Saturday, April 30, 2016

For Flowery May Day, My Nanina


 

 
 I’ve always prided myself on careful research on the historical characters who star in my novels. I’ve certainly done so in Mozart’s Wife, and although there are those who don't like my characterizations, there aren’t many who can reasonably disparage the research. Interpretation of fact, when dealing with historical characters, is always tricky. We weren’t there and we’ll never know what exactly did happen. All we have are the documents, letters, diaries, newspapers and hearsay. From those, the historical writer does the best that he/she can.  Two hundred and fifty years (roughly) is a long time for “the truth” to survive.



 
My Mozart is another kind of story. While the characters are the same people who appear in Mozart’s Wife, they are viewed through another narrator’s eyes. As in Rashomon—or in many court cases—witnesses, even those with the best intentions, often tell conflicting stories. Back in the mid-eighties, when I wrote My Mozart, I was unable to discover much about the life of Anna Gottlieb. What there was in German and not translated or easily available here. As a result, I fictionalized my heroine. The historical Anna and the one I created are, in many ways, quite different.
 
Here is a brief outline of what I have since learned about the historical Anna Gottlieb. She was born into a theatrical family who worked for the National Theater, just as mine was, however, in real life, she was one of four daughters. Anna was five when she played her first noted role at the Burgtheater.  Aged twelve, she played Barbarina in Mozart’s Figaro. At fifteen she played ‘Amande’ in Wranitzky’s Oberon, King of The Elves. At seventeen, she was Mozart’s Pamina in The Magic Flute at The Theater Am Weiden, which would be the peak of her career.  According to Agnes Selby, author of the well-respected  Constanze, Mozart’s Beloved,  a much older Anna was to remember: "The immortal Mozart created Pamina for me, and the same voice which is now unpleasant to you, was the delight of the great master, and I was, proud as a queen, carried on the waves of applause." She also recalled his gift of a beautiful fan given her by Mozart in appreciation of her artistry.
After Mozart’s death, Anna “defected” to the Leopoldstadt Theater. In 1798 she played the part of ‘Hulda’ in The Nymph of the Danube. She was famous as a mimic, and she often parodied reigning prima donnas. According to Grove, during this time she was “a mainstay of the company.”

The Napoleonic Wars ruined the economy and disrupted the ancient social and patronage system. After a four year’s absence, occasioned by war, Anna returned to the Viennese stage in 1813. Sadly, her voice and looks were now in decline. As a result, she now played smaller roles in comedies and often played old women. In 1828, a new director of the theater, Steinkeller, dismissed her. Lacking a pension, she fell into poverty. She unsuccessfully petitioned the Emperor for a pension. In 1848, she contacted the newspaper editor L.V. Frankl, to describe her plight, and he organized a fundraising campaign which sent her to Salzburg to view the unveiling of the Mozart memorial, which she longed to see.  In one memoir concerning that day, Anna is thus described: “There entered a tall, thin and eccentric looking old woman…”  She was the last surviving singer who had actually worked with Mozart.

 
So it appears that My Mozart is more “historical fiction” than semi-biographical. In my defense, I’ll plead that I’d fallen in love with the composer. As anyone who has caught the all-consuming Amadeus bug knows, this isn’t a minor ailment, nor is it unusual among people who adore music.  The effect of a Mozart Possession is visceral, shattering, as I’d imagine a gigantic dose of Ecstasy. I was Mozart’s fan, body and soul, and I wanted to write a story which expressed my love, my longing, and, most of all, the physical pleasure which his music brought to me. To write such a story,  I needed a narrator, someone who could be that delirious, head-over-heels fan. One evening, while reading Otto Erich Deutsche’s Documentary Biography of Mozart , I came across this quote:

"Most painfully affected of all by Mozart's fatal illness was Fraulein Nanina Gottlieb..."

~~~From Joseph Deiner's Memoirs, related at Vienna, 1856

 That was when I knew who the heroine --the ultimate, passionate Mozart fan--must be!

There is another matter to consider, too, and to me it’s not a small thing. As a writer, I’ve created many characters, working from the rough outline in my mind, until these “playmates” begin to talk and walk on their own, to tell me their stories. Nanina was different. From the evening I saw Joseph Deiner’s remark, I was visited by a presence--graceful, feminine—and deeply anguished. She came in the dark hours and sent me to the computer to write for most of the night, write a story as I’ve written no novel since. Pictures would arrive; I’d hit those keys. As I worked with “her,” I typed ever faster, while a story of a perfect first-and-only-love, of loss and of madness poured out. There was very little editing done until much, much later.  

