Gruntled

I ran across this post on Tumblr and have pretty much had a field day trying to make gruntled  happen (it’s the new “fetch,” y’all). Not really, but I’ve said it a few times. It just sounds so…negative. But I thought I’d share it on here since I’ve gotten such a kick out of it. And yes, I’m indeed feeling gruntled these days.

It’s been awhile since I last blogged a “real” blog; a month, in fact. Ironically, I’ve had more hits in the last month than in any one month since I’ve written the blog. All those hits definitely forced a huge hit to my sometimes self-aggrandizing nature, and so I chose to step back and take some time off while the blog continued to propel itself. The truth is I wrote two blogs that are still sitting in my drafts unpublished. I had someone near and dear to me tell me I have a bad habit of involving everyone around me in my trials and tribulations, and it hurt to hear that. But then I read a quote–on Tumblr as well–to the effect of, “If you tell two or three people about your problem, you’re seeking advice. If you tell more people than that, you’re just seeking attention.” And I think for all practical purposes that’s probably true. Not to sound coarse, but I have a bit of the attention whore streak in me. That feeds into the addiction to drama, and I’ve certainly been doing my darndest to distance myself from that. I have a good life which I’m trying to uncomplicate on a daily basis; there’s no reason to bitch and complain. We all have our challenges and one can either go to therapy and deal with them or it’s probably best to keep your trap shut and let the bad times pass. Because they always do.

On the sobriety front, I am doing well. I’ve had a couple of relapses, the last of which was one of the one-day, ending-in-bad-results kind (vomiting in bed all day). I share this matter-of-factly because I’m in a good place where I know I don’t need to drink. There’s really nothing else to be said about it, except that I’m proud of all the progress I’ve made in the last year. While I may have stumbled, I’ve gotten up, kept going, and am determined to be happy and seek out unfettered peace of mind in appropriate avenues away from alcohol. I no longer feel the need to have my sobriety validated by anyone, or to dramatize the issue or drag anyone else into it. It’s something I’m doing for me because I want to feel my best each day, and I honestly feel so much better when I don’t drink.

On the relationship front, I’m trying to dial down the speed dating concept I had going on because that became exhausting and the stories quit being funny, quite frankly. I had brunch with a guy on Sunday whom I literally have absolutely. nothing. in. common. with. Super nice, handsome guy whom I’ve chatted with online pretty much since I lived in Vegas, but just no connection. I enjoy my own company too much, perhaps…but then again I say I’m lonely and don’t want to end up alone. I’m simultaneously reading Jennie ’90210′ Garth’s autobiography and a bio on Tennessee Williams (because that’s how I roll when I check out books from the library), and it’s fascinating in a way to me that they both dealt with a great deal of loneliness in their lives. Jennie still does, obviously, being as how she’s very much alive. A reminder again that we all have issues, and it’s all in how we deal with them. Jennie turns to her ranch for peace of mind and contentment, since she grew up on a farm. Tennessee turned to his alcohol and sex addictions. A telling reminder that we all make choices; some good, some bad, some which fulfill us, some which destroy us.

I hope everyone is having a great Holy Week and is gruntled enough to experience a very Happy Easter. I’ll be sharing mine with my family back home in Georgia, and for that I truly do feel extremely and unabashedly gruntled.

Until next time,

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Best Ever

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This isn’t so much a full-fledged blog entry, but a thank-you to whomever linked my blog to QVC.com yesterday. Out of my personal best 228 views yesterday, 39 were referred from the QVC message boards, and 145 of the total views were of my Lee Radziwill blog. Not to toot my own horn–well, actually that’s exactly what I’m doing!–I knew when I wrote that one and assembled all the accompanying photos that it was one of my best. Mainly because a lot of my heart at the time was invested in that piece, and it by far took the longest to compose of any blog I’ve written thus far. Ms. Radziwill is a fascinating, polarizing personality; if I might say, I’m reading a 2013 bio on Ava Gardner right now that pales in comparison to the one I read on Lee. Coincidentally, the defining difference between the two is that Lee confronted her alcoholism and Ava chose to wallow in hers. (This coming from a stolid Ava fan who’s read her 1990 autobiography. The one I’m currently reading is Ava Gardner: The Personal Conversations written by her chosen ghostwriter Peter Evans, who was sued by her ex-husband Sinatra and fired by Gardner herself for planning a more factual autobiography. The one he finally published last year is harrowingly factual. Based on their recorded conversations, Ava was inebriated most of her last few years.)

So thanks for the views, thanks for the links, thanks for the comments, thanks for the clicks and referrals…it’s all much appreciated and (yes, I must admit) makes me feel validated in the work I’ve done on here. I just renewed the SouthernAristocracy.org domain name for another year, so here’s to a great year ahead, chock-full of many more inspired posts.

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ReLentless Pursuit of Optimism

“Part of the fun of working on ['Son of Ali Baba'] was getting to spend a lot of time with Davy Sharpe, the stuntman who was my stand-in. Over his career, Davy appeared in more than forty-five hundred films–no one knows the exact number–which means he may have appeared in more films than anyone else in US film history. [...] Davy was twenty years older than I was, in his forties, but he was a superb athlete. He could take off his hat and fling it up in the air without looking at it, and it would always land on his head. When Davy was rehearsing, he always had a cigar in his mouth, and he could throw the cigar up in the air and catch that between his teeth. One time early in his career, a director filmed a rehearsal scene without telling him, and Davy vowed never to let that happen again. That was why he always kept a cigar in his mouth during rehearsal. He knew the director would ask him to take the cigar out when it was time to roll film. Davy was always upbeat, and a joy to be around. His signature line was, ‘I greet you with cordiality and good cheer.’” (page 135)

–From ‘American Prince: A Memoir’ by Tony Curtis

I purposely postponed writing this blog, hoping the funk I was in would pass and I’d feel more upbeat. One of the things I wanted to give up for Lent was entertaining negative thoughts. I read somewhere that it’s not so much what happens to us as how we *think* about what happens to us which determines our reactions. And I think–quite literally–that’s true. All that said, I feel as though I’ve done a decent job of exercising the optimistic outlook lately, especially with the infection I’ve had in my foot and feeling drained from the antibiotics. In fact, being grateful daily for good insurance and healthcare has been a source of great joy for me. I’ve been exhausted at work, however, and since the busy tourist season has started I’ve been tested more than I’d like under these circumstances.

Reading Tony Curtis’s anecdote about the stuntman Davy Sharpe inspired me: “I greet you with cordiality and good cheer.” Wouldn’t the world be a wondrously different place if we could all say that to one another! Instead, most of us are lost in a boggle of thoughts about who-said-what to us, what bills are coming due, romantic entanglements, who cut us off in traffic, etc. I wish I could sit here and type how easy it is to do a few meditative breaths and let all that go and greet everyone with a smile and such an affirmative greeting as Mr. Sharpe was known for, but it’s not easy for me. In fact, I feel like the sore thumb in this GIF much of the time:

camel meme

I’ll be 34 in a few weeks and I’d like to be a bit more clear-headed and happy with my station in life by then. The guy who works overnight at the hotel next door just told me tonight that he put in his two weeks notice, as did his supervisor AND my old supervisor who’s a manager over at that property. It got me to thinking, what am I still doing here? Am I happy, or am I just biding my time? A job’s a job and all that jazz, but life’s too short not to be happy. Meh, so that’s where my thoughts are at right this minute. I *am* grateful and I *do* feel blessed; I just want that to come across in my reactions and interactions with others.

Best wishes for a safe and fun St. Pat’s Day to everyone,

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Salad Days

Athens, 10.2002

University of Georgia, 10.2002

In her 2009 self-titled autobiography, Cloris Leachman tells about her complicated friendship with fellow actor Marlon Brando. From everything I’ve ever read about Marlon, he himself was an extremely complicated person. Alas, Cloris writes the following:

“I remember our salad days at the Actors Studio, the shining young things we were then, so brimming with anticipation, so unaware of the startling events that lay ahead.” (page 110)

Both their sons got involved in drugs and died due to the effects, for starters re: “startling events.” And then Marlon held a grudge against Cloris when she didn’t send condolences after his son died, but that’s their story to tell. It had been a long time since I’d heard the expression “salad days,” and I’ve coincidentally been feeling downright elderly this week hobbling around due to a fungus infection on my left foot. Totally gross, I realize, but a PSA for anyone who steps on anything to immediately disinfect it with an antibiotic. (I stepped on a tiny piece of glass a couple of weeks ago and that’s all I can think of that might’ve caused this nightmare. Three doctor’s visits later, it’s being slowly but surely treated.) But back on track: I looked up the expression after enjoying Cloris’s eloquent use of it, and I began wondering when my own salad days had been. “Before or after 9/11?” immediately rang through my mind as a deciding factor. I looked through some vintage photos on Facebook and found the one above. So I’ll share about my own approximation of my salad days at the ripe ol’ age of 22.

