In the German language, the word “Stau” refers to the inevitable traffic jams that form, especially on the Autobahn system. Bill and I have been in a lot of Staus over the years. They are almost always annoying and frustrating, especially when we’re miles from an Ausfahrt and we both have to pee. They shut down movement and flow. They waste time. They piss people off and put them in sour moods.
I’m reminded of the term “Stau” this morning, having experienced a communication breakdown on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard. Before I get into the specifics of what happened, I want to make it plain that this post isn’t a plea for advice or “wisdom”. In fact, unsolicited advice is what led to my decision to write about the “comment Stau” in the first place. I hope that anyone who reads this will take a moment to think twice before trying to be an “overly helpful person” and offering hurting people unsolicited advice. When it comes down to it, unsolicited advice is basically criticism. I don’t need criticism right now.
If you read yesterday’s posts, you know that Bill and I lost a very special family member yesterday. Our dog Arran had some kind of catastrophic medical event on Thursday night. We consequently decided to send him to the Rainbow Bridge yesterday morning. Arran was a big part of our lives. Naturally, I shared the news about him on a few sites. In retrospect, maybe that was the wrong thing to do, since there are a lot of assholes in the world, and every time you share something online, you run the risk of running into one or more of them.
I shared a post on the Recovery from Mormonism (RfM) site yesterday, because I’ve been posting there for over 20 years. I don’t post there very often anymore, because Mormonism no longer really affects my life. But I do have a few friends on that site, even though there are quite a few people there who I think have some legitimate issues. That site also attracts many trolls, though the moderators do a pretty good job of enforcing the rules.
Someone left me a really kind comment about my tribute to Arran and his name’s association with Scotland. I left a rather lengthy reply, since she seemed genuinely interested in the origin of his name. I explained how we came to acquire Arran and why we gave him his name, after a beautiful island in Scotland.
Then I got a very mean comment from a troll. I didn’t copy what the person (I’m assuming a male) wrote, but the gist of it was that the quality of the board was going to hell because of “off topic” posts like mine, and no one gives a fuck about my “stupid deceased mutt” (he literally used the word “fuck”, albeit with a different spelling.).
I’ll be honest. I was legitimately stung by the callousness of that person’s comment to me. I actually cried when I read that troll’s cruel words. It was like a hard slap to the face. I wanted to return fire with a well aimed kick straight to the troll’s balls that would leave him doubled over in extreme pain and unlikely to want to ever utter such blatant disrespect to me again. What can I say? I have my own anger issues, and when it comes to outright abuse, I am very saturated. I don’t tolerate it well at all.
My first impulse was to lash out in anger. But then I figured that behind every troll, there’s a hurting person who expects to get attention in the form of angry comments. That person clearly wanted a response, and I was inclined to give him one, but not in the form he expected. So, instead of rightly telling the person to go fuck themselves, I wrote “You know, you could have just kept scrolling. Sorry that you’re hurting so much that you feel the need to be mean to me.” Then I reported the troll’s comment.
I hoped that would be the end of it, but alas, the site’s resident “overly helpful person” decided she needed to chime in. I’ve posted about my issues with the overly helpful on more than one occasion. It seems like every messageboard has one. It’s that person who feels the need to make themselves feel better by trying to micromanage other people, being meddlesome, and inserting themselves in places where they have no business. I think a lot of that kind of controlling behavior has its origins in people who were raised in chaos. Of course, understanding where that behavior comes from doesn’t make it any less irritating.
I don’t actually know much about the person who felt the need to intercede. What I do know is that she’s very active on the site. Other people have implied that she’s really smart, and might actually have an important job (but I don’t know when she has time to work at a job, since she’s apparently always on RfM). Judging by my own interactions with her and observations of her behavior, I would assume that she thinks she really smart, too. She likes to get into arguments with people and show off how “smart” she is. While I absolutely respect intelligent people, there is a fine line between being really smart and allowing that intelligence to show itself naturally, and trying to appear smarter than one actually is, and looking foolish.
In any case, she left me a comment indicating that the person is a troll and is posting crap all over the place. Then she advised me to ignore him.
My response was that yes, obviously, the guy is a troll. However, I am a real person, and his comment legitimately caused me pain. His words made me cry. I don’t know the person behind the screen. For all I know, he’s a twelve year old kid in his mother’s basement. Or maybe he’s a 35 year old man with a twelve year old kid’s maturity level in his mother’s basement. Or maybe he’s a sadistic pervert. I don’t know.
I simply wanted to issue a reminder to him that there’s a person behind the screen who read those words and they were hurtful. And instead of lashing out with anger and profanity, I wanted that person to get an even-keeled comment that addresses their need to attack, expressing sorrow for the obvious pain they must be in to feel compelled to share it so stunningly with perfect strangers who are obviously already grieving.
The overly helpful woman came back and pointed out that I was just giving the troll “fuel” and feeding his “sick impulses.” And I should just let the moderators deal with him. I didn’t respond to her directly, but I suppose I could have mirrored the same fucking observation to her. She didn’t need to insert herself into that interaction and offer me criticism on my retort. I’m a 50 year old woman of average intelligence who doesn’t need her help in deciding how to address other people when they insult me. Her comments were patronizing, unnecessary, and out of place. And they shut down communication, just like a good, old-fashioned Stau.
Revealing that the initial comment made me cry isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that I have a heart, and a soul, and people who hurl abuse at me do damage. I didn’t feel anger so much that the person indicated that they felt my post was “inappropriate”. It was that they referred to Arran as a “stupid deceased mutt”. He was so much more than that. Reading those words enraged me, because they were completely uncalled for and cruel. And if that cowardly person had said that to my face, I probably would have slapped him HARD across the mouth, if he was lucky. And then I probably would have gotten arrested.
What’s more, obviously a few people did care, and said they enjoyed the tribute. I hope they were being sincere. If not, their choice to humor me is on them. Everybody else can do the decent thing and just keep scrolling, rather than kicking a person when they’re down. I can’t imagine that the people running that messageboard really mean to shut down communication. Those kinds of critical comments, especially when they’re spiteful and mean, make people not want to post anymore. I’m sure thinking I might not post again after that incident.
