After recently reading about the fall of the Falwells, I decided I needed something a little lighter and faster to read. I ended up finding Sephe Haven’s memoir, My Whorizontal Life: An Escort’s Tale: The First Six Months. This book, which was published in 2019, gives readers a look at one woman’s unlikely journey into sex work. I’ve never been one to shy away from controversial topics, so when I saw the memoir being suggested on Amazon, I decided to take the plunge.
Who is Sephe Haven, and why did she become an “escort”?
The first thing to know about Sephe Haven is that it’s not the author’s real name. She uses a pseudonym. But before she became a sex worker, she was reportedly an actress who graduated from Juilliard in the 1980s. Amazingly enough, Haven writes that Juilliard was the only drama school of several good ones that accepted her.
Like a lot of people– especially those who study the arts– Haven left school with a lot of debt. While she was talented and well trained as an actress, she wasn’t finding work that could support her adequately. One day, she saw an ad for escorts. Big money was promised. She was 26 years old and relatively good looking, so she called the phone number and was invited in for an interview. There, after an initial screening, she met “Susan”, a very strict madam who immediately laid down the law.
The author was given two names. When a client paid $200 an hour, she was “Gwen”. When the rate was $300 an hour, she was “Tasha”, a name she eventually changed to “Natasha”. Although it was the 1980s, when AIDS was still very scary and kind of new, Haven plunged into the new job with only slight trepidation. Soon, she found that she was kind of a natural, as she learned what men like and even managed to empathize and humanize the work a bit.
The money was good, and it came easily… but soon, she broke one of Susan’s rules and was cut loose. The prospect of going back to regular employment was unappealing for a lot of reasons– especially financial. Haven started looking for other opportunities in the sex worker industry and tried a couple of places. Neither were as satisfying as working for Susan was, as Susan was strict, but very professional. And Susan made sure her girls were safe, which was more than a lot of the madams bothered with. Not surprisingly, the author got another chance with Susan and never broke another rule… and if we’re to believe her story, she was richly rewarded for it. Yes, she made money, but she also made some connections… or, at least that’s how the story goes.
I’m of kind of a mixed mind about this book. It’s a quick and easy read, which I enjoyed. Haven is sometimes funny, or at least endearing, and the book is well-written. My Whorizontal Life is also priced reasonably, so I wasn’t out a lot of money when I downloaded it. And, I have to admit, it did make me think… and have some empathy for people in the sex industry. In some instances, Haven really seems to provide a much needed service to lonely men of means. We often forget that a basic human need for most people is a connection to someone… being touched or even just talking to someone is very important to the vast majority of humans. So, on one level, Haven was providing a needed service.
However, although she changed the spelling of “horizontal” to the punny “whorizontal”, Haven kind of ripped off comedian Chelsea Handler’s title. Handler wrote My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands in 2013. That was the first thing I noticed.
The next thing I noticed is that the book feels a bit incomplete. I felt like it ended kind of abruptly. There were a few stories in the book that I felt like she might have fleshed out a bit more. Maybe one more anecdote would have been good, although it does look like Haven meant (or means) to make this into a series. I don’t see another book yet, though, so I’m not sure if she scrapped the idea or what. I would read another installment if she wrote one.
I did appreciate that Haven sort of channeled the hooker with the heart of gold stereotype, as she also incorporated some of the acting skills she learned, as well as some comedy chops. She also included a story about the disappointing reaction she got from one guy she knew at Julliard when she told him how she was earning money. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one who knew. I would have liked to have known a bit more about how people in her life reacted to this line of work. But then, this volume was just about the first six months. Maybe that was meant for a later book.
It’s important to remember this book is about a bygone era. Haven was doing this in the late 80s and early 90s, so you will read about a lot of people smoking, watching videocassettes, and playing tapes. If you’re a young person, that might seem odd… but if you’re middle aged, it will all make perfect sense.
As I was reading this book, I thought this might make an interesting show for Netflix or something… With the right actors, I think it could work as a comedy. This book is mostly comedic, with almost nothing in it that would make you think sex work could be dangerous or scary. That’s probably another problem I have with it. Haven makes sex work seem like a great gig. Maybe it really was for her, but I know that’s not always how it works out for those who get into it. And, as Haven found out, it can hard to leave that job behind. In her case, it was because the money was so good, but in other people’s cases, it’s because of scary pimps and the like.
