Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is the fictional account of the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, written by Therese Anne Fowler.  The book is written from Zelda Fitzgerald’s point of view, as if she wrote the story herself.  While reading Z, you can easily forget that you’re reading a work of fiction, historical fiction albeit, and that you’ve instead fallen down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world, and stumbled upon a long-lost, unpublished, autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald.  And falling down the rabbit hole would not be suggesting that you’ve strayed too far from the beaten path of this novel.

In fact, Therese Anne Fowler uses a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as an epigraph to one of the sections of Z.  From Montgomery, Alabama, to New York, and then on to Paris, Zelda Fitzgerald, formerly Zelda Sayre, must have at times felt like she was Alice.  She was 17 years old when she met an aspiring writer named F. Scott Fitzgerald.  F. Scott Fitzgerald was stationed at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery during WWI.  When the war ended and the two of them decided to marry in 1920, Zelda found herself in a strange world.  It was a strange world, afar off from the Southern societal norms she had been acquainted with her whole life, as the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court Justice.

Z turned out to be a real page turner, spurred on by the details of Zelda’s transformation from a debutante to artist.  It is clear that in her lifetime, she was unable to shake off the misnomer of simply being an artist’s wife.  Before she met F. Scott Fitzgerald, she was studying ballet.  Zelda went on to pursue dance into her marriage, and was invited to join the San Carlo Ballet Company in Naples as a “premier dancer and soloist.”  Before she met F. Scott Fitzgerald, she wrote letters and kept a diary.  Zelda would go on to write articles and stories that were published in magazines, as well as her novel Save Me the Waltz.  She also became a painter.  But time and time again, Zelda’s efforts to be respected as an artist in her own right are thwarted.  When she declines the San Carlo Ballet Company’s invitation, it is because her husband objects, and she doesn’t want to risk separating from him and her daughter.  When she submits stories for approval, they are published under her husband’s name.  When her novel is published, it is done so sparingly.

Fowler gives a voice to Zelda’s frustration in letters she has Zelda pen to friends and family members alike.  They are wrenching accounts of the disappointment she experiences as an artist, struggling against the tide of what the establishment expects of a 20th century woman.  Women are expected to be housewives and mothers.  A woman’s duty is to her husband.  If a husband dedicates his life to his career and provides an ideal life for his wife, then the wife’s appreciation is to be shown through her unwavering support for his endeavors.  No respectable wife would rival her husband’s pursuits, or aspire to be equally accomplished.

Zelda’s consternation ultimately results in a mental breakdown.  In the novel, Zelda describes a hallucination she has while sitting in a movie theater with friends. She sees a giant octopus appear.  She dives onto the floor just in time to escape the octopus’ tentacles.  Zelda is diagnosed with schizophrenia (it is now generally accepted that she was bipolar) and is committed.  Zelda’s physical exhaustion from ballet training is partly to blame.  The doctor attributes her mental instability chiefly to her obsession with wanting to be an artist.  It is interesting to note that the doctor’s main focus in Zelda’s rehabilitation is to remind her of her duties as a housewife.  In fact, her rehabilitation is called “re-education.”  She cannot be permitted to rejoin her husband and daughter until she has been “re-educated” about what is expected from a wife.  Only then, once she has recommitted herself to being a good housewife, can she be free of the evil that exists in becoming distracted by her frivolous attempts to become an artist.

As if the distortions of faulty mental health diagnoses weren’t enough, Zelda also wrestles with other incongruent realities in Z.  When she first arrives in New York to marry Scott, she’s overwhelmed by the cosmopolitan environment of the wonderland in which she’s just landed.  As newlyweds, the Fitzgeralds visit a bar in Lower Manhattan, and Zelda gets her first taste of the night life.  In this bar, she hears a strange type of music she’s never heard before.  It’s called Jazz.  It’s not the kind of “upbeat tunes of the Follies and Scandals” that “made people want to tap their feet…”  Instead this type of music being sung on stage by an African-American singer “…made people want to drape themselves over one another as they sat, and smoked, and sipped from short glasses that in many cases were filled with what looked like green liquid.”  Race mixing and green liquid?  How much more Alice in Wonderland can you get?

