Jackie’s Boys

•October 19, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[Dear reader-friends: I’m back from a too-long hiatus over the summer of 2018, where I changed jobs and took a break from my planned 1990s posts here. It being the tenth anniversary of my parents’ deaths, I’d been working on posts about each of them. This is the first.]

My late mother, Jacqueline Adams, was an only child.

She was born on Sunday, Feb. 10, 1935, to Mamie Magee, her slightly neurotic third-generation Irish mother, and a well-to-do northern Indiana farm boy named David Raymond Adams. Her backstory: when Jackie was born, Daddy Ray had an affair with another woman (who remains unknown to Jackie’s first-born son—that is, me), and Mamie vowed to never have sex with her husband ever again (again, can’t verify the validity of that rumor).

I bring all this up now because 2018 is the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death.

September was also the tenth anniversary of my father’s death, so both anniversaries have been at the forefront of my mind since the year began. I published a memorial for Mom in the Minneapolis paper back in May, on the exact day she died. In the memorial I used the third photo in this post, which occurred on a momentous day in my life: when my only brother Brian was released from the hospital (he’d been born a premie), in February 1962.

It’s an odd sensation to see these photos over 50 years later, after all the experiences that have passed through my life, realizing there was a moment when this actually happened—when I got to meet my new brother for the first time (below right of me on the sofa taking in the sobering fact I was no longer star of the family). Dad likely took the photos, but it could’ve easily been Grandpa Ray, who was every bit the shutterbug throughout his long life.

The thought that’s been running through my mind is something that probably didn’t occur to me much while my mother was still alive: how isolated she must’ve felt living in a household of two boys and a husband, as well as a still-present conniving and charismatic father. The only other woman was her mother, who as mentioned had her own issues with men. Mom’s “sister” was her first cousin Lois, as they were only a year or two apart and were raised somewhat together.

I witnessed Mom’s isolation growing as the years passed, and I’m certain she didn’t get much sympathy from either my father or brother—both of whom failed to understand her clinical depression. I became more sympathetic when I was diagnosed with dysthymia in 1987, but even that revelation didn’t bring us much closer. I may have resented it—I know I was in denial about my mood disorder for the longest time. Things came to a head in 1995 when I nearly took my own life. I’ll be digging into that awful event in the weeks to come, but for now let me just say my affinity toward Mom solidified after the mid-1990s.

My brother harshly criticized Mom and her depression, especially in the 1980s after he graduated high school. I hated him for it and tried to defend Mom whenever possible. But I know I failed in that and, toward the end of her life, it was largely because I was afraid of how her illness had consumed her—leaving just a shell of her former self.

My brother and I weren’t always so distant.

As toddlers, we scrambled underneath clothing racks in downtown Indianapolis department stores, hiding there while Mom shopped and we were eventually discovered by ladies sorting through the racks for deals. We were schooled by our parents to be respectful of our elders, so when we were showcased in front of our parents’ friends we were always quiet, attentive, and dutiful. You know, like “good boys.”

The thing is, I don’t really recall any solid bonding with my brother from an early age. We had (and still have) different temperaments. We gravitated toward different interests and friends. Brian was always more tactile and drawn toward objects and material things; I preferred music and reading and being in nature.

Since 2008, and losing both our parents, we haven’t grown much closer. Brian went through a divorce a couple years ago, and I suffered job setbacks and a disruptive household move. It’s been a very confusing decade. I’m certain our parents would be heartbroken by the state of things, both in the world and within our family. And I’m not sure what to do about it. How my mother (and, for that matter, my grandmother) would’ve regarded the “Me Too” movement is hard to say, but I know in middle age Mom read feminist literature and was plain-speaking about all forms of intolerance. I like to think I learned more about how to treat women from my father, who never disparaged anyone as far as I could tell.

I’m hoping life settles down and things change for the better. There’s some reason to believe that is happening. After all, my brother and I are still alive, still healthy, still exploring how we will lead the rest of our lives.

I hope he’s feeling as hopeful as I am.

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My So-Called Decade

•July 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[Dear readers: I’m back from a hiatus in June due to a job transition and shake up that I’m happy to report turned out for the best. But it took a lot of my attention away from writing. I’m overjoyed to be back at it. Thanks for sticking around.]

Ask me about the 1990s and I’d probably shrug.

What’s to remember?

It was tough because I decided, late in 1992, to take “the road not taken.” Or better yet, “the road no one with any sense would take, you selfish moron.”

Okay, I’m being way harsh here, but two forces were at work on me: the sublime memory of 1989’s script-writing marathons all leading up to a two-week research trip to England around the time of my 30th birthday. The weight of that experience taught me there was a groaning banquet table full of life’s rich pageant just beyond the corporation parking lot.

The world did not begin and end in the backwater burg of Hopkins, Minn.

