Saturday, May 21, 2011

I remember you well, in the St. George Hotel

By the time I moved to Brooklyn the St. George Hotel was a wreck, a former SRO. In the basement the once mighty salt water pool had been sliced up. The pool I swam barely longer than a bathtub, upstairs my husband worked out on the basketball court. There he played against Earl the Pearl who had already had two hip replacements. Still it was a magic moment. Yet once it had been a great hotel, frequented by the rich, famous and infamous. The saying was, 'it had seen better days.' Now that New York has been transformed into a place that I find myself misremembering, or not even knowing, I think fondly of those better days. They were the ones I lived myself; who remembers the New Yorker bookstore? Or the real Thalia where I saw A Hard Day's Night? Or the pizza places that served by the slice right next door, the best damn pizza in New York to a twelve year old who was in love, yes in love with John.

Friday, May 20, 2011

It's Been A Long Time Coming

So, we are at an end. I hope for a fresh beginning for myself and for Amelia. I think about what it takes to write a novel, even as flawed a one as this. It takes chutzpah, there my mother's word. It takes dedication. It takes a pinch of insanity. And patience.
And a strong stomach. I can't thank all those who have read it enough. But next time, whatever it is, it won't be like this.

Why Amelia? I wonder that, the idea came to me when I was walking my dog in the woods one day. And stuck. In between I did all sorts of things. I wrote around her, making her a memory. I wrote about her as a child. I wrote about what it as like growing up in New York for me as a child. I invented her sister, invoking my own mother in the process. I invented a woman from the Midwest, a wife of a naval officer whose life was so completely different from any I'd experienced and yet for years was likely my most successful character. I avoided Amelia even as the whole book evolved. Then when I began to include her as a character I digressed. I purposely, though irrationally couldn't fit her into the narrative in a convincing way.

Four months ago that changed. Perhaps it takes that long to come to the right idea. But more likely it took me that long to let go of whatever stubbornness I was wedded to. I see it in my friends who write. We so often refuse to listen to what needs to change, we want to be taken as we are, loved as we are, understood as we are, we want our writing to carry us home. Home is where the heart is, and it's where I long to go still. I wish for acceptance from those who first rejected me. But there comes a time when one has to give up on wishing and grow up.

I have been forced to it, so I say goodbye to Amelia and in saying goodbye I say goodbye to the parents who raised me, goodbye to the years I've spent nursing them through their final illnesses, goodbye to all that. I have no idea what the next phase will be. But I hope there will be fun in it. That was why Amelia did what she did after all, for 'the fun of it.'

Monday, March 21, 2011

Would Amelia Earhart have an abortion? Would you?

Amelia would have. I don't have an iota of doubt. Abortion is still a hot button topic, the sanctity of life and so on. Do I believe in the sanctity of life? Really, come on, is that what this is about? Or is it about yet another gray area, one of the many life is full of? I agree that when a baby is conceived there is life of a sort. There's a being growing inside the mother's body, and by being I don't mean anything more. It depends on the mother then, on how she feels and what she wants. Having an abortion isn't often an easy decision, neither is choosing to have a baby, yet both decisions are made cavalierly. That's how it is. Human beings are often thoughtless. Should we take away the chance for some of them to make a better choice? To choose not to raise a child they don't want? Who is stepping forward to raise all those children? Newt Gingrich? John Boehner? Slowly but surely the right to an abortion is being chipped away. It makes me angry. And it makes me wonder why we have to even have this discussion. Women have a right to control the course of their own lives. They have a right to choose, and as for the sanctity of life? Please, have any of these people who claim that abortion is murder spent much time looking around at how many people die of abuse and neglect each day?

I believe that someone like Amelia, an ardent feminist, a woman who wanted more than anything to pursue her passion, would have no trouble choosing. She might feel regret. But she would also know that it was a choice, one that she would be glad to be able to make. Her sister claimed that she once said she would have liked to have children but didn't have the time. If one has the intelligence to understand their limitations,then by all means let's give them the opportunity to make an intelligent choice.

And yes, by the way, it is a plot point. . .

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Things Amelia Earhart knew and we are still learning: Part I

When she lived in Los Angeles Amelia Earhart attended an IWW meeting. For those who don't know or weren't born yet or didn't take 20th Century American History, the IWW or Wobblies were arguing for unions. For collective bargaining and fairness to workers. For pensions. For health care. For a living wage. It was apparently a revolutionary concept then and apparently it still is now. We have Republicans across the country deciding that small government means fucking the middle class big time. Who gains? The same people who gained back in the early twentieth century. The richest of the rich. Corporations, etc. Will we never learn?

Amelia Earhart thought that the IWW was making some excellent points. She wasn't anti-American, she was a thinking American, and she believed that this country was a place where everyone deserves a chance to get paid fairly for an honest day's work. Apparently we have learned nothing in the interim. See Wisconsin for further details. Maybe finally we have had enough? I hope so.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Time flies by so fast; or why Amelia Earhart haunts us

She is lost. Lost in time and lost forever. Humans love a mystery and this is one that endures. So little does, these days we live in a world where so much, maybe too much is revealed. Amelia remains out there in the ether, there's something wonderful about that when we live so practically and our lives unfold at such a breakneck speed.

