this. This has taken much more time than I would have thought. I have trouble looking at what I do and seeing it in the way one has to. I have trouble stepping back and I know why that is. But I also know how essential it is. I think Amelia wasn't that different in the beginning, she was looking for her passion and found it, but even once she did she wasn't sure she could afford to follow it. Luck? Yes. Timing? Obviously. Clarity of vision? Precisely. Living in the moment?
Always and forever. Though in this case the moment is 1980.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Explorer's Club, the Legacy Society and Amelia Earhart

I have of course come up with a way to tie things up. And I want it to begin in the year 1978 at the Explorer's Club in Upper Manhattan. I want Muriel there, giving a talk. However, digging a little deeper into this, I find that the club didn't admit women as members till 1981. Interesting since Amelia Earhart is a member of their Legacy Society, I'm guessing this was something that was done after her death but who knows, the club's been around since 1904. Its home is a red brick building, and inside there are artifacts from expeditions to the North and South pole, plus more than a few dead, taxidermified animals; a polar bear, a cheetah. It features wood paneling on the walls and ceilings, leather armchairs and couches, and exudes a certain Teddy Roosevelt macho scent, even via photography. I find it the perfect place for our women, Muriel and young Sam to meet for the very first time and begin their journey together. It's a bastion of male ascension and assumption, even in 1978.

I think Muriel will acknowledge this slyly and Sam more directly, after all she's brash and young and there for her own research. Muriel is there to give a talk and she wants to do right by her sister but is also prone to giving in to convention. She's strong willed but also a bit strait-laced. I look forward to this encounter, the one that precipitates everything in the book, the one that sets the train of events in motion and leads to Amelia's resurrection.

And I look forward to these two strong willed women teaming up in the presence of so many assertive and opinionated males. Or as someone very wise once said, "Time to rock and roll."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The excruciating life of a fiction writer Part Seventeen

But I digress. I write because I love it. So why can't I finish this novel in a way that's satisfactory? Why couldn't I just write a mystery? Or a thriller? Why couldn't I think of a plot that was simple? Why do I set myself such impossible goals? It's a question I have and to answer it would take someone a lot more astute than I am. It appears I've written some great material. Amelia is interesting and fun. Sam and Lucy, my younger characters are really great and fun. But the ending doesn't quite work and needs more development . . . okay, fair enough, in fact, easy enough. It's the next part that gets me. What are these two stories doing in this novel together, it's not enough that they are thematically linked, they have to be physically linked too.

I always err on the side of being too subtle. I assume my reader will get what's going on without me telling them. Or perhaps without me leading them there. I'm the idiot it appears. Where do I get that idea from? I can't tell you. I've picked a very challenging plot, a very challenging concept, a unique one I believe. And I want to do it justice. But it's discouraging, why can't a writer see their own work, and why, with all the feedback I've gotten, do I end up in the same place. . . or close to it. I know it's almost there. But almost can mean many things.

So here's to you, who write for pleasure and pain and profit. I give you credit. It's a bitch. I know my parents told me it wasn't going to be easy. They wanted me to do anything else and I couldn't. But there's this part of me that knows I'm smarter than this. And I make it hard on myself. I can never take the easy way out. I want to write a better book, not just a commercial book. I want something more . . . and that's really really hard to do.

Okay, my rant's over for now. I've expressed myself and whined enough. On I go, into the abyss. Or rather back in time to 1980. At least Amelia's having fun getting her second chance. . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I miss my mom tonight; or what Amelia Earhart didn't know.

Last Sunday was the six week anniversary of my mother's death. It's odd how one gets upset without quite knowing why. Sunday, the day of rest, and of course in my house rest right now means rest for a certain someone who is recuperating from surgery. Not a happy rest, but still, what choice does he have? Leg raised, waiting. Today we go for the cast. Then more waiting and more impatience, imposed immobilization. As for me, I don't rest. I try to keep busy. Editing. Writing an essay. Swimming. Walking. Talking. Trying not to think.

But sometimes you can't help it. I've lost my biggest fan. That's what my mother was. My father was always critical and demanding. My mother was often needy and mercurial. But in the end she was the one who loved me most. She saw who I was, and it pleased her. So I pose the question, what did Amelia do it for? Was it for the glory? Was it for the fun of it? Was it for the joy that she felt when she was at the controls? What prompted her to test herself again and again and again? I posit she did it because she had no other choice, because this was her. This was who she was, a person who demanded the most of herself, and stretched herself to the limit doing it.

Her mother was many things, I get a sense that she was demanding and quite possibly difficult but she also put her daughter into bloomers. My own mother dressed me in a tomboy outfit of my choosing, corduroy overalls and Dunham hiking boots. I wore pigtails and made quite the picture. I was allowed to be what I wanted to be, even though sometimes she drew back and resented it. Because in the end that was enough, she loved me for who I was, loved me even more when I refused to comply with what she quite possibly knew were impossible demands. I wonder if Amelia's mother felt the same way, wanting but knowing that she shouldn't want, because what is more precious to us as parents than our children's ability to be independent, to truly do what they want to do even though it hurts us not to see them or talk with them as much as we may want. In the end what parents want most if they love you, is to raise an independent and confident child.

That was Amelia, that's what her mother got. Heartache, heartbreak but also pride, they shaped each other. . . as my mother shaped me.

Or as I said at the memorial service, if my mother only drank, I'd raise a glass to her. Today, and every day of my life. I miss you mom.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Amelia Earhart Never Knew; or what it feels like now.

As I edit, I'm deep into Amelia. She gets a chance that most will never get. But one can dream, can't they? I'm writing how it feels to her when she's given an opportunity to be anonymous again. And I think about anonymity and how much of our lives we strain against it, in small ways and large. We begin with our parents. As babies we demand attention. The unluckier among us don't receive it. The rest do. How it's given matters. Good parenting, mediocre parenting, bad parenting . . .then our peers, our teachers, our mentors, our bosses, and for some of us public attention because we need more. We want more. We hope we deserve more. Amelia was a star. Her popularity was something she pursued relentlessly. It was the vehicle for everything. For freedom from financial strains and freedom from the life she'd led before, plus freedom from family because she could finally assuage whatever guilt she felt, having given her mother bad investment advice that ended up losing what was left of her inheritance. Freedom from her sister too who wanted more than she could give, or at least this is my version of Amelia.

My version because as in all things creative, it comes from me. From my own experience. I write about how she enjoys her anonymity. But of course, I write to become someone. To matter. I do it despite the mixed blessings attention brings. I craved approval and attention. I wanted my parents to be proud of me but they offered a decidedly mixed response. Now, being orphaned, I have no need for their approval. Or at least no chance in gaining it. Freeing, yet also sad. The truth is my parents were flawed as we all are. Each of us is imperfect. People can have huge holes inside of them, and no one else can be expected to give them the support or strength they so evidently crave.

My favorite line in Gatsby, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It's magnificent writing and the perfect ending, but it's not my ending, not for Amelia. She gets a second chance. We all deserve one.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I interrupt my regularly scheduled broadcast to muse on what goes on with men and women

This weekend my husband tore his Achilles tendon. He was playing basketball, the game that has been very very good to him. Two hip replacements, two knee surgeries, sprained ankles, etc. and he decides he needs one more shot. The thing is, I can't exactly blame him, well I can but who doesn't want to be young again. Who wants to get old? Who wants to be cautious and worry about what you can or can't manage to do? Who wants to treat your body like it's a sacred vessel? In other words, who wants to admit to mortality. I sure don't. Yet it's the obvious course for all of us. We've set the sail, and we're heading south.

