Global Love

GLOBAL LOVE

I love immigrant women.

Why?

Because we have so much in common.

I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1960s.  There were so many rules for good girls!

Among them:

—Never laugh out loud; it is rude to draw attention to yourself.

—Never promote yourself; humility and modesty are the eternal virtues.

—Always marry a man with money because society says, you are inferior, and must cater to the male.  You will never make as much money as he does.

—Accept responsibility for taking care of your husband, taking care of the house, taking care of the children, taking care of the in-laws.

—Work for pocket money only; you must always find a man to take care of you and to validate your existence in polite society.

Well, several decades later…  I believe that women are much stronger than men in every way except for physical strength.

Men need us more than we need them.

Just imagine if all women DID NOTHING—no sex, no cleaning, no cooking, no shopping,  no administrative chores—for men for one month!

The resulting vacuum would clearly indicate who had more value !

But it is still so much a man’s world; when we are young,  they use us for sex; when we are old, they use us for money (if we are weak and insecure enough to permit it!).

I can tell you hundreds of stories about men who have lost their jobs, who descended into depression/drugs/gambling/alcoholism/deviant sexual behavior, or  who tried,  and sometimes did,  collect alimony from their wives; who kidnapped their children and took them to foreign countries. Or…focused most of their time and energy on finding a woman with an apartment or house, so that they could move in and live comfortably without having to pay rent or a mortgage.

And who always picks up the pieces?

The women.

Who takes care of the children and spouses  and the in-laws with dementia?

The women.

Statistics show that men divorce sick wives more frequently than wives divorce sick husbands…even when there’s very little money involved.

My immigrant female friends are role models to me because of their fierce independence and determination.

Among them are:

The beautiful, black-haired woman from Ecuador, whose father was half-Jewish, half-Chinese. The Chinese had gone to Ecuador to build bridges and railroads. Her father and brother came to the United States first, and started a very successful   ice-cream business.

She became a hairstylist and worked at a snooty salon on Third Avenue in the East Sixties for many years. Then she became business partners with a Russian-Jewish man. Every morning, while in the shower, she listens to Bloomberg News on the radio.

She said, “I’m curious about everything. I want to know what’s going on in the world; my clients are international.”

She asked about my background. I explained that my father was from Arkansas, my mother from Pennsylvania.

“Oh,” she said. “Was your mother German? The family were farmers at one time? Maybe they were Hessians, who came to fight with the British during the American Revolution?”

“Yes,” I replied in astonishment. “How did you know that?”

“I read a lot. Both of my children went to Ivy League schools. My husband and I were able to pay their tuition. It was very difficult, but we did it.”

“My husband is Japanese. He works for an international Japanese company,”  she commented as she dried my hair.

I’ve been in New York for forty years; this place still amazes me!

***

—The incredibly sweet-natured  Chinese woman, Tang, with an uncanny business sense. She was a member of the gifted minority who qualified for college during Mao’s regime. She married a handsome, tall, charming classmate, but his character was on the shady side. They started a business together—dress boutiques—and traveled all over China. She was the mastermind; he carried the cash in a brown leather satchel and supervised anything involving technology.

At that time, lipstick was rare. One stick was available; it offered a few shades of pink.

One of the teenage   girls who worked in her shop always wore a particular pink shade.

As  Tang and her husband were leaving  in the evening, Tang noticed that particular pink on her husband’s cheek.

She was outraged and filed for divorce, which was extremely unusual at that time. Divorced women were frowned upon; they were essentially social outcasts.

What a courageous woman!

Her mother-in-law was a talented and respected designer for the Beijing Opera and was permitted to travel freely with a touring company.

Tang tagged along on one of the  international trips to New York City. When the group was about to leave, Tang hid her suitcase and told one member of the group that she was staying in New York.

With just her handbag hanging from her shoulder, she bravely walked the streets alone.

After she was certain that the group had left for China, she made her way to Port Authority and boarded a bus to Wilmington, Delaware.

Tang worked as a “bus girl,” carrying heavy loads of dirty dishes. She lived in a ramshackle  house with several other Chinese girls.