The pressure on the other end was: So if not this, then where?

What should I do with my new decade?

Where and how should I live?

Three journals ramp up to that transition, which I made on Dec. 7, 1992 (hard to forget, since it was Pearl Harbor Day). But it interests me now what was going through my mind prior to that landmark date: What have I forgotten that is just waiting to be recovered on the pages of those 1990-1992 journals?

It begins with financial stress, according to a Monday, Aug. 13, 1990, entry:

“I worry about money a lot lately. I feel detached and indifferent about old friends—and a little resentful of my isolation. Things go bad, but there’s no real sorrow in the loss, I’m not even the owner of my own sadness. There is one way of being that appeals to me: looking out from myself, rather than IN. IN says: ‘What do I look like? Hair’s too long, a bit dumpy in the face, scruffy, can’t concentrate, not connected to other people. A cesspool of self-consciousness…’ OUT says: ‘But there’s a whole world of other things TO BE! Why not change them? Cut your hair all the way off! Quit your fucking job! Just say NO to limiting ways of thinking…start doing things instead of thinking about them: write that new story, finish that script, paint that picture, buy those new clothes, read that new book!’ —That’s the voice I want to heed.”

Did I heed it? That’s the $100,000 Question.

All I can say at this point is the 1990s were my roller coaster decade. The first couple years were ramp up, corporate frustration, then in 1992—boom, off on a cloud.

How I got there?

Well, stick around.

Decimations

•May 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

What are my decades, that I’m free to just Deep Six them all?

Have you ever considered time this way, too?

After I returned from England in December 1989, I was determined the 1990s would be my decade.

There was a draft screenplay that needed rewriting, sure. But since I’d put it out into the world, others seemed to see its potential. I was sure I was onto something. No more in-the-closet dreamer stuff!

I was gonna make things real.

So, on Friday, Dec. 15, 1989, I wrote in the journal, “What have we done in the Eighties? The Nineties have to be better!”

I was back at the job, and hanging out with old high school friends. It was an odd transition.

“I wanted to write,” the journal continues, “about all the dreams I’ve had lately—every night: many dreams, some borderline nightmares—I wish I could recall one, but there’s a vague undercurrent: me & some attractive girl (British, it seems) but we can’t stay together. The melancholy I feel from waking! But the dreams are densely packed with Things: cluttered houses, toys, buses, clothes & underwear, garbage, emotions shift from disgust to curiosity and wonder. Hmm.” No mention of New Year’s Eve festivities from 1989 to 1990. I’d gotten so used to slicing and dicing decades that I wasn’t sure I cared anymore. It was a shock, as I recall. Changes were called for: Leave corporate life. Find my calling. Be in the world, as I’d done in England. That was entirely clear to me.

The journal doesn’t pick up again until Tuesday, March 6, 1990. That day I declared the 1990s “had begun.”

“I’d felt I was treading water going into my new decade,” says the entry, “[all] part of the shock of completing a first draft, traveling alone in a foreign country and coming back to NOTHING. I realized in the back of my mind that from now on I had to MAKE my life, I could count on no one to set things up for me.”

***

It is now “Twenty-Eighteen” (not “Two-Thousand Eighteen”).

It still feels weird to even say that.

My first decade was 1960–69: I’d call those 10 years “Hungers.” They’re still golden in my memory, even though some raw history passed by. And now I think I know why: I was loved as a child and felt it in every atom of my body (photo at right with brother Brian, late 1960s).

That’s the takeaway going into my second decade: “I was born into a loving family.”

Then came the 1970s: the “Decade of the Unhappy Teenager.” Because I knew I was loved, I tested my family at every turn. I was a churning cauldron of self-doubt, anxiety, early depression, and—well, also something positive: a young writer who was being read by his peers. During junior high lunchtime gossip, I passed my short stories around. Kids took them home and read them. Next day, they gave me feedback over the same lunchroom table. It was a big leg-up for my self-esteem. Later, in high school, I became co-editor of the student newspaper. I wrote a monthly column that tested the patience of school administrators, teachers, and—again—my parents.

Decade takeaway: “You will survive this. But how? Use it in your art, young Jedi.”

My third decade, where we are now in the 1980s, was all about “Blooming,” even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I gained skills that serve me to this day: typing, editing words, mashing up ideas, images, and my readings to create something new. I went to college but, failing to graduate, still landed a fulltime job in my hometown. I lived again with the parents until another college attempt in 1984, then yet another job and first apartment in 1986. The screenplay, which lead to the aforementioned British trip, started in 1988.

The ’80s big takeaway? “Your art can be anything: writing, photography, painting, drawing, music, philosophy. Keep building; keep blooming.”

So here we are at the end of 1989.

And soon it will be the end of 2018.

Wow. Three decades.

The years are decimating.

