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Archive for June, 2011

Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave as Lillian Hellman and Julia

The following excerpts are from the story Julia by Lillian Hellman (1905-1984), which became a movie in 1977 with Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda:

She held my hand for several minutes, and said, “Fine. Everything has gone fine. Nothing will happen now. Let’s eat and drink and see each other. So many years.”

I said, “How long have we got? How far is the other station, the one where I get the train to Moscow?”

“You have two hours, but we haven’t that long together because you have to be followed to the station and the ones who follow you must have time to find the man who will be with you on the train until Warsaw in the morning.”

I said, “You look like nobody else. You are more beautiful now.”

She said, “Stop crying about my leg. It was amputated and the false leg is clumsily made so I am coming to New York in the next few months, as soon as I can, and get a good one. Lilly, don’t cry for me. Stop the tears. We must finish the work now. Take off the hat the way you would if it was too hot for this place. Comb your hair, and put the hat on the seat between us.”

Her coat was open, and the minute I put the hat on the bench she pinned it deep inside her coat with a safety pin that was ready for it.

“I think I have always known about my memory:
I knew when it is to be trusted and when some
dream or fantasy entered on the life, and the dream,
the need of dream, led to distortion of what happened.
 And so I knew early that the rampage angers
of an early child were distorted nightmares of reality.
But I trust absolutely what I remember about Julia.”

She said, “Now I am going to the toilet. If the waiter tries to help me up, wave him aside and come with me. The toilet locks. If anybody should try to open, knock on the door and call to me, but I don’t think that will happen.”

She got up, picked up one of the crutches, and waved me to the other arm. She spoke in German to a man I guess was Albert as we moved down the long room. She pulled the crutch too quickly into the toilet door, it caught at a wrong angle, and she made a gesture with the crutch, tearing at it in irritation.

When she came out of the toilet, she smiled at me. As we walked back to the table, she spoke in a loud voice, saying something in German about the toilet and then, in English, “I forget you don’t know German. I was saying that German public toilets are always clean, much cleaner than ours, particularly under the new regime. The bastards, the murderers.”

Caviar and wine were on the table where we sat down again and she was cheerful with the waiter. When he had gone away she said, “Ah, Lilly. Fine, fine. Nothing will happen now. But it’s your right to know that it is my money you brought in and we can save five hundred, and maybe, if we bargain right, a thousand people with it. So believe that you have been better than a good friend to me, you have done something important.”

The 1934 play The Children’s Hour by Hellman
became a movie in 1961, starring 
Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

“Jews?”

“About half. And political people. Socialists, Communists, plain old Catholic dissenters. Jews aren’t the only people who have suffered here.” She sighed. “That’s enough of that. We can only do today what we can do today and today you did it for us. Do you need something stronger than wine?”

I said I didn’t and she said to talk fast now, there wasn’t much time, to tell her as much as possible. I told her about my divorce, about the years with Hammett. She said she had read The Children’s Hour, she was pleased with me, and what was I going to do next? . . .

“I have only so much more time in Europe,” Julia said. “The crutches make me too noticeable. The man who will take care of you has just come into the street. Do you see him outside the window? Get up and go now. Walk across the street, get a taxi, take it to Banhof 200. Another man will be waiting there. He will make sure you get safely on the train and will stay with you until Warsaw tomorrow morning. He is in car A, compartment 13. Let me see your ticket.”

I gave it to her. “I think that will be in the car to your left.” She laughed. “Left, Lilly, left. Have you ever learned to tell left from right, south from north?”

“No, I don’t want to leave you. The train doesn’t go for over an hour. I want to stay with you a few more minutes.”

“No,” she said. “Something could still go wrong and we must have time to get help if that should happen. I’ll be coming to New York in a few months. Write from Moscow to American Express in Paris. I have stuff picked up every few weeks.” She took my hand and raised it to her lips. “My beloved friend. . . .”

But March and April came and went and there was no word from Julia. . . . On May 23, 1938, I had a cable, dated London two days before and sent to the wrong address. It said, “Julia has been killed stop please advise Moore’s funeral home Whitechapel Road London what disposition stop my sorrow for you for all of us.”

