Mr. George A. Romero

Some years ago now, I wrote a rambling blog post that was titled “Closing the Loop On Romero.” I still have what I wrote but I’ll spare us the reposting of it. The gist of it was that when I was in the seventh grade, in my Advanced English class, we watched two films, a 1955 film titled “Les Diaboliques,” in which a wife and mistress plot to get rid of the abusive man they’ve been sharing at their digs at a French boarding school owned by the wife, and a 1968 film titled “Night of the Living Dead,” in which a group of people hole up in an abandoned house in order to escape the “living dead” rising up out of the cemetery, whom seem to be interested in dining on human flesh, which makes it sound sophomoric when it is, in fact, completely adult, and despite our seeming cultural desensitization to such horrors, if you engage your brain and think about what you’re watching, it remains a completely terrifying film.

These two films taught me to understand films as art. These two films began my fascination with films as art. It was one of those moments in life when the world changed for me, expanded, deepened, became more interesting.

Imagine the world if George Romero had never made the film, “Night of the Living Dead.” It is an art film. It has been selected for historical preservation by the Library of Congress. “Night of the Living Dead” has a lot to teach us about the ways in which people interact with one another. It isn’t the first so-called zombie film, it is, however, the zombie film that irrevocably changed our cultural landscape.

Rest in peace, Mr. Romero.

Resilience. Carrie Fisher. The New Modern. How To Be Yourself.

So, I’m uploading/importing files to Kindle Direct and, apparently, that can take a minute, unless I start typing something else, I figure, and never mind that I need to vacuum and dust, and I thought, I’ll write that post now.

Last night I watched the HBO sort of documentary, it was more personal than that, “Bright Lights,” about Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. It was an exceptionally well done, intimate, revealing, glimpse into the lives of these two enigmatic, iconic, stars. That sounds canned.

I grew up watching old movies, was a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood. There was the glamour of it, of course, but I was drawn to the stories behind the stories, how the “movie stars” became movie stars. In those days, the Hollywood studio system controlled every aspect of the lives of the actors and actresses under contract to them. Everything was about the canned image, the keeping up of appearances. Love affairs and scandals were kept from public view, as much as possible, and nonetheless, became the stuff of legend. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rosellini, Elizabeth Taylor and, well, Eddie Fisher, the husband of Debbie Reynolds, for one, among others.

I read quite a few movie star biographies because so many of them were “rags to riches” stories, the kind of thing that got so many naive young ladies to get on a bus and head out to Hollywood back in the day, however, what it was that appealed to me about those stories was that there was always a strength of character presented, presented, as in, a lot of those stories are loaded with fabrications as well, because that’s what they did, they put the best face it on it all that they could. There’s something to be said for that, there’s a lot to be said for that sometimes. Debbie Reynolds was a product of that Old Hollywood system, and that made for some tough dames. The old school, “Never let ’em see you sweat, kid.” I’ve known women like that, women who said things to me, in my youth, like, “That’s when you really know you’ve got ’em by the balls!” But, only as an aside, you’d have never in a million years heard them utter such a thing in “public” or in polite company. Stoic. There’s great strength in that.

Debbie Reynolds personified this kind of stoic strength, putting the best face on it, right to the end. In this documentary, it is so there at the surface as she’s telling Carrie how they should be seen, how they should appear to be while they are in public, as they’re going to an awards show where she will be the recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award, even though she’s barely well enough to be there. It’s apparent after her final show appearance on stage, as she’s carting around a casino afterwards saying that you can’t let life get you down because life is hard and if you do, it’ll kill you, you’ve got to keep going. It’s there in her making light of her “bad” marriages right to the end, because it’s how she owned it and controlled it. I was reminded of why I read those old biographies, because those women had great big balls to go play in the rough and tumble world that is Hollywood, especially back in those days, they had moxie, they had independent spirit, they had intestinal fortitude, and they had backbone for days. The show must go on! I took strength from those examples, what they said to me was, Yes, life’s a total bitch sometimes. This is how you do it! And that was Debbie Reynolds, without ever saying the word “bitch,” that you know of.

Enter Carrie Fisher. The prodigal daughter of Old Hollywood, the opposite of her mother in so many ways. At the very beginning of the documentary, she’s taking a soufflé that she has made out of her own oven in her very lived in kitchen and she’s spewing the words, “Fucking criminy.” She chain drinks Coca-Cola’s like they’re going out of style, she smokes, splashes herself with glitter, has a player piano in her bathroom. The walls are green, purple, blue, red, whatever, and on them are such delights as a painting that she describes as “A very unhappy woman who looks like Kevin Spacey.” When she appeared in her first movie role in the film “Shampoo,” her mother didn’t want her to say the line, “Want to f____k?” wanting her to use the word “screw” instead. Warren Beatty went to the house to talk to Carrie Fisher’s mother about that, the f-bomb stayed. Carrie Fisher, the daughter who had to find the strength to say, “I can’t do it your way. I can’t do it the old way.” And in that, showing everyone a different kind of strength, a different kind of resilience and backbone.