A more glorious wonderland awaited Zelda in Paris where she and Scott join the circle of now legendary artists like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter and Ezra Pound.  At a Cole Porter party, Zelda meets Ada “Bricktop” Smith.  Smith tells Zelda to “let it loose, girl!” when she does the Black Bottom dance at the party.  Seeing Zelda in those cabarets, with the booze flowing and doing the Black Bottom, through the eyes of anyone in her native Montgomery, must have been akin to the parents of children who’d grown up with Hannah Montana, watching Miley Cyrus twerking at the MTV Video Music Awards.  Whether it was rebelling against society or her parents, Zelda’s adventures also lead her to being exposed to feminism.  She learns of a “…kind of feminism that was developing women’s natural tendencies to exist in groups with other women and children, rather than in traditional marriages.”

Essentially, Z is a love story.  It’s a love story about artists.  In chapter 2 when Zelda asks her sister Tootsie about love, she asks “Is it like Shakespeare?”  “You know, is it all heaving bosoms and fluttering hearts and mistaken identities and madness?”  Tootsie answers “Yes, it is exactly like that.  Gird yourself, little sister.”  Zelda’s Aunt Julia, the African-American nurse who tended to her needs as a child also tries to prepare her for the unknown that awaited her.  Aunt Julia tells her of the mystical African river that is full of demons.  Those demons whisper in your ear.  “They love you, they say.  You should give yourself to them, stay with them, become one of them, they say.  ‘Isn’t it good here?’ they say.  ‘No pain, no trouble.’  But also no light and no love and no joy and no ground.”

The tragedy of Z is heart breaking.  The narrative is entertaining.  The stories of expatriation, Saturday nights at Gertrude Stein’s, Right and Left Bank cafes and cabarets are irresistible to any art lover.  Whether or not Zelda Fitzgerald’s art will ever be wholly considered in a light separate from F. Scott Fitzgerald is unknown.  Perhaps it doesn’t need to be.  After all, in the novel, Scott tells Zelda that when it came to his success as a writer, he had done it all for her.  Perhaps she, too, had done it all for him.

© 2014

Advertisements

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else

Plutocrats Collage

Chrystia Freeland’s book titled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else is a perfect primer for anyone who is interested in learning about how today’s billionaires have put themselves in the positions of influencing financial and government systems.  The book begins with a crash course on how the Industrial Revolution produced an economic windfall for Western civilization and contributed to the incessant gap of wealth inequality that persists to this day.  Freeland also chronicles the emergence of the robber barons, the Long Depression which began in 1873, and how the poverty of those who lost out when the machines replaced their usefulness became a commonplace occurrence to label as “survival of the fittest.”

Plutocrats also makes mention of the wave of populism which has materialized in an attempt to check government spending and Wall Street corruption.  The Tea Party and the Occupy movement chiefly are cited as direct examples of this.  As the cries about the 99% and 1% rang out from protests across the country, the bigger issue, according to Freeland, was the battle between those in the top 10% to distance themselves from each other.  As Freeland explains, “The social gap isn’t just between the rich and the poor; it is between the super-rich and the merely wealthy (who may not feel quite so wealthy when they compare themselves with their super-successful peers).”

How did this happen?  Essentially, it happened the way it did when the Industrial Revolution started.  Only this time, it’s the Technology Revolution, coupled with the rise of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) markets that are experiencing their own Industrial Revolution and Technology Revolution at the same time.  All this amounts to business being done on a global level, American CEO’s just as likely to have been born out of the United States as within, American corporations shipping operations and jobs to other countries where the costs are lower, and the presence of a new global middle class with the money to buy American products (thus creating less pressure for American companies to operate domestically).  In short, the American middle class is being hallowed out to make room for a new global middle class.

This of course is encouraging news if you are one of the hundreds of million Chinese citizens who reportedly have been lifted out of poverty because of these two gilded ages occurring within the U.S. and China.  However, this news is less than encouraging if you live in Detroit, Michigan.