I could give you the short answer on how the 1990s turned out.

Or you could follow along as I plow forward, continuing Completely in the Dark for yet another year. It’s a convoluted story and taking it all in one gulp is overwhelming. (For me as well as for you. But here’s a taste, at left: with nephew Colin, my brother’s darling firstborn son, in the mid-1990s.)

It’s natural to want to peer into the future, speculate about what might happen in the next decade.

But looking back at the time already passed, there are deeper layers that will probably become more exposed in the new decade. I don’t know, but I suspect that will be the case.

And I’m curious to see how the story unfolds.

The Year That Changed My Life (Part 6)

•April 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[This is the last of a multi-part post.]

Every journey must end, as the 1989 British screenplay research trip did after I “celebrated” my 30th birthday in London.

The journal picks up the story again here:

[Tuesday, Nov. 28] Abi left for work at 8:30, after stopping at the back room to chat with me when I woke up. I told her of my fears of him (Tass) and was anxious to leave the flat should he come round and be violent (he was after all highly irrational). At 9:00, I was packed and ready. I didn’t take time for a bath or even to wash my hair. I’d planned to meet Lindsay at her job across from Warren Street station on Tottenham Court Road at 4:00 today, so I had hours to kill. I took the tube from Wood Green to Green Park, where I had a roll and two coffees at a café in Mayfair. I was relieved just to disappear into the populous of London. I didn’t like the idea of lugging my baggage around London, so after breakfast I took the tube to Pimlico and walked down to the Tate Gallery, where I’ve been since 10 o’clock this morning. I checked in my baggage at the coat check and walked about looking at the paintings (most of them are down now, waiting to be rehung in Jan. 1990) and taking in a tour or two. It’s been peaceful here, after the events of last night. If I have a replay at Lindsay & Bill’s, then I’ll find a B&B near Gatwick and wait there until my plane leaves Friday early afternoon. But I don’t think lightning will strike in the same place twice. Hm?

[Thursday, Nov. 30] Another few days to backtrack to and retrieve. No, things are much better now. I got to Lin’s office at Maple House off Tottenham Court Road at around 3:30—she was looking cheerful and I told her the story of my rough two days at Abi’s. She had to work another half hour, so I repaired my map of London with some scotch tape. After 4:00, we made our way to Victoria station where we caught the train to East Croydon. They have a nice two-bedroom flat not far from the train depot in an area of office blocks, but it’s quiet—very quiet at night. I met her husband Bill—when we came in he was doing the dishes—he’s a nice fellow, and we all talked cheerfully for a while. After a bit, Lin ran up to the stores and Bill and I took a walk down to the video store to return a rented tape, After we got back we had two McEwan’s Ales, then Lin cooked some supper and we watched the news. I was dead tired from all the stress of the previous day, and so turned in early.

About Wednesday, Nov. 29: I tried to catch the coach at Victoria Coach Station to Guildford at 11am, but the coach left without us. I was standing with a sixth-form high school kid named Steven who was due for an admissions interview at the University of Guildford, so we both hiked over to Victoria tube station and caught it round to Waterloo station. It wasn’t a long wait for the train to Guildford, but I paid out more money that morning than I’d planned to. We arrived in Guildford at around 1:00, and I called Richard Jefferies from a shopping mall and caught the next local bus out to the Museum, at 2:00.

Watts Gallery is nestled in the Surrey countryside just outside Guildford in the sleepy little hamlet of Compton. I was greeted at the door by a young woman named Hilary, dressed in peasant clothes, with a neckerchief over her head and shawl around her shoulders. I saw two or three cats purring around the place (one was named ‘Simpkins’) and the walls just covered with Watts’ paintings. I met Richard Jefferies, a younger man than I expected, in his mid-40s at most, with longish dark hair and mutton-chop sideburns and beard. I’d felt as though I’d stepped briefly into the 19th century. Richard Jeffries is a pleasant, humorous fellow—and very knowledgeable about art, history, and literature. I looked at [Watts’ painting] Found Drowned and Hilary, who I’d gathered was his gallery assistant and secretary, looked over my script. We had a pleasant time discussing it and, after they started to see what I’d attempted to do by it, were enthusiastic. At one point Mr. Jeffries had to run up to town to pick up his young daughter (who later slunk about, seemingly fascinated by me) and later I met his wife, a short, quiet woman who shook my hand and disappeared. Later, he, Hilary (who occasionally got pedantically strident about her opinions on art) and I sat and drank tea in his Victorian-cluttered office, joked about Britain, art history, antiques—he even played Bishop’s “Tell Me My Heart” on an old player. He drove me to the train station at 6:30 and I got back to Bill & Lin’s by 8:00, beat but elated.

