Saturday, September 29, 2012

JANET M. KING: OCTOBER 11, 1927-SEPTEMBER 25, 2012

age 20

Her patience at the airfield, in this world of machines and offices that is beyond her, waiting without a word, as old women have for millennia all over the world, waiting for the world to pass. And then very small, a bit broken, on the immense ground, toward the howling monsters, holding her well-combed hair with one hand…

Maman. What was her silence saying. What was this mute and smiling mouth screaming. We will be resurrected.


--Camus, Notebooks, 1951-1959






THE HAPPINESS MYSTERY

NIKOLAI GE
CRUCIFIXION, 1893
A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from one Gretchen Rubin, along with a few links to something called The Happiness Project. At first I thought, How sweet, here is a darling housewife from Iowa. It turns out that Gretchen, indeed a wife and mother, lives on the upper East Side, is married to a hedge fund manager, and is a former lawyer who clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor. It also turns out that The Happiness Project is an empire comprising, among other things, several books (at least one of which was for a period of time #1 on amazon), a blog, discussion guides, resolution checklists, and a full slate of speaking engagements.

Happiness, and making a project out of it, are concepts that are somewhat foreign to me. Gretchen, however, also turns out to be  a St. Thérèse of Lisieux devotee and, having liked Shirt of Flame, she asked if I'd be interested in answering a few questions.

Of course I was. I'm touched and grateful that Gretchen would think to run my natterings.

Here they are.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

PORTLAND MAGAZINE, POOR BABY, AND OUR LADY OF SOLITUDE MONASTERY

OUR LADY OF SOLITUDE MONASTERY
IN THE DESERT OUTSIDE PHOENIX
MONSOON DAYS
Wow, folks, it's been a rich, deep week. I can't thank you all enough for your prayers, your Masses, your rosaries, your lit candles, your poems, your words, your hearts on behalf of my mother, me, and our family.

We will have the memorial on October 20th at the United Church of Christ (my mother's old church) in North Hampton, New Hampshire, right across from 108 Post Road where we all grew up. I can't really get any handle on her death, and have just sort of been wandering aimlessly about all week.

I'm flying out Sunday to Phoenix where I will be picked up by kind-hearted volunteers "Cyndi" and "Phyllis"--I like these gals already--and ferried to the Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in the desert, there to spend until the following Friday in silence and prayer. My contact there is the good Sr. Mary Fidelis, a Shirt of Flame fan who (whom?)  I can't wait to meet. They don't even have internet available to the retreatants, folks! In my fretting, co-dependent way, I'm very concerned with my beloved blog and readers, so I'm going to work up a couple of posts and attempt to set them up to be published during the week. Unless my phone works out there, and actually even if it does, I won't be able to respond with my usual alacrity/hovering to e-mails and comments, but the timing couldn't be better and I am so SO grateful at the thought of getting to "process."

I have a review copy of Br. Joseph F. Schmidt's new book, Walking the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux: Discovering the Path of Love, and plan on diving right in...At least as importantly, I have made a Trader Joe's run and stocked up on dark chocolate pralines, vegetable chips, and dried apricots. I can only pray they have coffee there.

Meanwhile, in the interests of staying abreast:

Check out my essay in the Autumn, 2012 issue of Portland, The University of Portland Magazine: "The Really Dangerous Idea Is the Gospels."

Also I have managed to format Poor Baby: A Child of the 60's Looks Back on Abortion, previously available only on kindle, into a hardcover format. So order away!

LITTLE RIVER CHAPEL
NORTH HAMPTON, NH
THIS IS WHERE THE PROTESTANTS OF MY HOMETOWN WORSHIP IN SUMMER!

Monday, September 24, 2012

WHEN IN DOUBT, EAT


Hi people. You have all so patiently and loyally followed along through me dear mum's decline--which continues, though I'm loathe to overfocus on it. I'm reminded of a friend who recently sighed, "Well, my sponsor died last year, so THAT happened to me"...I thought, Didn't that happen to your sponsor?...

Anyway, suffice it to say that literally every hour since last Monday we, meaning my five brothers and I, have been awaiting THE CALL. One of the most astounding things to come out of this (another being that my mother is defying all odds by not having eaten for about two months and still drawing breath) is that our sixth sibling and "little" (47-year-old) sister Meredith has heroically been sitting vigil by Mom's side at the nursing home for what is now seven solid days and nights. Meredith eats there, sleeps there (they actually gave her a bed in a spare room so she didn't have to snooze in the recliner), and the other day she told me, "I know so much about the place I'm starting to think I should offer to pitch in and do some filing"...

The first few days I felt sort of heroic and teary and liminal-time-and-space myself, and then I started getting edgy...every time the phone rings my heart skips five beats. Still, it's been a comfort that every sigh, raised eyebrow, finger movement of Mom is reported, discussed at length, and analyzed. It has been a gift beyond measure to have Meredith there: otherwise I would have felt the need to be there myself. So she has been an ambassador for the family (my brothers who live close by have also been visiting regularly), the nerve center, the "beloved son" who is standing at the foot of the Cross...I've also been in close communication with my brother Tim, who lives in Bangkok, and that's been a gift, too.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I had my second Artists' Round-Table (my one true idea/project of the year) scheduled, and though I knew The Call could come literally in the middle of it, I decided to go ahead with it anyway. It's been bakingly hot in L.A. for weeks but I also decided to go ahead with my plan to assemble a chicken bisteeya, which is a Morroccan dish, the recipe for which I had Xeroxed out of Ruth Riechl's I think it was Tender to the Bone years ago and never yet made. A bisteeya, it transpires, involves two small chickens, a cinnamon stick, a hunk of peeled ginger, many almonds, much confectioner's sugar, eight large eggs beaten with chicken stock into a curd-like consistency, and a package of filo. So I whipped that up over the course of four or so hours, as well as a ginger-nectarine cobbler, and then the folks came, bearing more food: triple creme cheese, fancy crackers, fruit, scones, et cetera.

