Miss Anxiety of 1953

I have an Inner Critic that goes In and Out with Me.

I call her Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Introductions, Please

By now, everyone’s heard of their inner child. It’s the spirit of the person you were as a kid, innocent, hopeful and kind. Well, if that’s not too New-Agey for you (and I hope it’s not) some of us contend with other inner spirits that aren’t nearly so pleasant. Judgmental, tactless, critical types that appear out of nowhere and torpedo your self-esteem. A friend of mine refers to her internal bete noir as her “Inner Mean Girl”. But, after due consideration, I believe mine has a different personality. Folks, meet Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Miss Anxiety?

Miss Anxiety, 1953

Miss Anxiety has been my constant companion since grade school and she has lot of concerns . Back then, she worried every morning that I’d be late for school. Or I wouldn’t be liked if I didn’t shut up. Or people would laugh if I tried to swing at a baseball. Later she worried when boys didn’t like me. She worried if one of them did. These days, Miss Anxiety worries about my salary, my marriage, my hair length and don’t get her started on the subject of my body! (Seriously, don’t let her go there. Even during the three weeks I wore a size 5, Miss Anxiety still fussed about my upper arms. She’s a perfectly toned size 1 and there’s simply no way to please her.)

Miss Anxiety has a similar obsession with rules and her Code of Etiquette is from the Eisenhower Era. No wearing white pants, except in the Summer. No wearing white shoes ever, they make your feet look big. Speak, sneeze, sing and laugh so softly no one can hear you and then apologize for the noise. Silence is the hallmark of a true lady. And the only acceptable way a lady asserts herself involves a candy that’s two mints in one. (By the Way, I never aspired to ladyhood, But Miss Anxiety hasn’t given up hope.) And as she is a title-holder herself, Miss Anxiety is hideously competitive. She agonizes over every teeny error I make, and every time I’m not chosen. According to Miss Anxiety, unless I succeed in everything, I’ll never succeed I Anything !!

So why did I quit fighting her?

Miss Anxiety

Miss Anxiety, 1953

For years, I loathed and feared Miss Anxiety, and opposed her at every turn.. I yelled back at her and ignored her. But She wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard I tried. Then, instead of yelling at her, I decided to listen. And I realized something incredible.

Miss Anxiety doesn’t hate me. She’s not trying to make my life miserable. Like my grandmother and mother, she worries I’m going to miss out on some great opportunity. So, she continually fusses at me. And when she thinks things may go wrong, she sets off alarms.

So last week, when I got stressed and Miss Anxiety began raising her voice, I listed to what was frightening her. And I responded.

It’s not given to understand what role we each play in the Grand Design. But we all have our parts. And I’m content to know I will play mine.

Turns out, that thought made Miss Anxiety pretty happy too.

When The Earth is Your Closest Friend

Normally I spend hours writing these posts. But it’s late, and I’m sore from changing out yet another tire (different story) so let’s just get to the goods, shall we?

I. Know. A. Great. Story.

Trust me, you want to read it. Everyone else is reading and loving it right now and, for once, everyone else is right. Where the Crawdads Sing is a wonderful story about the heaven and hell of spending most of your life alone.

And we’re not talking Thoreau-in-Walden voluntary solitude here. The book opens with little Kya Clark watching her mother walk out of her life. No tears, no hug, not a wave goodbye, just a door slamming in their shack on the Marsh. And, once Mama goes, Kya’s siblings follow her down the road, until there’s only a six-year old trying to survive a live of privation and her hard-drinking Daddy. Finally, there’s no one’s left in the Marsh shack but Kya.  And the child has to provide for herself.

Kya grows up wise in ways of the natural world if unskilled when it comes to people.  Having no other guide, she tries to understand people in terms with the marsh beings she knows: how girls at play flock like gulls or the alpha-male in a playground of boys. But lack of skill and loneliness cause Kya to make mistakes when it comes to people, some that cost her dearly.  And that’s where the rest of the story comes in.

Death In the Swamp

Interspersed with Kya’s growth are chapters about a dead man, found in the swamp. How he got there, why he died, and the effect of his death on Kya forms the central mystery of the book but in the end, this is Kya’s story. And it’s a story that begs to be read.

Told in luminous prose, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a hymn to nature and and ambivalence in a life lived alone. It’s the story of a woman’s life, a Southern Novel and a murder mystery as well. And it’s so spellbinding, that, reading it, you can forget you’re stranded on the edge of an interstate, buffeted by the air rush of passing trucks, and facing a nasty wrecker bill. Instead, you’re in the cool, clean air of a North Carolina Marsh with a woman whose best friend is the earth.