Yes, that speed, that urgency . . .it's startling. But perhaps it's only that time compresses the older I get. Amelia returns in 1980, it was a pivotal year for me. Marriage, graduate school, a moment when I began to believe I could be an adult. But growing up and becoming an adult has taken much, much longer.

Driving down the Garden State Parkway yesterday I thought of the first time I came out with my parents to show them the house we would buy in the suburbs. My mother pointed out the deadly chemical plant on the way, (really just a pharmaceutical company). You know that spreads, she said, commenting on the smoke. I was pretty sure it spread back towards Manhattan too, only six miles away. But then my mother hated her children leaving, even if they were only moving twelve miles west. I had no sympathy for her, what was the big deal? So she wouldn't be able to get on a subway, she'd have to ride in a car. It wasn't like I was that far away.

She did ride in a car, or on a bus. She babysat my youngest when I ran off to work. But it wasn't easy for her, it was an adjustment. Parents have to adjust if they hope to have a relationship with their children. My own were so young then, five and almost three. Now they are eighteen and twenty three. One lives a continent away. The other is heading for college. My husband and I are going to be alone again as we were in 1980 when we decided it was time to marry. So much has changed, time does fly by so quickly, all the truisms are horribly true. I won't be able to look out the window and see my kids playing in the yard, I can't pick up the phone and call my parents, they're both gone, I can't even stay in this house forever, too big, too expensive, too ridiculous. Life marches on and drags us with it. Only Amelia is immune. She stares out from the pages looking eternally youthful, a little tired, a little shopworn, but smiling, always smiling for the camera.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Amelia was there; or Central Park on December 14, 1980

I went to the park to join the other two hundred thousand mourners. I'd spent the days since the murder hiding out in my apartment with my husband, David. Hearing the news was surreal, relayed via Monday Night Football. I'd grown up right near the Dakota and was going to graduate school at Columbia at the time. I still lived on the Upper West Side. Within days the ubiquitous street vendors started playing all of Lennon's songs, it was macabre and unnerving. Gloves, scarves and books were sold as he sang 'so you say it is Christmas.'

I lived through both Kennedy assassinations, through Martin Luther King, Jr's death in Memphis and the riots that followed. I remembered Malcolm X being shot at the Audubon Ballroom. All those murders effected me, but when John was murdered I was devastated. I suppose that this was what it took for me to lose my innocence.

Amelia is there too. She walks into the park with someone very dear to her, very close to her. He's stricken, while she is there to comfort him and observe, uniquely situated to understand the uncommon feelings on display. Sometimes a famous person touches you in a way that makes you think you know them, that's how it was for many of us with John. And that's how I feel about Amelia. . .

Friday, February 25, 2011

She can't take care of the house, so she can't fly the plane?

This just in from a link via the Huffington Post, a male passenger freaked out when he discovered that the pilot was a woman. Frankly, I'm pretty freaked out to discover that most of the people who run this country are old, white and male. So there. . .

Friday, February 18, 2011

Contemplating Love and Loss: Or why Amelia Earhart . . .

The last year has been pretty darn blue. The beginning was consumed with watching my mother get thinner and thinner until she seemed to waste away. When she died it was hardly unexpected. What was shocking was how long she stayed alive, wishing for death, what was unexpected from such a practical woman was how terrified she was of dying. The same person who liked to breezily discuss the Hemlock Society and talk about cremation was hardly sanguine when it came time for it to be her turn. Not that I think I'll be any different, but then again, I don't pretend to be sanguine about dying at all. I prefer life, thank you very much. And undoubtedly will go out kicking and screaming.

Ever onwards I trudged through the mess of sibling misery and the selling of my childhood home. Let me just say that it behooves all of us to get rid of every possible thing we can before we get to a certain age. You sure don't want your children dealing with it. As for all those precious treasures, if only my mother had bought something like that Chinese vase they found in England that sold for a fortune. Instead she bought things she liked, never paying too much out of a Depression sense of frugality. Most were worth less than she paid for them. What she had an eye for was real estate. For that I am very very grateful.

Through to the Fall and into the Winter, my poor dog succumbing to old age. Not at all the same as my mom, not even close. Still I loved her and loved the memories of her playing with my kids in the backyard. She was the best outfielder ever.

I keep waiting for that so called silver lining. It must be out there somewhere, but mostly I think that being my age is kind of crappy. We seem to be stuck between watching our kids go off, (if we have them) and watching our parents grow old and lose their minds and die. It's hard not to feel a tad resentful.

