Essays, Short Stories, Reviews

 

 

Flash Fiction: “Instructions Upon My Death”

I would hope you’re reading this with tears streaming down your face, but I doubt it. Our relationship has not always been an easy one, volatile at times, distant at others. But never let it be said I didn’t love you. Very much. I don’t know how you feel about me. We don’t talk about such things, apparently. But now I’m about to die and there are some things you should know.

Book Review: Becoming Dr. Seuss by Brian Jay Jones in Fourth and Sycamore

His real name may not be as familiar as that of his alter ego, but after reading the informative book by Brian Jay Jones, the reader will be astounded at the bountiful course a single life can take. Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination (Dutton, 2019) is about prolific writer Ted Geisel, for whom most everything he touched turned into greenbacks. He’s best known, of course, for his children’s books, written in clever rhyme, often professing a humanistic theme within the humor.

 

 

“Detachments:” Three flash-fiction stories in BANG!

THE FICTIONAL FATHER

I can’t remember how old I was when my mother told me my father was a rounder.

“What’s that?” I thought it had to do with baseball, a home-run hitter.

She looked off into the distance and lowered her voice. “He’s had affairs.”

I was old enough to know it was wrong.

My mind drifted back to the night Mom and I came home from the movies too early. Their bedroom door was closed. A few minutes later, Dad emerged in his boxers, his accordion strapped on his chest. I thought it odd; now, I realize he had been with someone who had escaped through the window.

 

“Ethel,” a short story in Literary Yard, August 4, 2019

As soon as she entered any room, Ethel Barrymore left little doubt she was royalty, or at least, its show business equivalent. That square jaw, the penetrating eyes, the erect carriage majestically leading the way. When she spoke, her sculpted, cultivated alto announced this was someone who would not tolerate any trifling.

 

Book Review: “A Personal Look at Flint:” What The Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha

It was once unthinkable: government persistently and deliberately lying to cover its corruption, while injuring the most vulnerable among us. Sound familiar? Governmental dishonesty has always existed to some extent, though not as blatant as in recent years.  In Mona Hanna-Attisha’s new book, What the Eyes Don’t See (One World, 2019), she implies the canary in the mine might have flown into Flint, Michigan.

 

Essay: “Dead But Not Gone,” in Remington Review

Two nights in a row, I’ve dreamed about my mother’s death. More accurately, that she’s dead. She doesn’t make an appearance. In the first dream, I returned from a trip to find a phone message from my grandfather, telling me she had died early in November (this is April). The voice reeked with accusation, as if I should feel guilty because I wasn’t there. I had little reaction to the call and talked to my friend about all I had done for her before we left. Then, the second night, I dreamed I had come across a large mound of bills that were left unpaid after her death. I was trying to decide what to do if I ran out of money to pay them.

 

Book Review: “Until It’s Over:” The Art of Dying Well by Katy Butler

Any book about death and dying is actually about life and living. This axiom is echoed in Katy Butler’s The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life (Scribner, 2019). Her articulate book joins the spate of best-sellers on this theme, most recently Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes, and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. Butler offers step-by-step rules to follow as we march toward extinction, from building resilience in one’s 50s, to the end-stages of actively dying. Like taxes, death may be inevitable but it can be planful, allowing a near-orderly departure with no unfinished business.

 

Book Review: “Repeating History:” Camelot’s End by Jon Ward

Even if you’re not a political junkie, you can’t help but wonder how we got here. We’re a nation divided by persistent polemics, each side advocating different versions of reality. The election of 2016 was the obvious catalyst for our country’s overwrought political climate and pundits are still wondering how it all happened.

 

Essay: “A Writer Changed My Life” in The Manifest-Station

As a writer, I’ve been asked more than once: What book changed your life? My response is always the same: It wasn’t a book. It was a writer who never wrote a book. I wish I could say she was my hero but I barely knew her. Sometimes the most surprising act of kindness can transform a life.

Her name was Clara McClure and her family lived in a white clapboard house across the street from us on eucalyptus-lined Hartzell Street in then-middle-class Pacific Palisades.

 

Essay: “Making Movies” in Sad Girl Review

I sat near the back of the theater, having devoured my third Rolaid in ten minutes. Sitting around me were mostly strangers, people a generation or two younger, animatedly talking with one another. It made for a chaotic and noisy surrounding but I was lost inside my own silent thoughts. My first movie, which is to say, the first movie in which I had a role, was about to premiere at a theater in North Portland. The year: 1998. The film: “Birddog.”

