Where I write

Where I write

September 23, 2015




This is my friend, Goldie, gazing at a house that replaced the house where she lived in Denver for more than 50 years. Her former house, which she shared with her husband and his parents, was demolished last year and replaced with this modern version.  If Goldie didn't know she was standing on Umatilla Lane in Denver, in the exact spot where her house once stood, she would have thought she was on a different street, in a different city or maybe living there was all just a dream.  Goldie will 90 in November so she's experienced a lot of changes, including the death of her husband, Tony, yet looking at this brick and metal box that replaced her charming brick bungalow had to be a jolt. Goldie said she wished she had never sold the house. It was her biggest regret, she said. We all have those.

The small photo above shows myself and a group of friends back in the 1980s standing in front of Goldie's house, the one that was torn down to make room for the hipster model with the orange door and chairs. Goldie used to have a comfy old arm chair on her front porch and a glider, the kind you could swing back and forth.
This is the house I lived in right next to Goldie's house. It looks just as it did in 1983 when I first moved there. It probably looked just like this when it was built in the 1920s. Oh maybe there's a new coat of paint on the railing, a trellis, but not much else has changed. At least not on the outside. When I stood in front of this house last week it was easy to remember the idealistic young woman I had once been. It made me want  to renew some old dreams that age has convinced me are impossible. Like the house, I am still standing, too. Though I don't look as I did in 1983. Darn it.

Yet, how I wish Goldie's house was the same. It seems cruel to have mine unchanged and her house not just changed, but gone. Here they are side by side. The neighborhood has undergone a gentrification, mostly young professional people who all look as if they jog, do yoga and have bouncy furry dogs. I tease Goldie that we wouldn't meet the age requirements to live on Umatilla Lane, anyway.  

Houses are just big objects we can't take with us when we die, and yet they contain so many memories. I have never lived one place for 50 years so it's difficult for me to truly understand what Goldie must be thinking when she sees a garage has replaced her back yard.

 Instead of the lush green lawn that Goldie's husband  mowed for fifty plus years, is a cement driveway and, again, that hipster orange. I'd rather see Goldie's back yard that once held her dogs, a turtle, a dove and a garden as well as the little workshop where Tony liked to putter.

Still, time marches on and, if anything, this has taught me not to linger too long looking behind me at the shadows  and instead keep my face to the sun. Some day I will return to Denver and my little red bungalow might be gone too, replaced with another sleek home with orange doors. Or maybe neon green. Who knows what color will be hip then. Possibly polka dots or glitter. No matter. It is out of my control.

My memories, though, are like this tree that remains on Umatilla Lane. Once, a branch from this tree fell  on my Camaro and dented my hood. Goldie remembers a snow plow  sliced the base of the tree. Looking at tree was like looking at an old friend.
 I remember how soft snow coated the branches in the winter. In the Spring the leaves turned bright green and provided my house shelter from the heat of the day.  When the leaves dropped in the fall, my front yard sparkled gold and orange. A real orange. Not painted to look cool. Goldie and I were both pleased to see the tree remained and we admired her. The tree reminds me of an older woman. Strong and tall and beautiful, able to roll with the changes, even if her base gets a dent in it now and then.  I'm ashamed to say I don't even know what kind of tree this is, but it's type matters less to me than it's survival.
All this reminiscing made Goldie and me work up an appetite. We invited Faydie, on the left, to join Goldie and me for some Vietnamese food. Goldie met Faydie at the senior citizen apartments where they both live.

 Pretty soon we were laughing and talking and eating noodles and rice, making new memories which will join the ones Goldie and I have from  Umatilla Lane. Hopefully, there will be time to make more. In the end, houses don't matter as much as people, anyway.

September 2, 2015

Floradora...the story behind the cocktail

At the restaurant where I work we have a drink on the menu called the Floradora. We've served this drink for a few months now, and one night as I waited for the bartender to mix cocktails to serve, I casually asked, "Why is that drink called Floradora?" She shrugged. "Corporate named it." Huh. I hadn't even wondered why it was called Floradora until that moment. I forgot about it. 

I just love coincidences, don't you? They are like messages from the heavens. A few days later, I was at my writer's group at Barnes and Nobles Bookstore. (Yes it is still in business though my fellow writers and myself worry all the time the doors will shut one day and we will have to meet at Applebee's). I was browsing through a cart loaded with books on sale when I came across one of those old style, hard back, Time Life books. It had big splashy photos of scandalous and horrible crimes committed during the last century. Frankly, I'm embarrassed to say, but it was fascinating to read. 

