F. Scott Fitzgerald

All posts tagged F. Scott Fitzgerald

On a September to remember (fingers crossed).

Published September 4, 2019 by mandileighbean

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I know I j u s t updated this blog less than a week ago, but I want to get into the habit of updating weekly. On Wednesdays. Because Wednesdays are for writing. Get it?

And I love starting fresh in September. I became a teacher- in part- because the schedule was so appealing to me. I love feeling like I can start again in the ninth month of the year. That makes me feel like anything is possible.

This September, I’ll be 31 years old. I’m S U P E R excited to say goodbye to 30 (I’ve had a horrible year), but I still have some misgivings about embarking on another trip around the sun. When I bring this up, everyone emphasizes how young I actually am to assuage my fears over getting older. But just how long has “your 30s are your new 20s” been a thing? I’ve been quick to conclude it is a fairly recent development, but now I realize that may only be because I wanted it to be fresh when I turned 30. With one year of my third decade about to be under my belt, I have to ask myself if there is any truth to the clever, little saying, or if it is just a way to help those of us without money or power or fame to feel better about our inescapable mortality.

I’d like to think there’s truth to it, not only because I’m now in my 30s but because as we live, we gain new experiences, which can make us wiser as long as we’re open to that possibility. I get upset because I’m nearly 31 and I’m not married (and not in a relationship, or even close to being in one) and I don’t have kids and I haven’t made it as a writer. And because I understand “Sex and the City” now. Or at least I think I do. It’s hard to tell when Candace Bushnell, the author of the essays that inspired the show, now regrets choosing her Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle over having kids (you can read the article here). And if the gorgeous elegance of Carrie Bradshaw proves to be empty and superficial, what am I doing? In my darkest, loneliest moments, I convince myself that it is too late, that I’ve been living a lie by clinging to an empty promise of grandeur sold to me by the mass media.

But that’s kind of bullshit too, isn’t it? I mean, I’m only 30. I have half a century to live. Have I really missed any shots at anything? Thus why I’m declaring this a SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER! I will not fear turning 31, but I will embrace it by accomplishing a few goals:

  • lose five pounds
  • submit a polished entry to the Owl Canyon Press Hackathon
  • finish revising Moody Blue
  • hold a contest on this blog at the end of the month

What are your goals for September? Are you getting any writing done? What are your thoughts about aging? Comment below and let’s have a conversation.

 

On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

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On talking to the dead.

Published April 14, 2015 by mandileighbean

Friday, April 10, 2015 marked 90 years since the publication of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel that essentially changed my life by confirming the kind of woman – the kind of human being – I wanted to be.

I couldn’t let such an occasion, such an anniversary; pass without some kind of commemoration.

So I drove three hours and 40 minutes to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland.  I drove down I-95, which I have become so accustomed to that traversing that interstate is painfully boring.  I had my iPod blaring, but my mind was essentially blank, other than lingering upon the object of my affection and then Gatsby and then back again.  The object of my affection tried countless times to convince me of similarities between him and Jay Gatsby, of which there are admittedly a few.  We sent each other text messages late into the night while watching the film adaptation of the novel, discussing themes and characterization and life.  I only knew the novel was published on April 10th because of this man.  Gatsby was (is?) our thing.  So now, perhaps unfortunately, the fictional world of Jay Gatsby and my first heartbreak are inextricably linked forever and ever, amen.

Maybe that realization, that my favorite book is forever tainted by the inevitable disappointment of romance, made me somber and weird inside, but I was certainly reserved as I pulled into the church’s parking lot.  I parked in the further possible spot, closer to the adjacent school than the actual cemetery, but did so for no discernible reason.  In hindsight, I supposed I wanted to be ignored and inconspicuous, didn’t want to be a nuisance of any kind.  That notion seems laughable though, especially when I consider how absurd I must have looked, emerging from a piece of shit car – part of my front bumper is missing – in a fancy black dress too elegant and too formal for the impromptu graveside visit, with a fancy black coat that made me sweat but offered respite from the persistent mist.  I was alone, as always, and walking around aimlessly.  I’m sure I looked out of place and had anyone been around, I’m sure they would have chalked me up to some kind of weirdo.  To be fair, I guess that’s exactly what I am.