Call it “automatic writing” or whatever you want. I’m not a big fan of categorizing paranormal events, although I’ve had more than a few in the seventy years I’ve been on the planet.  Whatever this unique experience was, I felt honored to be the chosen channel for a sensitive, talented individual—perhaps a beautiful soul from a time in Vienna where, ever so briefly, lived and loved a matchless musical genius.

 --Juliet Waldron


 


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Sunday, April 24, 2016

William Shakespeare and Grandpa Liddle


Happy birthday to William Shakespeare—at least—as far as we know, the 23rd is his natal day. I was planning to write something about him this weekend for Possum Tracks, but other memories butted in, so I’ll try to combine the two.


 

I met The Bard early because my Grandfather Liddle was a professor of English.  Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer were his specialties. The latter two (particularly Milton) have sunk in reputation and in student interest here at the end of the 21st Century. Milton's star, for various reasons has waned. Perhaps, (as I’ve heard Mrs. Milton complained) because he’s constantly lecturing.  In Chaucer’s case, it’s language that's the problem. Let's face it, the 1390’s were a far poke back into the mists of time. Therefore, if you try to read Chaucer just as he wrote it, luck and/or imagination will only get you so far. Sometimes, you’ll need help translating, which is not totally surprising when you realize that English and German had, just some 500 years earlier, parted company.
Anyhow, Grandpa was the one to introduce me to Shakespeare. He read Charles Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare (1807) while sitting in his favorite corner chair in the good light from the living room windows.
 
 

By Published by D. McKay, Philadelphia - http://archive.org/details/talesfromshakesp00lamb3, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20164504

Grandpa taught at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He’d arrived there in 1927 from Princeton, New Jersey, where he’d just finished his doctorate. He came with his wife and three daughters during August of that year. One of the girls wasn’t yet a year old, but because a house wasn't available, the family lived in a tent in the Glen near the Cascades, a pretty waterfall on the Little Miami.  Grandpa walked to the college most days.

Professorial colleagues, coming on horseback to welcome them to town sometimes missed both of them, even Grandma, as she and the girls were often down by the water while she did the laundry in the creek. When she returned, hauling the few things she took down every day—including—consider this, oh ye 21st Century Moms—diapers—she’d find calling cards pinned to the tent flap.  My grandparents lived in the glen till October and were very happy indeed to put an end to their extended camping experience and move into a fine four square house on Xenia Avenue. For the rest of his stay on earth, every day Grandpa walked the few blocks from that house to the college. At least in my imagination, this was the most idyllic existence a person could devise.

 
But I digress, thinking about home and family. Back to The Bard!  My grandparents took me to see Shakespeare performed at Antioch, in a summer theater under the stars. The stage was set up in front of the iconic main building.  The actors were a mix of professionals and members of the theater department.

The leading roles of the courtly lovers—Lysander and Helena, Demetrius and Hermia—were actors of just the right age, shining with youth and excitement.  My first Shakespeare play  was to be A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Twilight crept across the broad campus and pooled darkness beneath the grand maples. The stars emerged behind the Main building as the lights came up on stage. With those gothic towers for a backdrop--and accompanied by the proper Mendelsohn--I entered the poet's magical world.
Some years on, my grandparents (on one of grandpa's last sabbaticals) took my mother and me to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Even better than that, the play at the theater was Richard III! There’s a kind of dirty, underground thrill for a Ricardian* while sitting through that classic "Shake Scene" from the Tudor propaganda factory. Christopher Plummer, then 32, played Richard. One snag—the only performance I could see was that very afternoon.

However, I was fifteen and not faint of heart where anything "Richard" was involved. I joined a group of other school kids and got the tickets that allow you to stand in the back, which is what we did, leaning on the wall behind the last row of seats for the next three hours. I was so excited that I hardly noticed something that, 50+ years later, would cause a certain amount of suffering. I remember being close to ecstatic when I arrived back at the hotel where we were all staying and talking about the performance all through supper.






 
(My own Ricardian thing culminated in Roan Rose.)