We had a new gal, Mary, who was just delightful and is a professional viola player. "You play the VIE-O-LA!?" I brayed upon welcome, thereby mispronouncing, like the hick I am, the instrument to which she has devoted her life. Luckily, Mary has a sense of humor and fit right in with being invited to grab ice of out of the freezer with her fingers, the giant frond from the Brazilian pepper tree in the back yard that served as a bisteeya "garnish," and the bathroom door that for some reason never quite closes.


We talked about the critical inner voice, the fear of letting go, the desire to become like little children again, the isolation and loneliness of being an artist, a writer, a sculptor, a painter, a person with a congenitally messy room, a human being. We laughed, we commiserated (a friend of a friend's husband had recently committed suicide, leaving a wife with two small sons), we basked in the early fall sun, we ate. I thought, as I often do, about how Christ knew it was all about the food. At the end of the day, what we really want is to be welcomed, for someone to know our name, for someone to bring us a plate of food and a glass of water, or black currant juice from the Armenian grocery mixed with sparkling water, or super-strong iced coffee.

Mom is past swallowing but yesterday Meredith reported, the nurse held a sponge soaked in water to Mom's mouth and for the first time in days, her lips moved. "I thirst," said Christ on the cross. We eat for everyone. I drink to, and for, my mother.

Friday, September 21, 2012

THE STUDIO AS A KIND OF PSYCHOSIS


JOSEPH CORNELL'S STUDIO
photo: Hans Namuth
"It is important to never forget how crazy painting is. People who buy paintings, or who write about them, tend to think painting begins in the cosmopolitan world of museums and art galleries, and that its meanings are explored in departments of art history. But painting is born in a smelly studio, where the painter works in isolation, for hours and even years on end. In order to produce the beautiful framed picture, the artist had to spend time shut up with oils and solvents,staring at glass or wooden surfaces smeared with pigments, trying to smear them onto other surfaces in turn...

For those reasons, the act of painting is a kind of insanity...Françoise Gilot tells the story of visiting Alberto Giacometti's atelier. He was working in clay, and his studio resembled his work:

The wooden walls seemed impregnated with the color of clay, almost to the point of being made out of clay. We were at the center of a world completely created by Giacometti, a world composed of clay...There was never the slightest color accent anywhere to interfere with the endless uniform gray that covered everything...

No one who has not experienced that condition can understand the wood feeling that accompanies it. When every possession is marked with paint, it is like giving up civilian clothes for jail house issue. The paint is like a rash, and no matter how careful a painter is, in the end it is impossible not to spread the disease to every belonging and each person who visits the studio....

Working in a studio means leaving the clean world of normal life and moving into a shadowy domain where everything bears the marks of the singular obsession. Outside the studio, furniture is clean and comfortable; inside, it is old and unpleasant. Outside, walls are monochrome or pleasantly patterned in wallpaper; inside, they are scarred with meaningless graffiti. Outside, floors can be mopped and vacuumed; inside, they build up layers of crusted paint that can only be scraped away or torn up with the floor itself. The studio is a necessary insanity. Perhaps writers have insanities of paper, or of erasers, but they cannot compare with the multicolored dementia caused by fluids and stone."

--From a chapter entitled "The Studio As a Kind of Psychosis" in What Painting Is, by James Elkins

ALBERTO GIACOMMETTI IN HIS PARIS STUDIO,
1954


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

ABANDONMENT TO DIVINE PROVIDENCE

detail: algae-festooned back yard fountain
"The divine life is neither seen nor felt, but there is never a moment when it is not acting in an unknown but very sure manner. It is hidden under such things as death of the body, damnation of the soul, and the general disorder of all earthly affairs. Faith is nourished and strengthened by these happenings. It cuts through them all and takes the hand of God, who keeps it alive through everything except sin. A faithful soul should always advance with confidence, regarding all these things as the disguise God assumes, for his immediate presence would terrify us. But God, who comforts the humble, always gives us, however great our feeling of desolation, an inner assurance that we need be afraid of nothing as long as we allow him to act and abandon ourselves to him. Although we are distressed at the loss of our beloved, we somehow feel that we still possess him, and in spite of all our troubles and disturbance, there is something deep-seated within us which keeps us steadfastly attached. to God. 'Truly' said Jacob, 'God is in this place and I never knew it' (Gen. 28:16)."
--Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

beargrass, around descanso and edgecliffe, silver lake l.a.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

SHOW TIME: MY LATEST MOVIE



Don't laugh now: I have cobbled together a 31-minute movie, ostensibly for the good people of New Zealand, where I'm poised to visit next year if all goes well, but really for everybody or rather anybody.

Written, shot, directed, financed, and produced by yours truly, it consists of a talking-to-myself stream-of- consciousness...rant's not the right word...reverie maybe...as I wander through my L.A. 'hood of Silver Lake to St. Francis of Assisi on Micheltorena for Mass..

Doesn't that sound fascinating?...No?...

Whatever the case, this represents about three solid weeks of work, so enjoy. I appear nowhere on camera (meaning there's at least one saving grace) and the real heroine is Lucy, the Filipino woman who...well, just watch. Her story's near the end.

* There was a couple of minute blank spot in the original. This version should be fixed...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

OWEN SWAIN'S BLOG AND ART


Some of you may know/recognize the name Owen Swain. Owen has been on board with Shirt of Flame almost since its inception and has been a loyal supporter, an insightful commenter, and a man, Catholic, and artist (that's his drawing above) of deep experience, talent and wisdom.

Through the months and over the two years, he's tried his hand at various on-line endeavors, generously keeping me abreast of each one.

The other day Owen sent me this email:

"Dear Heather,

I feel a bit shy, a bit awkward and a bit weird but you're not a celeb type Catholic and I am not a stalker or weirdo fan (dear God, I hope not) but I am going to dare to let you know, while not dropping my art blog at all, I have returned to writing on a blog. It's very much a story. I tell you because I value your reading eye (not an editing eye but only the eye of an Internet friend) and I place no, zero, nada expectation on you. Not interested then you are not interested or too busy. No problem.

Breathe, OK

- the why of it is here.

- the current story is here.

- an opinion piece that drew little attention is here.

And that is what the writing is and will be like.

