Holiday Wishes! & I’m Just Wild about Harry!

Yuletide wishes & happy festivities to everyone! I hope your holiday is full of love and joy and peace. Now and always.

I was on Twitter this morning, composing a holiday greeting, and on my feed I saw a sweet tweet from a gentleman in England: Harry Leslie Smith. The tweet read: 

“Happy Christmas to all my friends and followers. Love will triumph even in this darkness, if we show the courage of compassion to our fellow travelers. All the best, Harry.” I went to his home page and learned that Harry is a remarkable man. Nearly 95, he has decided that, “I’m spending the last years of my life touring the refugee hot spots of the world to find a solution to this crisis…” How fantastic is that? Harry’s profile reads: “Survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran Activist for the Welfare State Author of Harry’s Last Stand Love Among the Ruins, 1923 & The Empress of Australia…”

I hope I’m like that if I make it to 95 – but why wait? I think I will take a leaf out of Harry’s book and start…now. All that courage, concern, heart, resilience and joy. It’s admirable stuff. I remember that The New Yorker magazine used to have mini-columns (maybe it still does), that were usually at the end of an article where some space needed to be filled. There was: “Block that Metaphor!” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” Of course they were clever and funny, and I am thinking of Harry, but more in connection to the song,”There’ll Always Be an England,” which I vaguely know. It embodies British pluck and courage even in the midst of the “darkness” to which Harry refers.

So dear friends, have a happy and raise a glass to Harry, to yourselves, your loved ones, and to bravery. 

Cheers!

Clare Irwin

“Go West, Young Man, Go West”

Greeting and Salutations, it’s the Christmas, or holiday, season. Either way you know it the minute you head out on the road, which is traffic jammed and full of people who seem to be in a shopping delirium. After the last impatient person blew their horn at me, I started having unkind thoughts that the herd really needs some thinning.Or, it’s time to move on. Here where I live, which could be any suburb suffering from afflulenza, I find it perplexing that these same horn honkers are usually driving a huge SUV that is almost large enough to require union membership in the Teamsters. The Chevy Suburban, I think it is, reminds me of a hearse. It’s a gloomy and aggressive looking machine. I know, to each his own, but oddly enough I never see more than one person in these vehicles, and often notice that these same people are rabid about separating the plastic from the paper but drive a car that gets 20 feet to a gallon.

I’m digressing. Lately I’ve been spending time with an friend who is working hard at breaking the shackles of suburbia. It’s a fight — more like a prison break than a shedding of mores. I admire him greatly and his journey has been both blessed and arduous. But he’s doing it. Leaving in two months and heading west. Wyoming, to be more precise. I’m a little envious, but at the same time I am grateful that he may be an example that I could follow and speed my own plow to find my “West.” Wyoming is beautiful. I’ve driven cross country twice – something I would strongly recommend – and the summer trip took me to the big country of Wyoming and the Black Hills of the Dakotas — all that purple mountain majesty. But I’m not a winter person, the winters there would kill me. So my west will have to be more southern and warmer. I could do summers up there. I’ve always wanted to see a buffalo wallow. I remember when I was a kid reading a book about a girl growing up in the Dakota territory and she comes upon a buffalo wallow filled with wild violets. It’s a lovely image and it’s on my to-do list.

I’ll get there, it may take me a little longer. Not too long I hope. Living in the hustle and bustle has become too much – I am seeking a quieter more serene daily existence. I have it to a large degree in the way I live my life, for which I am most grateful, but I’m out of sync with everything around me. And that is okay, but it is enervating. When I looked up this old quote, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” credited to Horace Greeley in the 19th Century, it was written in the context of America’s expansion westward. Now in the 21st Century, within the context of my friend’s and my own desires, are we longing to escape all that has been built? Are we looking for a new frontier that eschews “opportunity” in exchange for the freedom to live our lives the way we wish? 

I don’t know. This raises a lot more questions than I intended. Not sure where I’m going with all this. I’ve been thinking about my friend and going through all my post ideas that I keep on the WordPress dashboard – 28 pending at last count! Not to mention the ideas on Post-its on the actual dashboard of my car. My 20 year old marketing adviser/whiz kid tells me I have to write more and often. He is absolutely correct and I know it.