Eventually, she came to New York City to train as a manicurist, pedicurist, and masseuse. She was a hard worker and exceptionally charming and attentive to  her customers.  She listened to their personal stories and gently questioned them about their spouses, children, careers—whatever had been discussed previously. Her memory is exceptional.

After working at Elizabeth Arden and the salon at the  Waldorf Astoria, she and another Chinese woman opened their own spa near the United Nations.

Today, they are very successful.

***

—And  then there is my dentist from Manila.  She is very pretty and unusually conscientious, always cheerful and calm.

She grew up in a poor Catholic family. She was a promising student, and her mother  repeatedly advised, “Do not get married until you finish school.”

Sita was smart enough to  listen to her mother.

She worked very hard at school and was able to get a job with a Jewish dentist on the Upper East Side:  East 79th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington.

Sita bought her own townhouse/condo in New Jersey and shares it with her younger brother and older Maltese.  Once a year, she flies to Manila to visit her many relatives.

***

—The other lovely hairdresser, Loanne,  is from Vietnam.   She was one of the” boat people” and actually spent time in prison.

Her parents were pharmacists in Hanoi. As was the custom, she was sent to the country to live with her grandparents. As a young girl, she fell in love with a handsome boy about her age.  Loanne’s mother forbid their marriage and chose a much older man with a good job to be Loanne’s spouse.

He treated her as a comfort woman, baby maker, cook, and maid. She worked full time outside the home to provide for herself and for her daughters. After they moved to America, he started a factory in Vietnam and returned there frequently.

Loanne was exceptionally pretty:  long, wavy brown hair and luminous brown eyes. Her disposition was sweet and playful, her figure that of a slim 18-year-old. She said her husband never complimented her. He never helped her in any way. And for  sex, he used her just like a whore.

When her mother-in-law moved in with them, she was expected to be the caretaker.

“I am so, so tired,” she confided to me sotto voce.  “Always, so tired.”

“My husband has health problems. If he dies, I don’t know where the money is. He tells me nothing.  All secrets.”

She was such a kind and loving mother, always encouraging her daughters to get a good education and to postpone marriage as long as possible.

***

—another lovely Chinese woman, wife of a  wealthy WASP.   At a music lecture in the Bridgehampton, New York,  library, I met an older woman, a former concert pianist, a Sagaponack resident ( who appeared to be a Mayflower descendant, based on her facial features and hairstyle clipped with a small tortoise-shell barrette).

We chatted after the lecture.

Her daughter-in-law played the piano, marched in Tiananmen Square, was arrested, jailed and tortured.  While in jail, she was raped. Nevertheless, after being freed and coming to America, she met and married an American “prince,”  well-educated, well-to-do,  and kind.

And, despite her suffering in China, she was generous, patient, tolerant, forgiving, stable, compassionate, and devoted to her husband and mother-in-law, who had gone to college in North Carolina.

When I told her that I was from Tennessee, she commented, “Oh, the Southern girls got all the boys.”

“Yes,” I replied. “We were raised that way—to accommodate, serve,  and entertain. And, always look perfect.  I knew married women who would get up at five AM to put on their makeup before their husbands woke up.  We were the geishas of the South.”

What do Southern women and Asian women seem to share?

[The greatest praise  from a guy when I was in high school: “You are the most feminine girl I

know.”]

An outside softness, an ability to accommodate and adapt to others.

(Once an ex-boyfriend told me, “You’re so gentle on the outside, but a rip tide underneath.”

I took that as a huge compliment!)

The inside is the tough part, which has been scarred and hardened by patriarchal cultures and the

overruling theme:

No. You are female. You are nothing without a man. You cannot do that. It is not ladylike. It is not

feminine.  You must not be too ambitious . The male has the power and makes the important decisions;

he controls the money.

It does not matter whether he is qualified or not. (Just take a gander at our current male political “leaders.”)

These women were never indulged as children. They learned to control their emotions.

“Think before you speak.”

“Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

Not one spoiled brat among them. They endured material and emotional deprivation.

The feeling of “always being less than” has spurred them to achieve, to live a productive and disciplined life.

And that is why Asian women—and, hopefully, Southern women will be among the leaders of America’s future.