I do my best not to engage the “overly helpful”. I seem to have something in my personality that brings them out of the woodwork. I suppose it’s a sign that I need to work on not caring about what other people say or think… but again, prick me and I bleed. My feelings are raw because we just lost a big chunk out of our hearts. Arran was a part of our lives for over ten years… half our marriage! And while his passing wasn’t directly related to Mormonism, having him in our lives was a big part of Bill’s recovery from Mormonism. So maybe my post there about Arran’s death wasn’t so off topic, after all…
The troll chastised me for not posting about “recovery from Mormonism”… but Arran had a lot to do with our recovery. I wasn’t a Mormon, but the religion has touched me nevertheless, because of Bill, and because of his younger daughter, who is still active. Fortunately, she seems to have picked up the good parts of the faith instead of the toxic ones, that still show themselves among recovering people, including the “overly helpful” woman who feels the need to butt in on every fucking thing anyone posts there.
Hurting people hurt others… and toxic behavior is contagious. I tried not to be contagious when I addressed the troll’s obvious pain, rather than just advising him to go fuck off and die. But if I’m honest, he can do that, too. 😉 I won’t shed any tears for that.
One last thought… and this one has to do with Arran.
When we lose our dogs, we usually get “signs” from them. I mentioned yesterday, that when we were on our way home from the vet’s office, the 1991 song “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M. came on the radio. I’m not the biggest fan of R.E.M., and I see no reason why that song would be particularly meaningful, as it was about the behavior of Chinese people after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. It’s kind of a sarcastic song about “shiny, happy people” carrying on after a bloody tragedy… as communism promotes Utopia that can’t really exist as long as humans are the way they are.
Bill commented on “Shiny, Happy People” as we pulled into the driveway, and said he felt it was a sign from Arran. Of course, Arran’s time was long after that song was a hit, and it’s not like we play a lot of R.E.M. at our house. But then last night, as we were raising a glass to Arran’s memory at the wine stand, there it was again. The song “Shiny, Happy People” was playing in the kiosk… the second time we heard it that day. And then I realized it came from an album titled Out of Time. I dunno. It kind of makes sense. But maybe I just need to get out more.
Also… the steps I so carefully purchased for Arran just arrived. Guess we’ll hang onto them. Maybe they’ll come in handy.
I doubt many people have long awaited my thoughts on anything, let alone Prince Harry’s “tell all” book, Spare. I do have a few die hard regulars, though, so here’s my promised review of Harry’s controversial tome about life as the “spare” to the heir of the British crown. At this writing, Prince Harry is currently sixth in line to the throne. When Harry was born to the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana, September 15, 1984, he was third in line. Charles had famously joked about having an heir and a spare. Harry’s older brother, Prince William, and his lovely wife Catherine, now have three darling children, so the “spare” has lost some status… in terms of his royal rank, anyway.
For me, personally, it’s been awkward watching the fallout of their exile from the kingdom. I have never had a problem with Prince Harry. Before I read Spare, I didn’t know that much about him. I didn’t have a problem with Meghan Markle until I started paying closer attention to some of her behaviors. Regardless of how I might feel about either Harry or Meghan, or the two of them as a couple, they’re basically competent adults who should be allowed to chart their own course in life. My main issue with Harry and Meghan is that their actions don’t correspond with what they say. I kept hearing them talk about being hounded by paparazzi, and yet they seem very determined to be in the public eye.
Writing a tell all book about the secretive British Royal Family seems counterintuitive to the idea of avoiding the press. Harry has repeatedly expressed disgust for the press, and yet here he is, courting the press with a book that the Palace clearly didn’t want him to publish. My initial thoughts were that Spare was going to be a heartfelt “fuck you” to the British Royal Family. For the same reason, I have avoided watching their Netflix series. But then, although I continue to pay for Netflix, I hardly watch it anyway.
Originally, I wasn’t going to read Spare. I’ve grown tired of hearing about Harry and Meghan, and their constant complaints about the British Royal Family. I changed my mind when I happened to catch a video of CNN’s Anderson Cooper talking about Spare. It’s not even that I’m an Anderson Cooper fan. I just thought his comments about the book made it sound like something I’d want to read. So, on January 10th, I joined the many thousands of people who bought Harry’s book.
I finished reading Spare yesterday. Today– January 18, 2023– marks the third anniversary of the day when the Palace released the statement telling the world that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, would be “stepping back” from their official roles representing the Queen. For three years, Harry and Meghan have lived outside of the United Kingdom. The couple currently make their home in an expensive mansion in exclusive Montecito, California, where they live among A-list celebrities. They have two beautiful and reportedly healthy children. They also have gobs of money, even though the Palace has cut them off, as Harry bitterly complains. Still, as I read Spare, I found myself empathizing with Harry. He’s clearly a very troubled man. Trauma is a bitch for anyone, regardless of their station in life.
So… about the book…
Hiring a competent ghostwriter is one thing that Prince Harry did right when he decided to publish Spare. I think Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist, J.R. Moehringer, was the right man for the job. Moehringer seems to have a penchant for sentence fragments that ordinarily would have annoyed me. I get the sense that he used that style to capture the essence of Harry. By many accounts– apparently even Harry’s own– Prince Harry isn’t a reader. Although he went to “fancy” private British boarding schools, he does not excel at academics.
Harry was forced to act in the Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, to satisfy a graduation requirement at Eton College. It was an activity Harry didn’t particularly want to take part in, as he doesn’t share his father’s love of Shakespeare. Harry was much more a fan of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a much shorter and more readable book with characters that were relatable to Harry. It’s been many years since I read that book myself, but it seems kind of inspired that Harry would relate so much to an American novel about an “odd couple” navigating life in 1930s California. So, although some readers don’t care for Moehringer’s fragmented writing in Spare, I think it makes sense. In fact, as I read the book, I could practically hear Harry in my head.
I found Spare very engaging and readable. At times it was funny for the right reasons. Moehringer manages to capture a charming and humorous side of Harry that makes him seem likable and “regular”. Other times I laughed for the “wrong” reasons. I went over some of them yesterday, in my post about why Meghan Markle makes my “N” chimes sound. There were more examples that I didn’t include in yesterday’s post. Sometimes, Harry just seemed incredibly naive and immature to me, especially given that he was an officer in the British Army.