I can't help but believe that part of the desire to avoid the truth is good. Without a conviction in our own invincibility would we ever do anything? I sure don't think Amelia would have gotten up in a plane. I think she would have stayed rooted to the ground. Worry is infectious. It limits your choices. It makes you think you have to protect yourself at all costs. I've seen its impact first hand. My mother worried incessantly. She was a depression baby and everything was doom and gloom. The last few years as she lost her memory she managed to continue to give advice. Her words of wisdom over the course of the spectacular debacle we call "the great recession" were, "It's 1929 all over again." Sometimes she switched to "1932." I have no idea why, but the anxiety was palpable. We were all in for it. Who knows if she was right? I hope not. But I do know that saying it, and living the worry has infected me. I am not exactly a fearless person, yet I know that it's important to push past one's own limits. If you don't, you live such a small life. We all know how it ends, what we don't know is how we'll manage to live it out. But I think Amelia understood that risks were worth it. And even though I want to kill my husband because he shouldn't have been on that court, he shouldn't have imagined he was that person . . . the one that was able to do whatever he wanted, I also understand his desire. We all need to feel free. To taste freedom. To believe we can live without restrictions or limits. For the moments we're able to do that, we all feel what Amelia must have felt. We all fly then.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The business of writing, or why Amelia Earhart picked the two hardest professions.

Now to the business of writing. I was five when the brainstorm struck me, I'd write a book. My first opus concerned a flying horse named Pegasus. It was short, sweet and to the point. My parents kept it forever and now I am in possession. Perhaps I should have learned something from it other than the love of putting words to paper. I didn't. I kept on writing, first poetry, then prose. I've been doing that for years and years and years. There's nothing as fine as when a sentence comes together. And nothing as remarkable as the moment when a character takes shape. At least not for me.

On to the novel, next week I will get yet another chance to hear how to refine it. I have worked on this novel for almost four years. Short by some standards, long by others. For me, a lifetime has passed while I've gone back and back and back to find Amelia. I've lost my mother. I've grieved for my father. I've watched my older child grow up and leave home. I've gotten older and perhaps a bit wiser. I've traveled a little, and published a little, and worked a whole lot. I've watched our country sink into recession, and crawl out. I've seen a black man elected president. Okay, I'll stop right there ...

Next week I get to hear another response, this time in conference. I get to sit down in a room and have notes given and take them and do my best. And once that's done, which will take a little while, the book will go out. I hope it will get published then, but who knows? I'm curious to find out what I need to do to make it better, and I'm relieved that I don't have to go through the gut wrenching end of the process when it's do or die with the shorter and shorter list of editors who buy fiction quite yet.
Still, back to reinventing the wheel one last time. This time I hope it's small changes not big. I think I've done a lot and I hope it's close to having done enough.
But who can really say?

Writing is something you can't do without, it's what shapes my day and shapes my life. As does Amelia. I think of how she likely died, waiting for rescue, trying to stay alive for as long as she could. And I think of how she lived, trying to do what was hardest. I admire her immensely. It was, by any one's standards, a life worth living.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Waiting and a hoping

and a wishing and a praying . . .or whatever passes for that in my house. I'll surely have something to say tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

He gets things done

I'm kind of drained. It's been a long week, a long month, a long year. And it's summer, finally. My lilies are up, the deer haven't devoured my entire garden, it's no longer Siberia here. So I'm going to pause for a moment of optimism. I'm sure it will be short lived but still; yes this President is flawed, as in he doesn't do what I'd like him to do all the time. Yes, we're still stuck in a war, well two but who's counting. Yes, there are plenty of things I'd have him do differently but then again, he's really not a socialist despite what many would say. He's not even a left-winger. He's a middle of the road kind of guy who actually gets things done. Can you imagine that? A president who gets something done? And by getting something done I mean a health bill, a recovery package and a financial reform plan. Don't give me that crap about how we have the democratic majority because you've seen what that means and a whole lot of those guys and gals aren't Democrats, or at least not the sort of democrats I'm familiar with. So today, here's to Barack Obama. Thank you for being there, and for being in the right place at the truly right time. It has been so much worse. I do remember.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A difference of opinion or how sisters see things from such different vantage points; brothers too.

I have had some serious time to reflect on the art of perception. In this case, it's personal. I am now an official orphan. Amelia never got that far; she died before her mother. But Muriel did. She lost her sister, then her mother. And lived on and on and on. I know that she and Amelia had starkly different ideas of who their parents were. The letters show it. Amelia idolized her father, then was disappointed in him and came back to him at the end, she was the one who was there when he died. And Amelia seemed to resent Muriel's relationship with their mother; the tensions apparently exacerbated by Amelia's choices. Her husband. Her career path. These were both hard for her mother to adapt to, a woman who divorced her own husband was still quite conventional. As was Muriel, although over time she became much less so. At least in my view.

But today I'm writing of my own experience. You grow up together and yet you grow up separately. Your parents are so different with each of you. My father and I never really managed a rapprochement. His final words to me were, "You've gained weight." Let it be said, I'm rail thin. When my second novel came out, he arrived with the only bad review I received in hand. I'd never even known about it till then. I had to sit there and read it while he watched me. He wanted to know whether I knew the person who'd written it? No. Besides, it was published in the New York Law Journal. I had been reviewed in a host of national newspapers including the LA Times, the St. Louis Post Dispatch etc. This was what he brought to my attention. I still don't understand it, or him. He's been dead for years and he eludes me. Yet my siblings were enamored of him. So was my mother. He was the ideal man, the ideal father, and I think their best friend. How can people living the same life have such divergent opinions. Where was that father when I was growing up? I still don't know.

As for my mother, she was mine to deal with. My siblings wouldn't agree, but that was how it felt to me. And I grew to love her after years of strife. I always admired her. But I also found her enraging. She was purposely so; she fought with you over everything and nothing and I suppose you could say, she had no shame. She could have used a little. But in the end, all that falls away. She managed to convey her pride in me and that was enough. She was hardly an easy person, or a fun person, but she was what I had. And I learned how to accept her limitations and how to push her to be a better parent, and finally a friend.

Yet she was never my best friend. That was impossible. She was my parent and it's different. I see it with my own children, they need me to parent them. They want that. They don't want a friend, though sometimes they confide in me or share things with me and I feel honored. Mostly, they need me to be the adult. I needed the same from my parents and when I became an adult too, I needed them to honor that. My mother learned how. My father? I don't think he ever really did. Not with me anyhow.

So I return to Amelia and Muriel and wonder, how did they feel about their parents? What regrets did they have about those relationships? It seems to me that Amelia and Muriel were always the adults; that their mother and father acted like children. Amelia in particular took on the job of caring for everyone, or providing for them, and then she was gone and it was Muriel's turn.

Parents are imperfect, their imperfections mark us; for better or for worse. Make that for better and for worse.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And this is how it ends for Amelia Earhart; and this is how it begins for me.

August, 2010

Sam sat in the deck chair facing the bay. The wind blew sweet and pure at her. It was still, so early only the birds and joggers were up. Morning at the very tip of the Cape. She held newsprint in her hands; a soon to be anachronism, but reading the daily paper was a sacred ritual for her. It proved she’d had a life before. Sam read every word of the story. An intrepid team of explorers had finally found Amelia. A piece of cloth they’d dug up had been analyzed, this strip of disintegrated fabric buried for over sixty years. The DNA recovered from it clearly matched that of a descendant; whoever it was, a niece, a nephew, a cousin, had chosen to remain anonymous. Sam thought of Jurassic Park with all those carefully crystallized specimens cloned and reanimated. Amelia as an exhibit alive and well and living in Orlando. If people chose to have their dead pets resurrected, why not a famous aviatrix?
Seeing it like this made her realized the moral implications; where did one actually draw the line? Dead husbands? Stillborn children?
Luckily science wasn’t nearly that advanced.
She read the story over, and couldn’t believe it was true. The team had found the remnant on an island three hundred and fifty miles away from Howland, flying all that way to end on an anonymous beach. Sam didn’t want this to be the final word. Sad to imagine that striking woman, left hungry and pale, awaiting rescue, fading away slowly. Better for her to have gone in a flash. She told herself the proof wouldn’t be enough. There were always doubters. They’d argue that it was a set up, that the science was faulty. Who believed in science in this day and age when even elected members of congress in this country were convinced that human beings had roamed the earth with those self same dinosaurs.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Departing from my main topic: Oil, and the government that we call our own.

