Kathryn Lively, Writer

6 Days Since Last Accident

Other Pretty Women

Want to feel old? Pretty Woman is 25 this year. I’ve seen that posted everywhere lately, and recently Today had most of the cast gathered for a reunion interview. I find it curious, this recent trend of celebrating landmark anniversaries in pop culture, and I wonder about the criteria involved in choosing which film or album gets all the attention and anniversary cake.

I recall last year browsing sites and discovering a 25th anniversary fete to Troop Beverly Hills, and I thought Why? Why celebrate a forgettable comedy that probably left Shelley Long regretting her departure from Cheers? This was a movie I watched more than once when it cycled through HBO’s schedule in the early 90s but otherwise forgot as time passed. Most movies are like that to me. I might have enjoyed them during their initial run and rented them at Blockbuster shortly afterward to experience the films with family. Beyond that, however, I rarely drop everything when Jim Belushi’s K-9 or Andie McDowell’s Green Card comes on TV.

I may be in the minority here, but Pretty Woman would fall under the same category. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the movie in theaters and liked it for what it was. It’s not a movie I’d watch over and again, or own on Blu-Ray. Between 1989 and 1994 I went to the movies often – they were affordable and I had the disposable income to burn since I still lived at home. I probably saw more films in the theater in this point in time than in my whole life. This period may not represent a classic age in cinema, but there are a few gems I’d like to celebrate as they turn 25, two in particular.

We remember Pretty Woman because it was Julia Roberts’s breakthrough as a leading lady. She got a Best Actress nomination, but you know who won that year? Kathy Bates, for Misery:

She earned it, too. Bates embodied the perfect blend of nurturer and psycho. Writers who dream of mammoth sales and contracts may imagine the joy of receiving fan mail with regularity, and a movie like this convinces you maybe it’s okay to fly under the radar and achieve fame after you’ve died in bed after a long, productive life. After the shock wears off, you open your laptop and a word processing program and start the next story, and the next daydream.

Pretty Woman had two leads, but often relied on an ensemble to progress. By contrast, two people alone carried most of  Misery. You could have reduced or eliminated the roles of the sheriff, his wife, and Paul’s agent and still had a great film.

Misery was my first Stephen King film, and shortly afterward my first King novel, which I read on a twelve-hour drive from Jacksonville to Louisville. It’s still the only King film I’d pause life for if it came on TV, and I say this as a Kubrick fan. Sorry, Jack.

The second film, also 25 this year, is Postcards From the Edge. While it’s not about a writer, it’s written by Carrie Fisher, adapted from her novel. Fisher as a novelist is one of my greatest influences, so you can blame her every time I publish something.

The book is way different and includes a writer character whose subplot is completely excised from the movie. Nonetheless, Postcards was funny and dark and presents Carrie’s brilliance in peak form. Everybody has issues with job and family, but when you see what Suzanne Vale goes through here you waver between relief that it’s not your life, or envy because it isn’t.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the Internet, I’m more likely to remember Misery and Postcards with fondness as they turn silver. Next year, though, The Silence of The Lambs turns 25. That’ll be a party.

Images via Tumblr

Tuesday Twaddle: Down With Overlords

THOREAU

Until the end of his life, Lewis Grizzard wrote his books and newspaper columns on a manual Royal typewriter.  He held out on embracing technology with the ferocity of a child refusing to eat his broccoli. “I’m convinced computers are the tool of Satan,” he said, or rather he said something similar. Call him a prophet if you will. I can’t picture Lewis on Twitter or with an iPhone-shaped indentation in his back jeans pocket.

For me, computers are a necessary evil. I work online, I write, and everything happens in the magical space underneath my keyboard. I no longer have to lean over a copy machine at Kinko’s and spit out copies of two-hundred page manuscripts when I want to submit a novel. Now I click the send button, and the editor does the same and rejects me in half the amount of time.

With the computer, I’m able to find books easier, and writings I thought I’d never read. These days we as a society want to celebrate anniversaries of specific movies for some reason. It’s the 25th anniversary of Pretty Woman, a movie I haven’t seen in 25 years. Thanks to the Internet I can read the original, darker script and wish that film had been made so everybody can stop crediting E.L. James with the invention of the asshole billionaire hero.

