Saturday, February 26, 2011
My chemical Lady Gaga
My intention had been to unload an entire chapter of my novel, Light Over Newmarket up on Jo's blog (Jo from Vancouver, where the bud grows) but I decided against it. The chapter is about a woman's drug experience. Jo' blog on this today sort of triggered this blog idea.
Drugs. Six years ago, I did much the same on Bernita's blog and she was, well, mad. "You could have sent a link!
I guess people don't like your unloading of your short stories or entire chapters in their comment space. Heh. Why you insecure cad! You couldn't find anybody else on whom to unload your poor stories?
Ouch! That was a hot palookis to tread upon.
In the past, people would seem to welcome my stories.
Nowadays people might take umbrage. And Umbrage, thy name is Ivan.
No more being spoiled. No more being wonderful.
This is a different time in a different medium.
The protesters may as well have said, "F*ck off, Ivan. Don't clutter my comment space with your stories. This means you!"
So I was chary of the notion of putting my "wonderful" screeds on other people's blogs, unasked.
Now, one is reduced, like a frustrated and defeated Dr. Evil in Austin Powers-- to a kind of sodomization of his Mini Me and ending up putting his chapter up on his own blog. sort of like Dr. Evil making love to himself.
Well, in the past, when it came to my work, there had been partners.
And I have had good reviews on the chapter below, notably in the Newmarket ERA. They said I had actually created a female character...Hard to do for a man...But my character had been on drugs and was now "damaged goods", at least recovered damaged goods.
So here goes Chapter Four of my Light Over Newmarket:
Beautiful. I hate the word. It floats like a banner down there among my earliest memories, my father calling me beautiful, "my little doll", my mother showing me off to the architects and painters she was sleeping with. "Isn't she beautiful," they'd say, as if patting me on the head with the word, anxious to go into that bedroom to lock me out.
After the divorce I got to miss my father, really miss him. I would even have put up with him using the word, patronizing me as only father patronize little girls who look like they've walked straight out of a suntan lotion ad, cute, blonde, the bathing suit half pulled off by the cutest puppy, or the healthy little girl face on the jam jar. As I get older, I wonder if the affection of every father for his little girl is always totally honorable. Still, my father and I were very close. I would write him letters; we could exchange little presents. But I was always his beautiful little girl. Even now, when I see him, still trying to make a living with his blueprints and his pencils, a bottle always nearby, he still calls me his little doll, while reaching for a nip when I talk about my latest divorce. Good God, maybe it's all beauty and no brains with me. How could I have stayed with Richard for those long five years? Richard, himself a beautiful man, an actor, though unemployed most of the time and in the last two years cranked up on speed, playing that damn rocksichord day in and day out like a mad phantom in a rock opera. Should have been a musician. But he was too vain. It was his looks that he had put all his eggs in. Until one day it became plain that two Robert Redfords in one Hollywood just wouldn't do. Redford went on to being The Robert Redford and Richard hit the spike.
How is it that we are felled by the very gift that makes us stand out from other people? Puberty hit me like a witches spell. I was given to strange dreams, allergic flashes, a sensitivity that was unbearable. And all around the boys, the men (and women too), "You are so beautiful." Then I'd run off in a storm of tears. What was it with adults? What is it with people even now? How are they so certain that appearance was reality? How is it that no adult really knows what is going on with a child, and all the time the adults so self-possessed, so confident in what they seem to know of the child, and it's all subtle control, a kind of bullying. "You know, you should..." Adults and children may as well belong to different species.
Our family moved in a very fast set. My father, in those days, was a very successful architect, back then in the Bauhaus fifties, where everything worked in terms of squares, of function, before the automobile makers went bananas with their chrome fins, and, some say, masturbation fantasies. My father designed beautiful modular houses back in California. He'd probably gotten the idea from a Middle East village (he would travel far and wide to develop his concepts). California was just right for his designs, the use of open space, terracing, little gardens at various levels, the house resembling a child's Toggle set, squares heaped upon squares, but interlocking in such a way that every room had an open terrace, a view and a separate entrance from outside, so that a number of rooms could be bypassed if you wanted to reach any particular room in a hurry, or if guests wanted to sunbathe or hold a hibachi party. He was a clever man, my father, but when it came to me, when it came to loving me for something than the adman's image he had of me, he drew a complete blank.