So this is what I have after a Sunday of battling the consumer mania.

Happy Delirium!

Clare Irwin

Live and Let Die

Well, we’ve turned the clocks back, the days are shorter, and I certainly hope that I will be writing more often. I always say that, but as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Speaking of Lennon, I have intended to write a post about Paul McCartney. About a month or so ago I was listening to the radio – as I have mentioned before – I regularly listen to a local high school radio station which is well-produced. That day, I happened upon two students, Riley and Jack, sister and brother respectively, who were relating that they had just seen Paul McCartney in concert.

Their account was exciting, visual and effusive. I was charmed by their enthusiasm and pleasure. I tuned in while they were talking about McCartney’s performance of “Live and Let Die” which, as they noted, was the theme song (and title) of the James Bond movie — from 1973! According to Riley and Jack the “graphics were awesome and so were the pyrotechnics” during the song. They played audio of the crowd going wild. I re-listened to the song and it is great – it’s both sweet and cynical: “When you were young and your heart/Was an open book/You used to say live and let live…But in this ever changin’ world/In which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say live and let die…Good stuff.

The pair remarked about the “awesome vibe” throughout the concert. Then unannounced, Bruce Springsteen came out and he and McCartney did an old Beatles song, “I Saw Her Standing There.” More crowd going wild. McCartney ended the show with the song “Golden Slumbers” from the Abbey Road album – a year before the Beatles broke up.

I enjoyed listening to them and was thrilled and a little envious – it did sound like an amazing experience. As I thought about it during the day, the envy dissipated and I was delighted to think that in that concert hall were Riley and Jack,  maybe 15 years old or so, along with people of every age — up to McCartney’s contemporaries who are in their 70s. How great is that – to be able to pull that thread of energy and magnetism through nearly five decades?

I follow McCartney’s daughter, Stella McCartney, on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time, watching her amazing career as a fashion designer and so much more. She is another woman (see my Tina Fey articles) who I hold in awe. Talented, complete, a spokesperson for many great causes, funny, quirky, cultured – the whole package. Or, the real deal as a friend of mine says. Married with four children, and very much her father’s daughter – and her mother’s daughter too. She often and fondly Tweets about her. Greatness definitely did not skip a generation. Her love for her dad and frequent Tweets about him led me to follow Paul McCartney on Twitter as well.

I am so very glad I caught Riley’s and Jack’s show that day, otherwise, knowing me, I would have missed the whole thing. They reminded me of the continuity of things, the long and winding road (if you will), the endless stream of time and connected-ness – not little isolated parcels as some seem to see it.

Legends – how nice to be a part and a participant in them.

Clare Irwin

P.S. On a lighter note, but in that vein, is also the impossibly enduring staying power of the James Bond franchise.

The Fey Effect

When I wrote the post below, “A Touch of Fey,” last Tuesday I didn’t know that SNL was doing a summer edition of Weekend Update, or that Tina Fey was going to make a surprise stellar appearance eating sheet cake! So this warrants more than a coda, and I see that on Twitter and Facebook her coping advice for weathering the current turmoil is “trending” big time. As media savvy people say, her appearance received a lot of “buzz” and went “viral.” It was courageous, funny, and her trademark razor sharp authentic humor, as always, was in fine form.

When I went to look for the video of her “stress eating” I saw several articles from venerable periodicals like The Washington Post and The Atlantic ruminating of what has been labeled “The Fey Effect.” Apparently this dates back to 2012 (how do I miss these things?). The Atlantic defines it as follows: “Fey’s jokes,…had proven comedy’s power, especially in times of question and perhaps also in times of crisis, to shape people’s sense of the world. The jokes had woven themselves into the workings of American democracy. The researchers called it the Fey Effect.” In other words, she’s funny and people talk about it over the literal and virtual “water cooler.”

I suppose not all of this is news to most, but it was to me, and I felt somewhat pleased with myself that I had my own uninfluenced take on Tina’s power. And, the SNL appearance validated “A Touch of Fey” all the more. Yard sale Barbie….That’s a good one. Jealous? No, not at all – we dearly need to laugh and eat cake.