Seriously, I am ribbed constantly that I will have this laptop on my thighs when they close the coffin.

I promise you, though, I’ll go as far as the computer and maybe a phone, and that’s it. Google and Facebook know enough about me.

This week I saw an ad for the next phase designed to bring us closer to Jetsons living. You might think, “Cool!” but it creeps me out.

Jibo looks like the love child of R2-D2 and that girl robot from WALL-E. It looks like it imprints on people and anticipates their every move. That’s a lot of power to give to a machine. Yeah, it would make life easier if a robot ordered your Chinese food for you, but if this thing has your credit information stored, think of what could show up in the mail without your knowledge. If this thing can control your lights, what if one day it rewires your house completely and the garage door lowers too soon, and too quickly?

I’m not an “everything is evil, JFK was an inside job”-type, but I’ve seen enough science fiction to know nothing good can come from a one-eyed robot:

And don’t butbutbut R2-D2 me. He was a crafty bugger, too. We don’t know his full potential. If Darth Vader had managed to seduce R2 to the Dark Side, forget the rebellion.

Maybe Thoreau had the right idea, going away into the woods. I fantasize about going off the grid, provided I could come out once a month to recharge my Kindle. :P

So Long, And Thanks For All the Funyuns

goodbye

I’ve tried a number of times to write this post, and each time I erase and start over. Eulogies are hard. Don’t ask me to write yours.

In a small online community brought together by common love for a music group, we lost a friend. He was a funny guy online and funnier in person. His death happened unexpectedly and in a tragic manner. His friends are stunned and hurt by his absence. I am as well, more so since (perhaps others in similar situations will agree) I had lost touch and took it for granted he’d always be around. He had become the kind of guy for me who lurked in the back corner of my mind. Always a fond memory and the hope I’d get back to his side of the country for a beer. I should drop him a note, I think, and then I don’t. Now I can’t.

He liked Rush, Mexican food, garlic, and Funyuns. He went to most of the community gatherings on the West Coast and ribbed some of the more religious of us on the board, but never came off as mean-spirited. I don’t know if he realized how many friends he had, people willing to listen. I hope he knows now that he will be missed.

The Dorothy Parker Project: Enough Rope

The Dorothy Parker Project

Take care to remember the word epigrammatic. It’s one you’ll find associated often with Mrs. Parker’s poetry. An epigram is defined as a witty or pithy comment – in other words, snark – or a poem that embodies such wit.

7264993During her career, Mrs. Parker published three original volumes of poetry: Enough Rope, Sunset Gun, and Death and Taxes. The verses in these books have  been collected into various omnibuses since the late 1930s (among them Not So Deep As A Well), and in 2009 a collection of “lost” poems surfaced in the book Not Much Fun. If you can find a copy of Not So Deep As a Well or The Portable Dorothy Parker you’ll have a handy resource for binge poetry-reading, otherwise I’d suggest picking up  The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker for a read-along. For the purpose of The Dorothy Parker Project, I’m using a number of books I’ve had in my possession for decades, plus Kindle purchases of more recent editions.

As you read, you’ll find Mrs. Parker touches on set themes in her verse: death, heartbreak, cynicism, melancholy. Look at the titles of her books and note how they convey her mindset: ropes, guns, death. It’s no secret that Mrs. Parker had been suicidal and (likely in her opinion) terrible at succeeding in it. She’d tried taking her life once or twice that we know of, and spent much of her remaining years unhappy and drinking, which slowed her writing significantly.

People might wonder at how somebody blessed with a wicked sense of humor, the early 20th century Queen of Snark, could wish often for death and weave it constantly in her work. To quote Dana Gould, being funny is not the same as being happyI can never speak to what went on in Mrs. Parker’s head, but we have her poems as clues open to interpretation. Today, we talk about Enough Rope.

