Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taking a break to rant, with a bow to Amelia Earhart

Perhaps it's the perpetual snow. Perhaps the realization that despite the endless snowdrifts accumulating outside my window, the tornadoes that we experience here on a
regular basis now, the torrential rains in the summer, the crawl that CNN provides while I row at the gym announcing Extreme Weather, despite all of this we still have idiots who tell us that global warming isn't coming, or isn't here, or doesn't exist, or isn't a problem. They are the same idiots who have decided to forgo any sort of meaningful regulation. No credit protection for consumers. No banking rules. They are the same morons who think our health insurance system is working out fine for us, perhaps they'd like to pay my ever increasing bills for an insurance that doesn't provide me coverage for much of anything.

I'm sick of them, I'm sick of all of it. I wanted to believe that we could change because despite all appearances to the contrary, I am an optimist. I wanted to believe that this government could provide something for its citizens besides hot air. Do I sound pissed off? Well I am.

What would Amelia Earhart think of this? I have some ideas, and since she's not here to speak, I'll offer them. She would wonder what was going on, she would ask that question, she believed in equal rights for women and worked hard to promote equality. She questioned war, in all its forms. Lady Lindbergh? Not as far as her politics went. She was friends with FDR. I have an old portrait that my father kept in my own office. Roosevelt was a great president, true I had quibbles, but boy are they quibbles now. I can live with quibbles, I can't live with cowardice. Yet that's what we get from our elected officials.

Amelia Earhart was the epitome of courage. Courage is standing up for whatever you believe in. Courage is having a belief, not trying to figure out what will be politically expedient for you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

ESP and Amelia Earhart

I've just read a biography discussing Amelia's fascination with ESP. Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray anyone? I find it so odd to think of someone who was innately practical believing that they could communicate with the spirit world. On the other hand, I'm not above making use of it in my novel. What could be more apt, a ghost who believes that she can communicate with ghosts has to discover she, herself, is a ghost. It is, at the very least, ironic.

It seems that it's hard to let the dead go. I find myself thinking of my father at the oddest times. And that was a fraught relationship. I had one particularly vivid dream where he was dying in it, shrinking away and I woke sobbing. I thought, that's it, I've let him go. But then, he returns. I can't quite let him go, I can't forget him, he's part of me, he's why I am the way I am. I wonder if that was part of what Amelia wanted? She'd lost her own father and good friends who were aviators. Did she think it was a way of continuing that connection or was she fascinated by it, imagining there was science involved?

According to the biographer, Mae West was at one of these seances complete with knocking table. When I was growing up the idea was still being investigated, but we settled for Ouija boards. We'd make sure the letters moved to spell out something truly embarrassing.

What was Amelia searching for in this? Was it a way to come back herself? She chose to do dangerous things, knew that she stood a good chance of dying, was this her way of reassuring herself there was something more than the here and now?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Being Amelia Earhart . . . is it ever too late to learn?

She comes in for a landing, hard. I suppose I've picked a theory for my novel, though it's the bleakest of all. It has her overshooting Howland and living as a castaway. Certainly it was done before in a more romantic vein, see I Was Amelia Eahart for details on that one. My book is completely different. No romance on the island, or off for that matter. She's Amelia and as such, she will have two competing concerns. She wants to complete her flight, but she also wants to understand what she's been brought back for.

More on that later, anyhow now she's in her sister's living room, and assuming it's a fever dream. One that shows a whole lot of depth. She's got visions of a future that are uncannily accurate. Slowly but surely she learns the limits of this place, and this fantasy . . . for the moment she's stuck in Mudford. Would she stay put? I vote no. I think her whole life was an attempt to leave this behind. She would want to do it again. But with second chances, there's a learning curve. You won't make the same piloting mistakes. You won't let the sun blind you, or run out of fuel, or overshoot the mark.
And psychologically I hope that's also true. I want to believe that it's never too late to learn. . .

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

If I were Amelia Earhart a few years later

Well I'm not, and yet I have to be. I do wonder why I set myself this particular goal. But that's what blogs are for I guess, musing on the absurdities. Amelia sets down in her sister's living room tomorrow, well if not tomorrow Friday. First Muriel gets to say her piece. And by god, she does have a lot to say. I like Muriel, and have a feeling I would have liked her if I'd met her. However my character is of course imagined, still she's a crusty lady of eighty or so. She's got her opinions and sticks to them. And she's got a fine sense of humor. She's also got this sister who won't let go. Or maybe Muriel won't let go of Amelia.

Then Amelia finds herself back, back in the living room in Medford, the place she wanted to escape from so long ago. The horror! And the pleasure of course because before this, she was pretty close to having had it. Is it a dream? Is it reality. Whatever it is, it's familiar, imagine getting to fly round the world or almost and ending up in Medford forty plus years on. Trapped in a living room of a house you basically paid for but never really wanted to visit, and certainly had no intention of inhabiting. Well there we go, off to channel Amelia. . . and her astonishment, and her chagrin.