Trust me, I know. It’s really that good. Now you should read it and know that too.

In the Aftermath of Devastation

There are times when fate knocks you down to your knees, when it’s hard just to draw your next breath. This happens with the big, bad events in our lives, when we hit losses that define us forever. Sometimes. a single event hits several people at once and the world tends to take notice, though never for long. But what happens once the funerals finish and the reporters leave to chase another story? Do the survivors continue to navigate the aftermath with a “stiff upper lip” or do they tumble headlong through the devastation? Hannah Pittard wants to know.

The Crash

Hannah looks at this question through the lens of one of the sadder stories I know. In June of 1963, a plane crashed near the Orly airport of France, and exploded into a gigantic fireball. 106 of the 122 passengers that died in that inferno were members of the fledgling Atlanta Art Association. Atlanta, in those days was still a fairly small city and those members all came from the same small, tight-knit group: the wealthy, well-born, educated, white, clique that wielded much of the town’s political clout. Their deaths tore a hole in the town’s wealthiest neighborhood and the downtown power structure.

In Visible Empire,Pittard charts the immediate aftermath of the crash mixing real-life with fictional characters. There are those that assume the mantle of duty at once, like the exhausted, nearly noble, Irwin Allen Jr. His mayoral responsibilities force him to compartmentalize his grief while identifying and burying his friends. There’s the fictional (I hope) Southern playboy who celebrates the deaths of his parents by squandering the assets they left him. Little lies and big ones come to light with the crash extending the range of devastation. And into all of this insanity comes a quiet meditation on race.

Atlanta’s Concurrent Tragedy

Although Mayor Allen, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and their allies were working to desegregate Atlanta, it was still a City of the South, with a tortured racial history. Pittard compares the reverence for air-crash casualties to the denial and obscurity that follows victims of lynchings. Unlike the white, moneyed bereaved, Atlanta’s black citizens don’t have the luxury of falling apart, although one character tries. It is his journey, far from the plane crash of Orly that leads the second half of the novel.

There is much of the Orly tragedy I wish Pittard had written about; how the crash added a moral imperative to constructing the city’s Fine Arts Center; how a daughter in France learned of her mother’s death through a transatlantic phone call; how families assembled and reassembled their lives without the aid of professionals or support groups. But that will be the work of some other novelist. In the meantime, we have Visible Empire to remind us that all life is precious and the future uncertain.

The day my Money went to NY (without me)

I’ve never been to New York, though the rest of my family has. My mother and grandma were both born in the City; my kids went there last fall. My sister goes there so often she can direct the tourists to stops on the Circle Line. But, I’ve never gone to New York. And I’ve been pretty much okay with that. Well, I’m not completely okay, d love to see the place (you can’t be an English Major and not want to see New York; it’s a mecca for readers and writers.) But financially, it’s never been a good time for me to fly to New York.  So I  dreamed and figured someday I would go there.  I just never thought my money would get there first.

aerial architecture blue sky buildings
Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on Pexels.com

It all began…

In that uncertain time between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, before the juggernaut of December really takes off. A few friends and I decided to get together for a quiet drink after work. It was great, with everyone talking and laughing together and everything was going well until I decided to pay for a round. And realized my ATM card wasn’t in my wallet. Or my purse.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I occasionally misplace things, so I tried not to panic. I just paid for the drinks (using most of my cash) and excused myself to look for the card.  I still didn’t panic as I researched first my wallet, then my purse, and finally my Jeep for the card. Then, I went home and searched the house while I checked my bank balance.  And that’s when I hit “Red Alert”.

money pink coins pig

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

See, almost all the day-to-day funds in our joint checking account had disappeared.  The Grocery money.  The Light Bill cash.  The payment on my husband’s dental bill.  Entire paychecks worth of cash vanished from sight, like Brigadoon, or Judge Crater.  I killed my cash card with a phone call and cried.

When I showed up, still panicked, at my bank the next day (the minute they unlocked the doors) the bankers there were sympathetic.  Yes, they could make sure my missing ATM card was dead and yes, they’d help me with the identity theft claim.  A teller and I pulled up all the account transactions to figure out which we’d need to dispute and that’s when I saw how my money (literally) took flight.

Where did it go??

First, there was the airline ticket.  “Was that you?” the bank representative asked.  No, I haven’t flown since 2016 and I haven’t bought a ticket since then.  Then there was the charge for the Empire State Building Observation Deck ($102.00!) and something called Statue Cruises.  And then there was an admission to MMA, which turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Met? My money went to New York?

