nurturing thursdays: we are the result…

…of our upbringing. “That’s the unvarnished truth,” as some literary folk might say. Plain…yet not so simple.

Biographies, for me, are a treasure trove of personal information. It’s like mining for gold that I’m never prepared to find. I always know I’ll glean greater understanding of the human spirit, but I’m like a child opening that unexpected gift on Christmas morning when I find buried among the pages of someone else’s life a particular truth that resonates within myself.

One weekend morning as I sat at my mom’s feet clipping her toenails, a ritual begun at her behest, she casually informed me that I had been unwanted…a mistake. I was probably 9 or 10 at the time. I’m pretty sure my reaction was mild, more one of curiosity than anything else. She told me she didn’t want a ninth child so she did what she could to abort me naturally. Naively, she thought spending hours in the ocean would somehow rid her of my fetus. And perhaps more on the mark, she’d down lots of soy sauce in the hopes I wouldn’t survive.

As you can see, I’m still alive. However, the seed of self doubt was probably planted within my psyche that sunny day, long ago.

Parenting is like a magic trick. If done right, we are applauded for our skill at making something so difficult look…so easy. If we go awry, eyebrows are raised, tongues click and refrains of “she’s a bad parent” are doled out mercilessly.

Because of my own childhood experience, I’m particularly sensitive to the influence of parents upon those whose biographies I read. And as you might guess, not one of them leaves home without taking some of their parents’ baggage along with them.

Gary Cooper, whose biography I’m currently reading, was forever devoted to his mother. Trying to please her and keep her happy meant juggling her high opinion of him, while being romantically involved with scores of women his entire life. Of the dozens who met mama, only one or two scored a home run. Unfortunately, they didn’t last long with a man who was enamored of all women, and felt sexually empowered to bed the lot of them.

Mary Astor, never one of my favorites, was a particularly interesting read. Her immigrant, German father, a stage parent if there ever was one, railroaded her acting career from its inception. Her beauty and fledgling talent inspired him to quit his job and move with his wife and daughter, first to Chicago and then to New York, in search of his dream to be rich. Eventually he struck gold in Hollywood where he set up house entirely at his daughter’s expense, both economically and emotionally. She became an alcoholic, fell in and out of abusive relationships, weathered financial ruin, and hit “rock bottom” many times. Discovering God later in life helped Astor out of the hell that had been her life until then.

John Kennedy could have been so much more, in my estimation, had his parents been less self-absorbed. Joseph Kennedy, Sr. was a man driven to overcome his humble beginnings. His natural savvy for besting the next man would bring him wealth, and with that, power in high places. He bought the presidency for his son, and the perfect wife to be First Lady. What the senior Kennedy could never fully render however, was the approval his presidential son had sought ever since he was born into the shadow of older brother, Joseph Kennedy, Jr. What was meant for him only fell to JFK upon his brother’s death.

And what of Kennedy’s mother, Rose? Not allowed to divorce her husband, notorious for his philandering, she complied with the mandates of her mayoral father and her Catholic faith by devoting herself to God, while neglecting the emotional needs of her many offspring. She had a small cottage built towards the back of the main house on the family’s Hyannisport compound. There, the mother would often retreat to find comfort in God. It was also a common practice of both parents to be away from their children, each one going his and her separate way to find pleasure. Rose shopped abroad; Joe Sr. caroused with Hollywood starlets, most famously with Gloria Swanson. She was even amazed at his wife’s tolerance when he invited Swanson along on a European vacation cruise.

It was Richard Nixon’s Quaker mother who instilled in her son the ambition to excel…always. And as history can attest, he never, ever lost that desire to drive the political conversation…much to the chagrin of his wife, Pat. Resigning the presidency before his second term even got underway was a hard lesson learned. Nixon’s resiliency, however, brought him a modicum of success in his comeback as an elder statesman on the world stage.

 I could go on, but you get my drift.

What I continue to learn through these biographies is that parents were children once who thrived, and suffered, at the hands of their parents. We’re really no different from any other species in that we’re all just trying to survive in an alien world. We use whatever resources are available to eke out a life for ourselves as best we can. For humans, those resources include psychogenic ones instilled through the generations. Parents beget children who become…parents who beget children…and so on…and so on. 

So where does the blame lie when children lead miserable lives? Nowhere really. It’s so easy to point a finger, but it’s just as fitting to turn that finger toward oneself.

We don’t have to continue on within the confines of the lives in which we were swaddled since birth. We can change out our “soiled linens” for fresh ones that have been aired out in the sunshine and smells of the scent of a new day. It’s up to us to make up a new bed…

…in which we can rest peacefully…and happily.