No the crime isn't the dead polar bear, though it should be. The crime involved this young girl, Evelyn Nesbit, who in this photo is pretending to be asleep on the bear skin. Evelyn was a Floradora girl.
Thanks to the book I happened upon, I learned Floradora was a famous London play, actually a set of plays, that came to Broadway at the beginning of the 20th century. Big deal back then. Who knew? Not me. 

Above are the hot Floradora ladies of the 1900s. Check out those ruffles. The women were what gave the production it's fame and zing. Or should I say, va va va voom! 

My have times have changed. Floradora women needed to be 5 feet four inches and 130 pounds. Nowadays if women are that weight, at that height, they are encouraged to enroll at Curves and eat more kale. Those were the good old days, never mind no penicillin or Internet.  Women could be plump.

Anyway, back to the woman pretending to snooze on the polar bear, Evelyn Nesbit. She had a troubled, impoverished youth, and came to New York City seeking fame and fortune. She was 16, maybe even younger, as her mother added years to her age so she could work. No child labor laws yet. Her looks were popular then, and she was soon given a slot as a Floradora performer.
If there had been reality shows then, Evelyn pictured here would have had her own. She'd have a twitter account. Evelyn's beauty was the talk of New York City. Of course as a popular dancer in a groovy Broadway show, she ran around with some rich, and yes, married men. And you thought scandal was reserved only for 2015 and the Kardashians. 
This rich cad, and famous architect, Stanford White,  lured her into his New York City mansion and had his way with her. Apparently, he was the Christen Grey of the 1900s. With a mustache that is. He was quite the playboy. Stanford here rigged a bedroom, (it had red wall paper in case you needed to know) with mirrors and a swing. A red swing. So Fifty Shades of Grey! Not sure where his wife was when Evelyn was at the mansion partying with this tycoon, perhaps out shopping for parasols and corsets. Or having babies. 

So Stanford drugged Evelyn's champagne. When she woke up in the morning she was no longer a virgin. The despicable act may have even happened right on that polar bear rug. Too bad the bear was dead, or it could have bit Stanford right in the...you know where.

At this point in the story, I'm thinking...management named a drink at the restaurant Floradora? Why not just call it Sex, Drugs and...ladies wearing big hats with feathers. It gets even more juicy.
A few years later, Evelyn our heroine marries this wild and crazy guy, Harry Thaw. She knew she couldn't dance forever and beauty fades.  He was very rich and rather, shall we say, nuts. He liked to whip people. Anyway, he was obsessed with the fact that Evelyn was not a virgin. He hated Stanford White for robbing his future bride of her virginity. Because there is no time period which does not include violence and guns, one June night in 1906, on the top of Madison Square Garden's, he shoots Stanford to death. It was said the play they had all been attending that night was boring. Perhaps if it has been more interesting...

The rest of the story involves courtroom drama, a mental institution, poverty and Evelyn's affair with the famous movie star John Barrymore. Oh and Evelyn even has a child who becomes a fighter pilot.  Quite a story. Except no one, including me, knew this tale of lust and woe where I work. We just thought Floradora was a funny sounding name. 

Now Evelyn would be tweeting everything that happened to her, the red swing, the dancing, the murder. With the immediacy of today's media, what seems so newsworthy fades and is replaced with something else. Just as we all will. So anytime you think you will be remembered after you are dead...guess again. Be nice to your grandchildren so at least they can name in you in old photos. No children? Me either. Oh well, you can fade into obscurity with me. Meanwhile, enjoy the ride.
Curious to see what Floradora tastes like? Here's the recipe. 
Actually, Floradora isn't a top seller at the restaurant. More people order the Blue Hawaiian because, well, it's blue. It's fun to drink blue stuff. 

By the way, Hollywood made a movie based on this story of Evelyn Nesbit. Looks dramatic and oh so 1960s.
It starred Joan Collins. Remember her from when she starred in the television show Dallas? She was rather famous for portraying a rich and devious woman.

Maybe it's time to name a drink Joan Collins. I'm certain one day, in the near future, someone will ask, "Who is Joan Collins?" And no one will remember. 

August 17, 2015

The Long and Winding Road

"If you see your path laid out in front of you -- Step One,Step two, Step three -- you only know one thing..it is not your path. Your path is created in the moment of action. If you can see it laid out in front of you, you can be sure it is someone else's path. That is why you see it so clearly." 

