book reviews, music

Kathryn Walker’s A Stopover in Venice– a novel with thinly veiled references to James Taylor…

Time for another book review. This review will be an unusual one for me, because I very rarely read novels anymore. My time as an English major kind of killed my once robust love for reading fiction; I’d rather read biographies, memoirs, or other books based in truth, or at least one person’s version of it. I’ve actually been thinking of reading Kathryn Walker’s debut novel since it was first published, back in August 2008. At that time, I was living in Germany for the first time, and I read People Magazine on a regular basis, instead of The Washington Post and The New York Times. Someone reviewed Walker’s novel. I sat up and took notice, because Kathryn Walker happens to be singer-songwriter James Taylor’s second ex wife. She’s also an actress, and had been in the quirky 1981 film, Neighbors, which also starred John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Cathy Moriarty. I remembered that film and, in fact, had recently purchased and viewed the film on DVD.

I held off on buying Walker’s book for eleven years. Even though I was very curious about the comments the People Magazine reviewer had made about Walker’s “thinly veiled” comments about James Taylor through one of the characters, I was put off by the negative reviews left by regular readers. I also don’t like reading novels that much, and didn’t want to wait for the book to get to me. Back in 2008, I didn’t have a Kindle or an iPad. 😉

I can see by Amazon.com, I finally downloaded Walker’s debut novel in December 2019. I just now read it, and that was probably because Bill and I saw James Taylor perform last month in Frankfurt. We had second row seats, and I was reminded yet again how fascinating I find James Taylor. I had already read Carly Simon’s book, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir, which contained a lot of comments about James– kind ones about his immense talent, as well as negative ones about his drug addiction, alleged philandering, and lack of commitment to being a husband and father to their two children together, Sally and Ben.

Kathryn Walker has always seemed a lot more mysterious to me than Carly Simon is. I’d only seen her act in Neighbors, although I know she’s been a lot of stage productions and on television shows. About 20 years ago, I read the exhaustive book, Long Ago and Far Away: James Taylor His Life and Music by the late Timothy White. It was an extremely comprehensive read, yet I don’t remember too much coverage of James’s years with Kathryn Walker. I remember a single photo of her in that book, and a few comments about how she was there to help him as he got sober. Other than that, Kathryn Walker has always seemed to me like a blip on James Taylor’s history. And while I know not everyone likes James Taylor’s music or who he is as a person, I still remain fascinated by him and the rest of his family. So, after seeing him perform last month for the fourth time in my life, I decided I’d finally read Kathryn Walker’s “thinly veiled” novel about her time with a debatable “rock star”– James Taylor.

Now… enough of my personal bullshit, and on to my review of the book…

First, a brief synopsis…

Cornelia “Nel” Everett is a young and bored woman, unhappily married to a brilliant, piano playing, self-absorbed rock star named Antony Casson. Antony and Nel have been on his European tour. She always goes with him on his tours, and she’s always bored and lonely, as each day is in a new city, where Antony’s time is consumed by sound checks and performances. At the beginning of the story, they had been married for eight years, and Nel is feeling restless, irritable, and useless.

On the Italian leg of Antony’s tour, they land in Venice, where Antony performs and Nel waits for him, never taking the time to explore the amazing places to where Antony’s work takes them. Nel is dissatisfied and longs for something more. So, after an argument with Antony, she impulsively decides to get off the train that would take them to Verona, the next city on his tour. He doesn’t see her leave, because he’s always exhausted by his work. She’s not exhausted, because she has nothing to do.

Standing on the platform, watching the train pull away, Nel feels a surge of nerves. She doesn’t speak Italian and isn’t used to traveling alone. Somehow, she still manages to make it to The Gritti Palace, one of Venice’s best known and most expensive hotels. She asks for a room, and is told that the hotel only has a tiny one in an area where renovations are ongoing. She accepts the room, sight unseen. It’s tiny, dark, and has a narrow bed. But the friendly receptionist promises that he might be able to move her the next day. Nel is just grateful for the kindness, since she’s truly in unexplored territory. She hasn’t told Antony where she is, and she has no solid plans… but this impromptu stopover in Venice will turn out to be an adventure that completely changes the course of her life forever.

The next day, Nel takes a walk, where she begins to see Venice for the first time. While walking, she runs into a pack of aggressive boys, torturing a tiny dog. Consumed with compassion for the little Chihuahua, Nel forcefully tells the boys to beat it, and rescues the grateful little canine. Completely ignoring the logistics of adopting a pet in Europe when one lives in the United States, Nel decides to keep the dog. She sneaks him into the hotel, noticing that he was obviously someone’s pet. But he lacks a collar, so she gives him a name, and starts trying to figure out how to get him into her life.

Nel discovers that one of the best ways to meet Italians is to have a dog… and just after she’s bought him a bespoke collar and is getting used to the idea of having him, when she hears the frantic shots of a man. Somehow, he’s spotted her with his employer’s lost dog, Leo… and just like Dorothy and Toto in The Wizard of Oz, Nel and Giacomo (as she calls him at first) are spirited into a mysterious palazzo owned by an elderly Venetian woman named Lucy. And Lucy is so grateful to Nel for rescuing her dog that she invites her to stay. It’s a decision that inevitably leads Nel away from her life as a rock star’s wife and into the exhilarating energy of living her own life. Nel finds herself in an exciting project that marries art, history, and architecture in an enchanting city, where life is different and interesting. Nel gives up waiting around in boring hotel rooms and finds new life, engaging with vibrant new friends and finding love.

My thoughts

I’m of a mixed mind about A Stopover in Venice. First off, I will state that although there is a disclaimer at the end of this book, assuring readers that this book is entirely a work of a fiction dreamed up by Kathryn Walker, it’s pretty obvious that she was heavily influenced by her life with James Taylor. If you know anything about James Taylor’s history, you will easily see the similarities, with some changes made.