The entrance to the cemetery is across from a sign that reads, “BEAN BLVD.”  That cannot be coincidence; I don’t care what kind of logic is thrown at me.

I saw a gate, but it was small and unremarkable, so I assumed there must be a main gate somewhere, adorned with ironwork and a plaque or a sign – something.  Looking around furtively, worried I might just be trespassing, I followed the low, wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the cemetery but found no other entrance.  I traced my way back, which maybe took all of two minutes as the cemetery is rather small, to that first gate.  The latch, with its peeling paint, was worn enough to almost be rendered ineffective.  I considered it a particularly cruel kind of irony that this humble, rather shabby cemetery serves as the final resting place of the man who imagined Gatsby and the extravagant, opulent world in which that character existed.  I sighed and opened the gate, gingerly lifting the decrepit latch and gently shutting the gate behind me.

The grave was incredibly easy to find, partly because the cemetery is so small and partly because his marker is so large.  It’s off to the right of the short, winding path that just ends through the tiny, enclosed area.  I followed it, careful not to tread on the hallowed ground of those resting eternally, but had to leave the path eventually.  My heels sank into the soggy ground and I berated myself for my inconvenient melodramatics.  But then I faced Fitzgerald’s grave.

It’s a simple headstone.  It has his name, the years in which he lived and breathed and made the literary world a far better place.  His wife’s name is below, as are her years of existence.  Perpendicular and impressive is a stone slab that bears the last lines of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, the work that is often considered the great American novel.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I was the only one mourning and paying homage to a brilliant and destructive man, but I hadn’t been the only one.  There was evidence of other grievers.  There was a bloated, yellowed with the age, rain-soaked paperback copy of The Great Gatsby.  I leaned close and found it was open to pages 116 and 117, where Nick warns Jay that the past cannot be repeated, but Jay is deaf and insistent.  “Can’t repeat the past?  Why, of course you can.  Of course you can.”

There was a sodden bouquet of roses, decimated by the rain, soaked and scattered, looking especially tragic and mournful.  Perhaps the passage and gray skies and the cemetery added to that impression.

There were many pens, an obvious but touching nonetheless tribute to an insanely talented author.

There were many pennies, what I mistakenly assumed was an Irish tradition until I took to Google.  Coins are left on graves for many reasons, but there are three reasons that appear to be the most common.  One reason dates back to Greek mythology, and coins are left as payment for the ferryman that transported souls across the river Styx.  The second is related to the military and dictates that leaving certain coins is evidence of a particular relationship.  For example, pennies are left by any living soldier visiting a veteran’s grave while nickels are left only by those who attended boot camp with the deceased.  The third reason is to simply leave evidence that one visited and was there.  How narcissistic is that, having to leave proof of our existence at the proof of another’s existence?

My favorite token was a small bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey with an accompanying shot glass.  Next year when I make the trip, I plan on bringing daisies – though I despise the fictional Daisy Buchanan I completely understand what it is she represents, as despicable as it is – and a bottle of gin or some other antiquated kind of alcohol.  I plan on having some shots and hanging out for a decent amount of time, telling Fitzgerald how much I admire him, how much many admire him, and that I hope heaven allows for him to see how important he has become.

Much like the title character of his greatest literary achievement, Fitzgerald died alone and in obscurity.  Apparently the priest who presided over his funeral services did not even know who Fitzgerald was.  Fitzgerald considered himself a failure, and drank himself to death, falling dead in the apartment of his girlfriend, some tabloid reporter that he may have shacked up with to aid his dwindling screenwriting career in cruel, unforgiving Hollywood.

I devoured Gatsby when I was fourteen years old.  I have read it at least once a year since, and have convinced myself that I am Gatsby.  And as I stood at Fitzgerald’s grave, pondering the possible autobiographical content of his greatest novel, I realized that therein lies the magic of the novel; we are all Gatsby.  We all want too much and at times, we can want to reclaim some version of our former selves, tirelessly and obsessively chasing after some enchanted object that we think will fix everything.  We are continuously disappointed, but we keep right on chasing, reaching in everlasting desperation.

