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.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Amelia Earhart and Universal Health Care

Hey, we know she would have been for it. Not even a question. I mean, Teddy Roosevelt was for it. Anyone with a brain is for it. Anyone who's ever had to deal with an insurance company and fight and fight and fight till their face turns blue is for it.
Anyone bankrupted by those same greedy insurance giants is for it. And most of the people who are against all this government interference will be for it too once they
see what it is. Another example of how our educational system fails us. Instead of having a reasonable argument people scream and yell and curse and insult each other and lie, they just outright lie.

As I posted on facebook,my mother began to work towards Universal Health Care as a medical student. She is now ninety six years old and it was a proud moment for me when I called her to thank her for her efforts. She's seen change, yes, not as much as I would have hoped. Not as much as many others have. Still, something. It does offer you a sliver of hope in what is often a grim landscape.

I think Amelia will be disappointed that the world in 1980 is so unchanged in some basic way. She's missed several wars. And though we've come through the sixties and there has been progress for women, other things are not so rosy. Ronald Reagan is president. The homeless lack adequate care and shelter. Class and race still matter far too much. Change is incremental. Still today I cheer for it. I think she would too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

amelia at the controls

Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of a Boeing 727

When last she left, she was flying a Lockheed Electra. I am wishing, wishing, wishing I had one in my home office right about now. That and a Boeing 727. Because Amelia is going to get a tour of the cockpit, she has a way of convincing people to let her do what she needs to do. What she needs is to see inside and understand some of the differences, which have to be vast. So if you're out there and you know what they are, please help me. I know that there's a lot of talk about flying by the numbers, or that planes fly themselves these days. I know that Amelia's didn't. I'd like her to wonder at that difference and to get it, but to be able to do see means I have to get it. I'm sure that those who pilot for a living don't fly by the numbers at all, but they do have loads of electronic help. When these fail, then they have to fly by the seat of their pants, as in Captain Sully Sullenberger and his magnificent crew.

What I think is she would be overwhelmed, and curious, and a little appalled. But she'd also be amazed by the power that propels a jet engine. She'd want to know more, but she'd recognize some things all the same. Details, it's all in the details, right? So what would she notice for starters? And after she noticed it, would she still want to fly that plane? I'm thinking she'd be more inclined to want to fly something smaller, where she could be more in touch with the act of flying again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Amelia Earhart and the question of identity

I feel that this is the crux of my novel, I have characters straining to discover who they are. And what they must sacrifice to become the person they want to be. I have young women who strain to define themselves, partly through an intense friendship. Many have had one of those, the one where you feel twinned with your friend and honored that they chose you, and discover years later that they felt the same way. I have Muriel who is an eighty year old widow, a bereft mother and living out the last chapter of her life. And I have Amelia who is half her sister's age plus a few years more, who wonders at her own role now that she's apparently unrecognizable. She has to make herself again. And again. And again. She has to strain to find the things that mattered to her most.

It makes me wonder about what people come to expect. When you're as famous as she was, when crowds gather round you, clamoring for your attention, and all that is taken away from you, what do you feel? There's certainly an element of relief. You can be incognito. You can watch other people without them watching you back, and wanting something from you. We want so much from those who are famous. We want to be them. We want them to touch us. They are our gods and goddesses. Just passing near one of them makes your day special. It seems both shallow and completely understandable. We want to shine the way we imagine they do. And we want to bring them down to earth, as a culture we take such glee in it, when our 'ordained' great fall. Take all this unseemly and absurd attention given to Tiger Woods' indiscretions. Yes, he was an idiot, yes, he had extremely poor taste, and yes, I think his wife probably should have gone after him with a tire iron, but she only had a golf club handy. Still who really cares? Apparently everyone does according to the news media. It must be a relief not to have to hide who you are, to be a normal person and go about your routines unnoticed. Still, you have to also miss all that the attention brought you. There are real dividends. And for her, it meant an escape from the expectations her family placed on her, it gave her financial and emotional independence and above all she got to fly.

That's all we really want I think, to be able to fly. To fly away clean. To make our best getaway. Hats off to you Amelia.
Meanwhile back to the chapter that's been plaguing me for a while now. And onwards to the book that needs tweaking and a resolution. If fame retreats, do you pursue it again. I have John Lennon in my book, I was there when he was shot, it was really one of the saddest days of my life, he only wanted privacy, he, the most famous man in the world, more famous than Jesus. Look what that got him.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

what I miss most, on a different subject but with bows to Amelia

I miss my children playing in the backyard, the sun slanting, the heat almost oppressive. I miss watching them and thinking this is bliss. I miss the joy I felt then. The peace. I miss all of it. My son will leave. My mother will die. These things I know. My life will go on. I will manage. I miss my children young. I miss my own youth. I miss the things that I didn't know I had when I had them. I miss lying on a summer beach with Steven and Nancy and thinking that these people would be my best friends forever. I miss being best friends with anyone. I miss being that naive. I miss believing that I could do anything and do it well. I miss thinking "that was genius." I miss elation, a plane taking off, me riding anywhere at all. I miss the sense of possibility. I miss all that and more.

