Wednesday, March 25, 2015
In this photo you can see my high school friend, Sally, who is unfortunately still beautiful, and I are heading out of her garage to go to her country club so I can give a book talk on my memoir COMING ASHORE over dinner.
Before I spoke I was seated next to an emergency physician. In an effort to make conversation, I asked what are the most common emergencies in Florida. He said drunken golf cart accidents which are serious since people are old and many are on blood thinners and they bleed out when they tumble out or roll into a pond. The second most common emergency is, believe it or not, venereal disease. He said when people move into assisted living, they have a 'randy stage' where they jump from bed to bed having unprotected sex. Wow! Back to my chicken dinner.
Well those are just two sociological nuggets from the Sunshine state. Of course one of the glories of the state is the weather and being able to dine outside under the palms--- or so I thought. Another Florida shocker is that no one sits outside--ever. When I arrived from Canada I was so happy to be at my friend Sally's place. I asked if we could eat breakfast outside since it was so beautiful in her garden. She said no for two reasons. One the sprinkling system sprays on the cushions and they are wet and the other reason is her husband does not like eating out of doors.
Then I went to another huge house in Orlando with huge gardens and asked if we could sit near the pool to have our drinks. She looked at me horrified and said , "No, the gardner is coming tomorrow and there are a few dry leaves on the ground near the pool. Sorry, Oh and I have to close the drapes or the furniture fades."
Off I went on another day to the most exclusive spot in Sarasota in a golf community that I needed a code to get into. A grounds man drove in front of me to get to the house. ( I guess he wanted to be sure I didn't loot places on the way.) These people had a mansion and huge wrought iron porches a la Gone with the wind on the first and second floors. I asked if we could have drinks on the porch before going to the club for the talk and she said, "Absolutely not. You could get brained by a golf ball. It is totally unsafe out there. If you want to sit outside we have to go to the club."
I hoped to have better luck on the other coast in Florida further south. However I was told that no one goes outside. The woman said, "We had gofers or some small brown furry thing. I had to fill in the pool."
When I got to Boca Raton, I was staying with a woman from Buffalo so I knew she'd understand my need for some outdoor warm air. She said, "Ok, one drink, but then we are moving inside. Bugs come at dusk." So you can see me below after my 13 stop tour of Florida where I can sit outside for five minutes only and have my drink.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
I am on a Florida book tour publicizing my last memoir Coming Ashore. I am going to rent a car and go from Orlando down the ocean coast past Palm Beach and Miami and then I’ll drive up the Gulf side and hit Naples and Tampa and everything in between. I’m renting a car, I”ll have GPS that says Welcome to Florida, Cathy, (I’ve done this before). I’m taking my books in my trunk, and I’m heading out into, as my son calls Florida, God’s waiting room. There is something fun about being alone and observing a foreign culture—-and let’s face it-- Florida can be strange. I thought I’d blog a bit along the way.
Plane From Toronto to Orlando—Disney Express
Is there anything worse than being on a plane to Orlando in spring break? It is full of disciples making a pilgrimage to Disney World. There are parents who call each other “mom” and “dad” and who say to their gaggle of kids, “You have fifteen minutes at the window and then you have to let your sister have a turn.” Of course the boy says, “No way.” And the girl cries and then the parents argue with the wife telling the husband that he should never have given the window to the boy, etc. They all finally give up on human interaction and rent ipads with games for each of them @$14.95 each. After that there is silence and they are not heard from again.
Just when I thought it could not get worse, a family with a baby has just joined me. (Late arrivals.) The couple is taking their eight-month old drooling baby to Disneyworld. Why? Is he really going to recognize Mickey Mouse as an American icon or be terrified of a gigantic mouse? They have brought a music box they continually rewind that plays ‘The wheels on the bus.’ When it is finished they start it again.
On my other side is a middle-aged Iranian couple who are going to Disney World as adults with no kids. They want to “experience America.” Are Goofy and Donald Duck America? I just read the first part of the American Travelogue by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard in 'the New York Times'. He decided the best way to see America was to not talk to anyone and visit hollowed- out Detroit. That turned out to be America for him and anyone who reads his article, it will be America for them. So these Iranians are going to go home and report on Disney world as America? I suppose it is as much America as anything else.