What is wrong with us? Do we think we can just go on raping the environment forever? I guess the answer is "yes." I guess that no matter what happens we, as a species, never learn. I want to be optimistic, oh yes I do. I want to believe that we can change, that our children will have a chance to grow up and grow old, that their children will too. I want to imagine that nature will forgive us, but I'm thinking maybe not. I'm thinking maybe we don't deserve to be forgiven this time round, maybe we should go the way of the dinosaurs.

It's sickening to watch the oil pumping out all over the Gulf of Mexico. It literally turns one's stomach, and it's just as sickening, although also entertaining to listen to a professional moron who's been sworn to protect and serve apologizing to a multinational corporation. Every time I think, what next, I find myself surprised. And yes, I have plenty of issues with Obama but he has made quite a deal with the eminently creepy BP. He is trying and that is so much more than we have gotten used to. He is far far better than the spineless, witless, immoral alternatives.

I think back to Amelia's day, it was my parent's day too. FDR was my father's boss, my father toiled in the Justice department. Washington was a vibrant place to be, justice was something he believed was achievable. I think Amelia was so much of that time, she was also a person with strong liberal convictions. I know she would have been sickened by all of this, as I am, as many are, and I believe she would have spoken out, she would have used what bully pulpit she had at her disposal to try to make this right.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Amelia Took to the skies; or who I wish I was and who I am right now

In the dreams where you fly, you know, the ones you must have had as a child, there's such freedom. Nothing like that sensation of lifting off and just soaring. I used to crave sleep to find the moment, and when I was dreaming that dream I so didn't want to wake. Because from up there I was so fully in charge. I looked down at my small dominion, in this case the apartment towers and well kept homes of Riverdale, New York and what I saw was a map of my life in bas relief. Over there, the railroad tracks where my friends and I used to wander, abandoned long ago they were the perfect place to get up to what little trouble we were able to invent. And past them, the Hudson sparkling. There was the bridge I'd walk across to make it to the candy store. It was the place where I first committed a criminal act, pocketing mars bars and jujubes only to be found out and taken back in shame. And there was the school I attended, really a ramshackle mansion that old lefty friends of my parents had turned into a free form private school. But I was off, wandering beyond all of that, I was free to go wherever I pleased.

That was the dream, that was flight. I think it's what Amelia must have felt the first time she went up in a plane, the possibility that she could leave everything behind, that she could just be, intensely be herself.

Of course I'm making some assumptions here, first that everyone has had that same dream, the one where they lift off and fly. I wonder if it's true? And that all of us, given the chance have had an epiphany, we've seen or felt or known who we are. It may be only fleeting, but it happens. Or am I wrong?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pardon my absence, that is if you notice

I've been here, but not here. I guess the ironies of the last two weeks are sinking in. In the last scene of the novel, Muriel gives the eulogy she's been writing in her head for years; the one she never got to give for her sister. It's honest, loving, critical, pure. In other words, it's what you want to have happen at the end of your life, you want to be remembered as you were. A friend of mine was musing about the eulogies given at my mother's memorial; everyone noted her rather prickly personality. There wasn't a fight she wanted to avoid, my mom. She was a battler right to the end. My friend was pondering what one would end up hearing about one's self, if people were honest and whether we'd be surprised. I responded saying we all do know our own foibles, we just hate to admit them. I think that's true. I have a feeling Amelia knew her own strengths and weaknesses, but knowing who you are has very little to do with wanting to change. And if it's working for you there's less incentive to change. I think Amelia's personality served her well, yet she was so distanced. Enclosed and safely away from her family, did she have regrets at the end? Who doesn't? Yet her regrets were obviously tempered by the things she accomplished.

My mother had too many regrets I would say. But then she had ample time to think about them, Amelia even cast away as she likely was, probably spent less time regretting and more time hoping for rescue. Still, at night I want to think that she lay there looking up at the stars and thought about home, about family, about the people who were close to her once and how far she'd come from them, and yet the unique bond they shared. I want to think that she may not have had regrets per se, but she did have things that were left unsaid. Things she might have wanted to relay, given the opportunity.

For more, read the book . . . and more on that later . . .

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Being a survivor . . .

When you've lost someone you love, there's not much to say. People hug you. They listen. They tell you, "I'm sorry." And they mean it all. Much to appreciate there, much to recommend because there's a need I find, to talk about what's happened, what one feels, a desire to express your sadness. There's also a competing desire to just stop, stop talking, stop thinking, stop feeling. It's familiar, mourning. I've done it before. It's part of what one does when one survives.

I began this novel almost four years ago. At the time my mother was incredibly unhappy. She constantly complained about how hard it was to be a "survivor." Her friends were mostly gone, she was recently widowed, she was losing her memory and the world she knew had transformed itself too many times. She could no longer even pretend to keep up. It was hard to witness because she had been such a force, always current with political and cultural events.

I put a lot of who she was into Muriel. I suppose when I began to write the character was a mixture of my own mother and the Muriel I found in her self published book about her sister Amelia. But thankfully all of that changed and the character deepened, now Muriel is both invented and totally realistic, a woman all her own. She turned out to be feisty and opinionated; for her surviving meant she had license to do and say whatever she wanted. And that's what took hold. My mother always said what she thought, though I wonder if she actually said what she wanted to say. Odd, that. She was opinionated and expressed those opinions with no compunction, but in other ways she was certainly a product of the era she was born into. Although she was a pioneering woman her focus in life was actually quite traditional. It was my father, he was in many ways her raison d'etre.

Today as I ponder my future as a new orphan well into the cusp of middle age, I think of where this novel began. It began with many things, but crucially it began with Muriel, with the idea of how one lives with so much loss. In that sense it began with my mother, I wanted to understand her and honor her.

So mom, this one's for you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My City is Gone: Or What Amelia Earhart sees when she visits NYC for the very last time.

I saw the Pretenders at Madison Square Garden. Chrissie Hynde sang "My City is Gone." She was referring to her hometown in Ohio and I was living in New York. I, the inveterate New Yorker. What that meant for me was a certain attitude. I stared straight ahead, unblinking and dared strangers to confront me. They usually didn't. I wandered through neighborhoods where no woman should go, but always looked behind me, always was aware of who was on the street, front, rear, to the side. I taught in the South Bronx and made it home and back safely. I spent my middle school years going on an untypical reverse commute, from eighty sixth on the west side up to Harlem, mine the only white face in that subway car. I listened at night, lying bed in my parent's apartment, while arguments flared from the block behind us. Eighty fifth street was home to tenements filled with prostitutes. Shots rang out almost every night. I learned to ignore all of it. The only safe course was to keep a hard outer shell.

My city is gone, but it was still there when Amelia returns. In 1980 New York was raw, original, dangerous and gritty. New York was a place where you were always aware "shit can happen." Good. And bad. It was the place where I felt that anything was possible. It was the place I lived when I was that young. So I brought Amelia there, back there. I wanted her to feel that once again, to feel what she must have felt when she was young herself. Because she too knew that she could do anything.

I miss the Thalia and the New Yorker bookstore. I miss that notions shop and all the culturally affiliated businesses that would burst onto the scene at once. Indian clothing stores. Greek fruit stands. Hunan restaurants. It was a place where you could happen upon something that fascinated you. I always wondered what those chocolate covered ants and grasshoppers tasted like, but my stomach rebelled when I thought of trying them. Still, they made quite an impressive window display. Mine was a city of extremes; hope, fear, anxiety, passion, intensity, possibility, beauty, squalor.