Brotherly love in-Christ,
Owen"

It's good, good stuff. Here's a sidebar describing the flavor of Owen's blog, both/and: stories from one Catholic life:

good & bad
hope & doubt
jesus & mary
peter & paul
god & man
art & words
bible & tradition
faith & reason
bicycle & commuter
grace & works
new & old
love & hate
mercy & justice
holy & flawed
mystery & substance
catholic & christian
conscience & magesterium

I personally love 'holy and flawed,' though maybe that pairing's redundant.

Check Owen out. We need more like him.

Thanks for your incredible generosity of spirit. And blessings on your work, drawings, writing, ministry, and life.

OWEN SWAIN
SELF-PORTRAIT

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I'M HOME--FOR NOW...




ST. PATRICK'S CHURCH
CAMP STREET, NEW ORLEANS 
 To be angry with God means to realize at the deepest level, a place that is both physical and emotional at the same time, that the world is broken and not as it should be. Anger at God is protest against suffering. That suffering can be caused by social inequity and structural injustice, but it is also caused by personal losses, physical pain, and the reality of death, our own and that of others—this cruelty built into the human condition. To be angry at God, not in theory or idea, but in the body—the anger that rises up from the solar plexus and out through the arms and legs and mouth—is to pray, for it is to lay bare, in the most intimate way, the wounds of life felt deep in the body itself, to expose them as though open to the sun, to expose the deepest part of the self to God, that unknowable Other who lurks in wheat fields on the sun-baked high plains of Spain.

--Kerry Egan, from Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal of the Camino de Santiago

LAFAYETTE CEMETERY
WASHINGTON AVENUE, NEW ORLEANS, GARDEN DISTRICT


LAX

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NEW ORLEANS


PEW AND CANDLES
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
BARONNE STREET, NEW ORLEANS
Here are two interesting facts I've learned about the historical city of New Orleans.

The city features a phenomenon known as drive-through daiquiri stands. People are allowed not only to walk about the streets but to get behind the wheels of their cars while swilling hard liquor!  I spoke to a local lawyer and he confirmed this makes for many unfortunate accidents.

When a storm's coming and everyone hunkers down, breaks out the booze and food, and starts partying, the ensuing period is known as a "hurrication."

I had pictured the French Quarter as a charming section of widely-spaced homes with wrought-iron porches with a bit of mild debauchery down Bourbon St. It's in the middle of a large city and is more like Coney Island, if every street in Coney Island were a fifty-year-old stage set for A Streetcar Named Desire, dotted with voodoo and liquor stores, and under construction. And it was legal to walk down the street and drive your car while swilling booze. And had St. Louis Cathedral in the middle of it, skinny guys in muscle shirts here and there sitting on benches playing a saxophone or a horn, and a black man dressed in white tie and tails in the hot sun standing stock still, for several minutes, down by the river with a Scotty on a leash and a bucket for change as some kind of odd, ad hoc tourist draw.

Then I went to the Garden District and wandered happily about for a few hours. Now this is my kind of place: wide, shady streets, secret gardens, balconies, stained glass, mansions with 20-feet high Virgin Mary shrines in front, her neck draped with strands of cheap beads (they hand you a strand of these beads as you deplane at Louis Armstrong Airport and after that, you see them everywhere, chiefly lying on the sidewalk amidst piles of dead leaves), and a Starbucks on the corner of Washington and Magazine. Of course being a tourist you see a mere zillionth, and probably a contorted zillionth at that, of what it is to actually live in the city. I shudder to think what people experience when they come to my city and take a brief gander.

Anyway, I went back yesterday, and walked the part around Jackson, and geared up for another talk I'm giving today at a luncheon for the friends of my hostess Hedy K. Boelte at one of Hedy's houses on the Pearl River in Mississippi. I forgot to say Hedy and her husband live on 50,000 acres--that's apparently 20 miles long--on the banks of the Mississippi in Natchez that they've made into, among other things, a bird sanctuary. Which I also got to see, or part of it.

So I am being treated like royalty and I am also way out of my comfort/familiarity zone, and in definite departure from my daily schedule, and that is generally a good thing, at least for awhile. I met a gal yesterday and she talked about how when she was eight, she developed a very strict schedule for her time: 15 minutes for this, 15 minutes for that, brushing her teeth, homework, supper, putting away her toys, the bus ride home from school: all were factored in and she laboriously hand-wrote out the schedule and posted it on her wall.

And then one day the bus was late. And she literally had a semi-psychotic break. In front of all the other kids. Let's just say I could relate. After that, she took the schedule down, as we all have to, in one way or the other, every day.

Hope you're all well, wherever you are. Thank you for welcoming me to beautiful New Orleans!


A SECOND FLOOR DORMER WITH BROKEN-DOWN
SOMETHING OR OTHERS, DRAPED WITH BEADS

Monday, September 10, 2012

FAULKNER COUNTRY


Here are some more atmospheric pix of the deep South, Natchez to be exact. I spoke at a conference at the Monmouth Plantation over the weekend. Everyone was lovely, welcoming and hospitable, and I feel like I made about 80 new friends. In the coffee shop downtown yesterday, I met a woman who did her Ph.D. dissertation on Flannery O'Connor. I made the sign of the cross, made as if to genuflect, and grasped her hand as if it were a first-class relic.

What was really interesting, though, was not having a spare moment to myself for approx. 52 hours other than when I was sleeping. I thought of the Ryszard Kapuscinski passage from The Shadow of the Sun  about the capacity of the people of Africa to wait, in their case, for the bus, or village official, or rain, in my case, to have a mental breakdown. Apparently they go into a kind of fugue state, a kind of inward gathering or reserves, not moving, not breathing, not rising to relieve themselves. Though outwardly appearing to be fully functioning, I more or less felt/feel that way myself.
.






Today: the "Quarter!"


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

SEEN AND UNSEEN: SONGWRITER/SINGER JOHN GORAJ


Several years ago my friend Timmy J. Smith of Windom, Minnesota who is now studying for the priesthood hooked me up with his friend Johnny Goraj, who at that time still lived in South Dakota. I forget now exactly why: maybe John had read one of my books and wanted to say hey; maybe some kind of heart thing and Tim knew I had had the same kind of heart thing--something like that. I just remember talking to John on the phone from my apartment in Koreatown, and I remember that later he sent me a CD of his songs that made me realize he was the real deal.

