Saturday, January 30, 2010

oh joni

I never get tired of it, thank you Joni. . .

Friday, January 29, 2010

sorry . . .

I can't help thinking of Love Story whenever I hear someone say "I'm sorry." It's such a weak excuse, and one I use repeatedly. What on earth does it mean? Sorry when you hit someone inadvertently as you're shoving past them in a crowd? Or sorry that you insulted your best friend or significant other with panache yet again? Sorry big? Sorry little? It's not a word that works. We throw the word out as if we mean it. The other day I had an encounter with my own sibling. She walked all over me verbally and then when I stood up for myself, told me she was sorry. She apologized ten minutes later. It's a pattern, one I regrettably learned at my mother's knee. My father was sorry too, but he never actually knew what he was apologizing for. He'd manage to be sorry as he attacked you yet again. He had this odd aphasia about the way he acted, "what me? I'm the nice one," he seemed to be saying.

Anyhow, on to being sorry in my book. Muriel tells my young protagonist Sam that the word is useless. I agree with her. Sorry isn't ever enough. To make amends you have to be able to offer up more than a word, you have to understand more than that one word gives you and you can't expect to be let off the hook so easily, to walk away unscathed from whatever you've done to someone else.

Sorry only works for politely strong arming your way through the crowded streets in New York. Sorry doesn't work when you've spent a lifetime disappointing someone else. To make that up, you have to dig deeper. You have to show more. You have to give more. Only then can forgiveness come.

I'm going to let Amelia think about that, and I'm going to see what she does . . . I'm going to let her surprise me. I think she will. She's gotten me this far.

Sorry, how many times have we used it, and how much does it ever mean, and when is it enough? Now there's a question for you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

sex . . .yes that's right, sex

Here's the thing, there are sex scenes to write. But how to do it? Delicately? Without bodice ripping? Without euphemisms? Getting across the point without making the point too obvious. Or making it so obvious it makes you squirm? To titillate or not? I'm not telling who has sex and who makes love, but there's a difference surely. Or at least the aftermath is different. You don't groan and stand up and go wash off and run away. You stay, you stay put and admire the other person, you admit that you want them, and still want them after you're done.

I can write a decent sex scene, but the best I've ever read is in Sue Miller's book Lost in the Forest. When any other writer would have pulled back, she kept going honestly, efficiently, relentlessly. Amazing. Creepy and amazing considering it was an older man with a teenage girl and he was basically molesting her . . . almost molesting her because there was such a thin line. The line between dangerous and safe, the line between I want this, and I really don't.

Yesterday I thought to myself how do I begin, today I wonder how do I continue. Sex is a pastime. Sex is a release. Sex is an obsession. Sex is part of life. Sex is natural. Sex is perverse. Sex is whatever it is for you personally and why does the world have to know. Sex sells. God does sex sell.

Rest assured there's sex in this novel, gay and straight. Let's leave it at that. But when I write I do think back to an assignment I flubbed long ago, writing some of those "true-life" Penthouse letters. The pay was good, my writing inadequate to the task.

In my novel, one of the two young girls tells the other, "sex is the easy part."
Is she right? I wonder.

Monday, January 25, 2010

How does one have it all

Reading the paper just yesterday, I noted that another billionaire was going belly up and getting divorced. Apparently this is news. Still, the poor man would be allowed to keep his paltry million dollar a month lifestyle. I probably have the figures wrong, but you get the picture. He'd married his second wife without a pre-nup and now was deep in trying to make sure she didn't walk away with too much, meanwhile he'd managed to make a few understandable mistakes. Didn't pay taxes. That sort of thing. Ran some companies into the ground. Once he had it all. The money, the power, the art collection, the trophy wife.
For a woman what does having it all really mean? You're Meryl Streep I believe. Or you're out in the cold. And therein lies my comparison. Meryl is hands down amazing and has been since I was younger and striving. I'd always tell myself I wasn't Meryl, who could be? The woman was amazingly talented and able to pull off having a top of the line career, being apparently happily married and raising children. How on earth did she juggle all that?

I see her now, apparently sans plastic surgery. She is still amazing, even more so. She opens movies. She has that same family all grown up. She's self effacing and caring and yes, she has it all. She is still the pinnacle. The fact is, it's not exactly crowded up there.

