Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, May 14, 1970

This date is almost exactly a year before my birth. This bit from my mother's journal (I'm offering about a half of the entire entry for the day), has a local Columbia University event, the bombing of the Alma Mater, and a reaction to the news of the day, including Nixon, Cambodia and Hugh Hefner. I think her reaction to the Columbia symbol is quite sane. 

A bit of 1970 in New York City:

Thursday, May 14, 1970

Journal time. Start the day well with journal time. In the middle of the night we were all – M., S. [a close friend and her son, who were staying with my parents], G. [my dad] and I – awakened by a monstrous explosion. Wondered when our building would cave in. We craned out the front window, but could see nothing. I could see smoke rising from the campus, but G. and M. insisted it was only a nightish mist. Learned this morning from S. H., who called at 10 a.m., that the Alma Mater in front of Low Library had been blown up. (Like the IRA blowing up Nelson’s column.) Probably Weathermen. I haven’t seen it yet and don’t know what reaction there will be. I am beginning to think nothing upsets or enrages me. So the Alma Mater, just a statue, is blown up. Ho hum. And in fact, yesterday afternoon, as G. and I watched the construction people opposite raise a mobile crane that was higher that the umpteen-storeyed building in the throes of construction, right outside our window, we decided that if the crane toppled over and top of our apartment building and smashed us to smithereens, tant pis. We are ready to die, I guess. At least, it will be no great thing if we do.

But it’s not true about not getting enraged. Just reading Newsweek yesterday, for the first time in a year or so (M.’s subscription is bringing it to us faithfully every week), I got furious just to read the succession of idiocies committed by Nixon et al. during the past week: Kent State killings by the National Guard; the stupidity of the Nixon admin’s handling of the war and the extension into Cambodia; Hugh Hefner’s internal memo calling for a monumental all-out Playboy article against women’s lib; Peter Arnett of AP’s story about GI looting in Cambodia that was killed by the AP New York bureau – Wes Gallagher said that in view of the touchy political situation last week he judged it better not to inflame the situation with “inflammatory stories”. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

1968, Brussels (Part II)

I've decided to post most of the rest of this journal entry because it is cute--ah, to be 20-something and living in Brussels. This was the first entry, a typed entry, in what was to be her journal. But I have no more entries in my hands until May 1970. My mother praises the weekend (ah, life pre-children) and goes from deciding to be a poet to dreaming of running a radio talk show:  

"Anyway, I started off this morning very happy because it was Saturday. A marvellous day, the most marvellous day, of the week. Strangely enough, the sun always seems to be out, even in Brussels, at least in the morning and the middle of the day. To spend the first few hours mildly tidying up and sweeping the apartment is almost bearable, since it gives me time to work out all the things I shall do, today and in the future. Everything seems possible. Today I decided I would be a poet, writing lively and funny epic verse that would soon be in demand the world over. The BBC chattering in the background helps me along. Some silly word game at one o’clock called something like “Just One Minute” is extremely pleasant. The four participants, all articulate, vaguely humorous, have to speak for a minute on some topic like “smoking”, “cockroaches“, or “the first day at school”, etc., etc. They can’t hesitate or repeat their nouns. A silly game, but the voices are soothing and just listening to the words pattering out pleases me. All those BBC word games please me immensely, like My Word, My Music, and Verbal Tennis. As I potter around I decide that I really would be absolutely happy if I spent the rest of my life, or at least six months, devising such games. Then came the Midlands “Trolley Service”, or something like that, a sentimental hospital request session. The English are as addicted to the same old sentimental tunes as we Australians, and I feel as if I am hearing an exact replay of the ABC’s listeners’ choice. The Nuns’ Chorus, Bless this House, There’s No Place like Home all pour out with predictable regularity, and I like it. Bless this house today made me get a lump in my throat because it used to thrill my grandmother back in Sydney. The chap running the show today said that it was from Aunty Flo or someone for Ethel and that he hoped Ethel would be up and about again soon. Then came the Saturday play, about hippies, which I didn’t listen to. But the words and the voice were pleasant, and all I remember is that one chap, presumably the hippie hero, had a soliloquy that must have lasted ten minutes. It has to be a good play to have just one person talking that long. [I think she means to suggest this was not a good play.] Then the collection of Women’s Hour interviews and talks run by Josephine someone always interests me, trivial as it is. I see myself as becoming so well known as to be in demand for little talks on such sessions—or else I see myself running and organizing such a programme and having a tremendous time.