Then John moved to L.A. We saw each other a couple of times, and then we didn't see each other for awhile. Last Christmas, he and his new wife Felicia stopped by because John wanted to buy a signed copy of Shirt of Flame to send to his mother. And then a few weeks ago we ran into each other again. I was happy to see him, as I always have been, and he told me he had a new CD. And a couple of days later he sent me the link to the album, Seen and Unseen and another link to the lyrics.

And I spent about the next week listening.

From the liner notes:
I recorded “Seen and Unseen” over a 12 month period in a guest house, where my wife and I still live now as I write this. This year of recording also included 3 months of teaching myself how to record music, learning the ins and outs of the software and bugging my musician friends on the phone, who are much more adept in audio engineering than I am, about how to make a something sound good. Around this time, I was living in the east end neighborhood of Los Angeles, Silver Lake, and was working as a trauma tech in the ER of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. I felt a tremendous desire to get out of the noisiness and stuffiness of the city and was looking for somewhere else to live that is quiet where I could record my second album. I found this area that I live in now on accident. I was driving the wrong way on the CA 2 Highway heading north away from the city. Within a few minutes, I was astonished to see a beautiful lush and green valley that was situated in between a small mountain range known as the Verdugo Hills and a much larger system of mountains, the San Gabriels...

These songs are very special to me. These songs are typically never about one thing. Most of them are about several different things, ideas and feelings within one song. Some of them are about love. Some about childhood. Some are stories and experiences . Some about happiness. Some are serious. Some of them are about nature. Some of them are just sounds and noises and some of them I don’t know exactly what they’re about. Some of them are more accessible and some of them are concealed and written in more of a codex. This dichotomy became a central theme in the project and thus became the title, “Seen and Unseen,” which is a lined removed from an ancient mystical text- “I believe in God the Father, of all that is seen and unseen.” This line struck me very much in its parallel to life and our existence. When I reflected on it more, it resonated with me. It seemed like a great and fascinating mystery on all levels- but especially the physical, spiritual and emotional levels.


sample lyrics:

and how to make sense
of a casket built

for a baby
who barely got to live

and asked God
to be there with us

and He was
i felt him in my nervous system...


In short, I fell in love with this album and told Johnny so and he graciously agreed to respond to a few questions.

In "Horse and Home," you write "We grew up amongst farmers and drunks." Can you elaborate a bit?

"Horse and Home" is about a lot of different things. In short, It's also about being in a new relationship and the beautiful nature of finding someone very special, that person for me became my wife. It's also about when I moved to Los Angeles from the Midwest and how crazy of a time period that was in my life. The other parts of the songs are like little narratives, like we, "we undress in quiet rooms and open windows~ and someday we'll have a horse and a home." And the line that you asked about as well. That line references, the early stage of me getting sober from drugs and alcohol in South Dakota. The "farmers and drunks" refers to the older people that I met who helped me to do that, since that happened when I was pretty young still. The "farmers" meaning people who actually did farm or had rural or agricultural jobs or lived in the country who were a part of my life during this time. And the "drunks" meaning the people who actually were actually sober now, but playfully refer to themselves as drunks. The line goes on to say, " and they taught us the tough kind of love." And this is mostly elaborating more on the painful process of getting sober and how those instrumental people in my life loved me very much but also firmly encouraged me to look at things in my life I did not want to look at and that was very uncomfortable. But looking back, those people loved me enough to tell me the truth and that was what saved my life.

I was talking recently to some friends about the ways in which landscape informs creative imagination and really, the whole way we see. How did growing up in small-town South Dakota affect the way you see and experience L.A.?

Well, I can't say that I am from a super small town. The town I am from, Sioux Falls is more like a smaller city. But in general South Dakota is made of a lot of small towns. So no matter where you are in South Dakota, you feel the open spaces and fields,the slow pace, the wonderful changes of the season. There is less than a million people in the entire state of South Dakota, which is a stark change from the roughly 12 million that make up the greater Los Angeles area. So coming from SD definitely effected the way I experienced LA. I think creatively it was a beautiful thing to compare and contrast the two places and experiences and see what happened. "Seen and Unseen" delves into both worlds for sure, because some of the songs were written in SD and some in LA and some of the songs have traces of both places within the same song. I think , as a lot of people do, I have a lot love/hate relationship with LA. I mean, we all know the traffic sucks, there's too many people at times and all the noise and movement can get old . But then there's this other incredibly beautiful other half of it, which is the ocean, the mountains, all of the different cultures, the amazing history of LA, the food, the amazing plants and trees that grow all year round, and of course, the idyllic weather that we all fall in love with.

Where do you go from here? And what's your next project?

From here it's always songwriting and working on the craft, that's always the most important thing. I will probably make another album in the next year. I almost have enough songs for that. A friend and I are going to make a music video of the song, "We Were Just Kids" from the album, which I am really excited about. Beyond that, just continue to get the music out there to more people and hope for the best.

Also maybe tell us about the cover art, which I also love.

I am really glad you asked about this because it's a really cool story. The image is from a collection of apocryphal images ad writings called the Beatus Facundus. Beatus was an 8th century monk, writer and cartographer who lived in the Pico de Europa mountains of Northern Spain. He devoted he life to writing, compiling and creating these extremely colorful and detailed manuscripts that included commentaries on the Book of Revelation. I immediately fell in love with this work- the vivid colors, the bizarre creatures and the writings on the images in the Gothic Language. I was lucky enough to get permission to use it!


Give Johnny a shout, or buy his CD, or catch one of his shows
Thank you for your beautiful songs!

Monday, September 3, 2012

TERRY CARR'S BOOK-IN-PROGRESS: HEY HARRY CARR WAS MY DAD TOO


I really want to talk about your book-in-progress site: Hey Harry Carr Was My Dad Too. Tell us about the name of it, and how it got started.