Harry relates a story about taking Meghan to meet Fergie. She supposedly doesn’t know anything at all about the British Royal Family. Harry tells Meghan she must curtsy to the Queen and call her “Your Majesty” and “Ma’am.” Fergie demonstrates the curtsy once, and Meghan tries it. Then, when the big moment arrives, Meghan performs perfectly. Harry acts all amazed about this. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that maybe Meghan isn’t being truthful about not studying up on the British Royal Family.
It’s not like Meghan hasn’t told a whopper or two, since she first arrived on the royal scene. But, I suppose that’s what makes Harry so appealing to her. He takes her at her word and never questions her. I think Harry’s apparent blind loyalty to Meghan is what seems to upset Prince William so much. William is the heir to the throne, and his station in life depends on maintaining the status quo. Some British people would like to see the end of the British Royal Family, so their survival depends on people toeing the line. Meghan hasn’t been obeying protocol, so of course that upsets the powers that be.
Harry is firmly on Meghan’s side, and doesn’t seem to think she can do wrong. That even applies to her curtsy, which she apparently learned on the fly, just before meeting Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. As frustrating reading as that might be for me, I think it’s an authentic aspect of Prince Harry’s personality. So kudos to Mr. Moehringer for managing to capture that so expertly. His role as a ghostwriter is to make the book seem like it came straight from the source. I think he succeeded.
And the content?
There are some parts of Spare that I genuinely enjoyed reading. I found Harry’s descriptions of exotic places in Africa enchanting, especially when he meets wild animals in Botswana. I liked reading about Harry’s Army training, especially since my husband is an Army veteran. It was fun sharing some of Harry’s insights with Bill, who could relate and expand upon Harry’s comments. There are some aspects of military service that transcend all nations.
Other parts of Spare were more annoying to me. As I mentioned yesterday, I find some of Meghan’s behaviors triggering and all too familiar. Like, for instance, before Harry and Meghan were married, and Meghan was showing Harry how to roast chicken. He’d never done it before, nor had he ever been exposed to the music of Nina Simone or, one of my favorites, James Taylor. During that evening, Meghan evidently made a comment that came across as an offensive “crack”. Harry describes it thusly:
This was a passage that triggered me, mainly because my husband’s ex wife tried to convince him that he “hated women” and needed intensive therapy. Now… I’m not saying that either Bill or Harry didn’t need therapy. In fact, for as long as I’ve known him, I’ve encouraged Bill to speak to someone besides me about his trauma. I’m happy to report that he finally did seek therapy from a Jungian analyst. But it was entirely in his own time, when he was ready to do it. He chose his own therapist and therapeutic model. It’s been very successful and rewarding for Bill.
When I read the above passage, I hear Harry taking all of the blame for what happened in that situation. Meghan implies that Harry is a damaged soul, and if he doesn’t seek therapy, she’s going to dump him. It was the same threat my husband got from his ex wife. Of course, in Bill’s case, Ex’s decision to dump him was a huge blessing. But, at the time, Ex’s declaration that he was a dangerous misogynist was not only totally untrue, but extremely damaging and traumatizing for Bill. She really had no right to do that. Neither did Meghan have the right to insist that Harry see a therapist.
I think Meghan knew very well that Harry was, and still is, totally smitten by her. I have a hard time believing that if the situation were reversed and Harry felt that Meghan was disrespectful to him, she would take kindly to being ordered into psychotherapy. Therapy works best when it’s approached voluntarily. Ideally, people should seek therapy as a means of helping themselves, not because they’ve been threatened or bullied into treatment. Moreover, when a person is coerced into seeking mental health care, it can set up a narrative that the person is somehow “unstable” or even “sick”, which can later be weaponized.
Therapy probably has been helpful for Harry, if only because the therapist told him that she thinks part of Harry is trapped in 1997, which is when he lost his mother, Diana. He’s obviously still traumatized by losing his mother at such a young age. The trauma was such that he’d forgotten a lot of things about his youth. Harry reports that therapy has helped him recover some memories, some of which have been pleasant. Therapy has also helped Harry cry, which I’m sure helps him process his 25 years of profound grief. For years, Harry believed his mother was still alive, but in hiding. Now he accepts the truth.
Some of the sob stories kind of made me queasy…
I know some of my readers follow my personal Facebook page. They’ve seen some of the passages I’ve shared there. Yesterday, after noticing how many times Harry found Meghan “sobbing” and inconsolable, I decided to share brief snippets related to the sobbing incidents with friends. Most of my friends got where I was going with sharing about all the sobbing. I had some trouble reconciling the reports of Meghan’s “sob stories” with Meghan’s image of being “tough”, independent, and assertive. There were so many “sob stories” that I don’t want to share them here. Suffice to say, it was very noticeable and bordered on oversharing.
Early in their relationship, Meghan got food poisoning because she ate bad calamari. Harry writes about holding her hair while she vomits. I’m sure that sharing this anecdote is supposed to convey Harry’s deep love and concern for Meghan, but again, it verges on oversharing. Ditto to Harry’s long winded stories about getting frostbite on his penis, as well as the disclosure that he and William were circumcised. On the plus side, it was the first time I’d seen the word “todger” used outside of the Monty Python number, “Penis Song”.
There’s also some controversy over Harry’s discussion of his military service in Afghanistan. Harry claims that he killed 25 members of the Taliban. Sharing that number was probably ill advised, especially if he’s truly concerned about his and his family’s personal safety. On the other hand, it really is too bad he couldn’t stay in the military. It seemed to suit him.
Some of Harry’s complaints are valid…
Even though he’s currently sixth in line to the throne, Harry was expected to ask his grandmother’s permission to marry the woman of his choice. Somehow, in spite of his upbringing, no one ever explained to him that Queen Elizabeth had to approve of his wife. When Harry awkwardly approached his Granny, she left him unsure of whether or not she’d actually approved of the union, even though she had clearly said “yes” to his request. That’s certainly a dilemma that most “normal” people never have to face. I do wonder, given what’s happened, if Queen Elizabeth II ever regretted giving Harry her permission to marry Meghan.
A lot of people might have some trouble mustering much sympathy for Harry and Meghan, but I do think there is some validity to some of their complaints. Besides the obvious lack of privacy and safety risks faced by all famous people– not just the Royals– Harry makes the case that he was kind of infantilized. At the end of his book, he writes:
At another part of the book, he writes:
Here’s this guy, who from birth, was expected to support the monarchy and raised to do what he was told. For that privilege, he enjoyed every material luxury he could ever want. When Harry dared to try to make decisions for himself, he suffered reprisals. Harry was essentially cut off from all he knew, with no room for compromise. Making matters worse was the fact that people who weren’t in the family got a say– the Bee, the Wasp, and the Fly, three advisors to the Queen, were heavily involved in the decisions regarding Harry’s and Meghan’s departure from official service to the Crown.