 

Book Review: Off the Charts by Ann Hulbert in Fourth and Sycamore

“Genius is an abnormality, and can signal other abnormalities,” writes one Juilliard teacher, “such as ADD or OCD or Asperger’s.” Children without accompanying psychiatric diagnoses are in short supply in this impressive, thorough and well-written book by Ann Hulbert. Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies is often distressing to read, if only because of the aberrant parenting styles that seem melded to their genius children. Hulbert raises the obvious question, “What’s the price of honing youthful potential ever earlier and more avidly?”

 

 

It’s Spring and for sports fans everywhere, that means it’s time to “Play ball!” What better time for a propitious new book about the colorful athlete whose name is reflexively associated with the Great American Pastime? Jane Leavy’s avowed purpose in The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created (Harper, 2018) is to disinter the familiar myths and discover the boy who became the man.

 

 

Essay: “Talking Headaches” in Please See Me

 

I have a tumor inside my head. It’s not very big. It sits on the outer part of the brain itself, just to the left of center. It has a rhythmic, tongue-twisting name: meningioma.

 

I don’t know how long it has been in there but perhaps for decades, a permanent resident. When the physician informed me about this, I was not at all surprised and maybe even a little relieved.

 

 

 

 

 


Essay: “Reclaiming a Dream”

When the weather turned cooler, I vowed to clean out the garage, an intermittent and tedious chore. There are a few things I never throw out—old music arrangements, my college portable typewriter, art, paint for retouching rooms in the house. And, most certainly, I am resolute when it comes to my darkened, weathered baseball mitt.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Insufficient Brevity of Wit:” Wit’s End by James Geary, in Fourth and Sycamore

 

In contemporary social circles, one of the most onerous accusations is the absence of a sense of humor, an indirect reflection of one’s character. Yet, this acquired sensibility is not only idiosyncratic and personal but culture-based and subject to time and geography. In Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It (WW Norton, 2018), James Geary has opted to explore humor’s socially elite cousin, the more esoteric and less commonplace verbal acrobatics called wit.

 

 

Essay: “The Resistant Cancer of Misogyny”

 

Longtime Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” But for me, all politics is personal, especially when discussing the circumscribed role and demonization of women in society. The current spate of misogyny, with its soaring rise in the public forum, has uncapped an ineptly sealed lid on the sexism that has always been dominant in our society.

 

 

Book Review: “A Burning Desire,” The Library Book by Susan Orlean

 

It’s ironic that the subject for this review is a library, given this monthly offering appears in the Greenville Public Library literary magazine. So it’s easy to imagine the entire town of Greenville grieving if that austere public building burned in a massive fire—how it would affect everyone in its vicinity, how the community would gather to watch the inferno and how everyone would join together in the aftermath to rebuild.

 


Interview with Pam Munter in Fourth and Sycamore

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Fourth & Sycamore’s very own Pam Munter about the release of her latest book, a memoir entitled, As Alone As I Want To Be.
 

Dear Miss Marshall,

I still dream about the band room at Paul Revere Junior High, even though more than sixty years have elapsed. I can see you now, sitting at the cluttered desk in your little office. The new school had just opened and my mother insisted I join the band, even though I had been playing the clarinet only a few months. I was thirteen and in the eighth grade, a porky, insecure, introverted kid. I needed someone who would take an interest in me and it turned out to be you.

 
 
 
Our country has not been so politically divided since the Civil War. Take a look at the New York Times Best Seller list and you’ll see most of the books anchored on one side of the political continuum or the other. Civility seems to be in remission, making conversation challenging, on and off social media. A welcomed articulate voice in this volatile wilderness belongs to Rebecca Solnit.
 
 
 
 
 
We are living in a time when reality is apparently fungible, in a world of “alternative facts,” when “truth isn’t truth.” How did we arrive at this anti-intellectual place? Whatever happened to the public educational system?
 
 
 
 
 
It might be considered unseemly to criticize a 90-year-old writer, especially one like Donald Hall who leaves behind more than 50 books from multiple genres and is an internationally celebrated former Poet Laureate. It’s like faulting Frank Sinatra in his last few years when he could no longer remember the lyrics to the songs he made famous, struggling to coax his sonorous baritone outside its decreasing range.
 
