Archives

Gratitude: 11 of the many things I loved in Paris

I have painstakingly learned to count my blessings every day, a practice not particularly natural for an old cynic like me, but actually helpful in maintaining spiritual and emotional peace and calm.   I suggest readers out there make this a practice too.   I’m spilling over with gratitude right now, after my recent quickie trip to Paris with my husband, who had to travel there to make a speech. Here are a few of the many things I loved and felt grateful for in Paris:

1. Paris.

2. Everyone speaks French (and English).

3. The bridges over the Seine, which connect the Left and Right Banks, especially the glorious Pont Alexandre III, with its Art Noveau lamps and its golden winged horses, cherubs and nymphs, and the Pont Solferino, where lovers place locks on the sides of the bridge and throw the keys into the Seine to symbolize their undying love!  Where else but in Paris?

4. Reading “The Paris Wife” in Paris.  Now I’ll have to read lots more Hemingway.

5. Having dinner with my husband’s French publisher, Dominique Gilbert, a lovely and kind woman (and of course brilliant for publishing him), her husband, and another couple, friends of theirs, at La Fontaine de Mars.  This is the restaurant where President Obama ate with Michele and maybe snubbed Sarkozy????  Basque food.  I’m glad I tried Cassoulet.  It was very authentic, but might have been a little TOO authentic for me. (We’re talking beans, duck, and sausage.)

6.  Receiving an email while there from a theater workshop back here granting me an interview.  I’m hoping they’ll help me stage my play-in-progress, “Survival Instructions,” a kind of one woman autobiographical thing, with supporting players, based on my memoir. Do I have the acting chops to be the “one woman?”  We’ll see. The last time I was on stage was 30 years ago, when I played “Inez,” one of three characters looking for a way out of hell in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.”  Also grateful for the other email I received, also while in Paris, that I now have an agent for that very memoir.  On the creative front, things are definitely moving along nicely.

7.  Watching my husband speak about his subject, entrepreneurship and customer development (His book is called, The Start Up Owners Manual.  Here’s the link to the book on Amazon.) Bob was a hit, even if most of his jokes were lost on the French audience.  I got the jokes however. (I’ve been getting them for 35 years.)

8. An authentic home-cooked meal in Versailles (the town, not the palace) at the home of the parents of our friend, Gregoire.  Gregoire’s mom must have been cooking for days, and she served each of many courses with great ritual and love. Also loved talking politics with the group.  Surprised to find a Frenchman advocating for a kind of United States of Europe.

8. The Rodin Museum, where you can walk right up to some of the most famous statues in the world.  Standing in front of Rodin’s white marble masterpiece, “The Kiss,” I found myself weeping.  Only one other artist ever did that to me before.  Jackson Pollack.

9.  The artist Muriel Stalaven, whose work we saw in a street exhibition, also brought me to tears.  (Wow. Two in one trip.) Here’s a link to her site, which includes a video that shows how she creates her figure drawings in ink in seconds.  I’m not exactly sure why I was so moved by her work.  Its simplicity, maybe.

11.  The Church of St. Surplice.  I love the churches of Europe, but I am always struck by how strange and ironic it is that the Catholic Church, the hierarchical and dogmatic church that erected such edifices (not to mention that often appears to be morally bankrupt, as in, say, the Inquisition, and the harboring of pedophile priests), could have developed out of the simple message of Jesus, who, it seems to me, preached only non-heirarchical kindness, inclusion, and love.

How to calm and become clear

Take a look at this.  It appears to be a photograph taken by a photographer  standing (or maybe kneeling) inside that house looking through the windows at the sky and ocean at a particular moment in time. But since it’s actually a photograph of a painting created by an artist who was presumably (although not necessarily) standing inside that house at a different moment or moments, within this picture both the consciousness of the photographer and the artist and each of their perspectives and moments are present at once.

I love this photo because it helps me remember to maintain perspective.   Sometimes I forget this and become caught up in my own nonsense.  I suspect you do too.  The photograph of the painting reminds me that suffering binds us up in our own egos, as mine did spectacularly when I was so bereaved over the loss of my son, even now occasionally when I get depressed, mostly over egocentric things like ambition, failure, success, etc.  The painting reminds me that even though each of us lives inside our little lives, bound by our egos and our particular place and time, we are all are a part of the sand of a vast universe of which we are absolutely integral and which is also utterly indifferent to us.  How do I know this?  I’m not a religious person, and in fact I loath so much of religion, feel it’s responsible for much of the trauma that occurs on our planet, and recoil in horror when governments allow or promote faith over science.  (I always wonder why would God give humans these big brains with which we could eventually discover, measure, and categorize the universe in scientific ways, and then want us to ignore or discount all we’ve learned in favor of what humans believed by “faith” before there was science. Makes no sense to me.)