I thought Philip Roth had it right, that the real human tragedy is that we are all woefully unprepared for tragedy.  Now I think Fitzgerald was right, that the real human tragedy is that we are never satisfied.  We want too much.

I said a few prayers, thanked him, and empathized with the dead author.  I explained that I was a writer and that I feared my talent – if I may be so arrogant in insisting that I have some – would go undiscovered.  I told him I was afraid of dying alone, of having absolutely no one to mourn at my graveside, let alone any fans.  I delicately turned the pages of the soaked novel, carefully turning pages made nearly transparent by the rain and other elements.  I turned to the part where Nick pays Gatsby the sole compliment of their friendship, when he tells Gatsby that Daisy and Tom and Jordan are a rotten crowd, and that Gatsby is worth the whole damn bunch put together.  Nick is glad he said that, even though he disapproved of Gatsby from the beginning to the end.  It is a beautiful sort of sentiment, and I wondered if Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, had a friend in the end who got someone for him.  I softly kissed my fingertips and let them trail along the cold stone as I began the brief walk out of the cemetery, back to my piece of shit car, parked suspiciously outside the adjacent Catholic school like some kind of inappropriate joke made in poor taste.

I drove back home, traveling for four hours, stopping to eat at McDonald’s and then almost immediately wanting to die as the food upset my stomach terribly.

Despite the bizarre and spontaneous nature of the trip, the irritating traffic and uncomfortable way the greasy, cheap food sank in my stomach, the trip was inspiring.  I began to develop an idea for a third novel.

And it’s all thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  So I will return again and again to give thanks and pay homage because he communicated universal truths without restraint.  He was unashamedly who he was, embracing his genius and his insecurities and his worth and his faults all simultaneously.  Fitzgerald was wonderfully and beautifully human and wrote to be inclusive, to help everyone understand that we are all guilty, that we are all beautiful and deserving of love, that we can all be great.  We all reach out, trembling, for the green light.

And it’s okay.

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On why “Gatsby” is so great, and why you should see it twice.

Published May 17, 2013 by mandileighbean

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Well, I suppose I have put it off long enough; upon seeing the film twice, it is long overdue for me to share my thoughts on the most recent cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby.  However, before I discuss the movie, I must make it known that there are spoilers abound and that I am – as one student charged me – almost unhealthily obsessed with the novel.  I read it every summer and have particular passages committed to memory.  The novel changed my life in the sense that it helped me to decide that I wanted to be a writer and while I struggled in that endeavor I would teach high school English.  The novel also confirmed in my mind that I could be hopelessly romantic and naïve in a dignified sort of way that made me more of a heroine than a sap.

That being said, I left the theater the first time with an uneasy kind of feeling.  I was not sure how I felt about what I had just seen, other than that it was visually stunning and somewhat emotionally moving as I was dabbing at my eyes behind my 3D glasses.  Was it the 3D component of the film which left me unsettled and uncertain about my level of enjoyment resulting from the viewing experience?  I actually tend to avoid movies in 3D as I find them incredibly hokey – call me a snob, but for me, 3D movies lack artistic integrity and forsake story and structure for the almighty dollar.  3D is a gimmick that unfortunately seems here to stay.  Like I said, I am being a total snob and robbing a medium of all of its merit because it does not suit my particular taste, and though doing so is unfair, it is what it is and I will not apologize.  I will, however, advise my readers to take everything I write with a grain of salt, considering the extremities of some of my artistic prejudices.

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But allow me to hobble off my soapbox to contradict myself and explain how the 3D worked so well in the movie.  The scenes that depicted Gatsby’s lavish parties and outrageous lifestyle had to be filmed in 3D, I now realize in retrospect.  Consider the adjectives I just employed; lavish and outrageous.  What better way to convey such excess than through the 3D element?  It did look as if the confetti were raining down upon me, and so helped create the illusion that I was simply another Nick Carraway, within and without in the vast mansion, reveling and sneering at the reckless, careless behavior unfolding all around.  Though Nick did not have to pay for his admission ($13.25?!  Really?!), I believe my doing so was completely worth it – and mind you, I did so twice.  The 3D party scenes helped to create an almost tangible sensation of claustrophobia.  As Nick squeezed through Gatsby’s front doors in an impressive throng of strangers, and as tensions soared and tempers flared with the heat in that cruelly cramped room at the Plaza Hotel, I felt smothered and that I was too close.  Like Nick, I had had enough of everyone.  The way the 3D manipulated my emotions and even level of physical comfortableness was both complete and masterful.  I was impressed.

