dreams

Baudelaire, Metamorphosis of the Vampire

 

Metamorphosis of the Vampire, 1857
Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Meanwhile from her red mouth the woman, in husky tones,
Twisting her body like a serpent upon hot stones
And straining her white breasts from their imprisonment,
Let fall these words, as potent as a heavy scent:
“My lips are moist and yielding, and I know the way
To keep the antique demon of remorse at bay.
All sorrows die upon my bosom. I can make
Old men laugh happily as children for make.
For him who sees me naked in my tresses, I
Replace the sun, the moon, and all the stars of the sky!
Believe me, learned sir, I am so deeply skilled
That when I wind a lover in my soft arms, and yield
My breasts like two ripe fruits for his devouring — both
Shy and voluptuous, insatiable and loath —
Upon this bed that groans and sighs luxuriously
Even the impotent angels would be damned for me!”

When she had drained me of my very marrow, and cold
And weak, I turned to give her one more kiss — behold,
There at my side was nothing but a hideous
Putrescent thing, ail faceless and exuding pus.
I closed my eyes and mercifully swooned till day:

And when I looked at morning for that beast of prey
Who seemed to have replenished her arteries from my own,
The wan, disjointed fragments of a skeleton
Wagged up and down in a lewd posture where she had lain,
Rattling with each convulsion like a weathervane
Or an old sign that creaks upon its bracket, right
Mournfully in the wind upon a winter’s night.

 

Le Vampire, 1857
Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Atti Viragh

You who, keen as a carving blade,
Into my plaintive heart has plunged,
You who, strong as a wild array
Of crazed and costumed cacodaemons,

Storming into my helpless soul
To make your bed and your domain;
— Tainted jade to whom I’m joined
Like a convict to his chain,

Like a gambler to his game,
Like a drunkard to his bottle,
Like maggot-worms to their cadaver,
Damn you, oh damn you I say!

I pleaded with the speedy sword
To win me back my liberty;
And finally, a desperate coward,
I turned to poison’s perfidy.

Alas, but poison and the sword
Had only scorn to offer me:
“You’re not worthy to be free
Of your wretched slavery,

You imbecile! — For if our means
Should release you from her reign,
You with your kisses would only breathe
New life into the vampire slain!”

 

You may read other translations of Baudelaire’s poems here, Les Fleurs du Mal.

 

Les Fleus du Mal, 1857, Charles Baudelaire, is the book of poetry I am secretly always looking for a vastly under priced first edition/early edition copy of, one with a beautifully embossed cover, in every scouring of every thrift or antique shop I enter. I have a paperback copy, Penguin Classics, containing the original verses in French, in addition to the English translations. I don’t know quite what it is about these verses that fascinates me so, as their lines do not seem to stay with me long after reading them, at least, not that I’m aware of. They are beautiful, horrible, poems. Influenced by the work of Edgar Allen Poe, Baudelaire was convicted on obscenity charges, for which he, the printer, and the publisher, were fined. Quite the interesting literary character, credited with coining the term “modernity,” about whom I am still educating myself. Interesting to me in this moment, however, as I am writing about vampires, are these two poems composed by Baudelaire about a vampire, that I’d read before however had not realized were written forty years prior to the publication of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” in 1897. Forty years is a lifetime when you consider that Baudelaire himself did not live beyond age forty-six… that we know of.

This has led me to a poem by Lord Byron, The Giaour, 1813, these lines are known as “The Vampire Passage”, said to be the first reference to vampire lore in English literature ( I’m learning some things) according to that site/link. ( I found a pdf copy of the complete poem, it’s fifty-one pages long. Later for that, eventually.)

“But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.”

 

Quite frankly, I’m reminded of my own first scribbled poem (along with several other of my poems and not at all to compare myself to Lord Byron other than talking subject matter) when I’d no idea whatsoever who Lord Byron was, or knew anything at all about writing poems. I thought poems had to rhyme and when pressed to produce one for a school assignment, I figured all poems were depressing or had to be “lofty” somehow. (Yes, this is well covered territory.)

“A flower starts out very small,
Then it will grow to be very tall,
then it will reach down and die,
Upon the ground, there it lies.”