The personal stories of Tech entrepreneurs written about in Plutocrats help to give the reader an inside look at what it takes to compete in today’s global market and the socializing that underpins the world of the super-rich.  How they got the money, how they keep the money, what they do with the money and with whom they associate with are all of the fascinating questions answered in Freeland’s book.  The one unanswered question left up to all of us to resolve, is whether or not we can find a way to balance the capitalist dreams we all have to strike it rich with the reality of our deteriorating city skylines now drab with dire poverty.

© 2013

The Time Keeper

Father Time, cryogenic freezing, teenage hormones, and the Tower of Babel are all combined in Mitch Albom’s latest book The Time Keeper; a novel richly diverse as the aforementioned themes.  Timeless tales of romantic love which stretch from antiquity to modernity carry the bulk of the content, as the interpersonal relationships of three characters are developed.

When Dor creates the first instrument for measuring time, he unknowingly sets the scene for the eventual downfall of mankind.  He is punished by God and imprisoned in a cave to listen to the pleas of all the people of the world for thousands of years whose cries of desperation revolve around their having too little or too much time.  Soon he will encounter two such people, and will be charged with the task of aiding them in their struggle to manage the hours, minutes, and seconds leading up to the greatest challenge in their lives.

The worst thing I could do in this article is spoil the ending by giving away too many details.  The suspense of the story alone is worth the read.  So there will be no spoiler alert in the last couple of paragraphs that you read here.  Yet I can’t help but congratulate Mitch Albom for the way he highlights how social media continues to play such an integral role in how people communicate with each other every day.  Through tweets, Facebook posts and text messages, the meaning of our speech is either lost or found through the few keystrokes we use to speak with.  Often times the tone of what we want to say is incommunicable once the characters are visible on the screen of our intended reader.  So how do we bridge the gap?  I think we are all working on that solution as 21st century inhabitants.

And there is also the ugly side of social media:  bullying, iDisorder, identity theft and etcetera.  Perhaps that is why I am so fascinated with the blogosphere; a space where no limit is placed on the number of characters I am allowed to type or read in my quest to find understanding from shared experience.  Although blogs can be used to hurt, they also can be used to help in fighting against the dark-side of the digital universe.

The Time Keeper will remind you of how precious every second of your life is, how important those people you love are, and how consequential what you say and do will always be.  Those ideals we expect from a novel about the ramifications of the invention of time.  The surprise in the novel will come in between the pages where what’s expected meets what’s familiar, as you identify with each character in ways that you either did not suspect or refused to acknowledge.  And undoubtedly you will walk away from the book asking yourself the question: how am I using my time?

© 2012

Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers

Ray Negron’s Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers, arrives just in time for Major League Baseball’s post season.  A former batboy who now serves as a community advisor for the New York Yankees, Negron narrates the story of how an unlikely set of circumstances led to his initial unfavorable meeting of George Steinbrenner (Owner of the New York Yankees) and his efforts to ingratiate himself with the Boss.  How these two individuals are able to forge a life-long lasting friendship is miraculous in and of itself, considering one was a multimillionaire businessman, and the other a teenager growing up on the hard streets of Brooklyn enduring poverty and crime.  Yet the miracles written about in this book are in no short supply after Negron’s first chapter.

Soon the reader finds themself on board of Negron’s journey of self discovery.  Along the way we experience the ups and downs of an aspiring baseball player as the author shares his experience of trying to break into the big leagues.  We also tune into the plight of so many youths in our society who were born, like Negron, into adverse situations involving abuse, neglect, single parent homes and communities where alcohol and drug addiction are rampant, as he likewise shares experiences from his own childhood.  We see how he is able to find common ground with the Yankee players we have come to recognize as legends of the game, based on troubled beginnings in life and opportunities to make a difference in their neighborhoods.

As a Yankee fan who admittedly only became loyal to the Bronx Bombers when my childhood heroes Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden joined them (up until then I was a Mets fan), I was fascinated by the stories written in this book about all the great Yankee legends that have worn the pinstripes over the years.  These were stories about Yankee greats like Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Catfish Hunter, Elston Howard, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and others.  Some of these players I had heard of and some I had not heard of before I read this book.  And, of course, there were great stories to read about of more familiar names to me like Reggie Jackson, Joe Girardi, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and more.