Friday, Dec. 1: This is probably the last entry I’ll make in Britain this trip. It’s a slightly overcast day here—another one frosty cold. I’m sitting at the writing desk in the back room of Lin & Bill’s flat. I’m looking forward to going home, the last leg of this strange journey—it turned out pretty much as I’d imagined it would be, like a strange dream, with joyous and nightmarish images mixed. It’ll hit me the hardest after I’ve returned home, I’m sure.

About Thursday, Nov. 30: My last day in London, and it was a beautiful day, sunny and somewhat warmer later on. I was out the door of the flat by 10:30 and on the train up to London I thought I heard someone mention the name Ellen Terry, an older voice. Then I heard a man’s deep and distinctive voice and glanced back to see sitting just behind me an actor who’d played a flea catcher on “The Good Life” [the late Michael Robbins]. When the train stopped at Victoria, I told him I enjoyed his performance and he shook my hand. “Those are about the only parts I get,” he said dryly. I took off for the American Express office in Victoria Street to exchange a travelers check, then caught the tube for Holland Park, down Melbury Road and over to Addison Road where I found St. Barnabbas’ Church (built 1829) where Nelly & Watts were married in 1864. I talked to a young man at the Rectory door who showed me in and I got a photograph of the inside of the church. After photographing the outside of the church, I walked back up to Chester Place and to Holland Park, the juncture of which I imagine was the site of Little Holland House (no longer extant). I walked up past old Holland House, then through Campden Hill, back to the Kensington High Street station. I got up to Leicester Square, poked around a bit at the Reference Library there, then walked down to the National Portrait Gallery through Trafalgar Square, and looked at “Choosing” one last time. I stopped into a few pubs on the way into and out of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden (disappointing lack of memorabilia) and outside of Covent Garden at a pub I met an Irish couple (younger than I) who were working in London for a while, but had been staying in Boston, in the States. They bought me a half of Guinness. I had to race through Oxford Street at rush hour to get to Aldgate East station to meet Lin & Bill at the Seven Stars Pub (pictured above left) for a drink before supper. I had a pint of the cider, Bill had a whiskey and Lin a half of cider. Then they bought me supper at an excellent kosher restaurant on the corner, down from the pub and at around 7:00, we went to the AYH Auction at Toynbee Hall. It was an amusing evening; I bought two candlesticks (made in England) and a few books. Later, I joked with a few of the members there and Lin, Bill & I caught the train back to East Croydon by 11:00.

****

I’m cheered to read and remember that it ended so well. It occurs to me now that had I flown back immediately after the birthday night fracas, it would’ve permanently ruined what was a productive and happy journey. Fortunately I stayed with the plan to meet up with Lin and Bill, and was rewarded with generosity and community. It was marvelous.

And that exchange with the actor Michael Robbins on the train lends a sweet coda (even down to thinking I’d overheard someone say “Ellen Terry”) to the screenplay research part of the trip. Robbins, I’ve since learned, died three years later of prostate cancer.

My 30th birthday trip to England was like a strange dream, “with joyous and nightmarish images mixed” in.

A lot like life, no?

The Year That Changed My Life (Part 5)

•April 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[This is the fifth of a multi-part post.]

Movies, such as the screenplay I was writing back in 1989, consist of acts, which of course are further broken down into scenes.

In the movie that was my British screenplay research trip in November 1989, we’re now at the top of Act III, scene 1. Tensions developed. The journal tells it:

FADE IN: INT. BUS. DAY…

[Saturday, Nov. 25] Another long traveling day. I had to be up early to be at the Bath coach station by 10:05. I had a last breakfast at Sheridan House, sat next to the quiet older woman with buck teeth and another couple, younger, from Bristol. After breakfast I said goodbye to the Canadian couple I’d met at breakfast Thursday morning and to whom I’d mentioned the script. The walk down to the coach station was brisk and bright, the sky was blue, but it’s gotten much colder. The ride from Bath to London went without a hitch—sunny all the way and, out of Bath, beautiful sights. We stopped at one or two spots along the way, and reached London Victoria at about 10 past one o’clock that afternoon. I got my travel card at the British Rail office at Victoria and made my way over to the Wood Green station. I got there at a little past two o’clock and instead of waiting around the station, I walked up the road, asking people as I went, the way to Palace Gates Road. I eventually found it, but the couple in the downstairs flat at 64 Palace Gates Road, Julie and Hamish, told me Abi and her boyfriend had gone out only 10 minutes before, presumably to pick me up at the Wood Green station. After a while, they invited me in and Julie made coffee and I waited for Abi to return, feeling more than a little sheepish for not waiting at the station. She and boyfriend “Tass” (Nigel Tasanine) returned about an hour later and we three went upstairs to Abi’s flat and chatted for over an hour. Around 6:30 we drove out to a Malaysian restaurant for supper. I’m staying in the back room of the flat for the next couple days, then it’s down to Bill and Lin Lockyer’s place in East Croydon. Tomorrow I will call them and also Joy Melville. I talked to Richard Jeffries at the Watts Gallery on Friday in Bath. It was a pleasant chat and I made an appointment to see the gallery at Compton on Wednesday.