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So why was I so undecided after the first viewing?  I considered this as my second viewing began, and thought maybe the casting did not quite sit right with me.  However, when Leonardo DiCaprio is first shown in the film, when he turns and offers that glorious smile that Gatsby gave Nick and so impressed him with in the novel, I am smiling and smiling so that my muscles are sore and I am seemingly incapable of stopping.  I must admit though that I have always been enthralled with the idea of DiCaprio playing Gatsby.  Conversely, I was thoroughly disappointed with Tobey Maguire being cast as Nick Carraway, hoping for a larger personality, an actor more likeable.  But I noticed that when Maguire plays Nick as disoriented, disappointed, disillusioned, or drained, I felt the same.  Though I love Jay Gatsby in a way that only a complete and total lonely, melodramatic bookworm can, I was frustrated and disgusted with him when Nick was in the film – performing a complete 180, as they say – and I can only contribute that to Maguire’s performance.  When I read the novel, I am staunchly loyal to Gatsby in an irrational kind of way.  For Maguire to prompt me to question that loyalty after years and years of nothing but is a testament to his talent, and I was too harsh when I first judged his casting.  Joel Edgerton as Tom was flawless and Carey Mulligan played Daisy brilliantly, although I did not find her able to create a more sympathetic character; she was just as repugnant to me on screen as on the page, but I think that is a matter of personal taste.

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Then was it the incorporation of the modern music?  Though many of my students complained about the anachronistic soundtrack and score – which greatly surprised me as I believed it, was engineered with them specifically in mind – I rather enjoyed it.  I love art and I love style and the music aided in putting the film over the top in both respects.  I love the thought behind it, using modern day music of another generation of excess to show the universal, transcendent dangers behind such thoughtless, selfish behavior.  The novel is timeless, so the music does become an inconsequential detail, but to drive that point home with the very same music as the vehicle is genius and daring, and I cannot help but be impressed.  I also compulsively listen to the majority of the soundtrack which means I must enjoy it (unless it is only for its connection to the novel, which is stretched and strained to be honest).

So if it was not the inclusion of 3D nor the cast nor the music, then why was I less than impressed upon the initial viewing?  How could I fall so completely in love with the film after watching it a second time?  Are not first impressions the most important?  Upon pondering these questions, I am left with only one conclusion: my mood.  What had been going on with me?  What had been different about the second night?

I cannot remember being so excited for a theatrical release.  I bought my tickets early online and like a child at Christmas, could hardly sleep the night before.  The day of the film dawned and I was ecstatic.  I wore my shirt with pearls to school, falling short of the zeitgeist aura I was going for, but the students appreciated it, especially the sophomores who had read the novel with me earlier in the year.  They knew that Friday was “Gatsby Day,” and that I had planned my lessons accordingly.  We watched the trailers, noted the visual and auditory symbolism, and tried to decide if Baz Luhrmann assumed those viewing the film had read the book.  I was so captivated I even cheated – for lack of a better term – and showed the trailers to my freshmen classes to inspire them to see the film, read the book, or do both.  I barely survived my weekly hour of home instruction, excitedly and breathlessly discussing my plans for the evening with the student’s mother.  I went to the spring concert for chorus and band at the high school because of a promise to my students, and they seemed genuinely excited to see me and I was genuinely proud of them.  I was beaming and sad to leave a little early, but one student even said to me as I was on my way out, “Aren’t you seeing the movie tonight?”  I was pumped.