Self-absorbed spoiled brats are impulsive and demanding. They win short-term, but will never be able to go the distance when the shit hits the fan. They are not good soldiers. Their narcissistic rages are self-destructive.

We can truly lead, only by example.

Mom

 

 

 

“Do you love your mother?” I asked Alex.

 

“She’s dead. I had her cremated. I loved her and hated her,” Alex answered.

           

            Alex was a 43-year-old woman. I wondered why her mother gave her a man’s name.

 

            Alex and I met while working as freelance copy editors at an upscale

 

women’s  magazine on Madison Avenue and 60th Street. We spent hours together under a

 

hot Halogen lamp in a tiny, windowless room with holes in the walls. Our space was a

 

converted storage room for art supplies.

She was a bona fide abstract expressionist artist from Chicago. Once a year,  she had a show of her vibrant, violent paintings at a gallery on Mercer Street. I was a poet manqué and an essayist from a bucolic town in southwestern Tennessee, just five minutes from the Mississippi line.

            We had great conversations about men, mothers, sex, and literature. They were all closely related.

            Recently married for the third time, Alex would cry sometimes when she talked about her fights with her husband. They regularly went to a marriage counselor, and Alex saw a psychiatrist on the side—for her emotional needs, not sexual.

            She grew up on rice and beans and slaps from her Mom, who collected stray cats and food stamps. Her mental condition permitting, she worked part-time selling bras in the intimate apparel department of a fine selected store.

            Alex’s older sister ran away from home to save herself when she was 16. That was the end of all contact. Dad was long gone.

            Alice Miller, the Swiss psychologist, says that rotten childhoods can be somewhat redeemed if the young victim of bad parents is fortunate enough to be cherished by a sensitive, nurturing adult.

            Alex was saved by  an adoring, feisty aunt who taught her about goodness, love, and hope. But she couldn’t teach Alex about jealousy.

            Most of Alex’s fights with her husband were about his looking at other women. Not touching, just looking. Alex ended her second marriage immediately when she found out about her husband’s affair. They lived in a big house in Bergen County, New Jersey, but he had to spend a lot of time in California for business. When he was in the Garden State, they made love every day. That astounded me. She was so lucky. My first husband was a native Athenian (Greece, not Georgia). We made love about three times a day before we got married. That’s when we lived together in the Earl’s Court section of London. Most of the people who lived in that section were Indian. Taki liked to go out for lamb curry at midnight. He liked for me to walk ahead of him and smile at the men standing around. He liked for me to pretend that I was a whore. When a man would  approach me, Taki would rush to my side. That excited him very much. Then he couldn’t wait to go to bed with me. We were in our early 20s. Taki lost all sexual interest in me shortly after we married.

I think a lot of married couples never have sex.

            Anyway, when Alex found the key to her second husband’s secret post office box, she knew that he was having an affair. She had been looking for “Love” stamps when she rifled through his desk drawer. He had a good job and was generous. When he got a small inheritance, he put everything in joint names: Joint tenants with right of survivorship.

            During the day she was free to paint and to bake all-natural banana-nut bread. She had had a good deal.

            When she discovered her husband’s infidelity, she catapulted herself into a hysterical rage. I told her she should have kept quiet and kept on painting. “Kill him in a painting,” I suggested.

            “Why didn’t you keep quiet?” I asked.

            “Impossible,” she answered.

            Alex was impulsive. Emotional outbursts were alien to me. They were very bad manners where I came from. “If you lose control, the other guy wins” was my motto.

            But Alex’s emotions matched her clothes and artwork. She wore Keds that were hot pink, orange, or purple. Some of her paintings of people and things looked like sunsets in Santa Fe, even though she never painted landscapes.

            When she divorced the second husband, she got alimony. Several lawyers told her that she wouldn’t get anything because she was healthy, childless, and thirtysomething. But she shopped and shopped until she found a pit bull for a lawyer.

            After her divorce and financial settlement, she went to the Greek island of Kos, rode old bicycles without hand gears, and ate fresh figs for breakfast until her money ran out.

