Friday, June 21, 2013

1 Weird Dream That I've Had

Coming up with ideas for blog posts is tough.

I just finished a round of using the letters of the alphabet as a starting point.
I asked some friends on facebook for ideas for the next round once I'd depleted the alphabet.
Numbers were suggested and I thought it would be a good idea, so today's post is  

"One weird dream that I had."

Since we got back from what will hence be known as the vacation that never really was, I've had weird, weird dreams when I was finally able to sleep soundly through the night again. A lot of them involved me being in a hospital bed and having no idea where I was, just looking up from my pillows to see the curtain they pull around your space for privacy. Then once I started catching up on my sleep, they got interesting.

A lot of the time they've been snippets- Tuesday morning, for example, I don't remember what I was dreaming about but I woke up with the theme from Charles in Charge in my head. (It was not a stellar start to the day.)

Today, I had a snippet that made me chuckle out loud.

I dreamed there was a new show on Nickelodeon or Disney Kids or whatever channel puts this crap out these days. It was called "Hey! Nosferatu!" and it was a zany sitcom where Nosferatu was transported from the past to our present and had to deal with the trials and tribulations of being in junior high. I think this has a great deal of potential. I'm tempted to start working on a spec script.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Z is for ...

Z is for ... Zelda.

I have a bit of a thing for the Lost Generation. I've been on Hemingway and Dos Passos kicks lately, I adore Dorothy Parker, and I can't ever get enough of Gerald and Sara Murphy. I've always been kind of lukewarm about F. Scott Fitzgerald, though, and I think recently I figured out why: he was an oppressive jerk, specifically in regards to his wife, Zelda.

There's a lot of interest in Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald right now because of the latest film of The Great Gatsby (which I have not yet seen). There's a handful of books that have just come out looking at their life together through her eyes, which was just not done years ago. Like a lot of other literary wives, she was seen as merely window dressing, a muse, or a deterrent. Most of the time these wives turn out to be fantastically talented people who subverted their own dreams so their spouse could shine. In many cases, they completely devoted themselves to taking care of their spouse so they could work on their masterpieces. Vera Nabokov is one of them. Even without her famous spouse, she was a fascinating person in her own right and I'm so grateful that authors like Stacy Schiff and Nancy Milford see fit to focus on the person just outside the spotlight.

But Zelda is different. Hers is a sadder story and I think one that illustrates the fight for women's rights. Because that battle isn't just for equal pay, control over our health care, or legal permissions; at its heart, the women's rights movement is about respect. And Zelda didn't get much of it.

I'm reading Nancy Milford's fantastic biography of her right now.
It's heartbreaking.

While I certainly do not deny that Zelda had a personality order or some other psychiatric illness, it's clear from their letters and other people's reminisces that Scott Fitzgerald had an awful lot to do with her deteriorated mental state. Her cosseted, traditional Southern girlhood also contributed to her conflicts.

Although Fitzgerald held her up as the first flapper and queen of her kind, Zelda wanted to be useful and successful, in spite of her protestations that she didn't "want to live, I want to love first and live incidentally."

She was never trained to do any kind of useful work, or even trained in the arts. She was a bright girl but found school boring and no one bothered to try to interest her in her studies because as a southern belle, she was just going to marry and have babies anyway. She found herself so alone when Scott worked that she longed to have
something of her own to do. So she wrote too. She was undisciplined and untrained, but imaginative and extraordinarily creative with her word play. But Scott didn't like her treading on his turf, and he was especially livid when she wrote a novel, Save Me the Waltz, that was heavily autobiographical.

The reason for his anger toward this novel? Scott Fitzgerald had planned to use Zelda's life and experiences for HIS next novel, Tender is the Night. He didn't feel that Zelda had any right to her own life story. He actually used whole passages from her letters to him AND her diaries word for word in his novels! And yet he was furious that she try to write about her own experiences herself.

And he was cruel about it. According to Milford, "he mercilessly exposed Zelda in his characterization of Nicole Diver.  He drew upon Zelda's most terrible and private letters to him, written in the anguish of the early months of her illness... snipped and pieced them together in Book II with very little regard for Zelda's reaction or for the precarious balance of her sanity."

Zelda, in the hospital again after another relapse, was upset by the book. She said of it, "What made me mad was that he made the girl so awful and kept on reiterating
how she had ruined his life and I couldn't help identifying myself with her because she had so many of my experiences .... But on the whole, I don't think it's true- I don't think it's really what happened."

In a therapy session, Scott called her- to her face- a third rate writer and a third rate talent. He denigrated her for devoting herself to ballet, convinced she was delusional thinking she could be a top rate dancer at her age. He was blind to the fact that she just wanted something for herself, and every time she found something, he made sure to take it away from her in one way or another. She had to give up so much of herself in order for him to be happy with himself. All her desperation came through when she said, "I'm so tired of compromises. Shaving off one part of oneself after another until there is nothing left."

Scott made frequent mention of her as if she were an acquisition, something whose procurement would serve only to make him seem better in the eyes of others. He didn't necessarily want Zelda the person- he wanted the most popular girl in Montgomery, Alabama. The prettiest girl, the one with the most men after her. It's debatable whether her illness drove him to his excessive drinking or his drinking played a part in her illness, but he came to blame her for all his woes. His 'asset' had become a liability. He told Malcolm Cowley, "That girl had everything... she was the belle of Montgomery, the daughter of the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court... everybody in Alabama and Georgia knew about her, everybody that counted. She had beauty, talent, family, she could do anything she wanted to, and she's thrown it all away." Well, she could do anything Scott wanted her to do. And apparently her talent was to be admired only when it didn't compete with his. She was to stay up on her pedestal where he put her.

After enough blow-ups over her writing, she turned to painting, but she was in the full throes of a mental illness that no one knew how to treat at the time, and they're scary things. Looking at her paintings, while inventive and intriguing, they're clearly a window into a broken mind. They're not paintings you could live with for long.

This isn't necessarily a very cheerful post, but at least we have the reassurance that things have gotten better for women since the 20s and 30s.  The recent findings that fairly soon more women will be the primary breadwinners in their families than men show that we have indeed come a long way since Zelda's time when women were supposed to simply step back and be taken care of. However, the backlash to this change reminds us that our advancements cannot be taken lightly, as there are plenty of people- men and women, unfortunately- who wish to see us revert to old, stereotyped gender roles and not the fulfillment of our ambitions.

In reading this book, I've often found myself wondering what Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald might have been like if she had come of age in the 21st century. Would her star have shone brighter than her husband's if she had just been allowed to accomplish something other than being popular and partying? And just perhaps, was that fear that she might actually be the true talent in the family what fueled the drinking that sent Scott Fitzgerald to his grave at the age of forty-four?

** And thus our exploration of the alphabet has come to a close. Next blog series- numbers! And hopefully more frequent posting!