Clare Irwin

P.S. Relevant to nothing, when Fey was still doing Weekend Update, she made a hilarious (and so true) slightly off color joke about Colin Farrell and his head being in the way. I’ve never been able to watch anything with Farrell in it without thinking of that joke. Took the air right out of him. Look it up! 

A Touch of Fey

Over the past few years I have become intrigued by –okay obsessed, maybe infatuated — with women of accomplishment. Is this a new phase? Girl crushes? Certainly, I have had my fair share of boy/man crushes, so change is good, right? There are a number of women whom I greatly admire, and I think I will start with Tina Fey. Recently I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, and I am re-watching 30 Rock. I loved Kimmy Schmidt and was happy to see that it received five Emmy nominations for this season, and numerous other nominations in past seasons.

Reading Tina Fey’s bio on Wikipedia and other sites is beyond remarkable. Over the past two decades her rise has been amazing, and it seems to gather more and more momentum as the years pass. She has broken some glass ceilings for women in a business that is often less than kind to them, and even at the zenith levels, pays women less. Her CV reads as a list of firsts – notably the first female head writer for SNL at the age of 29. Her helmsmanship of SNL produced wonderful talent and cast, and great characters like Debbie Downer (Rachel Dratch), and Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken in “More Cowbell” – I’ll stop there because there are too many actors and characters to mention.

If that wasn’t enough there’s her movies like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and her book Bossypants…the list seems endless and it is entirely intimidating. Jealous? No, not at all  — what Fey has given us is a tremendous gift. Although, I do find that by comparison (I know! Don’t compare! And to Tina Fey! Am I out of my mind? Certinaly my league!) her ability to do SO much and SO many things is where I have a feeling of utter inadequacy.

How does she do it? If I get three things accomplished in a day that’s a small miracle. Admittedly, I can kill time with the best of them, and I would guess this is not a quality that Tina Fey has, or would condone. I bet she gets more things done in a day – with complete success – than I do….never? I would say that from birth to the age of ten, I made some great strides. You know, going from not being able to sit up or lift my head to walking, talking, going to school, doing sports, and having friends. That was my most meteorite trajectory. Not to say that there haven’t been other good things, but that lightening speed thing; it’s not the same.

What I also admire, and in awe of, is her ability to get super handsome men, and great actors, to act like idiots and look less like matinee idols. Her most recent “volunteer” is Jon Hamm as the sinister and stupid cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (that name!). Of course, there’s her long time colleague Alec Baldwin. Last week while channel surfing, I happened to see Alec Baldwin hosting The Essentials on TCM, and there beside him was Tina Fey as the special guest host. Seriously?

Tina Fey’s output and its quality makes me feel that I need to do some serious reevaluating. And, she has young children and a husband, and probably three scripts in the works, writing another book maybe, writing the next season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and who knows what else – but I bet it will be great, entertaining, and award-winning. The Indefatigable Tina Fey.

Jealous? No, not at all. I hope her house is messy. 

Clare Irwin

Next up…at some point – Stella McCartney

 

 

Take Me to Your Queen

Okay, I have been more than remiss in blogging regularly, and I offer a thousand apologies. What can I say? I feel terrible about it, yet the summer has been exceptionally beautiful and the lure of being outside and doing outdoor activities has trumped being home. I must make the promise to you, my readers, and to myself, to resume my practice of writing at least two or three posts a month. No excuses!

Speaking of excuses, I mention the lovely weather and time of year, but I also blame Netflix. It’s too addictive. Are there 12 Step programs for Netflix obsession? So many choices, so many seasons, so little time! Compounded to the endless streaming of entertainment, I blame my good friend Will who finds lots of great shows and movies and then texts me his list or calls me up. He’s not the only one, but he is my most consistent provider of suggestions.