The woman in front of me who has a massive lung infection is wearing Mickey Mouse ears and spitting up Dumbo sized yellow globs from her lungs into her eye shade. I guess you have to pay extra for a Kleenex on air Canada. An older man next to her said, “If you are so sick you shouldn’t travel and infect all of us.” (I was with him on this score.) She said she’d paid for Disney world and she was going if she had to be carried through the pearly gates into never-never land.
The eight year old girl across the aisle from me has blonde hair with dark roots and is wearing a crop top, short shorts and cowboy boots. ( How did she get out of record cold temperatures in Canada in February in that get-up?) she told the ever inquisitive flight attendant that she didn’t care about the rides or the Disney figures. She just wanted to eat at the Hard Rock Café and see celebrities. There was so much wrong with the outfit, the celebrity mentality, and the delusion that famous people eat in Disney World in Orlando, I don’t even know where to begin. Who knows? Maybe they pay people to eat there.
I’ve made to Orlando Airport alive and I’m at the baggage claim. Children have run amok. It is like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Disney acolytes have now departed from other flights. Little boys are running all over the moving baggage carousel, surfing and screaming as they took the winding turns. Their parents have apparently disowned them by this point because no one is taking any responsibility for them. Then large men in uniform appear and shut down the baggage carrousel by the emergency stop button and tell the parents, who now look like walking zombies, to remove their children or they won’t start up the carousel.
As I got into my compact rental car that smelled of cleaning fluid, I have never been so happy for silence and my destination in a retirement community.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Has the world changed and I haven't changed with it? I'll lay out my sorry little tale and you can let me know. I serially need feedback on this. I agreed to travel almost five hours by car to address some combined book clubs on my new memoir, Coming Ashore. It is my own fault I agreed to go so far. I was lulled by the Ontario Address and had no idea it was so far from Toronto. It felt like I circled Algonquin Park at least twice. All I know is I kept seeing the same trees.
The book club was arranged for 1:00 in the afternoon so I would have time to get back home on the same day. The host offered to put me up for the night, but that seemed more trouble than it was worth.
When I got there I realized the woman giving the group was a grandmother. This is not unusual since I have written three memoirs, the first one dates from the 50s', the second, the 60's and the last one is the 70's. It is common for me to have an older audience for they remembered those years. I myself am sixty-seven so it is not rare to have grandmothers exchanging pictures of their grandchildren.
The unusual thing at this event is that the grandchildren were there with their mother who was visiting. They were two lively preschool boys ( age 4 and 5) who ran around during the luncheon preceding the talk, knocking over glasses, grabbing food with their hands and crawling under the table, etc. I guess this is what kids do today. I have no idea since I have not been in contact with children since I had my own thirty some years ago. Their behaviour seemed neanderthal but I shrugged it off.
Then it was time for me to give my book talk and for the club to begin. We moved to the living room where forty chairs were set up in a circle. I could tell there were some serious readers there for they had post-its in their books and some of them had taken writing courses in Banff and wanted to write memoirs themselves. Also several of the women, like me, had travelled a long way. The daughter did not remove the two boys. They shouted, crawled around, played gun games, and generally disrupted. They also whined and constantly demanded food from the mother, however they hadn't eaten their lunch. No one corrected them or told them to leave the room. I assumed that the mother would take them out when she saw how disruptive they were. As time went on and they were not curtailed in any way they became more disruptive.
Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and said, "I'm sorry I can't hear any of the questions, nor can I concentrate on what I am saying. The children are too disruptive." No one said anything. Someone asked a question three times and I couldn't hear them. The kids kept going and finally I said, "I'm sorry either the kids leave or I have to go. This is an adult event." The grandmother looked stonily at me and the daughter said, "We are a family. The kids are having a wonderful time. I said "I have no doubt about that, but I am not, nor is anyone else in the room." I looked around the room for support, but everyone just looked down. Finally one woman said to me, "Cathy, that is how my grandchildren act. No one even sits at dinner. It is the new parenting called child-centred. I guess we are used to it." I got the feeling those present thought I was an old fuddy-duddy who didn't understand modern times.