………hugmamma.

camelot revisited…

I’ve just concluded Jack and Jackie…Portrait of an American Marriage by Christopher Andersen. Published in 1996, it’s a biographical reflection of an iconic couple.

Why the love affair with individuals born into affluence and power, so far removed from those of us relegated to society’s lower stratosphere? Perhaps it’s through the celebrated we’re able to live out our fantasies, without having to deal with the inevitable pitfalls that accompany fame.

This particular biography, unlike others I’ve read about the Kennedys, puts a lot of meat on the bones of what others might have portrayed as mannequins in display windows.

The author’s concluding words summarize his adoit handling of two lives intricately intertwined. He gives us insight into a man and a woman, not unlike you or me. Only circumstances of birth and the resulting evolution of events, catapulted them into the spotlight.

Did Jack ever love Jackie? Patrick’s tragic death only a few months before the assassination was a pivotal event in the lives of the Kennedys, one that redefined the nature of their relationship. For the first time, Jack was able to reach out to his wife in ways he never could before. Did Jackie love Jack? There is no evidence that she ever stopped loving him.

Now that both Jack and Jackie are gone, perhaps the hysteria that enveloped them in life will be replaced with reason and understanding. Conceivably, we will be able to strip away the layers of hype and mystique to reveal the often vulnerable, tentative human beings underneath.

He was unquestionably a brilliant man whose vision of a better world continues to inspire millions. By virtue of her beauty, grace, and dignity, she is no less admired here and abroad. But to canonize them does us no less a disservice than to demonize them. For all their Olympian traits, Jack and Jackie argued over money, clothes, furniture, and in-laws. They grappled with infidelity, disease, and drug dependence. They fretted about infertility and childbearing, and both worried about and delighted in the children they had. They shared the death of one parent, the debilitating stroke of another, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, and the most crushing blow of all–the loss of a child.

They were nothing like us and everything like us. Theirs was an American marriage.

…thank goodness for writers…and the stories they tell…

………hugmamma.

 

 

 

the kennedy disconnect…

The Kennedy Family at Hyannis Port, 04 Septemb...

The Kennedy Family at Hyannis Port, 04 September 1931. L-R: Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Jean Kennedy (on lap of) Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (behind) Patricia Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (behind) Rosemary Kennedy. Edward Kennedy was not born yet. Dog in foreground is “Buddy”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How sad. Another Kennedy entangled in the death of someone who got too close…like a moth to a flame. Robert Kennedy, Jr.‘s ex-wife, Mary, commited suicide after seemingly being unable to cope with their divorce, as well as her alienation from their children. 

 The dynasty of Joseph P. Kennedy reminds me of the mythical Zeus and his family. Gods who manipulated humans, determining their fates as it suited  their own super-sized egos.

Can anyone, I wonder, really infiltrate the ranks of the Kennedys…and become one of them? The only one who seems to have succeeded, and on her own terms, is Ethel Kennedy. There’s no doubt she worshipped the ground upon which Bobby walked. He, in turn, loved and respected her as his mate and mother of his children. That, however, did not preclude his attraction to other women, one of whom was Hollywood’s siren, Marilyn Monroe.

Watching the America's Cup Race. Mrs. Kennedy,...

Watching the America’s Cup Race. Mrs. Kennedy, President Kennedy, others. Off Newport, RI, aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jackie Kennedy survived as well, albeit not always within the framework of the dynasty’s 10 Commandments. The first being, stick by thy husband come hell or high water. Somehow Jackie managed to retain her position on the pedestal even though she married against type, and against the family’s wishes, when she became Mrs. Aristotle Onassis. A Greek, though not as lofty a one as Zeus… aka Joseph Kennedy.

Poor Joan Kennedy who ended up drinking herself into a stupor. She was not really up to a life on Mount Olympus. She would’ve fared much better had she set her sights on a mere mortal. The second Mrs. Ted Kennedy, Vicky, seemed much better suited. And, in fact, she’s another success story. Perhaps an even better one than Ethel’s.

English: Kennedy brothers; left to right John,...

English: Kennedy brothers; left to right John, Robert, Ted. Česky: Bratři Kennedyové – vlevo John F., uprostřed Robert F. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 I don’t think Ted’s eye wandered from Vicky. The age difference might’ve made a difference, as well as their intellectual compatability.