I see what I have; life is good but life is never what you expect. We strive and strain and discover that. What would I do if I had it to do over again. I'm faced with that question because I give it to Amelia to ponder. She has to think would she start over? Would she serve others before serving herself? She did, and I did it too. I loved doing it at first, but then I discovered that I was selfish, that I wanted more. I think she'd want more too. She had it once. Is it luck that makes you an Amelia Earhart? I think luck is only a small piece of it. I think there's courage, determination, ambition, and a stubborn sense of self.

I may have come to this party late, but I'm here now.

amy sacksteder, paintings about Amelia's last flight

Here are some links that I found interesting . . .

Monday, March 8, 2010

Eastern shuttle and Amelia Earhart

If you remember the Eastern shuttle, raise your hand. I do, and that does date me. I'm thinking about identity, if you come back and you know who you are and no one else does, including your own sister, what happens next? I'd say you'd decide to look elsewhere for confirmation of your own identity. And you might want to experience what this new world has to offer, in this case, flying on a jet plane. She would want to know about every improvement, and she'd surely enjoy the ease of flight.

She's on the Eastern shuttle bound for New York, yes I'm thinking of myself too here, because New York is where it began for me, and it also began there for her. Without that meeting with Putnam, she'd never have become a legend. She's somehow got to find her way, but how in a world where women pilot space shuttles? What could she really do to become the Amelia she was, or will she choose to give that up?

I ask myself these questions, as she settles in for the short hop, she'd dreamed of making flight affordable and desirable, but had she dreamed of what it's become?
Can anyone really see the future, I think it always surprises us. What if we woke up much like Robinson Crusoe did? What then?

I only hope that some things might surprise me, like you know, peace on earth, good will for all men and women, women actually having true equal rights, race not being an issue, class not mattering, poverty not existing, wait, this is humanity I'm writing about, how likely are any of those things? I'll end with this, one can dream, can't they?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

American Experience Amelia Earhart

I watched this yesterday as I was finishing up work. I felt a little odd about the rush of biographical data jammed together to make the story, on the other hand there has to be a compelling narrative to pull the viewer in. There were irritating threads, the idea that she was simply lucky and not a very good pilot is one. I know that many have made this argument but the woman did some amazing and daring things and walked away alive at a time when many did not. She must have been pretty good at flying a plane. I think what moved me most were other themes/ threads; there was much made of her fame, some interesting interviews with Gore Vidal who obviously kept the best for later, (his insistence that she had an affair with his father), but still talks with assurance about what fame meant to her, and what the cost of it was. The other thread that worked for me was the idea of loneliness and separation. Certainly being that famous meant you had to experience a remove.

Of course, everything is always skewed to fit with the overarching idea that a writer or producer has in mind. I noted a small flaw, they said that she had trouble in boarding school because she tried daring stunts. . . then showed a photo of her atop Columbia's library. In fact, she had issues in boarding school because of her strong moral beliefs, not because of stunts she pulled.

I guess what made me sad was the cost of everything, physically and emotionally and how it ended. I have no idea what happened to Amelia, although I don't buy into the wildest notions of her being a spy and captured and shot, I think it likely that she crashed at sea, or crash landed on an atoll and died there later . . . what this show does is set up a sense of fatalism. I'm not sure she felt it, but it worked on a basic, emotionally charged level. However, I would argue that it isn't the mystery of Amelia's ending that matters as much as the rest. She believed that women should try everything and anything, that they could do whatever a man could do. I had my mother for an example, but being my mother she was all too flawed, Amelia's example gave me courage to try to do what I love most. And recreating her, living with her every day continues to help me believe I can do this, I can finally write the book I've always wanted to write, and be the best writer I can be. So thank you Amelia.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

American Experience: Amelia Earhart

I'm interested to hear if anyone else has seen this. More tomorrow on my thoughts, right now it just makes me sad . . .

Monday, March 1, 2010

What if you were Amelia Earhart and no one cared

It's come to this. You survive. You return. You expect a warm welcome, or some welcome surely. And then no one knows you. No one knows what you've been through, or what you've done. You're Ms. Robinson Crusoe, the world has moved on. Worse, you're supposed to be dead, so why would you walk around saying you're alive? There are even people who impersonate you for a living. You're an historical figure. Girls dress up for their elementary school classes as you and tell your life story.

That's where Amelia is, and it makes me think about fame. She didn't know she'd become so famous, but once she did, she valued what she had. She burnished her fame. Why not when it brought financial security, a platform to press for change, and a way to get into the cockpit.

In middle age does anyone have the courage to start over? Would she? And how would she go about it? Yes, she'd ache to fly, but wouldn't she also want to be known. She might have had mixed feelings about being recognized, many do. Actors and actresses court fame, but also find the loss of privacy distressing. Still once you've had it, how do you manage without it? Especially when it's become part of what makes you who you are. She's on a journey now to discover what matters most to her. And there are some surprising things to learn. Fame is a drug they say, no one is immune . . .