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.

 

 

 

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“true you,” more than enough

Almost done reading True You: A Journey To Finding And Loving Yourself by Janet Jackson. Yes, she’s “the” Janet Jackson, sister of Michael Jackson. But I wouldn’t have read it for that reason alone. Interviews of her by Meredith Vieira, and then by Piers Morgan, piqued my interest. Prior to that, I really wasn’t motivated to know more about Janet. Other than her videos, songs and a couple of films, she wasn’t in the media, unless it was to do with her more famous sibling. The youngest Jackson, and second most celebrated, Janet favored living her personal life in the shadows. The reason, as revealed in her book, is that she has suffered low self-esteem her entire life.

True You is probably one of the best biographies I’ve read to date, although Janet doesn’t refer to it as such. She prefers to think of it as a spiritual and physical journey towards accepting and loving, one’s true self. The unique element about her story is its compassion throughout. There’s nothing narcissitic about the book, although the focus is obviously upon her. Janet bares her soul, but does so in relation to her commonality with all of us. We can all relate to her experiences. She’s one of us. And that’s where she seems most comfortable. She appreciates and is grateful for her position and wealth, but not at all like the other so-called “rich and famous.” While Michael remains my favorite performer, Janet is definitely my choice for BFF, that is if I had a choice.

One of the things I enjoy most is how Janet weaves anecdotes shared with her by others, whether personal acquaintances, or strangers who have written letters. Their stories are as poignant as hers, and she generously acknowledges this by featuring them throughout the pages of her book. I like that about Janet, her generosity and her humility too. Wish Michael could have been as balanced in his personal life. But his sister admits that it has taken all of her 40+ years to get where she’s at, and she’s still not done yet.

a lesson for all of us…True You …hugmamma.

the “power of words,” beware

Spent the night tossing and turning as negative thoughts about this, that, and the other, crept into my overactive brain. As I fought to regain control of my positive self by repeating good thoughts, I finally felt as though an invisible hand reached in yanking me from the fray. I’m sure you’ve had such moments, perhaps not as I’ve described. But I’m a writer so I tend to dramatize.

The “invisible hand” was the realization that Kitty Kelley, via Oprah: A Biography, had inadvertently infiltrated my spirit with negativity. It may be that all she says is true, as told by those she interviewed. Of course it’s their perception of events and occurrences to do with Oprah. Meanwhile, the woman herself did not speak on her behalf. So we must take the words written about her with the proverbial “grain of salt,” in this case a whole shaker full.

I don’t question others’ perceptions; I do question the author’s need to slant her “tell all” with overwhelming negativity. As a biographer, Kelley feels compelled to delve deep. But the truth she reveals can be edited to corroborate what will drive readership and therefore, sales. Just as Oprah may not be the altruist everyone perceives, Kelley may not be the diligent author she presents herself to be.

Other than financial gain, why would Kelley choose to decimate Oprah’s visage as the great humanitarian? In speaking of the failed attempt by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu to get Oprah nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Kelley writes:

I started the Nobel movement after Oprah appeared at the Dream Academy Dinner (May 24, 2005) to raise money for at-risk children whose parents are in prison,” said Washington, D.C., publicist Rocky Twyman. “When she stood up, praised God, opened her purse, and gave that Dream Academy a million dollars, I wanted to get her the Nobel Peace Prize…but the Nobel committee did not want to give it to a celebrity. So I formed a committee, and we talked to Dorothy Height (president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women), who was all for Oprah because Oprah had given Dr. Height two-point-five million in 2002 to pay off the mortgage on the NCNW headquarters….Dr. Height contacted Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu, and we set out to get publicity to collect a hundred thousand signatures for Oprah’s nomination to present to the Nobel committee….

“Unfortunately, we only got forty thousand signatures…because a lot of men, black and white, refused to sign…and a lot of religious people would not sign because they said Oprah was not married to Stedman and she gave a bad example to our young people by her lifestyle. I believe we all sin and come short of the glory of God, but these folks, mostly from black churches, and all conservative and law-abiding, felt very strongly that Oprah had put herself above the laws of God. I was stunned, but I’m afraid there are strong feelings against her in our (African-American) community….Of the forty thousand signatures we were able to get, most were white, not black. We got a lot of publicity and raised awareness for her getting the prize, but in the end I guess God did not want it to happen.”