Okay. Well, I really don’t think of it as a blog I think of it more…you know what LET ME just tell how how it got started. A couple of years ago I was lying on my couch in a prone position with a photograph I’d had from the 1960’s of myself and my Dad’s third family in the back of this big two-story house in Seattle where they lived with this fabulous yard and I’m looking at this picture of him and my brother and my brother’s girlfriend at the time and my dad’s three little kids and a couple of kids from his second family…

[Laughing] Can I just interrupt for a second: you say “My Dad’s third family” so nonchalantly…

My Dad had three different families. And I’ve always felt the wanderer and the left out. I’ve always felt alien and as though I never had a home. It wasn’t just his fault, I mean my Mom was…you know, she was alcoholic and a little crazy herself. And I never felt a part of, and it’s driven me crazy all these years. It’s driven me down a bunch of really dark alleys, as a metaphor for the places I’ve been. Anyway, I get this email from a sister from the second family, a half-sister who I’d befriended. She’s ten years younger than I. And I get this email with a photo attached of us all when we were little! It’s a photo of me, my brother and my Dad with his second wife and their three kids and it’s almost identical to the picture I’ve been looking at of his third family. It’d been taken on the back steps of a big house in Seattle, only it’s a different big house, a different wife and different kids, and me and my brother. So I had these two pictures side by side, and I just had an epiphany. They’re both literally almost identical except everyone’s older in the third family. And it just hit me: No wonder I never felt like I had a home. I was visiting those families. I was a visitor. I was always a visitor. So I just went, Oh, no wonder. I feel like a visitor no matter where I go. I use those two pictures at the top of the site.

That’s what started it. I just had this huge epiphany. A long time ago I was taking a screenwriting course and my mentor used to say to me all the time, What does the character need? I could never think of it. I don’t know, I’d say, Does she need underwear? Does she need to go to the store? What do you mean, what does she need? What does the character need? I had the hardest time trying to figure out what he was trying to pull from me. And at that moment, lying prone with those two pictures side by side, I saw that what I needed as a character I needed to stop being a visitor and to make my own life.

So these things all coalesced together. And the thought just came to me, Harry Carr was my Dad, too. I added the “hey” later because I like the way it sounded and, it emphasized my “finally getting it”. So that’s how it started. And,I’ve moved so many times in my life it’s amazing I still have all these pictures.

So you grew up where and when?

I grew up…I was three when my Dad left. We were living in Santa Barbara, California.

This is Southern Cal for those who don’t know. So a Southern California story…

Yes. I was born in California, in Berkeley. My mother came from a rich family. Her stepfather was a millionaire and I grew up on this fantastic ranch up on Contra Costa County. Chickens and horses. There was even an elevator in our home. There were maids and there were soireés…she moved us to Santa Barbara to be with Harry, my Dad. He was in the theater and she wanted to buy him a theater. So she found him a theater there in Santa Barbara and bought it and we were there for I don’t know how long before he left in the middle of the night.

Wait? And you were only three?

Yeah.

So you learned all about the theater stuff in retrospect.

Yeah. Well I mean I don’t have recollection of it now but I do remember him having a theater. I remember things like play-acting and stuff. The place we lived in Santa Barbara was this huge, beautiful, wood, two-story home.

Wow.

Yeah, it was really something. But it was not a good life.

And your brother Jolly was younger than you?

Older. Three years older than me.

So he was six and you were three. And what did your mother tell you when your father left?

My mother didn’t tell me anything. My mother told Jolly to tell me what happened. That was how it worked. And he told me that Mom had told Harry to go get milk. And he came home with buttermilk instead. So she told him to leave. That’s what he told me.

Oh wow. So that’s what got implanted in your little three-year-old brain?

I was three and even then I didn’t believe him. Something about that…

Did not ring true. I mean buttermilk?

Did not ring true. Even then it didn’t…click. I just remember thinking…but I didn’t say anything. So it was kind of the beginning of my play-acting…

So did you grieve your father? Or…you were only three. Did you just think Daddy’s gone?

Oh it was horrible. Because he was a big booming man. He’d come in the house and he had this big theater voice and he’d yell, Terry! Jolly! We’d come running and he’d lift us up in his arms and twirl us around and he’d play with us. And my Mom was a depressive. So you know…when he left, that was it. We just had her. And she had money but she didn’t have coping ability. She was depressed. She had me when she was 32. So she’s in her mid-thirties now, I don’t know what she’s going through, but she starts drinking really heavily around this time. So no, after he left, I don’t remember grieving, but I do remember thinking This is it. It’s over.

That you’re never going to see your father again.

No, just that whatever this thing that he brought…

The thing meaning the liveliness?

The liveliness, the joy…ironically her name was Joy but he seemed more in touch with it. Because he had no responsibility. I mean in retrospect if you don’t have to pay the bills, hit your monthly nut, yeah, you’re pretty carefree.

And he had left for another woman?

He left and moved out of state. And then a couple of years later she told us he was dead. Because I guess he didn’t send her child support. So for years I thought, both me and Jolly thought he was dead.

And then what happened?

And then I’m 13 years old and one day she tells Jolly and me, Your father’s not dead after all, kids.

Oh my God. You’re hitting puberty, too.

I’m hitting puberty. I already have kind of a boyfriend that I’ve been kissing. I don’t remember if we’ve been having sex yet. By the way I’m a complete delinquent by now. Jolly’s a delinquent and I’m a delinquent.

Meaning drinking?

Drinking, sexing, stealing. You know.
So she says, The old man’s not dead after all.

The old man’s not dead and…what did you think?

I just thought…What?

I mean were you glad?

I had no…at the time, I thought Great. Great! But at 13 I don’t think you have cognitive ability. You’re not able to add it up and say This means this or this means that. I mean we’d been living…even though my mother had money she used to worry all the time about money. Where’s that 35 cents I gave you for lunch? So somewhere in my mind I might have thought, Oh, Easy Street! I didn’t use those terms, but maybe life will be easier for us. Cause life was really hard. Jolly was a delinquent; he’d gotten us kicked out of a few apartments. So she had her hands full with us. And then it was Oh by the way, he’s got another family and they live in Seattle and you’re gonna go see him.

So the next thing I know Jolly and I are on a Greyhound bus up to Seattle to meet Harry and his second family. Harry told me later that the look on my face, that I looked so pissed off at him. And I was! Because he was standing there with his little blond wife and his three little blond kids.

