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.