The first episode came at an unexpected time and, contrary to expectations, not under stress at all. We had just signed the papers at the travel agent’s office for a dream cruise in the Caribbean. As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t manage to articulate the words. They were garbled, sounding like a foreign language. I didn’t know what was happening.
 
 
Each morning at dawn, he would stealthily enter the house through the unlocked back door. In the early 1950s, no one in our neighborhood locked their doors. I was sometimes awakened by the tinkling noises of glass and the opening click of the refrigerator, but seldom by any human voice.
 
 
 
I’m sitting here in the dark, watching you at your seventh birthday party. The 8mm film is grainy, much of the color lost through the years of living on a musty closet shelf. You’re dressed in a frilly red dress chosen by your mother, in spite of your protestations. There are other kids there but you seem to be looking to the adults arrayed around the gaily-festooned ping-pong table. You’re a little uncomfortable, not fully engaged in the role of the happy birthday celebrant. I can see you’re already an outlier. There’s a part of you that knows that, too. It could explain the occasionally confused, spaced-out expression on that sweet, young face, just before it quickly returns to the prescribed smile.
 
 
 
 
 
One of the reasons for the popularity of the memoir genre is our perennial fascination with dysfunction. To a large extent, we are all the product of our family ecology, for better or worse. The writer who has managed to extricate herself from family pathology is both admirable and intriguing but we’re equally curious about those who didn’t. Jamie Bernstein’s book about her father, Leonard Bernstein, is a curious blend of her lifelong absorption into his narcissism and her frequent but futile efforts to separate herself from it. In Famous Father Girl, we get a delicious fly-on-the-wall look inside a creatively dysfunctional family and the story of one woman’s encapsulation inside the vibrant world of Bernstein. Readers who expect psychological insights, however, will be disappointed.
 
 
Under most circumstances, I am not an anxious person. But these aren’t ordinary times. In just another few weeks, my memoir will be published (As Alone As I Want To Be; Adelaide Books, 2018), a literary vein-opening. I am experiencing honeymoon jitters. How will it be received? How will I feel about the inevitable criticism?
It’s not your average memoir. There’s no rape, murder, incest, abuse—the kind of catastrophic drama that sells books. I’m not crazy or neurotic. On top of those impediments, it’s written in a series of essays. There are through-lines, to be sure, but none of the usual name/rank/serial number kind of work so the reader can follow my life in that way. What will keep the reader engaged? Is growing up a feminist pioneer in a conventional society enough?
 
 
 
Let’s say you are bright, witty, bold, iconoclastic and irreverent. Sometimes your opinions and observations can roil the feelings of others, especially if they’re accurate. If this is true of you, Michelle Dean has gifted you with a set of reassuring stories about cantankerous like-minded women in Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion(Grove, 2018). But even if you’re not the outspoken person you’d like to be, you might savor this fun and engaging journey through the often-connected lives of some of America’s most noteworthy and influential literary women. Some of them were friends but, given the prickly personalities described here, it comes as no surprise that difficulties arose. These women could anger people without really trying.
 
Even as a kid, I always read the obituaries. They can reveal who someone was, at least as seen through the eyes of the survivors. The few selective words serve as a final, if biased, summary. But I am inevitably waylaid by the occasional sentiment, “She loved life.” What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that she was angry about dying? That she fought against it, trying all remedies available? That she had a relentlessly cheerful personality?
 
 
We all want to live forever, right? And we do everything we can to approach that ideal. We eat the “right” foods, exercise daily, get regular checkups, decline desserts. We follow the advice of experts, with the expectation we will live a longer, healthier life. Everywhere we turn, we’re told if we rely on the pundits, we can accomplish just that. But at what cost?
 
 
 
Enrico Gnaulati is on a mission. In Saving Talk Therapy (Beacon Press, 2018), the California-based clinical psychologist presents a persuasive case for the importance of psychotherapy, not only to the individual, but to society as a whole.  Due to escalating economic pressures and the rise of the ADD culture, traditional psychotherapy has been in gradual decline for the past 40 years. He writes, “Nowadays, people don’t ‘go into therapy’…they ‘receive mental health interventions.’” Regardless of the severity of the problem, time with a psychologist or psychiatrist is often just a session or two, thanks to domination by the powerful insurance companies that control reimbursement.
 