 
 
A few years later, Grandfather would answer my questions about King Lear while I was facing my A levels. At least,  as much as he ever "answered", for he was, by temperament, a Socratic.  You often received another question instead of an answer, but it was always a good one, the kind that sent me and the rest of his students into further mental wrestlings.  And, believe me, at the same time I was horribly nervous and embarrassed to be entertaining Herr Doctor Professor with my own little-girl, borrowed-from-literary criticism notions.    


And so, perhaps a little weirdly, Grandpa Liddle and William Shakespeare are commingled in my imagination and in my memory, too. (I always thought they sort of looked alike.) Nowadays I'm older than Shakespeare was when he passed away, but I guess I'll never stop being amazed at what I can still learn from the characters he created and the stories he told.







~~Juliet Waldron
 
 

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*"Ricardians" meaning Richard III's fans and supporters, who, since Phillipa Gregory et al, are now legion. 
 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

NIGHT WANDERINGS, SENIOR STYLE


buy the book!
"...the rich and fascinating life of this poor-boy-turned-statesman is entertaining
and vivid..."
Jerika, Amazon Reader


**************************************************

And now for more Possum Tracks stories:
 
 

Old folks wander in the night. We have a host of dark hours’ issues—bathroom visits caused by decrepit plumbing, early a.m. wakefulness, aches and pains which require a get-up-and-stretch or—perhaps—an analgesic and a cup of herbal tea. Snoring, wakefulness, illnesses and a whole host of things, a decade back, brought my husband and I to move into separate sleeping quarters, in an attempt to score the now mythical “good night’s sleep”. In our house, too, there are cats who multiply the night time Alarums and Excursions.

B0B is our tiger boy-from-the-hood /spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold. Old habits die hard, so he still keeps a paw in the local night-time goings on.  As spring arrives, there are bunnies, voles, and mice on the move again, more especially their feckless young, which make easy prey.   We wouldn’t know about that, of course, in our human cocoon, but B0B does. He’ll stand on my husband’s chest and meow if he wants to go out. 3 a.m. or 4, he really doesn’t care how you feel about this, especially if there is an enemy abroad, such as the young neighbor tom now leaving some sort of smart-ass gangsta tag on a nearby tree or trash can.



 
No! This Will Not Stand! As soon as it comes to his keen nose’s attention, B0B has to get out there to rectify the situation by adding his own p-mail counter message. If the other guy is still around, that can lead to a confrontation, resulting in Miau-geschrie as Mozart describes the sound, or Katzenmusik, as Google Translate does.

Another feature of nights in this house, I may be a grandma, but I confess I can still wake up screaming from a nightmare, a thing which exasperates everyone else who lives around here, from my husband to the cats. Some past life experience, or, maybe, some random programming from deep within the ancient brain stored at the top of my spine—a poor little shrew sort of critter, chased by a monstrous version of B0B—erupts into the classic night–terror.
OH NO... OH-NO-NO-NO! 
IT SEES ME!



On these occasions, I scream. That either wakes me up, or brings my husband in to shout, "For God's Sake, woman!!"  In that case, I’m the pain in the collective wanna-be-sleeping-ass.

The other night, however, I managed to wake myself up from a near-miss with one of these scream dreams. This particular one had been of the War of the Worlds variety, the kind where you are about to be sucked up onto a booming malevolence hovering overhead. Fortunately, on this occasion, before the mental crescendo of terror, I’d managed to come to by myself.

Still feeling jumpy, I eventually righted myself for a walk to the bathroom. Might as well do that, since I’m already awake. However, upon rounding a corner into a space nominally illuminated by a night-light, I encountered something I hadn’t expected, a moving silhouette, humanoid, the head round. The body was tall, very thin and the arms seemed to dangle in a loose and unmatched way, like something out of The Walking Dead.

 I shrieked.  It did too, so I hauled off and punched it in the chest as hard as I could. After all, the thing was bigger, but it didn’t appear all that steady on its feet.

Maybe, if I could knock it off balance, I could escape…

A thud and a warm breast bone crunched against my knuckles. The creature spoke.
“Ow!” and then “Hey! What the hell?”


As I said at the beginning of this, old folks wander in the night. As you might have expected, my husband and I had unexpectedly encountered one another in the half-dark, and both of us, still groggy, had had quite a scare. Hard on the heels of fear had come irritation, then embarrassment, at last resolving in the only possible way--with a laugh.