I look back at the choices Amelia and Muriel made. It's quite possible that Amelia had no real interest in parenting, and that Muriel was willing to barter with her husband and eventually achieve a career as a teacher. Both may well have suited who they were. But both were necessary. I look around at my friends and see that we still make the same sorts of choices. We juggle home and career and worry about both. We wonder if we're doing things well or well enough. We put too much on our plate, and tell ourselves that it's a scientific fact that women are born multi-taskers. We hold ourselves up to such high standards.

Do men? I'm not angry, I'm just asking. Is it a product of brain chemistry or how we're raised? Has this generation changed? A little, a lot? I'd like an answer from you and no, I'm not answering for you. My husband's an incredible cook, a wonderful father, a supportive husband, and he works his butt off. This isn't about him, it's about the world around us.

What does having it all mean to you?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

for fun and games

Amelia tried it herself. But her fashion line bombed. Now she's back, or at least her sensibility is. Fashion. Not for the faint of heart.

Friday, January 22, 2010

right next to teterboro

I'm not giving away too much, gosh maybe I am. On the other hand, think of Amelia researching herself; reading her biographies and the one her sister wrote. Wandering through the world remade. Ending up here of all places. . . so conveniently situated, right next door to an airport. Taking lessons. Getting back into the cockpit. But by day earning a living, eating in a diner, sleeping at a Y, planning and waiting and planning.
A woman who never took 'no' for an answer. And never looked too hard at what was pushing her, because why look when what you got for it was being Amelia.

We're made differently now. We move from the inside out. Our language is chock full of psychoanalytic jargon. Not a bad thing, not a good thing, a thing. She's in this world and the world matters. Wherever you live, whatever you see, everything you encounter makes you who you are. She's remaking herself and she can't stay the same. It's just not possible, we have to believe that we're mutable beings. Woody Allen said it once comically, sharks move or they die and what we have here is a dead shark. I still believe that human beings can change given a good enough reason. I believe that's part of what makes us special. I may often sound cynical, but I do hope. My father was an idealist, a dreamer, and I suppose that's where I get it from.

Anyway, here dear reader, a museum of sorts, a shrine to flight. . .

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You say it's your birthday

Amelia started shaving years off her age early on in her career. Hard to believe that a woman who showed no outwards signs of vanity, cared. But she definitely did. Muriel said she would have hated growing old. She was like the rest of us I suppose. Though some hate it more than others. And society presses us to capture youth and bottle it. We're no longer even allowed to joke that we're thirty nine, that's ancient. Actresses who I admire feel the need to medically alter their looks when they're half my age. Older ones show up and I can no longer find them. They've become someone new, when they wake and look in the mirror who do they see? How do they know themselves? And how do they emote when they can't smile or frown?

Each line is a road-map back. Without them, we may seem freshly minted, but we also lose something in the process. Yes, it's my birthday. Again. Glad to have one. Glad to move on. I look in the mirror and see the same person who was there yesterday, that at least is familiar. There's enough in the world that isn't. We are born into a family, some of us cling to it, others make a new one.

In her early letters Amelia is filled with enthusiasm. She agitates and cogitates and manages to forget certain salient details, like Muriel's imminent arrival for a visit. "Muriel is coming the weekend with me, I think. Reg has asked me to so many things and I haven't gone once so finally consented to go to a senior professional hockey game on Saturday-not remember at the time about Muriel. It is the game of season and he asked me a week in advance. Isn't that simple? I guess I'll cancel it." Later on, she manages to avoid Muriel's home in "Mudford" on numerous occasions. The name is meant to be cute, but it's hardly complimentary.

Amelia was a dutiful daughter, a generous sister who never let either her mother or Muriel forget her role. Someone had to be the caretaker, someone had to think about money . . .

You can't do everything or be everything, Amelia chose to take hold of what she loved most and stay true to it. She didn't seem to be overly empathetic, which is ironic considering her laundry list of early career choices; nursing, social work, teaching. Muriel was the empathetic one. Amelia found it hard to believe there were other ways to live. Or that anyone would willingly choose them. The irony is that Muriel was the one who ended up re-imagining her. Muriel was the one who insisted her sister was perfect, when she so evidently wasn't.

I think perfection is over-rated, yes, it's my birthday. I'm not perfect. Far from it. Balance, positives and negatives, those are what count most. And make life interesting.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rebel with a cause or what makes sisters different? And are there regrets? I've had a few.

