Thursday, April 22, 2021

Looking Forward


Me watching the sunset in Puerto Rico. Spring Break 2021

I have not consistently written for the pages of my own blog; I am well aware of this. I was inspired to begin one so many years ago by an acquaintance who has very consistently written every day on his own. Each year, he changes the theme of his writing focus, but he pounds out a post every day. It's dizzying. I didn't know him 'in person' for more than a month while we were both a part of a teacher exchange program in Japan, but we kept up a correspondence for many years and wrote to each other almost every day. At one point, I decided that I needed to see him 'in person' and sent him a plane ticket to visit. He declined. And so did our correspondence. I don't know how much longer that I could have kept it up every day without ever having a face to face conversation. Well, maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to cancel him because one of the things that I have learned during the pandemic is that it can work to not be in person or face to face. But with that being said, I may have gone bonkers emailing him everyday. Too much can be too much.

When I started writing this blog, I was deep into the enthrall of my magazine collections. I loved nothing better than to have a stack of them waiting for me on the table next to my reading chair to get to on a Saturday morning. I'd rip out the pages of articles or fashion and either write about them or tape them up around my desk in a sort of dreamy vision board of colors, beautiful clothes, faces and destinations. But a couple things happened that changed that particular habit that I cherished. 

First, I moved from the apartment that I had lived in for nearly 25 years in the heart of the city out to my mom's house. I moved in with her as her health had begun to deteriorate, and it seemed that as soon as I moved in, her health declined rapidly. Within six months, she died. And for those six months, I worked full time teaching during the day and  overnight caring for her. I didn't have much time for pursuing hobbies and definitely not for reading magazines. I have stayed on in her home and will continue to do so. Friends ask whether I miss living in my dusty, vintage apartment in the city now that I am living, in my view, the farm. There are not big things that I miss, but one habit that I miss is sitting on a Saturday morning in my chair, drinking a cup of coffee, looking out the window into the trees that lined the block, and leisurely thumbing through Vogue or Elle or Tatler. I suppose that I could pick up the habit again, but my lifestyle has changed. I don't look out of a window at trees as I am responsible for the trees and plants and flowers in a rather large yard. I do live on a farm after all. That takes up a lot of time. Plus, I'm not sure that I've even settled into particular habits just yet. Soon after my mother's death, we all walked into the pandemic. I began working from home, still do at this writing, and life at home has been unusual. I imagine as we move deeper into 2021, we'll all resume a more 'normal' life and habits will begin to build again.

But will I return to the magreads? I've already stopped subscriptions to some of them. I feel that I've grown out of them in some respects. They don't hold my attention as they once did.  This might be attributable to the rise in social media. Between email, Instagram, Twitter and the like, I see most of the content that would be published in the following month's pages. And magazines like Rolling Stone, one of my favorites, has become more of a political journal that rock and roll magazine. I don't need politics across all mediums. So much content can be found on the Internet now. I can understand how this point and the pandemic has punched magazines in the gut.

So here I sit. As I often say to my students, writers must continue to write regularly. It's good practice. I had come upon an excellent focus for my daily writing. But as that has become less of a priority for me, I have to consider other topics. We will  see how it goes. As I am more or less talking this out with myself, I suppose that I can make or change the rules as necessary. But I am looking forward to what will come next. 

Sidenote: Happy to be vaccinated, I was able to travel to visit my sister, who lives in Puerto Rico, during Spring Break. She took the snap of me above as we watched the sun set on the lovely Caribbean Sea. I think that it perfectly captures my mood and the sense that I'm reflective and looking forward to see what the view will be for what happens next.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Barbra Streisand's Funny Girl

My uncle's painting of Barbra Streisand

 My grandmother took my siblings and I to see the film "Funny Girl" when we were young children. The film was first shown in 1968, so it must have been a reshowing of it a couple of years later because I doubt that grandma took 8, 6, 4, and a 2 year old to the movies to see an adult. Or maybe she did?  It was a treat to go to the movies. But the effect of listening to that voice, Barbra Streisand, in a dark movie theater is what really was transcendent for me. 