I don't know why we were forever having parties, why all those actors, actresses, other architects and painters were always hanging around the house, my mother sometimes shooing off still-drunken revelers on the day after. I guess it came with my father's success. But it was short-lived. Styles changed. Back splits became the big thing. At first my father refused to compromise, but when he eventually bit the bullet, gave up and tried to survive by appeasing all those contractors, all the beautiful people had gone. He was just another architect, virtually just another draughtsman now. He took to drinking and being abused by my mother. He was a kind, sometimes almost childlike man totally incapable of defending himself against a woman turning bad. Once his career started to slope down, my mother became very good at undermining his confidence.
Mom and apple pie. How right Philip Wylie was those many years ago, when his work was overshadowed by Pearl Harbor and all the FDR patriotism that went with it. "Momism" in America. Mom, the celebrity's wife turned clubwoman. Mom so ensconced in being the answer to the great American question, "Madam, are you a good lay?"--all this booming at you out of the television tube and all the billboards and the bright inside ads on the buses and subways. Lady, are you a good lay?
Well, my mother must have worked very hard at being a good lay; she worked very hard at developing me into a good lay. After her divorce the men would come to see Mom, but they would stay and try to flirt with me.
I had to get out of it all. At seventeen I ran off with the first sympathetic man that came along, a fortyish professor of philosophy, half-gay, I suspect, because he had this thing for giant jars of Vaseline near his shower, and always talking of backsides ("Never mind Jane Fonda, did you check the ass on that waiter?), always the protégé who would drive his car, do odd jobs for him (who knows how odd). And Nugent would always get straight A's.
He was dreamy man, really quite kind. He held three advanced degrees, Law, English and Philosophy. But it was the philosophy, That dear delight that seemed to finally corrupt him. For when you look at it, all western philosophy leads back to Plato, and Plato means systems, and in Plato's system, it's the old fogey who should ideally run things, and the way those dear Greeks would have liked their institutions to be more or less like this: "Boy, I will now explain to you in terms of a syllogism. Plato is a man. Plato is a philosopher. Therefore all men are philosophers...No? All right. We'll do it a different way...The whole is greater than the part. Right? Therefore philosophers should be kings, right? No? What the hell do you know, kid. Bend over." At least that's the way Ramsey used to joke, explaining in a footnote that this was really the way of Sophists, those sometimes false snake oil salesmen of reason.
Nevertheless, I think it was Kurt Vonnegut Jr. who said that all Greek philosophy was one large bumfuck, but I think he is oversimplifying the case. With some of Ramsey's unofficial tutoring, I'm more and more interested in philosophy these days, but I'd really like to come across a woman philosopher. No, not Hannah Arendt, certainly not Ayn Rand. Maybe more like Susan Sontag. Most philosophers have been men, and worse still, single men, and very odd. They had worked out systems, but what systems! To exclude one half of the human race is to be a monkey trying to pick fleas off itself not smart enough to snuggle against the cage next door where the female could have helped out, taught him to use his left hand. Had I been reading too much Omar Khayam? But it digress.
My philosopher's name was Ramsey Hollinger and he looked like you'd imagine a Ramsey Hollinger, the look, the pipe, the tweeds, the grey on the temples, the wise Wasp face, the horn rims. All brains and, as I found out, very little feeling save for a sense of humour. I liked his jokes, but didn't like the grosser scenes in the bedroom. He would use me to work off his tension, his stress, he told me. He could not relax and I was his tranquillizer. Sometimes all night. I guess I wasn't up to Nugent's gift and finally, after a phone call to my father, I left. There had been Ramsay and later, it was the same with Richard.
There is something wrong with California people. I didn't realize it at first because I hadn't traveled out of state too much. But the longer I stay here in Mexico the more I realize that California may be the first sign of a serious malaise in the American make-up. People have to be educated into experiencing emotion, feeling. They have lost their capacity for happiness, for passion, for love. These are not blanket phrases. It took me a long time to come to these realizations. A very long time. Drugs. Prescription and the other kind--and, I'll be honest with you, Psychoanalysis.
After the two divorces, I realized painfully that people used me. The marriages were just pieces of paper. It seemed that nobody, the men in my life or the women, really cared for what I felt, or what I wanted. Nobody listened to me. There may have been a reason for this because I am a little more sophisticated today than I was five years ago, but it was my looks that drew people to me. For my husbands and the boyfriends in between I was a showpiece, a trophy, a symbol of prestige, of wealth or taste. A Jane Fonda. Stud value.
So I learned to use my body and my face to get what I wanted. I bleached my hair, wore push-up bras and tight skirts. I broke into the modeling business along with bit-acting and didn't care if no one listened to me, that no one talked, really talked to me.
But there was something inside me that needed expressing, a yearning, perhaps, for a conscious creative act, for my father was a Sunday painter and architects of his day still had something of the artist in them.
