CONRAD REEDER

“A must read for anyone who cares about anything.” Roger S. Nichols

Look Out Spain: Here Comes Doña Quixote!

(Being in Mexico, all things Spanish bubbled back into my brain. The following is a paper I wrote for my MFA from the University of New Orleans’ “Spanish Literature and Culture Class” taught by Peter Thompson in Madrid July, 2007, oh, and yes, I lived right around the corner from the Plaza de Cibeles.)

Apartamento_Recoletos Pic

In 1974, I portrayed Antonia, the niece of Don Quixote at my college production of Man of La Mancha for Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN–my big break–the moment I fell in love with theater. Little did I know then that I would spend quality time in Spain 30 years later thinking/writing about Miguel de Cervantes and other Spanish writers–all things España, especially about how women have been portrayed in stories.Unamuno sentimiento-tragico-de-la-vida-Pic

Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936), a Spanish philosopher and important literary figure, proposed that, in his time, the women of Spain lived only to give birth, but he believe “that the role of woman is what has made the United States great” (Sedwick 312), especially as it applied to the liberation of women in the workforce and in education, but the women in his stories are preoccupied with motherhood as their basic motivation, and “a woman is either a mother or a potential mother, as distinguished from female, hembra, a term which Unamuno seldom uses without disdain” (Sedwick 309). In life, Unamumo’s wife, Concha, was a simple, un-intellectual woman and gave him eight children–so the discussion at home about the changing role of Spanish women ended at the tip of Unamuno’s pen.

Spaniards say they are Catholic, but since the death of Franco (1975) attendance to mass has diminished. In post-Franco Spain, how does a 21st century woman assimilate into a secularizing society with a government sanctioned 4th century Catholic dogma? The mixed message is one that is being played out in the culture of many nations of the world to varying degrees, but Spain offers a unique story all its own.

The arena of theatre and/or literature offers clues. Unamuno’s Fedra follows the basic premise of Greek mythical story told in Euripides´ Hippolytus – retold as Phaedra in the 1st century C.E. by the Spaniard from Cordoba, Seneca, and in the 17th century by the French dramatist, Racíne.

Fedra Unamuno PicMonkeyThe doomed Fedra/Phaedra falls in love with her stepson, but Unamuno changes one important detail. Unamuno’s Fedra “has no children of her own” (Sedwick 310), unlike the fertile Phaedra of ancient myth. Unamuno constructed a drama in which “tragedy for anyone other than Fedra is averted when she dies of love, remorse, and a physically weak heart” (Sedwick 310). His story seems to say that a woman without children is more likely to be a victim of destructive passion.

The  production of Fedra at the Mérida Festival Teatro Clásico (2007), however, stays truer to the original myth. The playwright, Juan Mayorga, includes Fedra’s son, Acamante, but this Fedra ends the story by finishing off the dying Hippolytus with a knife, and then slices her wrist, falling on the dead Hippolytus. The following video is a glimpse of the intense drama from my peanut-gallery seat. 

This updated Fedra text is written primarily to showcase the talents of the singer Ana Belén, but even so, Belén’s Fedra is a mother, albeit a repulsive mother who commits three hideous sins damned in most religions; she lusts for her step-son, she lies, and then commits suicide. It would seem being a mother does not prevent this Fedra from being the catalyst of these horrific events. The mother as whore turns Unamuno’s concept of motherhood upside down.

Benito Pérez Galdós (1843 – 1920) creates a world where women are the victims of their fecundity or lack thereof. In Fortunata y Jacinta, the women, respectively mistress and wife, fight over a man – Juanito. The mistress is fertile and the wife is barren. Fortunata has one clear idea: “A wife that doesn’t give children isn’t worth a thing. Without us, the ones that have them, the world would come to an end” (Galdós 603). Fortunata y Jacinta Pic

Unfortunately for Fortunata her childbearing prowess does not save her body and she dies, leaving her son for Juanito and his wife, Jacinta, to raise. The mother in this story is not socially or morally elevated by her ability to give birth–a precursor of the fully mixed message to come.