            Alex and I sure were different. That’s probably why I liked her so much. She always told me how well-bred and self-contained I was. I liked her spontaneity and shocking tactless remarks. She crunched cold, hard carrots all day and never apologized for the irritating sound. Several times a day she talked on the phone with her third husband. “I love you,” she whispered over and over, except when she cried and said, “We’ll talk about this later.”

            I liked our intense conversations. We dispensed with the small talk pretty quickly.

            As a child, Alex slept with one leg hanging over the edge of the bed so that she could jump out when her mother started beating her.

            As a child, I slept on my back with my hands on the sides of the narrow bed. My parents didn’t get along, so my mother slept in my bedroom before we moved to a bigger house. Sleep was very important to her. If I accidentally woke her up, she’d start screaming and slapping me across the face. So, even when I had chills and fever, I’d try real hard not to shake.

            She made me wear pajamas with feet and plastic soles after she found me lying with my nightgown above my waist.

            “The rats are going to get you,” she said.

            When I slept with a man for the first time, I was almost 21. My lover was a Jewish dental student at New York University. We did it on a water bed in a closed wing of Bellevue Hospital.

            Alex’s first experience was with a 30-year-old when she was 16. He became her mentor and encouraged her to go to art school.

            So Alex married him, and they moved to New York. He was very sweet, but Alex didn’t love him, so after she got her degree from Cooper Union, she divorced him and went back to Chicago for a while.

            Both Alex and I are childless by choice. Thank God for Mary McCarthy and diaphragms. Someone said McCarthy did for diaphragms what Melville did for whales.

            When we were in our teens, we made the decision not to become mothers. Our mothers had branded us with pain.

            I said, “Having children is an act of cruelty. Why bring someone into the world to suffer?”

            “Yeah, I agree,” Alex replied.

            “But I don’t want to die now,” I said. “I have hope for the future. But if I had to choose between exactly repeating my 39 years–with everything the same, not being able to change anything–or death, I’d take death. What would you do?”

            “I don’t know. I know I don’t want to die yet. After all, we have squatters’ rights,” was Alex’s matter-of-fact opinion.

            I looked at the light-blond rectangle she had dyed on top of her dark-blond hair. Her earrings, bright purple ladders made from pipe cleaners, hung like spaghetti al dente. I never wore earrings except at parties or when I went out with small groups of people, which wasn’t very often.

            “Time to work,” I said.

            “Yeah, I guess so,” replied Alex.

            I was reading a story titled, “The Seductive Mother.” It was about a woman who slept with her son.

            Alex was working on a piece about a woman who just returned home from the hospital after a mastectomy. It described her ordeal of shopping for a nightgown and sleeping with her husband for the first time after her operation.

            We studiously read the repugnant material under the Halogen heat.

            Five days later in the mail, I got an invitation to a show of Alex’s paintings at a gallery in the Village.

            All of her paintings were exhibited on one floor. Each painting had a number. By the entrance, the guests picked up the sheets that listed the artwork. Alex picked incredible titles. Her paintings blazed on the white walls.

            The food was great. Penne primavera, pasta and broccoli, tuna salad. Her husband, who liked to read magazines about guns, had made everything. He was Jewish, cute, funny and a self-employed caterer. Alex was Irish and had married three Jews. I was a Southern Wasp, divorced from a Greek and married to a Jew, a real mensch. Even in Tennessee I had heard women say that Jewish men made the best husbands.

            After my divorce from the Greek, who had a bad case of satyriasis with other women, I only went out with Jewish men. They’re so funny! They really have a unique sense of humor. Must be genetic. I went out with lots of Jewish men. It didn’t matter whether they were married or not. 

            At the party I met some of the people who worked with Alex at the Metropolitan Museum, where she freelanced sometimes on their catalogs.

            Slowly, I walked from painting to painting. The largest and most magnetic was a Kandinskylike composition of red and  gray.

A bloody-looking configuration in the shape of an enlarged uterus had been superficially dusted with her mother’s gray ashes.

            The painting was titled “MOM,”… and it was for sale.

Then and Now

An essay…that I wrote for a literary magazine…

THEN AND NOW

 

September 7, 1980

 

“Thirty, forty, fifty? It doesn’t matter how old you are, only how old you look….” begins an eye-catching cosmetics ad.