It reminded me of my husband’s former stepson, who at age 21, demanded that Bill continue to send him $850 a month in “child support”. He sent Bill an email demanding “timely payments” of the money. Legally, Bill wasn’t even his father, and he had a perfectly just cause for cutting off the support. When it was clear to former stepson that Bill wouldn’t acquiesce to his demands, the young man made one last pathetic plea for a final payment of $500, with the promise that he’d never “bother” Bill again. It was very embarrassing and heartbreaking for Bill to get that email. And, on some level, I’m sure it was humiliating for ex stepson to send it. That incident taught me that “helping” adult children too much often does them a disservice.
Likewise, Harry sounds humiliated as he complains about being financially dependent on his father. I don’t think Harry had a choice in the matter, even though he says he “agreed” to support the monarchy. The monarchy clearly expected Harry to loyally support it by all means. Because Harry’s life was mapped from birth, he was not taught certain essential life skills. That’s a poor reflection on his family. They should have prepared him better.
However, Harry is now a 38 year old man, a husband, and a father of two. Many people are ready for him to grow up and take responsibility for himself. Yes, he’s missed out on learning a lot of skills he should have learned decades ago. It’s past high time for him to pull himself together and catch up with his peers.
I, for one, am ready for Harry to stop complaining about money. Even if his father cut him off, his mother left him millions. He and Meghan could certainly buy a home somewhere less expensive than Montecito and live life independently. Hell, they might have enough money left over to pay for the security they say they need. They could live almost anywhere. That’s a freedom that most people will never know. And while writing this book is going to potentially cost Harry his family, it will also make him a lot of money. So now is the time for Harry to learn how to manage his affairs and act like the grown ass man that he is.
A lot of people seem to think Harry is a bit “thick”. Some have even called him stupid. I don’t think Harry is stupid. To me, he seems gullible, naive, and surprisingly immature about some things. For instance, he used up all the laughing gas intended for Meghan when she was giving birth to Archie. Besides being immature, that seems pretty inconsiderate to the woman whose hair he’d once held back as she puked up British squid. I’m sure Harry presented that anecdote to be funny– just as he wrote extensively about his frostbitten pecker. But even though it was kind of funny, it also revealed a childish, sophomoric aspect to Harry’s personality that may later prove to be embarrassing. Hopefully, he will evolve some more in that department, too.
Spare was worthwhile reading for me. I think the book will help me spawn a lot of content, if nothing else. I have mixed impressions of Harry’s story. Overall, I think he needs to grow up and get wise. But I also have some empathy for him. His situation is very unusual, and perhaps it does present a case for doing away with the British monarchy. Or, at least, maybe some changes need to be made in the way the highest royal family members raise their children.
Harry’s situation is unique, in that he lost his mother at such a young age, and she was an extraordinary woman who was world renowned. Her death was, in part, directly caused by being hounded by the press. But it also happened because Diana’s driver was drunk, and drove recklessly at excessive speeds. Diana also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt when the car crashed. Harry seems to overlook that part of the story as he blames the press for all that is wrong in the world.
In any case, I recommend Spare to the interested. I will probably seek out more books written by J.R. Moehringer. He did a fantastic job writing Harry’s story.
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Those of you who read this blog regularly, probably know that I grew up in the 1980s. As a child of that era, there are certain cultural phenomenons that are etched in my personal history. Personally, I think the 70s and 80s were great decades for coming of age. Most of us were too young to remember Richard Nixon. We got to be kids at a time before everybody was so plugged in to their electronic devices. We had a lot of freedom to come and go– I can remember running all over my neighborhoods— even when I was very young— and exploring to my heart’s content. And there was some really great– non auto-tuned— music in that era, to include an iconic band called The Cars, fronted by the late Ric Ocasek.
Ric Ocasek was 80s model Paulina Porizkova’s long time husband. When Ocasek died in September 2019, they were in the beginning stages of getting a divorce. Although they were splitting up when he died, Ric and Paulina still shared the house they purchased together when they first got married in August 1989. Paulina had envisioned them staying close and being “best friends”, maybe living in apartments near each other. But it was not to be. As Ric recovered from surgery for “stage 0 cancer”, he suddenly and unexpectedly died in the bedroom he and his third wife used to share. He’d also been suffering from heart disease and emphysema.
It was Paulina who discovered him, as she carried a cup of coffee to his sickbed at about 11:00 AM. It was made just the way he liked it, with three quarters of a teaspoon of sugar and just enough milk in it to turn it a very specific shade of beige. This part of the story resonated with me. My husband, Bill, knows how I like my “beige” coffee, too, although I prefer half and half over milk.
My sisters read fashion magazines regularly, but as an adolescent, I spent most of my time in a barn, tending to my horse. I’ve never had the figure, the bank account, or the desire to wear high fashion. I will admit that I used to like to watch America’s Next Top Model, and I did learn about models and fashion in the process of watching that show. But I really watched ANTM more for the drama, not because I care about haute couture. When Paulina Porizkova became a Top Model judge during Cycle 10, she quickly became one of my favorite people on the show. I liked that she was down-to-earth, intelligent, and basically kind… or as kind as she was allowed to be, anyway. As a music fan, I admired The Cars, and thought it was cool that Paulina was married to one of the co-founders of that band. I was pissed off when Paulina was fired from ANTM after Cycle 12. I thought it was a huge mistake. In my opinion, the show went downhill after she left. Paulina was also very briefly on Dancing With the Stars, but she was voted off very early. I didn’t watch her on that show.
As someone who grew up at a time when a lot of us were terrified of being invaded by the Soviet Union, I also find Paulina Porizkova’s personal history very interesting. Paulina was born on April 9, 1965 in Prostějov, Czechia, which was at that time, Czechoslovakia. In 1968, when she was three years old, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied her country. Her parents, Anna and Jiri, did not like the idea of censorship, being forced to work menial jobs for little pay, or standing in line for hours for a loaf of bread. So they left the country on a motorcycle and settled in Sweden, leaving Paulina behind in Czechoslovakia with her grandmother.