LINDA GLIDED ALONG THE SURFACE OF LIFE, like a bee checking out fragrant flowers, always in motion, never alighting for long. Our lives intersected only intermittently but at critical junctures. I missed a final opportunity, though. I found out this morning she died two months ago.

Our first meeting was over 50 years ago. It was in one of those godawful 8 a.m. seminars, an editing class at Cal in 1964. I was a senior journalism and political science major, writing a weekly TV and film review column for the Daily Californian. I was hunched over a news story when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone crouching next to me.

 
 
 
What’s sexier in the Age of Trump than a book about the influence of celebrity? The study of celebrity politics is new to political science, however, and provides fertile if congested ground for academician Mark Harvey in his book Celebrity Influence: Politics, Persuasion, and Issue-Based Advocacy (University Press of Kansas, 2017).
 
“Hello! This is JOO-lia Child.” Is there anybody on the planet who doesn’t recognize that falsetto chirrup? She was a household name in her lifetime and—incredibly—her fan base has only increased since her death in 2004, two days short of her 92nd birthday.
 
 
 
 
Prelude
1. Hello Pam. How are you?
I’m fine, thanks. Hope you are, too.

2. How is the weather?Beautiful – in the 80s here today.

3.What time is it?
It was early afternoon when I began but early
morning the next day as I’m finishing it.

4. Are you busy with something?
This, fully engaged in the process.

(lots more)

 
 
 
With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are second acts in life and Dominick Dunne is a Technicolor poster boy for that assertion. Biographer Robert Hofler has written a textured story about his convoluted, multi-faceted life in Money, Murder and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts (University of Wisconsin Press, 2017). Hofler borrows the words of others to reveal the irretrievably damaged psyche of this talented and tortured man. But Dunne wrote enough about himself to confirm any idle speculation. It’s not a pretty life but it is a fascinating one.
The Summerset  Review
 
Most of my childhood happened long before computers, on-demand iPhone movies, and seemingly infinite choices on cable. There was radio and there were movies and later, there was television. The magnificent movie studios, once rulers of the Hollywood universe, declined largely because of that insurgent boxy invention. Even MGM pioneering poohbah Louis B. Mayer would be gone by 1951.
 
 
 
For many successful writers, the act of writing is a natural outgrowth of who they are. There’s nothing mysterious about it. There are tons of pragmatic articles about how to set up the workspace, how to generate ideas, how to discipline oneself to write every day and, of course, how to get published. All of this ignores the reality that, for the most part, this is all wallpaper.
 
 
 
 
in Willow Literary Magazine
 
 It was nearly freezing that October night, but I didn’t feel the chill at as I emerged from the subterranean cabaret club known as Danny’s on W. 46th Street in midtown Manhattan. It was close to midnight and I had just finished a performance of my first New York show, “My Life as Frank Sinatra,” in which I described an affinity for the singer’s complicated personality, from his prodigious talent to his occasional startling thuggery. With the help of a jazz trio, I had woven a musical tapestry around Sinatra’s failures and struggles. The patter was balanced by some of my favorite tunes among the more than 1500 he recorded in his lengthy career. My encore was “Young at Heart,” a reflection of how I felt even though I just passed 50. I wore a custom-made tux for the occasion with a silky white top, which seemed very Sinatraesque to me.
 
 
 
 
 Most of us think of pop psychology as a 1960s phenomenon, one still oozing into our media-saturated lives today. The message is ubiquitous and predicable: you can solve any problem, tamp down any unwanted emotions while welcoming unprecedented happiness. Just buy the book and follow the instructions. However, a reading of social history reveals a legacy leading back to the desperate 1930s, a time when many relished the idea of simple solutions to the dismal reality of the Depression.
 
 

Essay: Finding the Keys Again in Literary Yard

It’s easy to lose track of what matters in a life that’s busy and complicated. The process of reconnecting with the self and one’s passions sometimes can come from unexpected places. Like summer camp, for instance.
Though it’s referred to in the brochure as “a musical vacation,” SummerKeys in Lubec, Maine is a music camp for adults. The word “camp” merely serves as economical shorthand for other descriptive words such as workshops, seminars, practices and lessons. There is nothing campy about it.