I don’t know whether the Bank’s service representative or I was the more stunned.  “Well, on the one hand, these charges obviously weren’t made by you.” the banker lady said.  “You’re here in Alabama, not New York.  Still…”  “I know,” I said, looking at the computer screen.  “Someone’s taking a cool trip through the City.

In fact, if the thief had thrown in theatre tickets, that’s a trip I would have loved to take.  It’s the trip I’ve been dreaming of (and putting off) for decades because I couldn’t afford it. Along with the panic and anger, I felt, I began to get downright envious.  The Empire State Building? The Museum of Modern Art? These were places I’d wanted to see.   Someone out there has lousy morals, but their taste is not all that bad.  The only problem was they were getting their culture with money my husband and I had earned!

I found out some things because of that theft. I learned that banks have to deal with this a lot. And that some bankers are really nice.  I’ve learned that the police are careful about jurisdiction.  I had to drive to four separate stations before I found the one able and willing to take my report. It’s been a royal mess getting the checking account straightened out and protecting the rest of my financial identity.  But this crystallized a resolve in me.

I’m not putting off the chance to see New York anymore; I’m going there myself, and soon.  No longer am I content to imagine being there while by looking at TV or  Google Earth.  It’s time I saw those streets for myself.  There isn’t enough time or money enough to do everything. But I will see something of that fabled place, and listen to that cacophony of sound. See, I don’t mind my money going to New York.  But this time, I’m taking it there.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unseen Connections that Bind: Lethal White

There are unseen connections in this world.

I’m not (necessarily) talking about back-channel diplomatic communication lines or conspiracies here.  No, I’m talking about the ties between people. We’re all connected by friendships, family, work or some interest.  We’re bound to events and people in our pasts, as well.  These connections are invisible when we walk down the street but they impact every move that we make.

Cormoran Strike, hero of Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)’s mystery series, knows how the past still connects with the present.  After all, his military injury affects his everyday life even though the accident happened years ago.  But, in Lethal White, those unseen connections not only affect his missing leg.  They string together secrets and murder.

Secrets, Secrets

First, there’s the mentally-ill man who wanders into Strike’s office.  Is this poor man crazy to think he witnessed a murder as a child or did witnessing a murder help drive the poor lad insane?  Is he connected to the government official who wants Strike to stop a blackmailing scheme?  The official won’t explain who the blackmailers are or what he’s being blackmailed about.  He just insists “it was legal in the past.” Strike’s junior partner, Robin Ellacot, goes undercover in the minister’s office and finds more connections and schemes instead of the extortionists. And the secrets continue to multiply and spread until one of the secret-keepers turns up dead.

Then, it’s up to Strike and Ellacott to untwist the lies and excavate the connections. That’s no easy task, for clients who want leverage, not the truth.  The search is even harder because of the ties and secrets both detectives are trying to keep from themselves.

Followers of this series have known for years that Strike and Ellacot belong together, personally as well as professionally.  They share core values and have complementary skills.  They bring out the best in each other.  But both have ties to their pasts that keep them from acting on this mutual attraction.  This conflict often makes communication difficult.  It deepens their unspoken romantic feelings for each other.  And it drives both of them into dangerous places.

Changes & Connections

This unacknowledged passion often echoes in the epigraphs of Lethal White’s chapters, all of which come from Ibsen’s play, Rosmerholm. Because the theme of Rosermerholm is that while progress means change, it conflicts with the immutable past.  See, people change as they age They either continue to learn and grown or they stultify.  They become more or less tolerant with time.  And none of us are exactly alike, to begin with.  So change drives formerly close friends apart, even as their history and affection bind them.  And that creates conflict.  This conflict between changing outlooks and unchanging ties can fuel a lot of misery and drama.  And, as entertaining as those fights can be, they can also harbor a lethal distraction.  Because, when we’re being whipsawed by change and conflict, we may not see the puppetmaster manipulating us through our connections. The shadowy one who trades in secrets.  The bad guy who smiles and smiles and still remains a villain.

Lethal White has a large cast of characters, layers of story, and a definite point of view.  It’s not a quick read but it is entertaining.  It’s worth re-reading too, just to sort out the ties and the secrets.  And discover the smiling villain.

The Odd Kid On the Block

Whatever happened to the Odd Kid on your block?  Everybody grew up with at least one; I’m talking about those kids who seem to be born outsiders, who say and do unpredictable things and never fit in well with the rest. The kids that even surprise the adults when they talk. You know the ones I mean.  And if you don’t have one of these kids in your memory, you might have been the class misfit. God knows I was one.