[Tuesday, Nov. 28] Right now I’m in the Reading Room of Clore Gallery, an annex of the Tate Gallery. It’s a grey, misty day outside. I’ve had an emotionally and psychically exhausting last two days. I left Abi’s flat in Wood Green in a rush this morning at 9:00, just after she left for work. Backtracking, here’s the story:

About Saturday, Nov. 25: Well, I’ve said most of that in the last entry, but to embellish: Dinner with Abi & Tass was a bit awkward because Tass turned out to be a well-read, soft-spoken guy—a bit of a pedant, but there was a certain tension underneath. He rolled his own cigarettes and disparaged bourgeois habits. Apparently I said all the wrong things, but he remained tacit (no pun intended). After supper we all went back to Abi’s and I went straight to bed. Tass slept with Abi in her bed. In the morning…

About Sunday, Nov. 26: They drove me in Abi’s car to Highbury and Islington station where I caught the Tube down to Euston. I walked over and photographed Stanhope Street, then stopped into a pub off Redhill Street, had two pints, and walked on to Regent’s Park. I strolled through the park on a cool, clear day … children playing, parents walking them by the zoo, couples snuggling up together … I got down to Baker Street toward the Marble Arch. Being Sunday, I decided to go over to Speaker’s Corner and milled about with the crowd and got an earful of nonsense. I chatted with a girl from Boston who’s celebrating her 20th birthday today (the 28th). After Speaker’s Corner, I took the Tube to Charring Cross and came up at Trafalgar Square. I went into the National Portrait Gallery and saw “Choosing” —it’s beautiful (pictured above right). I also saw a self-portrait of Watts. After, I walked up Covent Garden and took the Tube back to Wood Green by around 6:00. Abi stayed at Tass’s in South London Sunday, but I called over there to tell them I got back all right. I walked down to Wood Green High Street and bought a kebab sandwich for supper and cans of Stella at an off-license. That night I cozied up to keep warm, watched some television and went to bed.

About Monday, Nov. 27: My 30th birthday started off well, but didn’t end that way. I’d called Joy Melville on Sunday night and we agreed to meet at Waterloo station at 10:30 Monday morning. So I got up early, bathed and dressed and got to Waterloo by 10:15. There was a bit of a mix-up finding her, but I got my bearings and saw her car outside on the street by platform #4. She drove us to her place in Clapham. I showed her the script, she made coffee and lit a gas fire and we talked for a little over an hour about Nelly, Godwin, Watts, and everything related to the story. I told her about Dr. Hinton’s attempts to save Cameron House and she took down his address. She corrected some bits of the script involving class and diction, and I made a mental note to go over those more critically at rewrite. She seemed pleased with the idea about a film, and when I mentioned that I thought Maggie Smith would make a good Julia Margaret Cameron, she said her sister is good friends with “Maggie” and thought she’d be too pretty to play the dumpy-faced Aunt Julia. We both agreed that Vanessa Redgrave, in her younger days, would have made a marvelous Nelly. At around noon or 1:00, she drove me to Waterloo Bridge and I walked across the river to Covent Garden. I wanted to see the Theatre Museum, but it was shut for the day. I had a ploughman’s at a pub near Long Acre in Bow Street with two or three pints of Bitter. From there I got it in my head to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which was open, and didn’t see much there I liked, the lighting was all wrong—though the costume exhibits weren’t too bad [a lot of students there sketching]. Out of curiosity, I walked down Cromwell Road to Queen’s Gate Mews to see if David Puttnam was in at Enigma Productions. I found the place and went straight in. There was an attractive brunette secretary and another gentleman there. I said I’d come to see Mr. Puttnam, that I had with me the first draft of a screenplay on Ellen Terry that I knew he’d be interested in. The gentleman told me that “David” wasn’t in and that Enigma was up to their ears in scripts. I showed Colin Vaines [the gentleman] my script and he breezed through it, asking if I had an agent who’d refer me. I said I was a first-time screenwriter and had a property I knew they’d be interested in. “I believe in impertinence and pluck, like Mr. Putnam’s.” The guy seemed amused. He offered to take my script and read it when he had a chance, but I said I couldn’t leave it because it’s a working first draft. I said I could send him a treatment when I returned to the States and he gave me his card. As I left I said: “Don’t forget, this will be Enigma Productions’ 1995 Academy Award winner!” They seemed amused. I was feeling like I could do anything after that sort of day [Ms. Melville is meeting the Weares on Saturday and they will discuss my idea of an Ellen Terry film.]