I said I was not used to it nor did I approve of it, packed up and sped out of that driveway as fast as reverse could carry me. As I drove past their picture window I saw them all sitting there in a circle held captive by two pre schoolers. Better them than me I thought as I headed for the velvet quiet home.
Is this how children are supposed to act today? Is there no disciple? This can't be normal or remotely good for children. I wonder if others have run into this. What surprised me was no one came to my defence. Am I that out of it? I felt like I was on Mars of some troubled planet that resembled the book Lord or the Flies.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Sometimes the world realigns in subtle ways and sometimes there is an explosion. Today while reading the newspaper ( I know, how old fashioned) I discovered two changes in the world that rocked my socks.
The first was that Coke's sales have been dropping for the last few years. Apparently Canada's coke has more sugar in it than other countries. Coke, in a last ditch effort to reverse their declining sales, are taking some of the sugar out of coke in their main "secret recipe" which is guarded in Atlanta -- the recipe that only 'two live' people at a time know. ( The dead may know it at will.) I love that it was called Coke because it originally had cocaine in it at the turn of the century. And people wonder how it got such a foothold in America!
A branding expert said in the paper that coke is becoming aware that people want a healthier alternative to a sugary, caffinated, fattening drink. The world is voting with their pocket books by buying water and tea and leaving Coke on the shelves.
I remember in the 1950's when I worked in my dad's drug store people would ask for a pop and that meant Coke. If you wanted some other brand from the giant red Coke cooler you'd have to ask. It was rare to sell a lunch at the counter without a coke to go with it--- from a glass that said Coke Cola on it in white letters.
Coke has been tampering with its formula for years-- offering a new formula which their stalwart followers refused to buy so they had to bring back the old formula in the form of Coke Classic and then later fade out the new model when no one was looking. That is an interesting way to avoid saying you made a mistake.
Now for an even bigger seismic shift in the universe. I read ---on the same day as I read about the Coke failure that --- barbie dolls are losing their market share and have been in free fall decline for the last three years. They are now down by 21%. Barbie has been Mattel's biggest seller for -- get this-- 54 years! The Barbie marketing people and re-branders have decided to deal with this billion dollar problem by revamping an already vampy look. They are giving Barbie a narrative. Everything now needs a narrative to sell. They are doing a Barbie movie casting Barbie as a superhero and a princess.
I was too old for barbies, they were invented after I was a kid, ( Another sociological factor that places me in the dementia demographic) but I did sell them. I remember when being a blonde with gigantic breasts, small waist, and a huge wardrobe was as close to nirvana as you could get. Three generations were happy to ride into the sunset in a pink car with Ken in the passenger seat. ( Hey, at least he wasn't driving!)
Current statistics on Barbie show that girls of past generations used to play with Barbies until they were 14 years old. Now they play with her until they are six and move to an I pad. She's lost her edge. Those girls that have turned away say Barbie is 'babyish.'
I recently saw a New Yorker cartoon with a political candidate asking a crowd if they wanted change. Everyone in the crowd raised their hands. Then he asked how many people wanted to change and no one raised their hands. What I like about the Coke and the Barbie product change is that people have voted with their wallets for change. They are saying I don't want to drink secret formula garbage or play with a bleach blonde bimbo who looks like a pole dancer. Those days are over. They had a long run. Coke has been going since 1896 and barbie has been donning skimpy ensembles for over half a century. But their days are numbered. Let the re-branders redesign all they want. They are only rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. Their era is over--- Barbie has driven out of town in her pink convertible with a Coke Classic in her beverage holder.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
I’ve written three memoirs and usually I can predict people’s reaction to what I’ve written. I don’t mean whether they will like the book or not , I mean their reaction to the characters in the memoir. However, there is one character that always proves to be a wild card and that is my mother. I have given hundreds of talks and am continually surprised by how much attention my mother garners both positive and negative. In her life she was quiet and unassuming; yet, she propels people into orbit at my mere description of her. I wrote about her as the fantastic mother I thought she was—if I could be half the mother she was to me I’d be thrilled. That is why I am stymied when people find her cold, distant and neglectful. Is that the mother I portrayed? Was there an unconscious leakage of rage in my description of my lovely, pretty, mom?
