Leaving a Legacy

Jacqueline Susann and her beloved poodle Josephine

It’s always funny to me when things in my real life intersect with something in my “fake life,” AKA the part of me that’s chronically stuck in the 70s/80s so much of the time. My supervisor said something the other night about wanting me to take over the ship (or shift, in this case) when he leaves. He actually had the gall to say, “I want you to carry on my legacy,” to which I responded that my legacy at the hotel is about five times as long as his at this point. Besides the fact that I’m about as interested in being a supervisor as I am in eating cockroaches. But I digress; I’d just watched the Bette Midler movie ‘Isn’t She Great’ last week, mainly because Netflix kept recommending it to me. I knew little to none about Jacqueline Susann, except that her bestseller ‘Valley of the Dolls’ was the some of the first, very dirty fiction to be published mainstream. It turns out that after years of being a mediocre actress, she became famous for being a mediocre author. She chased fame like her life depended on it, and from her perspective, it did. After a long and deeply private battle with breast cancer, Susann died at the age of 56–a mere eight years after her bestseller came out. What was her legacy? A filthy book that made her lots of money and helped pay for her autistic son’s very expensive institution costs. She also paved the way for other “filthy authors” like Jackie Collins, who’s made tons of money following in Susann’s footsteps. (Much more money than her actress sister Joansie, I might add!) Essentially, Susann accomplished what she set out to do: to become famous at any cost. I hope she died happy; no really, I do.

I can’t write this blog without also mentioning Steve Jobs, though there’s nothing I can write that hasn’t already been written in the last few weeks. Jobs was a genius, both in and out of the Apple boardroom. He knew for several years that he was going to die, so he left us with some very heartfelt quotes, just like Elizabeth Edwards did. The ‘WSJ’ did a front page interview with Jobs’ biological father, the man who had no idea Steve Jobs was his son until 2005. It was a heartbreaking, but insightful look into how Jobs was seen by someone who had so little, yet so much, to do with how Steve Jobs came into being. The general manager of a small casino, Abdulfattah Jandali’s legacy will now mainly be based on who his biological son was. The son he never spoke directly to, the son that has now also died at the age of 56, just like Susann.

All this got me thinking what it really means to leave a legacy behind. Very few of us will be a Steve Jobs, a Steve Wynn, a Margaret Mitchell, or a Marilyn Monroe. Personally, I’d bring an early death on myself if I constantly felt the need to become famous before I died. Perhaps that means I don’t have much drive or ambition, but there are plenty of famous writers who value their privacy (David Sedaris comes to mind immediately). With that being said, here are a few of the things I’d like to be remembered for. Nothing fancy or notable; just some things that I hope define me when all is said and done. After all, we’re all only here temporarily, and I personally can’t wait to spend eternity in heaven.

-I’d like to be remembered as a kind person. Someone once told me that I’m not very nice, but I sure am kind. Coming from her, that was a compliment!

-I hope my sense of humour outlives me. Carrie Fisher says it best: “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

-I would, in fact, like to be remembered as a good writer. Maybe not a great one, but a really good one. I’ve never been good at math, I’m not mechanically or technologically savvy, I’m not at all coordinated, I’m not good at any sports involving a ball, and my people skills leave a bit to be desired. But I’ve always felt I could fall back on my writing as something that I’m proud of. Even my poetry from the college class I took two years ago, which is probably the only poetry I’ll ever write!

-I’d like to have a positive impact on the children in my life. I don’t want any children of my own–I’m way too self-involved and selfish with my time. But I love my cousins’ kids and know I’ll love my nephew once he develops a personality of his own.

-I want to be remembered not only as being well-spoken, but as being a good listener. A prime example is the time spent with my Granny; it’s taken me many years to realize that sometimes the most is said when I’m not saying anything at all. Just taking the time to listen to her stories, or even sit quietly with her when she doesn’t feel like talking much.

-I’d like to be remembered for my penchant for remembering anecdotes. I may not remember your name, but I’ll remember that story you told me nine years ago about your two cats being in a days-long, vicious cat fight (pun intended) thru every room of your house. (This person shall remain nameless, as I’ve never understood why she didn’t just shoot the cats and put them out of their misery.)

-On that same note, I’d like to be remembered for my ability to tell a story. I love telling stories and fancy myself to be quite good at it. It’s all about the dramatic and comic timing. And if a few things need to be embellished for effect, you owe that to your listening audience.

-I’d like to be remembered for my eccentricities. To steal some lines from my own Facebook page, “I’m a walking, talking paradox; one minute I’m complete white trash, the next I wanna feign a level of class beyond outta my economic reach. I enjoy the simple things in life, such as Diet Kroger-brand Coke & Golden Flake junk food, yet I’m obsessed w/ the eccentricities of sprawling buildings, esp. hotels, w/ a rich history. We all have more dimensions than we give ourselves credit for. Per the design mantra of the luxury clothier Brioni, we should all strive, ‘To Be One of a Kind.’ Much easier said than done, right?!?”

-Finally, I think this quote sums me up pretty well. I was once told by someone pretty special in my life, “You’re too much to handle, but in a good way.” There’s a similar line in a Dierks Bentley song: “I guess the Lord made me hard to handle/So lovin’ me might be a long shot gamble.” That sums up my luck with relationships pretty perfectly.

I’ll end by sharing a few things I learned in the documentary I watched on the illustrious Bill Cunningham, the 83 year old ‘NYT’ fashion photographer. Mr. Cunningham lived in a teensy, filled-to-the-gills-with-file-cabinets room in Carnegie Hall for 60 years, until he was evicted (along with a couple of other longtime, artistic residents). He claims to never have had a romantic relationship, he has no family left to speak of, and he’s intensely private about his personal life. We still see very little of it in the documentary, as he literally spends most of his days and evenings photographing street and society fashion. (He does admit that he goes to mass every Sunday.) But a happier, more jovial person I’ve never seen. He loves his work so much that he actually refuses to call it work. He’s done plenty of photo spreads for free, just so he could retain his creative freedom. Roger Ebert’s review of the film–which most likely will be nominated for an Oscar (and is my favourite film thus far this year)–sums Cunningham up nicely:

This is a man who seems always delighted. He smiles and laughs warmly and easily. Does that makes him sound … simple? There is nothing simple about Bill Cunningham, who is an artist and a philosopher. Here’s what it is: Bill is happy. He has invented an occupation he does better than anyone else ever has, he has simplified his life until nothing interferes with that vocation, and now, at over 80, he is still biking around Manhattan in his blue smock of many pockets and taking photos of people who had a little extra fun when they got dressed today. […] Here is a good and joyous man who leads a life that is perfect for him, and how many people do we meet like that?

How’s that for a legacy?


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