 
 If journalism is “history in a hurry,” then the historian’s task is far more daunting, requiring not only an in-depth chronicle of events but, more importantly, an excavation of context. Open the dictionary to “historian” and it’s likely you’d see a picture of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the subject of a new biography by Richard Aldous. Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian (W.W. Norton, 2017) is a magnificently detailed, layered portrait of a complicated man who is probably best known for his extensive work after the Kennedy assassination. It would take several pages to list his books, papers, speeches and awards – not to mention his two Pulitzer Prizes.

 

 
 
The irony didn’t escape Frances that though she was the premier screenwriter of her time she couldn’t find the right words to describe how she felt about Mary. Or why.
It didn’t seem like that many years ago. World War I was raging but Hollywood was thriving, existing in a cocoon. Frances had come to the editing room at Biograph and found Mary alone. She was startled when Mary turned around, her petite frame dominated by her big blue eyes and long, curly blonde hair. “I know we’re going to be best friends,” Mary had said within minutes of their meeting.  “I don’t have many friends,” she had confided.
 
 
Essay: “Sparky” in Writing Disorder
 I don’t know where he came from but when I got off the school bus one afternoon at the corner of my street, my mother was holding him in her arms. He was an agitated ball of black and white fluff and he looked to me like a perfect puppy. His snout was white with little black dots all over it. The rest of his body looked a little like an Oreo cookie.
 
 
 
 As an outspoken First Lady, she was ridiculed, reviled and often imitated. Each year she lived in the White House, she was named one of the most admired women in America, encouraging young girls to fulfill their potential in spite of the oppressive sexism of the times. No, this isn’t about Hillary Clinton.
 
 
 
 
Our first day on safari in Africa: my partner and I were alone in a four-wheel drive jeep with a Kenyan guide, our first game drive in the desolate savannah – alone, that is, except for the lions, cheetahs, hyenas and unspecified predators. Before this, the closest I had been to a desert was vacationing in Palm Springs.
 
 
 

Usually an afternoon walk to the mailbox is a mindless activity. I think about other things as I stroll to the end of the cul de sac to enter my key in the box, fourth one down on the left. Even as I do, I lament the loss of the daily home delivery that allowed a relationship, however impersonal, with the letter carrier. This day, I walked toward the box and saw a nearby garage door open, the house where I know people from Sri Lanka live. He sells small appliances and the garage is precipitously stacked with boxed goods. We’ve had some cordial conversations from time to time. The woman approached me with some urgency.

 
 You scan through Amazon.com or wander through your nearest bookstore and come across a book called The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy by Julia Cooper. What do you think you’ll find when you start to read? A history of eulogies and how they’ve become disappointingly mundane? The sad decline in the incidence of clever eulogies in our culture? A comic send-up of bad eulogies? How about something about the art of a Friars-like roast of the deceased? Or even a how-to book on how to enliven (sorry) the perfect eulogy? If you expected any of this, you’ll be disappointed.
 
 
 
I am that nosy neighbor parodied in popular fiction. As a writer, I work at home and take lots of breaks, so the easy walk to the front window offers a welcome escape from whatever is lashing me to the computer. Like most in that disparaged class of snoops, I’m a curmudgeonly introvert, not looking to schmooze on a regular basis. Gazing out the window is usually enough for me.
 
 
 
Nearly everything about the musical comedy “Hello, Dolly” is legendary. It’s a nostalgic time capsule set to music, not only of the early 20th century but of Broadway’s golden era. And yet, it remains timeless to audiences. Bette Midler has been playing to sold-out houses in a recent revival and in January Bernadette Peters will step into the iconic role. Both Carol Channing and Bette Midler won Tonys for their performance. For me, there is only one Dolly Gallagher Levi: the original.
 
 
Essay: “Mimi” In Adelaide
 Her most indelible appearance comes during the last segment of a silent and faded 8mm color film reel running just about three minutes, probably around 1949. The family is stiffly gathered on the lawn in the front of her spacious, rented two-story white, wooden Arts and Crafts house on Arroyo Verde Road in South Pasadena. My father, ever the family photographer, slowly and awkwardly pans the ensemble.
 
 
 
 
You might have noticed that heroes are in short supply these days. In this cynical age of instant and ubiquitous digital revelations, the pedestal has become a quaint artifact. The reality is, we know too much to enshrine so easily as we did in an earlier era. These days, many of the heroes from the last century have come under intense scrutiny, reputations incrementally evaporating with each tell-all tome.
 