As described in Too Close to the falls, My mother never cooked a meal.; therefore, we ate in restaurants. She only used the oven for drying mittens. When I, an only child, was four, I was so rambunctious that the paediatrician said I had to work full time. Since no one would ever hire a four year old, I went to work in my father’s drug store delivering drugs with the black delivery car driver named Roy. I went out to breakfast with my Dad, the pharmacist, and the Rotary Club and then sold the morning papers at 6:00 a:m. The rest of the day was spent delivering and dining with Roy and then I rolled into home around 10:00 p:m. It was a charmed life of innocence and fun with most of my time spent on the road. I developed self confidence, because let’s face it, when you deliver drugs, people are happy to see you.
When I went to catholic school, I acted up, on a regular basis, speaking out of turn, questioning religious doctrine, and trying to be amusing which was interpreted, probably correctly, as disruption. When the principal, Sister Agnese, called my home to complain, my mother just listened and after hanging up said to me that the nun had no sense of humour and suggested I save my routines for her when I got home. When people said I was too loud or too brash, she told me I was blessed with a big personality that may have been too big for the town. She suggested I ignore my critics which I found a satisfactory solution. My mother and I had a lot of fun together. We confided all of our secrets to one another and she killed herself laughing at all of my imitations of people in the town. She encouraged me in all of my endeavours no mater how bizarre.
In, After the Falls, the sequel to, Too close to the Falls , the plot thickened and became a bit darker. When I was in high school , my mother and I were left to cope with a father who’d lost his mind from a brain tumour and his money through bad planning while having a brain tumour. We both used black humour to get us through our darkest times. For example when I was in University and investigated by the FBI at my home, my father, whose mind was failing, thought the agents were Hoover salesmen and got out our vacuum for a home demonstration. Somehow in his ravaged brain he had still retained the association of FBI and J. Edgar Hoover. My mother and I were perpetually amused by that tale. I think it is an Irish Catholic trait to laugh in the face of tragedy. Why not—crying doesn’t help? When she was dying of leukaemia a few years after that she said the up side was no one would expect her to get up early or make a meal.
It is true that she thought my life was my own and if I was going to act up or not do my school work it was my decision. When school called to complain and asked if she was the mother of Cathy McClure, she always said no. As she said, “Well I didn’t act up – you did." When the police came to our house after I painted all the Black lawn Jockey’s in Buffalo white in the night, she said she had to have two Excedrin and go to bed. She never once, in my entire life, criticized me. I am not saying that was a good or bad thing – it is just a fact.
In all the book clubs I talked to most people admired by mother but there are always some who found her aloof, distant, and non-maternal and ultimately neglectful. Some were appalled we didn’t have food in our house. They equated food with love. It seems to me that restaurants are great and why does it matter where you get your sustenance? If food is love then why not love Colonial Sanders? It is true she left me to sort out my own issues. But that seems to me the best way to grow up. Rousseau says benign neglect is the best form of parenting and I’m with him on that one.
People have some unrealistic view of what mothers are supposed to be. ( Especially true in the 50’s when women didn’t work) How long is it going to take to put these shibboleths of motherhood to rest? It seems like whenever you cut one myth to pieces, it rises up and double like the hydra. My mother had a graduate degree in math. She was a prisoner of her time living in an era before women worked. Once she confided to me that she really didn’t like motherhood. She found it a confusing and difficult job with no rules. She said she loved me, but not the job of motherhood. She said it was like teaching. ( She only taught for one day—saying she didn’t know she’d have to teach children.) She loved math but not the job of teaching it. She loved me but not the job of motherhood. I imagine if we were all honest, there would be lots of mothers who would say the same thing.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Why do I get so nervous for each publication of one my memoirs? Honestly, nothing else frightens me, well… maybe cooking, but I’ve learned how to avoid that.