There is a pecking order. The older one escorts the younger one through life. They undergo many of the humiliations first. They focus the parents' attention and let the second slip through with much less scrutiny. The second, third and fourth time round parents get a chance to rejigger.Experience may prove that being over protective doesn't necessarily matter. Or that certain rules are just . . . well, absurd.

On the other hand, some parents stick to their guns even as the world changes around them. By the time I was a teenager, I saw there was only one way to avoid conflict with my mother. I lied to her. My mother told me that I shouldn't have sex till I got married, this from the woman who headed a family planning clinic and handed out contraception to everyone and anyone. She also told me that if I smoked pot I wouldn't be allowed to go to college. I wouldn't have had any fun at all if I'd listened.

Amelia's father forbade her from taking flying lessons. That worked out too. Yes, your parents only want to protect you from yourself, and yes yes yes, it's so hard to let your child go. I discover it myself with a son who wants to move three thousand miles away. It's gut wrenching, but necessary.

I wonder what Muriel's life would have been like if Amelia had lived. What sort of peace they would have made . . .certainly it must have been hard to be her sister. Not the least because Amelia wrote chiding letters and made it clear she was the boss. She wasn't just older, she was Amelia. Publicly Muriel made it clear she thought her sister a saint. Privately, I find it hard to believe she didn't have some doubts. Sisters do. They love each other, but it's never simple. Or easy. Being Amelia's sister was hard. She overshadowed Muriel. Then she disappeared.

I imagine what they would have said to each other, given the chance. I think it's a profound love you feel for your sibling. There's so much that you don't say to them, simply because they don't/won't hear. Or you're afraid of the response. What if Amelia could hear? What if Muriel could finally tell her? Think of the relief . . .think of the possibilities.

If you could make amends, if you could say the thing you never said, what would it be?
We all have regrets . . .even Amelia.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I think I can or why I write, god knows

I am on page 256 of the rewrite. The book as it stands is 397 pages long. That's not manuscript, so shorter. I think I can, I think I can. Why do I write? That's a question I often pose. I do it because it's what I've always done. I do it because I can't stop myself. I do it because on good days, it makes me forget everything except trying to form that perfect sentence, pushing and pulling and hoping that I can. I've been writing since I was five, first it was Pegasus, ah you say the flying horse, and then it was poetry, and after that novel after novel, short stories, articles, novels that were published, novels that languished. Life has a way of intervening and pointing out that certain things aren't as important as you thought. But this has retained its sense of urgency. I get up every day and go to the computer, once it was a typewriter . . . and write. Without it, I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

I had a friend who called it a hobby, god knows it's an expensive one. Expensive in terms of time and energy and emotional abuse. As for payment, hey, don't think you're going to get rich doing this. But why complain, no one said it would be easy. Really, nothing is. And if you get to do something every day that gives you pleasure you are lucky.

Amelia was lucky too, not at the end but in between. That's more than most of us ever get. I think you do make your own luck in part. You have to be ready when the opportunity comes. She was. You have to believe you can do this, whatever this is. I find it remarkable Amelia had such faith in herself. And inspiring. I only hope I can do her justice. I think she's someone who has often been underestimated, funny to say that really. She was wonderful and impossible, just like anyone else. I wonder why that's so hard to translate. . .even after all these years.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Big Bill Haywood, Amelia, the IWW and why Muriel might fly

I'm working on a chapter told from Muriel's POV. In it I conflate a lot of what I've read and yes, make up just a few things. But that's my right as an author. I'm not being arrogant saying that. We come to fiction to be surprised and transported. And we surely don't want the action in a novel to be predictable.

As an undergraduate I took a wonderful class on the Labor movement in the U.S. It covered the I.W.W. For those who don't know, they were the Industrial Workers of the World, communist sympathizers, progressives and way to the left of the A.F.L. or C.I.O. Without them, my guess is labor unions would have had a hard time becoming as powerful as they have. You need an outlier, FDR needed one too. In his case, the demon was socialism. Easier to press for change when the alternative is even more frightening to those who might stand in your way.

In her book Courage is the Price, Muriel mentions that Amelia attended an I.W.W. meeting. Muriel says she thought their basic demands reasonable. They wanted workers to have a living wage, retirement and health care. Today, these are still goals that are out of reach for too many. The IWW managed to brew a protest in 1923 even though most of their leaders were in jail or in exile. The San Pedro dockworkers struck and it became a cause celebre.