            Jane Fonda, in retrospect, said, “Turning thirty was scary as hell.” Louise in Honoré de Balzac’s Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées (The Two Young Brides) wasn’t too thrilled about her thirtieth birthday either: “I shall soon be thirty, and at that age woman embarks upon dreadful inner lamentations. If I am still beautiful, I shall perceive the limits of feminine life; afterwards, what will become of me?” In Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Lily Bart found the approach of her thirtieth birthday to be more than she could bear.

            I wish I were immortal Athena living in the rent-free Parthenon. Instead, I’m thirty years old today, doubting my wisdom and inhabiting a New York City apartment that costs too much.

            In work and in love, I find myself lurching forward and backward. The romantic and the realist continually joust on the playing fields of my heart and my mind. My résumé covers a lot of territory; in schools and summer camps I’ve taught children how to read E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, to perform water ballet to the music of Ferrante and Teicher, and to jump horses over post-and-rail fences. I’ve been the administrative assistant to the president of a men’s clothing company and a production planner of mattress ticking (for jailbirds’ cots and cheap-motel beds) for a Fortune 100 textile corporation—the most horrendous job! Additionally, I’m a volunteer for an organization that helps autistic children and for a nonprofit group that promotes preventive medicine.

            Now,  I’m gainfully employed as the assistant editor at a medical magazine on Manhattan’s East 60th Street.

            On a pleasant summer day nine years ago on Bayswater Road in London, I met a swarthy Athenian—the kind you’re supposed to have a vacation romance with, but never marry. In rapid succession, Zorba, the Greek, became my lover, my husband, my ex-spouse. I married Zorba because he looked like a young Omar Sharif and spoke the little English he knew with a seductive accent and toss of the head. We shared zero history. I sought connubial bliss liberated from all traditional restraints. I got exactly what I wanted…for a while. That idyllic summer we communicated by drawing simple pictures, as we indolently reclined on green canvas chairs in Hyde Park. He was exotic, tempestuous, fiery, emotional. Everything I  (exceptionally reserved WASP from bucolic Frenchtown, Tennessee) was not.

            As husband and wife we traveled through the splendiferous Greek islands. The fragrance of white jasmine permeated the air as we nibbled fresh figs for breakfast on the tranquil island of Kos. We rode docile donkeys to the top of a steep hill on Lindos, Rhodes, for a breathtaking view of the blue Mediterranean. The countless cicadas hummed on Crete as we merrily wandered through the picturesque farms dotted with whirling windmills. Zorba enthusiastically guided me on an unforgettable Hellenic sojourn. I will always be grateful for having been sucked into the vortex of Greek culture.

            I’m passionate about all kinds of literature. It reveals the multifarious ways there are to think, to live. Biographies and autobiographies of writers also intrigue me, especially books limning the dark side of women and men considered to be artistic giants. Some rotten people have created great art.

            Discovering what I am about is the main thing—an illusion as good as any other. I’m a promiscuous reader, a dilettante, an autodidact. Creative agitation in women of thirty or thereabouts is not uncommon. Willa Cather’s The Troll Garden, a collection of short stories and novelettes, and Doris Lessing’s The Making of the Americans—their first literary achievements—were written when the authors were twenty-nine and thirty-one, respectively.

            Physically, I’m in better shape than I was in at twenty. A low-sodium, low-cholesterol, high-fiber diet, and low-impact aerobics are integral parts of my ritualistic health routine.

            The rapid changes in women’s roles during the past decade have left me wobbly and straddled uncomfortably on the cutting edge of a social revolution. I don’t want to be defined by a job or lack of one. Evaluate my character, not my income!

            In truth, sometimes I fear I’m a latent Southern belle, an inchoate Blanche DuBois who prefers Wild Turkey to Colombian Gold, unmistakably more of a Jean Rhys woman than an Ann Beattie character.

            My idiosyncrasies are growing more pronounced. As Evelyn Waugh did, I detest the telephone and even prefer confirming appointments by mail. Always walking on the shady side of the street, always wearing sunglasses to prevent (I hope) the development of cataracts, never browsing in department stores, shopping for just about everything from mail-order catalogs, are among my myriad eccentricities.