Sunday is the day for papers and sheer laziness. I feel terribly put out when the English fog prevents the delivery of the Observer and the Sunday Times, which happens once or twice a month. The papers are yet another source of inspiration. In fact, now that I look at it, I see Saturdays and Sundays are my recharge days, and often the inspiration has enough impetus to see my through the week. At least today I have found enough energy to sit down at this machine and start a long intended journal—as Paul Gallico says in his “Secrets of a Storyteller’s Mind”[Confessions of a Storyteller?], there’s nothing like applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the typing chair to get a writer on his way. Not that I’m a fan of Gallico.

The short stories I have more or less in my head are:
1. John the Hippie. In Kochel, telling the callows about pot, etc., and eventually getting a new market for his dope.
2. Rosie the barmaid, trying to pay off her debts, breaking her knees, etc., and eventually winning through. If that doesn’t fit the short story formula that Scott Meredith is so keen on, I don’t know what will.
3. Then there’s the new jigsaw idea, that could easily be turned into a Scott Meredith special, too.
4. There there’s the second Madeline and Bettina story. But I can’t stand those two for a while, not after Scott Meredith’s attack on the first one. Still, I do think they are saleable, SM or no SM.

Not to mention magnificent novels:
1. The Story of My Life.
2. The one about three married women, conflict and murder in France.
3. And my sweet little children’s adventure story about the kidnapping. [I think she used this story as a story within a story in The Tempest of Clemenza, written almost 30 years after this journal entry.]

Not to mention all those fantastic articles for the big glossies:
1. Language courses abroad.
Can’t think of any others at the moment.

Of all these wild dreams, the only thing I shall probably actually do are my trivial little talks for Radio Australia."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

1968, Brussels (Part I)

I have been reading my mother's journals. She had asked me to burn them, but I love hearing her voice again, and I will not burn them. And I will even share bits of them, though not most of them. She may be cursing me (if there is any kind of afterlife), or she understands.

The earliest entry I have found is from when she was 28 years old. It begins:

"Saturday, March 9, is almost over, and I am disappointed because I didn’t do all the marvelous things that always seem possible on Saturdays. And now my excuse is that my back aches a bit from having bent for hours over that habit-forming jigsaw puzzle, which has been part of the scenery in the apartment for the past five days. Altogether we must have spent twenty hours fathoming out the thing—1500 pieces which together make a “Scene in Enkhuizen” by a Dutch painter called Cornelis Springer, 1817-1891, whom until now I had never heard of. Now I shall never forget him. The blurb on the back of the box says that he was “a Dutch painter, etcher and aquarellist. He painted extensively in Holland, Belgium and Germany, and his work has been used in historical books. This picture hangs in Riksmusium, Amsterdam.” I think now that I know every corner f the picture off by memory. I even dreamt about doing jigsaws the other night. Anyway, we are hooked, and the only thing I can say about getting hooked on jigsaws is that , besides being a monumental waste of time that leaves one with eyestrain, backstrain and frustration, they are an excellent lesson in perspective. The little lady in background literally is walking on the head of the big lady in the foreground. The other thing I can say about jigsaws is that they get you acquainted with whatever you are building. The Berlin puzzle we bought in Munich (simple, only 500 pieces and two hours’ work) got me all familiar with Kurfurstendamm, and when we went to Berlin a few weeks later I felt as if I was walking through a three-dimensional puzzle. (That would be a fun short story—getting to know the world through jigsaws.)"