It was an incredibly moving portrait to be able to understand the depth of meaning that was on display in this representation of a true changing of the guard, the transitioning from not only one generation to the next, but from one era to the next. It occurred to me that I was raised with so many of those old ways because they weren’t just the ways of Old Hollywood, they were the ways of the world, the old social mores, not just about the way that a woman or a lady should behave, but about the way that people in general should behave, like not sitting down at a table, to eat, without taking your hat off. It wasn’t a matter of being phony or fake, keeping up something of a facade for “the sake of appearances,” though some certainly used that to be fake and to hide horrible things, it was that the world was a different place, people understood things in terms of there being no point in wallowing in it or focusing on the ugly because yes, life was hard, but it went on, and best to get on with it. They also understood the great buffer that manners and a mannerly society can often provide, for everyone. BUT, I was always of a mind of, I can’t do it your way.

I understand Debbie Reynolds stoicism. I understand Carrie Fisher’s, “Fucking criminy.”I realized, that has been so much of my own struggle, and I’m sure that of many other women of my generation.

As I watched, I realized that there are a couple of generations now to whom those old ways are completely unknown, and to whom they must seem patently ridiculous, if not unfathomable, not only as ideology, but in practice. Actress Loretta Young, who was single at the time, had a child with actor Clark Gable, hid the pregnancy, gave the child up for adoption, so that she could adopt it back as her own, without the public ever knowing, in order to protect their careers as Gable was married to Maria Langham. Who now would ever think of such a thing? Or try it if they did?

I think of Carrie Fisher in “The Blues Brothers,” as the mystery woman with her arsenal, just blowing shit up.

This is how social structures are rebuilt, reformed, as though they were fashion, and in some ways, they are.

I was moved by the revelation of this relationship, enduring friendship, between mother and daughter. I thought it was wonderful to get to see inside the homes of two great stars who very obviously actually lived in their houses, that were essentially only a walkway from one another. The sterile super-mod glass, chrome, polished marbles of celebrity mansions so often presented to us these days are complete bores, totally lacking in creativity, by comparison. Debbie Reynolds went into debt collecting up old movie memorabilia in the hopes of building a museum to share and preserve it, though that never happened, her affection for, and care of, this time in movie history was completely admirable, filled with affection and sentimentality. Carrie Fisher’s home was filled with things that she loved seemingly without a moment’s thought for whether or not any of it “went together,” or what anyone might think of it, and it was amazing.

There was something so exceedingly normal here, at one moment they’re all standing around in formal wear in the driveway, Carrie, her daughter, actress Billie Lourd ( Scream Queens), Carrie’s brother Todd, his wife, actress Catherine Hickland, limousines waiting to take them all to an awards show, and they’re waiting on grandma, Debbie Reynolds. They could have all been heading to Bingo together for the fanfare involved, except that they weren’t. What struck me about it was that it was less staged, less fake, than any A-list star wafting by in their sunglasses, looking at the ground, that you’ll see anywhere today. Secure in themselves, so famous that it was normal, and they were over it. Carrie Fisher was completely over being famous, and that’s famous. But there’s a lesson in that for everyone, about how to be.

These two women, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, gave us two completely different examples of resilience, and strength, of backbone par excellence, they did it right. I think that Carrie Fisher personified, in so many ways, a new kind of modern which is, simply put, being and embracing oneself. Completely inspirational.

T.S.

Proofs, Poems, Healing, and Hope

Up early this morning, though I don’t generally make it a habit to discuss my habits. There was, however, a great write up recently about how author Megan Abbott spends her Sundays.( You can read that here. ) What I loved about this piece is that as a writer it is sometimes helpful or comforting when other writers share such things because this tends to be a solitary gig that is comparable to precisely no other job on earth. Though I have considered the possibility that astronauts might have some idea what it’s like. Here is where I have to keep myself from going off on a tangent with regard to my imaginings about space travel and the like. So as a writer, to read about the day of another writer can feel like… I’m normal. Writers spend a lot of time very much in their own world, the world of stories. However, what you learn is that most folks, regardless of occupation, are constructing their own realities, it is how we all live in the larger world.