Enough Rope was first published in 1926. Marion Meade notes in her biography of Mrs. Parker, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?,  of the book’s popularity and appeal. It became a bestseller and enjoyed several reprints (remarkable for a volume of poetry at the time) and earned praise from readers and reviewers. This is ostensibly her breakthrough work, one that extended her reach from the Algonquin Round Table into the American lexicon. Perhaps then people mimicked her quips with the same regularity as we quote movie dialogue today.

When you open the book, you realize first thing Mrs. Parker isn’t going to let you slide through the book without feeling her anguish. Enough Rope opens with “Threnody,” which means “lament.” Her heart is “shattered,” and she wants you to know that she’s still alive and “every likely lad in town / gathers up the pieces.” As Mrs. Parker writes it, though, it doesn’t sound like a message of hope, of finding love after a disappointment, but the inevitable setup for another round of misery.

Moving along, one is hard-pressed to find silver linings. Here’s what you’ll find in the first few pages:

“The Small Hours” – The listless speaker bemoans the nights and finds no comfort of the coming sun.

“The False Friends” – Resentment of well-meaning friends who attempt to bring cheer.

“The Trifler” – Heavy flirting with Death, perhaps a reference to a failed suicide attempt in which Death is blamed for its failure.

“A Very Short Song” – Another lament of heartache, also an acknowledgement that she’s as capable of creating it.

“A Well Worn Story” – Love with the wrong person, and the eventual fallout. More than once Mrs. Parker refers to April in her poetry – a month significant as the beginning of spring and renewal and hope, yet she rarely finds it.

“Convalescent” – A resolution to get over lost Love ends with the resignation that she’d willingly take him back regardless of how badly she feels.

“Epitaph” – She speaks of two deaths: the first emotional and the second physical. The “gleaming pain” between my ribs could suggest a broken heart, and the image of lying warm in the earth implies relief and comfort in death.

Within Enough Rope you’ll also find two of Mrs. Parker’s better known epigrams, both indicative of her curt, cynical humor:

“Resume”

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

“News Item”

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

All together in this one book, you could form the story of a woman weary from worldly experience, pessimistic about true love and wishing for an early end, only to find it so much of a chore that maybe it’s better to let nature take its course and resign yourself to harmful vices while you wait.

~

Buy The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker (AMZ/BN) .

The Dorothy Parker Project: Introduction

The Dorothy Parker Project

Carrie: Why did you worship Louise Brooks?

Madonna: Because she was hyperactive, she didn’t mince words, and she was a rebel, at least from what I’ve read. I thought she was a fab girl.

Carrie: Who else do you like who doesn’t mince words?

Madonna: Bette Davis. Oh, everybody I like is dead. The next name, while I was on tour for six months, was Kit Moresby from [the book] The Sheltering Sky. She’s fairly high-strung but not exactly my personality.

Carrie: She was a lesbian and insane. Kit was based on the writer Jane Bowles.

Madonna: So they say. Anyways, I loved the book, but after I saw the movie, I didn’t want to be Kit Moresby anymore, because it was so disappointing. I didn’t want people to think that I was Debra Winger.

Carrie: So we’re staying with Dita until further notice.

Madonna: Until I find somebody else to be enamored of.

Carrie: Someone from the past who’s dead. Dorothy Parker?

Madonna: She’s good, but I don’t like the name Dorothy.

Carrie: Dotty. She wore those little puffy dresses and was apparently a really mean drunk.

– from Carrie Fisher’s interview of Madonna in Rolling Stone Magazine, June 13th, 1991

***

Welcome to my blog, where over the course of weeks (months?) we will dissect a really mean drunk.

Well, not literally. I do resolve to keep things as literary as possible. The purpose of The Dorothy Parker Project is to provide an in-depth look at the writing of an influential writer from the early 20th century.

If you don’t know Dorothy Parker, you may have heard the quote Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses. She wrote that. Not really, she actually wrote Men *seldom* make passes… It’s arguably her most famous saying, and maybe the most misquoted. I think people tend to use never in this case by virtue of the prominent themes in Mrs. Parker’s poetry: heartbreak, loss, cynicism. Using seldom in the above passage implies there’s hope that somewhere out there a man is hitting up a bespectacled lady. I wish Mrs. Parker lived today, so she could see the odds would be in that lady’s favor. Girls make passes at girls who wear glasses, too. But we’re getting off topic.