Spanish women eventually found their own voice to express their slant on motherhood. Some critics feel Carmen Martín Gaite (1925 – 2000) represents the best of the post-dictatorship trend in the writing of Spanish female authors who polarize the Spanish male into characters of “macho” and “the weakling” (Brown 59). Gaite was mostly concerned with “the centrality of a problematic of communication” (Calvi 565). The issue of motherhood would not be the over-riding issue, once men and women communicated, and not just dialogued. In other words, the way to a woman’s heart and body is through her head, and not the promise of motherhood.

In Gaite’s Fragmentos de interior the handsome Diego abandons his artistic wife of three decades to take up with young lovers to assert his virility. Gaite FragmentsGaite herself had two children, and had separated from her writer husband, Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio. Art reflects life.

In the real world, the women of Spain are taking charge of their bodies anyway, with or without the sanction of Unanumo or the Catholic Church. Spainish women are forging a new story about motherhood. Post-Franco women are having fewer children. Spain was at the bottom of the baby-making barrel in 2001, but recent immigration, mostly Moroccan, has helped to put Spain at #11 out of 25 nations in the European Union. France leads Europe at 1.94 children per childbearing female, and as of 2007, Spain is at 1.37 (Grant).

As Spain struggles to catch up economically with the rest of the world after a debilitating Civil War and stagnating dictatorship under Franco, the lower birth rate will strain a social security system that will fail in the not too distant future with no work force to support it. The pro-natalist Franco regime banned contraception and encouraged large families, but the subsequent democratic regimes have had no explicit population policy (Rand 2). The following graph from the Rand Corporation shows how Spain plunged in birth rates after the dictatorship ended.

Spain Birth Rate Rand

In addition, Franco’s not-so-silent partner, the Catholic Church, has lost some authority in dictating how people live. Some blame gay marriage which produces rebuttals like this. The advent of gay marriage was passed into law in 2005, and was supported by the majority of the general population. Predictably, the Catholic Church attacks the law, but gay marriages only represent 2% of total marriages (Grant), so how can fewer children be blamed on gays?

Women may be choosing to discard the old ways of Franco and the church that forced slavish repression on their half of the population. Women who have been historically viewed by Spanish men as either a saintly virgin or a married/pregnant saint (Wright) are messing up this slant with a new Latina who has a mind of her own.

For the first time in Catholic Spanish history, Women are gaining some control over their lives that women in Western countries have already achieved. For example, the sale and advertising of contraceptives was decriminalized in 1978, the establishment of divorce happened in 1981, and abortion has been allowed in some circumstances since 1985 (Valiente 288). Separating women’s reproductive choices from the auspices of the Catholic Church, a policy that forced multiple and unwanted pregnancies on women, was an important step in viewing motherhood as a choice rather than inevitability.

Changing the legal relationship between a husband and wife helped women gain some independence. The archaic legal contract between married partners or permiso marital only permitted women to participate in any activity with the permission of her husband. Whether it was a job, school business or open a bank account–any legal transaction required her husband’s permission (Hooper 126). The double standard applied to divorce, land ownership, and child custody. After this anachronistic law was abolished in 1975, women in Spain seemed to leap ahead in the area of careers. By 1988 more females than males were enrolled in universities and women have entered all fields, including bullfighting (Hooper 127).

Since Franco, the new democratic governments, and in particular Zapatero’s Socialist Workers’ Party elected March 2005, relaxed the laws regarding contraceptives and abortion, but the Catholic church is not going away, and is still closely intertwined by various laws and generous government subsidies. Madrid’s archbishop, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, recently announced, “Madrid has turned into Sodom and Gomorrah” (Richburg). In spite of Franco’s atrocities, many “decent men” fought with Franco when confronted with the outright attack on the church and “virgin.” Spaniards may not go to church, but many don’t want anyone attacking the church either.

As the only state-recognized religion, Catholicism has enjoyed a monopoly in dictating morals in Spain and much of the western world since the Muslims were defeated at Granada, and the Catholic Queen Isabella sent Columbus off on his voyage to the Americas in 1492. But Catholicism has lost its grip on Spain. Only 14 percent of Spain’s youth describe themselves as religious, and in spite of the church’s ban on contraceptives and abortions the Spanish birth rate declines (Richburg).