 

~~Juliet Waldron
All my historical novels:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004HIX4GS
 


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Sunday, April 10, 2016

How Writers Become Distracted


 
 
Have you finished training your person?

Have you?

Well, well, so you say, but let us see! Let us run through the steps again. 
Repetition is how we all learn best!  
 *** 

Approach your person, meowing plaintively. When they glance down, as they do, you will do a sweet kitty drive-by, gently rubbing against their leg.

A good tip for beginners: When they are typing at high speed is the best time for this kind training!

Your person leans over. Yes she does! She says “What do you want, my fatty fuzzy drawers meatloaf meow-meow puddy-wuddy??” (Sometimes, it’s even dumber than that—there are studies.*)

This, inane as it may sound to you, is an excellent response. It shows that you haven’t been wasting your time. If you haven’t been training this person for long, maybe you’ve lucked out and are working with one of the smart ones.   

Next, it’s time to flop down beside her chair.  Stretch out really long, forepaws and backpaws extending in such a sexy way that, just for a flash, you show off the length of your claws. Bow your belly into one of those easy arcs that screams how flexible you are. Your  tiger pelt catches the light with in a sublime halo of red-gold guard hairs.





Do this whole-heartedly, as if you’ll never arise again. Sometimes, for added effect, you may look over your shoulder and send one of those come hither blinks at the person before turning your head away, finally resting it, in a half disinterested manner, upon the floor again.
 

As soon as your person—the old ones, like the ones I have, will most certainly grunt and groan and make a huge fuss because they have to sit down cross-legged on the floor, whingeing on and on about “vertigo” “last week's surgery” “hip/knee replacements” or whatever is currently ailing their show-offy-monkey balancing-on-their-hind-legs skeleton. Do NOT ever, ever cave. They can get down onto the floor beside you--and, if you have anything to say about it--they will.

As soon as they are all the way down and are just starting to pet (or groom) you, jump up and walk away.


I know this may be tough, especially if they've presciently begun to execute the Aunt Patti Frequent Flyer Eagle Star Super Premium Top Gold level Wuffle which rubs all around your spine in the very bestest way. At such times, you must exercise will power. 

You want this session to be a win, don't you?

Remember, consistency is the key to successful person training--even if that means also being consistently-inconsistent, and always at those times when they are relying on you to do what you did four times last week.
  

Leaving the scene doesn't necessarily mean distance. In fact, at first, it’s better if it isn’t, because then your person will continue attempting to interact, calling and enticing you with mousie fingers to return. But if you're going to close the deal, you must stick to the program and play hard-to-get. You might even flick your tail at them as you turn away and head out to the kitchen food bowl for a crunchy.



 

But don't be in a hurry. Bide your time. Be patient. Maybe have a big drink, too, or even visit the cellar cat box. While you are doing that, though, remain ever-vigilent.

As soon as their annoying self-centered typing resumes, trot upstairs and begin the process all over again.


*** 

But don't start feeling sorry for them, though. Don't waste your time.

Sometimes, okay, they do get to type a lot, because you're napping on the couch on the cat furniture on the other side of the table upon a special fleecy blanket or upon a Queen bed upstairs. You don't really need to be entertained, just at that moment. Besides, this person takes pretty good care of you. The cat box is effectively scooped. There is always a bowl with the aforementioned crunchies and daily fresh water--if that senile co-diety who also holds court here didn't keep standing in it.



If basic things like housekeeping aren't to your liking, you'll soon make those feelings clear. Believe me, persons--this is not a threat, it's a promise! I'll take this weighty subject up at our next person training lesson.

   
Currier & Ives, "The Favorite Cat"

 
~~Juliet Waldron
 
 

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

AN ATTIC VIEW


 



Once this attic was empty, but entire lives are stored up there now. When we arrived here, 30 years ago, the house was completely empty. At closing, my husband requested that nothing be left behind, and nothing was, so we began with a blank slate. Now, thirty ++ years later, the whole thing is jammed. First, came a set of rustic oak chairs from our Tennessee sojourn and a few end tables. Then, in rapid succession came my grandmother’s stuff—the sad remains that the early bird relatives had deemed unimportant—and then came my mother’s boxes and trunks when she entered a nursing home—and next came his mother’s many photo albums, a huge collection going back into the 1930’s, after she too ended up in “incarcerated”. Sadly, we can’t recognize more than half the people who are posed there, giving us tight New England smiles in those old pictures pictures. 