I’ve ordered my proofs, or advanced copies, ( also sometimes call ARCs) of the novel. I’m nervous, excited. I have a feeling of accomplishment that has brought to me the realization that I so needed it. I needed, and need, to feel like I am getting somewhere, like I am getting something done, accomplishing something, achieving something. I’ve realized that this was/is part of my difficulty with traditional publishing. Please don’t misunderstand me, in and of itself, traditional publishing is fine, I mean, I’m not opposed to it, that isn’t what I’m saying. Traditional publishing puts everything on their terms, they like your story, they don’t like your story, you could wait months to hear. I got a rejection notice this year after waiting a year, and that is pretty common depending on the market your submitting to. People outside this business hear things like that and it sounds unfathomable. I’ve already addressed a lot of those issues in previous posts. But what I’ve realized is that it left me feeling like I wasn’t getting anything done and like there wasn’t a lot of hope to get where I wanted to be, or to be doing what I want to be doing, and that is, having my work published on a regular basis.Going the route of traditional publishing, very honestly, often left me feeling like a groveling idiot, if not acting like a fool. It left me feeling like it was less about whether or not my work was any good, and more about whether or not I was likable and socially adept. I also felt like if I had walked into the proverbial room with a master’s degree in English from a respected college, I might have appeared to be more talented. Other times I felt like I was being relegated to being “fan girl” and again, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being fan girl, on some level, I most certainly am every bit the fan girl. But when you’ve written as much as I have written and are as serious about it as I am, have been writing for as long as I have been writing, being met with the attitude that you’ve just shown up to get autographs, kind of sucks. Worse though, perhaps, is feeling like you can’t say anything about it. In that though too, there have been people who have been incredibly supportive and those are the people who helped to keep me from quitting. I’m so thankful for those people.

What I wanted was for it to be about the work. From the beginning there was someone saying But who is she? I guess it would be kind of like if you were the new employee and didn’t put any family photos out on your desk. I was unprepared for that. I think that I knew how to be professional, or I knew how to be personal. Not knowing how to juggle that is certainly on me. It simply wasn’t an issue I’d expected to encounter. It’s a tough business, one that often isn’t structured very much like a business, or didn’t seem to be. It got to where it felt hopeless to me. I thought, I’m talented. I’ve got all of this great work, and no matter what I do or how I approach it, I’m spinning my wheels. 

I don’t live my life competitively or by comparison. I’ve dealt with a chronic illness from a young age and what that taught me is an appreciation for individual ability and accomplishment, an appreciation for, What is the best that I can do today? So my sense of accomplishment has nothing to do with what anyone else has going on. I also have a keen sense of time. A year’s response time may be normal in some quarters, but that’s longer than I care to wait. ( There was a time when I was very quietly submitting work to some pretty large markets because why not? Those are some slow wheels.) I need to feel like I’m getting something done. Regardless of what any other person thinks of it, I’ve written an eighty-five thousand word novel, edited it, designed and formatted the interiors, designed the cover, formatted it for publication, it is four hundred and sixty-six pages total, by myself. That is an accomplishment. It’s something that I can be proud of having accomplished. It has helped to restore my sense of confidence, something that had been completely destroyed over the last however many years. Does it matter to me that this isn’t a big traditional publishing book deal? Not one whit.  I love this. I love being able to do this myself. Whether or not others recognize the accomplishment or take me seriously as a result of it, again, that’s their prerogative. I don’t feel like a groveling fool waiting to see if someone likes me enough, or who I’m “friends” with, ( which can work for or against you, depending), or whether or not I’m cool enough or popular enough, marketable enough, to publish my story. Whether or not that that’s the reality of it, that is the truth of how it felt to me. For all of my life, I have known that I am a writer, and I never felt like less of one than I did at so many moments in the last five years. Traditional publishing often made me feel like, You’re a writer when we say that you’re a writer. And that’s bullshit. There was a tremendous loss of my sense of self-respect in that, one that I didn’t realize that I had acquiesced to, until I put this book together myself. I’ve been through one of those tremendous phases or personal growth and learning. I really cannot wait to write and publish more books.

Obviously I read a lot of traditionally published material, and enjoy it. I’m simply speaking to my own experience as a writer trying to get published, be paid for my work, and get something accomplished. I’ll still buy a copy of The Paris Review. What I’m saying though, is that for me, this was the better option. I also really believe in the independent publishers and small presses that are out there getting it done.


     So, I’m waiting for my proofs! Yeah! Hoping to have The Slick Furies available for purchase prior by Halloween.

I’ve also been working on a collection of poems, on breaks from getting the novel ready, that I should be able to published and have available before the end of the year. They are thirty-nine pieces of poetry and prose that I wrote from 2005 to 2008, while recovering from a bought with physical illness, mourning the deaths of my beloved grandparents, and leading up to a very real,completely devastating, nervous breakdown around the time of my fortieth birthday. The selection of poems, and prose, is titled WINSOME VEIN. The poems are darker than anything that I had written up to that point, some of them have appeared here on my webpage, and what I had said about them early on was that if I had to describe them, it would be like if Anne Sexton and Edgar Allan Poe had a baby, and that baby was slightly more ethereal or given to romantic ideas occasionally, along the lines of Sara Teasdale. So, that sounds fun!

What works for one person, isn’t necessarily the way for another person to go. This is what is working for me right now. This is what I know that I need to be doing right now. I’m excited about writing again, about making books, about life. What’s more though, I’m hopeful.

Teri Skultety

12 September, 2016