It took me a few–and I do mean three or four or five–stops and starts to decide I really wanted to be in college. By 2002, I was holding down a part-time job at the Ramada Inn in my hometown and also taking three or four classes. I found after trying school full-time and working full-time that this hybrid of both worked well for my psyche and work ethic. Anyway, I’d just won Employee of the Month at the Ramada and had just had a letter to the editor published in InStyle magazine, which for whatever naive reason I considered to be the creme de la creme of magazines at the time. Armed with that issue of the magazine and my sarcastic excitement about “being published,” I accompanied my mother up to the University of Georgia for a conference she was attending on campus. I set up meetings with an advisor at the journalism school to discuss transferring and majoring in Magazines. (A dozen years later, I wonder if that slightly antiquated major still exists.) The advisor seemed happy with the writing samples I’d e-mailed her and my transcript that I’d brought along. She showed me a huge bulletin board where jobs were posted, specifically seeking out graduates of the UGA journalism program. I was so giddy I remember asking her back in her office if writing professionally was anything like how Sarah Jessica Parker made it look on Sex & the City. The advisor laughed and told me I’d find out soon enough.

Everything was going according to plan until there was a hold-up with one of my transcripts getting to UGA. My tech school transcript covering a whole quarter of non-transferrable credits, at that. Having missed the deadline for transferring the semester I had my heart set on, I gave up the dream of being a UGA student. I could still write, I told myself. I could still get one of the jobs on that bulletin board without the UGA degree. Or any degree at all? The salad days were surely over. I wondered from time to time how things might’ve been different if I’d not given up so easily on transferring. One of the jobs I’d seen on that big bulletin board was for one of Martha Stewart’s niche magazines, so in my mind I would’ve moved up to Yankee country and snagged that job. Wishful thinking at best, and I laugh now to think if that magazine is even still around after Martha’s fall from grace.

The funny thing is, now that I’ve revisited that time in my life, there wasn’t much salad-y about it. Maybe for a few weeks it seemed I was on top of the world, but then plans fell through and it was back to the grind at the Ramada. Well then, were my salad days in Nashville after I left my hometown behind? I’m not so sure about that either. They certainly weren’t when I drank myself through finally finishing my English degree a few years ago in the suburbs of Atlanta. Being on the verge of turning 34, I think I’ll stop here and politely ask for the fat-free Caesar dressing to be passed my way. Turns out my salad days aren’t behind me yet.

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Tammy and Judy: A Pair of Pills

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“The sad part about happy endings is there’s nothing to write about.”–Tammy Wynette (page 322)

“I was always lonesome. The only time I felt accepted or wanted was when I was onstage performing. I guess the stage was my only friend, the only place where I could feel comfortable. It was the one place where I felt equal and safe.”–Judy Garland (page 22)

Unintentionally, I began simultaneously reading biographies of Tammy Wynette and Judy Garland: Garland’s while at work and Wynette’s back at home. The one Jimmy McDonough wrote on Wynette in 2010 is a weighty hardcover which I picked it up at the library on a whim, having never been a fan of Wynette. The one on Garland is another meticulous, 70s bio by Anne Edwards, who also wrote the one on Vivien Leigh which I profiled in my previous blog. She published this one on Judy in 1974 before she wrote the one on Vivien in ’77, and I felt like I could tell a vast difference in how much she delved into the subjects’ lives. Or perhaps it was just because Judy isolated herself much more than Vivien and therefore there weren’t as many interviews to be had and insight to be gleaned. I read Lorna Luft’s biography ‘Me and My Shadows’ a couple of months ago, and it offers much more of a picture of what Judy was really like, as opposed to spouting off Judy’s chronic woes and tribulations as Edwards does in her book. Still, Edwards is able to do it unbiasedly, so I learned things from her book that Ms. Luft left out when writing about her mother. It might also be mentioned that McDonough writes about Wynette as a hardcore fan, though he’s written other biographies (such as one on Neil Young) and he interviewed so many people for his book on Wynette that a clear picture is painted of her.

I’ll say this upfront and be clear about it: I was intrigued while reading about both of these talented ladies that–though they each brought so much joy to their millions of fans–they were both so unhappy and lonely. Neither one of them was very sure of themselves and therefore turned to men and pills to bolster their self image. Both of them were married five times, and Tammy–whose signature song was ‘Stand By Your Man’–was also quoted as saying, “How can anybody really believe what I sing about, knowin’ what a mess I’ve made of my life?” (page 181) For most of her life, Judy blamed MGM for getting her hooked on uppers and downers as a child star, not only to perform non-stop but to lose her baby weight. That doesn’t explain why she never quit taking the pills, even after several stays in psych wards and having her children choose not to live with her towards the end of her life. At one point when Judy’s house had been foreclosed on, she delusionally told an interviewer, “Well, if worse comes to worse, I can always pitch a tent in front of the Beverly Hilton and Lorna can sing gospel hymns! That should see us through…Lorna is already showing signs of becoming a fabulous singer.” (page 234) Tammy got hooked on diet pills first and then began taking pain pills after her hysterectomy. She developed such a reputation for faking pain in Nashville that local doctors and hospitals would no longer dole out the painkillers to her, and so she began cancelling shows on the road to con whatever ER she might wander into to supply her with her drugs of choice. Said Tammy’s ex-husband George “Possum” Jones:

“I don’t think [Tammy] was ever content. It seemed like one moment she was happy, another she wasn’t. She was a lonely person, that I’m sure of. She lacked satisfaction or somethin’, and she couldn’t get it all her life.” (page 211)

It’s hard to say anything else about these two great legends which hasn’t already been said countless times before. The one funny parallel I wanted to point out is that Judy had her legion of gay fans and Tammy had her troop of lesbian fans. I would say I wish each of them would’ve gotten the help they needed with their addictions, but Tammy went to Betty Ford and was released after a couple of weeks for emergency surgery. While recovering, she was given a “medal of completion” for addiction treatment by Betty Ford herself and never returned to the center. I can’t help but wonder how much this medal had to do with Tammy being a die-hard Republican all her life, though I hope that’s not the case. I wanted to end by sharing this unfinished song lyric Judy wrote right before she died, in June 1969:

“When you’ve learned and you’ve grown
Through years of just living
Then you’ve earned every right to be
Proud of your years
Not too old, not so young
The quietness of age
Well, then the young man comes along
To smile, to take you up with him
And hold you strong along a way to love…”

Frances Ethel Gumm/Judy Garland was only 47 when she died in 1969 and Virginia Wynette Pugh/Tammy Wynette was only 55 when she passed away in 1998. They were a pair, alright. A pair of pills who unfortunately succumbed to the pills they relied on so heavily. At least now they are both singing sweet songs with the angels.

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Fiddle-dee-dee

Scarlett takes a smoke break

Scarlett takes a smoke break

Tuberculosis. Nymphomaniac. Manic depressive. Alcoholic. Chain-smoker. None of these are words one associates with beloved movie heroine Scarlett O’Hara, but they were the reality of the woman who won the Oscar for playing the role, Miss Vivien Leigh. This isn’t intended as a “shock blog;” Miss Leigh lived her privileged yet troubled life with great dignity and was happiest when working on the stage or in a film. Anne Edwards, author of 1977′s simply titled ‘Vivien Leigh: A Biography’, writes:

“Tennessee Williams says of Vivien, ‘Having known madness, she knew how it was to be drawing close to death.’ Having often been close to death, I might add, gave her fearlessness, a daring, sort of insolence toward life, and a kind and tender and incredibly affectionate regard for the living. She was a good deal more than a film star who received two Oscars for two of the most celebrated roles in film history (Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois), or a stage actress who won acclaim for her Juliet, Antigone, and Cleopatra. Vivien Leigh was a woman of great extremes and greater excesses. A woman whose candle surely did burn at both ends, and yet refuses, through the incandescence of her friendships and film portrayals, even now to be extinguished.” (page 287)

Best known for playing Scarlett in 1939′s ‘Gone With the Wind’, Leigh was also an esteemed stage actress, which is how she secured her second Oscar-winning role as Blanche in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (by playing the part on the London stage first). She and Laurence Olivier both left their spouses and small children–she had a daughter and he had a son–to live together and finally marry in 1940. Leigh was mentored by Olivier to find film vastly inferior to being on the stage, and for that reason never appreciated her success in Hollywood as much as she should have. Her relatively slight voice did not project in playhouses nearly as well as his, but her stunning beauty radiated from her performances on the silver screen. Realizing this and playing up to her strengths, she took roles in Hollywood which coincided with Olivier’s, or if they needed money to put on productions back in England one or the other would take on film roles at separate times.