So what? I can verify that most of us card-carrying weirdos eventually discover friends of our own.  We become reasonably functional adults.  But time has stood still for Eleanor Oliphant.  At thirty, she’s still the Odd Kid on The Block, although now she’s an Oddball at Work.  She doesn’t have any friends (unless you count Vodka and Mummy). And, despite the title of Gayle Honeyman’s brilliant first novel, Eleanor Oliphant is NOT Completely Fine,

Stuck in a Rut

Eleanor is, if anything, stuck in a rut, one she’s carefully constructed.  Every morning, she dons black pants, white shirt.  She does (and eats) the same thing each day on her lunch break.  Eleanor always takes the same bus.  She talks to Mummy on the same day of every week and drinks from Friday night until well into Sunday.  Part of this is a habit, but part is how Eleanor copes with the world, a place that has rarely been kind.  She’s constructed routines for protection.  But even Eleanor doesn’t realize all the things she’s hiding from or how much good there is in life to uncover.  And it’s a joy to discover it with her.

No Filter/No-Nonsense Girl

Listening to Eleanor describe her own life is by turn hilarious or incredibly painful as she is the original No-Filter-Girl.  She describes some horrors from her past with such emotional detachment that you wonder what ails the poor girl.  Anyone else recounting this kind of personal experience would be sobbing all over themselves.  But Eleanor reports her history with such matter-of-fact acceptance that many readers debate whether her response is due to Autism or the profound abuse she’s endured.  Whatever the reason, we become mesmerized by her voice.

For Eleanor does have a voice, stunningly original and perceptive about the human condition. “These days, loneliness is the new Cancer” she observes, “a shameful, embarrassing thing.” And for all of her independence, Eleanor is a lonely woman.  But the story of how this unusual woman starts breaking her self-imposed isolation is the hit of the year.  Eleanor can make you laugh and cry but most of all she makes you glad you’ve found her. Eleanor Oliphant may be the Odd Kid on the Block but she’s also a good person and friend.

 

Remembrance of Playwright Past

Everyone remembers people and events that shaped and changed their lives.  Long after they leave the world’s stage, these individuals and events inform and direct us through memory.  That’s how I feel about Neil Simon’s plays; they are touchstones from my childhood. That’s reasonable: when I was young he was the King of Broadway. His movies set some of my first standards for comedy.  But, that was a long time ago and Mr. Simon hasn’t had a hit play in years. So, I’ve been reading plays by other authors.  Still, when I heard of his death, I did something I haven’t done for a while: I read something Neil Simon wrote.  Not his plays this time, but his memoirs.  And I’m still thinking about what I read.

Rewrites

Rewrites is Simon’s memoir of the first half of his life, and to some extent, it’s like his early plays.  This book covered his early, energetic years as a writer when hope was built on promise and potential.  The book is a charmer, and it confirmed two things I guessed but didn’t know before.  First, Simon’s stories all have strong autobiographical elements and that the art of plays is in the re-writing.

According to Mr. Simon, the tradition of opening a new play out of town is part of the alchemy that creates a show.  Responses from Out-of-town audiences tell the cast and creative team what works and doesn’t work in the show.  And Simon rewrote the show after each early performance making the show tighter and funnier. Like Moss Hart’s Act One, Rewrites is a master-class in the art of playwrighting as well as a glimpse of American Theatre in the 60’s and 70’s.  But it’s also the story of a young, hopeful man

 

The Marrying Man

In “The Play Goes On”, Simon’s sequel to “Rewrites”, one thing becomes clear:  Mr. Simon never escaped from his past.  After a childhood in an insecure, chaotic family, he tried to create a different life as an adult. Still, he never trusted the good times when they came.  And the early death of his first wife left a man who wanted to love again but couldn’t keep her ghost from haunting his later relationships.  It’s not surprising Simon remarried four more times.  It’s sad how his pursuit of happiness was often undermined by remembered joy.  This is the mature, tempered Neil Simon, less charming, less hopeful, a bit more self-serving. But whatever his shortcomings, the man possessed a work ethic and talent. And those things are why he’s remembered.

The Constant Writer

Celebrated or panned, joyful or depressed, married or single, Neil Simon remained one thing: a constant writer.  For more than 50 years he churned out at least that many plays and screenplays (as well as these Memoirs). His quick-fire wit and urban “comedy-dramedy” forms are imitated today.  And, if some of his jokes became horribly dated or if his last plays were less hit than miss, he still taught us a lot.   Simon wielded humor as a weapon as well as a shield and he showed us that, even in the middle of the worst time of your life, the right joke can still keep you going. And Laughter will help you prevail. Now, that’s a memory worth keeping.

Into the Woods

The first time my Dad saw my adult home, he muttered, “I don’t know why you and your sister moved back into the woods.” Although I hadn’t realized before, I instantly knew what he meant. Although we grew up on the plains, both my sister and I chose homes in densly forested areas. I can’t speak for my sister, but I must say that I do love living surrounded by trees.