If you’re a baseball fan, you will enjoy this book.  If you’re a Yankee fan, you will treasure this book.  And if you are a fan of the underdog, you will be inspired by this book.  In a world where second chances are sparse, it is refreshing to read a story about a kid who got the mother of all second chances and made the most out of that opportunity; to, in turn, serve his community and offer second chances to others.  And what better time to read it than in October, the month where baseball fans around the world are hoping for miracles both on and off the field.

© 2012

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier is a collection of his essays, speeches, articles and transcripts from interviews he’s given as an astrophysicist over the years.  If that’s not enough literary diversity to peak your interest, take into consideration that he also adds to this impressive compilation, a poem and numerous tweets, which he refers to as “space tweets;” many of which are written with a sharp comical undertone.  Put this all together and you have a cleverly arranged assortment of both insightful, passionate scientific writings and humorous anecdotes, published in a highly readable volume.  In other words, if you’re a scientifically illiterate person, like me, then yes, this book is for you!

Tyson navigates his readers through the vast political vacuum of space travel, which at times can be as frustrating as solving complex math equations.  Some of the frustration revolves around misconceptions that people have regarding the amount of money it actually costs to fund space exploration.  There are many people who believe that, considering the amount of societal problems that exist in our country like poverty and hunger, balanced with the responsibilities that the government is charged with like stabilizing the economy, job creation and homeland security, there really isn’t much justification for funding expensive space programs.  Yet when Tyson points out that only half a penny of each tax dollar is used to fund NASA operations, the reasons for objecting to space funding seem irrational.

And then there is the story he narrates about how scientists reacted to blurred images returned from the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 when it was launched.  The fuzzy images were the result of a design flaw.  Nevertheless, astrophysicists and medical researchers found a way to collaborate, and use software developed in response to those blurred images in the effort of breast cancer detection.  It makes sense to me.  The money we spend as a nation on science, technology and space can yield returns in areas like health care, something we can definitely benefit from.

I have always been fascinated by space.  As a kid I would stare up at the stars and the moon, wondering what else was out there in that never ending black sky.  My enthusiasm for the universe was encouraged by what I read in encyclopedias about the planets in our solar system, and when my teachers would suspend our class lesson long enough to wheel a television set out of the audio/visual room so that we could watch the latest live broadcast of the space shuttle being launched.  Those were exciting moments for me.  As were the moments I spent sitting in the planetarium on school field trips with my head arched upward.  I dreamed that maybe one day I too could travel to some distant place in the galaxy.

As an adult, I continued to foster my enthusiasm for all things space by watching the Discovery and Science channels, reading books that featured breathtaking images taken by Hubble, and checking for the newest discoveries made on NASA’s website.  One year for my birthday an ex-girlfriend of mine treated me to a night at the observatory, and I had the amazing experience of viewing Saturn through a larger than life telescope.  Saturn’s rings left me speechless.  Every once in a while, you can catch me setting up my own little telescope outside of my apartment, gazing up at those shining, twinkling lights.  And now, after reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles, I have a hunch that when I look through my telescope, I’ll understand what I’m observing a little bit more than I did before.

© 2012

Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  I grew up with these words, spoken by President John F. Kennedy, which were finely printed on a trivet in my family’s kitchen.  The souvenir belonged to my maternal grandmother and was used mostly for holding serving spoons instead of shielding the dinner table from heat, due to its having been damaged.  When washing dishes I would scrub spaghetti sauce, pancake batter, and what ever other ingredients and mixes my mother used for cooking, from off this plate and read over the words, time and time again.  And now thinking back, it seems odd that I never learned much about the man who spoke them.  That is until now.  Chris Matthews’ book Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero provides its reader a clear, concise introduction to the life and times of JFK.