Good read, but essential? Only in a gossipy tell-all book, trying to leach off the wealth and celebrity of another. I got sucked in, yes, but most biographies I’ve read have a thread of compassion running through them. When I turn the last page, I’m usually filled with sadness that once again fame and wealth has destroyed, rather than helped, someone’s life. By comparison, Oprah: A Biography, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. All the negativity consolidated in one place by the author’s self-serving manipulation of the facts, goes against my beliefs.

My gut instincts now tell me to be wary of silver-tongued writers. Readers with a stronger stomach and a less-sensitive constitution may be unaffected. I take what others say, to heart. Living and working in New York City left its mark, for I am cynical. But my island roots run deep, and my Aloha spirit makes me more empathetic, especially when Oprah’s childhood was not one of happiness and privilege. I may not condone all she does, but I take the good with the bad. She’s human like the rest of us, no matter what she and her fans might think, and say.

the power of words…be wary of their effect…hugmamma.  

been there, done that

Media coverage of President Obama’s recent vacation has put Martha’s Vineyard “on the map.” Not that it wasn’t already there. According to the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal “The release of  ‘Jaws,’ the 1975 movie about a man-eating shark, first drew the masses to an island that had been a some-time presidential retreat since Ulysses S. Grant. Celebrities such as Carly Simon, Meg Ryan and David Letterman own homes on the island. …President Bill Clinton’s frequent visits in the 1990s brought another surge of interest…” Though not celebrities, my daughter and I visited the island about 7 years ago. She had auditioned, and been accepted, to dance with “Stiefel and Students.” Because she was apprenticing with a ballet company midway through the summer program, Ethan Stiefel allowed her to attend the first 2 of the scheduled 4 weeks. She was delighted to train with an icon of the dance world, and have a great job lined up for her future.

The compound which housed “Stiefel and Students” was specifically built for the program. The owner, a wealthy contractor, was a patron of ballet, his teenage daughter dancing with a private studio in their home state of New Jersey. Because he’d guested as the Nutcracker prince to their daughter’s Maria, Steifel became a close family friend. Two beautiful homes sat on a couple of acres of prime land near downtown Edgartown. Each had several bedrooms and, baths, huge kitchen with living space, large patio and a sizeable dance studio. The student dancers, including my daughter, were in one house, while the instructors and guest dancers from NYC lived in the other. I don’t recall if one or more of the 4 chaperones lived with the students, or if they all stayed in the other dwelling. Needless to say this was  one of the best “dormitory” situations of my daughter’s summer dance experiences, which has included Banff, NYC, Atlanta, Chautauqua, Jacksonville, Portland, and Irvine.

Viewing this as the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was, my husband and I decided I should summer in Martha’s Vineyard while our daughter was there. So for 2 glorious weeks I lived among the rich and famous, and the middle class, myself being one of them. Having done extensive research, I settled upon a bed and breakfast called The Lighthouse Inn. The 1 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchen-living room combination was charmingly decorated and conveniently situated in the heart of Edgartown. My husband and I hoped he’d be able to take time off from work and fly out for a respite. But it didn’t happen, so flying solo, I poked around my environs leisurely, and with relish.

Being from Maui, I’ve never cottoned to the idea of vacationing on other islands. It isn’t so much that I’m a snob, although it might seem so, but there are other parts of the world which I’d prefer to visit before opting for an island vacation, other than returning to Hawaii to see family. Having said that, Martha’s Vineyard is an island for sure, but nothing like the tropical ones with which I’m familiar. The houses, churches, store fronts, flora and fauna, and yes, the people are a total reflection of New England which, of course, is where the island is located.

As with all popular vacation destinations, the population on Martha’s Vineyard swells to overflowing during the hot summer months. On days when cruise ships are in port, there are longer lines everywhere. Traveling alone was advantageous for without an entourage, I was seated for a meal more quickly, I could wend my way through a maze of people on sidewalks and in shops more easily, when to start and end the day was my choice as well as HOW to spend it. And having 2 weeks meant I could do everything without feeling hurried. Living like a local is always my idea of a dream visit.

My daily routine, more or less, would begin with rising (not too early), breakfasting at some quaint nearby eatery, and then going for a walk. Some days I wandered different paths through town or residential neighborhoods, other days I strolled barefoot along the quiet, sandy, white beach a few blocks away. But wherever I went I always spent my days people-watching, a favorite pastime. Just glimpsing passersby, their differences, similarities, relationships, habits, is always interesting. New England’s culture could not be further removed from the Hawaiian culture in ethnicity, spirit, dress, food, religion, architecture, and perhaps, sensibilities.