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Small Steps

Penny Carothers

The following essay was written by Penny Carothers, social justice editor for the Burnside Writer’s Collective:

To those from the West, Calcutta, India, assaults your sense and can steal your hope. Decaying buildings slant this way and that over lean-to dwellings that shelter families who have fled the countryside in hope of a better life. Like millions before them, they find little more than squalor.

At home it’s easy to forget the desperation — both theirs and mine. In many ways, I must forget in order to go on. When I have the stomach to remember, I push back hopelessness. But I can’t forget their faces.

Calcutta market

Asa and Jebodah are sisters, about twelve and thirteen. Their father is gone, and their mother provides for them by selling herself at the temple of Kali, goddess of destruction. They live on a mat on a four-lane street, a few blocks from Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying. They are covered in soot. They ask us for powder for their hair, and we buy it because they deserve to feel beautiful, if only for a day. Still, questions assault me constantly: How can I make a difference in a city that has so much need?

One day in Calcutta, a friend and I went out to distribute toys and clothing to the hungry and often hopeless children on the street. We stepped past the sewer and tentatively approached the lean-tos, our offerings in sweaty hands. And they came, slowly at first. As they received their gifts, we saw delight in their faces and we smiled. But the moment lasted only seconds. Before we knew it, desperate hands had wrested our gifts from us, and in the violence of the moment we let go and fell back into the gutter. And I could think only one thing: What have we accomplished, really?

Calcutta children

In my disillusionment I saw them. Asa and Jebodah entered the filth to take our hands. They pulled us away and took us, dazed, to the water pump. And then they bent down and began to wash the grime off our feet. Beside me, my friend repeated over and over, “They are washing our feet.”

Now back home, I have lost the urgency. I can ignore the people who sit on the sidewalks and the overpasses because the desperation is hidden; I don’t have to engage it. I don’t even have to know my neighbors. Some days, I remember Calcutta’s greatest lesson: I need my neighbors — these girls, these men I walk past with a nod — just as much as they need my help.

Today, as I remember these girls, I remember my own need. I remember the beauty of their gift to us, but no less the incomprehensibility of their lives. On good days, I risk praying for the strength to step into the pain of the world with an open heart. Taking small steps, if need be, but moving — yes, into confusion and discomfort — but also moving toward them and toward hope.

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Philip Levine

Our Valley

We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.
…………………….
by Philip Levine (born 1928)

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Painting by Charlie Baird

The story’s not in what people say — it’s in what they don’t say. That’s what you listen for and write.former editor

My mother left Memphis in 1988 to be near my brother’s family in Austin. She was 60 at the time and had lived in Memphis her whole life. She wanted a new identity after my father’s death the year before.

I’ve often wondered how much money she had after she sold the house she and Dad lived in for 30 years. I do know the car she arrived in, a mid-80s Oldsmobile Cutlass, was the same car she was driving 15 years later when she died. She prayed the car would last one day longer than she did, and the night before she died my niece saw the car abandoned on the side of the road, left by whomever mom sold it to. Realizing what that meant, I rushed back to my mother’s apartment, finding the hospice nurse already there.

Mom at age 46

I see now the move my mom made to a new city at that stage in her life was a journey of faith. She left friends, neighbors and the church community she’d help create to start over again. Whenever I need to move forward to some new place in my life, either geographically or emotionally, I remember this. My mother didn’t know what words to use to encourage me along the paths I needed to take, but her endurance and perseverance remain with me.

After she moved, she lived in a duplex a few streets from my brother and sister-in-law, who had two daughters ages five and nine at the time. In some ways, it worked well. She became part of the girls’ lives, started a new job and developed new friends. But she missed the friends she’d made as a hairdresser in Memphis.

The rituals of hairdressers die hard, and these women had worked in the same shop 35 years, raised children together, helped each other through disabilities, diseases, accidents and widowhood. I don’t believe any of them divorced. This was characteristic of women in my mom’s generation but was also due to lunches the women held at each others houses.

The lunch bunch reupholstered living room furniture, painted walls, shampooed carpets, polished silver, mowed and edged lawns before the lunches began. From inside my treehouse, I could hear them giggling and clinking glasses in the house as they ate the deviled eggs, sliced cheeses and scooped honeydew and watermelon balls my mother and I prepared before they arrived.

