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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(8) OF UNEXPECTED PREGNANCIES AND RELUCTANT GRANDFATHERS.

March 10, 1989
West Cornwall
From Ed Brecher
     I feel as if you and I have just come home from a long, exciting, and rewarding trip together, with another trip likely soon.
     Here are Chapters Two through Five.  I'm happy with them, subject to such improvements as you and and your sister can find to make.  As you can see, I'm delighted with almost all of Janeth's suggestions, and hence-forth will presume to call her Jan.
      My life is beginning to feel like Ed's in Chapter Five.  I wrote Rainbow in Amsterdam that I was planning a trip to Vienna with Joan.  Then the conference site was changed to Rome.  Today I got a postcard from Rainbow asking if Joan and I would mind her joining us in Vienna.  Joan is coming here tomorrow, and I shall check with her after our lobster dinner and soak in the hot tub.
March 16, 1989
West Cornwall
From Ed Brecher
     Your letters to me are filled with graceful thank‑yous for my editorial help.  Now it is my turn to thank you.
     The past year has been a very difficult one for me.  You know about my July heart attack.  You don't know that my cataracts have been getting worse, and that my ophthalmic surgeon won't operate because I have had detachments of both retinas and there is a risk of redetachment during cataract surgery.  Further, while you have some sense of my forgetfulness and my inability to organize data on a substantial scale, you have no sense of what a vast hole this leaves in my life and my psyche.  Cut off from the kind of writing I have done for half a century, I feel worthless and empty‑‑ except for one factor.
     Working with you on your book has given me a raison d'etre.  What greater gift could you give me?  This outburst is triggered in part by your 9 March letter and the enclosed condensation of eb & bbm Correspondence.
     First, the quality of the condensation is excellent.  You don't need me to condense (though I'm still available, of course.)
     Second, the condensation reveals how subtly I went about worming out of you those hundreds of pages I suspected from the beginning were there.  You write about the man who asks, "How are you?" and gets a 20,000‑word reply.  I'm conscious of the man who, when he receives a draft of a magazine article about a poet, proceeds to insert a crowbar into his correspondent and to pry out her next‑to‑inmost secrets.  (I'm quite aware, of course, that there is an innermost layer which you quite wisely keep to yourself.)  I confess that my initial intention was primrily prurient; I wanted to read all that juicy stuff about your adventures, especially your erotic adventures.  That was why I was so amazed at enjoying your account of a baby's christening.  But I also had from the beginning the thought that I needed a "project"; and since you had suggested that I edit your article about your mother, the possibility of editing your writing was in the back of my mind when I urged you on 28 January 1988 to write about you.
     Like you, I am pleased at how far we have come together; but I want to re‑emphasize the limitations on what I can accomplish, limitations that I set forth earlier but that you deleted when condensing eb&bbm.
     1) I'm still pretty good at organizing and editing a chapter.  But when it comes to organizing a book, as I have now abundantly demonstrated, I flunk.  Consider my unsuccessful efforts to integrate the pre‑1942 material into the post‑1950 material.  For this you are going to need, and I hope you will find, an agent or publisher who will know how.
     2) This book is addressed to two audiences about whom I am totally ignorant.  One is the audience of women who buy escapist literature.  GWE is, in my opinion, much more than mere escapism; but women are going to buy it because it is escapist, not for the wisdom it exudes.  You need someone who knows this market to carry on from where we are.
     The other market of which I am grossly ignorant is composed of editors and publishers who edit and publish escapist literature for women.  This is at the moment the crucial market, and one a good agent should understand.  You are going to need other guides.  I hope you find them.
     Which leads to the issue you have raised several times:  the crediting of my services in the published book.  I have strong feelings about this; let me state them bluntly.
     I want the book to be well published and to sell like hot‑cakes.  This depends in part on the public persona of the author that the book presents.  I am much more interested in that persona than in having my name on the preface.  If this were a work in my own field, or if I were planning additional forays into women's escapist literature, or if I were younger and needed items for my résumé, my feelings might be different; but as things are, neither my ego nor my career needs recognition.
     Moreover, one of the questions that is sure to arise both among publishers and among reviewers and book buyers is this: Did BBM really write the book herself, or did some shrewd male exploiter latch onto her and ghost it?  Ours is a suspicious culture; even the slightest evidence for the latter hypothesis is bound to be picked up and exaggerated by reviewers, for example. And publishers are bound to be aware of this risk.  They have often been bit by quasi‑hoaxes of this kind.  I'd be horrified if the reception of the book is marred by such unfounded suspicions.  So, please, let's play me down, way down.