For instance, Walker gives her “rock star” character a somewhat exotic name, but writes that he goes by “Antony”, never Tony. I can’t imagine anyone calling James Taylor “Jim”, although I did read that he was known as “Jamie” when he was a lad. Instead of making him a guitar player with dark hair and blue eyes, she makes him a piano player with brown eyes and blond hair. Instead of having a father who is a famous doctor, as James did, Antony’s father is a famous civil rights lawyer. And instead of having an ex wife who is a singer-songwriter like James’s first ex, Carly Simon, Antony’s ex is named “Natalie” and is an eccentric actress. They have one child– a daughter named Liddie– instead of the two children James and Carly had together.

But then, as the story progresses, it’s clear that Kathryn Walker’s writing was informed by real life. She mentions how “Natalie” is always calling Antony, claiming that he neglects their daughter, adding a snarky aside that really, it’s Natalie who is feeling neglected. Carly Simon has stated that she’s not allowed to have James Taylor’s phone number, nor will he come anywhere near the property they bought together in the 1970s, where Carly still lives, even though their son Ben also has a house nearby. It’s my guess that Carly probably did cause some drama, as the first ex wife.

Kathryn Walker also famously had a long relationship with Douglas Kenney, a brilliant comedy writer and co-founder of National Lampoon. Kenney was an up and coming star when he tragically and suddenly died in a freak accident in Hawaii. This incident is also vaguely referred to in A Stopover in Venice, as Nel mentions a former lover named Nils who seemed to be a much better match for her. As Kenney also did, Nils died suddenly, before he and Nel could make their relationship official. Nel mentions how she was never able to give Antony a child, as Natalie had. Likewise, Kathryn Walker and James Taylor never had children in real life.

The grief of Kenney’s death and Taylor’s split from Simon, along with the fact that they knew some of the same people, like John Belushi, seemed to bring Walker and Taylor together. Under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn’t have ever married, but they found each other at a time when both were in some trouble. Likewise, it sounds like Nel and Antony found each other in a similar way. Coincidentally enough, IMDB tells me that tomorrow would have been Walker’s and Taylor’s 37th wedding anniversary, had they not split up in 1995.

Frequently in this book, Walker makes Antony out to be a self-centered narcissist. Nel is a wine loving, intellectual, curious, romantic woman who wants to go out and enjoy the fruits of her husband’s successes, preferably with him. But Antony is obsessed with his craft. He loves to tour. I think if we remember James Taylor’s 1981 album, Dad Loves His Work (not one of my favorite JT albums), a thinly veiled message to Carly Simon, who had famously issued an ultimatum that James needed to settle down and be more present in his family’s life, we can see that Kathryn Walker probably felt similarly neglected by James. In fact, through her novel, I get the idea that Kathryn Walker might have felt a strange mixture of being needed and ignored. She was needed because she was in his inner circle and trusted, yet I get the sense that any warm body could have done what she was doing. Antony didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want to be with someone he couldn’t trust. But being a “warm body” is not enough to make a successful marriage, and through Nel, we get the sense that it was a thankless task.

Personally, I don’t think James Taylor is a narcissist, in the sense that I don’t think he has a personality disorder, or anything like that. I think he has some narcissistic traits, as many famous rock star (and politician) types do. He’s also an addict, who was raised by an addict, in a very demanding and visible job. He’s a product of divorce, raised by a mother who wasn’t happy in her marriage, or where her husband’s work had taken her. Trudy Taylor famously hated living in North Carolina, where Isaac Taylor was from, and where he was dean of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s medical school (which bears his name). If you listen to James Taylor’s audio book, Break Shot: My First 21 Years, you can hear him talk about his parents’ relationship, and how his father could be very cutting and kind of mean. And he took off on long trips, leaving his wife and children behind, in a place his wife hated. Isaac Taylor spent a long time working in Antarctica and came home with a very serious drinking problem. It’s no secret that James and his siblings have all struggled with mental health and addiction issues, too. His oldest brother, Alex, died on James’s 48th birthday in 1993, having had a heart attack after drinking a fifth of vodka by himself. All of these events would have a significant effect on a person– maybe stunt them emotionally or enhance existing character flaws.

I think, in many ways, James Taylor has been through a lot of shit. In spite of his immense gifts as a musician, when it comes down to it, he’s someone who has been through some tragic losses, and suffered from mental health and addiction issues. So even though he’s a very talented and successful star, he could never be the man Kathryn Walker obviously needed… and the character, Antony, could not be who Nel needed. They were simply incompatible, and they needed to divorce, just as James and Kathryn eventually did. I think they’re both better off for having done that. Even if James Taylor had had the most stable, loving, and normal home life ever, I don’t think he and Kathryn Walker would have been a love match. They don’t seem to have much in common, other than knowing some of the same people, being a bit codependent, and having been through personal crises at about the same time.

I believe Walker also makes a thinly veiled mention of James’s third wife, Caroline “Kim” Smedvig, who now goes by Kim Taylor. In the book, she’s referred to as Nicola, a PR professional who speaks several languages and had worked with classical musicians. Kim Taylor worked for the Boston Pops for years, and was previously married to Rolf Thorstein Smedvig, a classical musician. James and Kim met in 1993, and started dating after he and Kathryn became estranged. They married in 2001, are parents to twin sons, Henry and Rufus, and seem very happy together. As the book was ending, Walker’s character, Nicola, is picking up “Liddie”, and meeting Antony in France, a country he loves. She never outright says it, but it’s kind of implied that Antony and Nicola are having an affair. I don’t know if that’s how it happened in real life, especially since “Liddie” (Sally Taylor) would have been an adult in 1993 (although Ben Taylor was still a teenager), but that’s how it seems in Walker’s fictionalized account.

