Archive | November, 2014

Stories Are A Lie And A Truth All Rolled Up Into One

22 Nov

When I was in college, a friend told me that she thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder.

I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.

Here’s some of the signs:

  • Extreme reactions—including panic, depression, rage, or frantic actions—to abandonment, whether real or perceived
  • A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans and goals for the future (such as school or career choices)
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few day
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom


Needless to say, she was wrong. She didn’t mean borderline like that. She meant borderline like something on the edge. Open to interpretation.

She was trying to say that I have a malleable personality.

Flexible? Yes.

Ranging in extremes? Yes.

Subject to flights of fancy? Hell yes.

I saw my oldest sister the other day and during our conversation she told me a story about one of our Ya-Ya weekends together. Our Ya-Ya weekends were when my two sisters and I would get together for one weekend a year and hang out. We all live far away, my family had been through some hard shit at the time, so my sisters and I decided that we would make a point of seeing each other, just the three of us, once a year.  I have fond memories of these weekends.

But the story she told me  was one I didn’t remember, which isn’t a shock – I have a terrible memory. It’s the reason I have kept journals since I was a teenager.

So at one of these weekends I apparently burst into tears when my sister was faux-complaining about the “press 1 for English” thing on the phones. Again, I don’t remember this. I can only assume it happened because it SOUNDS like me.

I think it’s empathy to a fault.

Faulty empathy. Squishy-mushy personalities. I can quite easily put myself in someone else’s shoes. The problem is, I never seem to give them their shoes back. I just sort of keep them, carry them around with me emotionally.

I’m like an emotional junk lady.


Remember her?

I just keep collecting other people’s stories and twisting them together with my own.

When I was younger I had a problem with lying. I like to think it was an unhealthy expression of my innate desire to tell stories but the fact is I hurt people so I don’t deserve to get off the hook that easily.

But it’s like I would pick up pain or happiness or fear or anger and stick it on my back and it would become a part of me. Even if I didn’t own the cause of those feelings to begin with.

I was thinking about this because the number one question I have gotten from people who have read my book This Is Sarah is that they want to know if this is based on a true story.

And I tell them again and again, it’s not. I am not Sarah, or Colin, or Claire.

No one I knew had been kidnapped.

So, they wanted to know, how did I know so much about what it’s like to go through something like that?

Because everyone I knew had lost someone.

Had grieved. Including me. And grief, regardless of how it arrives, is universal.

I thought that was a pretty good answer. And yet more often than not they were disappointed.

As if my “making it up” was somehow untruthful.

A lie.

I had deceived them.

They wanted the story itself to be real. It didn’t matter that the emotions were. It didn’t matter that the pain and the anger and the fear were. It didn’t matter that some people, like Colin, shut down in the face of death. That other people, like Claire, refused to. None of that mattered as much as wanting it to be true.

Strange how people are, isn’t it?

John Green wrote a book called The Fault In Our Stars. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s pretty famous. He dedicated the book to Esther Earl. Esther was a young girl that died of cancer, and the author of “This Star Won’t Go Out.

Mr. Green met Ms. Earl at a Harry Potter convention. He was moved by her story and he credits her with being part of the inspiration for his character Hazel. The book was published in 2012, after her death.

In a goodreads interview John said the following:

I could never have written this if I hadn’t known Esther. She introduced me to a lot of the ideas in the book, especially hope in a world that is indifferent to individuals, and empathy. She redefined the process of dying young for me.

Walking out of the hospital in 2000, I knew I wanted to write a story about sick kids, but I was so angry, so furious with the world that these terrible things could happen, and they weren’t even rare or uncommon, and I think in the end for the first ten years or so I never could write it because I was just too angry, and I wasn’t able to capture the complexity of the world. I wanted the book to be funny. I wanted the book to be unsentimental. After meeting Esther, I felt very differently about whether a short life could be a rich life.

But a lot of people have interpreted that to mean that John’s main character IS Esther.