                   #            #            #
     Weeks ago, I wrote "I don't believe this" in the margin opposite your statement that your suicide attempt represented your anger at Ed turned against yourself.  You challenged my disbelief.  I didn't disbelieve your anger against Ed.  I was really disbelieving something quite different: the general theoretical view of many shrinks that suicide (indeed, depression) is anger against others directed inward.  I believe that most suicide attempts are quite simply explained:  the would‑be suicide doesn't want to go on living.  Trying to explain that simple fact away is a stance I find highly objectionable‑‑ demeaning to suicides.  All this, of course, is quite irrelevant to your statement that I challenged.  Perhaps we can agree on the following statement:  Barbara hated Ed, and didn't want to go on living in a world in which she hated Ed, with all that that implied. 
     I know that you have raised numerous other points that I have to date ignored; but this is enough for today.  More anon. Yours,
March 17, 1989
Weymouth
To Ed Brecher:
     Note from Jan, re condensation of Brecher‑Malley correspondence:  "Loved this group of letters and love Ed Brecher, as you do, `without reservation.'  What a darling man he is, and how beautifully he comes across to us in his writing.  He applies his own rules, obviously‑‑not a word wasted anywhere."
     I found a manila folder labeled "The Reluctant Grandfather."  The letters in it concerned Vonnie's dropping out of Dean Jr. College at nineteen because she was pregnant.  Seeing a possible new approach to the troublesome flashback material, I tried to work it out.  This chapter is called, for the moment, "Of Unexpected Pregnancies and Reluctant Grandfathers."  Kathie will look at it this weekend; then I'll send it to you if she thinks it's worth forwarding.
     I'll be leaving for West Palm Beach on April 3 for a week's visit with Ed and Aliceann, staying at a motel within walking distance of their house.  Kathie was with them earlier this month, saw the motel, and tells me I'll love it.  She warned me not to get lost in the jungle around Ed's pool.  It's ten times as big as the one he created in Scituate, to the distress of ex‑wives, lady-loves, and realtors.
March 18, 1989
Weymouth
To Ed Brecher    
     My dear, lovable, Breck.  I just received your March 16 letter and am overcome with tenderness and concern.  Your precious eyes . . . and all this time you've kept your worries about them to yourself.  You are one hell of a good soldier as well as a good editor, good friend, good person.
     I just called Kathie and told her about your detached‑retina risk if your cataracts were to be operated on.  Dick thinks there's no place better than Mass General and Mass Eye and Ear but allows there are excellent medical centers in Hartford and New Haven.   Have you had a second opinion?  If you had any interest in coming to Boston, I would do whatever I could to be helpful.  It slays me to think about how uncomplainingly you have used your eyes to separate the worthwhile from the worthless in my writings.  If only the latter weren't so predominant, exclamation point.
     You aren't the one that flunked on the pre‑1942 material. It was teenage Barbara, a lousy sow's ear of a writer.  Small wonder you couldn't produce a silk purse.  If my parallel treatment of Vonnie's pregnancy and mine also falls flat, I don't think anyone can come up with an answer.
     I don't understand why you downgrade your ability to organize a book.  In my view, you have done exactly that, and beautifully.  To repeat my broken‑record refrain, I never could have done it alone.  There would be no GWE without you.  Since you feel so strongly about staying out of the picture, I'll abide by your judgment.  But, if Great White Eagle has a chance of selling like hotcakes, there has to be a way your role can be credited.  Isn't it the norm for editors to work closely with authors, supervising their progress and making suggestions when called for?  Surely this function would not lead to ghost‑writing speculations but should warrant acknowledgment of your contribution.  I do have to deal with my conscience, Ed darling.  You mustn't be so selfless that I end up feeling guilty.
       I seem to have mislaid the photographs pertaining to flying, can't find the one of the Skyknight's instrument panel anywhere.  I thought I had carefully filed all GWE pictures in the same sensible spot, on the floor next to my bed.  I have looked under the bed, behind the bed, and everywhere else except under the mattress.  No flying pictures.  However, I know there were extra prints of the instrument panel in Ted's barn.