On the day of my latest launch for my third and final memoir, Coming Ashore, I went to the gym in the morning to work off some of my excess energy and did what I always do, stepped on my treadmill and placed my hands on the heart rate monitor handlebars to see my resting heart rate. The machine does some fancy calculation involving my weight and age, (both appalling) and comes up with a magic number called my ‘training zone’ that my heart is supposed to take to heart.
Today for the first time as I stood there I read a message on the monitor I’d never seen before. In big green letters it said, SLOW DOWN! “I’m not even moving”, I said aloud to my machine. After a few minutes of standing still I started to walk stealthily like Peter following the wolf.
Then the screen went red and it said, PRESS EMERGENCY RED STOP BUTTON AND DISMOUNT!
I can only assume my heart was racing. My first thought was this was a great way to lose weight. You can surpass your training rate just by standing still and having a book launch.
I write memoir. I have written ‘truths’ about myself that I would never have told anyone. Sometimes I’m embarrassed when I see that I’ve said in print. I write alone for years on end in the confines of my third floor office perched in the treetops and confess to the squirrels and to my computer. My latest and, praise the Lord, last memoir in my trilogy covers my life from the age of twenty-one to twenty-six. I wanted to be honest about what I was like at twenty-one. (Who wasn’t somewhat of whack job at twenty-one?) At my launch I had to read a section about my ridiculous and somewhat embarrassing antics involving Jimi Hendrix in London.
In my life, or anyone’s life, we all use defenses—denial, humour, intellectualization, delusions of grandeur and anger, the latter being my defense of choice. However, I’ve used all of them in various moments of need, and they have helped me to glide through life quite happily, relatively unscathed.
The problem with creative writing is that highly defended writing doesn’t work. It’s hackneyed and ultimately boring. To be a decent writer, you have to dig down a layer and skulk around in your filthy unconscious, which is littered with hidden trauma and humiliation where your unbridled instincts lurk. Jung says, we as humans have a collective unconscious. It is in the unconscious where we all have things in common. To write you have to mine the creative unconscious.
In reality no one cares about my life or anyone’s life but their own. When people read fiction or memoir they are trying to find verification for their own unconscious thoughts. People say they read to learn about others and other cultures, but I don’t buy it. I believe they read to verify their interior world. It is a normalizing process.
I have received many letters referring to my first childhood memoir Too Close To The Falls, saying they also thought the Indian on the test pattern on TV in the 50’s was talking to them, just as I wrote that at the age of four, he was talking to me. They were relieved they weren’t alone in their fantasy or misunderstanding of new technology (TV was new in the 50’s). I think that people are really afraid of their own thoughts and are relieved when someone else has them. Memoirists come from behind sweeping with a normalizing brush. Ask yourself why would anyone care about Cathy McClure Gildiner at the age of four in Lewiston, New York in 1948. I am not Madonna or Princess Diana. They read to find themselves in the book.
On the day of my latest launch, I opened the paper and read my first review, which said the book was witty and well written. As I expelling a sigh of relief, my roving eye alighted on a phrase near the bottom of the page saying I was pig headed.
So here you are out there on a tightrope telling the truth without a net and you get slammed. In memoir there is nowhere to hide. You are not hiding behind a fictional character. I can’t assume the identity of Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy. The character is me. When you write a memoir you have to grapple with the truth, frozen in time, of who you once were in your early twenties while still hoping to keep the reader on your side. It’s a tough balancing act.
The angry side of me wanted to scream out “Of course I was pig headed you thirty-five year old charmed reviewer.” If you are born in the forties, you have to be pig-headed not to get married at twenty-one and be a housewife and marry the catholic next door. (Not-that-there-is-anything-wrong-with that-- but it sure wasn’t what I wanted.) It was before feminism laid out the red carpet and I had to swim upstream. There were no laws on my side in the work place or anywhere else. I got to Oxford, got a phd. on Darwin’s influence on Freud, live in three countries, started my own business as a psychologist, then decided to be a writer at the age of fifty. When everyone said it was too late to become a writer, I forged on ignoring rejection. Then I published three memoirs with all my faults flashing in full Technicolor. Why?-- Because I’m pig-headed and proud of it.