Of course the first thing I noticed was the predominant, if not quasi exclusive, presence of White, Anglo-Saxon Americans. Although my complexion is brown, I’ wasn’t “put off” because by then I’d lived and worked amongst Caucasians for 26 years, having moved to the mainland in 1977. While more formal than Hawaiians, there was a semblance of relaxed informality among those who dwelled in Martha’s Vineyard. Of course there’s no mistaking a New Englander by the way he or she dressed. More than likely they’d be striding along in loafers, sandals, or sneakers with socks, rarely flip-flops. If in shorts, they’d be like the bermuda shorts of the 60’s, often topped by Izod, Hilfiger or Calvin Klein. The ladies wore coordinated knee-length skirts in small prints and blouses in white, or some other solid color. Designer purses or pretty colored totes hung over their arms or on their shoulders. Perfectly combed blondes and brunettes sported ponytails or loosely coiffed hair that caught the ocean breezes. They all wore sunglasses, probably also having lotioned themselves with sunblock beforehand. Children were dressed like replicas of their parents. The only ones who may have digressed from the traditional New England “look,” were the teenagers. There were some in cut-off jean shorts, barely-there tanks, flip-flops or bare feet, and unkempt hair as if they’d just awoke.

From my recollection, the food was pretty good, but probably pricey since everything had to be shipped in. I remember dining  in a family style restaurant, cozy B&B bistro, fine Italian eatery, hamburger joint and a diner whose concerns for food safety seemed a little sketchy. Their late hours dictated my daughter and I choosing to eat there once, against our better judgement. We left full and satisfied, so the place suited our needs just fine. Sometimes I prepared my own food, enjoying a comfortable evening in the apartment, dining on a home cooked meal while watching a good television show. Perhaps my solitary time on Martha’s Vineyard encouraged my fledgling habit of speaking with waiters and sales people. They were companions of sorts, if only for a brief interlude. I’m glad I’m still very much in the habit of treating strangers like long-lost friends.

One weekend, a best friend from Redding joined me for some much-needed rest and relaxation. She always worked too hard, still does. It was a pleasure having her along on walks, sitting across the table at a restaurant, and perusing shops for souvenirs. But our ongoing conversations about everything and anything, as though we’d never been apart, were the best part of our shared time. Sometimes talking into the wee morning hours, we were able to scurry out the door in time to greet the dawn. Huddling against the chill morning air, we planted ourselves on the sand dunes revisiting our previous conversation, or we’d just as likely drift onto another topic. But we were always wowed by the brilliance of the rising sun. We didn’t need to make the long, arduous trek up Maui ‘s dormant volcano, Haleakala (“House of the Rising Sun”) to see what we beheld on a beachfront, steps away from our front door. After my girlfriend’s departure, I never saw another dawn on Martha’s Vineyard. I’m never awake at that ungodly hour, if I can help it. But I will always associate sunrises on that New England island with Laurie, my forever friend.   

Nothing screams New England more than its architecture. Martha’s Vineyard was no exception. Stately churches standing tall and erect on tree-lined country roads in residential neighborhoods, where traditional homes with rocking chairs on wrap-around-porches, sat alongside salt-box homes in shades of blues and grays, fronted by English-style cottage gardens. Everywhere I turned was like looking at a postcard with pictures of idyllic, pastoral scenes. They took my breath away. Though an island, Martha’s Vineyard is of a different breed, one that this islander could truly appreciate for its unique beauty. I don’t think my first visit to that charming location could ever be improved upon unless, of course, I returned with my husband and daughter. But then there are other places I have yet to visit, and so…

been there, done that…hugmamma.

foreign country, home?

HGTV is one of my “go to” stations when I’m surfing the channels looking for somewhere to land. One of my favorite segments, which my husband also enjoys watching, is “House Hunters International.” Being “niele” (Hawaiian for “curious”, my family says I’m “nosey”) by nature, I want to see how other people live, especially in  foreign countries. What are their houses like? Do they reflect a totally different lifestyle, or one not unlike mine? What are prices like? Do they seem in line with what the homes offer in basics, as well as in amenities? I’ve seen HGTV shows filmed in cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Paris, Edinburgh and countries like Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy, England, Argentina, Costa Rica, and islands like Aruba, Jamaica, the Caymans.