SKYKNIGHT'S INSTRUMENT PANEL . . . FOUND
  
      I am sending you the marriage anecdotes, along with a letter suggesting what you might be able to use.  The only other chapter I hoped you would tackle some day was the one about Kathie.  This was before I knew how much I was asking of a friend with serious vision problems.  Though no one could handle Kathie's story better than you, perhaps an agent could refer me to an adequate substitute.
     You will also receive Chapters Two through Five.  I have added two pages to "Jack and Ed" concerning my mother's death.  When I wrote Jack from Fort Lauderdale in December of 1972, she had died only two and a half weeks earlier.  A resident in the apartment below Mother's saw water coming through her ceiling.
     Mother was found in her tub, dead of a heart attack or a stroke, the water still running.  That fall I had taken her to the local hospital's emergency room two or three times in the middle of the night because of "spells" that frightened her.  The doctors could find nothing to worry about.  What added to my shock and grief was remorse that my telephone had been unplugged the night Mother resorted to a calming bath (as was her habit).  Had she tried to call me? What keeps me from driving myself crazy with these questions is the knowledge that she wouldn't want me to add guilt to my grieving, loving mother that she was. 
     This may be the "unfinished business" you referred to when I sent you the article about Ernestine.  I still think her life was interesting enough to be written about but not by a flounderer like me.
      More thoughts on ghost‑writing:  I think Beryl Markham, who wrote Into the Night about her flying adventures in Africa, had a problem with someone ‑‑ her husband? ‑‑ claiming to have ghost‑written her book.  He may have offered suggestions, but the book was clearly written from a woman's point of view.  I'm convinced he was grabbing credit he didn't deserve.  Then there's Thomas Wolfe and his cartons filled with thousands of pages that editor Perkins transformed into Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the  River.  Edited, yes; ghost‑written, no.
     Your comment about our suspicious culture reminded me that Ed couldn't believe The Diary of Ann Frank was written by so young a girl.  He said her father must have written it.  If I didn't call him a male chauvinist during the ensuing heated argument, it was because the term hadn't been invented yet. I should think the fact that much of my boating and flying material was published years ago would give credibility to my authorship of GWE.  I also have all Darrell's letters; enclosed is a Photostat of the first one.  I have all kinds of proof that I am a manic letter‑writer and ‑saver.  Fifty black‑bindered notebooks, for example, seven of which are devoted to Kathie, around ten to the other kids, seven to my mother, several to Ed and me before, during, and after the divorce; then there's Travel, Animals  (Pets), Parties, Adolescence, Vaughan, Mimi (Ed's mother), Boating, Flying, etc.
     While it would be unfair if suspicions of ghost‑writing were attached to my book, you and I know that it was ghost‑condensed.  I think your achievement is marvelous.  I regret that I can't give you credit but love you for your willingness to be played down, "way down." 
      Your statement on the reason for my attempted suicide sounds logical.  It's possible that at some time I picked up on the anger‑directed‑inward theory.  God knows I was unhappy enough to think death was preferable to living with so much pain.  Listen  to me, Sisters.  No man is worth your life.
       Dear, generous Breck.  How fortunate I am that you are in my life.  I'm glad you're glad that I am in yours. 
      Please take care of yourself and your eyesight.  If I should not be troubling you with these added chapters, say so.  You've done more than enough to start GWE on its way. Feel free to bow out now, if that is the sensible course to take.
March 26, 1989
West Cornwall
Memo
     1) I enclose, re‑edited, Chapters Two through Five.  So far as I'm concerned, they are ready to go.
     2) I also return herewith all (I think) of the photos in my possession, including a slew of flying pictures and the instrument panel of the Skyknight.
     3) You have a knack for legends under the photos.   Please put legends under all photos you send out (but Darrell's sketches, obviously, don't need them.)
     4) I have now read the "Marriage Anecdotes" and "Of Unexpected Pregnancies and Reluctant Grandfathers" drafts you sent me, and I'm sure there is usable material there.  However, not for Phase One.  As I stressed in a memo on phases I sent you a year ago, Phase One should be only a hundred pages or so‑‑enough to capture an agent's or editor's interest and secure her/his help in organizing the remainder.  Too much at this phase is a fault.  We are already well over 100 pages.  Let's terminate Phase One while we're still ahead.  The same goes for the Kathie chapter and for other potential additions.  Remember that what we are presenting here is a sample, not the book.  That is why I added the "NOTE TO EDITORS" at the beginning instead of the end ‑‑ so that readers will know they are reading a sample.