            Until a year ago, keeping a diary seemed a waste of time, but now maintaining meticulous records of impressions, literature gobbled or savored, is as crucial as wearing mascara, lipstick, and perfume. Constructing chronological tables as I read is automatic. I want to know how old the women, whether real or fictional, were when they graduated, married, had children, gave birth to novels, had their first extramarital affair, divorced, murdered, committed suicide. I want to know the same about the men.

            My hypochondria is as evident as H. L. Mencken’s condition was, positively due to our mutual birthday. I am star struck by worry; Virgo is culpable. By working for a magazine where I have unlimited access to medical journals and textbooks, I’m relieved of the urge to move to an apartment within whispering distance of the New York Academy of Medicine.

            Between three and three-thirty in the morning, I frequently wake sweating, with heart palpitating. My milestone birthday ended one passage and began another. I agonize: This is it. No more mistakes allowed. Finality. Horror. No more living in the future. There is only now.

            According to recent National Institutes of Health statistics, the average life span of a thirty-year-old Caucasian female is eighty years. As a borderline optimist, I rationalize that I still have approximately ten years to go before tripping over the halfway marker.

            Please, dear Fate, now that I’m old enough to be a senator, I suggest your letting me live as long as the nonagenarian Georgia O’Keeffe.

            I bid a fond farewell to my twenties.

 

September 7, 1999

 

Forty-nine! Wow! How did that happen! I am firmly entrenched in glorious prime time!

            Physically, emotionally, and psychologically I’ve changed during the past nineteen years. Geographically, I moved nine miles—from midtown Manhattan to a small community just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

            Thankfully…I’ve become more adaptable, flexible, resilient; whatever life slaps me with, I have grown confident enough to handle it with equanimity.

            My marital status changed, too.  At age thirty-two I married a native New Yorker, the firstborn son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. My articulate husband and I share a love of Shavian plays, Mozart sonatas, and Verdi operas.

            Warm and loving, my spouse has taught me a lot about the redemptive powers of unconditional love and affection.  When I withdraw into seemingly impenetrable silence, my customary but unproductive way to deal with anger, he instinctively knows how to gently take the defensive wall down, brick by metaphorical brick.

            When I changed husbands, holiday customs were also altered. Instead of feasting at Easter on roasted lamb and mageiritsa (traditional soup made of sheep’s entrails), I politely swallow matzo  and gefilte fish at Passover.

            I wear the same size dress as I did a decade ago and have no new cavities. My hair—once the color of undiluted espresso—is heavily and naturally streaked with silver. I’m not going to dye it. The trichological transformation that I see in the mirror forces me to come to terms with aging. That’s meant in a positive way—acceptance of living, with more joy and more dignity, as a mature woman, never again to be called a pretty girl.

            The late Alfred Tom Kinsey, founder of the Institute for Sex Research, said that a woman reaches her sexual peak around age thirty-eight. (I say between thirty-eight and forty-eight; two years ago I had to replace my All-Flex arcing spring diaphragm.)

            Marrying for the second time and learning to drive a car (in effect, for the second time) coincided. Both require a lot of patience and a certain tolerance for risk. The year I left Tennessee, when I was seventeen, I had stopped driving after a near-fatal collision with a tractor-trailer on a major highway. Many years later, a girlfriend who owned a gleaming BMW persuaded me to sidle into the driver’s seat. I’ve been driving (unfortunately not BMWs) ever since. (The first time that I drove across the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York, I had to wipe off the steering wheel with a towel because my hands were sweating so much. If someone told me that I would have to travel to Mars in a spaceship…I could not have been more fearful.)

            My forties are better than my thirties. I sleep peacefully through the night. I know and accept that I’ll make lots of mistakes as long as I live; neurotic perfectionism is no longer part of the package. Living in the present is second nature to me now, like counting calories and the dollars in my mutual funds. I’ve grown more tolerant of my weaknesses and adamantly refuse to desert my most fantastic dreams. As Yogi Berra said: “It’s not over till it’s over.”