Georgia, Dot, Oresa, Mozelle, Mary Francis, Roxie, Rosie and Helen — I’m reminded of the honeysuckle vines that grew along a fence behind our house. The smell of the ladies’ hugs remained on me for hours after they left, as mom and I carefully washed the crystal and china and slipped the silver forks, knives and spoons back into their special compartments inside the velvet box.

On Wednesdays as mom and I drove home from Oresa’s pool, still in our swimming suits and still smelling of chlorine, she was always relaxed and happier.The women took from each other what they needed to move on, my mother’s determination, Oresa’s business savvy, Mozelle’s humor, Roxie’s candor, Mary Francis’ tact, the divinity in Dot’s face and the grace in Helen’s.

I don’t know what they talked about when the children were sent away, but I do know as the women sat beneath the table umbrellas, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, they began to resemble each other. Through the bawdy jokes and tears and baskets of flowers, they’d learned to listen to each other, not only what was said but what wasn’t said and what needed to be heard in the silence. Mom never found that again after she left Memphis.

Three of the women drove to Austin to visit mom after she moved away. Standing in her driveway, they noticed fig trees overloaded with ripe figs in a neighbor’s yard. Early the next morning, they woke, slipped into the yard, stole the figs and carefully returned to my mom’s house, stifling laughter all the way. In her kitchen, they meticulously sorted the figs into four sacks and tried not to eat any. Fig preserves were a specialty among the lunch bunch — figs, a fruit that symbolize fertility and the feminine world, women both as goddess and mother.

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Minnie Bruce Pratt

Cutting Hair

She pays attention to the hair, not her fingers, and cuts herself
once or twice a day. Doesn’t notice anymore, just if the blood
starts flowing. Says, Excuse me, to the customer and walks away
for a band-aid. Same spot on the middle finger over and over,
raised like a callus. Also the nicks where she snips between
her fingers, the torn webbing. Also spider veins on her legs now,
so ugly, though she sits in a chair for half of each cut, rolls around
from side to side. At night in the winter she sleeps in white
cotton gloves, Neosporin on the cuts, vitamin E, then heavy
lotion. All night, for weeks, her white hands lie clothed like
those of a young girl going to her first party. Sleeping alone,
she opens and closes her long scissors and the hair falls under
her hands. It’s a good living, kind of like an undertaker,
the people keep coming, and the hair, shoulder length, French
twist, braids. Someone has to cut it. At the end she whisks
and talcums my neck. Only then can I bend and see my hair,
how it covers the floor, curls and clippings of brown and silver,
how it shines like a field of scythed hay beneath my feet.
………………………………………………………………..

Giving a Manicure

The woman across from me looks so familiar,
but when I turn, her look glances off. At the last
subway stop we rise. I know her, she gives manicures
at Vogue Nails. She has held my hands between hers
several times. She bows and smiles. There the women
wear white smocks like technicians, and plastic tags
with their Christian names. Susan. No, not Susan,
whose hair is cropped short, who is short and stocky.
This older lady does my hands while classical music,
often Mozart, plays. People passing by outside are
doubled in the wall mirror. Two of everyone walk
forward, backward, vanish at the edge of the shop.
Susan does pedicures, pumice on my heels as I sit
on the stainless-steel throne. She bends over, she
kneads my feet in the water like laundry. She pounds
my calves with her fists and her cupped palms slap
a working beat, p’ansori style. She talks to the others
without turning her head, a call in a language shouted
hoarse across fields where a swallow flew and flew
across the ocean, and then fetched back to Korea
a magic gourd seed, back to the farmer’s empty house
where the seed flew from its beak to sprout a green vine.
When the farmer’s wife cut open the ripe fruit, out spilled
seeds of gold. Choi Don Mee writes that some girls
in that country crush petals on their nails, at each tip
red flowers unfold. Yi Yon-ju writes that some women
there, as here, dream of blades, knives, a bowl of blood.
………………………………………
by Minnie Bruce Pratt (born 1946)

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Minnie Bruce Pratt

Justice, Come Down

A huge sound waits, bound in the ice,
in the icicle roots, in the buds of snow
on fir branches, in the falling silence
of snow, glittering in the sun, brilliant
as a swarm of gnats, nothing but hovering
wings at midday. With the sun comes noise.
Tongues of ice break free, fall, shatter,
splinter, speak. If I could write the words.