That city is gone, but thankfully not forgotten. And in this book I get to remember it and honor it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

No Eulogies Please; or What Amelia Earhart Might Think on the Occasion of her own memorial service

So I will now return to my regularly scheduled broadcast. My novel begins with Muriel Morrissey in mourning. My novel ends . . . well let's just say with liberation. For her. And for Amelia. Since the loss of my mother I've been writing her eulogy. And of course because I'm a novelist, I got to write Amelia's, at least the one I thought her sister might give under the circumstances. I also got to put in Amelia's reaction to it. So what would it be like to hear your own eulogy? I don't think we often get to, unless we're characters in movies where for some reason there's been a terrible mix up and we show up at our own wake, or memorial service. And that just doesn't seem to happen all that much in real life, of course, tell me if I'm wrong on this one.

Amelia is pleasantly surprised, after all she's spent the novel wondering what on earth her sister will say. She's been more than a little surprised at what the rest of the world has been saying. For Amelia finds that in her absence there's been plenty of supposition without substantiation. Was she a spy? Was she captured and shot? Did she survive or die, plunging into the ocean? Was she a good enough pilot? Was her death her own fault? She finds all of this irritating to the extreme. But also comical. How could everyone get it so wrong? Because we all love a narrative, that's who we are. We're only human.

And eulogies are all about point of view. The one I'm writing will be different from the ones my siblings give. Writing mine for my own mother I focus on the personal, because that's what I most enjoy hearing. I want to know who that person was and what they did, what made them tick. I want to take scenes from their life away with me. That's what Muriel does for Amelia. And I suppose that because she was such a public figure the rest of the world got to do the same.

Monday, May 31, 2010

To My Indomitable Mother

Who is gone, finally. I wish you well. You were my inspiration. Because of you I wanted to be a professional woman, first a doctor, then a writer. Because of you, I knew that women could do whatever they wanted and were equal or often vastly superior to their male colleagues. You were a force to be reckoned with, often unintentionally. You had a sharp temper, and a way of speaking your mind that could have used a little editing. Still, you were incredible. I am who I am because of you. I love you very much. And always will.

I will leave the memories for the memorial service; that's the best place for the long funny and touching stories. But I'll think of you whenever I go out and admire my overly abundant lily, tulip and daffodil displays, that is if I can ward off the deer this year. You loved to garden. It's where I get my love of gardening from. A little thing, but one that remains constant. The truth is, I'll think of you often.

This book Surviving Amelia was written with you always in mind. It's about strong women, about sisters, and best friends. I wanted most of all to write about what it means to grow up and grow into yourself, to learn how to be an independent woman. You were my inspiration for that. You showed me how to live and how to be assured about my own abilities. I'm glad you got to see how that worked out, and that you lived a long, full life.

I'll miss you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Do not go gentle into that good night

When do we accept death? When do we deny its claim? What is death? What would we be without it? Human beings are born knowing they will die, and it informs pretty much every waking decision of our lives. It gives us that sense of urgency that leads to much of what is good in us. My mother is dying, imminently it would seem. Yesterday, I brought my younger son to say goodbye. The person is there, but their body has failed them. She's had a long, good life. Yes, there are regrets I'm sure, but on the whole she's done much of what she wanted. She's lived her way. Was it the way that was easiest or best for me, or for my siblings? No. I think that's safe to say. She was an admirable woman, a role model for me, but she wasn't a great mother. She was alternately kind and cruel, needy and generous. Yet I love her, and I loved her as she was.

What I don't love is what it's meant to watch her die. It seems wrong that this is what our end is. That we're left to suffer, to linger, to have no quality of life at all. She's lain on her couch in the living room of her house for months now, obviously ferociously attached to life even when she hates the minutes she's living it. I can't bear to think that someone so full of life has been reduced to this. But that's what's come of her life, this is its end. She has no control, someone who tried to control literally everything and everyone around her. I suppose that it's a form of poetic justice, but it's also horribly unfair. And she's unfortunately managed to reap what she sowed, a dysfunctional family. We siblings do our best but we aren't exactly close and our communication skills are wanting. Her end would have been so much easier if that wasn't the case.

When my father got sick and died it was different. The intimacy my brother and sister felt with him created a different kind of war zone. They fought over him in death as they had in life. I gave up trying. He and I never really got along, so what was the point? With my mother, it's different. I was the one who she was closest to growing up. Over time my sister seems to have taken on that role, or at least imagines herself my mother's fierce protector. My brother does what he can, given that he and my mother fought bitterly. And my sister in law does so much, it's as if my mother is a stand in for the one she left behind and visited once a year. Today I call hospice, and who knows, will she live out the weekend? Will she surprise us and continue to hang on to what isn't life as anyone should live it? Or will she finally die and be done with it? For her sake, I hope she does die, because then we can grieve and remember her in our own ways and she can find relief.

What I wish for is a better way. I wish our culture embraced death the way it does life. I wish it gave us more support and more options, and I wish we talked about it more freely before it became an issue. I wish it wasn't a topic for self help but something we came to understand long before it was thrust upon us.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Doing something you love; even when it makes you sick?

One biographer writes that Amelia had ongoing issues with her sinuses and that flying always made her feel worse. She goes on to say that she was always quite sick after a long flight. It isn't something that others have claimed, although it could well be true. Is it important? What if the thing you love to do most, makes you feel horrible? Would you keep on doing it? I think the answer for many of us is yes. My husband blew out his knee playing basketball. He'd come home and ice it down and go back the next day. I've played myself and I hate to admit it, but basketball is addictive. You can't get enough of it. It's that kind of game, the intensity, the way you can lose yourself so completely in the competitive and physical aspects, and of course the skill set you need to be good at it. All are compelling. We're only human after all, and by human I mean that we want this feeling of exhilaration, it's what makes us feel alive. So what is a little physical discomfort compared to the exhilaration of flying, the thrill of breaking records, breaking barriers.

I say hats off to Amelia and to the rest of us who have chosen to fight through the pain and get to the pleasure, or as she wrote, the ones of us who've lived fully, who have chosen to do whatever we've chosen to do for "the fun of it."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I miss Amelia or why writing is so incredibly satisfying, and why I hate to say goodbye to anyone

Yes, the time has come. I miss Amelia. I miss thinking about her, and thinking about what she might say or do. I very much miss her and all my characters. Has it only been a few weeks? Still, they were my life for so long and now they're out and about in the world. Not just those characters but literally everything I've worked on for the last three and a half years, a novella also out, an article just accepted. That's a novel, a novella, an article, all gone into my send box and sent . . . whoosh.

Here's why writing is so satisfying, at least writing something you care about. It's the one thing I do that occupies me wholly. There are other things I experience that engage me in the same way; I love conversation, or just hanging out with those I love the most; I can't get enough of travel, and I even count lying on the beach as an activity that can be as completely engaging, but writing is different. I am a relentless writer, (and for those old Firesign Theatre fans, I'm also ruthless). I used to write poetry, then stories, and then I settled on the long form. I didn't want the pleasure to end and I so didn't want it to be over. I didn't want to have to say goodbye.