Yeah…that must have been major

And then they took us to their big house by the lake.

And where were they making their money? Did she have money, too?

By this time he was working for Boeing, the aircraft place. And he was involved in theater. She was an actress. And he taught theater. So she taught and he also used to teach in New Orleans so they had a lot in common. She was several years younger than he. And I remember going out to dinner and the waitress looked at her and looked at him and said, What would this daughter like? One of those moments…They all laughed but nothing was funny to me.

How old was the wife?

I don’t know. He looked pretty good. He was a charmer and a handsome guy. But she was about twenty years younger.

And he couldn’t have been that old.

He was probably mid-forties. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I called my mother and said, You gotta get me out of here. I can’t stay another minute. I wanted to demolish all of them. And Jolly was like Oh isn’t this great? Aren’t the kids great?

And you were pissed.

I was pissed.

Okay, so then you went on with your life and…you were a singer.

Yeah. You know, I guess when you’re born into this kind of a family where you’re just kind of drifters, gypsy types…my Mom after Harry left, she married again, and we moved a lot. There was a lot of moving, once a year, even when we lived in the same town…I mean I could take you to Sherman Oaks [a city in the San Fernando Valley on the other side of the 101 freeway from L.A.] and show you fifteen different places where I lived as a teenager. So you know…she was married once before Harry, so her last, her third, husband lived in Springfield, Massachusetts and we moved back there at some point. This was before we re-connected with Harry. And they took me to an outdoor concert and I can remember…you come from New England, you know. It can be very magical as a young person, we’re at this outdoor concert by a lake, green grass, beautiful trees. And there was a little stage, concrete floor for couples to dance, and strings of colored lights around, and this stage, and the singer came out and she sang a tune and I just thought, Oh! I want that. I wanted to be on that stage and I wanted that feeling you have when you’re outdoors, that romantic feeling. But I ended up having kids myself. Before I was twenty I had three kids so at a later age I started following that musical dream.

TERRY AND JOLLY
I had grown up in the ‘60’s and had gone with one of the Beach Boys and had met a lot of the musical artists of that era, parties at Eric Burdon’s house…

And this is L.A. You’re down in L.A. at this time.

I’m in L.A. in the prime of the late 60’s when…I knew Jim Morrison’s girlfriend and hung out at Donovan’s house…[laughs]

It was an era, right?

It was an era and I was fortunate enough to be a witness because…definitely, I was in the in crowd. But I wasn’t…like everything else, I wasn’t predominant in it. My M.O. was hang at the periphery. Just be here on the edge. Look, see, watch, observe. Don’t make any loud noises. So I was very quiet and withdrawn. But I was attractive and I was the girlfriend of a Beach Boy and my best girlfriend was married to one so we had access to this kind of life going on here.

And do you think that the hanging at the periphery was partly a function of…it seems it would be such a trauma with your father that…what that would give rise to in me would be Don’t ever put your roots down too deeply because you don’t know…

When they’re gonna be pulled up.

Yeah. And you don’t know when people are gonna leave and so you don’t want to be in the middle because that’s gonna be really painful

Yeah, I’d definitely say that’s an accurate depiction of my mode, of how I functioned. Which is unfortunate because I probably had a lot of opportunity that…I called myself shy. People used to say, She’s shy; she doesn’t talk too much. And I was shy. But I didn’t know I was shy because I was still recuperating from that incredible loss that I’d had. And the ramifications that I perpetrated on my own after that. Now I look at it more like I was just…I was unable to occupy myself. The trauma stopped me from occupying who I was. And now I think of it in terms of just stepping into who I am and being there no matter what.

One of the things that still haunts me today is later on, much later on, my singing took me to the Comedy Store of all places. And I did comedy with a guy by the name of Fred Asparagus. We did the main stage. We had skit comedy with music. So we’d do characters and music. Nobody was doing that at the time. And eventually that group broke up and this and that happened, but Fred died at a very early age. He was a big fat Chicano guy so he had a heart attack. And they had a service at the Comedy Store. And I went. And everybody was there. Robin Williams, Andy Garcia. And I was there, too. I was there because I was a part of his life. But I never felt like I was there. So I didn’t feel I had the right…someone even said, Terry, do you want to come up and say a few words? And I said No. And to this day I regret that. Because whatever it was that was holding me back, from stepping into myself, was still there at that age. It’s taken me a long time…and a lot of it is writing this, putting together this, I guess it’s going to be a memoir now. Of this puzzle that is The Harry Carr family.

That’s just what I was thinking, that the writing is part of stepping into yourself. Which has taken decades to get here, right?

Lord have mercy.

And as you say, a lot of twists and turns. Now what about Harry’s third family?

Harry’s third family…he had met his third wife, Anne, in New Orleans, where he'd gone to live for several years before returning to Seattle. She was a dancer. And they hooked up and had three kids. And around the time he was starting with Anne and his third family, I was separating from my husband and had already had my first child. I was seventeen and a half at the time. Anyway, Harry would come into town, and we’d get our kids together…I hoped to find some kind of relationship with him. I’d somehow blocked out everything that had happened previously. Years later, after he retired, he brought that family, his third, all the kids, the youngest was 5, so you’re looking at daughters ages 5, 7, and 9, from Florida to Ojai, California.

I’m living in North Hollywood, working at Paramount Pictures in casting. And my Dad wants to get back into acting. So…

You got him a screen test…

I’m thinking God, if I can make his career happen…

This will inure to my benefit maybe…

Yes! And I was overweight. I was depressed. I was eating myself to death. And coming up every weekend to Ojai, trying to ingratiate myself to the family…

Which is about an hour north of L.A. right?

Yeah. And I have pictures of myself where I’m almost unrecognizable I’m so big.

Wow.

Yeah. And it was a dark time for me. Really really dark. Something was happening and I didn’t know what it was…

[Together] Do you, Mr. Jones…

So but what happened was that I got to know that third family a lot better than I had the second.

And how many kids were there in that one?

There were three in the second and three in the third and then me and Jolly in the first. Harry had eight kids in all.

And what was Jolly doing at this point?