Anyway, if you think My Whorizontal Life might interest you, I’m happy to recommend it. I’m glad it helped cleanse my mental palate of the sleazy business promoted by the so-called Christian Falwells. At least Haven is somewhat honest about what she was doing, right? That’s more than I can say for certain evangelical “Christians” in Lynchburg, Virginia.
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Fifteen years ago, if you had told me that one day I’d read Paris Hilton’s life story and actually admire her for writing it, I would have said you were crazy. I distinctly remember Paris Hilton circa 2007 or so. She was in her mid 20s and seemed to be on a one way track to nowhere. She seemed to have a lot in common with Anna Nicole Smith, who sadly passed away that year. Both were bottle blonde models who had substance abuse issues… Both were portrayed as vapid, spoiled, and kind of low class. South Park famously did an episode about Paris Hilton, referring to her as a “stupid spoiled whore”.
2007 was also the year Paris went to jail for 23 days for driving under the influence and violating her probation. OMovies on YouTube made a rather entertaining parody of her song, “Stars are Blind”. They also made one about Lindsay Lohan, but I can’t find that one right now.
I decided to read Paris Hilton’s 2023 book, Paris: The Memoir after I saw her YouTube documentary and read several articles about her ordeals at Provo Canyon School, a “troubled teen” facility in Provo, Utah. I determined, especially after watching her documentary, that there’s a lot more to Paris Hilton that meets the eye, and she’s gotten a really bum rap. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, reading Hilton’s book only confirms that notion to me.
The media unfairly portrayed Paris Hilton as an empty-headed, spoiled moron with low morals. But the reality is, she was suffering from untreated Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Like a lot of us who came of age before ADHD was commonly treated, Paris Hilton was forced to try to fend for herself as she struggled through childhood and adolescence. She did poorly in school, and had some pretty obvious impulse control problems. But she wasn’t a bad kid, and she certainly didn’t deserve to be sent off to high priced boarding schools where she was blatantly abused and learned absolutely NOTHING of value. On the contrary, she left those experiences with significant trauma. Fortunately, she’s got a head for business, so now she’s selling her story to the masses, but she’s also trying to make a real difference through lobbying efforts against these abusive facilities that charge obscene amounts of money to imprison, brainwash, and abuse children on behalf of their parents.
A good portion of Paris: The Memoir is about Paris’s experiences in several facilities of differing severities. However, she also writes a fair bit about her family, and repeatedly reiterates that she has forgiven her parents. She writes that she knows they were trying to help her, even though they had her hauled off in the middle of the night by abusive goons who handcuffed her and shuttled her off to unspeakably awful “schools”. I can’t help but wonder if that would have happened if Paris Hilton had been appropriately treated for ADHD instead of simply being regarded as a discipline case. She might have still gotten into trouble, but I doubt her parents would have felt the need to send her away.
These days, Paris Hilton makes her living as a D.J. and business person. She fully admits that she’s a very privileged person, who has a whole lot of benefits that most people don’t have. There are a few instances in her book when her frankness about her privilege took me aback. On one or two occasions, she even makes statements that seem obviously and blatantly arrogant to me. But then, the charm returns, and I realize that even the arrogant statements aren’t even particularly wrong. It’s just that in our culture, people tend to frown on folks who pat themselves on the back too much. When Paris brags, she’s just being truthful. The fact is, she is beautiful, wealthy, and quite charmed in her life.
While I’ve read better written books than Paris Hilton’s, I also give her credit for being able to write her story in a fairly clear and coherent way, in spite of her vapid image… and in spite of the fact that she spent two years in a teen gulag, and never went to college. It’s more than a lot of people can accomplish. I see from reviews that some readers were left unmoved by her story. Some continue to refer to her as spoiled and narcissistic. Whether or not she’s like that in person, I don’t know. She says she’s a “nice” person, and there are many times within the book at which I can believe that about her. She’s also a survivor.
I couldn’t help but cheer for Paris when she related the story about how she went to the ladies room and slammed her female goon in the face by kicking the stall door at her like a “kangaroo”. I don’t usually cheer for violence, but I truly hate the troubled teen boarding schools. So many of them are just cash cows for religions and make their money by drugging, abusing, and traumatizing young people, then sending them out into the world to recover. It’s absolutely appalling and despicable. Even people in prison get treated better than that, most of the time. I can’t stand to see people being brutalized, especially when they’re teenagers, as Paris was when she went through her ordeal. So yes, I do cheer when young people manage to get one over on oppressive, bullying, abusive people who are simply using them for money or labor. Fuck that.