Yet saying goodbye is the human condition. When I dropped my older son off at college I cried the whole way home, I knew I'd see him again, and of course I have. But I also knew that what I'd had, what I'd loved having was over. This is what it means to grow up and grow older, time passes and we change because we have to change. So onwards, whether to work on the book a little more, or to write here about how it goes when I do my best to sell it, (via an agent), and hopefully the process of beginning something new as well. Because really going back is not an option. It never is.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fame and its Attendant Embarrassment; or what Amelia Earhart might have had to endure

I've been thinking about fame. About what it means to the rest of us. And what it must be like for that famous person who's just trying to go on about their business and live their life. I've been thinking about it because it's a theme of my novel. I write about Amelia, about what fame brought for her. It brought her the ability to be the person she most wanted to be and do the things she most wanted to do. It also made it impossible for her to have a private life. It's something that's much talked about, how you have to give up privacy and how hard it is, but also how little we, your public care. We want you to admit that losing privacy is worth it. I'm sure for much of the time it is. Who wouldn't want to be rich, or successful or admired. Who wouldn't want to be recognized for doing the thing one loved the most. And how wonderful to have that be financially rewarding. But there are downsides for sure.

Example numero uno; John Lennon. His murder was one of those moments that's seared into my consciousness. It was the end of innocence for me.I'd lived through all sorts of other horrible events, the King assassination, Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy, yet I'd still managed to retain a bit of that belief in the good of humanity. Perhaps I was at an age when senseless loss hit me hardest, more likely it was just my visceral connection to Lennon, to his music and then his desire to seek privacy in the city I loved so much.

New York City is filled with famous people. Growing up, a true New Yorker knows what to do. When you see someone famous, you pretend you haven't. You give them space. You don't ask for an autograph. You don't make loud, rude comments. You let them live their lives. It's a good thing even if it's not particularly honest. It's not like we don't tell everyone we know who we saw, who we spotted on the street, or in a play, we just don't go up to them and embarrass them. To do that would be to embarrass ourselves.

Speaking of which, I did attend a play recently and a famous actress sat behind us. She was trying her best to hide, glasses, a hat. The couple nearby talked about her as if she was invisible. "That's that actress, you know, the one in that movie, you know the one with Bill Murray, see she's trying to hide but you know who she is." I wanted them to be quiet, I thought of turning around to tell them so, but I didn't. That seemed as rude as what they were doing. I wanted them to realize how horrible it was for her, because fame requires that you give up something vital. She was no longer just a person, she was a commodity.

Why does fame matter so much to the rest of us? I suppose it brightens our lives in some way. Look, we've seen, we've been, we matter. I've spent a great deal of time thinking about this and thinking about how Amelia takes it, when she comes back and no one recognizes her. It's unsettling, yet also liberating. She gets to just be herself again. We don't want to hear the famous complain about their lack of privacy, and yet as human beings we depend on it. We like to watch, to listen, to be anonymous. What if that was taken away from us for good? What then?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to begin again, and is it fair that there are final chapters? Thinking of Amelia . . .

In the novel, I have a coda. In it Amelia is in the cockpit, flying towards Howland. I use her own words, spoken into the void. Not that the Itasca, the ship waiting to spot her, couldn't hear. It was that Amelia couldn't hear their response. There was one moment of contact, but that was it. I presume to channel what she was feeling and thinking. Anxiety. Exhaustion. Exhilaration. And ultimately, regret. When my own mother pulled me close to whisper that I was the one who got her, a few weeks back, I think she was counting up her own regrets. They are the things that stay with us, I suppose. And that haunt us.

But life is full of other things. I happen to believe that the more one risks, the more one gets from life. Granted, the risks I've taken are writ small. I've spoken my mind, often in an impolitic manner. As a writer, I've been rejected over and over and over. And I've fallen in love, and loved my friends wholeheartedly. It doesn't always work out in the end, or work out in the way I imagined. Yet I believe it's worth it. Without putting myself out there, without risking my heart and my live-lie-hood where would I be? And who would I be? No one I could recognize.

Anyhow, there it is. My Amelia moment for the day. All this time spent with her has made me think a great deal about taking chances. And how important they are. How they really make life worth living. So here's the question I pose. How does one live life to the fullest? What chances do we take? And what risks do we force ourselves to take?

Monday, May 17, 2010

You can't go home again; or High School Reunion Time

I interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast to bring this up. You really can't go home again. Yet god knows we try. Memory is what we're made of, our lives are merely compilations of all our remembered experiences. We process, act and react accordingly. This was brought home to me, yet again, at my high school reunion. I was pretty miserable in high school. I've met plenty who weren't. One of my dearest friends was actually voted prom queen. She still has the most infectious smile. I don't hold her good times in high school against her, I envy her. Because of my own experience, I made a conscious choice to move to a place where my children would attend a large, multi-racial public school. I attended a small, tokenly multi-racial private school. The education was stellar. The social life for me, not so much.

I'm not a reunion type of person. This is the second one of any sort I've attended. It's not that I don't like parties, I do. It's that I don't really want to be reminded of who I was then. I moved on and that was a good thing for me. I don't want to remember how I agonized about literally everything I did and felt and said. For me, that was high school and it was such a pleasure to leave, to realize that I could make friends, that I was attractive and smart and funny, or maybe just that I was able to find enough other people who thought I was. I left high school and found people who 'got' me. That's all it takes, a group of peers who make you feel good about yourself because hey, they get your jokes and you get theirs. You laugh at yourselves and at the world, and you make your way in it. That happened for me and I've never wanted to look back or go back. But I did on Saturday night.

It was fine of course. We're all grown ups now. It was a relief that we could all be friendly and chat. But it was also a bit odd for me. I guess it reminded me that it's true, you really can't go home again. And that's a good thing, because in reality, we shouldn't yearn for that. I know Amelia didn't. She couldn't wait to get away from her family. And she spent much of the years after she became famous living at arm's length. That is when she wasn't lecturing or flying. She had no desire to go home again. She'd been there, and definitely done that.

One night is good, it's catch up. But life is like a relationship, (and perhaps a little like a shark) if it doesn't move forward. . .

"A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why the Ending is really the hardest part; or where did Amelia Earhart disappear to?

Mystery readers expect tidy solutions. When I wrote mysteries I delivered as best I could. Although I would term my mysteries quirky, they still followed the guidelines. The puzzle was set, the detective, or in this case two detectives followed the disparate leads, and eventually the solution presented itself. They and the reader could breathe a sigh of relief, all was right in the world once again. There's a comfort to that. Life presents no such comfort. Our endings are messier, or open ended. Our lives unravel slowly or quickly, or in ways we don't see, or can't afterward define. Amelia disappeared on her way home. She was there, and then she was gone. For years, the mystery has endured. Presenting a solution to it, means giving her an ending. Personally I find the ending of her life not nearly as interesting as the journey she took to get there. But as a writer, I know I am defined by endings.

Recently I read a novel that began with great promise, I couldn't put it down. But by the time I finished it I was annoyed, and then dismissive. A few weeks later, asked about what I'd read recently I couldn't even remember the title or what the book was about. That's how disappointing the ending was. Looking back I realize how unfair that is, the writer presented really beautifully drawn characters. She had me with her much of the way. But by the time I reached the end, I was so disappointed I rejected all the rest of her hard work. I forgot her talent.

What is it about endings that matters so much? We don't live our lives in thrall to them. We live them minute by minute, or hour by hour, or day by day. Yet when we read we require an answer to the questions that we refuse to ask ourselves. We want the ending to satisfy us, we want it to deliver in ways that life rarely does. As a writer it's a daunting task, but also a fair one.

Recently, doing research I came upon a letter Muriel had written to Eleanor Roosevelt asking for more information about one of the theories. In brief Eleanor assured her that she knew nothing of Amelia being sent on a spying mission by FDR. Muriel was later quoted as saying, she was certain her sister had crashed and died.

