Monday, March 31, 2008


I'm probably cheating on content challenge, but I have a feeling you would rather read this than an account of the rambling three-hour extravaganza I attended this evening (though it had its own special charms.)

This is from Baby Be-Bop, one of the brilliant books by Francesca Lia Block.  It makes me think about David ... because, like Duck and Dirk in the story, I had a premonition I would meet him ... my soulmate.

This is near the end ... Dirk (a punk rocker) is having a near-death experience, dreaming about Duck (a surfer), who he hasn't yet met ... but will.  In Dirk's dream, a man is telling him a story about Duck, who is searching for love and not finding it.

Where are you? Duck called silently to his soul mate, the love of his life whose name he did not yet know.  By the time I find you I may be so old and messed up you won't even recognize me.  Maybe this is what I deserve for wanting to find a man.  Looking for you always, never finding you, poisoning myself.
Soon Duck will meet his love.  When Duck sees his love he will know that the rest of his story has begun.  It will not be too late for either of them.  The sweetness and openness they were born with will come back when they see each other in the swimming, surfing lights.  

And we are still young, Duck will think.  I wish I had met you when I was born, but we are still young pups.

They will still be young enough to do everything either of them has ever dreamed of doing, to feel everything they have always wanted to feel.

When they first kiss, there on the beach, they will kneel at the edge of the Pacific and say a prayer of thanks, sending all the stories of love inside them out in a fleet of bottles all across the oceans of the world.

And the story was over.  Dirk felt he had lived it.  Was it a story told to him by the man in the turban who now sat watching him from the foot of the bed?  Had he dreamed it? Told it to himself? Whatever it was, it was already fading away leaving its warmth and tingle like the sun's rays after a day of surfing, still in the cells when evening comes.

"Who are you?" Dirk asked the man, his voice surfing over the waves of tears in his throat.  "Who is Duck?"

"You know who I am, I think.  You can call me by a lot of names.  Stranger.  Devil.  Angel. Spirit.  Guardian.  You can call me Dirk.  Genius if I do say so myself.  Genie.

"Duck -- you'll find out who he is someday."

"Why are you here?"

"Think about the word destroy," the man said.  "Do you know what it is?  De-story.  Destroy.  Destory.  You see.  And restore.  That's re-story.  Do you know that only two things have been proven to help survivors of the Holocaust?  Massage is one.  Telling their stories is another.  Being touched and touching.  Telling your story is touching.  It sets you free.

"You set some spirits free, Dirk," he went on.  "You gave your story.  And you have received the story that hasn't happened yet."

Dirk knew he had been given more than that.  He was alive.  He didn't hate himself now.  There was love waiting; love would come.

He was aware, suddenly, of being in a dark tunnel, as if his body was the train full of fathers speeding through space toward a strange and glowing luminescence.  He wanted that light more than he had wanted anything in his life.  It was like Dirby, brilliant and bracing; it was a poem animating objects, animating his heart, pulling him toward it; it was a huge dazzling theater of love.  On the stage that was that light he saw Gazelle in white crystal satin and lace chrysanthemums dancing with the genie, spinning round and round like folds of saltwater taffy.  Dirk also saw the slim treelike form of a man in top hat and tails, surrounded with butterflies.  When he looked more closely Dirk saw that they were not regular butterflies at all but butterfly wings attached to tiny naked girls who resembled young Fifis.  Grandfather Derwood, Dirk thought.  And Dirk saw Dirby too, Be-Bop Bo-Peep, tossing into the air wineglasses that became stars while Just Silver, balanced on the skull of death, held up her long ring-flashing hands and moved her head back and forth on her neck.  He wanted to go to them.  But there was one thing they were all saying to him over and over again.

"Not yet, not your time."

Dirk McDonald saw his Grandma Fifi sitting beside him, her hair cotton-candy pink as the morning sun streamed in on it.

"Grandma," Dirk whispered.  He looked around.  White walls.  The smell of disinfectant.  Liquids dripping into tubes, into him.

"Where are we?"

"The hospital," Fifi said.  "How do you feel?"


"The doctor says you're going to be just fine."

"How long have you been here?"

"Oh, quite some time now.  We've been telling each other stories, you and I, Baby Be-Bop.  Past present future.  Body mind soul," and Grandma Fifi squeezed Dirk's hand, knowing everything, loving him anyway.