About Monday, Nov. 27 night: Abi and I met at the door of her flat at around 6:00. I intended to go uptown for a meal and a few birthday drinks when the “ceiling caved in.” Tass had called and jealously told Abi he was dumping her things out of his flat and into the street. She’d have to go and pick them up. She was in tears and wouldn’t listen to me. She phoned family and friends for advice. According to Tass, I suddenly became “that fucking American gigolo.” He was sure that Abi would cheat on him. Abi had confessed to me that he was an alcoholic who’d probably beat his second wife (a divorce was pending) and all under the age of 35! I think he was probably drunk. We drove down to his place in South London to pick up her things and when she rang the door, he shouted out of the top window: “Go away! I don’t want to talk to you! If Abi wants me, she knows where to find me!” We picked up the garbage bags full of her articles, packed them in the car and left. When we got back to her place, he’d left messages full of invective on the answering machine. “Tell your American friend to learn the language before he writes a book!” It was nightmarish. We talked for a bit, then I shakily went to bed. As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well, the phone kept ringing all night with his vile messages. Abi was on the phone to friends until all hours. By morning, I’d already packed and was more than ready to go home.

In hindsight, it was probably to Abi’s benefit that I arrived when I did and (inadvertently) aided in her breakup with Tass. If he was abusive to his former wife, you can sure bet he would’ve done the same to Abi.

As for this American needing to “learn the language before he writes a book”?

Well, only time would tell about that.

The Year That Changed My Life (Part 4)

•March 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[This is the fourth of a multi-part post.]

It was November 1989, Wednesday, Nov. 22 to be exact.

I was on a bus en route to Bath, England, researching my first spec screenplay, about the early life of Victorian actress Ellen Terry (illustration at right, with her later colleague Sir Henry Irving).

The following is a direct transcription from my journal of the time, written at the end of that week, when I was preparing for the final leg of the journey back to London in time for my 30th birthday.

This is what it says about the year that changed my life:

[Friday, Nov. 24] Yes, well it’s been a few days and lots of adventures in between. Wednesday the 22nd was a traveling day much like I hope tomorrow the 25th will go. I’d gotten a bus [coach] ticket in Freshwater and Tuesday afternoon I’d gotten together with Mr. Richard J. Hutchings and his wife, of Brighstone, who is a local historian of Tennyson. He and his wife picked me up at Cambridge Lodge and took me past the Farringford and Watts’ Freshwater residence, The Briary, just down the road. Anyway, I’d said all that before. Wednesday morning I had my last breakfast at Cambridge Lodge. The night before I’d been to the Albion and before supper walked the cliffs above Freshwater Bay. Wednesday a.m. I took the 8:23 bus to Newport. It was frosty and cold. At Newport I transferred to Cowes where I took the ferry over to Southampton. At Southampton I waited an hour and a half for a coach to Bath. It was a clear windy and cold day. When the coach got into Bath I headed for the Tourist Bureau and got booked into a room for three nights at 13 pounds per. Not as good as the previous places, but besides Tenterden, I paid more. After taking the local bus to Sheridan House at Bearflat and dropping off my luggage, I hurried back down to Bath and immediately found the Theatre Royal. There I talked to a Jane Tapley, who agreed to give me a brief tour on Thursday at 10am. I booked a seat for the evening performance of “Our Country’s Good” and went into town for supper and drinks. I didn’t find supper but I did find Guinness on tap and good conversation at the Smith Bros. Tavern Dorchester Ales at Westgate, just down from the theatre. All I had time for was a bag of cheese and onion crisps and a few pints of stout. I talked with two guys, one ditching his wife who’d been to New Orleans in the ’sixties and the other who want to talk Anglo-American politics. By 7:30 curtain, I had to drunkenly rush up to the theatre. The show was good, though a bit slow and amateurish. I really enjoyed being in the actual theatre Nelly played in Opening Night 1863. Afterwards I had drinks in the bar with the actors and a “hamburger” on the walk “home.”