Yesterday, Will had some new discoveries: Honeymoon, Viral – both movies, and a show called I, Zombie. There were two others, and while we were texting back and forth the messages sort of crisscrossed each other. For some spaced-out reason I couldn’t find I, Zombie and Will was trying to explain where to find it  – via text, with no punctuation, capitalization, etc. – expediency was the higher purpose. I received a text that read, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow and all but add take me to your queen it’s a comedy with an epic ending.” Okay, so I go and look for that title and I find nothing. I picked up the phone and called him to say I couldn’t find Take Me to Your Queen. Will bursts out laughing and says, “I meant take me to your queue!” I don’t know but I thought this was hilarious and we had a good laugh. But, I was also disappointed that there wasn’t such a movie.

Then today while I was doing whatever, I thought, that’s a really good title – a fresh version of the old “Take me to your leader” that aliens would say in 1950s movies about invading hostiles from other planets. I continued to muse over what you could do with that title, what story you could devise. Or maybe, in my completely ignorant view of how Hollywood works, you can go knock on the door of Disney or Universal or Columbia and just pitch the title. That’s it! Then, they give you a credit that lasts in perpetuity, handfuls of money and happy days.

Realistically I can’t imagine it works that way, In any event, I’d settle for a T-shirt with “Take Me to Your Queen” on it.

Happy Trails…or should I say Trials?

Clare Irwin

 

Love Thy Neighbor

I haven’t been writing nearly enough. The last weeks have been busy, more lazy, transitory, and strange. The weather can’t make up its mind. Rain for days, cold, then blasting heat – our bodies are constantly adjusting. For me there are also quite a few milestones between May and July some of which are triste. I’m easily distracted and can’t seem to settle. I had planned to write a post on something else, but that idea requires me to find that higher ground in my interior life which I can’t seem to access just now. I’m getting close.

I was almost there when my neighbor decided to chop down trees and then grind them to pulp for three days straight. I have considered writing about him before. I don’t know the man, but I can sure hear him. In a nutshell – silence is his enemy. A professional maniac is another term, but that might be too harsh.He and his family live on another road, but the far back of his property abuts where I live. Over the years there’s been a lot of yelling – this guy definitely has rage issues. It used to be worse. I remember one warm afternoon where he yelled for four hours straight. Really how is that possible? Well, he managed it. His wife must have locked him out of the house at some point, because he was on his back deck playing to the rafters. A lot of bad words at high volume and there were young children in the house.

Something must have happened…an intervention of either the social worker or law enforcement variety because things appeared to settle down a bit. Then emerged a number of water features and effects on the back lawn – which to this man’s credit is nicely landscaped and tended. Maybe his mandatory anger management course suggested water as a way to calm down. A hammock went up as well. He still goes off but it’s not as protracted. One thing he has not abandoned is his penchant for doing noisy lawn work at times when other people might want a little quiet, say early on a weekend morning. It’s like: I’m here! I’m pissed! And I’m taking you all with me!

I’ve lived in many places that covered the spectrum of country, suburban, city, and from modest to upscale, and either way there’s consistently at least one neighbor who drives everyone crazy. My friends have told me their neighbor stories over the years, some are pretty horrifying. There’s no escaping. Right now as I am writing this it is pouring rain and he’s still out there chain sawing and wood chipping. This guy really commits.

I could go on, but I won’t. Otherwise I would be entering into my neighbor’s territory and he’s proprietary.

Clare Irwin

P.S. I hope you will share your neighbor experiences.

 

Proms and Debs – Or, Who Let the Dog Out?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. The idea for it came in May of last year when high school students were getting ready for prom. Now it’s a year later, yet another prom, and I am watching 13 Reasons Why so I’m fully immersed in teen life. It’s time.

For the girls, the preoccupation with prom preparation is overwhelming. At least three days dedication is required. About a week ago I was talking to a 16 year old I know, and right in the middle of the conversation she just drifted off — into some fugue state. I said to her, “You know, there’s just no competing with prom. There just isn’t.” She wholeheartedly agreed. The getting ready part: eyebrows, hair, eyelashes, manicures, pedicures, dress fittings – it’s like a wedding. For the boys, of course, it’s much simpler; their moms get them a tux and they show up.