Zapatero’s government came up with one idea—bribe women with money. Award a woman 2500 Euros for every baby born or adopted after 3 July 2007 (Gonzalez). It remains to be seen whether this social experiment will drive up the birth rate, since the lack of daycare has in some degree forced working women to put off motherhood. Indeed, as of 2002 only 34 percent of the women worked full-time, only slightly up from 27 percent in 1976 (Valiente 290).

A woman’s choice of motherhood is at the very center of the battle for the soul of Catholic Spain. The choice to use birth control clearly contradicts the Catholic edict and last July when Pope Benedict XVI visited Spain to respond to the legalization of gay marriage, he lumped contraception in with gay marriage, abortion, and human embryo research—the laundry list of sins Catholics must reject (Gonzalez), but the times they are a-changing. “Zapatero also eased laws on abortion and divorce and refused to make religion classes mandatory in schools” (Dixon).

Why do Spanish women (and women in most industrial nations) choose not to have children? The reasons vary, but many are practical, not moral. The word on the street is housing shortage is a problem. Joshua Edelman, a New York transplant of twenty-plus years, is married to a Basque woman and they live in Madrid. The only reason they have two children is because her pregnancy was twins. Edelman says, “There is a shortage of housing and high property tax.” Many young Spaniards live longer with their parents affecting the birth rate (Hooper 329).

Working women carry an especially heavy load. Irregular working hours add to childcare issues, and only one-third of women are in the work force. Of that one-third their salary is 25 percent less than a male counterpart, and a low percentage of the enrollment in technical schools is female (Artiles). Lack of jobs, and low pay make the family income lower, and parents are less likely to add to their financial burden by adding mouths to feed. Zapateros 2500 Euros may help in the first year, but what about the cost of raising a child? Add a couple zeros on the end of that figure, and the 18+ years of support might be covered.

These inequalities between men and women are even greater for immigrant women, as is clearly shown from an interview with a Peruvian woman immigrant: “In order for a Spanish woman to be emancipated, an immigrant woman is necessary” (quoted in El País, 8 March 2005).

In spite of the inequalities the women of Spain became the first of Europe’s Latin countries to grant women the vote 1931, fourteen years before France or Italy (Twomey 181). Ironic that the women of Spain are guilty of what Unamuno calls “the sin of thinking for oneself” (Unamumo 72). The struggle for identity is a theme that runs through the work of Gaite who writes to an audience of women that on the one hand don’t join feminist organizations in large numbers, but on the other “seem to positively value the achievements of the movement” (Twomey 182).

Lucía Extebarría (1966 – ) is part of the new generation of writers taking up the torch of feminine identity. Her first novel Amor, curiosidad, prozac y dudas (Love, Curiosity,Prozac and Doubts) deals with a variety of women’s issues: “discrimination in literary studies and academic recognition, sexual abuse, bulimia and anorexia” (Twomey 181). lucia-prozac The women of Spain struggle with the same issues as women everywhere, but in Spain the long shadow of the Catholic church shrouds all.

In a PBS interview, Ms. Gimeno, a feminist attorney, sees a change coming. “They (Catholicism) are against divorce, abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, gay marriage. With so many things that have been accepted by Spanish society, I think the church, or at least the church heirarchy, has lost contact with society” (Gonzalez). Given the chance, what thinking human being wouldn’t object to being polarized between a whore or virgin?

A century ago, Unamuno’s Fedre didn’t muddy the waters of holy motherhood. His Fedre was a barren woman–Unamuno’s device to explain the sinner’s motivation behind the debauchery. Half a century later Richard Wright reported, “All women alone (in Spain) are whores” (Wright 84). Now a century later, women not only stay single longer, but many choose to educate themselves and postpone marriage and child-rearing.

Gaite expresses in the late 20th century the desire women have of wanting to be treated as human beings first–wives and mothers next. “Ironically, it would seem that the longer Spanish men cling to traditional attitudes towards women, the greater the damage they will do to that most traditional of Spanish institutions, the family” (Hooper 133).

The Catholic Church stands to lose much of its value in society by condemning women for wanting to live richer, fuller lives. Gímeno speaks for many professional women: “I think if that (Catholic Church) keeps going like that, Spain will continue to be more secular, and the church will run the risk of ending up talking to practically no one” (Gonzales).