Those who remain fascinated with Amelia Earhart's final hours are solving a puzzle. They are much like those who write mysteries, myself included, and wish for a tidy ending. Not a happy one, obviously, but one that satisfies the strictures of the genre. Lots of red herrings are strewn, but there's only one real solution. I prefer to think about Amelia differently and in writing about her I have chosen a different sort of solution for her. If it works, then it mirrors life in all its untidy glory.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Amelia Earhart and how we define courage

I've been wanting to write about this for a while. Recently I've had a wonderful opportunity, I've interviewed several people who went above and beyond the normal call of duty. Their actions saved lives. They acted when others stood by. Their stories were inspiring and of course immediately made me wonder, what would I have done in their shoes? Quite likely I would have called 911, and waited for the proper authorities. But who knows, sometimes it seems that you act in ways that astound you. One of the people I interviewed honestly couldn't imagine how she'd physically managed to do what she did, in the process saving the life of the man she was with.

Under duress our best and worst sides emerge. It's made me think a lot about heroism. We know what constitutes it in these cases. It's obvious when you've risked your life and done some physical, semi super-heroic deed. But life creates daily opportunities for us to go above and beyond. It doesn't have to be obvious, active heroism to count. There are small heroic steps we all have to take. Death calls forth both fear and courage. How we die matters. Or how we deal with the loss or the potential loss of a loved one. Courage is something that we all have to tap into. It's impossible to know how it will be, but we will learn at some point in our lives. Sadly, we will learn how we will deal with death and loss.

Obviously Amelia Earhart was amazingly courageous, she flew solo over the Atlantic, and numerous other routes, she tested her limits at every turn and did it willingly, did it eagerly. She also fought for what she believed in, politically and personally. She was a role model to young women and is to this day. She used her fame to push a feminist agenda. She was a woman who was eager to make the most of what had come to her, and it had come because of her obvious desire to test her physical limits. She also had the courage of her convictions, they weren't always popular convictions. She was a pacifist, and a true liberal.

Which brings me to another sort of courage, the courage that comes when you refuse to name names in front of HUAC. Or go to prison and are executed for protesting the government's hard-line position in Iran. There are countless heroes and heroines who stood up for their convictions, many of them lost their live-lie-hoods and their lives as a result. That takes incredible courage.

And there's the courage I saw in my own students, those who had come to this country or were brought up here with absolutely no resources at their disposal, those who had lost relatives and friends because of violence in their communities, those who wanted something better for themselves and worked tirelessly, spending the day at a menial job then coming to school at night, those who fought for themselves and believed in their own potential, those who did it for their kids, or their families.

So courage matters, it matters in big and small ways, without it our world would be a dismal place. Human beings are so often terrifying selfish, yet when you think of how many of us are tested on a daily basis and manage to rise to the occasion, to do their best and even better than we could have imagined, when you think how we surprise ourselves and do it too, it gives me a reason to hope.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rosanne Cash, Johnny and Amelia Earhart

As I was heading home, I heard Rosanne Cash on the radio. Or rather, I heard Johnny Cash say, "Rosanne, say cmon." Then she starts singing . . . "It was a black cadillac drove you away. Everybody's talking but they don't have much to say." The perfect intro for a song that's all about loss and all about love. This song is about her love for her imperfect but undeniably charming father.

When Amelia visits a therapist in my novel, her father comes up. After all, it's therapy and begins where we all begin, with the parents. This therapist wants to uncover who his patient is, and how else to figure that out but to figure out what shaped her. Amelia gives him what he thinks he wants, she writes the story of a father who was both admirable and disappointing. In other words, human. Amelia came to forgive her father for his mistakes, his weaknesses, in the end she was supportive and kind. She was the one who flew to his side to nurse him through his last illness, (with the help and comfort of his new wife). And she continued to care for her stepmother after his death. Many have written about Amelia's dependability, she obviously took on the role of caretaker, and considering how undependable her own parents were, it must have been a relief to be able to provide for others. A relief and a burden. You see, there are always two sides, two protagonists, to versions to every story. What my novel tries to do is show both sides; Amelia's and Muriel's . . .and in the end give them what history didn't, an opportunity to make amends.

I know I have spent this much time writing a novel about making amends because of my own experience with losing loved ones. Fiction is tidier than real life. It has to be, plotting demands it. But if you do a good job, it resonates. For me, writing this novel surely has.

Monday, May 3, 2010

What would Amelia Earhart do?

The woman wanted to write. Sometimes fate takes a hand. She got to fly planes instead and we're all grateful for it. Writing is such an oddly solitary profession. You engage with these characters daily, you fight with them in your mind and often aloud. Yes, that's me, the madwoman who wanders the trails of Mills Reservation with my aged dog in tow, saying things like "What if?" and "Then what?" And answering myself because there's no one else around to do it for me.

Today, I sit and wait and try to keep busy. Not that I don't have things to do, an article to finish, (worked on already, questions sent yet again etc.), and a novella to try and publish or maybe extract short stories from, a business to run to make money which I surely do need . . . still I wait. Wait for judgment and then more judgment. What would Amelia Earhart do? I know she waited for a chance to get into a plane and fly over the Atlantic. She waited, not happily for an interview with her future husband to insure that she would be included in that same flight. And she waited for other things, for money to be raised, for planes to be readied, for weather to clear, for dawn to come. As she waited she undoubtedly did many of the things we all do . . . worried, gnawed away at those worries, dismissed them, thought about the future, thought about the past, thought about odd things. . . and so the time passed.

It passes so quickly really, and it seems a shame to miss any part of what is fleeting. I see that with my own parents, and with my memories of my children. Wasn't it just yesterday, yes it actually was if you look at it in terms of the bigger picture. Sometimes to gain perspective I try that. I think of how we're just this one tiny planet in the cosmos. But then of course I'm pulled back into me. Into my demands and the primacy of my incredibly important life, (joke intended.) I so wish I was different. I wish I could just walk away from the self that wants and needs approval, on the other hand, I can't. Getting better at something means exactly that, you've gotten better. Better with not wanting to scream or murder someone or else just sinking into despair when you get those dismissive rejection letters. Better with the process of waiting. Better with the way people tell you what they would or wouldn't have done if they were well, you. Infantilizing? You betcha. Yet I'm all grown up right?

When G.P. Putnam left Amelia to cool her heels outside his office, she wasn't pleased about it. I think of her sitting there, waiting for that interview, not knowing that the next few hours would change the course of her entire life. I think that's how everything is, in a way. There's a before, and then there's an after.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Ending and Beginning again

I originally titled this blog, My Parents Told Me Not To Become A Writer. Indeed they did. They only knew one writer, Benjamin Appel. I adored the man, at least as a child. He was funny and witty and warm. Years later, when I was a graduate student I read all his novels and found them, well, not exactly what I'd expected. I wrote one of my worst papers on them. I loved the man, but not the writer. My parents saw that being a writer, or really an artist of any kind is beyond difficult. It's great when you attain a modicum of success. Let me amend, that moment is great. It's also great when you get a nice review, or someone tells you they loved your book, article, story. The rest of it? Not so great in terms of making a steady living. Sure, I love writing. Love how hard it is, love the challenge. But I hate the selling piece. Hate finding the agents, I've had seven. Hate getting the rejections from editors. Hate realizing that what I think is finished is never done. Even success when it comes isn't what you thought it would be. It's as if you get to take a big sigh, then gird your loins and move on. I'm not griping, I'm being honest.

Why does one do it? Because really you can't do anything else. It's an addiction. If I don't write, I'm miserable. If I'm not investing in a character's life, I can't enjoy my own. I am about to attend my high school reunion. Now let's say I have a little trepidation about this. Why? I was miserable in high school. I had exactly one friend. But I did have an English teacher who inspired me. I was already writing poetry, bad poetry of course. He assigned a paper that could be creative or not. I chose creative and he gave me a lousy grade. He told me I wasn't writer material. Years later I suppose I've proved him wrong. And my parents too. But at what cost? It would have been much much easier to be the doctor my mother wanted me to be. I think of Amelia, she could have been a doctor too. In that way, we are similar. She also wanted to be a writer. And was one. . .though really she's not famous for writing, now is she?