It wasn’t fifty-one pages, but it got the job done, got an “A” for that in 1977. I had no emotion about that poem whatsoever other than wanting to be finished with the thing and being glad that I was. Looking at it now, that third line is strange to me, as though a flower were not wilting, as though it were tired of all that stretching upward toward the light. It rhymed. However, in some way, perhaps everything was right there in that first poem, these recurring themes in my own work. Perhaps it was always going this way, writing about vampires, and such.

I used a quote from Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, in The Slick Furies to begin Part Two of the book, “Among them, not of them, in a shroud.” Not because I was, or am, terribly familiar with that poem, but because I remembered that line, that quote as being something somewhat paraphrased or nearly so, from a scripture, “In the world, but not of it.”

I think, perhaps, what is of interest to me is the willingness of these writers to write such dark things at all. What is the light without the contrast? I feel at home with these discoveries, new to me.  I am fascinated. The work continues.

TS

 

 

Les Metomorphoses du Vampire
Charles Baudelaire

La femme cependant de sa bouche de fraise,
En se tordant ainsi qu’un serpent sur la braise,
Et pétrissant ses seins sur le fer de son buse,
Laissait couler ces mots tout imprégnés de musc:
— “Moi, j’ai la lèvre humide, et je sais la science
De perdre au fond d’un lit l’antique conscience.
Je sèche tous les pleurs sur mes seins triomphants
Et fais rire les vieux du rire des enfants.
Je remplace, pour qui me voit nue et sans voiles,
Le lune, le soleil, le ciel et les étoiles!
Je suis, mon cher savant, si docte aux voluptés,
Lorsque j’étouffe un homme en mes bras veloutés,
Ou lorsque j’abandonne aux morsures mon buste,
Timide et libertine, et fragile et robuste,
Que sur ces matelas qui se pâment d’émoi
Les Anges impuissants se damneraient pour moi!”

Quand elle eut de mes os sucé toute la moelle,
Et que languissamrnent je me tournai vers elle
Pour lui rendre un baiser d’amour, je ne vis plus
Qu’une outre aux flancs gluants, toute pleine de pus.’

Je fermai les deux yeux dans ma. froide épouvante,
Et, quand que les rouvris à la clarté vivante,
A mes côtés, au lieu du mannequin puissant
Qui semblait avoir fait provision de sang,
Tremblaient confusément des débris de squelette,
Qui d’eux-mmes rendaient le cri d’une girouette
Ou d’une enseiga’, au bout d’une tringle de fer,
Que balance le vent pendant les nuits d’hiver.

 

The New Covers

 

 

The new covers are completed. It will be a few days before all of these titles are once again available. I am still editing some of the stories in “GRAIN.” “The Slick Furies” is at the beginnings of an overhaul, and I’ve no idea when those edits will be completed. I’ve come down with a cold, am tired, and finishing the last two covers, for “Thelxiepeia” and “Red Line Wine,” brought me to tears. The original covers never met my expectations. I resolved myself to the thinking that it is the words that matter, and it is, but of course, honestly, I wanted the covers to look better. They were as good as the tools available to me, that I knew of, and what I had time for. I shall compare it to the early writers of hieroglyphics, to those crafting early cave drawings, discovering (creating) a paintbrush. The cover of “Thelxiepeia” took about four hours of meticulously layering elements, messing with filters, spacing, and colors. I have a copy of beautiful edition of “The Rubaiyat” by Omar Khayyam that I love the overall look of that served as the inspiration for the cover design of “Thelxiepeia.” I love beautiful, antique, books. I wanted the cover of “Thelxiepeia” to have a vintage feel. The cover of “Red Line Wine” is an old drawing I did when I finished writing that book in 1996. Obviously I’m not an artist, and yet the drawing, filled with so much symbolism from my youth, is a perfect cover for that book as it contains my beginnings as a writer. Really, I didn’t think it would work but sometimes things are just “right” and you know it. To be able to finally put “Red Line Wine” together this way, well, I’m still fighting the tears. It’s been a lot of years from those beginnings to now. I’m equally happy with the new back covers. My take away from this is don’t quit. I’ve done the best I could. I’ll keep doing the best I can at any given moment. I hope to keep learning, and to keep getting better at all this. I’m also inspired to get to work on the next book(s) and editing updates now knowing that I have these other creative tools available to me. Right now though, I think it’s time for some steaks, some movie watching, some tending to my aches. I can honestly say that I like these book covers that I’ve created, and  couple of them, I love.