After an early Easter dinner with my sister this week, we decided to watch "Funny Girl." It classifies as a holiday movie to us- good for Christmas or Easter. It doesn't matter how many times that I've seen it and that I know that I know all the songs by heart, it never gets old. In this viewing, I was particularly struck with how Fanny,  the character Streisand plays, pushes back when Mr. Keeney, the first theater manager, fires her when she can't keep up with the chorus girl routines she's hired to perform. She does not take no for an answer and pushes until she hears the yes that she desperately wants it to be. I had to wonder if seeing this as a girl when the movie made such an incredible impact on me that I didn't become who I am because of it. My sister gave me a look during the scene that said to me, oh! she's not the only one who doesn't take no for an answer. I've 'but, but, but-ed' to plenty of men. And if I believe in it, I don't let it go until I hear, 'go ahead.'

Then there's Nick Arnstein. Oh! I know that man. And I have been known to 'do too much' when I believe that I'm in love. I think that I'm doing the right thing- in Fanny's case, she tries to find her down and out husband a job by going behind his back to set it up thinking that she's helping when the last thing that he wants is her interference. I may not have ever done that, but I have been in a relationship where the man just has had enough of me doing too much. Fanny does it because she can't let go of  the one man who has seen her beauty. For me, it's the curse of the pleaser. I tear up every time that Fanny steps onto the stage after Nick walks away to sing the finale of the show: 'My Man.' She starts slowly, but soon builds to the crescendo of what her feelings for him are through the song. But that voice is hers, not his. As a girl I saw that, must have. 

The portrait above depicts the last scene of the movie when she sings 'My Man.' My uncle painted it in college, and it hung in my grandfather's house from the time that I was the girl who was so taken by Barbra that it was my favorite thing to visit. I forever thought about it. When I got older, I asked my Dad whether he thought grandpa would give it up so that I could have it. Oh, I was that bold. And every year, I became more and more bold. At a great-aunt's funeral, I asked my uncle, 'so, did you paint more than one of the Barbra paintings?' I knew that he hadn't, but I wanted to open up the conversation. In the end, he told me that it was his father's and not his to give. Hmph! My dad promised me that he would talk to his father about the painting, but I'm sure that it got lost in one of the many Manhattans being consumed. My grandfather lived to his mid 90's and when he passed, my father wasn't alive. And apparently it wasn't left to me in a will because I didn't get it.

You may think that I'm tacky for being so fixated on a material object. Oh yes, I've read many stories of how treasured items just happen to come to those wait. But in this case, I don't think that any one that had the ability to gift it to me realized how much I loved it. Growing up with my Dad's father and his half brothers (4 of them), they were the typical patriarchal, Irish men. Men did and often apart from women. And women? Well, they were someone else, not with them. I may be a little harsh, but it isn't far from the truth. 

Grandfather's house sat empty for more than a couple of years out of a sense of nostalgia. When it finally came time to sell and empty the house, I became nearly frantic. What would happen to Barbra? And then a light bulb lit. At a family Fourth of July party, I decided to enquire about the painting not from one of my uncles, but one of their wives. That would be an ear that would listen to me. One uncle was in charge as he lived near to the house. All it took was one question to his wife: Does anyone want the Barbara painting? And can I have it by any chance? Uncle's wife looked at me, smiled, and said, 'sure. You're welcome to it!' I made a special trip to pick it up. Taking it wasn't entirely without resistance. Another uncle said, 'hey, what are you doing with that?' I grabbed it and walked to the door shouting over my shoulder, 'she said I could take it.' Or something like that.

Tacky. Oh, don't I know it. But she's mine now. And she's beloved. I had her framed. And when I got it back from the framers, I threw a party. I placed a dozen yellow roses, like the ones that Nick Arstein always sent to Fanny on her opening nights, on either side. We drank champagne and listened to Barbra. If I could save only one item from a burning house, aside from my cat, it would be the portrait. It gives me an indescribable joy. It is Streisand, but it's Fanny too. No one could stop her. And I try not to let anyone stop me either.