Amelia Earhart, or when our bodies betray us

I've been reading about Amelia's issues with physical discomfort; she had an infection that caused tremendous pain, eventually having to have surgery. One writer talks about headaches and sinus pain continuing, deepening after long flights. Chronic pain is something many deal with, physical pain is something most of us experience at some time in our lives. It seems a small thing really, yet it often takes over. Watching Olympic athletes perform and listening to the commentary I am reminded of how pain stops some from doing anything, while other people fight right through. So many of these athletes have to come back from massive injuries, yet they do it gladly. They do it because they can't imagine not performing, or competing, racing down a mountain at breakneck speeds, cutting figures on the ice and making leaps that defy logic. What they do isn't normal. But then what is normal? Why do we cling to it, when joy comes from other things?

I think of how much we can complain on an off day, a day when something as simple as a cold fells us. I feel lousy. I feel crappy. I want to lay in bed and watch a double feature and give in. These people never give in. Neither did Amelia. It takes a certain kind of ferocious determination to succeed, it's not something that's easy to come by, and surely she doubted herself early and often. Some would say that extreme athletes, and those who willingly put themselves in harm's way are different from most of us. That's true, but it doesn't mean we can't learn from their example. They have passion, and they don't let physical pain get in the way of it. I'm not saying that I would ever be able to ski down a mountain. I'd be more likely to fall down and cling to the slope. Still, there are things we all do that take courage. Amelia's life was writ large, mine certainly much smaller. Still I hope I can follow her example in some small way. I'm not about to take up an extreme sport, there are other difficult things one faces, I don't think I have to enumerate. Everyone copes with loss. Getting through that is something that takes as much courage as flying down a mountain.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

guilty pleasure, project runway, and Amelia Earhart

Well, I'll admit it. I watch Project Runway and have since the very first season. Jay stole my heart then. It's something we do as a family, both my sons are fashion forward while I am fashion well . . . backwards might be a kind way of describing it. I do have moments though and I can appreciate when someone else basically pulls it all together in an engrossing delicious and absolutely astounding way. Back when, I veered between dressing like a woman in men's clothing complete with button down shirt, vest and tie and mini skirt, and dressing like a Victorian bride, albeit one who preferred hiking boots.

So here's my current ode to Amelia, found via the Internet, a great blog piece, and a great blog that I just discovered.I did feel Irina deserved to win, these pieces confirm that view. Frivolous, perhaps. But fashion does make the man, or woman.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

the mystery continues or where is Amelia Earhart

Why are we more interested in what happened to her than in what she accomplished?
And why when I think about what she'd see in 1980, do I realize that there are still so few female pilots? I think she'd be amazed by the progress we'd made, the obvious sleekness of the machines, the safety of flying and appalled at how sexist the industry still is.

Friday, February 12, 2010

If Amelia Earhart was alive in 1980, ghosts and the rules thereof

Here's a question for you? Do ghosts in novels follow rules? And if so what are they? I just read a ghost story that received a lot of attention last year, The Little Stranger. I guessed the kicker halfway through the book, spoiler alert, it's the narrator who calls forth the ghost, it's his malevolent spirit destroying the family he supposedly adores. There's a great deal of discussion about what ghosts are, and what can cause supernatural occurrences, it's written in the style of a nineteenth century novel and works as such, with some nice modern touches.

My book bears no resemblance to this at all. Yet I have a ghost of sorts, someone who is in limbo, then alive. It has to make sense and I find myself caught in that, partly because I guess I'm the kind of person who hates to be too obvious, partly because I don't see what I'm doing till after it's done. And done with. . .

I know Amelia would want to make her last flight again, I know that she would want to experience everything that was new and different and wonderful, I also believe that she would reject what she rejected before. The question is how to make this work on the page, how to make her come to life in a way that the reader buys. It's quite a quandary.

Yet I think of how she got her first break, of going to New York to interview with Putnam, leaving behind Boston and social work, hoping to get a shot at doing something completely unnerving and spectacular, selling herself as the right woman for the job, managing that.

It strikes me that she began her journey in New York, that she left her life in Boston to do it, and that it would happen again. That she left her sister behind once and she would do it again . . .even though in my book it's Muriel who calls her back, it's Muriel who needs her.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Amelia Earhart needs to raise a little money

How is flying a plane round the world the same as publishing a novel? In this case, funding. There were a lot of theories about Amelia's marriage to G.P. Putnam, (yes, as in G.P. Putnam and sons, or as we call it now, Putnam which now specializes in best sellers). No one ever seemed to find the relationship romantic, most viewed it as a marriage of convenience. I see it more as a meeting of two very clever and driven minds.