Most of the locations HGTV visits seem to appeal to my exotic side. Of course viewing places I’ve not been as a traveler is like being in a candy shop, face pressed against glass cases, eyes bugging out over the contents. My latest refrain which seems ongoing is “We should retire there.” To which my husband’s reply is always “Yeah?” or “I don’t think so.” I’ve decided he has no exotic side, only a very practical one which keeps me fully grounded. If it weren’t for him, I’d have been airborne a zillion times, never landing for a breather. Of course I’m glad he never takes me seriously for then I’d have to “put my money where my mouth is.” And I’ve no “kala,” (Hawaiian for money, lots of it) to support a lifestyle of the “rich and famous.” Besides, we’re not of that class, being pretty simple in our wants and likes. I’d like a vacation home in Hawaii, and a Volkswagen bug, blue or yellow. See, pretty basic. Well, at least half my wants is…the Hawaiian home…with an ocean view.

While I’m caught up in the moment watching non-natives weighing the pros and cons of various houses in foreign locales, I’m amazed at their decision to live beyond their comfort zones. Some even retiring, lock, stock and barrel, to supposed final homes of their “golden years.” Besides needing a tremendously flexible attitude toward their adopted place of abode and its citizenry, these new residents must be prepared to live within the explicit, and implicit, laws of the land. They might find themselves adrift without a” life jacket” in a face-off with the ruling government where they’d taken up residence. Trying to cloak themselves in the American flag as U.S. citizens might be like moving a mountain, which might prove easier to do in the long-term.

Of note is the ongoing case of Amanda Knox, a University of Washington student who, while studying abroad for a semester in Luca, Italy was accused of murdering her British roommate. The rural town peopled by folk who have probably lived their entire lives in that village have little, if any, experience with foreign visitors except what is stereotypically represented. So it seems in Knox’s case being an American teenager may have prematurely cast her in the widely viewed role of “wild child.” Even I, sitting in the comfort and safety of my home in the U.S., can’t be absolutely certain if she is innocent or guilty. But while her case is on appeal and her parents wage an all-out-war, sacrificing much in time, energy and money, their daughter is serving out a 20+ year sentence.

Being a professed worrier, although I’m getting better, the rampant killings by drug cartels in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, has me wondering about the safety of retirees who have moved south for the “good life.” In her attempts to assuage my concerns a friend, herself a regular visitor to Puerto Vallarta and whose friends’ family lives on the outskirts of the resort, assures me that Americans are safe. The resorts at which they are guests, are heavily guarded. I’ve also been told by the Mexican woman who works at the dry cleaner we frequent, that the sleepy village where she is from and where her family still resides, is untouched by the violence.

I am not as mystified about Europeans residing in countries other their own. It would be like my having moved from Hawaii to the east coast to New England to where I am now in the Pacific Northwest. The difference, of course, being that European countries are sovereignties. Furthermore the ability for Europeans to travel easily across borders, proposes a certain level of comfort. That ease and inherent comfort are not an intrinsic part of  moving from the U.S. to a country in Europe, Asia, or South America. And then there’s the language. Europeans tend to know more than their native tongue; we, on the other hand, rely heavily upon others knowing English.

It would seem that at least 2 categories of Americans make their homes abroad, those who take their identity with them insisting that their surroundings adjust; or those who are chameleons adjusting to whatever their environs require. Dear friends of ours, a gay married couple, recently bought a home in the Spanish countryside. Imagine my disbelief when my husband told me of their purchase?!?. “How could they just up and decide to move to Spain? Do they know anyone? Are they leaving for good?” But then I let the news sink in. I thought of the 2 men, their effervescent personalities, their annual social gatherings, their love of travel to places like Vietnam and the Galapagos Isles, and their talent for bringing friends together as family. Such reflection left me with no residual qualms, about these 2 fabulous men taking up residence in a foreign country. Perhaps,… I’m even a little envious of their hutzpah.