And yet, I have actually had several transcendent moments in my life.  One occurred when I was writing.  I was sitting at my desk working on my third novel, the one that means so much to me, because I believe that writing it, the process of writing it, saved my life after losing my son, yanked me from the prison of my own suffering ego.  I was struggling mightily with plot and character, and with the idea that I could never write a novel about a woman recovering from grief over the loss of her son since a woman who loses a child never “recovers.”

Suddenly I felt as if time had slowed to a virtual crawl, almost stopped. I could hear the ticking of the clock, and see every corner of my office and item on my desk, and then all at once  I felt as if I had separated from my body, moved beyond my office and my desk, and yet I was simultaneously sitting there, inside my body and my own consciousness, listening to my clock ticking, and also looking at myself from outside my body, from someplace else and everyplace else, and from both inside and outside every other consciousness in the universe that has existed or will exist. A feeling of complete calm and knowing came upon me. It was as if I had transcended the boundary of my own ego and achieved God consciousness.  Some might say I was having a breakdown.  Maybe I was.

Yet that was the moment when the whole plot of my novel emerged.  I had been suffering with grief for years, then suffering to write a novel about that grief for many years after that.  The “ghost” of the novel, who is kind of a personification of the psychological process of grief, came to me in that moment of transcendence.  The ghost (or demon, really) would pose all the ego-laden questions to the horribly suffering mother that any bereaved mother asks herself, all the questions I had been asking myself for years, the where did I go wrong, what did I do to deserve this, am I going crazy, questions. He would engage her in a kind of review of her life, mock her place in the world, her right to be here, her sanity; he would mock all, just as I had been doing in missing my boy, wondering whose fault it was, and hating myself and everyone else, and the universe that would do such a thing to me, in fact.  All grief, all suffering, all of it, is bound up in “I” –the ego.  But from that moment on…well, it was as if I was channeling the ghost and his dialogue.  It was as if both he and his dialogue had already existed somewhere in the universe, along with everything else that exists, will exist, or has ever existed. It was as if my transcendent moment–and it was only a moment–had allowed me somehow to gain access to him, and this access took me relatively swiftly to the completion of the book. Which vastly decreased my suffering.

When we detach from our suffering egos, we become calm and the path and the way becomes clear.

Birds on the Wires (vs. Mutant Parakeets)

I’m posting the video below just because it’s lovely.  And because it reminds me to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature, even in the pack of mutant parakeets that are always screeching outside my house.  How did the mutants get there, you ask?  Well, apparently a truck transporting parakeets crashed on the highway and the birds escaped. They somehow found their way to the huge lights of the ball fields near our house. There in those lights they built their nests; warmed themselves through many a harsh, cold winter; and grew stronger, heartier, and greener with each passing year.  Twenty years later, the birds have not only been fruitful and multiplied; they’ve mutated into a brand new species: PARAKEETUS GIGANTUS.  About a year ago, the birds’ nests having become condominium complexes necessitating ballplayers and spectators to duck and cover from incoming PARAKEETUS GIGANTUS POOP, the City, in its infinite wisdom, decided that species PARAKEETUS GIGANTUS was no longer welcome on public property and destroyed said nests.  At the same time, a bird loving neighbor decided to hang multiple bird feeders on her property, and word quickly spread among PARAKEETUS GIGANTUS: “HEY! THERE’S REALLY GOOD GRUB OVER AT THE JONES!”  Well, guess what?  Hundreds of the mutant green suckers are now living at the Dorf’s house–multiplying in Dorf trees, pooping on Dorf cars, and squawking in Dorf ears.

But I do love nature.   Enjoy!

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=6428069&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=ffffff&fullscreen=1

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Michael Jackson: Is Dr. Murray the only one responsible?

I was listening to a local radio station’s musical tribute to Michael Jackson this morning, grooving to the beat of the wonderful music of this incredibly talented man, songs that are so much a part of the culture, classics like Beat It, and Thriller, and Billie Jean, and I’ll Be There, and it occurred to me that the doctor who is apparently going to be charged with administering a lethal dose of what Jackson apparently called his “milk,” is not the only one who should be faulted or even perhaps charged in this case.  This is so typical of what we do in this culture, focus on one convenient scapegoat to the exclusion of all others who should bear equal or even greater responsibility.  What about the plastic surgeons who agreed to operate over and over on a man with a terrible dysmorphic disorder — to the point where his nose was falling off? What about the social workers and other authorities who allowed an obviously mentally ill man to be the primary caretaker for three young children, without even so much as an investigation?   This last doctor, Dr. Murray, was only the latest in a long line of professionals who at the very least didn’t live up to their very clear professional obligations in connection with Jackson. Social workers, psychologists, and physicians are among those who MUST adhere to professional ethics, and be forced to do so by their own ethics boards. Why does celebrity and money seem to top all?