Teri Skultety

 

An Essay About Being and Becoming a Poetess

Late last night I finished work on another collection of poems, “Thelxiepeia.” This group of poems started out with a different title. When I began editing I knew that many of the poems would not make the final cut. They seemed parts of two books jammed together in a way that didn’t fit and so I opted for a cohesive finished selection and a new title. Thelxiepeia, in Greek mythology, is one of the Sirens, creatures whose seductive songs and music lured sailors to crash their ships. Sirens were often represented as being part woman and part bird. How I happened upon this story of Thelxiepeia was that I was watching an old movie called “Xanadu”, in which a muse, Kira, whose real name is Terpsichore, the muse of the dance, emerges from a mural, and falls in love with a mortal. There are fantastic musical numbers, Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, with music by Cliff Richard, The Tubes, and ELO. I’ve mentioned this movie before as it has most everything in it that an adolescent girl in 1981, one seeking some escape from excruciating pain, could require of a movie. I still think it’s a beautiful film, though from a completely different point of view this many years gone now. In watching it again I thought to look up the names of the Nine Muses of Olympus, one of whom is portrayed, though it isn’t a speaking part, by Sandahl Bergman, who is better known for her roles in “Conan the Barbarian”, “All That Jazz”, and “Red Sonja.” This led to looking up the names of the Sirens, and the writing of the poem, “Thelxiepeia.” Thematically overall, the collection has to do with the subject of muses and myths, with the stories we tell ourselves so that we can find a way to tell our stories, and those things that help us along the way in that.

xanadu-mural-muses

The Muses, “Xanadu”, 1980

 

In writing these poems, in watching “Xanadu” whenever it was, these poems were written several years ago, and remembering again that time of my life, I understood again how it is that I became a poetess, a writer, and how much of that, for me, relates to, or has or is entrenched in, films and music in someway. In 1981 I turned thirteen years old. Over the course of exactly one months time, I went from being a normal, healthy kid, to being emaciated and barely able to get out of bed. Five foot eight, at that time, my weight dropped to ninety-six pounds at one point. I couldn’t go to school, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t not sleep, and after months of weeks of grueling visits to doctors, specialists, hospitals, they couldn’t find anything specifically wrong with me that they could diagnose as anything other than Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, since re-diagnosed as an adult as Still’s Disease, which is similar to Lupus. That’s back story, it took a year to recover enough, to be well enough again, to really return to school. Point being that I really couldn’t do much of anything other than watch television during most of that time. I didn’t have the ability to concentrate or focus enough to read books during that time as I was in too much pain, though I’d been an avid reader up to then. Being as I couldn’t really do much of anything else during that time other than watch television, many of the usual restrictions on what I was allowed to watch, were lifted. Nineteen-eighty and eighty-one weren’t bad years for film, though my viewing was limited to whatever cable movie channel it was that we had or whatever was making its “Network Television Premier” and that was usually about a year behind whatever was in the theaters. I’ve spoken before about watching the film “Altered States” and feeling a strange understanding of the transformation of the main character while wondering why in the world anyone would willing put themselves through what he does. ( It’s like “Jaws” in that you find yourself just wanting him to get out of the water.) Along those lines I also watched the other werewolf movies of the day, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Wolfen” and the like. The feeling that I had sometimes was very much that I didn’t want to be that, and that I was nonetheless turning into some inexplicable creature and the world was turning into a strange place that didn’t understand me, anymore than I could understand it.

Most of the time, I couldn’t hold a pen or a pencil, couldn’t do schoolwork, wore Ace bandages and wrist braces and homemade splints. I was in so much pain so constantly, the world slips away when it’s like that, for anyone experiencing anything like that I would guess. The way that everyone else keeps time is meaningless and useless and of no importance. On the better days, I’d wish I was at school, I’d think about all I was missing out on, dances, friends, boyfriends, classes I liked. I couldn’t ride my bicycle or play sports anymore and I’d always been the kid that was outside from sunup until dark, though really it was beyond wallowing. Whatever the future was going to hold for me was forever changed. My mother said, “You know, you could still write. You could try writing poems again.” I’d written poems in grade school, and for school, though I hadn’t considered “writer” or “poetess” as a job option outside of possibly being a journalist, a newswoman. And I thought, “I can’t even hold a pencil.” But she got a couple of small notebooks for me and I remember writing what I still consider to be my first serious poem, titled simply, “Alone”, while I was sitting in bed watching the film, “Private Benjamin.” That movie is a comedy, containing one of my all time favorite movie line exchanges.