Although categorized as a biography, Matthews’ Jack Kennedy reads more like an Action/Adventure.  A page turner, I felt like I was along for the ride as a young JFK plots practical jokes in rebellious spirit railing against authority, answers the call of duty to serve his country while encountering enemy ships in the South Pacific, and then goes door to door after WWII as a military hero, introducing himself as the new political candidate in town.  The book also took me on the campaign trail, sharing intimate details of the tenacity, nerve, stomach and guts it takes to run for a seat in Congress, the Senate, and ultimately, the White House.

And this isn’t an outdated Action/Adventure story retired on a dusty bookshelf.  On the contrary, it is timely.  And if the old adage that history repeats itself is true, Chris Matthews’ book goes a long way in demonstrating how events that happened nearly fifty years ago still have relevance today.  Like the story he tells of the Buddhist monk who lit himself on fire in protest of South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem’s persecution of the country’s Buddhists, as a precursor to the Vietnam War.  I instantly thought of the vegetable cart owner in Tunisia who similarly lit himself on fire which sparked the Arab Spring.  And there is also the narrative of how the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union came to sign a treaty vowing to not test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, space, and water.  Just last week, the news was filled with stories about  North Korea’s missile launch and possible attempts to test nuclear weapons by their leaders in Pyongyang.

If the lure of the Kennedy dynasty has ever grabbed your attention, as it has successfully in my case over the years; this story, as told by Chris Matthews, will be an immensely enjoyable one to read.  The notion that countries on the brink of war can somehow, in the nick of time, resort to diplomacy instead of catastrophic engagement, is reassuring in the current context of global affairs.  The idea that presidents showing restraint instead of the use of force, despite being pressured to be the aggressor, opens the door for the possibility of peace, offers sobering advice for a world that finds itself in a climate of potential new wars, based on old vendettas, on the horizon.  Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero helps draw the line between nearsighted thinking and foresight, emotion and reason.

© 2012

I Love Lucy (Who Doesn’t?)

Lucille Ball (colored pencil)

Every morning when I wake up (usually between 6:30-7:00 am) it’s 1951, telephones have rotary dials not apps, televisions are black and white not HD, people are reading the newspaper not their lap tops, and husbands and wives are sleeping in separate beds with matching pajamas and are happily wed.  If you haven’t guessed why yet, I’ll tell you now; it’s because I’m watching I Love Lucy.  A tougher question to answer is how come?  How come I watch this show each and every morning while eating breakfast, ironing my clothes and getting ready to head out the door for work?  I live in the 21st century and wasn’t even born when the show was originally on the air.  In fact, my parents were kids when I Love Lucy took America by storm and became a television phenomenon.  I think the answer lies in the personalities behind the characters of the show, and the era in which it is set; a time less concentrated on technology and more centered on traditional family values.

After reading Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life And Comic Art of Lucille Ball by Stefan Kanfer, I began to appreciate the lives of each cast member and the impact they continually have on my life as a present day viewer of the show.  Watching Desi Arnaz perform at the Tropicana Club as Ricky Ricardo keeps me dreaming of being a professional musician when I’m lugging my conga drums up and down flights of stairs and across town to gigs.  Watching Lucy and Ethel (Vivian  Vance) make up after feuding over something trivial reminds me of how special a true friend is, and how nothing should get in the way of that friendship.  The same can be said about Ricky and Fred (William Frawley), although what do they really have to argue about when they share the same interests like hitting golf balls on the fairway and listening to boxing on the radio?  I found it amusing to know that when I Love Lucy first debuted on October 15, 1951, and the whole cast went over the Arnaz’s ranch to watch the televised episode, everyone was in attendance accept for William Frawley, who instead opted to go home and listen to the heavy weight fights on his radio.  Now there’s a man who loved boxing as much as I do!  (RIP Joe Frazier)

Now every time I have a rum and coke at a bar I’ll think of Desi Arnaz, whose mother’s grandfather was a cofounder of Bacardi Rum, thanks to reading Stefan Kanfer’s book.  I’ll also remember how Lucille Ball answered 2,867 letters sent to her from concerned fans after her miscarriage, how she survived antagonism from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) who threatened to end her career because they labeled her a communist, how she endured losing her father to Typhoid fever when he died at the age of 28 (she was only 3 years old), and of course, how she overcame ridicule after ridicule from drama school instructors and Hollywood executives who thought she wasn’t good enough to make it in the business.  How wrong they were!