Ahhh…maybe Vicky Kennedy hit upon the magic formula…youth AND intelligence. I wonder if that would’ve worked for Joseph, his sons, grandsons, great-grandsons, and so on. Should the male Kennedys subscribe to something akin to e-harmony where they can be assured their mates will measure up…and that they will all live happily-ever-after?

Sadly enough, it seems the Kennedy dynasty will not stray far from its fateful path. Like their mythological counterparts, the Kennedys seem cursed in their search for happiness among mere mortals. Through trial and error they must weed out those among us who do not self-destruct… upon flying too close to the flame…

Marilyn Monroe

 

…the object of their ardent desire…a kennedy…

………hugmamma.

for book afficionados

My reservations about e-books relegating printed books to archival history were temporarily sidelined, when I read a Wall Street Journal article touting that “Fast Digital Printers Can Provide Out-of-stock Volumes to Customers in Minutes.”  While more and more readers are turning to Kindles, small bookstores are offering digitally printed books to its customers. “Oscar’s Art Books in Vancouver says it has sold about 1,500 digitally printed books since it bought a special printer in March. The machine, which cost about $118,000, accesses an online library of titles and then prints, trims and binds paperbacks on demand.” Prices depend upon the number of pages printed. Oscar’s recently printed a copy of “Dr. Art Hister’s Guide to Living a Long & Healthy Life” for $19.95. Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts (not affiliated with the University), has printed approximately 1,000 books a month on an Espresso machine with Xerox’s printer. “For the most part, books printed on the Espresso Book Machine look like regular paperbacks, although it can only print color covers, not inside pages. It costs the bookstore under a penny a page to print, plus a licensing fee.” While Harvard Bookstore sees little profit in printing and licensing books since it’s costlier than purchasing already printed books, print-on-demand manager Bronwen Blaney explains that it’s worth it because the store is getting a sale it otherwise wouldn’t.” A UK bookstore chain, Blackwell, has an Espresso machine in its London flagship store and plans to install 6 more in some of its other 40 stores. Barnes & Noble partners with “Lightning Source to custom print books it doesn’t have in stock online or in stores. …does about $20 million in annual sales for on demand printing, a figure that has been rising each year, says a spokeswoman.” Meanwhile Borders Group Inc. is still contemplating a move in that direction.

Why my interest in digitally printed books on demand? A year or so ago, I had read an article in an issue of Vanity Fair Magazine about author William Manchester, written by him or another journalist, I don’t remember which. It was intriguing in that he had been asked by Jackie Kennedy to write the definitive story about her husband’s assassination from her perspective. She would offer facts, historical and personal, never before reported. Manchester agonized over the request feeling it would be grueling and time-consuming, uncertain he would want to commit a couple of years of his life to the project. He succumbed under pressure from Jackie and Robert Kennedy, whose help she enlisted in convincing the author to do as she asked.  With their blessing, Manchester proceeded “leaving no stone unturned.” As time passed and insiders became aware of what was being revealed, several warned Jackie that she was mistaken in having such a book printed. While she and her brother-in-law may not have paid heed at first, upon reading its final version they insisted Manchester edit out certain things. He refused to whitewash his work and so it was published without the Kennedy’s blessing. It was said, however, that when she finished reading The Death of a President, copyrighted in 1967, she commented that it was  “Interesting.” Reprinting of the book was disallowed some time thereafter. Of course, I went in search of a copy and found one on Amazon.com for $89. I’ve yet to read the somber book, but am excited at the prospect.

Another book which is out of print is Dr. Wright’s Guide to Healing with Nutrition by Jonathan Wright, copyrighted in 1984. This book was a God-send when my daughter was a fledgling, student ballerina. At 12 or 13 years of age she suffered what was diagnosed as possible Osgood-Schlatter disease, knee pain associated with growth spurts. Because this was deleterious to continuing with dance, I went in search of whatever information might be helpful in resolving the problem. I can’t remember how I found Dr. Wright’s book, but his recommendation based upon anecdotal findings, convinced me to have my daughter follow his regimen of selenium and vitamin E. Lo and behold, it worked! Her knee pain ended, never to return again. I shared the doctor’s prescription with anyone who would listen. I was later thanked by a mother who’d overheard me and had her son, also a dancer, take the vitamin supplements. He too found permanent relief from Osgood-Schlatter symptoms.

If these books can be digitally reprinted so that they’re not lost to readers forever, then I’m already a fan of the technology. I may be putting it to the test sometime. Hopefully I’ll be successful in retrieving another “gem” from oblivion.

hugs for technology, at least in this case…hugmamma.