Allergic to quotation marks?

For some reason, Kathryn Walker doesn’t use quotation marks in her dialogues. I don’t know why. Most of the time, it wasn’t difficult for me to ascertain who was saying what, but there were a couple of times when it was a bit confusing to figure out the conversations between characters. I think some other readers found this little quirk annoying.

The rest of the story?

Believe it or not, this book mostly isn’t just about Kathryn Walker’s relationship with James Taylor. I’d say that part only makes up about a quarter of the book. The bulk of the novel is about Nel’s adventure in Venice, staying in a former convent turned palazzo, owned by a lonely, wealthy, elderly signora where she helps a British Italian man uncover a mysterious fresco.

However, I think a lot of people, like me, picked up this book because we were interested in her relationship with JT. And I do think she delivers, albeit in a way that probably keeps her as safe as possible from litigation. It does help to know something about James Taylor and his family if you want to get the nuances. On the other hand, some people will read A Stopover in Venice for other reasons. One person wrote that she’d read it because she and Walker had both graduated from Wells College, and she was curious. I seem to recall that particular reviewer hadn’t liked the book.

I think Kathryn Walker writes well, and I appreciated some of the vivid imagery she creates with her prose. The plot itself is kind of engaging, especially if you’ve ever been to Venice, which I have on two occasions. I actually found myself looking up the Gritti Palace Hotel to see if Bill and I could afford to go there, too. It would be quite expensive to do that, but hell, we don’t have kids in college or a mortgage. The story is kind of implausible, though… one has to suspend disbelief as to how Nel finds herself making friends so quickly with native Venetians, all because she rescued a dog from a pack of hellion kids in a strange city. Many people will find that aspect of the book easy to ignore and will enjoy it, anyway. Others, like me, will be nagged by questions as to how all of this came together in such a fantastic and ridiculous way, even if I was very intrigued by her fictionalized insights about life as the wife of a rock star. I happen to know, having actually befriended the wife of a major rock star musician myself, that the lifestyle isn’t without its challenges.

Overall

I’m definitely not sorry I read A Stopover in Venice. Maybe, thanks to this book, Bill and I will venture there again in 2023, ten years after our last visit. We have more money now, so we can stay somewhere besides the Hilton for a night (although they gave us an AMAZING upgraded room that rents for 520 euros a night– see here for my blog photos). My first time in Venice, I stayed in a convent hostel that locked visitors out all day, so the Hilton was an improvement. I did find Walker’s writing inspiring enough that I would plan a trip because of it, although I doubt I’ll find an elderly signora with a palazzo with which I can bond over dogs and old frescoes.

On the other hand, I’m glad I’m finished with the book. I really do prefer non-fiction. And I’m glad that my curiosity is finally satisfied. If you like novels, and are curious about actresses who used to be married to rock stars and became novelists, A Stopover in Venice might be a good read for you, too.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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business, Ex, religion

Sometimes Ex leads me to some interesting rabbit holes…

Happy hump day, everybody. Like a lot of people, I was shocked to hear about Christine McVie’s death last night. Guess who alerted me? It was none other than Stephen Bishop, whose book I reviewed yesterday. He left a comment on Christine McVie’s Facebook page, where it was announced that she passed away in a hospital after a “short illness”. She was 79 years old. Although her music has meant a lot to me over the years, I’m not going to dedicate this post to her passing. I did write a brief post on my Dungeon of the Past blog. Since we also lost Irene Cara a few days ago, that blog is getting some unusual attention lately, although not that many people read it these days. I’m waiting to hit $100 in AdSense, and then I’ll probably discontinue it. But it is a handy place to express my thoughts and prayers for musicians who made the years of my youth worth enduring.

Last night, before I read about Christine McVie, I was perusing the latest Ex nonsense. I noticed that she had made an intriguing comment.

I have no words for how repulsed I am at the thought of attending such a scary and surreal event. Of course… we could crash it…

I noticed that someone had responded, so I clicked the link, and there I found a most interesting post by some stranger from Birmingham, Alabama. Behold:

The person who post this wrote “It’s a coffee shop in my city that is owned by a cult.”

Well… given my love for investigating cults, this post interested me, so I went looking for more information, and I was led to this article written by journalist Greg Garrison on AL.com. There, I learned about a man named Terry Colafrancesco who has opened a “different” kind of business in Alabama called Villaggio Colafrancesco. Mr. Colafrancesco, who is an Alabama born Italian Catholic, was inspired by a visit to Italy 25 years ago, where he noticed people standing in line for gelato on a cold, November night. Colafrancesco is an entrepreneur, but he also happens to be super religious. His business, which sells all manner of Italian style treats from gelato to coffee to charcuterie, is operated as a tax paying enterprise. But he also runs a non-profit religious community called Caritas. Most of the people who work at Villagio Colafrancesco are members of the community. Colafrancesco will be directing all profits after taxes toward the Caritas ministry that he founded in the 1980s.

According to the AL.com article I linked:

In 1988, Colafrancesco hosted one of the six famous visionaries of Medjugorje, who claimed to have daily visions of the Virgin Mary in their hometown in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia starting in 1981. Marija Pavlovic Lunetti came to UAB Hospital to donate a kidney for her brother, Andrija Pavlovic. She stayed with Colafrancesco and continued to have her visions of the Virgin Mary in a field in Shelby County. She has returned to Caritas to visit dozens of times.