I Love Lucy also keeps me dreaming of the prospect of romance, in addition to fulfilling my dream to become an artist.  In a day and age of constant sexual scandal, misconduct, abuse and dysfunction, it’s a real relief to see a healthy relationship played out on screen.  Of course, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s marriage was not perfect, but watching them on screen, imparting the best of what brought them together in the first place; the love they shared for one another, gives the viewer an experience and enjoyment unrivaled by any other television show to date.  Put quite simply, I always feel good after watching.  I always feel like there is hope of recreating the beautiful harmony of their relationship that comes through in every line spoken and display of affection.  And until I can do that, the Hallmark channel has me covered every single morning!

© 2011

 

Waiting for Jesus

Waiting for Jesus is Timothy Thomas’ latest book, exploring a scenario in which Jesus Christ appears to unsuspecting residents of an urban city.  The epic poem features every character you would expect to find in a great crime/suspense novel: A prostitute, pimp, thief, homeless man, drug-addicted married couple, and police officer.  But what sets the book apart from the typical inner city vice drama (other than Satan cast as the antagonist), is the dialogue which accomplishes the very arduous task of presenting the central figure of Jesus Christ in a present day situation.

Poverty takes center stage as the ravenous swallower of hopes and dreams when Old Lazarus reveals how he became a homeless man.  “‘If you be Jesus, then you know already’, Lazarus replied, ‘how I been to the very top, had money, power, all the things that this ignorant pimp would show, but my whole world came to a stop when my wife and my children died…'”  It was not long ago that I was at a gas station filling up my tank when a man, looking half crazed and unkempt, pulled his vehicle along side mine to let the horses under his hood also drink.  As he pumped gas into his car, he was talking to himself in a cryptic manner, searching for a clarity that seemed elusive and unattainable.  He turned to me and began to talk about IBM and the stock market.  He asked me questions that I couldn’t answer.  I smiled politely.  Most of us are one paycheck away from becoming homeless ourselves, and this man looked as if he could have been on the streets.  But as Thomas’ poem reminds us, homeless people aren’t just bums, they’re people with stories.

And Messiahs aren’t just holy men; they’re divine beings ready to listen to our stories.  They even have a sense of humor and appreciation for festivities, as is the case when Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding in the Bible.  But present day Jesus miraculously fills Old Lazarus’ beer bottle with the ‘finest ale’ in this story.  The ale is passed around the cast of characters as they try to work through their grievances and solve the neighborhood’s ills, much like the Beer Summit that was held at the White House at President Barack Obama’s behest to iron out differences between police sergeant James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  What’s better than listening to the savior of humanity preach on love and peace with a frosty mug in your hand?  Lord turn my hatred into forgiveness…and I’ll have a Great Lakes Eliot Ness draught please!

The narrative takes a turn for the prophetic when Old Lazarus expresses his gratification for the miracle he’s just witnessed; “‘Why, this is finer than the best of ales I have tasted before…I think that I will share the rest, to let these others bridge that fiord, finding their way to your true door…'”  Jesus’ benevolence leads in turn to Old Lazarus’ generosity in sharing his drink with his neighbors.  Check out the word that Lazarus uses to describe the gap that exists between humanity and divinity; fiord.  The word fiord is Norwegian in origin.  It is a timely metaphor considering what happened in Norway just last month in July, when a gunman horrifically massacred scores of young people.  Can we not make a bridge out of compassion to extend over the waters of separation to arrive at what Lazarus calls the “true door” of Christ?  And what more is that true door than love?