A poster for the 1940 Geary Theater production of 'Romeo and Juliet'

A poster for the 1940 Geary Theater production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’

As her manic depressive spells became more apparent and more frequent, Hollywood friends such as George Cukor and Kate Hepburn would look after her if Vivien was left alone in Los Angeles, while friends such as Noel Coward and her mother would watch over her back in London while Olivier was working. (This was well before the days of suitable medications and Vivien received infrequent shock treatments and self-medicated with alcohol and pills.) No matter how manic or depressed she got, Vivien was the consummate performer and was able to put everything aside when she was working on the stage or set. The one exception was while she was filming ‘Elephant Walk’ in 1953 in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka); she suffered an acute breakdown and was rushed back to Los Angeles in hopes of salvaging the film. It was not to be; a 21 year-old Elizabeth Taylor was brought in to replace 39 year-old Vivien. (Miss Leigh can still be seen in long shots filmed on location in Ceylon and salvaged for the production–here’s an interesting compilation of a few of them, as well as photos of Vivien during the production and when returning to London with Olivier a few days after her breakdown: *Elephant Walk with Vivien Leigh*)

Vivien enjoys a play with good friend Noel Coward

Vivien enjoys a play with good friend Noel Coward

Owing to the age of the biography by Anne Edwards, salacious details about Miss Leigh’s nymphomaniacal tendencies are left out, with only a brief mention of her fantasies divulged to close friends. Which is just as well, as any of her manic actions were part and parcel of her illness which went virtually untreated–at least by today’s standards–for most of her life. Vivien told those closest to her that she related strongly to Blanche in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ because she knew what it was like to be on the verge of madness. She also feared growing older and losing her looks; her weight and facial features fluctuated greatly depending on how much she’d been drinking and the symptoms of her tuberculosis. When she won the Tony for 1963′s ‘Tovarich’, she was in the best shape of her life and delighted the Broadway crowds by dancing the Charleston nightly as part of her character’s performance.

As Blanche DuBois in 1951

As Blanche DuBois in 1951

In 1967 at the age of 53, Vivien Leigh died at her beloved Tickerage Mill home due to complications of tuberculosis. She looked much older than her years in her last few years of life, but continued to entertain friends such as Winston Churchill at her home while acting as much as possible. I think this quote from the original Tennessee Williams version of one of her last films–1961′s ‘The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone’–sums her up best:

“‘I am not going to lose my dignity, no matter what happens I am not going to lose it,’ but just as continually she caught herself doing things that were not at all consistent with that resolve.”

Vivien Leigh chats with Ringo Starr during a chance meeting at the airport during the Swingin' 60s

Vivien Leigh chats with Ringo Starr during a chance meeting at the airport during the Swingin’ 60s

By the way, the title of the blog obviously comes from Scarlett’s signature catch phrase, but it’s also one that Vivien gladly repeated to fans upon request for the rest of her life while touring with plays, at movie openings, and even at the re-release of ‘Gone With the Wind’. She had a great sense of humour in that respect. Rest in peace, sweet Vivien.

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This Is What It Looks Like

In yet another entry in the anthology of “I wasn’t going to post this, but it’s what was on my heart…”

‘Looking’ premiered on HBO a week and a half ago. Great pilot–one of the best I’ve seen in years, actually–and Jonathan Groff hit it outta the park with his character Patrick. I could relate to him, definitely a bit too much: meeting guys online who look really good on “paper” (computer screen?), and then something goes amiss. And I include myself in that translation to real life from the Internet; inevitably, I’ll open my mouth and something will spew out that offends/makes me look like a jackass. This is why, though I utilize it to the hilt, I still consider online dating to be cheating the natural system. One knows entirely too much about the other person before one even meets them, and therefore expectations are heightened. Thus, there’s the opportunity to fall much, much farther down from said expectations. Been there, done that, many times over.

At this rate, I’ve been on dates with everyone except the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker in the last several months. Rack ‘em up: a dentist, a lawyer, an architect, and even a priest (actually a rector–long story on that one). Had a lunch date with a pilot last Tuesday that went nowhere fast, even though he was late (flight delay). The main reason Patrick in the show reminds me of myself is that he’s over the moon to go on a date with a doctor (pictured above). The doctor guy looks good on “paper,” but he’s not the nicest in real life. Patrick learns his lesson and after meeting a Latino barber/nightclub doorman on the subway immediately after the date, he gives the nice guy from real life a chance. (Things don’t work out between the two of them either, but that’s saved for the second episode.)

The same night ‘Looking’ premiered and I watched it online, Bob messaged me from Puerto Vallarta. He’s supposedly returning in a few weeks. My immediate, aspirational thought was, “This is what it looks like when he returns…” And I optimistically envisioned myself being well put-together, moving on with my life, not trying to get back together with him. It’s tough and it sucks and in a fleeting moment, I felt like I’d sleptwalked through all these silly dates to prove a point that wasn’t worth proving. That I was over him and, “Oh, look at me moving on…” Have I been moving on or has it all been for show? If I have to ask the question, clearly I don’t know the answer myself. Actually, I know the answer and just don’t want to admit it.

So this is what it *really* looks like…I’m glad my friend–supposedly my best friend–is coming home soon. God grant me the clearness of mind to look passed the past and look towards the future. In the meantime, I still have plenty of ridiculous dating horror stories to laugh about and learn from. At least they’re not televised on HBO.

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Bette-isms

For most of my life Bette Davis has scared me; she always seemed gruff and in a huff about something, not to mention always puffing on her ever-present cigarette. Have I conjured up the Big Bad Wolf yet? Sure, she was a phenomenal actress–Jezebel, All About Eve, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? all come to mind–but the person herself intimidated me. Something about her gave me the impression if I’d met her that she’d be a bit of a bully. And that’s what her daughter wrote about her in her book My Mother’s Keeper, which I read a couple of years ago. Bette, who worshipped the ground her daughter walked on, bullied her own grandchildren (or so her daughter claimed in her book). But the truth usually lies somewhere between she said-she said, and the fact is that most people who use bullying tactics are hiding great insecurities.

Such was the case with Bette, who finally let down her guard late in life to her friend Charlotte Chandler over the course of several interviews which Ms. Chandler used as the basis of her 2006 book about Ms. Davis entitled The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. Bette comes across in the interviews much less as a bully than as a lonely old woman with a few regrets about how she lived her life. Here are a few quotes I found noteworthy:

“One must live in the present tense, but I have always lived in the present tensely.” (page 5)

“My daughter B.D. once told me she thought I was permanently 14. Actually, I like that.” (pg 19)

“”The reason most people look back on their youth as the best time of life is because a blank page looks better than one that is filled out and not according to youthful dreams. Personally, I’m proud of the way I’ve filled out the pages of my life; I’m enjoying my life as Bette Davis now, since I won’t be around to read about it when it appears in the obituaries. When I am honoured with a tribute, I think of it as part of my living obituary. More fun that way.” (page 22)

“Personally, I’ve never been able to figure out really what I am like or what I’m not really like. I could always understand my character on the screen better than I could understand myself. And when I had to play myself in ‘Hollywood Canteen’ and ‘Thank You Lucky Stars’ I was utterly lost, utterly. You cannot imagine.” (pg 123)

“The trouble with playing hard-to-get is that the other person may choose not to play. Just this once, I acted this way because I cared so much. I was never able to profit from the lesson. There was never another Willie [William Wyler]. So all these years I’ve had my precious pride, and now–I have IT to keep me company.” (page 133)

“Wit, especially sarcasm, is a dangerous weapon. Bright people are often too sarcastic. [...] I’m still direct, but one can carry directness too far, where one goes around being so bright and so honest that you hurt people.” (page 281)

“I see my life now as a voyage of discovery. My problem was that I didn’t know myself. I used to think it was because I didn’t understand others, but now I know it’s because I didn’t understand me.” (page 293)

Dick Cavett lightin' up Bette on his talk show in the 70s

Dick Cavett lightin’ up Bette on his talk show in the 70s

That’s really all for this week. In the last couple of months I’ve also read some great autobiographies by Tab Hunter, Marie Osmond, Marnie Nixon, Oscar Goodman, Ryan O’Neal, Alison Arngrim (Nellie from Little House on the Prairie), Patty Duke, and Debbie Reynolds. And biographies on Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland (by her daughter, Lorna Luft), and I’m just starting one on Vivien Leigh. So those have been keeping me (and the inter-library loan clerks) busy. Perhaps too busy…I’ve been thinking I need to take my nose out of the books and start living a little bit more. But the good news is that I’m staying outta trouble. So we’ll see. Hope everyone’s enjoying a safe, Happy MLK Weekend.

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Southern Manners

Bette Davis and Henry Fonda in 1938's 'Jezebel'

Bette Davis and Henry Fonda in 1938′s ‘Jezebel’

On reflection, of course, what finally drove me away from the South was the very same code of customs and manners I look back on today with such wistful admiration. For better and for worse, Southern manners were the defining influences of my life. They made me love the South and hate it, too, sent me away as surely as they now draw me back.

What I was feeling, it’s clear to me now, was a growing discomfort with the unforgiving rules of the old Southern social order. As a child I had lived within those rules as within a warm blanket, nurtured and protected by the sense of security they offered–but at a price. This culture of honour and chilvalry, which defines Southern society and gives it so much of its decency and beauty, has a dark side, and that is shame.