“Aunt Kissy: I hope my coat’s gonna be good enough. I had no idea it was gonna be so chilly.

Harriet Benjamin: It’s November here, Kissy.

Teddy Benjamin: It’s November everywhere, genius.”

But the film is ultimately about Judy Benjamin finding her sense of self, and the strength to be her own person, there was something in that that spoke to me beyond the ribald, raunchy, comedy, because in that place, the funniest thing in the world, isn’t quite so funny. In that place of so much pain, the funniest thing in the world seems illogical, senseless, and idiotic, I guess one way to put it would be like how the food fight in the film “Animal House” (1978), might not make you laugh if you’re not from a first world country where even waste is taken for granted, and what I was looking for were things that were hopeful in some way, or strong, resilient. It also may be that it was during that time that any remaining sense of humor I had, took a sardonic, somewhat self-deprecating, turn. I looked at the poem that I’d scribbled in the little notebook and that was the beginning, and I hope I never forget that moment. Additionally, it’s become evident to me that my brain might be hardwired for rhyme to some degree, and some of that comes from listening to music and song lyrics all my life. ( My father was a musician, both my parents could sing, there was live music in the house for much of my youth.) Eventually I was allowed to use my mother’s electric typewriter sometimes, when my hands were very swollen, as I could often still move my fingers on the keys for a while even if I couldn’t move my wrists or my hands, however much it hurt. I was a writer before that, but after that, I knew that I was, whether I’d claimed it or it had claimed me, and that was that. I’ve since tried not to be a writer a couple of times and that doesn’t ever work out. I used to say that my writing was my “human’s compensation,” like … yeah there’s all of whatever else there is, but then there’s my writing. God willing I’ll be able to keep writing and writing and writing. Human beings are resilient, and strong, courageous.

Finishing this collection of poems, and it isn’t quite as long as some of the others at only fifty-four pages, I could go right into editing another collection of poems but I found that I didn’t want to, I found myself wanting to work on some kind of story again, some fiction. Though really I am taking some time to organize and edit and clear the decks for the end of the year, hopefully do some fun things, spend some time with family. 2017 has gone quickly, hasn’t it? The last several years for me, I’ve realized, have been about finding myself as a writer again, finding my groove with it all, finding balance and self acceptance, allowing myself to be this and to honor it and the gift of it, to appreciate, and accept, and let be, my own muses. “Thelxiepeia”, I think, speaks very much to all of that. I hope to release it sometime next year, in early spring. I’m so grateful for this gift of being able to write, and I do consider it to be a gift. We all find inspiration or ideas in a lot of different things, people, places, it’s important to honor your muse(s), one of mine led me to Thelxiepeia. I’m uncertain in this moment if these poems were a farewell to the girl that I was or an homage, I feel like I can write about her, but I can’t ever again be her. I’m not sad about that, only grateful for having had the chance to be that girl, and to be looking now to the future as this woman. Becoming is ever ongoing.

 

Teri

 

Thelxiepeia

 

great song from the film “Xanadu.”

Being an Independent Author: How Much Work Is Involved in Making a Book?

How much work is involved in making a book, bringing a book to market, yourself?

I’d say that depends on the author. First you’ve got to write the thing and come up with, or out of it with, a final draft. I write it. I edit it. I format it. That is all me. I proofread it, again, and again, and probably again. I just finished the fifth page by page check of “Gold Mine”. I found a place in one of the pieces where “understand” needed to be changed to “understanding”. Spellcheck doesn’t catch that kind of thing, nor does it catch homophones, and sometimes a grammar check won’t catch those either. Editing poetry is far more tedious than editing stories or editing a novel. Editing a novel there is the forward motion of the story itself to keep you going, with poetry, each piece may be different, require different formatting. I also occasionally invent words and of course spellcheck doesn’t recognize those. I’m currently editing and publishing work from years ago, trying to get caught up. This is important, it doesn’t matter when a piece was written if it is good. No one looks at a Renoir and says, “That old thing?” Same goes for music and film, if something is good, then it’s good. Timelessness.