Writers like Extebarría are the tip of the iceberg. Women in Spain are issuing a “collective shout” for a whole generation: “we own our bodies.” In a land where Don Quixote is still revered as a national hero chasing his impossible windmill, a metaphor for the quest for spirit (Unamuno 314), the time is right for Doña Quixote to realize a dream of individuality and personal dignity that comes with owning one’s life and choices, a spiritual quest for women not wanting to be condemned for choosing to have few or no children.

For inspiration, look no further than the great earth mother, Cybele, who is riding with her lions in the Plaza de Cibeles (Madrid), leading the way for women and the men who support them on the greatest quest of all: personal freedom.

Cibeles Fountain at Madrid, Spain


Works Cited

Artiles, Antonio Martín. “Reconciliation of work, and family life for women in Spain.” EIROnline: 2005. http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/

Brown, Joan. “Men by Women in the Contemporary Spanish Novel.” Hispanic Review, U Penn. P.: Vol. 60, No. 1. (Winter, 1992), pp. 55-70. jstor.org

Dixon, Nancy. “Did Richard Wright Get It Wrong? A Spanish Look at Pagan Spain.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Cultures 61.4 (2008): 581-591.

Grant, Jonathan, Stijn Hoorens, Suja Sivadasan et al. “Population Implosion? Fertility and Policy Responses in the European Union.” Low Fertility and Population Ageing: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Options. Rand Europe: 2005. http://www.rand.org/

Gonzalez, Saul. “Religion and Ethics News Weekly.” 7 July 2006. Video.  http://www.pbs.org/

Hooper, John. The New Spaniard. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Richburg, Keith. “Church’s Influence Waning in Once Fervently Catholic Spain.” Washington Post Foreign Service: 11 April 2005, pA15. http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Servodidio, Mirella. Dialogo e conversazione nella narrativa di Carmen Martín Gaite by Maria Vittoria Calvi.” Hispania, Vol. 75, No. 3. (Sept 1992), pp. 564-566. http://www.jstor.org/stable/344112  (Hispania is currently published by American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.)

Unamuno, Miguel De. Tragic Sense of Life. New York: Dover, 1954. Print.

Women in Contemporary Culture: Roles and identities in France and Spain. ed. Lesley Twomey. Intellect Ltd:Bristol, UK 2003. Print

Wright, Richard. Pagan Spain. New York: HarperPerennial, 1995. Print.

My Crazy Heart

Given all the grief floating around this planet, another book about “one woman’s journey” may sound like a snooze, but, at least, I’ve had an interesting life with some amazing characters like John Denver, Ginette Paris, Roger Nichols, Joy Monroe McConnell, Paul Rothchild, Donald Fagan, Walter Becker (Steely Dan), Dorotha Stephens etc., and I’m willing to write about some of it.  ;)

My Crazy Heart is my offering to the “searching woman” book-glut in the market. It’s also about my discovery of goddesses inhabiting every bush, every last bottle and circling all the skyscrapers. New Age mumbo-jumbo aside, I also wrote my way out of committing a justifiable revenge act, and found some tools to help me thrive in an insane culture.

A repaired heart…

Tony Brown EQ Article

Brown EQ ALL2

The Phantastical Gothic Ghost of Horace Walpole

 by

C. Reeder

otrantofootHorace Walpole (1717-97) wrote a ghost story, but not just any ghost story. The dire events and super-sized shade of Prince Alfonso in The Castle of Otranto spooked the reading public, and catapulted Walpole to literary fame.

Otranto was criticized for its thin characters, and outlandish machinations (Clery, Rise 84), but others, like Sir Walter Scott, found the story “grand, tragical, and affecting, (and concluded that) applause which cannot be denied to him who can excite the passions of fear and of pity must be awarded to the author of The Castle of Otranto” (Lewis 158). The new consumer reading public snatched up every copy, and publishers since then have printed over a hundred editions.

Otranto and its ghost contributed to the birth of an entirely new type of novel, a Gothic novel which combined “the ancient and the modern” (9), flaunting a supernatural twist that stood alone, free from the dictates of religious dogma, and wound down through the centuries, sprouting many literary branches on its way to our current age, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.