The movie started at 9:30PM, but I had planned to arrive at the theater around 9:00PM to avoid crowds, buy snacks and to avoid any anxiety.  I made these plans with my viewing companion whose name has been stricken from the record to prevent any kind of social faux pas.  So when it was 8:45PM, I left the concert (missing the last song, mind you) and called my viewing companion, fully prepared to meet this individual at the theater.  However, I was somewhat perturbed to learn that at 8:45PM, mere minutes before show time, the individual was at CVS with plans to continue on to Wawa.  I let it go though, because I realized that everything was within minutes from home and that I may have been overzealous in planning.  There was no guarantee the theater would be mobbed and purchasing snacks beforehand would be cheaper and would save time.  I relaxed and my viewing companion decided to meet at home just past 9:00PM.  I headed home and waited with juvenile excited.

9:00PM came and went … as did 9:05PM … as did 9:10PM … as did 9:15PM … as did 9:20PM.  We did not head to the theater until 9:30PM.  I was furious, seething.  Having planned meticulously and purchased the tickets, I could not fathom how someone could be so absolutely thoughtless.  To make matters worse, upon arriving at the theater, we had to wait on a lengthy line for our tickets despite being already purchased, and then I was charged twice (but I was handed a cash refund, so really, I can’t complain).  By the time we are actually inside our designated theater, the previews have started and the screen is malfunctioning.  It seemed that nothing could go my way.  Perhaps at that point I did not want to enjoy the movie to aggravate my viewing companion who, ironically, enjoyed it very much.  But that would be cutting of my nose to spite my face, wouldn’t it?

The second time around, my viewing companion who is named Raina, was not only on time, but early!  We went to an absolutely gorgeous dine-in theater in Edison.  We had a drink each, a delicious entrée and shared a delightfully sinful dessert.  Despite the food, I was more aware of my response and involvement in the film, my changing emotions that never failed to match those of the narrator and the way I ached for Gatsby and despised Tom and Daisy.  I felt as though I had taken a long, hard look at myself and those around me.  I was Nick Carraway – observing, within and without – but I wanted to be Gatsby, unfailingly hopeful and tragically romantic.  When I told Raina that I was Gatsby, she agreed without hesitation.  My first viewing companion actually turned back to me as we walked along and said, “You really want to be romantically tragic, and like a hero in a story, don’t you?”

Of course.  That being said, go see “The Great Gatsby.”  And do yourself a favor: see it twice.

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On uninspired.

Published May 6, 2013 by mandileighbean

uninspired

I must admit that I have been feeling incredibly uninspired as of late.  Not only have I utterly and completely fallen off the wagon as it pertains to dieting and exercising, but I have not written anything creative in quite some time.  My journal is filled with entries in which I complain about my shortcomings and nothing more.  It is a disappointment and again, I berate myself for having nothing to write about because I have not done anything worth writing about.  There has been no chance encounter, no startling image, no overheard turn of phrase to fire up my neurons and facilitate some kind of epic brainstorming session.

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Then again, that might not be entirely true.  The other day, as Dad and I were getting ready to watch “The Following,” (which is an excellent show on FOX starring Kevin Bacon that I am thoroughly obsessed with now) he was making himself a sandwich.  As he reached for the loaf of bread in its plastic bag in a drawer beneath the meat slicer, I noticed an unpleasant look of disgust smear itself across his face.  He picked up the bag with what seemed like intolerable reluctance and hurried to place it on the kitchen table, looking at his hands in disbelief.  Naturally, I asked him what was the matter, and he told me the bag was wet.  Intrigued, I removed myself from reclining upon the couch in the living room to investigate.  None of the other bags bread, bagels, and rolls was wet.  As a matter of fact, I did not notice anything peculiar or out of place about the bread drawer.  I looked at Dad and shrugged before moving to examine the bag in question.  The top of the bag, near the tie that closed it back up, was wet and there were tiny, red dots of moisture both on the inside and the outside.  I was completely baffled and asked Dad what he thought it was.  He brought a hand to his face and sniffed.  His face went pale and he told me plainly and simply that it was blood.  Then, betraying his flair for the dramatic, he told me it smelled like “dead blood.”  While it took both my father and I all of ten seconds to figure out that while Mom had been slicing roast beef in her brand new meat slicer, some blood had dripped onto this particular bag of bread and that nothing sinister nor truly creepy had occurred, regardless of how gross it was, I thought it was a great scene to manipulate, twist and dramatize and use.