 
 
 
(nominated for The Pushcart Prize)
 
     I am standing in front of the microwave with its door open, ready to insert the bag of popcorn that I’ll have for dinner. As I reach for the bag, I hear the lush strains of the opening notes of “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss. My body freezes, immobilized as if zapped by some 1950s, paralyzing ray gun. Before I can turn around to see it’s an ad on TV, I feel my eyes puddle up.
 
 
 
    In the last few days of 2010, my partner of more than 30 years inadvertently and begrudgingly let it be known that she had been deceiving me for years.
We both knew there was an issue with atypical dementia, stemming from multiple closed-head injuries in her youth. The diagnosis, describing a slow but progressive disease, had been confirmed by several neurologists.
 
 
 

Short Story: “Deconstructing Doris”

Note: As with most historical fiction, the people in this story are real. Many of the situations, however, are wholly imagined. This is one of the stories in a series that was inspired by the lives of Hollywood legends.
She was feeding the dogs in the cook’s kitchen when she heard the distinctive roar of his Porsche breaching the silence as it pulled up in the circular driveway in front of the contemporary house on Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills. She hurried to the front door, opened it and walked to the car to see Terry’s grim face.

 
 

I arrived early at the cemetery, just to be sure I was in the right place. The entrance was not well marked and there were no signs that said “Chapel.” I drove in past the many headstones to the only building on the premises. I walked in, accompanied by the resonance of my footsteps.

 
 
It was 1989 when the filming began, in an era of violent and graphic blockbusters and a culture driven primarily by white men. In other words, a Hollywood not so different from today. Everyone expected that the revolutionary and subversive “Thelma & Louise” would shake Hollywood into a transformation, but it turned out to be a minor tremor. Becky Aikman has written a smart, insightful and creative account, not only of the making of that film, but its cultural backstory in Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge.
 
 
 

It’s probably politically incorrect to admit this, but I loved being a shrink. Much of the time, it was stimulating, challenging and, well, fun. For nearly 25 years, I was a clinical psychologist in private practice in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, seeing as many as 38 clients a week in 45-minute sessions. I haven’t done that in more than 20 years now, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about those years and all the people who invited me into their lives.

 
 
 

I was never much good at becoming a girl and I loathed every bit of the relentless indoctrination. Early family photos either show me looking uncomfortable in frilly girl’s clothing or smiling broadly while wearing my preferred dirty jeans and tee shirt. My mother offered to teach me to cook, but I had no interest. Sewing was completely a non-starter. I wanted to be outside, hitting a tennis ball against the wall or riding my bike around the neighborhood. When my mother decided I had earned too many Girl Scout merit badges, she refused to sew anymore on the sash “because it might hurt the other girls’ feelings.” When I was in the first grade, I wanted to be called Phil. An outlier at an early age.

 
 
 
 I seldom travel alone these days.  As I settle into my first-class window seat on the direct flight to LAX, it’s oddly quiet.  No clever palaver from my understudy, no exchange of notes from my director, no script to memorize.  Nice, really.  At the same time, the isolation is almost anxiety producing, as if I only exist in the presence of others.  Well, that’s precisely what my last boyfriend said and he wasn’t around long enough to know anything about me.  He was an egotistical jerk, anyway.  He was wrong.  So wrong.
 

 
From LADY: an essay, “Vicki”
 
 She was in her first year of teaching English and Social Studies at Emerson Junior High in West Los Angeles. It was 1954; I was 11 and feeling lost in my new
surroundings. The school resembled an institution, dark, crowded and filled with the noise of kids yelling at each other. I felt anxiety nearly every day and even stopped eating breakfast due to an iffy stomach. The school seemed at least twice the size of my elementary school and I had to take a crowded bus for a half hour each way.
 
 
 

Book Review: Forgetting Who We Are: Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on my Dementia

 What’s your greatest fear? Speaking in public? Loneliness? Getting hurt? How about losing your mind? How does that fit into your hierarchy? Most of us worry a little when we forget our keys, misplace an item or can’t recall a name. But it’s easily attributable to fatigue, distraction or even age. But what if it’s the beginning of the end?
 When I was a child, my favorite things to draw were deserts and skyscrapers, an entirely accurate representation of my inner landscape. There were no people in my artwork up to about the third grade when I was commanded by the teacher to draw a human being. I drew a sailor. I had never been in a desert or a city with tall buildings. For that matter, I’m not certain I had seen a sailor in person, either.
 