Regrets, not about this. Without being able to write, where would I be? It transports me, and offers me a real challenge every single day. It's painful to be a writer, but life is painful. It's also the most fun I've ever had working. That's why we choose it in the end I think, because it's fun. Or as Amelia said, for "The Fun of It."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What it takes to survive and endure . . .

I have come to the end. Or at least the end of this draft and so I think about what it means to outlive. To live on. I have left the sisters on the rooftop at Columbia. They have things to say to each other, and to find out what, you'll have to read the book. I have come to admire both of them. One was truly an amazing woman, we all know about her. Or think we do. Because the Amelia Earhart who was always in the public eye was very cautious about showing herself. I admire her caution. And am drawn in by it. I want to know her and believe I do know my version of who she is/was. I find her to be remarkably assured, willful, brave, stubborn and willing to take whatever chances she got. I think she was lucky. And I believe she made her own luck. That is an American ideal isn't it, forging your own new version of self. She did it. That's part of why her mystery endures. It's not just the mystery of her death, it's how she managed to be and do so much when she was alive.

And then there's Muriel. Muriel seems easier. She was a mother, a teacher, a wife. She stayed close to home and kept her sister's memory alive. Intact. Shaped it very carefully. I am positive there are things she kept completely private. It's wonderful territory for a novelist, imagining the younger sister taking charge of the older . . . once she is no longer around to tell her younger sibling what to do. There must have been a satisfaction in it, however bittersweet.

Of course my own experience has informed all of this. I have a sister, and many many friends. I find my friendships with other women to be one of the greatest pleasures of my life. This book is about those close bonds between women, ones that have made my life immeasurably richer. Without them, I would have been lost.

Monday, April 26, 2010

On what makes Amelia Earhart Amelia, and of course Meryl Streep

I'm sure that men feel guilty about the choices they make. I'm sure they spend time regretting the road not taken. And I know that I'm no Meryl Streep. Or Amelia Earhart. I've written about this before, but I don't think the subject is one that can actually be exhausted. I wish we would all stop apologizing for our lives. They are what they are. And we have done our best with them. We can continue to try new things, hey, as long as we're not dead or debilitated, and we can grow. We can become better citizens, better writers, and pilots, and parents. Life goes on. It's time to let go of the regret already.

This was brought home to me again as I listened to several women talk about their lives and the formation of self. I think that many women who choose to forgo a career, or stop it midway and focus on their children feel apologetic about it. And I think that others who have chosen a career and have no interest in being parents feel defensive. Enough. The fact is there isn't world enough and time to do everything well. Who said we had to. Let me go back to the part about men here. Do they really agonize about this the way women do? I'm having my doubts.

I think back to my own parents; my mother couldn't bear that she wasn't good at everything. And I mean everything. Her cooking was horrid. Her vegetables were unrecognizable, her meat tough enough to break a tooth on. Yet she wanted to hear what a fine cook she was. I was thrilled that she was a doctor, a woman doctor! Wasn't that enough? No. She had to be the happy homemaker too. She had to be able to juggle successfully. Frankly, I think juggling is overrated. It's beginning to give me brain freeze. And I can't be the only one out there.

So let's can the guilt. Let's look at who manages to do what and how. We aren't all Meryl Streep, and god knows she's marvelous. As for Amelia, a lot was made about how she decided not to have children. How she said she didn't have time for it. She didn't, how about that. There wasn't enough time. How refreshing that is. She chose and chose honestly. But still people talk about her regretting it. That she wasn't fulfilled because she couldn't have a family and a career. Maybe she wasn't, if so she suffered from the same misguided notions we all suffer from. That we can have it all and do it all.

Which brings me to Chris Rock, he said something funny on Bill Maher. I'll paraphrase. Most people are mediocre at what they do. He wasn't being mean, just honest. It's true and if we manage to be a little better at one thing, then hey, that's pretty damn great. So women stop berating yourselves for the road not taken.

There, my rant for the day.
Now back to finishing up with Amelia.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Amelia Earhart's sister Muriel and the Rock Island Line

Herein, the body of a letter written by Edwin Earhart. Yes, I have been roaming the halls of Schlesinger library in Cambridge. Written on Rock Island Line stationery, it reads,Miss Muriel Earhart,
Dear Madam,
I have your claim for $5.00 for having been bitten by a isquito on our train. Before we can pay the same, we would, at least, like to know how big a bite the misquito took and we would like to see the misquito. Of coure, we admit that we owe you something and are willing to pay it, but you will have to produce the misquito before you could expect us to pay you. This case will probably have to be referred to the Chicago office as it is so serious a case and I hardly feel like handling it.
Very truly yours,
ES Earhart.
Father jokes. And jokes lovingly. I spent hours with him, with Muriel, with Amelia, or what was left behind. A detritus of a life, or two, or three. Muriel, her mother, Amelia. Letters signed sealed and evidently delivered. Photographs of the sisters. And I noticed the gaps between being young together and being older, and separate. Muriel does become the keeper of Amelia's legacy. She also spends some time speaking to those who want to discover what happened to Amelia. I'm curious about the in between. About the time when Amelia became Amelia and Muriel, Muriel. What went on between them, and what didn't go on . . .
I have to say one thing that stunned me, even at this late date, was how photogenic Amelia was. She's at one with a camera, even if it's unintentional. Anyhow, research is good for the soul, it lets you get away from that hunkered down intensity and breathe. And in this case it confirms your suspicions.
Amelia has spoken about her father in my book, the scene takes place on the Rock Island Line, he, once a god, falls in her estimation. And she keeps his secret for a while longer. It's Muriel who received the letter, with the ironically spelled mosquito. But it's Amelia who continued to send letters to family members, using ironic misspellings. It's family that shapes us . . .for better, for worse, forever.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Keith Haring and Amelia Earhart

I dare you to find the connection. . . actually no, I already have. There was nothing I loved more than seeing Keith Haring at work. And I did many times. The guy was slight and odd looking. He worked fast, but hey what he was doing was basically illegal. It was a New York moment. And a good one. Amelia sees him too. I won't say when. I won't say why. I will say that the book opens with Sam, one of my other protagonists, riding north to Barnard. And that she spies "the chalk man" working.
A time it was, oh what a time it was. . .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Amelia Earhart and her Dad

Amelia's father was an alcoholic. And a charming man. "At one time I thought that my father must have read everything and, of course, therefore, knew everything. He could define the hardest words as well as the dictionary and we used to try to trip him and he to bewilder us. I still have a letter he wrote me beginning, 'Dear parallelepipedon,' which sent me scurrying for a dictionary." So writes Amelia. It sent me scurrying too. It's a three dimensional form according to the ever handy though fairly unreliable Wikipedia entry. Her father was a large presence in her life, that is until he began to fail, and then to drink. After that he became a confusing presence/absence. I am preoccupied with Amelia's father today, and with all fathers.

My friend lost her own father yesterday. I went by today as they were sitting shiva. Last night I dreamed of my own dead father and with a writer's true self absorption had him noting that I had rushed the ending of the book he'd just read, even as he was physically failing. In my dream I knew he was dying but he was still ready to critique my work. Ah fathers and daughters, what a tangled web we weave.

It's funny, because I only have sons myself. It's sons and mothers here and sons and fathers. But I think of my other family, the one I had before this, the one that only lasted a mere sixteen years, after that of course we saw each other but never lived together again. I couldn't stand to. I think of Amelia and know that my connection to her extends to this. Her father was someone she loved and felt incredible contempt for. His weakness exposed all of them to poverty. It made her mother miserable, and their marriage ended in divorce. Yet once when she was little, he was a god. How far our parents have to fall and fail to become human. It really is unfair.