The field where she had her visions in Shelby County became the focal point of the 250-acre world headquarters of Caritas, which still takes tour groups to Medjugorje and promotes the visions on its web site, Mej.com. It has a printing press and publishes Colafrancesco’s commentaries on the visions under his pen name, “A Friend of Medjugorje.” Hundreds of thousands of the books have been distributed worldwide.

The Medjugorje visions have never been endorsed or authenticated by the Catholic Church, which has approved other reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary such as the ones in 1858 in Lourdes, France, and in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal.

So yes, this Italian treat paradise is very much a business, but it’s also influenced by religion. So patrons are required to be dressed “appropriately” and leave their electronic devices at home. Profanity is not allowed. People are supposed to hang out and talk to each other, rather than hanging out on their phones. Ex is apparently disgusted by this.

Now, I’ll be honest… I initially laughed when I read about these rules, because I have been to Italy a bunch of times, and I’ve never seen an establishment there that bans cell phones, skimpy clothing, or profanity. And while I don’t wear skimpy clothes anymore, and never purposely did when I was younger, I do have a strong tendency to curse. I also love to look at my phone. However, having grown up at a time when cell phones and Internet trolls didn’t exist, I do sometimes feel pangs of nostalgia for that time. Maybe this happens to everyone as they age, but once you get to a certain age, you look less favorably on “progress” and start remembering the “good old days”. So there’s a certain charm in the idea of visiting a place where patrons are required to put their electronic devices away.

BUT– while I do try to maintain basic respect for people and their religious beliefs, I don’t think I’d want to patronize a commercial business with an obvious religious agenda. Obviously, I don’t mind visiting churches or even spending money in them in the form of donations. I will, for instance, give spare change to the cathedrals when I visit them in Europe. But I’ve seen the damage that organized religions can do to many people, and I’ve also seen how cults can complicate people’s lives.

I also don’t think I’d feel comfortable at a place where workers are “dress coding” people. I can, however, see why some people love the idea of such a place, especially in Alabama, where there are a lot of “conservative” types. On the other hand, I’d be interested in seeing how many native Alabamians know what is, and what is not, authentic in Italy.

As Mr. Colafrancesco is operating a private business, he has the right to run it as he sees fit. And I would imagine people in Alabama will fully support that right. It’ll be interesting to see if this idea takes off. Some people don’t mind dress codes. Planet Fitness famously has a dress code to keep less fit people from feeling intimidated and uncomfortable by more fit people showing off. However, that chain has run into problems, as they have confronted people about their dress who didn’t feel they were shaming anybody. And my guess is that there could be trouble when someone outspoken and influential gets kicked out of Villagio Colafrancesco for wearing a halter top and leggings or something.

In looking at Mr. Colafrancesco’s blog, I see that he is no fan of “college”. In fact, he literally writes that in the section about his story. And while Colafrancesco is a very successful and apparently self made man, I can see that not going to college left him with a bit of a vocabulary deficiency. He writes that long hours and hard work had paid off, so that by the time he was in his mid 20s, he and his wife were living “financially comfortable”. He bought several “tracks” of land and “never had a mortgage or debt”. I think Mr. Colafrancesco means “tracts” of land, and a mortgage is, in and of itself, debt. It’s not that I don’t understands what he means, of course, and obviously he didn’t need college to succeed. Not everyone needs higher education to “make it”, and some people don’t “make it” even with fancy degrees. It’s just that as religion is important to him, proper grammar is important to me. 😉

In any case, more power and big props to Mr. Colafrancesco for “doing it his way”. I just wouldn’t necessarily assume that everyone can do what he’s done, or hold him up as an example of someone to emulate. Especially since it’s pretty clear to me that he’s politically conservative and probably would vote for Trump, in spite of his stated conservative values. Trump is a big fan of the skimpily clad, and he doesn’t mind swearing like a sailor as he hangs out on social media and talks about overthrowing the government. Edited to add: I see I was right. Colafrancesco is a Trump supporter. How can a man who self-righteously bars profanity and skimpy clothing in his establishment champion a man who grabs women by their pussies? What a hypocrite! Sorry, I just can’t respect someone who preaches about decency and supports Donald Trump.

Moreover, there is some belief that Mr. Colafrancesco’s group is a destructive cult. I don’t yet know enough about Caritas to state whether or not it’s a cult. I just learned the first about it last night, thanks to Ex. According to the above link, which dates from December 13, 2001:

Five former residents of Caritas of Birmingham have filed suit in state court seeking an unspecified amount of money from the group and its founder, Terry Colafrancesco.

The suit claims Colafrancesco lures people into Caritas with promises of spiritual enrichment and then drains them of money. Families are made to live in nasty trailers at the group’s compound, and Colafrancesco controls their lives almost totally, the suit claims.

The plaintiffs include a one-time lieutenant to Colafrancesco and five parents who sued on behalf of their children, who still live at the mission located about 30 minutes south of Birmingham.

The suit claims Caritas has assets of about $5.9 million. Colafrancesco “said he was knighted by Mary the mother of Jesus,” the suit says.

“It’s just bitterness,” Colafrancesco said Tuesday.

A 2012 Reuters article indicates that the lawsuit was later settled privately.

Anyway… I guess people have the right to decide if they want to buy coffee at a place where they aren’t allowed to curse, wear spaghetti straps, or look at their phones. I’m sure some people will think Villagio Colafrancesco is a very nice and inviting place for a treat. No matter what, this venture is sure to bring in money, press, and controversy… although it’s pretty rich that Ex is “repulsed” by it. This is the same woman who joined the LDS church and used it as one of her parental alienation tools. And when it turned out they weren’t going to give her what she wanted and expected things from her, like money and time, she suddenly decided it was “bad”. I’m sure the fact that church members helped younger daughter escape her clutches also contributed to her changed mindset about religion and politics. It sure is interesting and entertaining to watch.