Life was difficult in Paulina’s homeland. The Soviets decided the house her grandfather had inherited was too large for one family. They divided it into three apartments and moved in a single lady and another family. There was one toilet for the whole house, and it was on the veranda. Meanwhile, Paulina’s parents were making a lot of noise about their daughter, who was separated from them. The sympathetic Swedish press wrote a lot of stories about Paulina, causing her to become famous. Still, Paulina didn’t mind, because she didn’t know what she was missing. She loved her grandmother, and wanted to be a good communist, as she was being taught in school. She even had aspirations of visiting Lenin in his tomb, and becoming a “Young Pioneer”, complete with a red kerchief. Below is an anecdote of something she and her cousin did in an attempt to win one of those red kerchiefs…
When Paulina was seven, her pregnant mother, Anna, came back to Czechoslovakia in disguise. She wore a wig and glasses. The police found out who she was, and she was jailed. But she was seven months pregnant, and the Swedish press continued to put pressure on the Czech government. Anna was then given house arrest with her family. The police moved into an apartment across the street, so they could watch her and make sure no one visited. Anna told everyone in the family about the good life in Sweden, which was diametrically opposed to everything the Soviets reported. Anna spoke of how clean, beautiful, and safe the country was, and how she could eat a banana or an orange anytime she wanted one. Paulina wasn’t sure if she should believe her, but she soon found out firsthand, as the Czech government deported Anna, Paulina, and her baby brother from the country. She was told she could never return to her homeland, and was forced to leave her beloved grandmother behind. Then, when she got to Sweden, her father decided to leave the family and marry his girlfriend.
Life in Sweden was also challenging for Paulina. She was bullied in school because she was different. Unlike the blonde girls whose families had plenty of money, Paulina was tall with dark hair. She wore outdated clothes from thrift stores. Some of her classmates called her a “dirty Communist”. One Swedish girl, in particular, was especially mean to fourteen year old Paulina, who one day dared to wear new clothes she’d bought with her own money after working hard all summer. I wonder how that Swedish girl felt the following year, when fifteen year old Paulina was invited to Paris by model scout, John Casablancas, and launched her career as a bonafide top model. I hope she felt like the dumbass she obviously was.
Modeling was a lucrative career for Paulina, but she didn’t particularly enjoy the job. Sexual harassment toward the models was rampant among the photographers and clients. She had to wear hot clothes when it was hot outside, or strip down to nothing when the weather was freezing. She saw a lot of beautiful young girls wash out of the business before they even got started, many times owing a lot of money to the agencies who had paid for them to get their teeth fixed or skin issues treated by dermatologists. Paulina was fortunate, as she was successful and made a lot of money. And, in 1984, when she was 19 years old, actor Timothy Hutton, who was directing The Cars’ music video for their hit song, “Drive”, cast her as the love interest. That was how she met Ric Ocasek, who was married to his second wife, Suzanne, at the time.
Paulina was struck by Ric’s turquoise eyes, which she describes in great detail, as he often wore dark shades that hid them from public view. She writes reverently about his naturally slender body and extreme height, and his shocking mop of black dyed hair against his pale skin. She immediately noticed his Czech surname, even translating it for readers. It was more poetic than her own surname, which she also sort of translates, as much as possible, anyway. She agreed to date him, even though he was married and had two young sons at the time… as well as two older sons with his first wife. She was still in her prime when they married in 1989, but she decided to mostly give up her career to be Ric’s wife and the mother of their two sons, Jonathan Raven and Oliver. She would occasionally model and take approved acting gigs, always approved by Ric, and never interfering with his schedule. Even though she made a lot of money when she was a model, she let him be the breadwinner… and they did not sign prenuptial agreements, even though their financial advisors strongly recommended it. That decision came back to bite Paulina firmly in the ass when Ric suddenly died, having disinherited her for “abandoning him”, as well as his two eldest sons. She had to go to court to get what was hers and, for a time, was left quite destitute and dependent on friends as she rebounded, now as a woman of 54.
I found No Filter to be a very quick and engaging read. I managed to finish this book in less than two days, and yet I came away with a lot of fresh thoughts and new perspectives. Paulina’s story has given me a lot to think about for many reasons. I could relate to much of her story, simply because of the time I’ve spent in Europe and the former Soviet Union, and because, like her, I’m now a woman of a certain age. 😉 I realized in reading Paulina’s book that we really aren’t that different, even if no one wants to take pictures of me in the nude. 😀 Also, she displays a fine sense of humor, and provides some comic relief in the form of wry anecdotes that are very disarming and show her humility. I do not get the sense that Paulina is vapid or arrogant, at all. In fact, she seems to be quite the opposite!
Paulina Porizkova has an evocative writing style, and she uses a lot of vivid and vibrant language to bring her story to life. In fact, even though I don’t typically read a lot of novels anymore (with the recent exception of A Stopover in Venice, by James Taylor’s second ex wife, Kathryn Walker), I decided to download Paulina’s novel about modeling, A Model Summer. I actually think she might be even better at writing novels. She uses a lot of colorful imagery and descriptive devices such as similes and metaphors to figuratively “paint” a picture in readers’ minds. I suspect A Model Summer might also be revelatory, because I have a feeling it’s based on her story, just as A Stopover in Venice is obviously based on Kathryn Walker’s marriage to James Taylor.
I remember on Cycle 12 of America’s Next Top Model, a very successful contestant named Marjorie Conrad commiserated with Paulina, as Marjorie is originally from France. Other contestants would rag on Marjorie, and fellow European contestant, Elina (from Ukraine), for being too “negative”. Paulina understood why they were like that, as she’s Czech, with dual U.S. and Swedish citizenship. And, having lived in Europe/the former Soviet Union for about fifteen years of my life, I kind of understand it, too. Europeans have a different mindset than a lot of Americans do. They aren’t as “toxically positive” about everything, and take a more realistic, and often pessimistic, view of most things. I mention this, because I noticed that Paulina is often quite negative in this story about her life, in spite of all of the money, fame, and success she’s had.