     Have a wonderful trip.  I expect to.  Call me when you get back from your visit with Ed and Aliceann.      
April 2, 1989                                              
Weymouth
To Ed Brecher:
     Jan and I had a grand time reading Chapters 2‑5, agreeing with most of your emendations but "ganging up" occasionally.  I wouldn't be so bold if I hadn't learned during the past months how very tolerant and open to suggestion you are.  It was about a year ago that you made a comment about my ear being better than yours "and if you think you are right, you unquestionably are."   I don't have that much faith in my ear, but I am awed by Jan's.  
     Jan was pleased with the compliments you sprinkled through our latest draft.  I do hope you will meet each other some time soon.  It would be fun to take you to the golf club for dinner; we could sit on the screened porch, where it's quieter and more private than the dining room.
     Here are the memos for Chapters 2‑5:
     Chapter Two, p.9.  We like "Breakfast was barely warm by the time she returned." 
     p. 23.  Re "Let's not forget the Blue Hill," I said uneasily.  Your change to "I remarked" suggests that I was calm and relaxed, but Ed, it's scary up there at night.  The pilot's alarm is contagious and lingers even after reassurances.  I guess you have to be there.  (See enclosure for a description of another frightening instrument‑weather flight.)   
     Are you satisfied with the changes in Ed's comments? And the first sentence about "automatic rough," as worked out by Jan?  We welcome your fine‑tuning.
     Chapter Three, p.18.  I'd like to keep "mustachioed."   Combined with imperious sultan, I don't see it as repetitious of Ahmet's "wearing glasses and a dark mustache" five pages earlier.   To me, "mustachioed" has a more sinister ring than "goatish."
     p.20.  The "husband‑manager" avocation would be good in another context, but I don't think I'd say this so soon after The Letter.  The term would have lost its fun.  I suggest instead:   "But now another answer occurred to me."
     Chapter Four, p.2.  I didn't need to ask Jan about "naked."   I already knew she preferred it to "nude."  But I wanted to save "naked" for Patty in the next chapter.  I had jotted "unclothed" with a ? for Jan.  I was in my study when she called, "Barbara!  How about saying `never saw each other without their clothes on' or `with their clothes off'?  I know it ends the sentence with a preposition, but it's the way people talk."  I liked the idea‑‑how about you?  Jan also suggested "undressed" but added "I do like `without their clothes on' and devil take the prep!"
      p.9. I made a change in the "bittersweet" conversation.  To define it more explicitly than Jack did, it's a wild vine with bright orange berries, often used in fall flower arrangements.  I think most women‑‑and few men‑‑ would know what it was.  If you would like further clarification in the text, Jack could say "It's that flower‑arrangement stuff you pick up off the floor when it dries out."  But does that slow down the line too much?
     Is your blood pressure still low and your tolerance high?   Why, of course. 
     p. 10.  Jan sees a way to preserve the hidden meaning in "I didn't know I would miss her so much."  She knew I intended readers to assume I was referring to Mother's leaving for Florida.  She inserted "Mother died of a heart attack day before yesterday" after the first paragraph.   
     Jan preferred to retain "enormity" of my loss.  And, though it may be a cliche, we liked the "rock" I had known for 32 years.   However, I now notice Jan's afterthoughts in the margin of her notes.  "partner"?  "comrade"?  If you still feel negative about "rock," I wouldn't mind a change to "comrade."
      p.13, June 9.  With Jan's help, I slightly revised the conversation with Jack at Migis Lodge.  She doesn't think the repetition of the word "cabin" matters because it's such a funny line‑‑but we would both accept "We can do all that in here" if you prefer it.