So here's the end for Amelia and for many. If we're lucky we do outlive our parents. And we mourn them, even as they become our children. Amelia writes to her mother, "About Dad. The diagnosis was correct. . . he waged a hopeless fight against a thing which took all his nourishment. . . I tried and had always to please him, and he hoped until he could not move his poor hands.. . He was an aristocrat as he went-all the weaknesses gone with a little boy's brown puzzled eyes."

I love that, a little boy's puzzled eyes. To fathers and daughters everywhere . . . love.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Letting go. . . watching your mother die (and no, it's not about Amelia)

Dying. It ain't easy. I interrupt my regularly scheduled Amelia broadcast simply because I need to write about it. Watching someone you loved and admired deteriorate is painful. But it must be so much more painful for them. Yet I think my mother has finally reached a level of peace I didn't expect. Perhaps I'm being naive. I went to see her yesterday, and for once she was alert. Able to talk to me, and to listen. I'm never quite sure how much she really wants to listen. And I find myself trying hard to entertain her as if I'm back in those years when the two of us were thrown together and I was the child who was there to try and cheer her up. It was my role. I was the one who was expected to do what she had done, to be what she'd been, and to love her. She'd struck out with the other two. My brother hated her. My sister fought with her bitterly. Third time was the charm, or at least it was for a while.

By the time I came along my siblings were almost grown. There are ten and twelve years separating us. My brother had been sent off to prep school, one of his biggest pet peeves. It was really because my mother couldn't deal with his behavior. I think she's always been a little afraid of men, and my brother was turning into a man. One with a quick temper. My sister and I bunked in the same room, but when I was six she went to college and from that time on, I was my mother's keeper. Neither sibling cares much about my experience with her. Theirs are so different, perhaps that's what siblings do. They believe that their experience is everyone's. I somehow have managed to be able to differentiate. My father treated us differently. So did my mother.

I think that it may have been partly historical. When I was five, my mother had to give up a satisfying career as an obstetrician and move back to New York from DC.
Then her father died. She was depressed by that and by having to find a way to begin again. Meanwhile my father worked endless hours. So she made me into her buddy. Until I left for college I swore I was going to be a doctor to please her. And in turn, she loved me more. Or at least was able to show her love in a more natural way. Not that she was ever a warm person. Far from it. Still I knew that she appreciated me. I never felt that from my father, in fact, I felt he disliked me personally even though he loved me in a general sense.

Each child gets a different parent. And at the end, each child gets a different goodbye from them. The last words my father spoke to me were, "You're getting fat." Suffice it to say, I am not fat, not even remotely overweight. He said he loved me too. But it was always like that with him, give something and then take something else. My mother made me lean towards her yesterday and she said, well you know I don't remember exactly which is why I have such trouble with the memoir concept, but the gist was "you get me." I agreed. I do get her. I always have. She lucked out the third time that way. And I had a mother I could talk to for years, one who shared with me and supported me. That was a real gift. She's long gone, but that moment I think was her way of saying goodbye to me. She finally seems at peace, I think that death has terrified her but now for whatever reason it doesn't. I'm glad of that. And sad as I am to see her go, and she will go though who knows when exactly, I'm glad that I got her back. At least for a moment.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Seeing is believing in Amelia Earhart's world

What if everything was crucially different. What if the city you once lived in had changed, signposts were there but they were obscured by all the rest. The Empire State and Chrysler building dwarfed; and of course that's just the beginning. Automobiles are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity. In this city, buses have replaced trams. Planes crisscross the sky. Air travel is exactly as you'd imagined it, it's become routine. What would you ultimately make of this, if you were supremely logical?

Amelia is logical and pragmatic. She sees change all around her, there are two impulses pulling at her. One is to be herself in every possible way, but the other is to be part of all this. And to explain how she's arrived at this odd juncture. Who am I? It's a question we all ask ourselves. She asks it over and over again. This novel is about identity, and hers is fluid. Because she's getting a second chance and she means to enjoy it.

There's much to enjoy, and much more to be floored by. Think of going up to the top of the twin towers and looking out . . . a bittersweet image for those of us living here. I did it in those shaking elevators. I sat in Windows on the World and took in the view. There are so many things I love/loved about the city. In 1980 there was a lot more grit and a lot less glam. She gets to wander my city and try to make herself part of it in her own way . . . that part I won't tell. How a supremely logical mind tricks itself. Because hey, we've all tricked ourselves into believing things. Why not Amelia?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Amelia Earhart and a life worth living

I have been spending so much time wondering what Amelia would miss most. I have been focusing on the details. First meal? That was a good one. First view of a world so changed it's almost unrecognizable. Lots of inventions that would fascinate someone whose life revolved around a faith in physics, and in human ingenuity. In real life, Amelia pressed forward. But what would you do, given a second chance. It's the doing that got me stuck. Yesterday I thought about what you wouldn't do. What you'd marvel at, if you could take a breath and stand back. If you weren't always pressing forward. If you could observe, and enjoy and just live.

That's what I think she gets a chance to do. She gets a chance to be happy. Now I'm not saying she wasn't, or that any of us aren't. But given an opportunity perhaps we would be able to be the ultimate tourist. I'm never happier than when I'm in a country where I am completely free of the needs, wants and endless frustrations of my own daily life.

I think she is that tourist today. Here, but not here. She gets to see my city when it wasn't sanitized, when it wasn't as rich or as safe as it is today. There was a great ticking heart at the center of that city, one that made me fall in love with it on a daily, even hourly basis. This is the gift she gets, to be anonymous for a moment, to take a breath and not be Amelia.

Monday, March 29, 2010

what would irritate Amelia Earhart more?

Say you got to research your life, say you were pretty much able to debunk every single theory about you, and say you had no way to make that public? That's what Amelia faces when she heads to the library to see what's been written. Luckily for her it's only 1980 so certain books are still waiting to see the light of day. One that I find particularly irritating is The Sound of Wings. This writer's conceit is that Amelia's life is as fascinating as that of her husband, G.P. Putnam, thus we move from a chapter about her, to a chapter about her husband. I can imagine the pitch the agent gave on this one. . . a new and unique take on an iconic figure.

And then there are the various elaborate theories about how it all ended, that she never died, that she was Tokyo Rose and returned home to spend the rest of her life alive and well and living in New Jersey. Or even worse, that the round the world flight was an elaborate deception, she used it to leave her husband because she, poor frail thing, couldn't have done that all on her own. Back then, she used her fame to make sure she could live a relatively private life. Now everything is scrutinized in obsessive detail. I think she'll find all of this remarkably intrusive, and also infuriating.Frankly, I don't blame her.

Friday, March 26, 2010

the library now

Columbia gem of the ocean and Amelia Earhart

Returning to visit my former alma mater, I find that it's a sunny day for once. The former library is not quite as I remembered, grander inside, with one full room for lectures. Funny that I would set my novel here since I don't have the fondest memories of my time spent at Columbia. Then again I was a writing student, and writers are notoriously competitive. I was also older than most of my counterparts, all of us vying for the prize of being most talented and first published. I lost out on that one, but then again,many of those I went to school with have come and gone and gone somewhere else, hopefully happier than they were.
I keep writing, and publishing as best I can, and writing some more. But I feel like I probably started this novel then, so many years ago. I wanted to create a world where the dead and living could coexist and hey I'm not Garcia Marquez but I did have aspirations. First it was my grandmother, then it was Darwin, but now it's Amelia.
I looked up at the top of this building yesterday and thought of all those odd connections one makes with one's characters and how she wasn't a character at all, she was an amazingly vibrant and courageous person. The idea that she went up to the top of that building, that she found her way up there and watched the stars, it's just wonderful to imagine, no writer could have come up with it. But I use it. Boy do I use it.
So dear reader, if you are out there, here is a photo of how it looks now, better I think when Amelia dug her heels in and sat, or brought friends up at night to chart the constellations.