Dirk closed his eyes.  There was no tunnel but there was light -- a sunflower-haired boy riding on waves the ever-changing color of his irises.

Stories are like genies, Dirk thought.  They can carry us into and through our sorrows.  Sometimes they burn, sometimes they dance, sometimes they weep, sometimes they sing.  Like genies, everyone has one.  Like genies, sometimes we forget that we do.

Our stories can set us free, Dirk thought.  When we set them free.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thoughts about luck

"On our last night on the Happy Islands I stood at the window for a long time, looking out at Flamingo Bay where a girl dolphin and a boy dolphin played at a game of catch.

Toward morning I dreamed of a blue bay where orange-colored dolphins danced, and I realized again that reality and dream are the same for those who are happy."

The Captain was quiet and I was quiet too.  The night wind played gently with the leaves of the olive tree and high above it stood the big yellow moon.  From the sea, the lights of a ship drifted into the harbor.

"Well, sir," asked the Captain.  "Did you enjoy the Happy Islands?"

"Captain," I answered.  "If it were up to me, all five continents of the earth would turn into Happy Islands.  But I know, unfortunately, that dream and reality are seldom the same.  Their kind of happiness is out of reach of us forever."

"Exactly," said the Captain.  "But even if we will never have such happiness in this world we can travel with a vision of it.  We must know what happiness is before we try to find it.  We need to have at least glimpsed this paradise, just as the seafarer needs the North Star to guide his ship."

-- from The Happy Islands Behind the Winds, by James Krüss, 1966

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Every other inch

All right ... obviously I will have to do some two-a-day blogging in order to catch up.  I honestly don't know what I was doing on the day I missed posting.  Last night, I know what I was doing, but it did not involve being near an internet connection, so consider that a strike.


One of my favorite books is Beatrice Lillie's autobiography, Every Other Inch A Lady.  (Chorus: Of course it's one of your favorites, you gay thing.)  If you don't know who she is, Google her immediately.  She was a comedienne of stage and occasionally screen -- a droll wit, and a friend of Noël Coward's.   This is one of my favorite anecdotes:

...we toured and toured and toured some more.  I thought that we all stood up to it rather well, including my poor mink coat.

I kept the coat, but I lost my maid, Margaret, who had come to me from Winston Churchill himself.  In London, I like to go shopping at that finest educational establishment in all England, Harrod's.  I was asked there one day to an autographing party involving some recordings of the show which I'd made.  When I found I'd forgotten my spectacles, I telephoned Margaret to bring them over from Park Lane.

The poor thing came over and stood in line behind Steve Cochran, whose name Hollywood conjures with, to reach the head of the queue.  Spotting her but pretending not to, I scribbled a signature and handed her a record for her collection, with the autograph of "Johnny Ray."  

After the session was over, I went nosing around the store into the pet department, run by a gentleman in a morning coat in keeping with Harrod's style.  Today's special was in live baby alligators, some fifteen inches long.  I took rather a liking to one of them.  

"Shall I send it to the Park Lane address, Lady Peel?" [she was married to Lord Robert Peel, 5th baronet.]

"No, have it delivered by air to Noël Coward in Jamaica. It's for his birthday."

The card that accompanied went unsigned.  It said simply, "So what else is new?"

I gather that Noël's reaction was a rare blend of curiosity and pique. He didn't know where the little monster had come from until several months later -- on the evening that he brought the Duchess of Kent backstage and Leslie Bricusse fell downstairs to be presented.  

But some correspondence that developed with Harrod's (to alligator, £6; to air freight, £25) led my maid to jump to some wrong conclusions.  She quit and left a note which said, "Madam, I must leave you.  I will not work where there are alligators.  I would have mentioned this, but I did not think it would come up."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nana's house, part two

This "make it by midnight" element of content challenge is killing me.


So, I was on a nostalgia trip about my grandparents' house in Winter Park, Florida, circa the mid-to-late 70s.  Many notable things occurred there, including my early introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, before it was published -- when it was still played merely with graph paper and little figurines of elves and dwarves.  But more on that later.

My grandmother was a night owl -- I picked up that habit from her.  She'd stay up through the night, watching the black-and-white TV on the rollaway stand, doing crossword puzzles.  So would I.