Honour, after all, is something that can only be conferred by others. So if you’re raised in a society obsessed with personal honour, you’re likely to spend an awful lot of your life worrying about what others think of you. And more often than not you’ll be willing to contort yourself to no end in order to save face, or to keep others from losing face.

–Sela Ward, ‘Homesick’, page 60*

I seriously pondered letting this week’s blog just be the above quote from a fellow Southerner whom I’ve admired since her Emmy-winning days on the ABC drama ‘Once & Again’. I thought to myself, she said it all; there’s nothing more I can add. But then I realized I was afraid to add anything else, and I still am. I’m afraid of slandering my upbringing. Reading this quote in her memoirs, however, made me realize how much my mentality has changed since I moved across the country nearly two years ago. I’m still a proud Southerner, but what has changed is that–just as I see Las Vegas–I can now see the South, Georgia, and my hometown as very flawed places. I mythologized the South the same way many born and bred Southerners do when I lived there. Probably more so, having been a daydreaming English major. The more you whitewash and sugar-coat something, the less the cracks show. (And, therefore, the less one questions the cracks.)

From a distance, I can now see the intolerance. I can now see the racial divide (from both sides, black and white). I can see the young man who was so scorned when he came out to a select few at 23 that he moved to Nashville to get out of town and start over. Nashville was still the South, but at least it wasn’t my hometown. I see all of that now instead of glossing it all over…just as I can see the ugly side of Las Vegas with its pandering to addictions of all sorts. That doesn’t make either place better or worse than the other; I love where I’m from and I love where I live now. But neither are perfect. The realistic outlook has served me well in that respect.

And I wouldn’t change my upbringing or where I’m from, or the name of this blog, for that matter. Southern Aristocracy was always chosen as an ironic, aspirational title. I’m proud of who I am and who I’ve become. I’m honoured to be me.

brt

*Sela Ward and her husband own property outside her hometown of Meridian, Mississippi where they raise their children part of the year, away from Los Angeles. She’s also been very active in rehabilitating downtown Meridian and starting Hope Village, a safe haven for the foster children of Meridian. She, too, still considers herself a proud Southerner.

The Date I Blocked Out

This is not the first blog of 2014 I had in mind, but it’s the one which is on my heart and which I need to write. Notice the title is not “The Date I Blacked Out”…that’s important to differentiate. I’ve been joking on Facebook that I was going to write a book about my less than stellar dates as of late; such will thankfully not come to fruition, though this one popped into my head yesterday morning on my way home from work after a few months of me literally blocking it from my memory. And for good reason.

I met this lawyer on Okcupid.com in the late summer who wasn’t much older than me…38, perhaps. He was very articulate and put-together, both in his online profile and the e-mails we exchanged. The subject of neither of us drinking was soon broached, and it turns out both of us were active in AA. He asked me out to coffee and to attend his “home group” with him–his AA meeting of choice. I was flattered because to me this was (and still is) a very personal thing. It’s almost like being invited to meet one’s family. The meeting was on a Saturday night, and even though I had to work that night, I prepared myself since he’d asked me several days beforehand. He had also let me know that his home group was a gay AA meeting, which I was incredibly apprehensive about. Not so much because of who was going to be there, but because in my mind I felt I needed to be dressed to the nines. (I still don’t know where this shallow assumption came from.) Anyway, the Starbucks we’d picked out to meet at near both our suburban homes turned out to be inside a grocery store, to both our surprises. So we wandered around the grocery store making small talk, all the time which I spent whole-heartedly trying to brush off the fact that he was easily 50 pounds heavier than in his online profile pictures. After all, even though this was a date of sorts, we were both trying to better ourselves by going to the meeting, and I didn’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. He had also come directly from working out, so he was in gym shorts and a cut-off T-shirt and I was in…not that. A summery date outfit contrasting with his working out clothes is what I was wearing.

He began driving us into downtown Vegas for the meeting, and as we began talking, I could tell our philosophies on sobriety were a bit different. He shared about how much he’d been drunk in law school, and I shared the same about finishing up college. But the similarities ended there; he was (still is, I assume) hardcore Buddhist. Nothing at all wrong with that; I think he’d even mentioned it in his online profile. I listened intently as he shared his story of interacting with monks and receiving great wisdom from them over the last three years or so. Then he asked me about my own sobriety experience. I admitted my stops and starts, my relapses and come-to-Jesus moments, and as we passed the lights of the Strip–and I’ll never forget this now that I’ve unblocked it from my memory–I told him about taking Topamax, and how it was keeping me sober. I explained some of the side effects, which were still quite prevalent then, and he said, “So basically you’re taking an amphetamine.” My heart pounded and I was at a loss for words. Jokingly, I muttered, “Yeah, I guess so, but it keeps me from drinking.” He muttered a curt “Hmmm” in response, and there was mostly silence until we arrived to the meeting. I still don’t know why I didn’t defend myself or the medicine, but I didn’t.

Before I share how abysmal the meeting was, I do want to share that we had a heart-to-heart of sorts before we went into the meeting. He asked me what else was going on in my life after he parked the car, and I began crying and shared about Bob and all that was happening on that front. It was awkward, but he assured me things would get better and I needed to take care of myself first and foremost. I recall being very grateful for that interaction. We headed into the meeting, which was held in a very decrepit, empty, open-air shopping centre on the second-level. As we walked up the stairs, a lady with an oxygen tank was hobbling up the steep stairs and he greeted her like they were old friends. Once we arrived in the dimly lit meeting room, very 60s, hanging lantern lights greeted me from the popcorn ceiling. I’ll be honest–those were my favourite part of the room. He leaned over to me and whispered, “We just renovated the meeting room…what do you think?” To say I thought he was pulling my leg was an understatement. I asked where the restroom was and he led me to a shelf where a huge, heavy chain-link hung with a key attached. He said, “This way,” and led me outside and showed me down the second level balcony of the shopping centre to the locked bathrooms four or five doors down. When I finally unlocked the restroom, the burnt orange tile was clearly from the early 70s. I felt like I was in the ‘Twilight Zone’.

Once I arrived back to the meeting room, the meeting had started. I returned the prison-like bathroom key to the shelf and took my seat next to ______. Our knees touched under the table and for a split second I wanted to hold his hand…it honestly felt like a date. (I realize now that sounds bizarre to say, but it did.) At some point in the meeting they began handing out anniversary tokens. The lady with the oxygen tank had 20-something years of sobriety. I kid you not–and bless her tired heart–after she got up to get her token, she took out a pillow and rested her head on it for the rest of the meeting. I couldn’t help but think about what a long life she’d lived. Another guy at our same table had 16 years. I was able to congratulate him after the meeting and he responded with the old AA adage, “One day at a time.” Another guy came into the meeting well after it had started; the speaker was already speaking, which is equivalent to sermon time in church. As he mosied up to the very front row with his female companion, my date whispered, “That’s ____, and even though he claims to be sober 30+ years, I always smell liquor on his breath.” I asked if ____ was married to his female companion and my date didn’t know. Once we got back out to his car after the meeting, my date confided that it bugged him every time _____ got up to talk about his long-term sobriety or to receive an anniversary chip. I kept my mouth shut. What I really wanted to say was, “What a crock of crap. Someone should call him out. Pun intended.”

There’s some more stuff I could share about the meeting, but it’s regarding what the speaker said and it’s pretty personal. I will say that as dreary as the meeting was, I needed to hear what the speaker had to say. That’s the main reason God wanted me there that night. The meeting ran over about 20 minutes, the money basket was passed twice (big quotes) “because we haven’t gotten what we need to pay our dues this week” (something I’d never heard in AA). It was a learning experience…the meeting, the date, all of it. I would not go to the meeting again–not my cup of tea. I would not see the lawyer again–he may or may not think I’m an amphetamine junkie. But it all happened for a reason, which was incredibly hard for me to accept at the time. I want to share this card I’ve been keeping in my wallet the last few months and then I’ll end.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

I also want to say a quick thank-you for an incredibly rewarding 2013 on SouthernAristocracy.org…more views and clicks than I ever imagined possible, and I appreciate each and every one of them. Even if they are inexplicably for the ‘Head of the Class’ blog, which must just be to see the cast photo. (I’m definitely not complaining; it’s just an unremarkable blog otherwise!)

Warm wishes to everyone during this record-breaking chilly weather,

brt

Redefining Serene in 2013

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”—Søren Kierkegaard

As I sit here trying to type an introduction to this year-end blog, my thoughts are once again scattered. It’s hard to think back on the last 12 months without blocking many things out. Much happened that I’m not proud of; I nearly did lose myself a few times. And I don’t fool myself into thinking I’ve found myself yet, but I’ve made an awful lot of progress. My most favourite things this year are my sanity, my sobriety, the optimistic outlook, the realistic outlook, and–the one I’m still working to get a grasp on–the Christcentric outlook. Here are some of my other favourite things from 2013:

Favourite song: “Roar” by Katy Perry. Looking back at *last year’s blog*, I wrote these words: “…I just couldn’t name a Katy Perry song as my favourite song of the entire year.” Ouch, and what a difference a year makes! The lyrics, the beat, the chorus…all perfection thanks to Max Martin. Job well done, Katy.