blood

Similarly, I had a totally bizarre dream the other night.  The details have faded and in all honestly, the dream was more like a few weeks ago than “just the other night,” but the main image has resonated and stayed put.  It was a royal blue beetle of large proportions, and with legs made of pink, plastic straws, crawling across the face of a female.  The beetle began small, walking in meandering lines across the face and out of view.  But when the female stranger turned to face me once more, the bug had suddenly become huge and covered a quarter of her face.  It seemed so genuine and real, that I wondered if I wasn’t hallucinating more than dreaming.  Thinking of hallucinations had me thinking of one of my ideas for my next novel, one involving a man on lithium and I wondered if I couldn’t somehow forge a connection between the two.  I suppose it would be fairer for me to say that there has been inspiration, but I have been too lazy to utilize it.  I need to be motivated and I promise to you that I am working on it.

 

I am reading two novels currently (one I kind of hate but have to finish now that I’ve started, but the other is absolutely fabulous) and cannot stop listening to the soundtrack for the upcoming movie “The Great Gatsby.”  My obsession has reached new heights, actually, and is not restricted to the compulsive, repetitive playing of the soundtrack.  When I visited BookTowne in Manasquan to try and set up an event, I ended up dropping off contact information and buying a t-shirt.

megatsby

I cannot remember which author it was, but rumor has it that a contemporary novelist would type out The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald whenever he had writer’s block to cure himself of it.  I am curious as to whether or not I shouldn’t give it a shot.

 

I recently ordered a photography book by Eric Meola which features Bruce Springsteen from the year 1977 to the year 1979.  Perusing the photographs and reading the lyrics and essays which accompany them, I did feel a creative sort of tingle and briefly pondered returning to the idea for my next novel which was entirely inspired by the Boss.

me

I am going up to Bloomfield this afternoon for drinks with some friends from college.  I am going to catch up with some of the most wonderful and beautiful women I have had the privilege and pleasure of knowing, but also, selfishly, to perhaps be inspired.  Perhaps something will happen along the way; why knows?  I suppose the point is that no one knows, and that therein lays the point. A very wise colleague of mine, who is unfortunately retiring at the end of the academic year, encouraged me to take risks and I am proud to say I have taken that advice to heart.

brothers

On being a bombshell.

Published January 28, 2013 by mandileighbean

Another two pounds lost; I am ecstatic!  I am celebrating personal achievement because when it comes to “The Biggest Loser” competition at work, I am far from being in the lead.  Rumor has it that someone lost seven pounds, and that another participant completed a four-day fast to boost his or her start.  I am not that competitive; winning would be wonderful, but if I lose every week, I will be happy.  The competition is more of a motivating tool than anything else.  The monetary spoils of victory will have no value when measured against how I look, how I feel, and the confidence I will gain.  Although, I might just be saying all of that to make myself feel better about my inevitable loss – only time will tell.

Whenever I mail anything, which is not all that often in this digital age, I am always reminded of that scene in the movie “Grease,” where Marty is sending a letter to her boyfriend in the Marines, so she sprays the exceedingly feminine stationary with her perfume.  Personally, I believe that to be a wonderfully romantic idea.  Just the other day I found myself in the local post office, sending a copy of my novel to a friend and included a short letter.  I penned a heartfelt note using a ballpoint pen filled with royal blue ink onto fashionable stationary, with a black and white paisley boarder around its edges and matching envelopes.  As I licked the edge of the envelope flap to seal it, I thought about what a sensual, intimate gesture it would be leave just the tiniest trace of lipstick around an edge; the faintest clue of my physical existence.  Naturally, this train of thought led me to the scene from the aforementioned movie, and I wondered if lipstick on the envelope and perfume lightly but noticeably scenting the stationary would work, or if the subtlety of it all would be lost on a man.  Do they notice such things?  Would the thought and planning that went into such a gesture be used to evaluate it?  Does anyone ever truly receive back the effort he or she put into an endeavor?  I think it’s a wildly romantic idea; there’s real optimism in the belief that a complete and total return of an emotion exists.