Again, life was legitimately hard for Paulina as a poor little girl in Czechoslovakia. It was hard for her as a transplant in Sweden, where she stood out for being too tall, too dark haired, too poor, and coming from a “commie” country. It was hard for her as a model, who was quite successful, but didn’t really enjoy the industry that much for a lot of reasons. It was always “just a job” for her, and not a very interesting one, at that. She caught a lot of shit for frankly stating that, too. I’m sure Americans, in particular, think she should appreciate having been a model, even though she was expected to tolerate egregious and outrageous sexual harassment and very personal and often negative comments about her body. Below is a quote from early in the book:
Life was also hard for Paulina as Ric’s wife, as it turns out that he had some rather controlling behaviors that young Paulina had misconstrued as love. She was very young and inexperienced with men when they met. She’d had a tumultuous and difficult childhood that was fraught with abandonment, poverty, and abuse. She probably would have been better off going to college and finding work in which she could use her formidable brain. Instead, she fell into work that exploited the genetic jackpot she inherited by sheer chance. At one point in the book, Paulina writes about how people will usually encourage children who are smart and/or talented to develop and use their gifts. A smart child will often be encouraged to study hard and earn higher degrees, for instance. A musical or artistic child will be encouraged to improve their techniques so that their arts can be shared with the world. Beautiful women, though, are often judged harshly for using what they have, especially when they are “older”. Below is a quote Paulina got from a follower on her Instagram:
Easy for you to complain about the system now that you aren’t an “it” girl—but you had no problem making millions of dollars, enjoying your celebrity, and making millions of young girls feel ugly and unworthy for decades. NOW you are aware of how fragile self-image is???? You played a big role in creating the machine that makes people feel worthless if they aren’t “magazine beautiful,” and now you are crying because the system is making you feel like you made everyone else feel. The hypocrisy is incredible.
In her chapter, “The Responsibility of Beauty”, she writes:
People seem to understand that being beautiful is neither an accomplishment nor a fault. It is a gift. Generally, if you are given a gift or something of great value, your responsibility is to make use of it. When a person is born with an athletic or artistic ability and becomes a celebrated athlete or artist, we don’t shame them for using their gift. If a child is intelligent, we encourage them to get an education, to study hard, to develop their gift of intelligence as much as possible, and then use that gift out in the world. Developing their gift is seen as their responsibility. Wasted talent is a waste of potential. But when your gift is beauty, developing it is considered vain and narcissistic. Trying to maintain it is likewise shameful, whereas in athletics it’s practically heroic. An older athlete who strives to maintain their athleticism and compete with younger athletes is regarded as brave. An older model who strives to maintain their beauty and compete with younger models is often regarded as unnatural, embarrassing.
I think the above commentary is very astute. It’s true that Paulina Porizkova was part of an industry that causes a lot of girls and young women heartbreak and misery. When she was in that industry, Paulina was, herself, young and arrogant, and unaware of her “responsibility” as a model. She writes about a reporter who asked her what she thought her “responsibility” should be. Would she model fur, for instance? Or “blood diamonds”, just for the money? At the time the question was asked, young Paulina didn’t know how to answer. Over thirty years later, the question still haunts her, but in spite of being a “dumb” model (which she obviously never was), she manages to write some very intelligent commentary about the subject. I found it very intriguing, so I’m including a few samples below:
I had become a model at fifteen and made a great deal of money because people thought I was beautiful. I was also an arrogant asshole. Give a teenager loads of money, no rules, and lavish praise for her ability to look stunning and fit into sample-size clothing, and moral responsibility probably isn’t what she spends most of her days thinking about.
…somewhere along the way, we pick up the message that we can’t be beautiful and intelligent. That if we want to be taken seriously for our intelligence, we have to downplay our beauty. Right before I moved to Paris, I thought of myself as ugly and smart. Once I started working as a model, I was suddenly beautiful and stupid. When I called my dad to tell him I was staying in Paris to model full-time, he said, “Oh, now you’re going to be a dumbass.” When I arrived in Paris I got a reading list from a university and decided to read all the books listed in the English literature syllabus, notbecause I necessarily liked them or would choose them on my own, but because I wanted to make sure people knew I was intelligent.
I struggled with shame across my forty-plus-year career as a model. While a woman seeing a photo of me in an ad might have felt shame for not looking like me, I had been shamed for not having the body of Elle Macpherson. And the boobs of Cindy Crawford. And the teeth of Christie Brinkley. When the standard you are being held to is physical perfection, none of us can compete. I just quietly envied those other models and decided I surely had other, more important attributes. I was smarter, I could play the piano and draw, and I was certain I read way more books. I cut other women down in my mind so I could feel, if not superior, at least equal. I turned around and shamed those women after feeling shamed myself.
In my experience, no one shames a woman as often and as effectively as other women. We are all in the same boat, wanting to go the same way, yet instead of working together to get there, we knock one another off the boat. Do we not understand that the fewer of us there are to paddle, the slower we advance?
Yeah… this is not a dumb woman, at all! I can see why Paulina is sometimes negative about her life. She’s being honest, but a lot of Americans can’t respect honesty. They’d prefer bullshit. I also loved what she wrote about fame, and how people want to project themselves onto famous people. She explains that famous people are very well known, and yet very few people actually know them at all. Reading her comments reminded of how, when I was at James Taylor’s concert last month, some guy yelled out that his father “loved” him, and James reminded the guy that his father didn’t even know him. I got the sense that, like Paulina, James might be uncomfortable with people calling him by name and acting as if they’re somehow friends. If you think about it, it really is pretty weird, because we only know about the “famous” parts of these well-known people. We don’t actually have a personal knowledge of them at all, other than how what they do makes us feel. Paulina also reminds us that people in the press often make up or embellish things to sell their wares. I was also reminded of actress Justine Bateman’s book about her experiences with fame and how strange it must actually be for famous people… at least the ones who aren’t complete narcissistic assholes. Below are a few more quotes from the book to highlight what I mean…
On the other hand, Paulina Porizkova is also a believer in palm readings, tarot cards, and psychics, and she writes a bit about her experiences with her beliefs in her book. I don’t judge her negatively for that, especially since, in her experiences, they’ve actually been correct. Or, at least that’s what she claims. I know some people will probably think that’s kind of dumb or sacrilegious, though… or too much “woo”. And I know some will also judge her for being “the other woman”, and for the fact that she dated another man while she was still technically married. But, in fairness, Ric was also seeking the company of other women.