[Thursday] Nightmarish – wonderful – magic. I had breakfast then ran up to meet Jane Tapley for the tour of Theatre Royal, Bath. After a 20-minute tour, I commenced to the Reference Library in Bath where a young man named Chris helped me find the Bath Chronicle for March 4, 1863 … I’VE GOT A COPY OF THE DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE! Hurrah! A thing I thought I couldn’t find! I was also able to get a playbill for the Opening Night of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I also chatted with a college student (blonde girl) who was doing her dissertation on Nazi art [?]. Directly after the library I took the 12:00 bus, at the bus station, to Bristol. What a dump Bristol has become! I wandered about the City Centre—the Tourist Bureau because I’d forgotten my map—then the Old Vic [Theatre Royal] where I bought souvenirs and arranged to take a tour on Friday. There was a performance of Ibsen’s “Master Builder” scheduled on Thursday at 3:00. I wandered up to the public library where I requested the Western Daily Press for Sept. 1862. I read the notices of “Endymion” on Sept. 15—then … came across the first of Godwin’s “Theatrical Jottings.” I wanted to have copies made, but the bound volume of papers was too big. I was able to jot down some notes. It was amazing to finally read [hear] Godwin’s own voice. I’m so far off base with him! He’s brilliant! After 4pm, I struggled wearily back to the bus station. On the bus back I had a drunk sit right behind me. I snapped at him and he wolfed back. I moved to the back of the bus. It was like an ominous note to a wonderful day—like the tumorous madman outside Tenterden—there’s a dark element to this whole proceeding. I went for a quick stout at the Smith Brothers, then had dinner at an Indian restaurant Tandoori [“Maharaja”] in Bath with chicken Madras, rice, and vegetables which made me sick later. It was odd. I stopped in for a last drink across the street, chatted with the Australian bartender and later, after I’d gotten back, was full of nausea and sickness—I threw up. A few glasses of water seemed to set me right and when I woke up in the morning I felt great.

[Friday] In brief, I’m dead tired. I’d like to get to London tomorrow and put my feet up for 2 days. Not go anywhere except by wheelchair. Today:

  • Bristol by 10 am. Portland Square. I photographed Godwin’s old home.
  • Tour of Theatre Royal Bristol at 12 noon. A gorgeous, grey-eyed brunette with a beautiful accent showed a handful of us around. I showed her the script later, but she didn’t seem impressed.
  • University of Bristol Theatre Dept. Talked with Mr. Christopher Robinson. George Rowell retired two years ago. Told him all about my project. Photocopied Keith Barker’s article on Terrys and Godwin in Bristol. Back at B&B by 5 o’clock.

I guess my big takeaway for this leg of the journey had to be the “ominious notes” that came from being on the road. Also, recalling the pure joy I felt in finding a missing piece in my research, right there in the Bath reference library.

With the good and the bad, I took things in stride, knowing change was just around the corner, and with it fresh possibilities.

Something, I believe, I still need to be reminded about.

The Year That Changed My Life (Part 3)

•March 4, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[This is the third of a multi-part post.]

I just want to get back into the story, like I always do.

So to change things up, I’ll let the journal do the talking first and flip the commentary to the end:

[Saturday, Nov. 18] Yesterday, after I sadly and reluctantly left Tenterden, was the most nightmarish of the days yet. I caught the bus to Hastings via a transfer in Rolvenden. A crazy character with a tumor sticking out of his neck, and smoking one cigarette after another, ranted a bit to me at the bus stop. After arrival in Hastings, I never saw him again. Hastings is a bustling coastal town, all jam-packed up to the sea, much like Brighton. I didn’t really like it. At the coach stop, I bought a ticket to Portsmouth and was told I’d have to wait until 4:30 for the next coach. It was a maddening wait, for I had arrived in Hastings at a quarter past noon. I walked down the street, thinking I’d sit by the sea, but felt anxiety that I’d miss a bus being too far from the departure spot. I wanted to travel that day, not wait around. I ended up stopping into a pub just down the road from the coach, on Queens Avenue. There I wrote postcards and put down pints of bitter. After a while an elderly couple sat down beside me and we chatted. It was a pleasant time and I got a few glances from the locals when they heard my American accent. Well, the couple left after extolling their imagined virtues [of] Disneyland, and I had another hour or two to kill. I alternated between the street and the pub. Finally, after 4:00, when I queried the bus driver, he told me there was no bus from Hastings to Portsmouth; I had to come up to London again and transfer to the Portsmouth bus. Arrgh! I was hungry, tired, and had to pee halfway through the journey. At London Victoria Coach Station I ate, double-checked schedules, and relieved myself. By 7:30, I was on the bus to Portsmouth wondering where I was going to be sleeping for the night.

[Sunday, Nov. 19] I broke down when I reached Portsmouth Harbour, The Hard, and booked the first place I saw, right across the street. I was exhausted from a long, hard day. It’s symbolic that the place I stayed [at] was called The Hard. Anyway, it was 45 pounds for the night—the most expensive to date, and nothing special. But I was able to relax, clean up, watch Monty Python on the telly, and sleep in a very comfortable bed. Unfortunately I was psychically unprepared to completely relax, and had some trouble really sleeping. I left the hotel by 11am and caught the 11:20 ferry to Ryde. It was a lovely day, warm (I’d guess 50-60 degrees F). I took the local bus in Ryde to Newport and transferred in Newport to Freshwater. I trudged up the hill at Bedford Road to Farringford Hotel where I am now in a comfortable room (No. 5) for 18.50 a night with breakfast. I made some phone calls after I settled in here—and Mrs. Wright of Totland Bay (who I’d written to months ago) fixed me up with Cambridge Lodge just down the street for the next two nights at 15.50 per. Well, I’ll save a bit and after all I’ll be closer to Dimbola (right across the road). I walked around this afternoon and photographed Farringford, the Downs, and Dimbola (photo above right). The seagulls squawked overhead, the sky was overcast. I walked down by Dimbola and looked out toward Freshwater Bay. This evening the guests have gone and I’m the only one staying here. I walked upstairs to the Tennyson library, and the young porter showed me Room #1—the poet’s bedroom, with the bathroom a walk down two stairs connected—the one that was quite probably the one in which Mrs. Cameron took the famous photo of Nelly.