Nikos Kazantzakis’ examination of the duel nature of Jesus was brought to the silver screen in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (Titled after Kazantzakis’ novel).  Though controversial, the film allowed us to see what it would have been like for Jesus to experience humanity in all it’s complexity; from lust to longing, from fear to betrayal.  Timothy Thomas’ Waiting for Jesus similarly is calling out for a director, perhaps a short film director, to give this cast of characters a third dimension in which to arrive at resolution.  His Jesus is just as tormented by the suffering of humanity, and just as driven to show us the way.  And for this reason, Waiting for Jesus is more than worth the short time it takes to download.

© 2011

Marilyn Monroe and Wild Horses

Marilyn Monroe (graphite and colored pencil)

I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe, but it’s probably a safe bet to say it was when I was a teenager.  It’s also a safe bet to say that I found her extremely gorgeous, sexy and fashionable.  And if you were to risk your money on the presumption that I understood her true significance on American society; well that would be a sucker bet.  It wasn’t until I read Marilyn Monroe, a biography written by Barbara Leaming, that I began to see past the glamour, couture, and Hollywood influenced “dumb-blonde” facade that she was pigeonholed into.  Though I realize I do not yet possess a full understanding of who she really was (a book cannot encompass the full depth of a human life), I do feel that I am on the right track to realizing her world impact on popular culture.

After completing the book, I embarked on a mission of ransacking the public library’s vault of DVDs in search of every Marilyn Monroe movie I could find.  I’ve worked my way through half a dozen so far, and with the help of Turner Classic Movies and the Retro movie channel, I have been able to watch some of her films that I could not find at the library.  I’ve even purchased a couple of her movies: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like it Hot.  I shared the same reactions men in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s must have experienced when Ms. Monroe appeared on the silver screen; an incremental increase of the heart rate at seeing her name in the opening credits, a slight steadying of the breath during the required patience it takes for the plot to develop leading into her first scene, the ecstasy of seeing her finally materialize, the euphoria of listening to her sing and watching her dance, the catharsis of her comic relief and sensuality, and the desire to see it all again the next time one of her movies comes to the theatre.  Only I don’t have to wait 6 months to a year for the studio to finish the production and release of her next film…oh what suffering that must have been for the 20th century Marilyn Monroe fan!

And who was this woman that could turn big, brawny, brainy men into puddles?  Unbeknownst to me, she was the owner of Marilyn Monroe Productions which produced one of my favorite of her movies; The Prince and the Showgirl.  She was an artist who valued respect more than money, and who labored to perfect her craft at The Actors Studio under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg.  She was a wife who risked blacklisting by publically supporting her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, during his HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings during the McCarthyism era.  She was a person intent on being in control of her own destiny and career, and faced studio suspensions in the process.  She was/is an iconoclastic symbol of sexuality in puritanical American society.  She was a survivor of abandonment, neglect, attempted rape, and sexism.

And it turns out, in that funny way that life can imitate art and vice versa, that she, or more appropriately a character of hers, was an activist of sorts.  In the film The Misfits written by Arthur Miller, set in Reno Nevada, Roslyn Tabor portrayed by Marilyn Monroe, prevents the slaughtering of wild horses for the manufacturing of dog food with a soul-scaring scream of protestation.  As chance would have it, I stumbled upon an article in which the heroic tale of a group of real life activists saved 172 wild horses from a similar fate in Reno.

“There was a bo tree, a descendant of the sacred Indian fig tree beneath whose branches the Buddha gained enlightenment.” (Marilyn Monroe by Barbara Leaming, Pg. 396)  I returned to this passage in the book after watching The Misfits because I remembered reading about how the Buddha had advocated for the rights of animals.  I thought it was so interesting that a bo tree was planted in the garden of Dr. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatrist.  I wonder what effect it may have had on her during her frequent visits at his home with him and his family.  Could it have been the power of this sacred tree, which in somehow even if subconsciously, helped to inspire her performance in that pivotal scene from the movie?  Maybe the film had already been completed before her stays at the Greenson home?  Who knows?  Yet the power of nature is an awesome mystery – as were the events surrounding her eventual, untimely death.  But thankfully we have a treasure of film and literature to continue the exploration of the career and legacy of Marilyn Monroe.  And from what I can see, it is a journey that will doubtlessly be filled with pleasant surprises for all who are up to the challenge.

© 2011