I don’t think this is the best memoir I’ve ever read. Gven a choice, I’d probably read Jennette McCurdy’s book, I’m Glad My Mom Died over Paris Hilton’s memoir. But I do think that if this type of book interests you, and you have the time and means to get it, it’s worth the read. That is, only if you can get beyond the stereotypical image of Paris Hilton that the media projected on her, back when she was younger. One criticism I would offer is that Paris mentions her time on The Simple Life, which was a Fox reality show that she did with Nicole Richie. I never watched the show, so when she kept mentioning people from the show, I was a little bit lost. I sort of deduced some things, but it would have been clearer for me if she’d have explained a bit more. But that’s a minor quibble.
Paris Hilton seems to have cleaned up her act, and has done a lot to repair her reputation. I, for one, applaud her for her efforts. No, she’s not perfect, and I understand that many people have no sympathy for her. Personally, I’ve found myself softening toward Paris Hilton in the past couple of years. Even if she seems a bit vain and shallow to some people, she certainly doesn’t seem as “bad” as she did in 2007 or so. And even in 2007, I doubt she was as bad as the media portrayed her to be. Yes, she has the benefits of wealth, beauty, and coming from a powerful family, but those attributes aren’t everything. In fact, they can even be hindrances in life. But most people probably don’t want to spend more than a few minutes pondering that potential reality, do they? Unfortunately, a lot of folks prefer to think the worst of others and simply tear them down relentlessly. Then, when someone does the same thing to them, they’re the first to whine about it.
I think on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest rating, I’d give Paris Hilton’s memoir a four. Your mileage may vary.
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On April 18 of this year, the New York Times ran a beautifully written op-ed by the author, Amy Silverstein. I knew who Amy Silverstein was, because about 15 years ago, I read her amazing book, Sick Girl, which she published in 2007. Reading Sick Girl was life changing for me. At the time, we were living in Germany the first time, and I had ordered the hard copy of the book, because I didn’t own a Kindle. I’m not even sure if Kindles existed at that time. I think I decided to buy Silverstein’s book about her experiences as a heart transplant recipient after reading a review of Sick Girl in People. I love books about real life health crises… or, at least I used to love them when I was younger and the crises seemed less like something I might experience personally.
I read Sick Girl in 2008 and reviewed it for Epinions.com. I reposted my review here, combining it with another review I wrote about a book called Change of Heart, which was written by Claire Sylvia, another transplant recipient. The two books were very striking to me, as they had such different moods to them. Claire Sylvia’s book about being a double transplant recipient (heart and lung) was overwhelmingly positive and grateful. After she wrote her book, Claire Sylvia went on to also receive a kidney transplant. She died August 19, 2009, 21 years after her heart and lung transplant.
Amy Silverstein’s book, Sick Girl, by contrast, was a lot more negative and honest. Silverstein wrote a no holds barred account of what it actually means to be a transplant recipient. She received her first heart in 1988, when as a 25 year old law student, she had health problems that revealed a congenital heart defect. In Sick Girl, Silverstein explained that many people believe that organ transplants are miraculous cures for people whose organs fail. But really, organ transplants just trade one health problem for another, as recipients have to take medications that keep their immune systems from destroying the foreign organs. Amy Silverstein had a life expectancy of about ten years in 1988, after she accepted a heart belonging to a 13 year old girl who happened to die in an accident at just the right time to save Amy’s life.
In 2007, when Sick Girl was published, Amy had already defied her doctors’ expectations for her survival by an additional ten years. But even though she’d had 19 years, when she was expected to only have ten, and even though she’d become a wife and adopted her son, Casey, Amy had seriously contemplated suicide. She was tired of being a “sick girl”. In 2005, when Amy was thinking about taking her own life, she was fixated on how difficult the regime was, and how she didn’t want to live that way anymore.