Dorothy Parker wrote poetry, reviews, screenplays and short stories and was a member of the Algonquin Round Table – a gathering of writers, wits, and critics who met regularly at the Algonquin Hotel for lunch and traded barbs. Any given week you might have seen Mrs. Parker side-eye and zing the likes of Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Harpo Marx, and/or Tallulah Bankhead.

 

Dorothy's the one in the pearls.

She’s the one in the pearls. (Wikimedia Commons, pub. domain)

I included the excerpt from the Madonna interview mainly to hat-tip Carrie Fisher, for without her I may not have found Mrs. Parker until later in life. In 1991 I was a sophomore in college and had devoured Carrie’s first two novels, Postcards From the Edge and Surrender the Pink, and hoped for more writing from her. Delusions of Grandma was a few years out yet, but I had a subscription to Rolling Stone when that interview was published. So an innocuous drop of a name from one who influenced me led to my discovery of the second woman who did the same and more. Thanks, Carrie. I owe you dinner.

I hoped to write an extensive paper on Mrs. Parker’s work as part of my English studies. Unfortunately, resources on her work were lacking. I found Marion Meade’s wonderful biography and…that was pretty much it for 1991 in a sub-par university library. Trips to the state university at the beach yielded less. I’d find an encyclopedia snippit here and there, but nothing with meat. Some books did exist, mind you, but you’d come to find out they were inaccurate and lacking in analysis. The Dorothy Parker Society wouldn’t be established until 1999, and many of the books I would have used wouldn’t come out until later than that.

Since my professors required me to have several resources on which to base my research, I abandoned any hope of writing that thesis. It sucked. At that point in time I could find more criticism on Stephen King than Dorothy Parker. Using the Internet now, I’ll wager I could write a thesis on E.L. James for all that’s available. So little available on a woman who won the O. Henry Prize, but if you want 500 pages on the use of tampons in sex scenes you’ll strike gold.

20879970Why the dearth of criticism on Mrs. Parker’s work? We could ask Lillian Hellman…wait, we can’t. She’s dead. Next best thing would be to read Marion Meade’s The Last Days of Dorothy Parker (ARe/AMZ/BN/KOBO), which recounts how Hellman arguably attempted to quash any desire to perpetuate Mrs. Parker’s legacy. See, when Mrs. Parker died she named Hellman the executor of her estate which suited the playwright just fine…until she discovered all the money and copyrights were going to Martin Luther King, Jr., then to the NAACP upon his death. This meant Hellman could control certain aspects of Mrs. Parker’s work but she wouldn’t get a plugged nickel for her efforts. To make matters worse for her, Mrs. Parker’s will stipulated for the NAACP to assume executor duties after King’s death, and I doubt anybody expected his assassination to happen less than a year after he inherited.

So, every time somebody came to Hellman wanting to write a book on Mrs. Parker, or to adapt a story for stage and screen, she told them to take a hike and kept doing so long after her tenure as executor expired. Call it a final “eff you” to a frenemy, but it strikes me that she felt if she wouldn’t benefit from these projects why should anybody else?

I’m not afraid of mean drunk ghosts, and Hellman can’t touch me either. Like Ellen Meister, whose Mrs. Parker novels reignited my interest in pursuing a dormant goal, I’d like to contribute more to the lexicon. While there may be more criticism of Mrs. Parker’s work available now than when I needed it, I want to help out the next generation so they aren’t disappointed and forced to settle on writing a thesis called Holy Crap! Exaggeration and Hyperbole in Fifty Shades of Grey for Contemporary English Lit 301.

Here, you will read review and criticism of Mrs. Parker’s work by me. If anybody else wants to chime in, cool. What are my qualifications, besides an English degree, twenty years of professional writing and editing, ten years experience in publishing, and ten published books? Well, it’s my blog and nobody’s sent a cease and desist.

I do take this work seriously, so if you are an English major reading this twenty years in the future, I hope you find what you need for your work and cite me correctly. If I’m still alive and on Twitter, drop me a note.

Kathryn Lively, March 2015

 

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