Favourite TV Show: Ja’mie: Private School starring Chris Lilley. At only six episodes, this Australian sitcom knocked my socks off. Ja’mie appeared as a character in two of Lilley’s previous series and therefore already had a huge following. The one-liners in this series gave Veep a run for their money, which is probably one of the reasons HBO picked it up after it aired down under. Bawdy, ridiculous, hysterical…this one-off series brought it all and brought it hard.

Favourite New Website: Deadline.com, the current go-to website for all things entertainment news. Deadline has been around several years but has only just recently received a mainstream following. After an embarrassing falling out with founder Nikki Finke–which played out on Deadline in view of readers a few months ago–things are back to normal and the short-form blog format is one I enjoy catching up on every couple of days or so.

Favourite Obsession: Reading/the library. After months of not being able to focus enough to read more than a few pages at a time, I now consume at least two books a week and have learned how to put the Clark County ILL (inter-library loan) department to good use. Since reading all the celebrity bios at the library closest to my house which interested me, I can now use the library website to search for books from all the libraries in town and they’ll deliver them to my “home library” in a few business days and e-mail me when they’re ready to be picked up. All free of charge, and all space I’m not taking up buying more books!

Favourite Comeback: The Hills alternate ending. I blogged on this *right after* it streamed online, and it’s still as campy and amazing now as it was then.

Favourite Catchphrase: “Stop it.” You have to say it in a deadpan voice. I’m not sure which of my friends this originated with, and I actually don’t say it that much because I’m usually the one hearing it. And believe me, I heard it a lot this year.

Least Favourite Fall from Southern Aristocracy: Queen Paula Deen…need I say more? The Duck Dynasty guy tried to give her a run for her money, but Paula lost millions in 2013 with her snafu. I knew it didn’t look good for her when I snagged a jar of her marinade for $1.5o from the very bottom shelf of the clearance section in a Caesars Palace gift shoppe (she had buffets at several Caesars properties and therefore had merchandise in their casino stores). I follow Paula on the Facebook and she seems to be getting back to her roots and enjoying life. Everything happens for a reason, as the saying goes.

In this publicity image released by NBC, celebrity chef Paula Deen appears on NBC News' "Today" show, Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in New York. Deen dissolved into tears during a "Today" show interview Wednesday about her admission that she used a racial slur in the past.  The celebrity chef, who had backed out of a "Today" interview last Friday, said she was not a racist and was heartbroken by the controversy that began with her own deposition in a lawsuit. Deen has been dropped by the Food Network and as a celebrity endorser by Smithfield Foods. (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)

In this publicity image released by NBC, celebrity chef Paula Deen appears on NBC News’ “Today” show, Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in New York. Deen dissolved into tears during a “Today” show interview Wednesday about her admission that she used a racial slur in the past. The celebrity chef, who had backed out of a “Today” interview last Friday, said she was not a racist and was heartbroken by the controversy that began with her own deposition in a lawsuit. Deen has been dropped by the Food Network and as a celebrity endorser by Smithfield Foods. (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)

Favourite Memories: I should perhaps retitle this category, as these aren’t all my “favourite,” per se, but I do try not to dwell on the negative ones. After several months of boozing and hiding it and medicating and self-medicating, May 10th sticks out because I met some really cool people at a mid-century modern cocktail party that I wasn’t even supposed to attend. I spent most of the week sobering up in Palm Springs and drove back in time for the party, which was ironically attended by a group from Palm Springs. Bob was my date and that’s really the first time we’d hung out, as I’d never wanted him to see me drinking. (First date at a cocktail party newly sober=story of my life.) After the party, we hopped in his friend Brett’s Porche–with me sitting in Bob’s lap–and went to dinner. Thus began our whirlwind relationship, which consists of many, many memories, both wonderful and forgettable. I’ve shared most of those before, but this night sticks out for me because I met several great people whom I still consider friends.

One of the best things I did for myself this year was to get back into therapy. I owe a great deal of who I am today to those sessions–which I’m currently taking a break from–because my psychologist helped me to differentiate my opinion from that of others. I struggled a great deal reconciling my own thoughts to those of my AA sponsor and the organization as a whole; he helped me to realize I wasn’t a “bad person” for questioning these things. He also helped me to break down my obsession with my image and focus more on my self-image, something that has helped me every day. I no longer dwell nearly so much on what others think of me, or what I should do in certain situations; instead, I follow my own instincts, which are normally right. (This is a big step forward for someone so used to overanalyzing everything and second-guessing himself all the time.) I no longer insert myself in situations where there’s drama or where I’m put on the spot to explain my motives to someone for no apparent reason other than to gain their approval. That in and of itself has brought me much peace of mind.

Finally, I’ve grown an awful lot in the last two months since my Granny passed away. For about a month, I lost all interest in things which used to occupy much of my free time–antiquing, walking the casinos and the Strip, and dating. Perhaps I had to go through that time of mourning to process her absence, but I knew I had to snap out of it. Since I got my library card, I admittedly stay home much, much more. I’m just as content snuggled up with a book as I’d be driving around town, and that’s fine with me right now. I still miss her; it was tough going home at Thanksgiving and her not being there. And making my Christmas card list and not having her name on it. But I know she’s in a better place.

Last photo of me and Granny, June 2013

Last photo of me and Granny, June 2013

I’m grateful for my family. We were all together for the first time in quite awhile during my trip home in June, as well as in October for Granny’s funeral. I’ve also been blessed to get to go home at Thanksgiving, and Mama and Daddy came out earlier this month for a week and we took a road trip to Palm Springs and San Diego. Fun times…

Father’s Day 2013

Mums & Daddy in Bellagio, 12.8.13

Mums & Daddy in Bellagio, 12.8.13

Mums & me on the beach outside San Diego, 12.12.13

Mums & me on the beach outside San Diego, 12.12.13

Serene for me right now doesn’t mean blissful perfection; it doesn’t even mean striving for perfection. It means casting my cares on the Lord, knowing He’ll sustain me. If I did the calculations, I drank almost as much as I’ve been sober this year. The torn stomach muscle on my left side still reminds me daily of my last major relapse a few months ago. (I continue to tear it, or at least irritate it, doing the back stretches I have to do to keep my poor back in shape…what a catch-22.) My version of serenity is taking what I’ve learned in AA, in therapy, in church, from others, and in life and applying it the best I know how. Here’s to becoming more serene in 2014.

brt

_________ My Life

FML. That’s what immediately popped in my head as I was watching this episode of ‘Match Game ’78′ on YouTube. BTW, I highly recommend the 70s ‘Match Game’ eps as quality entertainment…they never fail to make me laugh, and of course the set and the clothes/hair/everything of the guests and panel are absolutely a time capsule. But I digress…the actual top answer for the above question was “Love of” (my life). I mean, really, how times have changed! Tab Hunter was one of the guest panellists and he guessed, “You Light Up” (my life) and I thought he was joking. Then I remembered what a huge song that was back then. Everything’s relative, especially with word play.

Heads up: I’ll have my annual year-in-review blog up next week, with some of the old “Best of” categories removed and some new ones added. No need for a “Favourite Movie” category when I’ve only seen one new movie this year. (‘We’re the Millers’ was funny, but I can’t pick it as my fave when there’s so many great Oscar contenders this year. I’ll leave the movie critiques to the professionals.) So stay tuned for that…obviously my opinions are no more important than anyone else’s, but the year-end blog is something I look forward to compiling each year, so the tradition continues.

I wanted to re-address something I said in the last blog very quickly, and I’ll be done for this week. I believe my exact words were, “Truth be told, I don’t know how much of that relationship was real, all these months later. I honestly don’t; the more time passes, the more it seems like we were both in bad places and were fortunate to have one another to lean on for a brief while.” Bob doesn’t read this blog–I know because he’s told me several times–and I wanted to set the record straight (pun intended). Summing up things with him in two sentences was unfair. I still care about him a great deal, to the point I ask him the other night if he’d ever hypothetically give me another chance. (A resounding “no” was the answer.) Then I got another message from someone else in which they said they knew of my “deep-seated loneliness,” and I thought, am I coming across as that pathetic to everyone? I think where I’m going with all this is that I stand by saying Bob is the “______ my life.” I got some flack for that–from him and from others–back at the end of August when I wrote it. Feelings are a funny thing, though, and I still feel that way. We’re just friends now, but I keep thinking back to that quote which asks something like, “Where does the love go when you break up with someone?”

I think for anyone who reads this blog, it’s clear I’m still in love with him. He makes me want to be a better person. No one else in their right mind would go on and on about someone if they didn’t still have feelings for them. Part of growing up and moving on, however, is rationalizing those feelings and being realistic about the pros and cons of the relationship. I can stay friends with him because I care about him. But I do indeed owe it to myself to move on, as I told him after I received the resounding “no” of an answer to my not-so-hypothetical question. None of this is stuff I would mind him reading. And if you’re covertly reading, Bob, don’t be mad I screencapped our convo from tonight. It was a heartfelt exchange and I’m proud to call you my best friend.