I think of Amelia having an opportunity to protest in the way I did; I marched with righteous passion towards the White House countless times. I was young enough to believe we could change the world or at least the misguided policies of our own government. I think Amelia would choose her own novel way of expressing dissent. And this one time she would take Muriel with her.

Muriel never much cared for flying. I want to know why. I want to imagine it, the two of them alone in the cockpit floating over Los Angeles. . .

Monday, January 11, 2010

idlewild for those who remember


This one will date me. Remember Idlewild? Remember when air travel was exotic? I can still visually recall my first trip in an airplane, we were heading for my sister's graduation in Minnesota. It was a prop jet. The sensation of weightlessness as we lifted off was exhilarating. I even enjoyed the turbulence. Those were the days . . .

Amelia was correct in predicting that flying would become routine. It has, much to my chagrin. But by setting my book in 1980 I give Amelia a chance to find a little fading glamor. She wants to get back into the cockpit, but to do so means catching up with forty plus years of aeronautic innovation. So she heads for the local airports; she haunts (okay I know this is too apt a verb) JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. She befriends crews as they get their breakfast, she chats them up and knows what questions to pose, but really she lets people talk and they talk about what they do and what they love. She's an excellent listener.

I used to find airports romantic. Waiting for a flight out, I'd find a spot where I could watch the planes as they took off. The most powerful dreams I ever had were flying dreams, in those I didn't need a plane. I just lifted off and soared.

I haven't had that dream in more years than I care to think about. But I feel that sensation sometimes, writing. That pure energy, that sense of losing myself. You lose yourself to find yourself, or so they say. I really hope it's true and now, back to Amelia and her search for a pilot's license . . .

Saturday, January 9, 2010

dying to meet you . . . and other sayings

When I was much younger I used to listen to a recording my parents had of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry. My favorite was "Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

It will be five years this January 22nd since my father's death.

Now my mother is fading, her memory is shot. She is frail and weak. I will visit her today, having been away for two weeks. I dread seeing her. She's been transformed from this stolid, intense and powerful being to a terrified, anxious wreck. I miss the mother I lost, the one I fought hard to forge a relationship with, the one I spoke with every day by phone, the one who actually supported my writing career. The one who loved me for who I am, not who she hoped I would be. That woman is gone.

I think of how Muriel said that Amelia wouldn't have wanted to live too long, that she would have hated the changes time wrought. Some seem to take this as a reference to Amelia's vanity,but I believe it's not that simple. We age and we watch ourselves diminish incrementally, we lose those we love and lose pieces of what made us love ourselves. It's a vicious journey. Muriel outlived her mother, father, sister, husband and son. Who would want to face that much loss?

In my novel I want her losses to matter, to mean something more, I want to give Muriel what I am unable to give my mother, a reason to hope.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

what money does and bravery

My father was blacklisted, but before that he'd worked at Justice as an attorney. My mother built a practice in D.C. as an OBGYN. She delivered babies and dealt with infertility and was amazing and beloved. Their life began in Washington, it was full of hope, and hope was all around then. FDR was president. They began in the throes of a depression but lived to see it ease; his policies were close enough to the socialism they believed in to comfort them. And of course war came, their relatives either fled or were murdered, they joined anti-fascist movements, they committed themselves to making a better world. And their own world grew exponentially. I look at photos of them and am amazed at the evident happiness. They had managed despite all obstacles; my mother had a booming practice and interesting patients, my father was a successful attorney, then Truman became president and the witch hunts began. He lost his job. He lost his self respect. My mother supported them. When he was finally hired, it meant leaving all they'd built to move back to New York City. For my father it was a new beginning, for my mother a new struggle. She endured, but never had the same affection for her work. She retired early and never complained about giving her career up, but I saw the effect it had on her. My siblings were out of the house, but I was there and I knew a very different woman from the one they grew up with. She was anxious, angry and chronically insecure. When I was very young I thought my mother was incredible, I wanted to be just like her. But as I grew older, I found her very different. It made me realize that giving up one's identity is a huge sacrifice.