That makes me think of the fictional character Jay Gatsby from the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I just ended reading the book with my sophomore students and it is officially my favorite novel of all time.  Its themes and romantic imagery and brutal honesty, with its undeniable cynicism watered down by the an almost untraceable strong hope, reminds me that I am inadequate as a writer (but who isn’t when a novel like The Great Gatsby is the novel against which all others are measured?) and that, like Gatsby, I am terribly lonely and clinging to memories from years ago, formulating schemes based on those ghosts of my pasts and inevitably setting myself up for disappointment and devastation.  That is not to say that I am depressed and delusional – just hopelessly romantic, no matter what the cost.  Some call this naivety, but I believe there is an honorable and dignified kind of stoicism in still believing in the good of people and the power of love, as trite and cheesy and impossible as it may seem.

I did not intend for this entry to be so “deep” (for lack of a better word), but it is a beautifully and bitterly bright Sunday morning and I am on my second cup of coffee.  I feel much like a validated author this morning.  I think the cozy, intellectually stylish sweater I am wearing helps, too.  All I need are thick-framed glasses and all the time in the world, and I could be the perfect picture of writer.  Appearance is half the battle, after all.

Speaking of, the goal of this week’s way to blast my blubber was to “adopt an avatar.”  This goal was remarkably effortless to meet because I have been adopting an avatar every day of my life.  I never see myself for who or what I am, but for who or what I would love to be: a bohemian, artistic intellectual, with the matching wardrobe and accessories.  However, as I become more of a woman and less of a girl, I am tending to gravitate more towards elegance and an understated kind of drama.  I have all of these plans, hopes, and dreams about my future.  I want to be in love with a completely brilliant, brooding, and eccentric man.  I want to be thin with straight, white teeth.  I want to be a wildly successful writer.  All of these wants (that are almost suffocating desires) are within my reach if I am willing to put in the work.  I need to go out more so I can meet new people.  I need to call the dentist and schedule an appointment.  I need to count my calories, keep a food journal, and exercise.  I need to promote my book.  These aforementioned needs are most often rationalized away, pushed aside, and delayed in their realization because currently, I am frustratingly lazy and unfortunately unmotivated.  I watch too much television.  I play too much computer solitaire.  I eat too much.  I sleep too much.  I don’t write enough.  I don’t read enough.

If I want to be a bombshell, I should be a bombshell.  So, my new avatar that I will use to motivate and inspire me on my way to weight loss and creative success, will simply be known as “Bombshell,” and she looks a little something like:

gwenidol

bombshell2

bombshell1

bombshell

Whining and seeking pity are wasteful; a waste of time and a waste of words, which are my two most precious resources.  I need to be about it.  There are no excuses left.  I did earn a full-time teaching job.  A company did publish my book.  My life’s pieces are not going to come together of their own accord and produce a pretty, little picture.  I have to engage my own destiny and put the puzzle pieces in their proper positions.

This is not a revelation or a realization; it is only restating common sense.  I want to live up to the compliments I receive.  The psychology teacher said I looked great, that she could tell I was dieting and exercising, and that it was paying off.  I cannot be a fraud; I have to put in the work.

A respected English teacher complimented my writing.  She said my voice was strong and entertaining, and that my attention to detail was strong.  A math teacher asked me to sign her copy and I was too touched to write anything spectacular.  I hope it was what she wanted.

If I want to be a bombshell, then I should be a bombshell.

If you want to be a bombshell, then you should be a bombshell.

On quotes and cocktails.

Published July 28, 2012 by mandileighbean

I was going through some old creative endeavors of mine, looking for a piece that could be salvaged, edited and then included in the second novel I am doing my best to construct.  I found very little to work with because this second novel is unlike anything I have ever written before, but that fact did not dishearten me.  If anything, it motivates and excites me because it challenges me; I have to be original and innovative.  I cannot rely on old tricks and gimmicks hidden within old, worn notebooks, with pages thinned and yellowed by time.  I have to be someone new and I love reinventing myself.  I believe I’ve admitted before that I hope to always be restless and that I hope to always feel unsettled.  I’m terrified that comfortability leads to complacency leads to laziness leads to waste.

“If you’re just killing time, you can be sure it’ll kill you right back.”