I became the icon that America worshipped. I was the pretty girl sipping the Coke. I was the high-stepping majorette with the frozen smile. My legs were the phantom legs in the ads.
But inside me there was a totally different person, trapped and screaming...I had, I suppose, become the very epitome of the thing I hated, and it was doing nasty things to me.
I slept with men and felt very little for them or they for me. I seemed to have no feelings at all, like Ramsey Hollinger. If you have no feelings, how can you love? I seemed incapable, even of crying. I had no sense of humor, even after Ramsay. I could not laugh out loud.
Finally Rob, a man I lived with, who, noting that I was beginning to take so long at thinking out a task out that I would never get to the task itself. He'd said, "Baby, you need a drink."
Well, from there on, it was like a cheap Hollywood novel.
The other person in me, instead of being creative and insightful was really a primal monster, who cried, laughed, made scenes. I got to like the Johnny Walker. The nice thing was I wouldn't remember too much. But Rob could. He'd cut me off the Scotch.
But without the bottle there was the pain of this other person trying to get through. Hiding bottles, in purses, closets, photographers' studios. "We'll have to do something about those bags under your eyes, dearie."
Rob finally had enough. Himself no stranger to the bottle and the odd fix, he'd had enough of me, of my fits and my hysteria.
I'd saved some money. I quit the modeling and the bit-acting job, put on jeans and beads and split for Haight-Ashbury, looking for that Summer of Love, I suppose.
It turned out more like Felix the Feline. I met a street person who gave me the crabs and a couple of tabs that took me halfway to the moon. I became dependent on drugs. They dulled the pain. The drugs weren't like liquor. The trapped person came out bubbling, giggling, laughing. She was always happy.
But one day we ran out of money, my blond street freak and I. We had borrowed and we had stolen, but there just wasn't any money to be had. (I sometimes look back with incredulousness at that period. The atmosphere around my family had always been totally amoral, which probably comes from a whole generation of unfeeling people...so deep do the roots of the American malaise go).
I remember being very depressed. Richard had somehow looked me up. There was a scene. Richard was on speed and he beat up my flower child. I took up with Richard again for a time, but he was buzzed out on his drugs and he was getting me on them again. After a while, neither of us could function very well.
One day I caught myself composing a suicide note, and it was then I realized that I was in trouble. I picked up the telephone and I got help.
Therapy from Gestalt to Jung. I learned to let the other person in me out. I learned to cry, to feel, to get angry. I tried to stay with Richard, but I finally realized that he was the coldest of people. Emotions were messy for him. I tried it his way for a while, the logic, the elaborate dances, the games. We fought. He finally moved out.
After that, I went into deep therapy and gave up drugs forever. It took a year to discover that the other person in me was the frustrated artist, experiencer of powerfully felt emotions with no outlet in the social milieu that valued only my beauty. I shudder to think of the emotional imbecility of my old self, of so many, so many of us.
When I came to Mexico I was experiencing an entire galaxy of thought, feeling, color and light. I could take a bobby pin and make a delicate figurine of it. I would get ideas for paintings that were near-vision. I had found myself and I had found Kevin.
I guess I was attracted to Kevin because he's not afraid of my emotions, my new intensity, entire ranges of feeling. He too says I'm beautiful, but he sees an attractive quality in my work, in the way I see things, in the way I feel, in my memory that seems near-photographic. I have a long way to go yet, I know. An entire world of learning, of reading, of what twenty thousand years of living means. I am from a generation that had gone totally tribal, the buzzword holistic in our approach to life. There is another, more structured and ancient code to life. It is in books. It is in paintings, it is in art. It is going to be a long road back. I look in the mirror now and see a person, a person and not an image.
Kevin is so real. He can yell, cry laugh, feel. So unusual in a man. He thinks all those qualities are negative. He's always tried to develop his logical side, his physicist's side. He thinks its effeminate to show emotion, to express untrammeled joy, happiness, grief, pain. Yet he must suspect that he is more integrated than he thinks, for he will first experience an entire range of feeling and thought in a particular reverie and then he expresses that thought, not like a scientist, but like a violinist. Paganini on the PC. Maybe his profession was too confining, the discipline of his science too much of a straightjacket, of theories that must always be be proven, always. Maybe that's what he's doing here, trying to find a final perspective towards himself and towards hose among whom he moves.
He says he's going mad, but that only proves to me that he's really sane. It takes a certain degree of sanity to suspect that you are going mad, as it takes the same degree of sanity to at least once in your life to consider the possible fact of you being a fool