I see why I was drawn to writing this seemingly endless novel. It's all in the components. I enjoy writing about the two young girls, best friends. It's fun being seventeen again. If only I could go back, or at least have that sense of freedom and possibility. I also have a lot of sympathy for every character;for Amelia Earhart who rushes impetuously into life, defying the odds, willing to try anything and everything. For her sister who, (at least in my version) can't help both defending her seemingly perfect sister and resenting her. They're all me I suppose in one way or another. And they all represent feelings I've had over the course of the last few years. With age comes wisdom. Yes, but I could do with a little less wisdom and a little less age too, thank you kindly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Amelia Earhart is leaving on a jet plane . . .or la plus ca change

Yes a jet. The Eastern shuttle, shuttling down to New York City. The world has changed but not enough for Amelia. Apparently women are still relegated to service duties, plumping pillows, fetching drinks. Evidently I have a fond memory of what the service was like back when, when flying was glamorous. Or glamorous enough. Does it tick her off, most definitely. Will she want to do something about women still being second-class citizens? I would think yes.

I wonder how much things have changed, there are movements that give you reason to hope. Millions of Egyptians massing to topple a dictator and others in the Arab world trying to do the same, finally saying enough is enough. These an antidote to the sadly un-ironic rantings of Glenn Beck and his ilk, or the inability to enact reasonable gun control in this country, or the wider and wider divide here between rich and poor.
I think Amelia would find her new life curious. In 1980 women were liberated, but surely not the equals of their male counterparts. That still holds true, just look at income inequality. La plus ca change . . .still some things have changed and that would make her hopeful. I look forward to exploring this with her, just as I explored it once myself, growing up and knowing that rules were there to be broken and that I was someone who needed to break them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Missing those you left behind: Amelia says goodbye

I have recently had the sad task of sorting through my parent's debris, sorting through their lives and their things and taking what I wanted from it. In my old room, interestingly enough the maid's room, I found a pile of letters and postcards and brought them home. Opening them, I began to read and then began to sob. The first was from the woman who cared for me till I was five. Her name was Mrs. David, at least that was the name I used. She was a tall, imposing Jamaican. The bond between us mattered a great deal.

Yes I've read The Help. It seemed a bit simplistic if compelling. What intrigues me more than that fictional take on women who raise other women's children is my own relationship with Mrs. David. I visited her for years after we moved away from Washington. She wrote me on my birthday. We loved each other in an honest and deep way. Yet I have no way of finding out about her now. I ache to talk to her grandchildren, to find out who she was and how she lived. But the means to do so eludes me.

I credit her with making me who I am. I'm not discounting my mother's impact, but I have seen how important it is to be with a child in that daily way during their formative years. Mrs. David opened her heart to me. And I to her. I think that I was lucky to know her and to have her.

We leave so many people behind. Sometimes we have to in order to make something of ourselves. We need to find what we do best, or who we are. Amelia left her family and friends, she left lovers and husbands and a public who adored her. I left someone who loved me behind long long ago. And resisted thinking about it because it was so painful. Still, I had no choice. And really, neither did Amelia.

Monday, February 7, 2011

All things Amelia and not

It's taken me a great many drafts to realize that this novel is of course about . . .me.
Why do the turns a novel takes end up mirroring the turns in one's own life? I suppose because we know ourselves best of all and are fascinated with ourselves, even those of us who aren't completely insufferable. I always knew that Muriel was based on my own mother, an aging woman who has had to live through multiple losses and find a reason to re-engage with the world. In my mother's case the losses came too late for her to find a compelling reason. However in my novel I practice a little wish fulfillment. I create a character who wants to live and finds pleasure in doing so.

Life is so full of loss, and as we age I think we come up against that more and more. I think the question is how to grapple with these losses and how to still look around and see all the things that compelled us to love life once. It's perhaps all in the details. I think that now as we suffer through a particularly miserable winter. Walking the streets of the city I'm more and more taken by the way strangers interact, curious about each and every one of them. I have the urge to make up stories about them, to give them histories. I think of my own mother walking these streets for years and years, she found pleasure in that. She roamed the city as did my father. Those were their streets too.
Now they're mine. And of course Amelia's.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Life as I Know It

I am now editing the novel and living life to its fullest (yes there's definitely some irony attached, it's been a hell of a year and still keeps rolling on, more on that later). I have a feeling I'll be using this blog accordingly, as a place to put down what it feels like to write and deal with the stresses of life as I currently know it. In the interest of full disclosure I'm not just Rose Duncan, I'm Naomi Rand. I've been anonymous because I was writing this novel under a pseudonym but I figure what the hell. If someone wants to publish it under that name, let them. If they want my real name that would be great too. For those who happen upon the blog, look me up on the internet. There I am in living black and white and sometimes color. And in the interests of total disclosure, I am now a blond. So far my fun quota is around the same as when I was a redhead and brunette.

I began writing this book because I wanted to write about friendship and how important it is for women. I had been thinking about the friends I made in my twenties and how they shaped me. What's been wonderful about writing it is that it brought all of that experience back to me so clearly. The section I'm editing deals with the two young women who are best friends at the ages of seventeen and eighteen. It reminds me how intense that time is and how important these fast friendships are, how we live with them and return to them. We share important milestones and depend on each other to listen, to offer support and a knowledge of who we were once, of who we are now . . .that's what this book is really about, it celebrates women loving women.

What it's brought back to me is how important my own friendships were and are. I value every one of them. And so, to Amelia, to Muriel, to Sam, to Lucy. To all the women who make life worth living. I raise a glass!