 
 
 
What goes on behind the scenes in the White House has become a hot topic, perhaps more than at any other time since Watergate. A new book by Chris Whipple offers an historical perspective on who possesses the power behind the throne.
 
 
 
 
IT ALL STARTED INNOCENTLY ENOUGH. I just wanted some voice lessons. I have had a long love-hate relationship with singing and performing, often fallow for decades. Singing always seemed to intersect with my life. Or was it the other way around?
 
 
 Someone arriving on earth the first weekend in April would surely believe she had found a small, anachronistic, countercultural colony here at the Cypress Inn in Carmel, California. There are people present from the far reaches of the planet, having migrated here for an annual weekend replenishment of spirit and nostalgia.
 
 
 Forget the profane Harry Cohn, the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer, and the lascivious Darryl F. Zanuck. Never mind the fictional sociopathic Sammy Glick. Enter Sherry Lansing, billed here as the first female to head up a major motion picture studio, breaking the sexist executive mold forever. Stephen Galloway has written a delicious valentine to her in Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker.
 
 
 
I’ve never really enjoyed her singing, but she is a legend, after all. She was primarily known as a scat artist, often ignoring a song’s meaning or depth. Melody could be elusive, as she affected the harmony lines and intonation of a tenor sax or an adventurous trumpet player. Her innovative stylings caused her to be worshipped by beboppers, revered by jazzbos everywhere. Though I wasn’t a fan, I appreciated the artistry, shared the passion for singing and wanted to meet the infamous Anita O’Day.
 
 
 
Book Review: The Inkblots in Fourth&Sycamore 
 
 The clinical psychologist hands a card to the man sitting directly across from her and asks, “What might this be?” It’s the standard opening in the administration of the ten-card Rorschach test, aka, the “inkblot test,” first published by Hermann Rorschach in 1921. The same question could be asked of this lengthy and over-inclusive history.
 

Escapism Literary Magazine: Fiction: “The Last Fan”

She used to be Joan Davis. Now she was just another 53-year-old has-been living behind tall, well- manicured hedges on Tamarisk Road in the Movie Colony in Palm Springs.

 

 
 
Beverly Park isn’t there any more, like so many of my childhood haunts – torn down in the name of progress or capitalism, which is one and the same to so many. In the late 1940s and 1950s, it was an amusement park, modest compared to anything that came later. Some have said it inspired Walt Disney to create his Disneyland.
 

It was not unusual for me to be filmed in my office. Since getting my Ph.D. and moving to Oregon, I had made frequent local and regional appearances, commenting on whatever disaster was in the news. Whether the Iran hostage crisis or the slaughter in Jonestown, I was often on TV, formulating what I hoped was an informed psychological contex
 
Patrick waited out the morning in the beige café just off the interstate. Everything looked dreary to him today. He had hoped for more but he knew the political realities of the little town of Wahoo. It had been a Republican stronghold since FDR. Just 30 long miles down a desolate backroad, a half-hour away from the state capitol of Lincoln, Wahoo was even more conservative in every way than the rest of the state, if that was possible.
If I were to come back as a musical instrument, it would be as a cornet in a hot Dixieland band.
 
Even now, all these years later, I have a recurring dream about driving alone around Madison, lost and trying to find my way home.  I am driving around hills, the lake always on one side. It all looks so familiar but I am not sure I am heading in the right direction.
 
In 1930, Cole Porter wrote the words and music for “I Happen to Like New York,” one of the thousands of the musical paeans to that magnificent city.  In her memoir, The Odd Woman and the City, Vivian Gornick manages to capture not just the layered tempos of Porter’s city, but the equally rich textured nature of her life in that metropolis.
 
When I was a little kid, I had a secret that I never told anyone. I was going to become a legend. It was merely a matter of getting in front of the right people, being seen and being heard. When I went to the movies or listened to records by the popular singers of the day, I knew I could do that, given half a chance. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I discovered not everyone wanted to be a movie star, much less of legendary status. What was wrong with them?
 
Other than family and friends, radio was my first contact with the outside world, providing palatable lessons in enculturation. More encouragingly, it taught me that there might be intelligent life outside my conventional and emotionally strangled household.
 