Merry Christmas to everyone,

brt

Real Happy

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how to be real(ly) happy. This, as opposed to the fleeting, sometimes manic happiness that seems to come and go depending on my mood, situations, etc. As corny as it may sound, I’ve learned to like myself a lot more lately, and also to pat myself on the back when I make progress toward a goal. Or even when I exercise patience and/or compromise on something–both things that not so very long ago were difficult for me to do without being fairly passive-aggressive. All this plays into being happy with myself and becoming more centred, but I still have much work to do. Anyway, I read the above quote and immediately had a flashback to a scene from my last relationship. We were in Walgreen’s one night and Bob wanted to buy me a toothbrush, because in his words, “You’ve been staying over so much and you should have a toothbrush at my house.” I immediately teared up because that’s just the way I rolled for those several months after sobering up. He put his arm around me and asked me why I was crying. I pulled myself together and smartly replied there was no way he was buying me a toothbrush unless he bought me a Sonicare, knowing he wouldn’t do it. I explained that having a toothbrush at his house would jinx the relationship. The relationship that was perhaps a week-old at this point. Herein is where I’m reminded of the above quote: “Sometimes people just want to be happy, even if it’s not real.”

Truth be told, I don’t know how much of that relationship was real, all these months later. I honestly don’t; the more time passes, the more it seems like we were both in bad places and were fortunate to have one another to lean on for a brief while. I do miss holding hands with someone and laying next to someone in bed; both those things make me feel safe and calm the thoughts from whirring in my head. I don’t know when I’ll be ready for a relationship again, as I’m admittedly selfish with my time and am challenged when it comes to compromising on things. When I was at the beach with my parents last week, I had to just step away as they held hands and waded in the surf, so I went and meditated on the seawall. I realize I need to be happy with myself before I can be happy with someone else. Someone buying me a toothbrush or wading with me in the surf doesn’t equate to happiness, either.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor said the following in her 1987 book Elizabeth Takes Off:

“Today I think I am happier than I have ever been. There have been other times in my life marked with joy, like the blissful years I shared with Mike [Todd] and Richard [Burton]. But this is the first time that I’ve made my own happiness. It didn’t fall into my lap because I was young or lovely or famous. Nor did it come about because I was in love with a man. This happiness wasn’t ‘bestowed’ on me: I earned it.” (page 255)

Here’s to earning happiness each and every day,

brt

Calming the Crazy

Me on the Queen Mary in mid-March, my fifth or sixth drink of the day in hand before noon

Me on the Queen Mary in mid-March, my fifth or sixth drink of the day in hand before noon

A frenemy former friend e-mailed me a few photos the other day along with some messages indicating he might want to be friends again. Regardless, the photos he was attaching were from about March to May of this year, and I barely recognized myself in any of them. The one above is by far the most dignified one…I e-mailed him back after he sent a few and wrote, “I look so fat and drunk in all these.” Even in May when I got my act together, the combination of being newly sober, getting used to the side effects of the Topamax, and being in a new relationship made me seem erratic and strung-out most of the time. I’ve learned in AA, from my psychologist, and from just living life in general that instead of looking back and regretting any of this (or beating myself up for it–a lot of good that tactic did all the times I used it to shame myself from drinking), I simply must accept that I went through those times to get to where I am today. That trip to the Queen Mary in March was actually a delightful trip; I was bored with all the drinking by that point and got the prescription for the Topamax the very next week. Granted, I kept sneaking drinks, but I at least cut down.

Me currently, or at least after my last haircut

Me currently, or at least after my last haircut

It still flabbergasts me every single day that such a turnaround has occurred in my life in such a short time. I remember thinking back in May–when I legitimately thought I was losing my mind–that it would take years of therapy to get things sorted out in my head. I know I still have some work to do, and there’s always room for improvement, but the fact that I am presently at a place where I feel confident enough to take a break from both my psychologist and AA to just breathe and think for myself is a relief. The spiritual awakening I experienced back in late September put me on a course to ask God for the optimistic outlook, the realistic outlook, and–most recently–the Christ-centric outlook that have brought so much peace into my life. I need to read my Bible more, I’ll be the first to admit that. But praying to be more centred and focused on how God wants me to live each and every day has helped me tremendously. I’ve also learned to take care of my mental needs and to know the boundaries of things that will upset me. For instance, I knew when I was home last week for Thanksgiving that I didn’t feel like visiting the retirement home where my Granny lived. It was only a month after she had died and, quite frankly, I didn’t want to go and not see her there. Respecting that boundary for my own sake meant more to me than the temporary joy I might’ve brought any of the ladies I visited there at the retirement home. Perhaps that sounds selfish, but I know myself well enough to know it was too soon.

Hypolite Plantation, Sunset, Louisiana

Hypolite Plantation, Sunset, Louisiana

If anyone’s reading this and happens to want to know the answer to the question “How Do I Calm the Crazy?” Well, here’s a slightly short answer:

-Don’t stress about the past. As I said in the first paragraph, accept what happened as part of getting you to where you presently are. Don’t fret about the future, for we have no control over that. Live firmly in the present, doing your best to be optimistic, realistic, and Christ-centric. You’ll need God’s help with that, so don’t be afraid to ask Him for it each and every single day when you wake up. Other people are usually glad to help as well, but we’re all human and others will inevitably fail you or steer you in the wrong direction. Rely on Him and He’ll never steer you wrong.

That’s what’s working for me. Find what works for you and make it work. We each march to our own drum, so experiment until you find what motivates you to live a better life. Once you find it, you’ll know it. And you won’t miss the crazy one bit.

brt

11.22.63

JFK in lovely Las Vegas with then-friend Sinatra

JFK in lovely Las Vegas with then-friend Sinatra

I would be remiss if I did not post an entry in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. But this blog is not going to be the glowing, Camelot-praising tribute which some who know me might expect. The popular media will supply plenty of that this week, and rightly so. For as we well know, many people think of a scene such as this when they think of the JFK years in the White House:

Notice creepy LBJ in the back?

Notice creepy LBJ behind Jackie?

In fact, so ingrained is that picture perfect image of Camelot that years later–50 years, to be exact–I bought a piece of art which appears to be Jackie Kennedy just as she appears in the above photo.

"Jackie O" by Enrique Nevarez, aerosol paint on sheel metal, 18X13", part of the Viceroy exhibit at Trifecta Gallery in Las Vegas, August 2013

“Jackie O” by Enrique Nevarez, aerosol paint on sheet metal, 18X13″, part of the Viceroy exhibit at Trifecta Gallery in Las Vegas, August 2013. See the link *here*.

I went through a period–numerous periods, to be honest–in which I was obsessed with the Kennedys and their mystique. If you click on the Trifecta Gallery link above, I also own the Bobby Kennedy painting as well; it’s equally as brilliant as the Jackie one, though polar opposite in the emotions it conjures up. (And I have them purposely displayed inches from one another in my bedroom, at a vantage point at which I can clearly see them easily at any waking moment.) I’m proud to say the lengthy *blog* I wrote on Lee Radziwill, Jackie’s sister, has finally been getting upwards of 25 hits per day. All this to say that none of the Kennedys were perfect people, including JFK. It’s via my newfound realistic outlook that I can see not only John Kennedy, but the assassination, for who and what they were. That’s what I want to write about today.

JFK was a complex man and I won’t attempt to rehash the womanizing and other aspects which have been covered many times before. Many people aren’t aware, however, of the severe back pain and Addison’s disease from which he suffered. Because of these, he was chronically overmedicated during his presidency, at least by today’s standards. He also regularly received “vitamin injections” from Max Jacobson, AKA Dr. Feelgood. Dr. Jacobson treated many celebrities with his potions of amphetamines, the addictive dangers of which were completely foreign and as then unknown in the 60s. Jackie also received shots from time to time, most notably before their diplomatic trip to France. So tight were Dr. Jacobson and JFK that the doctor was invited on family holidays:

JFK, Chuck Spalding, Stas Radziwill, & Dr. Max Jacobson at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach, Florida

JFK, Chuck Spalding, Stas Radziwill (Lee’s husband), & Dr. Max Jacobson at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach, Florida, date unknown.

JFK’s allegedly gay school chum, Lem Billings, kept a bedroom at the White House during his presidency. Lem functioned more as an on-call assistant to JFK than anything else, though it’s interesting to me that his existence has been kept relatively mum all these years. Not that I think anything scandalous was going on; if anything, I think that’s the reason nothing’s been made of the arrangement. Mr. Billings’s Wikipedia page can be viewed *here*, and a book which was written on JFK and Mr. Billings can be previewed *here*. It’s sad to me that it seems Mr. Billings self-medicated in his later years to hide his sexuality, though that would be the subject of another blog.

And finally, it might be shocking to some that JFK did, in fact, entertain very young women within the hallowed walls of the Oval Office.

Carolyn Kennedy and her father enjoy tea in his office.