McCain/Palin Bizzaro World: What universe/film/book/television show have we entered?

Readers, I’m quite a busy girl these days, so I haven’t had as much time to offer my Bruised Muse musings as regularly as I had been doing.  Today I’m going to cheat a little, and offer a reader’s comment in this space, with only the following as a brief introduction.  People everywhere keep trying to come up with analogies from books and film and television to describe McCain/Palin world. 

I personally feel either I’ve entered “1984,” complete with double think and double speak, or perhaps as if I’m stuck in the room with crazy General Jack Ripper from “Dr. Strangelove” perseverating on those crazy Rooskies and our precious bodily fluids.   Matt Damon feels as if Sarah Palin potentially being President is like a bad Disney movie. On the Huffington Post, Jake Tapper of ABC News compared the whole McCain/Palin campaign to a Saturday Night Live routine.  Gail Collins wonders who the candidate of the week is, and compares whoever he is to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.  Bruised Muse Reader Michael wrote this:

Watching and listening to McCain/Palin reminds me of an old storyline I read as a kid in the Superman comics, of all things. Every once in a while, Superman would go to a planet called Htrae (earth backwards)where all actions and words were opposite of those on earth. Their version of Superman looked more like Frankenstein. What we considered good, they considered bad, and so forth. This planet was called, appropriately, Bizzaro World.

In order to keep a steady, sanity check in the midst of the constant stream of McCain/Palin lies and obvious disingenuousness, combined with the fact that certain people are actually swallowing this garbage, I can only chalk this up to the fact that Bizzaro World exists on our planet and in our country.

Dr. Strangelove.  1984.  Bad Disney Movie. Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Saturday Night Live Skit. Superman Comics Bizzaro World.  Readers, let’s come up with some more bizzaro world analogies.  It won’t change anything, but it’ll make us feel better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tribute to Jerry Wexler

At the risk of seeming to pander to my friends who say they can’t take the whole “grief thing” of my blog (which by the way is only 34.682 % grief), I’d like to pay tribute this Monday morning to legendary record producer Jerry Wexler. This is NOT a grief post, even though death is involved, since Wexler died on Friday at the age on 91 in Florida. The thing is, I keep hearing his music being played in tribute on the radio, and let’s face it, the man essentially INVENTED “rhythm and blues” as well as “blue-eyed soul” and produced some of the greatest music EVER, including: The Drifters, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, Sonny and Cher, Dusty Springfield, Led Zepplin, Dr. John, Willie Nelson, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan , Carlos Santana, and Etta James.

Oh, how we grooved back in high school to the rhythm and blues, songs the likes of which have never been heard again, such incredible songs as “Respect”, “In the Midnight Hour”, “Mustang Sally”, “Chain of Fools”, “Dock of the Bay”, and so many more? It makes me swoon with memory just thinking about it. How do you ever forget stacking the records on the turntable, blasting the music and dancing until you danced yourself into exhaustion? How do you ever forget the soulful, imagination-stirring magic of “When a Man Loves A Woman?” How do you forget hanging out in cars with the radio turned up, listening to “I Say a Little Prayer” or “Respect?” Or going down the shore to Atlantic City long before gambling came in, when the landscape was graced by wicker pushcarts on the Boardwalk, and great hotels like the Ambassador and the Ritz rose behind you as you watched the sun rise and listened on the radio to none other than the Drifters singing, “Under the Boardwalk, we’ll be falling in love”?  And fell in love. Ooooohhhh. So great.

Thank you Jerry Wexler. I’m glad your Mama couldn’t corral her wayward son.

Book Recommendations: Psychological Thriller/Dramas

A reader from Texas writes:

Dear Fran,

Thanks for writing three unforgettable books. I hope you will keep on writing. And now I would like to have your suggestions for other books in the same category as yours.

Well. Hmmmm. I thank you for joining the small but select contingent of people on the planet who have read the complete works of Fran Dorf, to date. I’m adding “to date” since you hope that I will keep on writing. Another fiction? I’m not sure. I’ve been working on a memoir and essays (one of which I’m going to present at an academic conference in October), and of course I have my blog. The blog is fun, and I’ve had quite a few visitors, more than I expected, to be honest, but it certainly hasn’t taken the world by storm. I heartily thank everyone who’s come to visit, and hope you will come back and recommend it to your friends.

I started three or four novels after Saving Elijah, and even finished one, but it didn’t sell to a publisher and the others just didn’t pan out. The business has changed so much. And maybe I have too, after the experience of losing my son and then writing and publishing Saving Elijah. In any case, there just doesn’t seem to be much room for writers who used to be called “the midlist,” that is, those who sell modestly but are given the chance to keep publishing, even if they don’t achieve bestseller status. The whole business– publishers, editors, big store retail–is geared toward bestsellers. Whereas publishers used to understand that a writer grows with each effort and nurtured you along, nowadays it’s all about the bottom line, and if you don’t hit it out of the park right away, you are going to have a tough slog. The publishing world is full of people like me who’ve published three novels and now can’t seem to find a place. And it doesn’t seem to have all that much to do with reviews, as my books were very well reviewed. The truth is, Saving Elijah may well be my last fiction. My longtime editor writes constantly to encourage me to do what I do and write fiction again. She’s very persuasive and persistent, so you never know.