When I read Amy’s book, written a couple of years after she had those suicidal feelings, I empathized. I could totally understand why she was so tired of being sick and tired all the time. She had to submit to a grueling regime that included procedures like heart biopsies, and taking medications that made her throw up and put her at risk for every virus in the atmosphere. A simple cold could leave her bedridden for weeks. And people didn’t understand what it was like for her and made clueless comments that were infuriating in their innocence… and ignorance. So she wrote her book to educate the masses.
Not everyone liked Sick Girl. A lot of people thought Amy Silverstein was ungrateful and unpleasant. Some people found her whiny and self-absorbed. Quite a few folks seem to believe that anyone who gets an organ transplant should shut up and be eternally grateful, even if they are constantly sick and having to see doctors for painful, invasive, and expensive treatments and screenings. I, for one, heartily disagree, because if no one ever complained about the experience of having transplanted organs, scientists and doctors would never know what to improve about the experience for future patients. Moreover, I don’t think that just because someone gets a new lease on life, they should be expected to just shut up and act happy. I also don’t believe Amy Silverstein was ungrateful.
Amy’s first heart lasted an astonishing 24 years, before it started to fail due to the ravages of her immune system, antibodies that her body developed to attack the heart, and the many powerful anti-rejection drugs she had to take to stay alive. She needed another heart transplant, but having undergone one already and knowing what receiving a second heart would mean for her, Amy Silverstein hesitated. But then she got by with a little help from her friends.
In 2017, Amy Silverstein wrote another book, titled My Glory Was I Had Such Friends: A Memoir. I downloaded the book in September 2020, but never got around to reading it until this month. I read it after reading Amy Silverstein’s obituary in The New York Times, which appeared just a few weeks after her lovely essay, titled “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon”, appeared in mid April. In the essay, Silverstein wrote that she had taken excellent care of her second heart, which she received in 2012. However, because of the drugs she had taken since 1988, Amy developed several types of cancer. From the op-ed:
Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.
Over the last almost four decades a toxic triad of immunosuppressive medicines — calcineurin inhibitors, antimetabolites, steroids — has remained essentially the same with limited exceptions. These transplant drugs (which must be taken once or twice daily for life, since rejection is an ongoing risk and the immune system will always regard a donor organ as a foreign invader) cause secondary diseases and dangerous conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and failure, serious infections and cancers. The negative impact on recipients is not offset by effectiveness: the current transplant medicine regimen does not work well over time to protect donor organs from immune attack and destruction.
After I read the New York Times op-ed in April, I remembered that I had downloaded Amy Silverstein’s second book about her second heart transplant, and how her friends had helped her (and her husband, Scott) through the experience. I made a mental note to read that book, but didn’t get to it until I read Amy’s obituary, which ran in the New York Times on May 16, 2023. Amy died on May 5, 2023. Two weeks after reading about her death, I’ve finished reading My Glory Was I Had Such Friends. Once again, I’m left very moved and better educated about organ transplants than I was before I read the book.
Although Amy’s op-ed indicates that transplant science hasn’t changed a lot since the late 80s, when she received her first heart, her second book indicates that things have actually changed somewhat. Because of her unusual circumstances, and the fact that she’d had her first heart for so long, Amy Silverstein was advised to go to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, which has the most advanced transplant program in the United States. Amy’s first heart transplant was done in New York, and she’d spent the ensuing decades seeing doctors in New York. But even though they knew her better than anyone else, her doctors told her she should be treated by Dr. Jon Kobashigawa, a renowned transplant surgeon there. So that’s what Amy did. She packed and went cross country for treatment in Los Angeles. But she needed help, and that’s where her posse of friends came into the picture. They all had their own unique strengths that helped Amy survive in her hour of need.
Amy Silverstein was blessed with several female friends who loved her dearly. And those friends picked up their lives to be with Amy and her husband, Scott, as they waited for a new heart to become available to her. It was a very difficult time, and in the brutally honest and somewhat negative style of her first book, Silverstein explains how difficult it was… and how much a lot of it really sucked. Again, I could hardly blame her. Some of what she endured sounded absolutely horrifying. Also, as Amy got older, she became much less interested in indulging the egos of some of the people who treated her. I found her stories of what she endured both fascinating and dreadful… and again, I could hardly blame her for complaining. Meanwhile, she had these devoted friends who were there for her, in spite of Amy’s apparently difficult and demanding personality. There must have been good reasons for them to love her as much as they obviously did.