Caroline Kennedy and her father enjoy tea in his office.

As for the assassination, there’s nothing I can write today that hasn’t been written many times over the last half a century. OCD-me has been through several hardcore stages of conspiracy-centric research, and all I can conclude is that Oswald did not act alone. But that’s stating the obvious. I did want to share today what I’ve found on a couple of websites which might be of interest. Please be forewarned that–though I refuse to get into any conspiracy theories–the below images are harrowing.

Photo taken on 11.23.63, one day after the assassination. Flowers still lay on the back seat of the limo, even though it's been transported from Dallas to the White House garage.

Photo taken on 11.23.63, one day after the assassination. Flowers still lay on the back seat of the limo, even though it’s been transported from Dallas to the White House garage via airplane by the time this photo was taken.

This is a memo detailing the replacement of the windshield of the limo the day after the assassination. Obviously the bullet hole(s) would've been destroyed by the repairmen's feet kicking the glass in. Unbelievable.

This is a memo detailing the replacement of the windshield of the presidential limo the day after the assassination. Obviously the bullet hole(s) in the windshield would’ve been destroyed by the repairmen’s feet kicking the glass in. Unbelievable.

JFK was an extraordinary president, not to mention a great human being. My point in writing this blog is that he was a flawed human being like the rest of us. Perhaps it’s only fitting that his assassination investigation has had so many hiccups, though that’s putting it very mildly. Again, there’s absolutely nothing I could write about his murder which hasn’t already been written already over the last 50 years. Instead, I’ll end with this quote from him. In no way does it do his life or his presidency justice, but it’s realistic.

“If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a president of the United States, he can do it. All he must be prepared to do is give his life for the president’s.”–JFK

brt

A Life That’s Good

Straight from London

Straight from London

Not much has been going on the last couple of weeks. Life has been a blur, in fact. I did get the above, autographed photo back which I’d sent across the pond for Joan Collins to sign, and I’ve been assured by other fans in-the-know that it’s actually her signature. I also finally broke down and got my Nevada driver’s license, as well as a Las Vegas library card. So I suppose I’m officially a local now, after nearly two years. The library card was necessitated mainly by the fact that I absolutely have no more room for the celebrity biographies I’m so fond of buying, and I’ve checked out five books since I’ve gotten the card (and finished three–going on four–of them!). I like this quote from the bio I read on Sal Mineo:

“I know that basically I’m a very eccentric person and always have been. It’s a marvelous life. How long it will last I’ll never know. But I have never gauged myself. I have never said maybe I’d better slow down because ten years from now, things will be bad. I live day to day. Every day is a new day and that’s it. My love of freedom is fantastic.”–Sal Mineo, from page 201 of ‘Sal Mineo: A Biography’

Natalie Wood, James Dean, & Sal Mineo in 'Rebel Without a Cause', 1955.

Natalie Wood, James Dean, & Sal Mineo in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, 1955.

I saw my psychologist on October 30th, a few days after I got back from the trip home for my Granny’s funeral. Immediately when I walked in his office he said, “You look more mature and put-together today.” I told him about going home and doing the eulogy, and how I was so relieved to have done it without drinking or making it all about me, or anything else I might’ve tried to do in the past. He listened and replied, “Doesn’t it feel good to feel dependable and responsible instead of self-defeating and manipulative?” I agreed and we talked a few more minutes before I was smack-dab out of things to talk about. About halfway through the session, I told him I have a good life and I hated to waste anymore of his time sitting in silence trying to think of something to complain about. And I still feel that way a few weeks later; I have nothing to complain about. I ended up leaving his office without making a future appointment, though I know I always can if I need to do so. I’m also taking a break from AA, mainly because–from my perspective–the negative energy I was feeling due to my refusal to attend more meetings per week was outweighing the positive energy I’m experiencing in the rest of my life. I certainly intend to go back, especially when I know I need to go back. It’s vital to know when to step away sometimes, and I’ll always be grateful for the help AA has offered me, and continues to offer me if and when I need it.

Connie Britton’s screen daughters on ‘Nashville’ sang a duet last month that really hit home to me; this week’s blog title is the title of the song they sang, in fact. The lyrics go like this:

Sittin’ here tonight,
By the firelight,
it reminds me I already have more than I should.

I don’t need a thing, no one to know my name,
at the end of the day,
Lord I pray, I have a life that’s good.

Chorus:
Two arms around, heaven to ground me,
  and a family that always calls me home.

Four wheels to get there, enough love to share,
and a sweet sweet sweet song.

At the end of the day,
Lord I pray,
I have a life that’s good.

The song actually has two verses, but they only sang the first verse on the show. Anyway, you can hear the Stella Sisters’s version of the song, as well as the writers’s versions, *here*. It’s a great song and it sums up where I am in my life right now: Less is more, family is everything, and I’m so thankful for the little things that make life worth living. Life has its ups and downs, and I still have plenty of fears and anxieties, but overall there’s no doubt that I have a life that’s good.

brt

With a grandmother like you…

Granny's 99th burfday card

Granny’s 99th burfday card

My precious Granny passed away in her sleep last Monday at the age of 98. I flew home for her funeral and did the eulogy, something that had been planned for a few years. In fact, Granny knew what I was going to say about her because I told her one day when we were riding around in my truck when I was home visiting her. Aunt Mildred had asked me if I’d speak at the funeral when the time came, and I wanted to make sure Granny was okay with what I was going to share about her. Granny’s response, in typical fashion, was something along the lines of, “Son, that sounds just fine. And thank you for doing it.” She was a very humble woman; her favourite part of the funeral by far would’ve been all the flowers. Granny died only a few weeks before her 99th birthday, and since I’d already bought her card, I even read it towards the end of my eulogy since it was so apropos.

I’m still a little numb emotionally–perhaps I’m in shock, I’m not sure–but I wanted to blog and share some of the things I shared during the eulogy. The quilt scrap which is serving as the background in most of the pics was used to illustrate her love of quilting, as well as the fact that she was the thread that held our family together the last 32 years. I also shared a couple of other cards, as she was so fond of sending and receiving cards. She also loved poetry–here’s a couple of poems I shared.

She wrote this one in a Christmas card.

She wrote this one in a Christmas card.

I found this poem when we cleaned up her house several years back. I read it at the very end of the eulogy.

I found this poem when we cleaned up her house several years back. I read it at the very end of the eulogy.

The funeral was lovely and it was wonderful to see so many friends, family, and loved ones and to hear so many stories about how Granny had touched so many lives over the years. The wife of the preacher who officiated the service put it best to me at the fellowship following the graveside service: “She preached her own funeral.” And she did, because she lived her life in such a godly way that all who knew her knew she loved the Lord. She’ll be dearly missed, but I know she’s up in heaven rejoicing with my Granddaddy and all her other loved ones who went before her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s planted some flowers up there already, either. In fact, I’m sure she has.

Granny and me at Cousin Kristy's wedding in 2007

Granny and me at Cousin Kristy’s wedding in 2007

When we were cleaning out Granny’s room at the retirement home on Friday, I was trying to find the last letter I’d sent her last month. I’d stopped by the afternoon before and couldn’t find it, and I thought maybe it would show up the next day. It never did, but wouldn’t you know she had every single Christmas card from our immediate family since she’d moved there, all stashed away in different places in that tiny room. I did find a letter I wrote her last year, though, and perhaps it was the one I was supposed to find. A couple of lines from it: “I will be 32 on Easter Sunday…I still don’t feel grown up, though! Maybe one day I will, but I’m happy with my life for now.” I remember clear as a bell writing those lines to her, so I’m not sure if I was drinking much at the time or not. But I’ve thought about those lines a lot the last several days. The fact is I’ve grown up an awful lot in the last few months. To be able to speak at her funeral and not be drinking before, during, and after the service is proof in and of itself that I’ve matured emotionally to a great extent. I always thought I’d be devastated by her passing, but I’m not. I know she’s up in heaven rejoicing. I miss her, yes, but I know I’ll see her again one day. And in the meantime I have so very many precious memories of her to remind me–as the inside of her 99th burfday card reads–”Thanks for being the sweet blessing you are!”