Making books this way is very much rebel book making. I’m not anti-establishment in that I wouldn’t ever say that I definitely wouldn’t seek to publish along traditional lines again. But, I am a person who believes in thinking for myself. I believe that my work is good, and I want to publish it in the way that I want to publish it, and in a timely manner. I’ve already vented my feelings about how I arrived at the decision to become an indie author. At this point I would say that it completely suits me. It allows for complete creative freedom and control. It allows for me to work at my own pace, or not work if I’m in too much pain. With my arthritis, I admit that I do always feel as though the clock is ticking on the longevity of my hands, I’ve got back and neck problems too ( as many writers do). Honestly, the physicality of my particular situation, I don’t know that I could do this any other way, it would have to be an unheard of super sweet deal of, “Sure, whenever, you want!” As yet, I am enjoying being an independent author.

I am also then in charge of getting my work our there, that’s the part that really isn’t my favorite because I’m not a natural salesperson. I’m a writer. I don’t have a team of anyone standing behind me, or as yet, an established fan base, or a publicist. Keeping in mind that each part of the process is time and effort. If you’re a writer who is handing things off to an editor or an agent, if you have an established fan base, then you’re not wearing quite as many hats as someone who is doing everything themselves.

I can tell you that having made the decision, I’m calmer, less emotionally invested in the b.s., hypocrisy, and politics, of any given situation, because I don’t have to be. And yes, that is a luxury, one that I’ve gifted myself with by opting out of the usual route. It is also a grace, something that I’m lucky to be able to do and I don’t take it for granted, I’m happy for it for however long it lasts. I’m incredibly grateful for my husband in that, he’s been supporting my work in one way or another for a very long time. I do not regret opting out of, for the most part, the fray. Quite honestly, recent situations within the entertainment industry only reaffirmed my decision to go rogue, to go rebel, and do this myself on my own terms.

All of this is a learn as you go process. How much work?

Like I said, this is the fifth time I’ve gone through this manuscript page by page. That’s after having written it in the first place. So write it, then edit it, then spellcheck it, then grammar check it, then proofread it, (when you’ve got your final draft, or close to it, I say file your copyright,) then format it, then check your formatting to make sure everything looks as it should on each page, again, check your acknowledgments, your credits, your permissions if needed and you’ll be teaching yourself all of that too. Then you’re going to design your cover, or have someone do that for you. My philosophy about that is not to over think it, I’m a writer, yes I want the covers to look good/decent, ultimately that’s the wrapping paper, but I’m not an artist or graphic designer and I can’t afford to hire one as yet. I’ll get better at the covers as I go, ultimately, I am a writer and it’s the words that matter the most to me. ( It’s who you are inside that counts right?) But, you’re going to do that too, design your covers.  Etc. Etc. Etc. It can all take anywhere from months to a few years. ( From what I’ve read around, going the traditional route to publishing a book, providing you get a book deal, is an average time of about two years from idea and pitch to finished manuscript and publication.)

It isn’t the way to go for everyone, or even most, perhaps, but it is working for me. Am I a selling millions of books? Well, not quite yet. There are no guarantees along those lines regardless of the publishing route you choose.

The cover of “Gold Mine” is a picture of an x-ray of the fused bones of my right hand and wrist, the cause arthritis ( Still’s Disease), from several years ago now, that’s it. I often wear a brace. The clock is ticking. “Gold Mine” is a collection of poetry and prose the last piece of which was written in 2009. Collections, whether it be poetry or stories, take longer to accumulate.

Each writer has their own goals in my mind for what they want to do and how they want to do it when it comes to their work. For now, this is working for me. “Gold Mine” should be available for purchase sometime in early November. There are several pieces from the book available to read for free here on this webpage, just type Gold Mine, into the search box, though I will list the links when the book is ready.

Teri Skultety

 

 

 

Red Line Wine, Available Now!

Red Line Wine, Selected poetry and prose, 1977-1996. This is the lightning in a bottle of my youth. I hope that you enjoy these poems and pieces of prose. You may read a few of them here, listed below.  ~ Thank you for reading! ~ T.S.