When I read the reviews on Amazon.com, I wasn’t surprised to see that, once again, some readers found Amy Silverstein abrasive and ungrateful. And, once again, I think they missed the point and probably didn’t think very long and hard about what Amy was enduring. As the negative reviewers complained about Amy Silverstein’s apparent lack of gratitude, they failed to have any empathy for her situation. It’s easy to think that if you or I were in such a grave situation, we wouldn’t be perfect patients, endlessly patient, sweet, compliant, and never once failing to constantly thank everyone profusely. But the reality is, if you are, yourself, in that situation, cooped up in a hospital room, unable to breathe or sleep, using a pacemaker that constantly sends painful shocks into your body because your heart is so diseased, and not even able to enjoy sunlight or fresh air, your attitude might suck, too. You might become demanding and unpleasant. Moreover, I don’t think Amy Silverstein was, at all, ungrateful.
If Amy Silverstein had really been an ungrateful patient, she never would have lived for as long as she did. Amy Silverstein respected both of her donors by taking excellent care of both hearts. An ungrateful person would not have done that. They would have simply given up, stopped taking their medications with the unpleasant side effects, quit seeing their doctors, and just up and died. Amy’s second donor was also a thirteen year old girl, who had been an athlete. After she received her second heart, Amy recovered within weeks. She went running, because she felt well… In fact, she felt better than she had since before her first transplant. Of course she was grateful! And she got another ten years to enjoy that heart before she died… not because the heart failed, but because of the drugs she had to take to keep it beating. I would imagine that the COVID-19 pandemic was especially hard for Amy, who was regularly wearing face masks years ago, because she was a transplant patient.
When I read My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, I could relate to Amy Silverstein’s story, and I knew she wasn’t blowing any smoke up my ass about what it’s like to be a transplant recipient. Yes, it’s important to be grateful, but as I mentioned up post, if no one ever complains, then improvements can’t be made. No one would ever see the need for improvements. That makes it harder for the patients of the future. Moreover, sometimes people should be told the brutally honest truth, so they can have a more realistic perspective. Yes, organ transplants are kind of miraculous, but they aren’t a cure. Amy Silverstein helped me realize how fine the line is between life and death for transplant patients. She would have turned 60 on June 3rd of this year, and she managed to accomplish so much in her lifetime. No one expected her to live beyond age 35, yet here we are. Maybe the reason she did live for so long is because she was so very “difficult” and “demanding”. Not complaining might have meant giving in… and giving up.
Anyway, I really enjoyed both of Amy Silverstein’s books, and I am grateful that she shared her experiences so candidly. I agree that sometimes she was negative, and I’m sure some staff at the hospitals she attended thought of her as a pain in the ass. But, I found Amy’s accounts of her experiences authentic, realistic, and important, and she was a very expressive writer.
I’m glad Amy didn’t simply shut up and stop whining. Those who found Amy insufferable can now take comfort that she won’t ever bother anyone again with her “negativity”, but she no doubt taught countless healthcare professionals through her remarkable case and astonishing longevity. Anyone who regularly reads my blog probably knows that I’m big on being real and occasionally “inappropriate”, warts and all. For me, Amy Silverstein’s books check all the boxes. I highly recommend them both.
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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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As I recently mentioned in my review of model Paulina Porizkova’s memoir, I don’t really follow fashion much. I decided to download the late Andre Leon Talley’s book, The Chiffon Trenches, because I like true stories. Talley published his book in May 2020, just a couple of months after the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. Amazon tells me I downloaded it in February 2021, probably after I read several sad articles about how Andre Leon Talley’s life was in a downward spiral as former friends were trying to evict him from his home in White Plains, New York. He had fallen on hard times after a long and storied career as a flamboyant fashion editor for Vogue, where for decades, he regularly rubbed elbows with famous friends like Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, Yves St. Laurent, and Oscar de la Renta.
But, again, I don’t follow fashion much. I only knew about Andre Leon Talley from watching America’s Next Top Model, a reality TV show by supermodel Tyra Banks. I watched ANTM, not because I care about fashion, but because I enjoyed the ridiculous antics of young women stuck in a house together. Andre Leon Talley had temporarily brought some “legitimacy” to ANTM, when he served as a judge in cycles 14 through 17. He charmed me with his warmth and intelligence, although I had no idea that the man was considered a huge fashion icon. Sadly, by the time he died on January 18, 2022, he literally was huge, as he had battled an eating disorder for years. On January 18, 2022, Mr. Talley was a victim of a heart attack and COVID-19, which took his life at age 73.