But other writers have produced and will continue to produce wonderful novels and somehow these get published, and so now on to the recommendations. I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of recommending books that would be in the same “category” as mine, as I don’t think my books fit neatly into a category, particularly Saving Elijah, which is part family drama, part ghost story and part thriller. Oh, perhaps they’re all broadly in the psychological suspense category, but I think all good books are psychological, and all good books are also suspenseful. With psychological and suspense as the two criteria, anything might fit, from Toni Morrison to James Patterson. I won’t be recommending James Patterson (He hardly needs me; he has millions of fans), and the truth is I only rarely read the classic psychological thrillers any more, and so I admit this is an eclectic mix indeed, but nevertheless I offer some of my favorites. This is completely subjective of course, but to a greater or lesser degree all of these books have literary merit, authentic human drama, some degree of psychological sophistication, plots with compelling narrative drive in which plot is no more or less important than the characterizations, and characters with interesting and believable interior lives whose actions are convincing. All have a protagonist who is, either from inside demons or outside forces, in some degree of psychological danger. Some may be obscure, but all are in my opinion worth it. So aside from my own three books which I list first in a shameless act of self-promotion (hey, every other writer self-promotes, I figure it’s about time I did it too), here are my recommendations in no particular order:

A Reasonable Madness by Fran Dorf. Entertainment Weekly called it “satisfying” and United Press International called it a “wonderfully believable psychological thriller.”

Flight by Fran Dorf. A Booklist starred review said, “Fran Dorf pilots this ambitious book with infallible accuracy…an emotional landscape, two decades of decaying counterculture, artfully distilled and disassembled. Ethan skit is the quintessance of the ex-con loner.” Pub Weekly called it “riviting, tantalizing, shocking.”

Saving Elijah by Fran Dorf. Part ghost story, part family drama, part thriller, Saving Elijah is my baby, my “testament to maternal grief,” as the reviewer at Amazon.com called it.  The Wall Street Journal called it “ambitious, imaginative, and beautifully done.”  See more reviews above and on the novels page. I especially recommend the book to the bereaved, because for all its supernatural trappings and its wise-talking, spectral literary devise the book is more than anything an extended metaphor for the psychological process of grief.

Affinity by Sarah Waters: This period novel takes place in the nineteenth century, and is one of the best ghost stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I also loved Fingersmith, by the same author, another period piece.

Asylum by Patrick McGrath: This writer, who apparently grew up as the son of an Asylum superintendent, writes hypnotically and knowingly about mental illness, obsession, and betrayal. Don’t pay any attention to the mediocre film of Asylum with Natasha Richardson; this is the real thing. An unforgettable narrator. Brilliant, deeply psychological, riveting. I also loved McGrath’s Tales of Manhattan Then and Now: a collection of three extraordinary novellas.

Privileged Conversation by Evan Hunter: This is an oldie but a goodie. It’s Ed McBain writing as Evan Hunter. Sexy and psychologically sound. About a middle aged psychologist who becomes involved with and obsessed by a beautiful young dancer. As the story progresses, the man gradually begins to see this troubled young girl as person rather than object, which implicates him as exploiter rather than lover. A fascinating book.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This is a broadly plotted, ornately written book by a Spaniard about a young man obsessed with a book called “The Shadow of the Wind” and its mysterious author. Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax’s novels, and the search for the book takes Daniel on a journey that is full of thrilling twists and turns. Gothic. Scary, erotic, touching and tragic.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell: A haunting and absorbing novel about a young woman who receives a phonecall about her great aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, who is being released from Cauldstone Hospital-where she has been locked away for more than sixty one years. Beautifully written, told by a terribly believable if naive narrator, a pleasure, with an end that will shock and surprise you, until you realize how perfectly right it is.

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due: This one is less believable than the others, of course, since it concerns the “immortals” who live forever, but it’s still thrilling and psychologically sound and keeps you going.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield A psychological thriller about the lives we invent for ourselves.

Dr. Neruda’s Cure for Evil by Rafael Yglesias. This a a large, long book, but well worth the read for the psychologically sophisticated reader, especially those interested in psychoanalysis. Pub Weekly calls it an “ambitious therapeutic morality tale that explores the banality of evil.” This one can’t really be classified; it’s a psychological thriller, a morality tale, a drama, an expose, and a novel of ideas all rolled into one.

More later. Gotta go now.