But… it seems that Ex is pining to ditch America, too… Behold.

I’m a poor white girl. I have no power. I am a mother raising her kids and if Trump were to EVER hold office again… I’m leaving this country and won’t be looking back. He’s worse than a horror movie to me and I cannot fathom how ANYONE would vote for that scum of the earth.

Yeah… says the woman who causes multiple people to experience PTSD style nightmares due to her abuses of them. Just shaking my head and hoping she avoids Germany…

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celebrities, Ex, mental health, narcissists, psychology

The latest big dream “job”…

The featured photo is one I took when Bill and I visited Venice, back in 2013… Ex probably could have had that herself, if she hadn’t been so hellbent on “punishing” Bill for not dancing to her tune.

It’s Tuesday, and once again, I’m finding myself reluctant to write too much about current events. I’ve been consuming all kinds of “news”/infotainment about politics, and the aftermath of Trump’s time as our “POTUS”. I just don’t feel like going there today. My mind is still on Jennette McCurdy’s book, and how much it resonated with me. I am fortunate, in that my own mom wasn’t like Jennette McCurdy’s mom was. It resonated with me, because I think Bill’s ex wife is a lot like Jennette’s mom was.

A really good interview about Jennette McCurdy’s book, I’m Glad My Mom Died.

No, none of Ex’s kids have been professionally involved in show business. But I do remember when the kids were young, we would hear stories about her hopes for them to enter showbiz. We’d hear about her wanting ex stepson or one of Bill’s daughters to audition for movies, or get involved in the performing arts. Recently, she’s been tweeting celebrities about her youngest daughter wanting to become an actress and hoping to go to a “conservatory”. I think I’ve included those tweets in earlier posts here, so I’m not going to repost them in this entry. But yes, she’s posted about that, and she’s included comments about how she wants one of her daughters to marry Keanu Reeves or someone similar. She is fixated on fame and what she thinks is “quick money”. Bonus if it’s someone else doing the work, while she enjoys the benefits of being the “mom”.

Recently, Ex has gotten back to posting on Instagram. A few days ago, she posted a few new agey “positive” memes. On the surface, the memes appear to be very nice and edifying. I’m sure the strangers who look at them, and know nothing about her, think she’s just this really kind, loving person. Below are a few recent examples:

I don’t pay a lot of attention to Ex’s Instagram, although sometimes, I do check out the comments. I definitely stopped in my tracks when I read the comments on the one about traveling before retirement… Behold:

Now… there’s nothing wrong with dreaming about travel. I did it for years, before Bill and I could finally make the dream come true. However, given the life that I have with her ex husband, it does strike me as crazy that Ex is now posting pictures of memes that reference Italy, and wistfully commenting about how much she’d love to travel with her youngest child, who has “severe autism”. She has repeatedly posted that he runs away, and for that reason, she needs a fence for her backyard. More than once, in this year alone, she has posted crowdfunding attempts to get money to finance building a fence. She has posted repeated claims that no local charities can help her, and no gadgets or gizmos designed to stop her son’s escapes have worked.

It’s possible that Ex’s post about wanting to travel is just “shit” she posted** for whatever reason** just to get a reaction– any reaction at all– from her followers. Still, I can’t help but pause. She’s commenting that she’d like to travel the world with her son, who has severe autism and, she claims (falsely, I think), that he doesn’t speak at all. Someone suggests that she start a blog about traveling with her autistic son. Her response is, “Yes… I’ve been giving it serious thought… but I need money to make it happen.”

I smell another kickstarter… and probably one that will go as far as her fence fund has.

I reflect on the stories I’ve heard from Bill and younger daughter, about the money Ex pisses through, buying worthless crap online, or taking road trips, often to see her unsuspecting victims. Then, she will try to grift, as she did last spring, when she brought Bill’s older daughter to his stepmother’s house and asked for money and “heirlooms”. Bill’s dad died in November 2020, so his stepmother has been grieving. I’m sure she’s pretty vulnerable right now. To her credit, she did tell Ex that she couldn’t help her with money. That was when Ex gave her boxes to put things in that she’d like to “pass down”. My guess is that anything Ex got from SMIL would end up on eBay.

Let’s also not forget that the only reason she even knows SMIL is because of Bill, yet she completely denied Bill any access to his daughters, from 2004 onwards. It’s only been a few years since he and his younger daughter reconnected online. He has managed to see her in person just once since then– in March 2020, just before the pandemic hit with a vengeance. He has met his older two grandchildren. Both he and his daughter CRIED when they reunited, and younger daughter explained that she was forced to send a letter disowning Bill. She says her mother literally stood over her and dictated what she would be writing. And she removed all traces of Bill from their possession, and goaded them into legally changing their names when they turned 18. But there she is on Instagram, posting memes about what speaking kindly to a human can do. The cognitive dissonance is astounding.

It’s hard to know where the truth lies regarding anything Ex says. She posts these “lovey” comments about her son, and how much she adores him. Then she posts about how he breaks her heart and makes her life difficult. She posts about how her son needs a fence to stop him from escaping home. Then she posts about how she wants to take him around the world and write about how he sees it. And she doesn’t post as if it’s a pipe dream, per se. She actually states that if she could fund it, she’d do it…. again, with a teenaged boy with severe autism whom, she claims, runs away?

Based on what we’ve heard, it’s true that her son runs off. That was confirmed by a more truthful source. So how awesome would it be if she and her son went to– say– Venice, Italy, and he decided to run off into the many vast crowds that descend there? It would definitely make for an adventure. Maybe it would be one she could write a good story about… Would the stress be worth it? I don’t think so, but I’m not Ex. We clearly have vastly different priorities in life.