From the get-go, she’d eat almost anything but blueberries were a clear favorite. Brooklyn loved to share mine each morning so I’d always add extras to my fruit bowl. Eating together on the couch was an eagerly anticipated activity for both of us.
There’s no telling when or how inspiration might strike a writer. It can come from a dream, an innocuous conversation with a friend or even from a newspaper article about a house for sale.
 
The night club is dark and seedy, but I can easily identify the bones of what was once reputedly a hot spot for the Rat Pack in the 1960s here in Palm Springs. An alleged quote from Frank Sinatra covers much of one wall, meant to evoke a different era: “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy but the bible (sic.) says love your enemy.”
 
How old was I when I realized I was the family’s black sheep? As long as I can remember, I knew I could not trust my parents with my real self.
It happens around the same time each morning. I’ve bounded out of bed, placed the glasses on my face and made my way into the kitchen after carefully disarming the house alarm.
The trouble started on stage, as might be expected. Being good mattered more than anything to her, even more as she got older. She tried to figure out what was wrong, how she got off track this way. Now it had gone on too long.

The whole thing had mattered too much, of course, as I knew it would.

“Love Finds a Way,” D.W Griffith wrote in 1909, but it wasn’t any easier in those primitive days before computers.
Looking back on it now, I realize I was set up. I had been hired by a man with a long-term grievance against his colleagues and he used me to satisfy his unfinished business.
 
Dear Adam
Dear Adam

NoiseMedium, December 14, 2016

Good afternoon. In your last email, you referred almost casually to having discussed suicide with your therapist. I know this is not a subject new or unfamiliar to you. You and I have talked about it several times before over the years, often under far more urgent circumstances. I appreciate your giving me permission to address this topic with you again, this time with seemingly more time to deliberate. And I value the trust. We’ve been friends a long time and…Continue Reading
Sinatra's Mic
Sinatra’s Mic

Angels Flight, July 28, 2016

How did I get here? I was standing in a Capitol Records recording studio holding Sinatra’s microphone in my hand.I had dreamed about doing this all my life but I never really thought it would happen. Still, it wasn’t totally unreasonable. I had already made many of my showbiz dreams come true over the years. I had appeared in a half-dozen films, had my own local television show, had been a disc jockey on the radio, was in a dozen or so commercials, and traveled all over the country singing in jazz clubs and cabaret rooms. There was just one thing missing. Continue Reading
Manifest-Station
Home
The Manifest-Station, August 18, 2016

It takes some planning to get into the correct lane for the right turn off busy Sunset Boulevard to Hartzell Street in Pacific Palisades but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 so it’s automatic for me – even now. Hartzell is one of the “alphabet streets,” part of a grid developed early in the history of the Palisades, all of which were named after the founding Protestant missionaries.

I haven’t lived there in more than a half century. But whenever I’m in the area, I feel an irresistible cosmic pull to make the pilgrimage to the house where so much of my childhood and adolescence unfolded, the repository of my earliest self. Now when I drive the four blocks up Hartzell to the house,…Continue Reading

 

Lenney on Lenney
Lenney on Lenney
The Coachella Review, July 12, 2016

A graduate of Yale and the Bennington Writing Seminars, Dinah Lenney also trained at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse School, home of the esteemed Sanford Meisner technique. Like writing, acting has taken her to myriad places—stage, screen and theater—allowing her to play a wide variety of roles.

Dinah has taught both acting and writing courses all over the country. She has also spoken at a TED conference at USC, a presentation integrating her interest in all the arts, “When Life Meets Art.” With Mary Lou Belli, she wrote Acting For Young Actors: The Ultimate Teen Guide.

And she has written two memoirs,…Continue Reading

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Tribute to Noel Neill: A Celebration of Her Life
Metropolis, Illinois
November 5, 2016

She wasn’t always Lois Lane.

Noel arrived in Los Angeles from Minneapolis with her mother in 1938 and earned her living as a nightclub singer. She was 17 years old. Bing Crosby heard her and hired her for his club in Del Mar. It was a great time to be a singer. The legends of Tin Pan Alley were writing the music we’ve all come to know so well. The popular tunes of the day were written by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern. Her favorite song, though, had been written in 1930, an early collaboration between Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields: “Exactly Like You.” She put it on her song list whenever possible. Ironically, it wasn’t her singing that led to the movies. It was a fluke encounter with a horse. Continue Reading

 

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