            Always searching for an illusive frontier, I still don’t really feel settled.  Deep down in my heart, I’m the worldly Somerset Maugham, the peripatetic Graham Greene, the restless Paul Theroux waiting for the next train. I look forward to change, to the next destination. I want to live in motion in a continually changing landscape with a changing cast of characters. Disliking quotidian routine, I want to be able to distinguish every day from all other days. I want to live fully in a rich phantasmagoria.

            Evolving and learning give me the greatest pleasure. In my imaginary perfect world, based on my criteria for adventure, next year I would become a race-car driver and five years later, a commercial airline pilot; I’d fly 747s to Hong Kong, Sydney, Cairo, and Berlin. My altruistic side would head a foundation that keeps every library in the United States open seven days a week, twelve hours a day.

            The unknown with both its disappointments and surprises enriches me. Being a quiet maverick of sorts, I suspect I’ve become somewhat addicted to those adrenaline rushes that invariably accompany the excitement of the unfamiliar.

            In Passages, Gail Sheehy writes, “We are becoming accustomed to the idea of serial marriages. It will be progress when we come to think of serial careers, not as signifying failure, but as a realistic way to prolong vitality.”

            However, I cling to my past eccentricities like white napkin fuzz to a black wool skirt, and I’ve generously added a few more. (Although occasionally now, I will amble into a department store when the inviting newspaper ad proclaims “40 percent off all merchandise.”) I can tell whether I like someone by the way she removes a paper lid from a jar or the way she organizes bills in her wallet. I’m critical of my own behavior as well…if I have more than ten items to buy, I never sneak into the express line at the supermarket. Anachronistic, chatty letters or e-mail (I LOVE E-MAIL!!!) are always preferable to disruptive telephone calls. And the other day I took my innocuous beige cloth coat to a tailor; per my request, he lined it in blazing-red satin: the anthropomorphic me.

            When standing in motionless movie lines, I inconspicuously eavesdrop. Women and men in Manhattan, it seems, habitually talk hyperbolically about money and jobs. I prefer to go to films alone, to sit on the aisle, and to be totally absorbed in the celluloid drama in front of me. As an intense observer, I don’t want anyone to break the spell immediately afterward.

            Modern life is too frenetic for my taste. Abandoning raucous aerobics, I spend more time these days practicing laid-back yoga. And I need more time alone.  In Gift from the Sea, a collection of poetic essays about the conflicts and challenges facing women, Anne Morrow Lindbergh felicitously wrote about the importance of solitude to a woman’s mental and spiritual well-being. Lindbergh said, “Woman must come of age by herself. This is the essence of ‘coming of age’–to learn how to stand alone. She must learn not to depend on another, nor to feel she must prove her strength by competing with another. In the past, she has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the center, the true center of being a whole woman. She must find her true center alone. She must become whole. She must, it seems to me, as a prelude to any ‘two solitudes’ relationship, follow the advice of the poet to become ‘world to oneself for another’s sake.’ ”

            I strongly identify with Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones and his lust for life as well as Binx Bolling, the protagonist of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. “The search,” Binx says, “is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

            Despair stalked me in my early years…but no more. I have what I want: not an easy life, but an interesting one.

            There are infinite paths of possibility. Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert Frost said it best:

            “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

              I took the one less traveled by,

              And that has made all the difference.” 

DEFAULT TO GOODNESS

Prologue to (copyrighted, completed) novel (easily adapted to indie film):

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” meets “Mommie Dearest” in Memphis, New York, Athens, and London

Alexandra is the female David Copperfield. She is educated, polite, and kind, but the people in her world don’t appreciate those qualities very much. She is shy and becomes an acute observer of others. Her curiosity about people, their interests, their families fascinate her. Alexandra is trying to learn how to live. Her mother is a bipolar alcoholic who frequently rages and does shockingly cruel things to Alexandra. Her father is a closet homosexual who is too busy with his affairs and secrets to pay any attention to his only child. Alexandra turns to men in a search for any semblance of love or affection. The results are frequently harrowing, often just funny. At the same time, she works very hard at many jobs: teacher, production planner of mattress ticking for a Fortune 100 textile company, and writer and editor at many magazines. But the traumatic experiences of her childhood continue to haunt her. She finds comfort in books and films and excitement from new men, preferably foreign. Will she find happiness? Or end up in a rusty garbage can?