Bill told me that Ex has always had a lot of “big dreams”. She often starts working on her dreams, using money and resources from other people. Bill did, for example, fund Ex’s forays into Mary Kay and Nutrisystem. He said she actually was doing okay with Mary Kay for awhile, but then abruptly decided the organization exploits women. So she quit selling Mary Kay, and she sold her inventory back to the company, at a substantial loss. The same thing happened with Nutrisystem. She decided after buying the food that it was too much about victimizing women. More money down the drain.

This would all be fine if it only affected Ex. But, as you can see, there are other people in Ex’s life who are impacted by her whimsical decisions. Four of her five children are legal adults now, but one is still in that gray time period between adolescence and adulthood, when someone can vote, but not drink a beer. Two of the three other adult children have moved out on their own, but one still stays at home and figuratively wipes Ex’s ass for her. And then there’s the baby of the family, the lad with autism, who is the star of so many of Ex’s pleas for money and assistance.

Speaking of assistance… what about the therapy dog she’s been posting about? More than once, she’s written about how pricey therapy dogs are, and how she can’t wait to train one to serve her son. If they’re jetting off to Italy so she can be an autistic mommy travel blogger, won’t it be difficult to get a dog and train it? Yes, therapy dogs are used in Europe, but they aren’t as widespread here as they are in the US. Moreover, there are places here where therapy dogs– even the ones that are genuinely certified, and not just “emotional support animals”– are not allowed.

I’m sure that Ex has heard, or maybe has even seen, the lifestyle Bill and I enjoy. We seem to have a lot of what she wants, except we don’t have children. It’s mainly because of her that we don’t have children, since she convinced Bill that he should give up his fertility because pregnancy was so “hard” for her. Obviously, it wasn’t that hard, since she subsequently had two more kids with her third husband. And she’s never going to change. She’ll always be chasing her dreams at other people’s expense. Or her dreams will abruptly change, and she won’t feel like she should answer for that.

Jennette McCurdy has said that her mother had wanted to be an actress. Jennette’s grandparents wouldn’t put her mom in acting when she was a child, nor would they support her career aspirations. So, when she was a helpless child at age six, Jennette’s mom decided that her daughter would be an actress, whether she wanted to be or not. Jennette happened to have the looks and talent to make her mother’s dream a reality. And she was put upon to keep working to keep the dream going, so mom could enjoy the perks and the money that came in. I see Ex as very similar to Debra McCurdy. Someone with big dreams that she can’t really fulfill… but is always looking for someone out there to make something happen for her. And then, inevitably, it won’t be enough, and she’ll have no qualms about tearing that person to shreds. Meanwhile, she’ll put it out to the masses what a “great” loving mother she is… and what a fantastic empathic humanitarian she would like to be. It’s one hundred percent bullshit, isn’t it?

I just hope the damage to Ex’s children won’t be too severe, as it was to Jennette McCurdy when her mother died, and she realized the truth.

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ethics, Ex, family, healthcare, lessons learned, love, marriage

Moms really should be ready for the challenge…

Yesterday evening, I read a heartbreaking article in the Washington Post written by a retired pathologist from New Hampshire named Thomas Gross. The doctor wrote about having to perform an autopsy on a tiny four month old baby girl. It was his first time doing an autopsy on a baby, and the job was breaking his heart. But because the baby had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the procedure had to be done. So Dr. Gross began to explore the baby’s organs.

Dr. Gross described the ghastly condition of the baby’s pancreas, which was swollen to twice its normal size and covered with huge, angry looking, blood filled blisters. Her pancreas was abnormally rigid. The baby had previously been healthy. She’d started smiling and laughing spontaneously, and was even sleeping through the night. But then she suddenly got very sick, and spent her last hours vomiting, screaming, and crying inconsolably, in obvious pain. Dr. Gross soon had the answer as to why the baby was so sick. He discovered that the disease that had killed the four month old girl was pancreatitis. According to Dr. Gross’s editorial:

The condition was caused by a bacterium known as Haemophilus, type B (HiB), once a common threat to children. The epidemic stopped abruptly after 1985, when two American physicians patented an immunization for HiB. By 1987, the HiB vaccine was approved for use in all age groups. Cases of Haemophilus infection in children in the United States dropped precipitously in just a few years from more than 20,000 cases before the vaccine to just 29 cases in 2006. Deaths now occur almost exclusively among unvaccinated children.

The baby’s parents, no doubt loving and well-meaning, had chosen not to vaccinate their baby. They probably had never heard of Haemophilus, and it never occurred to them that she would get so sick that she would die. The girl’s parents probably weren’t around when babies routinely got sick and died of preventable infectious diseases like measles and polio. Besides, nowadays, everybody’s got the Internet, daytime TV, and social media to inform them, so they don’t always want to listen to what actual doctors recommend. Dr. Gross writes:

Many parents are too young to remember when young children died from measles, polio, smallpox, strep throat and influenza. They don’t remember when there was nothing that anyone could do about it except sit and watch. When the polio vaccine first appeared, mothers dragged their children to the public health clinic and stood in lines around the block to get them immunized. Before the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, pregnant women infected with rubella would invariably deliver horribly disabled and disfigured babies. Many children still die from measles; they are almost exclusively unvaccinated.

I could feel the palpable sadness this now retired physician still felt for the tiny patient whose memory still haunts him. Then I looked at the comment section on Facebook. At that point, there were only a few posted. One of the very first comments came from a guy named Chris who posted something along the lines of, “A lot of the people posting ‘sad’ reactions would have applauded the mother’s choice if she had terminated the pregnancy.”