     Still with us?  Then on to Chapter 5:
     p.2.  I talked with Jan on the phone about my response to Ed's "You're perfect" and reminded her of your "He sure knows how to needle an ex‑wife."  I also told her what I had actually said in my letter to Darrell:  "He sure knows how to hurt a guy."  She laughed aloud.  We like this answer because it's clearly a joke.  To speak of "needling" is sharper and might give the impression that this was something Ed often did.  To refer to myself as a guy is okay, I think, in modern parlance.  Vonnie and her friends used to refer to each other as guys, whether male or female.
     p. 2, bottom of pg.  I love the word "bellow" but would prefer not to portray Teddy as worse than he was.  His doting parents and other relatives would be unhappy.  To avoid repeating  "announced," I have changed it the second time: "...then proclaimed to the congregation, `Now I need a golf ball.'"
     p.12.  "the only rock within a thousand miles"  Jan writes,  "Ed's style is to exaggerate, so don't reduce the distance."
     p.14. We were on the verge of accepting "captain of the Ed Malley Management Team then decided we still liked "president."   When I asked Kathie a few weeks ago if committees ever had presidents, she said, "No, but people are always forming teams these days, and the leader of a team can be called the president."   Pretty please, Breck?  It's my first and last chance to be president of anything.  And I'm sure Aliceann will enjoy the honor, too.
     p.15.  Re threatening to divorce Ed again if he didn't go with me to Disney World, Jan comments:  "I prefer `three‑day‑trip with your ex‑wife" because there's no need to repeat the `two-night' phrase." 
     p.17.  Jan thinks most readers will know I was referring to Aliceann, not her recipe, so urges me to keep the warmth of "this treasure."  Would it help make it clearer if I said, "Ed, you gotta keep this treasure in the family!"  ??  The next line also helps:  "Ed does his best to keep us all in the family."
     p.19.  Jan said I should ask you to make a choice between "bounding naked into his kitchen at odd hours" and "bounding naked into his kitchen while he was making cocktails."  We couldn't decide.
     Still love us?  We love you, too!!!!!!!!  
     To turn to a personal matter, I have been rereading the part of your letter to Ed (he sent me a copy) concerning sex and aging women.  I was looking for courage.  I'm expecting Jack to show up in a few weeks, either for a brief visit before he joins the Peace Corps, or for a permanent move back east.  You've heard of cold hands, warm heart; my problem is:  warm heart, cold feet. 
     In your letter you said many women view a flaccid penis as a sign that they are aging and losing their attractiveness.  That isn't my dilemma.  What turns me off ‑‑ indeed horrifies me ‑‑ is my own flaccid body.  If I am shocked at what I see in the mirror, what will Jack be?  I will not, of course, parade around in the buff as I did so unconcernedly when I was a mere fifty or sixty.  Which reminds me of an episode in 1978, a month before I turned fifty‑seven:
     I was stepping out of the tub when I heard my condo buzzer.  Jack, arriving early.  As he came through the large door facing my apartment at the end of the hall, I waved to him from my doorway and called, "I just got out of the shower.  I'll be with you in a minute."  I left the door ajar so he could walk in while I put on a robe.
Jack:  "When you first opened the door, I thought you weren't wearing anything‑‑at least that's the way it looked from the end of the hall."
Me:  "Were you wearing your glasses?"
Jack:  "Yes, thank God!" 
     In 1987, nine years later, my self‑image wasn't so sassy.  I wrote Jack about a pleasant fantasy.  "I picture your arrival outside my door at 8:00 p.m. (with two or three months notice).   I am wearing something that modestly covers my aging self ‑‑ a burnoose with a veil might do it ‑‑ and you are wearing your white shirt, blue slacks, and best sneakers.  You tell me I look beautiful by candlelight.  Jack, it works in a movie like "Same Time Next Year" but in a real‑life fragile situation?  Remember how you used to say you would never want to settle for anything less than what we had?  You were right.  But please do thank Mike for his generous offer."  [Mike was a neighbor who said he would vacate his house, so I could stay there if I ever visited Jack.]
     That's how I felt two years ago.  Now even my cold feet have wrinkles. 
     Darling Breck, I know you have no magic potion that will release a willowy temptress trapped in a hag's carcass.  But it helps to talk to you, anyway. 
     I hope your trip was wonderful in every possible way.
P.S.  I've just picked up Love, Sex, and Aging at the bookstore. I'll read it in Florida.  Will it teach me to accept what can't be changed?  Like my uncomplaining Kathie?  I must try harder to be more like her.        

1 comment:

  1. Note to any visitor(s): It's December of 2016, and I have been re-reading "ABOUT LOVE SEX AND AGING" and find to my chagrin that many long passages are duplicated. At 95, I'm not up to doing a darn thing about rectifying these errors. I moved to Linden Ponds in Hingham three years ago, play bridge with new friends four times a week, from time to time re-publish posts from my blog like Animal Tales and My Opera Star Mom.

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