The Woods Behind my House
My woodsy back view

The Forest Primeval

Then again, I’m not Sayward Luckett. Sayward is the central voice of Conrad Richter’s novel, The Trees, and she has good reason to hate the forest.  It’s the late 1700’s and her father’s transplanted their family from a village in Pennsylvania to the endless woods of the Ohio Valley. The tree trunks (or Butts, as Sayward calls them) hem them in wherever they turn. High branches shut out the sunlight. No sunlight means it’s impossible for the settlers to grow crops. The forest isolates them from other pioneers and it’s an easy place for little children to get lost. Too easy. The woods are not a safe place to be.

Still, Sayward is the sympathetic, tough, resilient person needed to make a home from the wilderness.  She tells her story in a matter-of-factly in the settler’s dialect and rhythms that author, Conrad Richter discovered researching this novel. Her common-sense voice leaps off the page.

“Whether you liked it or not, Death was something you had to go through life with.  Plenty times you would meet up with it if you lived long enough, and you might as well get used to it as you could.”– The Trees, Conrad Richter

Everything happens to Sayward and her family as they carve a life out of the forest. Good and Bad both come their way, joyful moments and terrible loss. And her family’s story parallels the story of America’s development. Sayward and some settlers who live long enough even learn to appreciate the world they’ve known and seen.

THE TREES (Awakening Land)

Even a world filled with trees.

Partners in Business and Art

Let’s tell the truth about Creative Artists; we already know the myths:

Myths About Creative Types

  1. All Creative Artists are right-brain, impractical people,
  2. Given a choice, creative people tend to wear shabby clothes and messy hairstyles.
  3. Creative people all keep odd hours and disorganized lives.
  4. Artists are profligate, spendthrifts who don’t understand the value of money, and;
  5. Damn few artists have enough sense to run a successful business.

The Truth

Anyone who believes these stereotypes needs a copy of Something Wonderful, the new biography of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Not only does it recount the history of a creative partnership, it shows the practical businessmen that created that art.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were both successful men of the theatre before they teamed up together.  They’d both written hits and flops. And they’d both worked with other partners before so they knew how to give and take.  Neither man felt like he knew the other.  But neither of them let that get in the way of creating great songs together.

In Something Wonderful, Todd Purdum reveals how the R&H songs we know, the ones where words and music fall so naturally together that they almost seem inevitable, were the results of lengthy revision and multi-stage efforts.  Hammerstein agonized over each word and phrase, spending weeks to craft the right lyrics.  Then Rodgers, in a separate time and place, would sweep in a lyrical melody, so quickly it infuriated the lyricist. Sometimes they’d debate, very politely, over details in the work.  And, outside of business, the two men tended to lead separate lives.

But, inside of the theatrical business, they were indivisible partners.  They forged and reigned over the Rodgers and Hammerstein empire, creating and casting tours of past successful shows while they created and produced new ones each season.  And, despite all assumptions about artists, both men kept tight hold of the money.

If you’re a theatre geek or a  musical freak, you’ve probably already read this book.  If not, pick up a copy anyway.  You should know the truth about artists.  Sometimes the truth can be Something Wonderful.

 

A Modern Irish Murder

Fact: Ireland is a Modern Country

Sad Fact: Few people outside of Ireland realize this.

Thanks to the impressions of popular culture, many Americans still tend to think of bombs, booze or leprechauns when they hear the worlds “Irish” or “Ireland”.  Those who read, remember Yeats or the Potato Famine.  Movie-fans recall Darby O’Gill or The Quiet Man.  Few of either group think of murder.

Yet, Murder in a very modern context is the background of Tana French’s brilliant debut, In the Woods.  It’s the story of Irish police working a contemporary crime site that, unfortunately, has ties to the past.  It also has one of the best unreliable narrators I’ve come across in several years.  Rob Ryan tells the story of when past and present collide in the head of a traumatized survivor and the damage that radiates from that impact.  And he tells it in a beautiful, lyrical voice that hints but never tells you what’s what.

In the Woods is also the brilliant first novel of what is known as the “Dublin Murder Squad” series.  So far, each story is told by one detective on the Squad who may (or may not) appear in later tales.  Each character is brilliantly developed in their own stories so we get to see how different people view the same incidents.  And we also see the toll this job takes on detectives.  Thankfully, we also get to see Ireland, complete with cell phones, office buildings and the concerns and issues facing contemporary society.

Along with murder, that most ancient of crimes.  Because some things, it seems, never change.

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