Having been raised on Maui, I often blame my islander roots as reason for not traveling farther afield with more frequency, or seriously contemplating a permanent home abroad. I use the same excuse for choosing to drive through residential neighborhoods or back roads, rather than speeding down freeways at 60 miles an hour trying to keep up with everyonelse. Call it an island mentality or fear of the unknown, I will never be Marco Polo or Magellan. Perhaps because of my dysfunctional childhood, I find that being with my husband and daughter is more important to me than traveling the globe in search of what I’m already blessed with here at home. But while my search is complete my daughter is confident she’d be fine working, and living, in Europe, if that’s where her career took her. And she goes with our blessing to live the life she envisions for herself, here or abroad. That won’t prohibit me from continuing to give advice, however, that she “drive carefully and be safe.”

is it youth that gives us wings, which when “clipped” in older age keeps some of us closer to the nest?…hugmamma.

redding ct, like the maui of old

When someone learns that I’m from Maui, she always exclaims “Oh, don’t you miss it? Why’d you ever leave?” I take a breath, preparing to answer what I truly feel in my heart.

Maui as it is today, even as it was 15 years ago, is no longer the island of my childhood. As with the neighboring  islands, in fact as with other popular destinations, tourism has transformed what was a less populous, less commercial, off-the-beaten-track locale into a mecca for the rich and famous, and even the not so rich and famous. Mind you, I came to terms with the drastic change some time ago. On one of my last trips to Maui, years ago, it was apparent that visitors to the island provided a livelihood for the majority of the locals. So I wasn’t about to admonish them as co-conspirators in the “ruination” of Maui, while I left to make my living and home elsewhere.

Before my daughter was born, actually before she was even a possibility, I was returning home to Long Island, New York from a business trip to Kansas City. Seated next to me on the flight was an attractive man dressed in cords and a sweater, appearing very much like a New Englander. Striking up a conversation, we spoke of many things.  One of the topics was where we resided. I explained that while my husband and I lived in Westbury, I wanted to move somewhere reminiscent of my birthplace, Maui. I desired the same small town atmosphere, where neighbors knew each other, where children played together, where there were town parades, fairs, picnics. Without hesitation, my traveling companion blurted “Redding, Connecticut! You should move to Redding, Connecticut!” 

I’d never heard of the town, so my new friend proceeded to describe it as a small, rural community isolated from the hubbub of surrounding towns by vast acres of pristine land, much of which belonged to the town ensuring that they would never be commercially developed. He went on to explain that to enter Redding, one either drove alongside reservoirs which supplied water to the town, or along country roads shaded by trees. The idyllic picture seemed lifted from a postcard. Giving me the name of the realtor who helped find this New York City writer a getaway home, I was convinced that my husband and I needed to make the 75 mile trip north of NYC, in search of Redding.

We got more than we bargained for, as a result of our hunt for a new home. Nearly bereft of hope that we’d be parents someday, Redding was the answer to our prayer. After 16 years of marriage, our daughter was born. The first 11 years of her life were spent in an oasis within the midst of suburban Connecticut. Watching her in those early years was like stepping back in time, into my own childhood Paradise. 

Topographically different, Redding had rolling hills, and a man-made lake in which to swim; Maui boasted a dormant volcano, and ocean waves upon which to surf. Redding’s landscape was dotted with sugar maple trees, whose leaves were seasonally transformed into the colors of the setting sun. So unlike Maui’s tropical palms swaying gently in the evening breezes, as the glassy Pacific waters below mirrored the shining  moon overhead.

In spite of their disparities, the people of both Redding and Maui were alike in their hospitality toward newcomers, and the friendliness within their communities. Schools were small, so while students didn’t know everyone personally, they were aware of everyone through friends or others. Children looked forward to trick-or-treating, door-to-door.  School plays were exciting affairs, as were school dances, and basketball games. Sleepovers were commonplace, as were play-dates and church picnics. Dads coached sports teams and led the Boy Scouts; moms were Girl Scout leaders and drove carpools. Children caught buses to school, or walked. Neighbors helped one another; they prepared meals for a family with a cancer-stricken mom; they cared for children when parents were tending to emergencies; they consoled those who laid loved ones to rest.

My daughter’s memories of an idyllic childhood in Redding  are just that, treasured remembrances. And so it is with the Maui of my youth. So when I’m asked “Wouldn’t you want to live there now?” I always reply,  “The Maui where I grew up is in my heart; it’s with me, wherever I am.” I know my daughter feels similarly about Redding, Connecticut, the town she still calls her home, though she’s not lived there for 13 years.

“home is where your heart is,” truly…hugmamma.