A distinct age of reason and enlightenment had seized the educated minds of Europe in the eighteenth century, so why would a privileged politician and part-time intellectual, albeit a dilettante, stir up a hornet’s nest, and bring back the so-called superstitious barbarism of the Gothic age when the literati had worked so hard to eliminate it, and the clerics claimed supernatural phenomena strictly their domain?

Walpole sidestepped the condemnation of clerics, and the censure of critics by going straight to the source: the reading public.

Otranto survived the cthe-monkriticisms because of the eighteenth century “rise of consumerism” (Clery, Rise 5). People bought the book, and the template for terror in Otranto inspired many later romantic novelists to copy its winning formula, the most famous example in the 1790s being The Monk by Matthew Lewis.

In Walpole’s opinion, “the great resources of fancy have been dammed up” (9). Walpole imagined an undeniable ghost the size of King Kong to break down that dam.

The Castle of Otranto was not the doodling of a delusional youth, but the product of a mature writer with an ax to grind. Before Otranto, Walpole published Anecdotes of Painting in England (1962), and was considered an expert on antiquarian artifacts and Gothic architecture (Lewis 167). Walpole was forty-seven when he wrote Otranto, and lived in a pseudo Gothic castle he had built from scratch. He claimed he saw a ghost in a nightmare, specifically “a gigantic hand in armour” (Clery, Intro vii). WithinWalpole1793 two months he wrote the story to keep his mind off politics with a passion likened to automatic writing (Lewis 161).

Two years before the ghost of Alfonso showed up in Walpole’s nightmare, a ghost of smaller proportions, the Cock Lane ghost of 1762, became “the talk of London” (Clery, Rise 13). Later demystified and exposed as a fraud, the ghost of a murdered woman supposedly scratched on the wall in response to questions, and attracted throngs of people from all strata of society day and night.

Hogarth Print, Thomas Cook 1744-1818, printmaker.

Hogarth Print, Thomas Cook 1744-1818, printmaker.

The event was likened to theatre and “commercial exploitation” (Clery, Rise 15). David Garrick’s successful play at Drury Lane, The Farmer’s Return, was representative of the enormous attention given to this ghost. Essentially, the play mocked the credulity of city-folk, a reversal of the belief that only ignorant country-folk believed in ghost stories (Clery, Rise 16).

Walpole believed that “a god, at least a ghost, was absolutely necessary to frighten us out of too much senses” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 381), a slam against didactic “sensibility” novels of the day, like the wildly popular Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa.  Many Englishmen agreed with Walpole. In a Preface to Faliero, Lord Byron praised author Walpole for not writing another “puling (whiny) love-play” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 1).

 

Walpole in  his Gothic Castle Strawberry Hills

Walpole in his Gothic Castle Strawberry Hills

One can imagine the slightly built Walpole in a trance, hovered over his manuscript with a Victor Frankenstein-like intensity in the act of creating a monster. Sunlight filters through a gothic stained glass, casting an array of colors over Walpole’s shoulder as it inches across the floor on a summer evening in 1764. The room around him dims, until the only light is from an oil lamp shining on the page he feverishly scribbles on into the wee hours. He later writes his friend Cole that his “hand and fingers were so weary, that he could not hold the pen to finish the sentence” (Clery, Intro vii).

The intensity of physical pain and sexual tension in Otranto must have had a cathartic affect on Walpole, and offered a release for pent-up imaginative fantasies, or a sedative for his nerves and brain. Burke wondered if these fanciful thoughts were “a sort of delightful horror (or) exercise necessary for the finer organs” (Burke 123).

Otranto ghost hand

Hand of the ghost of Otranto confronting the villian

OtrantoSkeleton

Skeleton in The Castle of Otranto

Even with all the praise, Walpole did not see the immediate success of the genre Gothic. He admitted to Mme du Deffand, “I have not written for this century, which wants only cold reason” (Lewis 161). Yet, under the guise of offering a new literature, Walpole indulged his creative urges, and in the process formed a template for a ghost, and a storyline that did not vaporize into the questionable ether, nor direct the reader’s loyalties toward a particular religious dogma. Some laughed at the ghost of Alfonso for its ‘machinations’, but Walpole was unmoved. “If I have amused you by retracing with any fidelity the manners of ancient days, I am content” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 378).