Simple, like turning a page, to say Write
what happened, but this means a return
to the cold place where I am being punished.
Alone to the stony circle where I am frozen,
the empty space, children, mother, father gone,
lover gone away. There grief still sits
and waits, grim, numb, keeping company with
anger. I can smell my anger like sulfur-
struck matches. I wanted what had happened
to be a wall to burn, a window to smash.
At my fist the pieces would sparkle and fall.
All would be changed. I would not be alone.

Instead I have told my story over and over
at parties, on the edge of meetings, my life
clenched in my fist, my eyes brittle as glass.

Ashamed, people turned their faces away
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice,
stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering,
from where you have hidden yourself away.
………………….
by Minnie Bruce Pratt (born 1946)

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There is no city that does not dream from its foundations. The lost lake crumbling in the hands of the brickmakers, the floor of the ravine where light lies broken with the memory of rivers.Anne Michaels

This week, I went to an all day seminar on the environment and sustainability put on by the newspaper where I work. It’s a difficult day, remembering who people are, where they work, if we’ve written articles about them and what the article said. You don’t want to forget the name of a bank president sponsoring the event.

We host one event a month at the newspaper. As print subscriptions and ad revenue decrease, we must come up with new ways to support the print media the business was founded on. We host events celebrating women, health-care workers, entrepreneurship, businesses with innovative ideas and privately owned companies growing fast.

I’ve been at the newspaper seven years and attended many of these events, not only ours but those put on by chambers of commerce, halls of fame, universities, service organizations and nonprofits. Our office job at the paper might be in editorial, production or advertising, but we have event planning duties too, from printing and stuffing name tags to organizing speakers and catering.

The events are put on to generate revenue, but in the end the round table discussions, seminars and awards ceremonies bring the community together in ways that wouldn’t happen otherwise. As leaders in bioscience, banking, health care, green business or natural products sit together at a table or mingle at an after-hours event, connections happen that make the community stronger.

Lesbian, gay,
bi-sexual or transgendered

In my other life, I attend LGBT events. The Boulder-Denver area has many lesbian groups. There are lesbian hiking clubs, mountain-bike clubs, dancing groups, pot lucks, ice-cream socials, barn dances … lesbians who bird watch and lesbians who play board games.

When I first came out in Memphis in the early 90s, my only choice was a lesbian bar full of drug dealers. The last 20 years have seen many changes in the gay and lesbian community, and I’m very grateful.

It’s my privilege to see these two parts of the city grow, the mainstream business sector and the LGBT community. What I see on both sides of that coin is the work that goes into it. Whoever organizes an event, someone must sell tickets and man registration and put up banners and booths and tables and take it all down again once everyone’s gone. It seems like the people who do the work, who come out of their insulated lives to bring it all together, feel more connected to each other and themselves and the world beyond than those who don’t.

Oat fields

One Hundred Years

It’s also my privilege to work on a history of Boulder County. As I do this, I think of what Thornton Wilder said in Our Town, “This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.”

Families settle, begin farms, a city is platted, a bank forms, a town square, a grocery, a school, a fire department, police station, hospital and church. The city is incorporated.

Wars come along, babies are born, more houses are built, streets are paved, sidewalks are put in. Some people want paved streets and sidewalks, and some people don’t. The issue is voted on.

Manual laborers receive more rights, the city plans low-income housing and libraries and better sewer systems. Electricity brings power plants. People no longer need coal sheds or out houses in the alley out back. Technology lends a hand with phones, radios, television and the Internet.

Now the Old Town area needs renovated, business parks are formed, roads are widened and new hospitals, new police stations, new stores and new subdivisions are built. The new subdivisions have recreation centers and golf courses and parks where festivals are held to celebrate the peach orchards, oat fields and cotton plants that once lined the roads.

I think about all this as I sit on the edge of my bed each morning, I can dream too. As long as I can dream, the time and the land and the people and the things in my life will change, and the change itself is what holds me together.

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