Which brings me to Amelia and Muriel. They grew up in a household where money and lack of work became a huge issue. Their father moved from job to job, his alcoholism fueling his descent. Her mother's discontent was palpable, she left him once, then came back for a while and finally divorced him. Amelia and Muriel made their own way, with little money to back them. In Muriel's case I have a feeling this fueled a desire for stability, while in Amelia's . . .obviously the opposite. At the core of Amelia's character there is this willingness to try. She saw that control was an illusion. I'm not saying she wasn't afraid of death, I'm saying she was willing to face that fear in ways that most of us wouldn't.

I see her trying now, in my book. I love watching her do it, love watching her explore her options yet again, she threw off the traces then, would she do it given a second chance? Would she choose to soar, or would she have to address some of her regrets. Indeed, what would any of us do given that chance? There's my question for you out there, what would any of us really change? We like to say we would change a great deal, but I wonder if we would or if that's just Dickens calling, A Christmas Carol's conceit. It's brave to fly east to the dawn, but it's also brave to see yourself whole and wholly. To try and change who you are, that's bravery too. It may not be something the public cares about, but if you can do it, if you can change how you interact with someone you truly love, well that has to matter.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

bessie coleman; African American Aviatrix

Amelia and the politics of difference

The more things change, the more they stay the same... yet Amelia went missing in 1937. She didn't see the unfolding of the Second World War, or the aftermath. She didn't learn about the Holocaust, or fully understand the power of the atom. She never saw photographs of shadows pressed against vacant walls in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

By the time she returns in 1980, the world is different. Looking at this through the prism of race relations, I turn to seminal moments, some were public, Martin Luther King Jr's March on Washington, Malcolm X and the Panthers, the subsequent assassinations. Some more personal, my sister was a Freedom Rider. I was terrified for her and incredibly proud. In elementary school I had one best friend, her name was Mildred Patterson and she was black. I know it mattered, but I can't say how or why. We were just friends, we played together. We liked each other I suppose and then life moved on and we moved with it.

In Muriel's book she speaks about the day she and Amelia ran off to school in their newly sewn dresses and discovered that a classmate, "Lulu May, a Negro" was wearing the identical print. "I was embarrassed as the similarity of our dresses seemed to serve notice to the world that our father could afford nothing better for us than that which Lulu May's father, who was a porter . . . got for his daughter." Class and race had mixed to form a potent brew. The girls ran home to change at midday and their Mother who was truly quite progressive, she let them wear bloomers and eventually got divorced at a time when few women would have dared . . . admonished them. In Muriel's telling, she forced them to see the other side. How would Lulu May feel? And of course Muriel lets Amelia take the lead, it's Amelia who declares she won't change her dress. Muriel follows suit. Muriel's Amelia has a strong moral compass.

This story stays with me as I draw Amelia into our world. I believe she would look deeper, and see more than what would obviously compel her initially. Scientific advancements would matter, but no more than social change. She would have such a unique perspective. . .it would truly be a gift.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

the yellow peril

in this new year . . . Amelia's resurrection continues

I am now a third of the way through what I hope, pray is the final draft of this novel. I return to Amelia. She is seeing the world as we knew it in 1980, marveling at the changes.

When you're with someone on a daily basis you notice the sprouting of gray, the incremental changes, when you see them again after years, you're overwhelmed. How did that happen, you try to find what was in what is. And eventually you do. Amelia is trying to make sense of this new world, and finding echoes of her own in it. Of course she's smitten with all that progress has wrought. Cars speed by, planes crisscross the sky and they're jets, space is no longer the final frontier, even small things are hugely different. Radio is no longer the cheap entertainment of choice, it's a TV generation. And popular music which figures prominently in this novel is rock and roll, at least for the young, though there are proponents of disco too. My seventeen year old protagonist Sam has grown up on the Clash and Elvis Costello. Radio has changed course, it is a forum for popular music. There is so much to see, and so much to take in, eventually she'll find antecedents for all of it, but first, she'll have to marvel at it. Right now she's stepping into a van bound for New York, and she'll get a turn at the wheel. The need for speed, she always had it. I can't help but think it would have been marvelous for her to take over the wheel on a late night highway, pushing the speedometer up and up and up. She drove cross country with her Mother beside her when her parents finally called it quits, and in Boston she drove everywhere in a yellow Kissel car, Muriel describes it as a "low-slung sport model car, which was called affectionately the Yellow Peril."

What would she see first, and what would she love most? I ask myself this, and I think of her driving down that long stretch of I-95 at the wheel of a van, pushing it to see just what it could do, loving every single second.