To sum things up…
I’m sure you can tell that I really enjoyed Paulina Porizkova’s book, No Filter. I am probably a bigger Paulina fan now, than I was when she was on ANTM. I hope this book helps her make some money, since she was left in quite a legal pickle when Ric Ocasek suddenly died. I still admire him as a musician and love his music, but now I think he was a bit of a narcissistic jerk. It’s too bad Paulina didn’t use her formidable common sense to protect herself from the situation he left her in when he died in 2019, but she trusted him and, sadly, he got to her when she was very naive and inexperienced.
There’s a lot more to this book that I didn’t cover, in spite of the long length of this article. So, if I have piqued your interest, I would highly recommend reading about Paulina Porizkova’s life. She’s led a very interesting one, so far… And I do hope that she will, one day, find that true love and acceptance she thought she’d had with Ric Ocasek. There are still some very good men out there. I know, because I managed to marry one myself, even though I am definitely no model. Like Paulina knew how Ric loved his coffee, my Bill knows how I love mine. I bet he’s not the only guy out there who’s like that… I think Paulina deserves someone who will fix her some coffee the way she likes it, and appreciate her very fine mind over her still gorgeous body.
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Before I get started on today’s post, I want to state upfront that I’m not upset about anything. I don’t need advice or consolation. This post is meant to be a matter-of-fact look at a phenomenon I’ve noticed when it comes to people who dare to “put themselves out there” or share their creative pursuits. It certainly doesn’t just affect me, either, from which I take some solace. I’m just hoping that people who read this will stop and think about it a minute. The world needs less cynicism and meanness, and more kindness and compassion, don’t you think?
Have you ever noticed that some people delight in watching the whole world burn? They enjoy taking a big dump on other people’s joy. They live for raining on everyone else’s parades. They love criticizing anything and everything, even if it’s just someone’s creative expression. They lack the ability to simply “scroll on”. Instead, they feel the need to be negative, judgmental, insensitive and, sometimes, downright MEAN.
As a blogger and very occasional musician, I’ve run into this particular phenomenon more than a few times. When we lived in Stuttgart, I used to promote my travel blog. I did so because I truly thought some of the posts might be helpful for some people in the community. It was our second time living in that area, and I was pretty seasoned as a military spouse, even though Bill had retired. While not everyone likes what I do, writing has sort of become my vocation. Being a writer can be a tough road to hoe, as one chagrined author recently found out when almost no one showed up for her book signing. She tweeted about it, and was soon consoled by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen King, among others, who were similarly dissed at early book signings.
Only 2 people came to my author signing yesterday, so I was pretty bummed about it. Especially as 37 people responded “going” to the event. Kind of upset, honestly, and a little embarrassed.
Many people seemingly liked my blogs and, for awhile, they were pretty popular. I had a lot of regular readers. But there were also people in the community who seemed to hate my blog and apparently resented me for sharing it. Some didn’t like the name of the blog, assuming that I was “bragging” about my education. For the record, I’m not. I literally am overeducated for what I’ve done with my lifeso far. I spent seven years and many thousands of dollars on formal education that I’ve never gotten to use in a professional arena. While I don’t regret furthering my formal education, I mainly went to school out of a perceived need to do it– so I wouldn’t be waiting tables for the rest of my life. I’ve got nothing at all against people who wait tables for a living, but that’s a job that I really didn’t enjoy, even though I made good money doing it.
When I went to graduate school, I was hoping to launch a career that didn’t involve being abused on the daily and surviving on tips. I ended up meeting Bill, instead. The realities of life as a military spouse made pursuing my field problematic. I’ve always liked to write, so that’s what I do. I’m not the best writer, but I try. Some people enjoy my stuff. Some people don’t. I’ve made some money as a writer… actually more than I ever made doing social work or public health. And yet, I think if I’d been a public health social worker, I’d probably get a lot more respect for what I do.
I stopped sharing my blog in military communities, though, because I’ve found that people are triggered by it, for some reason. A lot of people– especially in military communities— find bloggers annoying, especially when they dare to call themselves “The Overeducated Housewife”. Personally, I think it’s because a lot of people in military communities are sexist, and too many of them disdain the spouses (really the wives). The more educated and accomplished the wives are, the less the servicemembers tend to like them, especially if they’re also liberal. And sadly, a lot of the spouses also buy into that limited mindset, willingly referring to themselves by derogatory monikers, like “dependa” instead of insisting on being treated with the basic respect one generally extends to human beings. So, because I don’t enjoy being ridiculed, and I don’t like to bother other people, I’ve decided that it’s better to let people find the blogs on their own.
I also stopped sharing my travel blog in military communities because of the weird, intrusive, psycho landlady situation we’d had in Stuttgart. A former tenant, who had lived in our home just prior to us, had found her way to my regular blog, and was using it to cause trouble with our ex landlady. The ex tenant got upset with me about one of my creative writing projects, which she had freely CHOSEN to read and falsely interpret. She’d actually been following my blogs for over four years, even though it was evidently a negative experience for her. She sent me a nasty message, mocking me for “intruding on my space” and interfering with my “creative pursuits”, clearly indicating that she didn’t appreciate my efforts, and basically calling me “crazy”. It was at that point that I decided to close the Blogger version of this blog and move it to WordPress. Then, I went right back to doing what I do. She, on the other hand, went on to commit suicide. I don’t know what led her to take that action, but I did realize, at that point, that I wasn’t the one with the worst issues. I don’t want a repeat of that bizarre situation, though, so I’ve gone back under the radar.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not looking for sympathy when I write about this. I’ve come to understand that no one bats 1000 every time. Not everything a person does is going to be well-received. And even if you aren’t a creative type, chances are excellent that someone is going to dislike you, for whatever reason. Even if you’re the nicest, most considerate, most tolerant, least offensive person on the planet, there will be someone out there who is going to find fault with anything and everything you do. As painful as that kind of rejection can be, I’ve found it helpful to realize that in those situations, it’s almost always not about anything you’ve done or said. The negativity is usually about something intrinsic to the critical person– in other words, you might remind them of something negative, so they respond to you with negativity, even if you haven’t specifically done anything to them to cause that reaction.