Walpole’s murderous shade is a device of dynamic “terror, the author’s principle engine” (6). With a ghost of such an “immense magnitude” (112), its existence cannot be ignored, or denied. The phantasmal ghost of Alfonso still lives on as a relic of an early attempt to scintillate, possibly scare, or simply entertain. Most likely, future generations will continue to be haunted by dank castles, creepy ghosts, miraculous events, and romantic terrors. The human need for romance and mystery seems bottomless.

Oldhorry Sir Thomas Lewis 1795

“Old Horry” Sir Thomas Lawrence 1795

Works Cited
Botting, Fred. Gothic. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and
Beautiful. 1754. Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. Web.
Byrne, James M. Religion and the Enlightenment: From Descartes to Kant. Louisville:
Westminister John Knox P, 1997. Web.
Clery, E.J. The Rise of Supernatural Fiction: 1762 – 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.
—, Introduction. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. By Horace Walpole. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. vii–xxxiii. Print.
Daniels, Barry V. Revolution in the Theatre: French Romantic Theories of Drama. Westport: Greenwood P, 1983. Web.
Finch, M. B. and Allison E. Peers. Walpole’s Relations with Voltaire. Modern Philology 18.4. (1920): 189-200. Web.
Johnson, James William. Horace Walpole and W. S. Lewis. The Journal of British Studies 6.2. (1967): 64-75. Web.
Johnson, Samuel. The Critical Opinions of Samuel Johnson. Ed. Joseph E. Brown. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1926. Web.
Lewis, Wilmarth Sheldon. Horace Walpole. New York: Pantheon, 1961. Web
Sandner, David. Ed. Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader. Westport: Praeger, 2004. Web
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: Prince of Denmark. Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Contr. Germaine Greer, Anthony Burgess, Alec Yearling, and PeterAlexander. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1994. 1079-1125. Print.
Voltaire. Candide: or Optimism. Intro. and trans. John Butt. London: Penguin, 1947. Print.
—, Philosophical Dictionary. Ed. and trans. Theodore Besterman. London: Penguin,Print.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. 1764. Ed. W. S. Lewis. Oxford:Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Peter Cunningham. London: Putnam, 1840. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Charles Duke Yonge.London: Putnam, 1890. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 3. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007 <http://www.gutenberg.org/>
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 4. Ed. Lea And Blanchard.Philadelphia: Sherman, 1842. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
©All Rights Reserved. A paper submitted  25 Apr 2007 for Professor Barbara Fitzpatrick’s “Studies in 18th Century Literature” (UNO).

TBT Babalooo! Where Are You?

Published in EQ Magazine.

EQ Column 10/1999

EQ Column 10/1999

Demo Queen Babaloo2

Pantera

Roger’s Pantera. It went fast and it was REALLY loud. I could hear him coming at least a mile away with the low vrub-vrub-vrub, vibrating widows and such. Conversations in the car were impossible, what with muscular steel torqueing through bodies. I remember riding in the car, snuggling baby Cimcie curled up on my lap (before child seat laws) with lips smiling in dreamland, a little soft bunny girl-doll, oblivious to being zoomed down Interstate 10 in an exotic Italian sports car by her race-car driver dad. To Grandmother’s house we go; a different ride than “over the river and through the woods”—this car needed flat, smooth surfaces. And, Roger turned corners like a pro, much to my passenger stomach’s dismay. During my pregnancy, riding in that car through Laurel Canyon always produced an up-chuck from me.

While driving through Beverly Hills, Roger got a “too loud” ticket. Back then, (1981) Beverly Hills neighbors would complain (especially in the hills) about anyone in the canyons turning on a loud dishwasher after sunset. Anyway, Roger lined up all his receipts and his defense (he had actually passed the bar exam years earlier), and headed to court. His argument: the muffler was the original, not an add-on to annoy people. The judge dismissed the ticket.  

  

PAntera

Grief is Not a Choice

When I picked up Roger’s iPhone, after his last breath, a long time passed before I remembered to breathe. I froze. Some people do feint at the sight of death; maybe they forget to breathe? I was amazed that I could breathe. But why was I breathing and not him? Why did Roger, who exercised and didn’t smoke or abuse drugs/alcohol, get this horrible Cancer?