I was recounting this to someone at a dinner party who found it rather alien and amusing. He asked me if I went to prom. The school I went to was an all girls “fancy” prep school, so they weren’t called proms, there were balls and whatnot. A few of my classmates did something that, at least for some of them, was of greater import – making one’s debut. I know it sounds perfectly antiquated – though apparently the custom is still observed – but for girls who were going to make a career as socialites, this was the first step. It’s like being prom queen to the nth power.

Recalling this to my dinner partner led to the abandonment of the whole prom/ball chatter to a story of my best friend from that private school. She was the “bad girl”: defiant, disrespectful, a breaker of rules – in other words someone I would hang around with and get into trouble.

One summer she came up to see me at our place in the country, and both bored and unsupervised we started down the trouble road. Our nearest neighbors were this glamorous Magnificent Ambersons kind of family, chic, cold, blond, and talented. They had a German Shepard who had a large dog run on the side of the house. He had the dog run because the year before he had been hit or swiped by a car, and it was too dangerous to leave him out even though it was a quiet country road. My friend, let’s call her Maggie, decided that it was unfair to keep the dog enclosed all day in the hot shadeless run, and we should let him out so he could sit under a tree and have his freedom. I don’t know, but at the time it seemed like a sensible idea. So we let him out, played with him a little, lost interest and went on to other amusements.

Later in the day, my mother came home and picked up the scent that something was up, so she gave us the assignment of cleaning the garage. While we were sweeping the floor, like two little angels (right!), the son of the family who owned the dog came walking down the drive. Maggie whispered to me, “Remember you know nothing!” Now Tristan, yup that was his name, was handsome, confident, he drove a red convertible sports car at high speeds – he seemed ages older though he was probably 19 or 20. And, despite his crown of lovely curly blond hair, he was a bad boy, much worse than we, I am sure. At the same time, he could spot his own kind no problem. He reached the garage took in the whole “innocent” appearance and asked, “Did you girls let Brandy out?” “What? Who’s Brandy? Oh, you mean the dog, no we’ve been here all day…..” Complete stonewall. He didn’t believe us at all, but he had no proof, so what could he do? He chided us with the reminder that Brandy could have been hurt and went on his way.

Not much of a story, I know. However, the interesting coda is what happened to my friend. She was expelled from school under cloudy circumstances, and was sent to yet another toney boarding school. We lost touch, but some years later I ran into another classmate who asked me if I had heard about Maggie. No, what about Maggie? Well, Maggie must have changed course at boarding school, from excelling in juvenile delinquency to making the complete turn around and becoming not only a debutante, but the toast of the social season, and ensuring her family’s position, for another generation, in the exclusive Social Register. Hmmm…

Sounds like a lot of pressure. A prom in a high school gym seems simpler and more fun. At least there’s room for fashion violations, smeared mascara and goofy T-shirts under tuxedo jackets. And, let’s face it, the only thing that hasn’t changed and runs right across the board from overdone to casual: there’s always crying in the girl’s bathroom.

Have a great prom!

Clare Irwin

The House on the Hill

Last week I was getting books together for a friend who is ailing. I was in my office going through the bookcases, looking for things that might tempt her. Of course, I was distracted and started looking through the books; I found an old newspaper clipping of a book review, a five dollar bill, a note in someone’s hand I didn’t recognize, a bookmark from the Getty Museum – it’s curious what we leave behind. I came upon a copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and I stopped to thumb through it. I haven’t read it in ages, saw the movie (and the BBC miniseries) long ago, but I was struck by the first lines, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It goes on to describe the narrator’s – the second Mrs. de Winter’s – dream of returning to her former home – a great house on the Cornish coast.

The dream sequence continues for several pages and I was riveted. It’s so well written and haunting and moody, but there was something more. I realized that I too have had a similar dream – of my old home where I grew up with my family. I would have the dream often, for years. As in Rebecca, I am on foot and it is twilight or dusk and the drive winds and winds until our home comes into view. In my dream sometimes the house is a combination of my family’s old home and my great grandmother’s wonderful stone house. Sometimes, I can walk in and pass through the rooms, other times all I can do is look through the windows. I am so thrilled to see it again, to recognize familiar things. Like the narrator, “I stood, my heart thumping in my breast, the strange prick of tears behind my eyes.” When I awaken, or the dream ends, I have an achy feeling in my heart, both elated and crestfallen.