When the writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote these words, I wonder if he had attempted a novel? It would be so much easier to have the path of my novel clearly carved out for me word for word, a yellow brick road to writing success. Minus the munchkins. 

Searching for just the right word, devising a clever plot, creating believable characters and genuine dialogue is time consuming work.  There are those writers who claim a novel wrote itself. I dislike those writers as much as I dislike people who eat mint chocolate chip ice cream every day and stay thin. I am convinced they are actually aliens.

 A clear path, like the one in the desert near my house shown above, where when I hike I can see far ahead to where the path leads, requires less thinking. Less scary, too. When I write, I always feel somewhat lost and wish someone had left at least some bread crumbs for me to follow. And if they lead to a ugly witch's house, that's okay. I think I can take the mean old hag, as well as snap off a candy cane or two.

Today's coloring books are elaborate, but it still requires coloring between the lines of someone else's bunny and porcupine. I think that's a porcupine on the right. Not sure. Cute, but too structured for me. 

I contradict myself. I know.  I groaned when teachers made us do outlines in school BEFORE writing the paper. Remember? 1. a. b. c. and so on. Often, a sentence was  required that would summarize the paper. Some teachers even made students show the outline after writing the paper.  That is like living your life and then, before you die, being asked to show the outline you drafted, say when you were 13, to see if it matches what actually happened. That would be interesting to see how many people's lives turned out as they had envisioned as teenagers.  Sure there might be some things that worked out as planned, but I betcha there would be a slew of surprises. Often we don't know what to do next until we get there. Same with writing.

My novel feel more like this photo I took in the Costa Rican jungle last spring. No clear path.  I didn't attempt to walk through this jungle, and I often don't attempt my novel as it often feels daunting to even begin. But I bet if I had started walking in this jungle, with a lot of bug repellent slathered on me, a path would have shown itself. I would have seen rushing rivers, flocks of exotic birds in flight and lush plant life of the kind I'd never before seen.  The sights! The smells! The exclamation points possibilites.

Writing a novel is the same. A lot of unexpected beautiful things can arise once I begin. It's not easy forging a path alone, and that is why so many writers give up along the trail. 

There are so many books and classes and blogs and newsletters and workshops about how to write. A lot of people are making money telling other people how to write. To learn how to walk through a dense jungle, one must starting walking. Same with writing. Writing classes are beneficial, as are meeting with other writers, but to write one must sit and sit and sit alone for hours forging a path with words. For someone like myself who likes to check things off her to do list, and have a clear set of each day's purpose, meandering without a path feels often futile and foolish. 

I must remember that even if I feel I'm walking in circles , like this labyrinth in Oregon that I visited,  it doesn't mean I'm not making progress. Now if I was still there months later walking around in circles that would be a problem. I hope someone would step in and help me. And sometimes we do need help from our friends. I'm blessed with wise writer friends who help me edit, and also friends who listen and tell me to get moving with my life, to stop going in circles and walk a new direction, but they can't do writing or life for me. My lazy side says oh darn.  

Some paths are gorgeous, and seem wide and safe, but even this one in the Oregon forest veers to the left. Just like Dorothy's yellow brick road that looked  so clearly laid out for her, there were wild surprises. Dorothy met evil witches, and flying monkeys and almost took a forever sleep in a field of pretty poppies that looked deceptively safe. Just shows you that even though the yellow brick  path looked clear, it was still full of pitfalls. 
 When I was little I used to imagine staying in bed all day long and that way nothing bad would ever happen to me. My next thought was how bored I was going to get.  So I got out of bed. 
"If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one," said  my hero Dolly Parton. 

What?  It's not right to include a quote by the esteemed scholar Joseph Campbell in the same blog as Dolly, the singer with the blonde wigs and long finger nails? That's the beauty of no outline.  I can do whatever I want. (No English teacher, either, to scold me.) And she's right. Whether in life or writing, if we need to revise, edit or start a entirely new story, it's okay. I just have to remind myself that even if I feel lost in my novel, and I make a bunch of mistakes, I just have to keep moving.

Make it up as I go along, like life, and hopefully get wiser and a better writer and a person  along the way. That's all part of the adventure. I wouldn't want someone else to write the novel, or live my life for me. 
  I'm sure both Joseph and Dolly would agree.