When distant gods and empty creeds offer no respite and no answers to this “why” issue, what’s a sensitive soul like me to do? That’s my modern grief. Somehow, the pain and inner voices are guiding me to write My Crazy Heart, especially for myself, but maybe reach out to others struggling with grief and lingering “why” questions. After all, misery loves company. But something or someone? won’t let me die with Roger, no matter how much I wish to on some days.

Most days, I still find myself frozen in shock, really fear. I lost someone I’d shared most of my life with–over 33 years of the good and the not-so-good, but it was ALL OURS—our children, our animals, our home, our dates, our triumphs, our tragedies. How the hell can I go on without him to face the bankrupted business, the house in foreclosure, the unfinished projects we’d both worked hard on, and just when it seemed the financial stability that our efforts over decades so richly deserved had finally started–the new coveted steady jobs, why, oh why did he have to die now?

Intellectually, I knew it would never be a good time for him to die, but where was my head? All I knew was a broken heart. Everything was gone: my lover; my friend; my confidant; all the life I knew. Even our old dog, Spookie, chose to die three days after Roger. Cowards! Get back here and help me! Who was going to pick up the dead bird in the yard or fix the garbage disposal or hold my hand while we watch the sunset or walk our daughters down the aisle at their weddings or go with me to the doctor or not care that I needed to lose 30 pounds? Each new minute in this new reality after Roger died still delivers different, shocking fears.

When I finally got some counseling, after I thawed out a bit, Ginette Paris, a wise woman with a PhD in Psychology and a twinkly eye, suggested that I not ask “why.” Not only is this asking “why” not helpful, but also by asking the unanswerable “why”, we get stuck in a destructive loop of always asking “why”? It seems that this “why” remains elusive for many things in life like sickness, greed, war or death. But “why” I ask. I’m stubborn that way.

In scanning our limitless Universe, all I know for certain is there will always be more questions for the inquisitive mind. Answering one question will just open up the door to another one. Ask “why” but don’t expect any definitive answers. Why birth? Why do we breathe air? What I do know is this: if you’ve been something to somebody (s)he will grieve when you die. Grieve, I do. This part of life is bad, bad, bad grief, being the one left behind—the fear immobilizing. But, grief is not a choice.

In some circumstances fear would be a good thing since “fear does not prevent action; it prepares the organism for action” (May Anxiety, 15). That’s all good, if I was a zebra on the Serengeti running from lions. But when the lions leave, zebras totally relax. Not so with humans. We carry our angst on the tip of our tongues, buried inside our bodies like a steaming hot mess ready to boil over at the least provocation. At some tipping point, too much fear, too much grief and your body shuts down. Mine did. I just felt numb. I couldn’t move.

Will I survive this? How does anyone? No matter how it happens: divorce, abandonment or death, it’s loss beyond words. 

Hopefully, to be continued…

(I wrote this 23 June 2012, the day I started writing “My Crazy Heart.”)

Me in Grief

Me in Grief

THE MOTHER FRACKING TREE OF LIFE ;)

Vagina: The Mother Tree of Life

Don’t get your socks all in a bunch. They are only words, right?

I am a tree–felled by ax, thunder storms or bad ideas.

Mainly boys, carve into my bark. Ouch!

Don’t they know I bleed?

The uncut tree numbers are less each year,

leaving no bark to carve.

The shade is disappearing.

So, I will plant me in a well-stocked sub or pod

with all the tress I love and we will float away.

A(wo)men.

Like a lotus–opening….

Fugitive Blonde circa 1986

Fugitive Blonde Itunes Pic

Lead singer/songwriter Conrad Reeder’s band from 1986 – 1992. Various members, but the songs were written mainly by Conrad, Sandra Kaplinsky/Garszva & Kyle Keilman.

Mixed/Mastered by Roger Nichols.

Buy the track “Wildlife” by Reeder/Garszva here: Fugitive Blonde - Wildlife

FugitiveBlonde-Gig Wootens

THIS TIME AROUND THE MUSICAL

A new show written by hit songwriter, Pam Wolfe, & Conrad Reeder is now titled:

THIS TIME AROUND

 (Venus A Love Story, was renamed because of a similar title currently on Broadway.)

www.thistimearoundthemusical.com

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