Here’s an example. My sophomore year in college was rather traumatic. I spent it sharing living space with a woman who drove me crazy. We were very incompatible roommates. A few years later, I met another woman who reminded me a LOT of the first woman who drove me batty my sophomore year in college. Upon meeting her, I instantly had a negative reaction, even though we didn’t know each other. As time went on, I still disliked that woman, partly because she reminded me so much of someone I used to know who drove me nuts. It wasn’t her looks that reminded me of my ex roommate, but more her behavior that I found reminiscent. In spite of those similarities, I know she was, and still is, a good person. However, even if I had never gotten to know the first woman, I probably still would have found the second one annoying. The difference would be that I would have found her annoying solely because of things she’d actually done or said, not because she reminded me so much of someone else I hadn’t liked.
The same thing can happen in creative pursuits. A lot of people love the song, “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf. I don’t like that song, although it is in my musical catalog. It’s not that I don’t think Meat Loaf had talent, or even that the song isn’t entertaining. If I’d heard it in the 70s, I probably would have liked it a lot more. But it reminds me of an awful night in 1994, I spent at a party with my cousin. She had abandoned me to make out with her boyfriend, while her boyfriend’s extremely drunk father kept hitting on me. Before the evening went into full swing, I heard “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” for the very first time, while we were waiting for my cousin’s boyfriend in that yucky drunk man’s house. Drunk dad had wanted me to go back to his house with him, alone, to wait for his son and my cousin. He was so drunk he could barely keep his eyes open. When I refused, he called me a “bitch”. So now, whenever I heard Meat Loaf’s best known anthem, it reminds me of that guy. I am only now getting to the point at which I can disassociate that song with the memory of that gross guy who went to high school with one of my uncles and apparently wanted to deflower me.
Last weekend, I was feeling inspired to make music. I made two videos in one day, which is unusual in and of itself, especially since Bill was at home. I usually prefer to make music when I’m alone. I uploaded the videos. One has me on camera, and the other is set to photos. I don’t like to sing on camera, but I’ve found that people tend to find the videos with me in them more engaging. They don’t even seem to mind that I’m not wearing makeup or a bra.
One of the songs I did last week was James Taylor’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I was inspired to make the video by my former therapist, who loves James Taylor’s music, just as I do. He had mentioned that “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is his favorite Christmas song. So, I made a recording of that song and dedicated it to my former shrink. He shared it on his personal Facebook page and tagged me. One person commented, and said “I love that song too, but no one does it as well as Judy [Garland] does.” I noticed that the person hadn’t even listened to the song, and apparently never considered that I would read her comment, which was actually kind of thoughtless and rude. I wonder if this person thinks that no one should ever sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (a Christmas standard), simply because “Judy did it best”.
An old friend of mine said the same thing about “The Rainbow Connection”. I had used the song on a tribute video I made for our dog, MacGregor– Willie Nelson was singing it. I love Willie’s version, and the fact that I used it for a tribute video for a beloved dog makes it especially poignant to me. My friend, who even knew MacGregor, said that no one but Kermit the Frog should ever sing “The Rainbow Connection”. I found that comment thoughtless and insensitive; yet knowing her as well as I do, I realize that her thoughtlessness was entirely unintentional. I didn’t call her out about it. Still, it would have been nicer if she’d kept that thought to herself.
I later noticed that my Christmas video for my ex shrink/current friend, which hasn’t done nearly as well as the other one I did last weekend, had one dislike rating. Two people liked it, and one disliked it… giving it a score of 66% (a failure if we were going by school grading scales). It occurred to me that the “dislike” button is kind of worthless, since there’s no way to know what the person disliked about the video. Was it because I wasn’t on camera? Was it the music? Were they just being mean to me? It’s impossible to know. But I had made the video with love and good intentions, and had dedicated it to someone who helped me a lot when I really needed help.
I’ll admit, those two negative reactions to my version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” kind of hurt my feelings. But the wiser side of me realizes that the negative reactions weren’t really personal, since the people involved don’t know me. Everyone’s a critic, and even the best people get criticized sometimes, and the better a person is, the meaner the critics tend to be. Even James Taylor gets mean tweets! See the hilarious video below…
I’ve also noticed that some people feel like creative pursuits shouldn’t result in anyone making money. I’ve ranted many times in this blog about people who don’t think they should have to pay to read newspapers. They don’t seem to realize that journalists have bills to pay, just like they do. It takes time, money, and training to skillfully deliver the news. They bitch and moan about paywalls.
My mom ran a knitting and needlepoint shop for many years. She is very talented and skilled with needlecrafts. Lots of people felt that her time and talents weren’t worth paying for. Mom was also a church organist for 50 years, and some people felt that she should just be willing to play for the glory of God, rather than money to pay her expenses. It took a lot of time and energy to learn how to play the organ as well as she did… I’m sure she could play beautifully today, too, but she’s pretty much retired from playing the organ now. She’s still stitching, though. Below is my mom with one of her more recent creations, done even though she’s in her 80s. I love what my mom does, although I could never do anything like this myself. I’d rather write or sing… two things my mom doesn’t do.
Anyway… to wrap up this post, I’d like to add one more observation I’ve made. At this writing, I have 109 YouTube subscribers. That’s not a lot of subscribers. I’ve had my channel since 2009 or so, but I’ve never really promoted it. When I first started the channel, I mostly used it for uploading videos from our travels or other random stuff. It wasn’t until I’d had it for about three years that I started making music videos, which I never really shared. And it wasn’t until last spring that I ever showed myself on camera.
YouTube recently told me that I gained 20 subscribers this year, which is a pretty amazing thing. I recently uploaded a video and promptly lost two subscribers. I was feeling kind of sad about it, since I had only recently surpassed 100 subscribers, and YouTube had congratulated me for that. But then, I got seven more subscribers! I guess that just goes to show you that sometimes, even if someone takes a dump on something you put out there, other people will still like what you do. So the best thing to do is keep going and ignore the “haters”. Their negativity is usually much more about them, than you. And creative pursuits, especially when a person feels compelled to engage in them, aren’t for anyone or anything else than satisfying that itch to create… put something out there. Maybe it won’t be what everyone likes, but you still made the effort. And I guarantee, there’s an appreciative audience for everything.
Maybe a couple of people decided to crap on my version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, but the person it was meant for got it… and apparently enjoyed it. So that’s really all that matters. The rest of them can take a cue from Miley Cyrus’s reaction to “mean tweets”… See the featured photo.
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.
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.
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.
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