Oh Jolly was lost. We both really…were thrown to the wind. We were both discarded.

And your mother was?...

My Mom had died when I was 32. So Jolly must have been 35. You know, Jolly and I both took fantasy as the route out and he never woke from his. And at some point I landed. And he never did.

You mean he never recovered from being six years old and having your mother say Tell Terry Dad went out for buttermilk…

He was the type of guy…everybody loved Jolly. Everybody loved Jolly. He worked at Paty’s in Toluca Lake, this coffee shop. And you could just walk down the street…Toluca Lake then, not so much now, but then was really a small town. Like Andy Griffith lived there. Literally, he lived there, he’d come into Paty’s. Jonathan Winters too. Just a sleepy little town and Jolly practically ran Paty’s. Everybody knew him and everybody loved him. But you know, he never wanted to look at anything that was reality. He refused and I can remember when our Mom died I got the call from the hospital and he’d been there before me and I was walking in as he was walking out and I was just devastated and he had this easy-come, easy-go look in his eye like Well, babe, she’s gone…

I mean my immediate thought was Okay he’s not going to be able to help with anything. And somehow I became the practical person, just by default. It was sort of my nature because I had the three kids, to take care of business. But I couldn’t count on him, I knew, because he was just in la-la land. I don’t even think he was on drugs. He’d just checked out. That was his way to deal.

And then he died, right?

Yeah, unfortunately, when he finally came to, it was with a brain tumor. He had a seizure in the bathroom at Paty’s, God bless him. They took him to USC and I’ll never forget the fear in his face. I mean he woke up to the nightmare. He woke up to learn he had an inoperable brain tumor.

Thereby corroborating Do not wake up. Because when you do it’s gonna be horrible…

Yeah. All of us, we all pulled together and he ended up dying in a hospice and Andy Garcia brought Cachao there, this hospice on Sherman Way [in the Valley]

Cachao was?...

This bass player, this Cuban bass player. So they brought Cachao in, and congas and bongos and they ended up playing there for the whole day for Jolly and all the other hospice patients…

Ohh…they sang him out, in a way.

It was hard. And he was so…once he realized it was his last time here…he was so gracious. He wasn’t remorseful. He said, Babe, it’s gonna be fine.

Sometimes people wake up even if it’s for a day, before they die, and it’s like, That’s who this person was this whole time…

He was pretty amazing. I mean who of any of us can say what we would have been like under those circumstances? But his true nature came out. And it was generous, and kind, and funny. He’d crack jokes…

Well look at his name.

At his memorial everyone was singing his praises and I got up and said…

Jolly was a pain in the ass?

Jolly and I had some rough times together. There were really some not so good times I remember…I loved him but I was glad I said it. It wasn’t for him but just for me to acknowledge…Jolly was great and Jolly was hard.

So…the whole idea for the book, I love that at the beginning you said What does the character want?

What does the character need.

What does the character need.

And it’s interesting because I have all these half-siblings. We’re on Facebook together. And none of them have this…

Urge…

Nobody has else has this urge…and I just thought, Well I’m the one to write this because I’m the one who needs it. This is my need. They don’t have it. Ironically the third family, the daughters where he stayed with the wife till he died, those daughters have only married once and are all still married. The daughters and the son from the second marriage have divorced, none of them had kids.

So you guys…you and Jolly….

I was only married, and divorced, once, but Jolly was married three or four times.

You two suffered the deepest abandonment.

Yeah, Harry left in the middle of the night and left a note. He didn’t even have the balls to tell my Mom to her face.

TERRY AND JOLS
So this deep urge to just sort of make sense of it.

Something about…it may sound kind of hokey, but you’ve got this coloring book. And you’ve got all the outlines of things. But when you start filling them in, it’s helped me to be in the place where I stand. Or stand in the place where I live. Which has been my dilemma all my life. So yeah, the writing of it is filling me in.

And even though the overarching project is a memoir, you have a blog. Called heyharrycarrismydadtoo.com. And tell a little bit about…you took some time off to write.

Yeah. Luckily, because of the economic downturn. I mean I was probably the only one who said Oh, I have to be laid off? How sad…You know, I’ve had a novel in mind. Since I started that screen-writing class, I met this man who completely put the fire of writing in me. He made me want to write like nobody’s business. I even had the jones for him for a long time and people used to say, I think it’s some kind of transference, Terry. And I’d say No man…he inspired me like no-one else. And I can’t tell you why that was, or what chemistry that was, but he ended up mentoring me. And it took me two years to refocus my own brain from all those years of drug and alcohol use was pretty well…

Short-circuited.

Yeah, I didn’t have a capacity for analysis. I just didn’t have it. It took me two years with him, drilling into me the idea of story and development and character…and I was just on fire with it. And I’ve been that was ever since. I still have a couple of screenplays in me that I want to write but I turned to fiction and I took the time off to write this book which was a shortened version of 1969 and my experience here in Southern California with my ex-husband and my children and the Manson murders and the people I knew…so I wrote that, I wrote that, I did several drafts, and I sent it out and I’ve not gotten anywhere with it, yet, but I’m also writing another piece of fiction, a novella that I’m working on now that I’m really into as well as this memoir or narrative non-fiction. So I’m on fire with writing and there’s just no getting out. I’m in…

There’s no escape.

There's no escape.

And the memoir sort of sprang up in the midst of writing fiction.

I never considered myself…I always loved fiction. I’ve always loved stories, movies. Anything made up I’ve always been attracted to. And I never thought my story or anything I might have…It may have had something to do with that stance I used to take of not being able to fill my own skin. But I just didn’t consider myself as…

Having a story.

Having a story. And I covered that up by judging…

People who had stories.

People who had stories! Who thought they had a story. That’s always the deal. Actually you helped me by encouraging me to see that maybe there’s a story here. And I know about narrative. So maybe I can tell the story narratively without making it so much, you know, me, me, me. And that’s what I’m endeavoring to do.

And you’ve got all this great archival material. You’ve got photos, report cards, playbills…

I’ve got a letter from my brother to my mother telling her she drank too much and that was her problem. You know, Sorry, Mom, but I have to tell you the truth. You drink too much. And at the end of the letter he says Oh, by the way, I just found some LSD…

Good one! By the way, can you buy me a bottle of Stoli?