I love you, Granny. You are missed so much already.

brt

The Realistic Outlook

I’ve been meditating on the above quote for the last several days and each time I read it, it seems to ring truer. One of the main feelings that comes to mind is resentment. I was so resentful towards so many people for so much of my life. So many wasted years being hellbent on holding grudges; it all seems very trite now. In my case, cutting people out of my life was a means of control. I wasn’t controlling much internally, but I could sure control things externally by weeding people out of my life. I don’t feel that need any more because I realize no one’s as hard on me as I am on myself, and it’s good to surround myself with support instead of indulging my tendencies to be a hermit. On a lighter note–and there is one!–I was encouraged in my pursuit of an optimistic outlook and knew I could improve myself in other areas. Here’s the point I’m at currently, via my Facebook status from a few days ago:

About a week ago I began praying to receive a more realistic outlook on life, to go along with the optimistic outlook I’ve gained over the last month. This is a good case of being careful what you pray for…my blinders have been stripped away in the last 24 hours or so and I now see how much I was romanticizing circumstances in my life that in reality are a mess. For myself and my self-image, I needed to believe things to be true that simply never were. I flipped open a Bible here at work and read this verse: “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” (Jonah 2:8 KJV) Those grand delusions got me through some tough times, but God’s love will get me through tougher times. #personal #realisticoutlook #sobriety

Three days later and I’m in a bit of a funk (I hate that term, but it definitely applies to my current mood) because I’ve realized how much of my identity was caught up in delusions I’d absolutely fabricated over the years. The address of this blog, for starters…who was I kidding when I chose SouthernAristocracy.org?!? (I explain a bit in my “About Me” section why I chose it, but it still begs the question of why, and it was all tied up in the image I wanted to present, aspirational or not.) My psychologist told me months ago that I seemed much more concerned with my image than my own happiness, and I agreed with him then, but it’s only now that I’m realizing the extent of the issue. It’s one of the reasons reading the Lee Radziwill bio was so difficult for me; I was reading about someone else whom was making poor decisions in the name of their image, and sacrificing their happiness in the process. Not an ideal way to lead one’s life, yet I’ve done it for years. It’s really only in the last five months or so that I’ve begun making radical changes to be happier, and only in the last month that I’ve experienced the spiritual awakening necessary to embrace the optimistic outlook on life, which I still have to check myself on daily. The same will apply for the realistic outlook, and it already has; I caught myself on the way to work tonight entertaining a thought which I quickly shut down as being delusional thinking, yet it’s something I would’ve taken and run with in my mind even just last week. It’s time to move on, and I’m glad I’m at the place I can do it.

Deana Martin writes the following in her book Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes, which I’m currently reading:

“My life is like so many others. Filled with conflicts and serious psychological learning curves. But my reality is different. Whatever the myriad of influences that formulated my life, I found that anger was not my way of dealing with things. Nor was wallowing in the real or imagined turmoil I’d experienced. [...] The message was loud and clear…I had to get on with my life. Don’t dwell. Don’t sit still. It was my life and only I could live it. Make my way in the world and do my best.” (page 156)

I couldn’t say it better myself. On that note, I’ll end with this hysterical GIF that has nothing to do with the realistic outlook, except that perhaps it’s wiser to stop and ask those vomiting in a Target parking lot if they’re alright rather than trying to run away from them. (I’ve realistically laughed at this loop probably 47 times since I saw it on Saturday.)

brt

Call for Survivors of the MGM Grand Fire

I recently began researching a topic at the UNLV archives which I’ve had an interest in for a few years now: the MGM Grand fire which occurred the morning of November 21, 1980. I wrote a blog on the fire which can be viewed *here* that averages 2-3 hits a day, which indicates to me there are others interested in the fire after all these years. Having spoken with several locals who lived here when the disaster happened, I’ve heard some firsthand accounts of the sights, smells, and sounds of that day, all of which have been harrowing. I’ve also seen some unreleased MGM Grand security photographs of the casino level after the destruction and I must say they prompted me to postpone my research awhile back because they were so difficult to process.

This fire inspector's account gives one an idea of the devastation the fire wrought in the casino level alone.

This fire inspector’s account gives one an idea of the devastation the fire wrought on the casino level alone.

That being said, I feel there are many survivors’ stories which deserve to be heard. And a few of them have been, don’t get me wrong; the local newspapers do a fine job each year of recalling the tragedy and interviewing a survivor or two who talk about how terrible the ordeal was, whether from the standpoint of being a guest or a firefighter rescuing guests. I know, however, that many people have not had the opportunity to tell their story, and I hesitated to post an open call on my blog as I’m sure I’ll get an impersonator or two trying to pull my leg. But I wanted to reach beyond the scope of local survivors, namely the hotel employees and firefighters whom I can interview here in town, and hopefully interview some of the hotel guests who would be willing to share about their experience surviving the fire. Interestingly enough, surveys were sent out a month after the fire to survivors, but many people weren’t included in those surveyed (employees, those living abroad, and–for obvious reasons–those who lost loved ones in the fire). Here are the first page of the survey which was mailed out, as well as the first page of the survey results summary, which gives some of the statistics:

At this point I’m not sure what the scope of the project will be, and if the end result will be an e-book or a printed book (or both). It’s my personal feeling that there’s a need for more people’s stories to be told who survived this disaster. Having worked in hotels for fourteen years, I cannot begin to imagine working a shift during such a disaster as this fire; it’s certainly not something I take lightly nor something in which I have a morbid curiosity. Believe me when I say it’s something I’ve been researching with the utmost respect, and something which I’d carry out the interviews in the same manner. If you or someone you know survived the fire and would be willing to be interviewed, please e-mail me at brt374@gmail.com and I will respond back with some qualifying questions to proceed with the interview process. I certainly shouldn’t have to say this, but in this day and age I feel I must: serious inquiries only. This was one of the most horrific hotel fires on record, and certainly not something to be joked around about or “fake survived.” Please save us both some time and don’t bother e-mailing to set up an interview if you were not present during the MGM Grand fire in Las Vegas on November 21, 1980. Thank you kindly in advance for your cooperation.

The Optimistic Outlook

“When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that (s)he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which (s)he could not do before on her/his unaided strength and resources alone. (S)he has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. (S)he has been set on a path which tells her/him (s)he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense (s)he has been transformed, because (s)he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, (s)he had hitherto denied her/himself. (S)he finds her/himself in possession of a degree of honesty , tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and love of which (s)he thought her/himself quite incapable. What (s)he received is a free gift, and yet usually, at least in some small part, (s)he has made her/himself ready to receive it.”–’AA Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions’, pages 106-107

We read the above excerpt as part of the chapter on Step 12 in the Tuesday night Twelve Step meeting I go to each week. That last sentence hit home to me especially: “What (s)he received is a free gift, and yet usually, at least in some small part, (s)he has made her/himself ready to receive it.” During the month since my last relapse, a change has come over me, which I now recognize to be a spiritual awakening. All I knew is that I was tired of being cynical and bitter and going through the motions, so I began praying to God each night when I woke up for work that He’d give me an optimistic outlook on life. I’d always prayed for a positive attitude at work, but it was lip service most of the time and more confined to when I had to deal with difficult guests, instead of life in general. I can honestly say that this has made all the difference. Instead of trying to buy happiness or find it in dating, I’ve been realizing it can only come from within, and that I have the choice each and every day to decide to be optimistic, even when things aren’t going my way. Along with this has come a renewed peace of mind, and I’m also finding that I’m choosing my words much more carefully. I used to spew out very harsh words without giving them a second thought; now–even when I’m thinking to myself–I think about my words before I say them to make sure I’m saying things in a way that’s more uplifting to myself and to others. 

I’ve also been letting go of the baggage I was still holding on to. This last relapse was brutal: I pulled a stomach muscle from vomiting so much, as I should have after the 10 or so drinks I had in one day. (Coupled with the back pain I was already experiencing, I could barely move at times in the weeks following.) But I realized that one of the things I was holding on to before this last relapse was my “right” to still drink if something “bad” happened to me. I’d been feeling sorry for myself about a certain aspect of my life, and though that’s not at all the reason I relapsed, that had been my ace-in-the-hole in case I ever felt like drinking. I’ve let go of that. First, because I don’t ever want to feel the way I felt a month ago. And second and most importantly, because I don’t need to be holding on to such negativity. Self-pity and self-deception are both manipulative monsters if we allow them to creep in; I was deceiving myself into thinking I was “owed” a slip-up one day soon for this situation I’d been pitying myself over. Such is not the case, nor should it be. I realize now what negative, defeatist thinking that was; I was absolutely setting myself up for failure. God has allowed me to move beyond that with this optimistic outlook on life.

So that’s about it for this week. I’m taking a break from working the steps with my AA sponsor per my own request. It’s been nice to just get to meetings and clear my head a bit without the lectures about getting to more meetings. (The last time I spoke with him, my sponsor told me he knows I’m going to die from the disease if I don’t get to more than two meetings a week. Yeah, that’s a little too intense for me.) There’s another guy in our group whom I might ask to be my sponsor; I actually sat by him at the Tuesday night meeting but I just wasn’t ready to ask him yet. It’s not unusual for people to switch sponsors; I just want to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons. Speaking of AA, my favourite current show on the air is back on for its second season, and Nashville is doing an excellent job again this year of portraying AA and the process of sobering up in a positive light. Here’s Deacon (played by Charles Esten) in an AA meeting on last night’s episode. He relapsed in the season finale and is getting his life back together this season.

I’ll end with that last sentence from the excerpt one more time. Don’t waste another day waiting to be happy, or looking for happiness in all the wrong places. Ask God for an optimistic outlook and He’ll allow you to unclutter your heart and your head and find it inside yourself, where it was hiding all along.

“What (s)he received is a free gift, and yet usually, at least in some small part, (s)he has made her/himself ready to receive it.”

brt

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