[Monday, Nov. 21] This morning I transferred from Farringford to Cambridge Lodge, down the road, at a savings of 3 pounds a night. I had a good day today. I [ate] breakfast at Farringford and chatted with a nice couple in their late 40s or 50s—she German descent and he English. They wished me luck on the rest of my journey. At 10:00 I checked out of the hotel and walked down the back footpath to the entrance of Bedbury Lane. I got set up in my room and then went to Freshwater Town Centre. Everyone I met along the way was nice. I stopped in at a Travel Agent and booked a coach ticket from Southhampton to Bath on Wednesday at 1:00. I looked in the shops and got a new watchband at Reade’s. A lovely young brunette helped me with it. “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by BTO played over the speakers. I thought it odd at the time. I stopped into a pub called Buddy’s and had a ham & cheese sandwich and a bitter and listened to a few songs by Buddy Holly there: “Learning the Game” and “Think It Over.” At 1:30 I stopped back [at] the Freshwater Library to meet Dr. Brian Hinton, the librarian. He looked like a British Wallace Shawn, youngish, late 30s, excitable, and we sat in the small library’s gallery where I showed him my draft of “The Wandering Moon”—he seemed pleased. He had just come from a Borough Council meeting about the fate of Dimbola. At Cambridge Lodge, I’m right across from it now. We didn’t chat long and at 4:30-5:00 I phoned Mr. R.J. Hutchings, a Tennyson scholar from Brighstone, at a phone box up the road. He’s picking me up here at 2:30 tomorrow to see my script. I had supper down at the Albion Hotel in Freshwater Bay after walking by the seafront and thinking about Everything.

[Tuesday, Nov. 21] My last night at Cambridge Lodge, across the street from Dimbola. I was up before 8:00 for breakfast at 8:30 sharp. I caught the 9:23 bus into Yarmouth and walked about there—cashed some traveller’s checks, had a coffee, and photographed the pier. I knew I had the appointment with Mr. Hutchings at 2:30, so I struggled to make it back to Freshwater, returning by 11 o’clock at the Freshwater Library the copy of Virginia Woolf’s Freshwater: A Comedy that Dr. Hinton had loaned me. We chatted for a bit while he stamped people’s books. He’s an excitable fellow, a bit scatter-brained, but the local people think he’s brilliant. He’s gung-ho about preserving Cameron House on Freshwater Bay. After speaking to him at the library I walked back to Cambridge Lodge and waited a half hour for Mr. R.J. Hutchings, who showed up in a car with his wife. They are a couple in their 60s and were pleased to show me Watts’ old house in Freshwater, The Briary, as well as Moorlands Manor down the road toward Brighstone. I showed him the script and Mrs. Hutchings made tea. We talked somewhat haltingly about Watts, Tennyson, Freshwater, and the Camerons. He seemed somewhat pleased, but didn’t envy my task in rewriting and trying to sell the screenplay. He seemed to ask me a lot of questions about filmmaking I couldn’t answer. His wife drove me back to Freshwater Bay at around 5:00. I watched telly for a while and later had supper (Beef & Guinness pie, chips and peas) at the Albion Hotel. The college crowd came in [Mike, etc.] and Glaswegian Steve behind the bar was running about. Tomorrow early I leave for Cowes, Southhampton, and Bath before [returning to] London again.

Let me just say “The Hard” never lasts. That’s a cliché, of course, but the takeaway is by enduring difficulty, seeing it through, I got to a better place in the end. There would be more strange things on the road ahead, but after the diversion back to London, and finally reaching Portsmouth, I knew I could soldier on.

The other takeaway is recalling I was completely immersed in a new world, one I never would’ve imagined existed, and would never have had been a part of, had I not laid the groundwork months before (pictured at left in my Hopkins studio apartment work area in 1989).

Just looking at that photo (taken by my maternal grandfather on a visit), confirms what my late father always said to me: “Mike is a pack rat. He makes his nest. He most feels at home when he’s like Thoreau in his Walden cabin.” I can’t confirm this statement (yet), since Dad is gone. But I’m still grateful he told me that. That pack rat nest is where I produced a lot of work, and where I developed my work ethic.

Is it my best self?

Who knows.

 
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