I never mentioned the dream to anyone even though it occurred frequently. That is, until I was deeply involved in a romance of my own. I must have had the dream and it was weighing on me. The man, who was older than I and fairly intuitive about women, saw my distraction and prompted me to tell him. So I did. He listened carefully and intently. When I was done, he said, “You want to go back to the house on the hill.” He was right. The house, both of them in fact, were gone, yet the desire to return to the house on the hill remained. I do believe he understood, even though we were at that moment on another continent in another hemisphere, but I knew vaguely that there was a house on the hill for him as well. Entirely different, and not a house per se, but  a place and time no less powerful. If I had continued with this man I would have been a second Mrs. de Winter of a sort, and was keenly aware of living up to a memory of another woman who had died. The dream, the memory of my romance, the novel, images of my home and my great-grandmother’s were all shuffling through my mind. Then, I remembered that I had gone to a lecture at Princeton on The Odyssey and the speaker discussed the idea of the eternal returning – not just of Odysseus but of all life travelers. The need, the yearning, to come home. An ancient theme no doubt, it’s in Genesis as well, I think.

As I write this, I think of all us through those years: playing, running, throwing our bikes in the grass, catching fireflies — and the day ending as the lights would come on in the house. I can see my father in his study reading, my mother talking to one of our dogs or the cat while she readied dinner, one of my sisters at the piano, a thriving hive of activity and halcyon memory. Like Manderley ours is no longer, our Manderley is no more. Even so, as the narrator in Rebecca writes, “Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.”

Clare Irwin

Stream of Consciousness Sunday

I haven’t posted anything new for over two weeks, and my only excuse is that I was sucked into the vortex of Twitter and Pinterest. Just got back, barely. Twitter and Pinterest are fun and intriguing, but suddenly I realize that I’m late for…everything. On Twitter, there’s a lot coming at the viewer – it’s about speed, I think. I do like the exercise of keeping it brief, but with an endless supply of new tweets and “news” items, my mind is jumping around from saving the oceans, to what British Vogue is recommending for an in-between weather coat, to Shakespeare Sunday, or whatever international day we are celebrating.

As I was driving on my appointed rounds today I was trying to compose a new blog post in my head. I then realized I had Twitter-itis – the inflammation of random thoughts bouncing around the various lobes of my brain. So I guess since that’s the best I could do, here is how it went:

I decided to listen to disco music, which I am not even sure I like, but the weather has been so gloomy and stormy I felt like I needed a dose of verve. Donna Summer was playing which reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live sketch about a fast food restaurant in the South where the employees are telling customers to “Simma down now!” (Cheri Oteri and Tobey Maguire were in it). That brought me to Pulp Fiction, which I have mentioned in a previous post, and the line Uma Thurman delivers when Vincent Vega comes to pick her up for their “date.” She’s directing him to the bar or the music and she says, “Warm. Warmer. — Disco.” I like that. Next, I thought of my friend’s son, James, (I have written about him in an earlier post), who despite his mother’s ironclad parental restrictions on cable, internet, TV, and movies, unearthed a website where he can watch all the things he shouldn’t. James has discovered Quentin Tarantino and especially likes Pulp Fiction. Thinking about James made me realize how much he’s changed since last summer, as boys his age are wont to do — he’s still funny and precocious. Now, he is also courtly and charming with the ladies, offering to carry my shopping bags and that sort of thing. James is more engaging in all sorts of inappropriate conversations which is a guilty pleasure we share. He’s retired the Pink Floyd T-shirt for the usual prep school gear that those of us who went to prep school give ourselves over to for a time. Soon he’ll be off to college, which then makes me think of the last two weeks and how I would like to get through a day without someone in my orbit crying. So, after the drama of the day, I do unplug, but come morning I am back on Twitter and Pinterest. Next is learning Facebook — so send out the search party.   

Facebook-plasia anyone?

Clare Irwin

P.S. The Pulp Fiction post “Son of a Preacher Man” can be found in Archives July 2016, and James’s post “Straight to the Heart of Fun” Archives August 2016.