Though it took me almost two years to get around to reading The Chiffon Trenches, I’m glad I finally did it. Having read his book, I understand why Talley was such a highly regarded editor for Vogue. I only knew him from television, which was not where he was in his element. As a judge on a show with Tyra Banks, it’s not like he would have had a chance to share much. Tyra Banks is not one for sharing the limelight. I suspect he took the job with ANTM because he badly needed the money. And yet, he still managed to handle the job with grace.
So who was Andre Leon Talley?
Andre Leon Talley was born October 16, 1948 in Washington, DC to his parents, Alma Ruth Davis and William C. Talley. His maternal grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, raised him in racially segregated Durham, North Carolina. She worked at Duke University as a cleaning lady, and raised Andre with good, southern food and lots of church. Talley rarely saw his parents; they would divorce when he was eleven years old. France and the French language, fascinated Andre Leon Talley. He went to North Carolina Central University and majored in French literature, graduating in 1970. Because he excelled in his undergraduate studies, Talley won a scholarship to Brown University. There he earned a Master of Arts in French literature in 1972. Talley initially had plans to earn a doctoral degree and teach French for a living.
While he was at Brown, Talley befriended some students from nearby Rhode Island School of Design. Eventually, through his friends from that school, Talley met and impressed French-American fashion columnist Diana Vreeland. By 1974, he had abandoned his plans for a doctorate and was apprenticing for her, unpaid, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eventually, through Vreeland, Talley worked for famed American artist Andy Warhol. Working for Warhol led to stints at Women’s Wear Daily and W magazines, where he met and wrote about fashion designers and models. He further sharpened his skills at Ebony and The New York Times. Finally, he reached the pinnacle of his career when he worked for Vogue. He made history in 1988, when he became the first black male creative director for Vogue.
Andre Leon Talley co-authored the book, MegaStar, with Richard Bernstein in 1984. In 2003, he penned his first autobiography, A.L.T.: A Memoir. In 2005, he published ALT 365+, an artistic photographic look at 365 days of Talley’s life. Out magazine ranked Talley 45th in its 2007 list of the “50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America”. However, in 2018, when asked about his sexual orientation on The Wendy Williams Show, Talley claimed to be “gender fluid”. According to The Chiffon Trenches, Talley was never one for having a lot of sex or using drugs, anyway. Talley was very devoted to his work, which he claimed “saved his life”. He watched many of his more promiscuous friends and former colleagues die of AIDS in the 1980s and 90s.
In later years, he did extensive work with Savannah College of Art and Design. There is even an annual award named after him at the school. My nephew is currently a student there.
My thoughts on The Chiffon Trenches
After reading Jamie Lynn Spears’ book, Things I Should Have Said, Andre Leon Talley’s book is like a cool drink. He really was an excellent writer– witty, engaging, and intelligent, and sometimes very funny. I was fascinated by the foreign world Talley wrote of, involving creative, eccentric, and fabulously wealthy and stylish people. There were people Talley wrote of I didn’t know; his descriptions of them were so interesting that I took the time to research them on Google. He also wrote about people everybody knows, like Elton John, Princess Diana, and Mariah Carey. Talley enjoyed a long friendship with the late Lee Bouvier Radziwell, to whom he dedicated his book.
One person I never saw mentioned even once is Tyra Banks, nor does he mention ANTM. However, Talley does write some lovely comments about Naomi Campbell, who is famously regarded as one of Tyra’s nemeses. I noticed that Tyra Banks posted a tribute to Talley after his death last year. I don’t know why he didn’t comment about Banks, but it probably had to do with legal considerations. Paulina Porizkova didn’t mention her in her book, either.
The Chiffon Trenches is an easy and entertaining read. I got the sense that I’d probably enjoy Talley’s company. We could bond over our mutual love of southern food. He genuinely seemed like a kind, warm, decent person, shaped by his formative years in the South. Andre Leon Talley grew up during the Jim Crow era, but he literally towered over his humble beginnings and became “somebody”. Even a non fashion follower, as I am, has heard his name. That’s really something special.