As if a story about death – the most universal thing of all – the only thing that equalizes every living creature – wasn’t as powerful if there wasn’t one specific life behind it.

Again, people are strange.

Gayle Forman, also pretty famous, wrote a book called If I Stay. It is the story of Mia, a girl who narrates her story from a hospital bed after losing her entire family in a car crash. Except Mia is in a coma.

Gayle wrote a piece for the New York Times about how that car full of people were her friends. Except for Gayle, no one lived.

Mia, the cellist, was fiction, but the accident, and Mia’s family — her punk-rocker turned 1950s throwback of a father, her strong-willed mother and her adorable little brother — were resurrected from the ashes of my loss. A loss that no longer had the power to sucker punch but instead had become part of me, like a scar, or maybe a smile line.

I fell off a waterfall one year in high school. I also fell in love with a boy who fell in love with another boy. That’s a story I’m working on telling but in the end, it will just be that: A story.

The power in stories lie in the fact that they are universal. That the people that populate them are us.

You. Me. Them. Us.

That they are talking about something that we all know.

Love. Sadness. Hearbreak. Fear. Joy. Misery. Loneliness.

Stories are woven. They’re partially the writer, partially the people they know, part strangers, part imagination, part reader.

They’re a lie and a truth all rolled up into one.

And if they’re good, then they make us remember what it means to be us.



The Beat Goes On….Unless You’re In Hollywood

8 Nov

I got into the Beats in high school, probably like many people, by reading Kerouac (not On the Road but The Subterraneans). One book lead to another as they inevitably do, and I worked my way through all of the major players – minus Burroughs who I could never get into.

But the same question kept popping up over and over again. What happened to all the women?

Edie, Joan, Carolyn, Elise, Diane, and Joyce, to name a few.

They were there for the majority of the movement and yet, they go utterly unrecognized. Yes, it was the 50’s, a time when women belonged to their parents first and their husband second. When Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cassidy broke the rules, they were punished. They were cast off by their families, disregarded by society, deemed dangerous and troublesome. There was much shaking of the head and tut-tuting over what was happening to these young men.

When women acted out – when women experimented with drugs or sex or art – they were institutionalized, fed electric shock therapy, lobotomized. They were locked indoors and forced to conform.

And since then many of the women of the Beat Movement have been re-fashioned as Muses, there to inspire the brilliant men they found themselves around. Their role was to be passive, attractive, to keep their mouth shut and their eyes open and maybe, just maybe they might learn something. And this role was not specific to the Beats. John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s first girlfriend’s, Cynthia and Dot respectively, were allowed to sit in when John and Paul talked music but they were advised “to keep quiet” though they of course had opinions on the music scene in Liverpool. How could they not? John and Paul wanted them in their miniskirts and blonde as Bardot as possible.

So that’s the way it was.

But that’s not the way it is anymore.

So here we are in 2014 and yet it feels like little has changed when it comes to The Beats. More and more films are coming out and yet the portrayal is exactly the same. You have two choices: Whore or (Long Suffering) Madonna.

Let’s talk about the last two big ones – Kill Your Darlings and One the Road.


kill your darlings

So Kill Your Darlings is predominately about the Lucian Carr/ David Kammerer murder. Basically Kammerer, infatuated with Carr, dogged him endlessly until Carr stabbed him, tied him up, weighed the body and dropped it into the Hudson River. Using the honor slaying defense, Carr did two years before he was released.

Kill Your Darlings includes a few scenes with Edie Parker, Kerouac’s girlfriend at the time.

Edie Parker

Edie Parker was a good friend of Joan Vollmer – who later married Burroughs. While Edie and Joan attended Barnard, they shared a place that “the boys” all went to hang out at and listen to jazz and get high and talk about art. One more time in case you  missed it. Who’s place was it that they all hung out? Yes. Her place.

At the time depicted in the film, Edie and Jack were dating but they later married, in a bizzare effort to  free up some of Edie’s money so she could bail Jack out after he was arrested as an accomplice to Kammerer’s murder.