I made a list at the beginning of the summer, and I’ve been able to cross off two items; that’s it.  I’m failing myself – I know that, and I eat to fill the emotional void such knowledge creates.  I hide away in my bedroom, behind paper creations of a life filled with romance, drama, intrigue, connections; a life I wish for.  I can’t live, so I write about it … like those who can’t do, teach – I guess.  I think that’s pretty clever.

It’s weird; I feel like I’m being really, really honest with you (the reader or readers) right now, but I refrain from posting certain pieces because I’m horrified that my deepest desires will be exposed.  Writing is sharing, but I don’t want to share too much.  How much is too much?  Who’s to say?

So I say, eff it.  I’ll share everything.  Go big or go home, right?  But I’ll share lots … after tonight.  I don’t think I could handle it tonight.  I ate a lot of chocolate today and I am feeling particularly vulnerable.

That being said, enjoy the prompt.  I did. 🙂

PROMPT: A woman who’s constantly quoting classic novels meets a literature professor at a cocktail party.

PIECE:

I stepped out onto the back patio, extremely aware of how weak my ankles were when it came to walking in high heels, especially ones hanging on by a thin, thin strap.  The shoes were completely adorable, though – the shade was perfect and worthy of being the topic of any conversation, so I suffered through the awkward tumbling way of walking and the slight pain concentrated in the balls of my feet.  The pain was worth the beauty, and that lesson could be applied not only to life, but to fashion as well.  I think I read that in a book somewhere.

Truth be told, I probably did read it in a book.  All I do is read.  I find it much more comfortable between the pages of a novel than I do seated between other human beings.  Some assume it’s a lonely existence, but it’s not awful.  If you stop and think about it, it’s actually kind of awesome.  My friends are made of paper and ink, so they don’t talk back, they never disappoint and are always there when I need them.  They are not fallible like their flesh and blood and bone contemporaries, and there are no nasty surprises when someone you think you’ve known for years and years decides to be a douche bag seemingly overnight.

That’s not to say I’m a creepy recluse who avoids all human contact, like some Boo Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird).  I talk to co-workers and make small chat when I’m ordering coffee or food.  After all, isn’t the point to only connect (Howard’s End)?  I believe it is, so I do talk.  Unfortunately, I have the habit of constantly quoting from classic literature.  Like that time at work when Brian left his sandwich in the fridge for a solid three months and the stench became unbearable, so I said, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” (Shakespeare).  No one got it, and that’s fine.  I did something similar at my family reunion, when we were trying to figure out who was sober enough to go with my uncle to the liquor store to resupply our alcohol stores, and I said to my sister, “Either thou, or I, or both must go with him!” (Shakespeare … again)  No one got it … again, but again, that’s fine.  I get that I alienate my audience with specific and sometimes obscure literary references, so I’ve been trying to curb the behavior.

I got invited to a cocktail party by Sara, a co-worker.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try and flex – or restrain, depending on how you look at it – my conversational muscle.  I bought the new shoes we’ve already discussed, and a matching dress.  I Googled YouTube videos to find out how to make my eyes look smoky and seductive and actually worked on my hair – I looked good.  Now to try and break into some conversation; I walked from small gathering to small gathering, listening in for a moment or two.  Either the topic was something I found terribly uninteresting, or something I knew nothing about.  I felt discouraged and was about to leave, run for the hills as they say, when I heard someone say, “You just have to keep on keepin’ on, right?  It’s like what Fitzgerald wrote; ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.”

It was a somewhat older gentleman, fashionably dressed in a tweed jacket with elbow pads and heavy slacks.  He was quoting The Great Gatsby, arguably the greatest American novel of all time.  I couldn’t contain myself.  I walked up behind and said, “Doesn’t the end of the quote defeat your purpose, though?”

He turned to me, obviously surprised, but smiling.

I continued, “Fitzgerald says, ‘And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’  We never get where we’re going, but we keep going anyway.  That’s not as optimistic as what you were going for, I think.”  I held my breath at the end, worried that I’d offended him and come off as something as a know-it-all.

But he extended his hand and said, “Hi.  I’m Eric.”

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