However, although I enjoyed Talley’s book, I noticed that he was pretty bitter about some things. Talley repeatedly writes about his long friendships with Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour, and how they both cruelly “cast him out”. If I were to go only on his stories, I might be left with the idea that everyone in the fashion world is racist, superficial, and unkind. And yet, even as he complains about being ditched by his friends, he writes about how Anna Wintour staged an intervention for him and got Vogue to pay for his weight loss treatment three times!
Talley writes that his problems with binge eating intensified after his beloved grandmother died. He overate to drown the sorrows of bereavement, as well as to dull the pain of abuses he suffered as a child. Talley went from being tall and rail thin to a mountain of a man, forced to wear bespoke caftans. He could no longer dress like a fashion icon. Anna Wintour legitimately tried to help him. That sounds like something a good friend does. But she must have also realized that Talley was an addict, and the best way to help an addict is not to enable the damaging behaviors. I’m sure it was very painful for Wintour to separate herself from Talley’s drama. It would have been one thing if Anna Wintour had dumped him when he first gained weight, but she didn’t do that.
Talley might have more of a case against Karl Lagerfeld, whom he describes as extremely generous, yet very eccentric. When Talley met Lagerfeld in the 70s, the fashion icon gifted him with silk tunics. Talley said that if you were in Lagerfeld’s life, he dressed you. And he writes of how his old friend would routinely fly his friends in private jets to his sumptuous homes. He’d give them rare and expensive antiques, only to ask for them back again. Still, as strange as that behavior sounds to me, I couldn’t help but wonder what Lagerfeld would say about Talley.
I also noticed that Talley complained a lot about racism, but he was in an industry that embraces people who are different. Andre Leon Talley worked in a creative field populated by eccentric people, many of whom are not heterosexual. He worked with women of all shades and orientations. Yes, racism is a huge issue, and of course it needs to be addressed, but Talley worked in a career where being Black was no doubt less of a problem for him. He had an enviable life that most people can only fantasize about, regardless of their race or gender. His complaints about the lack of diversity in the fashion world are probably more on point. He does make some damning comments about Wintour not pushing diversity as much as she could have.
Although I can understand why Talley mentions racism, I wouldn’t say that he was a person who suffered extensively from it in his career. From what I can tell, he was highly revered and respected. In fact, I’ll bet in the fashion world, he was mistreated more for being a very fat man. But even his weight was accommodated by his friends. He writes about his fashion designer friends designing caftans for him. Naomi Campbell even managed to get him to Nigeria, where he helped promote Black fashion designers. Talley hadn’t wanted to go at first, due to his physical condition and enormous size. Naomi made it happen, and he was able to visit Africa, something he claims that even Black person wishes to do. Personally, I wouldn’t assume that every Black person wants to go to Africa, but Talley would certainly know about that more than I would. Below is what he wrote:
It is the wish and desire of every black human being to see Africa at some point before they die. But at seventy, highly overweight, and in poor health, it seemed a tall order for me. If only one person on God’s green earth could pull it off, it would be Naomi Campbell. I said yes and she said she would be in touch soon to sort out the details.
Talley, André Leon. The Chiffon Trenches (p. 239). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
It was obvious to me that Talley was not expecting to die so soon after publishing his book. Throughout the manuscript, he writes about the funerals of friends. Sometimes he was surprised to be invited to the more exclusive memorial services. More than once, he writes about how he envisioned his own death. But it’s clear that he thought he would live beyond 73 years of age. Frankly, given how obese he was, I’m surprised he lived that long.
I heartily recommend The Chiffon Trenches to anyone interested in reading about fashion, or just those who enjoy books about real people. Andre Leon Talley lived through the “golden age” of fashion. He refers to himself and some of his former colleagues as “dinosaurs”. But they worked in fashion in a bygone era. Talley seems sad about how the glory days of fashion are seemingly gone. People no longer have huge expense accounts and stay at The Ritz. The whole medium as changed, as fewer people buy print magazines. It’s all online now, and a famous YouTuber might be doing what skilled writers and editors like Talley used to do.
In spite of his occasional bitterness, Andre Leon Talley was a true giant in the fashion world. He was larger than life on many levels. Writing and editing were truly Talley’s vocations. It’s sad to me that his life ended with so much controversy and rancor among his friends. He deserved better. At least Anna Wintour went to his funeral.
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