Telling Your own Life Story

    The artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her close friend Anita Pollitzer wrote a lot of letters back and forth to one another during their decades-long friendship. They met in college, and after work and life geographically separated them, they continued the friendship via sitting at a desk and writing. (Fancier desks than the one above, but I just liked this photo of an old fashioned writing desk with inkwell and pen).

     They wrote about all the things girlfriends now text or email each other about except they had to use stamps and the post office.  Because everything was on paper, actual paper my goodness, the letters are saved. No delete button. And because one of the women became a world-renowned artist, the correspondence between two friends about everything from romances to idle gossip to career goals is now kept in the archives of none other than Yale.  Not too shabby. At the time most of the letters were written, they were just two women who had common interests and a shared respect for one another. Girlfriends.


     I thought of all the letters I wrote back and forth to my girlfriends when I left Illinois in 1977. I threw them all away and because I’m not famous I don’t think any fancy university will be pining for them. Still, I wish I still  had all those youthful letters if only to remember the girl I once was. Not saying I don’t like email or texting, but now it’s hard to imagine someone taking the time to write me a letter on paper, get a stamp, address an envelope and mail it to me. So much time invested when now we can just hit a few buttons. I keep any letters someone sends me now. There are none but I would keep them.

    When it came time to write Georgia’s biography, Anita was asked to do the honors. That was the beginning of the end of their friendship. Oh there were other issues that eroded the friendship in time, (read the letters to find out) but the final blow for Georgia was how Anita portrayed the artist’s life in a manuscript she had hoped to publish about her long time, and now oh so famous, artist friend.

     Georgia got picky. She didn’t like how Anita said there were “fields of many-colored flowers” near Georgia’s birthplace. There weren’t that many flowers, said Georgia in one of the many long, downright snippy, notes she wrote to Anita about her misconceptions. Anita made the mistake of saying Georgia was happy. No I wasn’t, said Georgia. In fact, said Georgia, I don’t even like the idea of happiness. Then Anita called her friend “a shy beauty.” Nope. On that one I agree as Georgia was actually no beauty. Regal looking, but Anita was the beauty.  And so  Georgia’s complaints of how  Anita saw her life went on and on. Finally Georgia refused permission to her friend to publish any book about her famous self.
     So instead many years letter this book of the letters between the women was published. Anita was a champion of Georgia’s work, and was her ally and dearest friend, but in the end Anita could not write Georgia’s life to the artist’s satisfaction.

volcanoI met a woman recently who was going to take a group of people on a trek through Peru. This is Costa Rica. Haven’t gotten to Peru yet. So I said that would be interesting story to write. She said that I should I write her story. I said No. I think people, if at all possible, need to write their own story. How we perceive our own life can be very different than what people see from the outside. Anita saw her friend living in a house with flowers and smiles. But the person who had lived the life didn’t see the flowers. And that was her right.

jo anna

   This made me think about my friend Jo Anna who died about a year ago. I now and then will remember stories about her.  No one told her life story, but if they did how would it be told? Example.  I thought her husband was decent, but then I spoke with another woman and she said Jo Anna said he was a brute.  I won’t be writing Jo Anna’s life story, but It would be difficult for me to write it any other way than the way I perceived her life. If nothing else, we should get to tell about own life through our own lens. However cloudy or clear.

What does this all mean? If you want to be remembered a certain way, better start putting it on paper. If you don’t care either way, then however people remember you is just fine. As long as they remember you. Especially the ones you’ve loved. Also if there are journals and diaries lying around that you don’t want read, or possibly letters, decide now if they need to be shredded or would it be okay for grandchildren to read about grandma’s or grandpa’s wild nights listening to the Bee Gees and disco dancing.

me from LeeP.S. This is an old photo an old friend sent me during my years as a cocktail waitress in a rock and roll bar in Denver. I know he’s not a writer, so I think I’m safe because I think he might get my story a little too accurate. 





Do you believe in Magic?

photo 1     Deep in the forest lived a woman in a small cabin all by herself. She didn’t mind living alone, in fact she wasn’t alone. She had the birds and the foxes and the squirrels as her friends. Also, she had a unicorn. 

horseShe named her unicorn Moonbeam because it arrived to her cabin on a full moon night. She awakened and the unicorn was standing there beneath the bright glow of the smiling moon. The woman wove roses and daisies into the unicorn’s mane and rode it by the  river each morning so the unicorn could drink from the clear water which ran down from the mountain peaks. Silver fish with yellow fins would leap out of the water with joy at the sight of Moonbeam.

bed in trailer

At night in her pretty little bed, the woman would open up her curtains and stare at the stars and make wishes upon each one. All her wishes were different, but all were happy and kind.  Now and then she would have a visitor from the nearby village at the base of Blue Mountain. The woman grew up in the village though she never visited there anymore. She was content in her cabin.

sitting area in trailer She would read tea leaves using her lavender tea and china cups.  Some of the people in the village called the woman a gypsy, which wasn’t a good thing to be called then, and warned people not to go to the cabin. But this did not deter certain villagers and they would bring the woman warm pumpkin bread, rich stew or ripe cherries and tiny frosted cakes. There were rumors that the mushrooms that grew around the woman’s cabin were either poisonous or magical, but some people still tried to pick them but they would tug and yank and they mushroom would not budge. Only the woman could pick them. 

mushrooms2She fed them to Moonbeam and the unicorn liked them very much. Then one day a visitor came to her cabin and knocked on the door. She opened it and there stood a man with rooster feathers in his hat. 

fancy man

Alright so you are thinking I must have eaten some magic mushrooms myself. No my latest kick is champagne. I love the bubbles. Seriously, I was thinking of writing something about well, writing, or about being a waitress but realized I needed something magical in my life. I understand reality. I accept the responsibilities of home ownership, of washing my car and paying bills. 

      However, I don’t want to be such a grownup  that I forget about magic. In fact, it’s essential and not just for writers. Sure writers need imagination to create, but we all need to have a vision of something beyond what we can see with our eyes. With our imagination, skyscrapers get built, and life saving medicines get invented and novels get written. Skill plus imagination is a winning combination. Oh that sounds like a advertisement for tennis shoes.  

 People will sometimes ask writers where they get their ideas. My goodness. We might have to look up from our cell phones or computer screen now and then, but they are there.  Even the writer Jane Austen, who lived in a small English village and didn’t have the Internet, put her imagination to work and invented some unforgettable characters.  We don’t have to travel the globe. It’s right outside our door.  Put on the imagination glasses.  Everything I photographed above exists in the real world. Even the unicorn.

    There’s magic all around. So sure there are bills to pay, groceries to buy and chores to do, but if we can take to stop now and then and appreciate the magic in our world then maybe life will sparkle just that much  more. Now back to that little cabin in the woods.

caabin 2