We also shared a love for cheesy horror movies.  I think I wrote elsewhere in this blog about going to drive-in triple-features in the Florida summer (with me as a mosquito smorgasbord but loving it.)  One I especially remember had a movie with Linda Day George in it -- Beyond Evil, I believe -- I would have been 14 that summer.  She plays the wife of an architect who is possessed by some kind of evil spirit ... and ... that's all I remember.

She was also in a movie called Day of the Animals, one of the 70s eco-horror genre movies, where Nature has run amok.  Basically, radiation coming through a hole in the ozone layer makes all the animals above a certain elevation go crazy and start attacking people.  Vultures I think get one poor soul -- but the worst attack was when a guy sits in a truck (somehow not looking before he sits down) that is crrrrawwwwling with snakes.

Snakes!  Snakes, I say.  Eeeeeeeeeee.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Have You an Amusing Anecdote?

One day in to content challenge, and already (just over) the wire.

I was thinking today about my grandparents' house in Winter Park, Florida, where I spent a few great summers. They didn't believe in air conditioning -- I'm not exactly sure how I managed to survive the heat and humidity of a Florida summer with only an electric fan, but I did. My aunt who lived down the road had air conditioning -- I'd go over there to swim, but it didn't seem too bad coming back to my grandparents' house and the mugginess. When you're 8 or 9, you can adapt to anything, I suppose.

My favorite room was the "Florida room", sort of a sunroom with teak frame furniture, and a statue of the Virgin Mary presiding over a small rock garden. The earthy-sunny-mystical smell of that room was so evocative -- when I arrived there, from a car trip or from the airport, the smell of that room told me I was back in that magical house.

The "Florida room" also had stacks and stacks and stacks of Readers' Digest, which I read for hours. I suppose that contributed to my (shameful) enjoyment of really square humor -- I hate to admit it, but I laugh out loud at Jay Leno's "Headlines", for example. (Misspellings, tee hee!) I would read "Humor in Uniform", "Life In These United States", "All In A Day's Work", and enjoy the amusing anecdotes. ("Laughter, the Best Medicine" just never really lived up to its promise.) I might also read "Drama In Real Life: A Cougar Ate My Face" or the few variations (survived attack by wild animal; survived natural disaster. Cougar/bear/alligator, tornado/hurricane/avalanche. Those were your choices.)

The Florida Room had a long hanging curtain, which separated the main room from my grandfather's study/work area. He had his electronic equipment in there (I think I remember radio tubes, but it was all a mystery.) In later years I would be allowed to pass Behind the Curtain in order to play with the TRS-80 computer he'd bought -- I figured out programs in BASIC that would generate random numbers, or say hello, or (my finest achievement) draw rectangles that would grow in size, like the navigational computer screen in Alien (the first one, from 1979) which I was obsessed with. My dorkitude was obvious because, while I enjoyed the creepy sci-fi haunted-house-ness of Alien, I was most interested in the computer that ran the ship. I saw the movie multiple times, and tried to memorize the various screen shots that Sigourney Weaver saw as she asked the computer ("Mother") questions like, Is that Damn Alien Going to Kill Us All and Get After Me While I'm In My Underpants? (Answer: yes.)

If I'd kept up with learning computer programming, I wonder where I'd be now. Probably posting screencaps from the Alien DVD on my personal fan forum, no doubt.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The skinny

Content challenge!

I initially was going to revive this blog by waiting until one year and a day had passed since my last entry, and act all Rip-Van-Winkle about it ("What a nap! Why, look, it's 2007!") but that didn't happen.

I just came back from a week-long informal writing retreat. We did yoga almost every day, which was great for clearing my mind. The piece I was working on had to do with memories of childhood and adolescence, so it made me pull out my boxes of photographs tonight once we got home.

I don't have a lot of photos from when I was a kid (my parents have those); I have a random assortment of photos from junior high, high school, summer stock, my first year or so in New York ...

One thing that struck me: I always hated how I looked in pictures. I never thought I was photogenic at all. Yet, in so many of the pictures I saw tonight, I looked actually cute. And thinner than I thought. (Except for when I gained about 40 lbs stress-eating in graduate school.)

My weight has crept up again over the last couple of years - I think seeing those photographs will be great inspiration to return to my healthier habits. And to remind me not to be my own worst critic, as I always was.