Yeah, he wasn’t even aware!...

You drink too much, Mom, and I’m gonna go drop some acid.

And that’s another thing. I’m very into image. And the pictures I have…that’s why I started writing it virtually. Because I could place pictures with text and fill in the story. I have such great photographs. Realistically, I doubt whether a publisher…because it’s expensive to reprint…but I thought I want to tell the story with pictures and text. So now where I’m at with it is I’m using the website as a template for a pitch and I’m sending it to a couple of agents and we’ll see where that goes.

Right. And what about all the half-siblings. Do they know about this and what’s their general feeling of being written about?

All the daughters from the third family, the ones who lived in Ojai, are fine with it, they think it’s great. The second family, the half-sister who’s ten years younger than me, was a little prickly about me using pictures. She wanted to make sure that I didn’t use any pictures from her cache, from her part of the family. She’s a writer as well and my feeling is maybe she didn’t want…She’s been writing about her mom, which I think is great, such a well of stories…

Her mom was the actress. And my half-sister ended up working in stage and film. So no, I haven’t got a lot of encouragement from them. But I don’t need their encouragement. I just need my own. I stopped needing other people’s encouragement awhile back. But thank you for yours.

That’s beautiful. Maybe just one last question. Because both you and I came to writing somewhat late, later let’s say. And maybe that’s it. Especially if you come to it late, you really have to be your own…you really have to encourage yourself. It’s not anyone else’s job, for one thing, and it’s just not gonna happen for another.

What did I read somewhere, by some author…nobody’s going to care as much as you do about your writing and you just have to get used to it. There’s always this expectation. Because you care so much about it. Like you said, it’s your heart. But nobody else is going to care like you do.

And there was a book out recently, I’m horrible about remembering names and titles, but the woman was talking about older age. And she lives in England, she was interviewing this older woman, in her 80’s and she, the author, said she went into this woman’s house and she had such vitality and so was so alive and vibrant…nothing was shut down. And the author thought, I wonder why this woman is so fired up? And after they had their tea and their crumpets, the woman said, Oh I want to show you my art. And she took the author upstairs and opened the closet to these…several canvases. These beautiful canvases. And the author got it The woman was painting. Art was keeping her vital.

Yes.

So lucky me. Lucky you. Because I feel like that fire is keeping me vital.

///////

From Hey Harry Carr Was My Dad Too

HARRY COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD

“Kids,” mom says to my brother, Jolly and me one afternoon at our dinette table, “I was mistaken about your father being dead after all. He’s alive.” At thirteen-years old even I know dead men don’t return.

“Can we see him?” Jolly asks.

Mom lights a menthol and tosses the match into her empty coffee cup. I study her face to see how she’s gonna respond to this one. She takes a puff, grey smoke drifts from her mouth and circles her nostrils, her lips tighten; she nods yes.

He is alive! Hope inflates me like helium.

“By the way,” she says, her voice faint and distant. “He’s got another family.”

Jolly and I take the bus from Los Angeles to Seattle to see Harry. The picture on your right is from that visit. The stunned brunette gawking at his three cute little blond kids, our replacements, is me, Terry, his first daughter.

The photo [below] is of Harry’s third family, the one he starts after leaving the one he left us for. I’m the hippie in a headband.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

HOME MOVIES


I’d been envisioning a relaxing, laid-back Labor Day weekend. My plan was to A) finish sewing on the purple tassel fringe to the last of my bedroom curtains, a project that got derailed when I carelessly used too heavy a kind of thread thereby necessitating a rather severe detour to Ace Sewing on 214 8th St. in downtown L.A. and 2) read Robert McKee’s Story preparatory to finishing the screenplay of Parched I’ve been working on for years and thereby make millions of dollars.

Instead, and sometimes I really do question the notion of a loving God, I thought to START, just dip a toe into, a little project that had been in the back of my mind for some weeks, which was to make a dear down-home video by way of introducing myself to the very good people of New Zealand who are poised, if they can drum up enough interest, to welcome me to what by all accounts is their gorgeous and varied country just after Holy Week 2013. I thought to film the route I take through the streets of Silver Lake to Mass at St. Francis of Assisi and thereby show folks a bit of my neighborhood, routine, thoughts, etc. So off I set, filming several INTERESTING and entertaining segments.

Here are some of the MANY things I learned in the subsequent about 263 hours. Windows Movie Maker (WMM) does not import Quick Time videos which is the format in which my camera downloads (is that the word?) into my computer. What I needed was to convert from mov to wmv, I finally figured out. What followed was many many hours of downloading “free” conversion software which either doesn’t tell you “free” means a carrot and stick to buy their software which actually costs $39.95 or $59.95 or $69.95 and that you are poised to sit there scratching your head before you figure out that the free stuff either imports with a giant watermark all over it, or will only import the first six seconds of your video, or will import one video and then stop till you shell out some dough.

So I shelled out some dough—by this time I somehow had about 80 copies of every clip—and began converting. I had actually taken a class in documentary film-making a few years ago so I had some rudimentary notion, plus that part is fairly intuitive, of the storyboard. But what happened was that though the clip would convert, WMM would not import the damn thing correctly! The last five seconds would get chopped off, I’d get the storyboard in shape and the thing would blank out for a minute, erasing everything, ET CETERA. I consulted Help more times than I can count, I searched online, I figured out to trim the long clips into two parts on Real Player, and separately convert and import those.

I thought Is it me? Am I missing some huge point? Finally, driven to the brink of desperation, and forgive me you more mature types, I googled "does windows movie maker suck." To my complete gratification, pages came up:  "Windows Movie Maker sucks big time!" "Damn! Windows Movie Maker sucks so much!!!"  "Why does Windows Movie Maker suck so much?" "Why does Windows Movie Maker suck so bad?" (Because it's Windows, one person replied).

Somehow this cheered me so much that I tried one more time to import the same two lynchpin clips I'd been trying to import for two days and the process worked perfectly.

This isn't one of the lynchpin clips. But here are some of Silver Lake's secret steps.

video