In the film she’s played by Elizabeth Olsen.

The makers of Kill Your Darlings liberated poor Edie from that nasty trap of a) having her own place and b) actually being a part of the movement by giving her two scenes. In the first she bitches at Kerouac that she spent all day making stew which he tells her smell like crap before grabbing his coat and leaving with his buddies.

All day making stew? That’s the most they could give her? All day. Making stew.

The second was of Kerouac’s triumphant return to Edie, where she was found at the table with her grandmother eating sad cake (literally) and chastising Jack for being late/unhelpful/free-wheeling/having a life/which she clearly doesn’t.

Edie Parker is nothing more that a typical 50’s housewife: rejected, angry, unappreciated and utterly defined by her male partner.

The real Edie Parker was a part of the movment, a college educated independent woman. Not that Hollywood would know a damn thing about that.

Thanks god they didn’t include Joan. They would have crushed her.


Next up is On the Road:



Kristen Stewart plays Luanne Henderson.

Over at Beatdom, they’ve got some quotes about Luanne by Al Hinkle, someone who actually knew her:

Luanne! I fell in love with her the first time I met her. She was a beautiful, blonde 16 year old, outgoing and confident. She wasn’t forward with men, but she wasn’t shy, either. Luanne wasn’t a “quirky” girl; she was very down to earth and got along with everyone.


Neal had such complicated relationships. I remember us pulling in to the drive-in diner and being introduced to Neal’s beautiful little wife when she came out to take our order, then going to Pederson’s pool hall and meeting Jeanie, Neal’s girlfriend. It kinda shocked me.


I know Luanne was in love with Neal all her life. I could see that, even at 16, she felt that she was a married woman, not a child. She was the one that found the way to make all of Neal’s crazy plans work – she worked for money (or stole it), found rides, made sure she took care of her man. Even after he divorced her to marry Carolyn, Luanne made herself available to Neal whenever he asked, and I think she always felt that she was still his wife, even though they both remarried. When BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) first opened in the 70’s, I would take a ride from San Francisco to the last stop on the line – Daly City, and I would walk up this enormous hill to Luanne’s house and visit with her every week. I always had good feelings about her – she had earned her place in our gang and was fun to be with.  I know she had gotten into heavy drug use later, in her 40’s, but she went to rehab in Colorado and came back to California clean and sober.


So Hollywood took this interesting engaging character and did this instead:

Warning: Topless People doing sexy stuff.

According to the Guardian, “Kerouac made little effort to give his female friends depth and dignity on the page; the film attempts to remedy that oversight.”

Remedy? Really? By making Luann nothing more than the whore to Edie’s Madonna?

Is that the most you can do Hollywood? She was confident and down to earth. Apparently that translates to “Quick, get her nekkid in the car to pleasure those them smart literary type boys!”

“I love Marylou,” Kirsten says, “In the book she’s fun, she’s sexy, she’s vivid, she’s progressive for her time. She jumps off the page and smacks you in the face….. LuAnne never made herself a commodity. And she really is this amazing link between the two boys; it’s a grand statement to make, but that adventure might not have happened without her.”

Luanne Henderson traveled around with Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassidy ferchrissake and the most interesting thing they have her do in this film is a topless handjob scene.

Thanks, Hollywood. Keep up the good work of crapping all over the Beat Women.

It’s not bad enough they were stifled in their own time. In ours, when we have the change to liberate them, we instead shove them back into the same tired old box. Because let’s be honest, nothing has changed. These women are still be portrayed as secondary to the boy’s club, only now Holywood gave them the only weapon it’s ever known how to wield: Their sexuality.

Which is, without a doubt, the least interesting thing about any of them.

Grow up, Hollywood and give us our movie about what it was really like for creative women in the fifties who tired desperately, albeit fruitlessly, to break out of the patriarchal world they were tied to.

We deserve that much.




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