The Cafe New Orleans
Endings
Black Boots
Believe
A Tangent to Hamlet
11-29-94 (Raven)
Human
Adam’s Rib
Waking… (Honeysuckle)
Dreaming
The Knights of Stolen Roses
Journey With My Heart

Available now, at Amazon.

Coming soon…Red Line Wine

 

I’m working on the final poems in a collection or poetry and prose titled, Red Line Wine, that I first put together in 1996. These are the poems and prose of my youth, of first love, of heartbreak, of dreams, homesickness, longing, of hope, and believing that anything is possible. I’ll have a little more to say about this work when the time comes, for now, I put together a book trailer for Red Line Wine, using one of poems from the collection, “The Knights of Stolen Roses.”

I hope that you enjoy it!

Teri Skultety

 


THE KNIGHTS OF STOLEN ROSES

Locked within the walls of the past, 
The shadows and secrets of living too fast,
the memories bond the quiet heart,
to the moments when the Knights did part...

From the Top of the World the sun slid down,
Darkness descended on the Court Jester Clown,
Tinker Town in silence, forever fog bound,
Distant trains and the haunted sound,

The souls of seventeenth Summers,
the beats of distant drummers,
the heroes of war, or simply romance,
for those who dared to take a chance,

The midnight moon and shooting star,
knowing when to push it too far,
armored machines of lightning speed,
testing the limit when feeling the need,

Heart beating fast, living to tell,
the days when Knights were raising Hell,
A sweet little princess, and maybe, she might,
Roses you steal in becoming a Knight.

Trust was shared and rarely spoken,
A promise made was rarely broken,
Reaching for that shining brass,
Good and Evil, through the looking glass.

Dreaming of their future days,
When Knights must go their separate ways,
Only to dream of going home again,
For boyhood Knights, make the strongest men.

...A shade, or two, will always remain,
By which to know a loss, or count a gain,
Fiery Red and Forever Blue,
In everything you say and do.

Much more than medieval fantasy,
they wrote their own codes of nobility,
Knighted, by their own free will.
Is the Knight within you living still?

Teri Skultety
Originally composed, March 25, 1987

 

Grain, Available Now!

Nineteen Stories

1. DRIVE  ~  Trying to get home

2. The Fine Art of Being Human ~ infidelity, the delicate workings of forgiveness

3. HUSH ~ a robbery gone wrong and a doctor trying to quit

4. THE NEED ~ a desperate love

5. Antares Lariat ~ lassoing stars to try to pay the bills

6. Personal Assistant ~ a temptation

7. THE WIDOW SMITH ~ a woman seeks a reckoning

8. SEVEN ~ a working-girl trying to find true love

9. The Hunter ~ an inter-dimensional time traveler on a chase

10. DONE BONES ~ a buried body

11. Don’t Let Go ~ a love affair

12. Tick Talk ~ the malaise of a ticking clock

13. Teenager ~ a teenager trying to survive being a teenager

14. Strange Comfort ~ the beginning of healing

15. Scorpio Moon ~ a monster in the moonlight

16. Roll Me Away ~ the grass isn’t always greener

17. An Embarrassment of Riches ~ a betrayal

18. It Takes So Long to Get Ready ~ a ghost story

19. All The Long Way Home ~ a chain of convenience stores that are really a gateway to the places of the past

         The stories of GRAIN weave a soliloquy or haunted dreams, presented in emotionally intimate vignettes and moments glimpsed of the before and after of certain life changing events, the frailty of being human, of love, hope, and longing, of trying to escape monsters, and get home, in one piece.

GRAIN, available now on Kindle at Amazon.

Also available in paperback!

Feeling Good, Miss Simone

I watched a documentary last night about Nina Simone, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” I like documentaries and I had watched part of this one before and become distracted. “Feeling Good” was the first Nina Simone song that I ever heard and I loved it. I’d been a Billie Holiday fan for years and I thought, how is it that I hadn’t listened to Nina Simone yet?