Now all of it gathers dust. Some important boxes filled with memorabilia I would LOVE to find  have vanished—gone without a trace when I went back to locate them later. Perhaps they’ve fallen into some Twilight Zone like void that may exist in the upper stories of houses. My husband suggests they've fallen into the same inter-dimensional crease where the lost socks go.


 

We’ve thought of cleaning it, of sorting through, of discarding most and preserving the few things that might still have some interest and/or value to the next generation. Then summer comes again and we abandon the place for another six months. Next winter, we think, next spring, but somehow it never happens.  Our stuff is there, too. A host of coffee mugs emblazoned with the names of once famous and now dead Tech companies, untouched boxes of tractor-feed paper, and woolen tartan skirts made in Scotland made for 70 lb H.S. girl, as well as jackets and note books from 5th and 6th Form English school days—“O” level tide-pool biology and “A” level European History, adjacent to my husband’s brightly colored slacks purchased for 1970’s casual Fridays.     
There is a solar bicyclist who no longer pedals, a strobe light from the Roaring Sixties, a trunk full of 78 records (Big Band, Classical, Jazz) which belonged to my mother, and a bust which my brother-in-law picked out of some East Village trash heap back before gentrification had driven out the artists. My huband's gun club trophies are parked on a rickety bookcase.
Deeper in, there are my own manuscripts--a rejection pile--that all writers back in the day accumulated--pages thumbed through and smelling of cigarette smoke. (We went broke mailing the stuff to agents/publishers and then having it sent back via SASE.)  I even have a collection of dreary literary criticism from the 1920's simply because they they  had my Grandfather Liddle's signature inside them, and I couldn't bear to throw them away.
 
 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Elder Yard





We’re those annoying old folks in the neighborhood who don’t (and post-retirement no-longer-can afford even if they wanted to) yuppie “Arcadia” style* lawn care. (What else would you expect from a blogger who possum- identifies?)

 
Jes' passin' thru...

Husband and I bought this house 30+ years ago when we were in our late thirties and strong enough to do all the required maintenance. We cared for three long privet hedges, we mowed, and had the old, beat up silver maples—the reason we purchased the property in the first place—regularly thinned. We both worked, so paying for large tree maintenance was not a problem. We conscientiously fed the trees and hired trained arborists, not the butchers who engage in “topping” a.k.a. a really fast way to make a tree diseased, rotten, and highly likely to fall down in a wind storm.

 
Summer, 1985, one kid, and husband

2011, same tree, another angle, wider now
Over the years, I’ve planted 30 more trees on the property, which, considering that it’s barely an acre, was Arboreal Over-kill. The star of these early additions was an apple tree. The blooms delight us every spring. On a warm April evening it is possible to stand beneath it and hear the music of bees in the blossoms. For many autumns, this tree literally rained apples upon us. It  still delights the eye and will always be honored for the mountains of sauce and pies it has provided.
 


 
Husband loathes yard work and curses every minute he spends doing it, so much fell on me and my bad back—although I’d expected all that and had still opted for this house. Our silver maples are “trash trees” which shed sticks and branches like crazy. I am forever picking up after them. Husband was forever driving to the recycle center with loads of dead wood and hedge clippings.

Years passed. Our health declined. There were trips to the hospital for big-deal surgeries. Much privet was removed. Yard maintenance has suffered.


 

 We and the silver maples are all now in some disrepair, but we're still here, breathing for one another (carbon dioxide/oxygen cycle) and hoping for spring. They're sending up trial balloons as they shuck off those red bud casings.


Never mind that they cover my patio with their litter or that the pollen from their buoyant flowering makes all the mammals sneeze. We’re all quite pleased to witness another Vernal Equinox, another Purim, another Easter, another Hola Mahalla, another Holi, and any other spring celebration extant on our little blue planet. Welcome to the Growing Season!



 

 
* "Arcadia"
X-Files, Sixth year, Fifteenth episode
(Scary meets Hilarious)