It pisses me off when people– especially MEN– feel the need to conflate the abortion issue with every other issue even slightly regarding the welfare of babies. Chris wasn’t the only one who brought up abortion, either. So, although I know I shouldn’t have done it, I decided to respond. I wrote something along the lines of this:

A lot of “anti-choice” types are also against vaccines. If this baby’s loving parents had vaccinated her, she’d probably still be alive.

I noticed that Chris immediately responded to me. Another man gave me a “laughing” reaction. I decided to ignore them, because I didn’t want to get into a pissing match with them on such a pleasant June evening. I knew I’d be tempted to rip into him– in a much less delicate way– than the pathologist cut into the baby about whom he wrote his heartfelt editorial. Guys like Chris make me angry. They lack compassion, and they don’t see how sometimes terminating a pregnancy is actually the kindest thing a person can do. Aside from that, the story had NOTHING to do with abortion. It had to do with making wise and informed decisions for one’s offspring. In this tragic case, the baby’s parents, who obviously loved their infant daughter and hadn’t wanted to abort her, inexplicably chose not to vaccinate her. The unfortunate decision these parents made, on their daughter’s behalf, caused the girl to suffer needlessly. Ultimately, their baby paid with her life.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility. This baby’s parents no doubt wanted to embrace the challenge, yet they made a huge, fatal mistake that cost them dearly. This story, like so many others I’ve read, only underscores how very important it is to be ready for the job of parenting. Ideally, that job starts before an infant is even born. Prenatal care is so important, but we live in a country where access to healthcare is difficult and expensive. So many people focus on forcing others to gestate, but they don’t pay attention to whether or not the pregnant person is up to the challenge, and they don’t want to see to it that moms are ready for the awesome responsibility of raising children… or if they even want the job.

Of course, sometimes shit happens. I don’t want to dump on the parents in this sad story, because even years later, they probably still feel absolutely horrible about what happened. And they probably thought they were doing right by their baby, even though the whole sketchy “autism connection to vaccines” has been debunked for a very long time now. Dr. Gross wrote:

In 1998, the highly respected British medical journal the Lancet published a study suggesting an association between immunizations and autism. The author did not show immunizations cause autism. He merely pointed out that, in 12 cases of autism, all 12 autistic patients also received vaccines against measles. Incidentally, so did a hundred million other kids who had not become autistic.

The Lancet later admitted that the paper’s authors failed to disclose financial interests. The lead author was publicly discredited. The Royal Academy of Surgeons rescinded his license to practice medicine. The Lancet withdrew the article from publication.

But the damage was done. The loving parents of the baby on my table, well-educated and well-meaning, had chosen not to immunize her. Had they succumbed to the Internet hype that immunizations cause autism? Had they ever heard of Haemophilus?

Maybe the parents just didn’t know. The baby was just four months old. Timely vaccination might have just slipped their minds. Maybe they were planning to get her vaccinated at a later date. Who knows? What we do understand is that the baby developed a likely preventable life threatening disease that ultimately killed her in a painful way. If she’d been vaccinated, maybe things wouldn’t have turned out this way.

Continuing on this same theme, this morning I read another “Am I the Asshole” column. It was written by an older woman who came of age at a time when most women were expected to be wives and mothers. The letter writer explains that she wasn’t much into being a mom, but nevertheless, she had two children, a boy and a girl. Her children were “good kids”, and she did the best she could by them. But she admits that she was very relieved when they grew up and moved out on their own. She finally had the chance to do her own thing and discover herself.

The letter writer’s son, John, got married and had three children. Her daughter just has pets. Mom treats her daughter’s pets like grandchildren, which upsets her son. He thinks she should be more deferential to his human offspring over his sister’s dog and cat.

I don’t think the mom in this story is an asshole; however, I can empathize with John. John’s mom sounds a lot like my own mom. My mom had four children, and she often told me that she hadn’t wanted four children. Since I am the youngest, that means I frequently got the message that I wasn’t welcome. I remember watching my friends with attentive mothers and feeling painful surges of envy. My mom took care of me the best way she knew how, but she was never one to dote on me. My mom couldn’t wait for me to be on my own, and that was a message that hurt me a lot. She has also referred to my dogs as her “granddogs”.

I’m not saying my mom doesn’t love me. She does, in her own way. Our relationship is better now, too, since I don’t physically need her anymore. Now we can be friends. But I do remember what it was like to be raised by someone who was sometimes cold, and didn’t seem to care that much about me. Or, at least that’s how it seemed when I was a child. I see things differently now, and have come to respect and appreciate my mom more. It’s become easier to see her perspective now. There are a lot of issues I don’t have to deal with that my friends with more attentive moms do. I was also lucky in that I have always basically gotten along with my mom, in spite of her “hands off” parenting style. I think a couple of my sisters had a much tougher time with her than I did. On the other hand, my sisters got along much better with our father, while I had a lot of issues with him that still haven’t been resolved and probably never will be.

I think John should find a therapist and talk about these angry feelings he has toward his mom. He obviously still feels very hurt about how he was raised. He could tell his mom wasn’t that into raising him, and he knows she’s not going to be “super granny”. I don’t blame him for how he feels, but it’s not appropriate for him to punish his mom and try to force her to be someone she’s not. In the end, his kids will suffer, and when he inevitably loses his mother, he’ll still have a lot of unresolved angst, like I still do about my dad. I can’t help but realize that if my mom and the letter writer had been freer to make choices, John and I would have both been spared significant pain… and we would have been none the wiser, not having been born to mothers who would much rather be doing something with their lives other than mothering.