Nine Simone had a rough story. Born Eunice Waymon, a classically trained pianist, she changed her name because she didn’t want to offend or embarrass her religious mother with the kind of music she was playing. She decided on “Nina” as a variation on the Spanish name for “girl” and she got the name Simone from French actress Simone Signoret. ( Signoret is well-known in this country for the French film “Les Diaboliques,” in which she plays a mistress who seems to plot with a wife in order to get rid of the husband. It’s a favorite film of mine, one that I would classify as both noir and horror. And for being the first French person to win an Academy Award in 1959 for her role in the film “Room at the Top.”)
 Nina Simone wanted to play Bach and be the first black classical pianist. She got caught up in the Civil Rights Movement, her next door neighbor was Malcom X and family, and later said that it had hurt her career because so many of her songs were about that era and movement that when it passed, they were no longer relevant to her audience. (at that time.)

Her second marriage to an ex-cop was abusive, and likely went on for as long as it did because he was also her manager and her career, at least, was going well. She eventually left, going to live in Liberia where she said that she felt like she had found some place where she belonged for the first time in her life, though she fell into not taking care of anything there, not paying taxes and perhaps after years of such intensive responsibility and pressure, she just couldn’t be bothered with some things. She later became abusive herself, that is often a pattern for those who have been in such a situation who have not ever addressed it, understood it, or found some treatment or therapy. She was eventually diagnosed as manic-depressive, what we would now call bi-polar, and prescribed medication that quelled the violent mood swings but slowly eroded her motor skills, which they new that it would. However, she went back to performing later in life and the footage of her hands, her fingers on the piano keys, is stunning, as though she were incapable of anything other than playing brilliantly. You could see the classical training right there, that she played, “My Baby Just Cares for Me” as though it were Bach. Her daughter Lisa, who had suffered through Simone’s mood swings and ultimately made peace with things, said, “She was brilliant you know, just brilliant.”
It was such a dark story though, much more so than I had expected. As I sat there watching I realized that it was having this tremendously deep effect on me.
I thought, “This is dark, this is so dark.” I got to thinking about my own life and living and my work and living,  LIVING. I got to thinking about laughing and all of the things that we sometimes hang onto that keep us from our JOY. All of the things that keep us from love, and from others, from being open. How she was a person so hurt, like many of us are sometimes because life isn’t always easy. Katharine Hepburn’s famous quote about life is, “Life is hard, after all, it kills you.” But about how that’s what happens, our hurts sometimes cause us to retreat to “safety” so that we can heal ourselves or try to, and sometimes necessarily so, completely.  I keep thinking about how tough a person really has to be sometimes, to stay tender. To say, “Okay, that really sucked, but I’m still here.”

Joy.

 

I got to thinking about all of things that keep us from laughing and giving and loving and living. About her still talking so much later in her life about how she had wanted to be a classical pianist and play Bach, that it was still a regret. I got to thinking about how the first time that one of my poems was published and I started dreaming about a Pulitzer Prize for poetry some day. I was thinking how she didn’t become the classical pianist but how she had this brilliant career in jazz and the blues, and had a contemporary popularity that likely reached a much larger audience than if she had been filling concert halls playing Bach. Had she just been Eunice Waymon, the classical pianist, I might have heard of her, but would I have listened? Of course that would have been a different life for her because the one she had as Nina Simone sure came at a price, and could that have been different too? Well, I got thinking about it all and just letting go and being.
I got to thinking about being joyful. Life happens to us all. I got to thinking about how she said she wanted to shake people up. I thought about whether or not I wanted to know all of this about Nina Simone, was it changing my perspective about her music? Was it going to make it less enjoyable for me to listen to? But then I thought, what if she had known how much she really shook people up? And I thought about how it was changing the way that I feel about some things, and that yes, I have been through some really tough things in my life, but I believe in love, and joy and happiness. Sometimes you’ve got to be really tough, to stay tender. It was a good documentary.
~ Teri Skultety

Letting Go is a Grace…

 Letting go is an art, and a grace, something not so much to be learned as practiced.

I think to myself…

If that was meant to be mine, then it would have been.

If it is meant to be mine, then it will be.

It makes it easy to say, “Good for them.” and mean it.

When we let go, it creates a space for something new.

Trust, have faith, believe, that the good, right, things that are meant for you, whether it’s a job, a house, a direction, a love, the perfect chair … will find you in their right time when you are ready to receive their gifts.

 Letting go is a grace.

~Teri Skultety