To manage to achieve a goal that is both so difficult and so expensive, you have to have incredible focus. And you have to believe that whatever it costs is worth it. I mean that in every possible sense. You have to have a huge ego. And an endless supply of energy and enthusiasm. What you want, what you believe, what you intend, you have to have such confidence in it, such a deep seated belief in your own importance. You have to know that what you write is worth reading. And what you're attempting matters. More to the point, whatever it is, has to be worth the cost.

It's not solely financial after all. In order to soar Amelia refused the more traditional pleasures that her sister chose, hearth, husband, home. They felt constricting to her, as they do to many women of this generation. Still, I think about the way she raised money for each new adventure, how she sold herself and did it gladly, knowing that she'd get what she needed in return. If she had doubts, she hid them. She was a remarkably unself-conscious role model. Think of who girls look to and look up to now and the kind of artifice that's attached to these so-called heroines. Fame seems to be an end in itself. It's not what you do that brings you fame. It's you. Just you. Everything is image these days.

And so I think about being a writer, and what I've chosen to write about, nothing as brave or as daring as what Amelia did. But still, it's not solely me on the page. I write because I want to create something surely more fascinating than my own, unremarkable life. As for image? I have to admit, I find it hard to know how to construct one that's commercial. I know this is not time to be self-effacing, that it's a bad habit, still. So I think of Amelia and how she was willing to use her image in order to get what she wanted most. It was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Amelia Earhart-as she was and as I imagine her

Who is Amelia? I have spent so much time thinking about her, but I find that writing a character means forgetting everything you know. You have to let them tell you who they are. Amelia is direct, forceful, opinionated, a bit of a know it all, she's also impulsive, selfish, stubborn, adventurous, and willing. When she comes back to a world she's never even dreamed might exist, she finds all of it compelling. Think about returning forty three years on. Think what it would be like for you? Can we even keep up with Facebook and Twitter? That's what, five years of our lives at most? She has to make sense of everything, and she has to decide whether to embrace it or fear it. Everything in her, everything that is her, tells her to embrace it. To inhale it. To be a part of this for as long as she can. To be amazed, and assert herself, and live.

I think what most fascinates me about her, of course in my version, is her desire to live. And to live fully. It's a lesson I hope to learn. But one my character has, then again she is Amelia.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

the waiting is the hardest part

Apologies to Tom Petty. I have discovered that we have a scanner. Actually we've had one for some time but since I just sent the draft off to a friend to read I'm playing with it. On to the photo that I am about to upload, Amelia on the roof of the library at Columbia University. I just absolutely love the idea of her sitting up there watching the world go by. What nerve she had. Also I've been reading some of her letters again, and there's such enthusiasm there, especially when she was young.

I wonder if she was fully conscious of this, or if it just is apparent to those of us interested in looking back at her. I think about being young, I see my own children and try to remember, through the fine mists of time, what it was like to be seventeen, or twenty two. I do remember this feeling of possibility. But also a great deal of confusion. I expect she was confused as well, she certainly changed career paths enough. But she also found a passion.

The thing I admired most about my father was his passion for the law. He knew he was meant to do one thing and one thing only. I felt and feel the same way about writing, whatever the drawbacks are. Amelia felt as strongly about flying, but god what a choice she made. What an incredible, wonderful choice.

A look is worth a thousand words

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

eulogies and the power of forgiveness

I wonder what they did for Amelia, I wonder how you mourn someone when there's no consensus. I wonder this because with my father, there wasn't even an urn. He sent his body out to sea, there's no marker other than a bench my nephew bought and sealed his name to on Riverside Drive. He loved to walk there, so if we want we can go sit in the bench and remember. My father walked from home to work up until six months before his death. He walked with long strides, the steadiest sort of pace, he was hard to keep up with until the cancer took over. Even when he knew he was dying, he walked. We gave him a service, and hundreds came. I wrote a speech, one that differed considerably from the ones given by my brother, my sister, my nephew.

Two nights ago I woke and found myself writing a speech for my mother's funeral. She's not dead, but she'd dying. Dying in fits and starts, her mind almost gone, her body giving out on her. It will be so different from what I wrote for my father, you see I know who she is and was. I barely knew him. And I don't question her love for me, while with him . . .

I think of what was done for Amelia, her husband declared her lost on January 5,1939 (although a book I'm reading says January 6th, I'm going to dig into the research and see why this discrepancy). It was done so her will could be probated. By then some had given up, but others never did. So many theories have been proposed. In my novel I have a character point out that "everyone loves a mystery." Having written a few of my own, I know it's true. We like the puzzle, and we like the idea that there's a solution we might get to. But when someone dies, we also like to remember them and speak about them in ways that helps us mourn. I wonder if her family got to do that for her.

In my novel, I let Muriel get her shot. I let her talk about her sister, warts and all. I let her say what most of us never say when they can overhear. The best memorial services are the ones where you listen and think, "That's right!" You see them whole. You can't grieve for a saint. You can only admire them.