I’ll end this post with another personal story from last night. Regular readers might know that my husband, Bill, just became a grandfather for the third time. His younger daughter, who is an excellent mother, just had a baby last week. We sent her a package with treats from Europe. There was a Harry Potter hot chocolate mug from France that we picked up in March, but couldn’t fit in the last box we sent. There was chocolate from Germany, and a few gifts from our trip to Italy. In the box we sent were two books that I picked out for the two older kids. One was an activity book about Florence. Ideally, the kid would be in Florence as he or she explores the city, but I figured younger daughter and her husband could use the Internet to teach the kids about Italy and do the activities. The other book was a charming story I found about growing up independent.

I was wandering around in the bookstore at the Uffizi and this book caught my eye. It had really engaging illustrations featuring a baby zebra from West Africa. I don’t remember the book’s title, but I do remember the story was about an independent little zebra who wanted to try new things that he wasn’t quite ready to do. His patient and gentle mom told him that one day, he’d be on his own and he could then try all the things. But for now, she was there to guide him and teach him. It was a comforting, positive, and healthy message.

Unfortunately, Bill and his daughter have both been on the receiving end of Ex’s repeated manipulative ploys involving children’s literature. Ex has a bad habit of using books and music to make other people feel like shit. So Bill felt compelled to read the book from cover to cover in the bookstore, just to make sure there wasn’t a message in the story that would make younger daughter feel bad. Fortunately, he decided that I had made an appropriate choice, so he sent her the book. Hopefully, she’ll like it. It’s a book that I doubt her mom ever would have sent, since it’s about children growing up with a strong and protective role model who actually wants them to be independent and self-sufficient someday.

I think Ex loves being a mother, but only because it means she has family members who literally owe her their lives. She uses them as tools to further her own agendas. Her children aren’t stupid, either, because they can read between the lines. They get the messages she sends when she uses a book like Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree in her object lessons. She compares herself to the tree, and her children (and Bill) to the selfish little boy who takes and takes until there’s nothing left. But the reality is, the children are always giving to their mother, and she’s never satisfied. That has caused them pain, because obviously, their mother wasn’t up to the challenge. Her goal probably should have been to raise her children to chase their own dreams and live life on their own terms.

I’m not a mom myself. I always wanted to be a mom, but that wasn’t in the cards for me, for a lot of reasons. And because I barely know Bill’s daughters, I don’t feel like a mom to them… or a granny to younger daughter’s children. I do sort of feel like a mom to my dogs, though…

I don’t know if my overall message is getting across in this post. I know Bill is glad I’m here, warts and all. And I know my mom, ultimately, is glad she raised me. I do wish she’d wanted to do it from the get go, though… and I know enough people who haven’t had happy endings after being born into situations where the mom simply wasn’t up to the job. So that’s one of many reasons why I’ll always be in favor of allowing pregnant people to make choices, and that’s why I get triggered when losers like Chris conflate the abortion issue with any story about babies who die. Life is tough enough. Babies, especially, should be wanted, loved, and cared for by parents who want them. Pregnancy shouldn’t be an obligation or a punishment, and it shouldn’t be up to anyone to solve another person’s fertility issues. Moms, especially, should be ready for the challenge of motherhood before they accept it.

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controversies, social media

Well… I guess I won’t be posting more often on Twitter, now…

Here’s another short post before I get dressed and head off to breakfast. I heard that Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter for $44 billion was accepted. Musk, who is the South African born CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is, according to Forbes, the world’s wealthiest person. For some reason, that’s not enough for him. He wants to control a huge, global, social media app, too. I think there is a concern when the wealthiest people control the media…. But then, I guess that’s how it’s always been, since the days of kings and queens.

Musk says wants to “eradicate fake accounts” and “relax its content restrictions”. I guess this means that Donald Trump will be allowed to get back on the platform and spread his vile brand of disinformation for the clueless and selfish.

I never was a big Twitter user. I have an account, but i don’t use my real name on it, and I very rarely tweet or read the contents of Twitter. The one exception is when I recently had issues with my bank account. I went on Twitter to see if I was alone. I wasn’t. But after a couple of weeks, got tired of Twitter and went back to my usual habits. I thought I might switch to Twitter, given my annoyance with Facebook. But now that Elon Musk is buying it, I think I’ll pass. I don’t need more social media in my life.

I’m not a huge social media consumer. I don’t do Instagram, Tik Tok, or LinkedIn. I do have a YouTube channel that I use occasionally, and of course I’m on Facebook. Frankly, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I think it’s gotten too big for its britches. But, Facebook also happens to be the easiest way to keep in touch with friends and the few family members I still talk to. I have been giving thought to leaving Facebook, though. I wish someone would come up with something better.

I don’t think Elon Musk is going to change Twitter for the better. He strikes me as a voracious and power hungry person who likes toys. Twitter is probably just going to be a toy for him. But as I barely use Twitter, this decision probably affects me less than it does people who like the platform more than I do. Musk says that Twitter clamps down on “free speech” and he wants to change that. On the surface, that sounds good and noble. I don’t know that it’s going to work out that way.

I just find it disheartening that there are so many greedy, power-mad people out there. I’m pretty tired of all of the bad news, too, and the negative responses people have to everything. I am naturally a pretty negative person a lot of the time, anyway, so I don’t need any help.

Oh… how I miss the days when my biggest dramas came from writing on Epinions.com, and some of my biggest excitement came from seeing how much I made in income share. Sadly, time moves on, and things change. It would be nice to hear some good news… but at least I’m on vacation, and we’re discovering some beautiful places, good wines, and excellent food in Italy. It could be worse, right?

By the way… masks are still big in Italy, but most people don’t wear them properly. I guess I can understand why they’re slower to get rid of them here, given how hard this country was hit with COVID. But it’s really something when Germany and Switzerland are less anal retentive about public health measures than Italy is. On the other hand, again… people aren’t wearing them properly, anyway.

Today’s post is the 1500th on this blog… Go me!







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