“To write – is to summon one’s self, And play the judge’s part.”
– Henrik Ibsen
December 29, 2015

Woman, Writer, Designer, Wife, Stepmother: The many labels of me

By Giselle Minoli

NOTE: “Woman, Writer, Designer, Wife, Stepmother” is about a remembered conversation with Hartley Waltman, who has read and approved its publication. Hartley has also kindly provided the illustrations that accompany it, for which I am truly grateful.

“You’ve said that twice in the last 15 minutes,” my friend Hartley noted, watching me wolf down a spicy fish taco at Bill’s Burger Bar just off Rockefeller Plaza.

“Said what twice?” I asked.

“That you have two lives. You said, ‘In my New York life,’ as though your New York life is some life other than the one you have with your husband wherever his works takes him,” he explained, like a therapist might to a patient in denial about something baldly obvious. A hint of a grin pulled up the corners of his mouth.

He watched me with the resolute bearing of someone convinced I couldn’t possibly come back with a logical response, waiting, I imagined, for me to wipe Sriracha Mayo from my lips and acknowledge that he was right.

“But I do have two lives. My husband has one, I have two. He has his work, his children and me, sort of like a TV show in which I’m a special guest. When I’m in New York, if you’re lucky, you might catch me on my own show, in which my friends accuse me of appearing so infrequently they’re surprised it hasn’t been cancelled. I live and work here and carry my costumes and props back and forth between my reality and his reality, where it’s sort of like hanging out in a green room waiting to film my cameo,” I said confidently, but more than a little miffed that the unconvinced look on his face meant I would have to further explain my meaning.

Fortifying myself, I dove into another fish taco.

Taking advantage of my silence Hartley insisted, “But you don’t. It’s all the same reality. There aren’t two realities. Nobody has two realities. This isn’t physics and there aren’t two TV shows. And this isn’t the entertainment business. It’s the same life. It’s all one big life. Your life, his life, even when his children–aren’t they all adults now?–are with you. So you travel back and forth, but it’s still just one life. Okay, spread out geographically a little bit, but still…”

He can be emphatic, my lawyer and cartoonist friend. Sure of himself. And calm. Very calm. Which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to argue with him when he does that self-satisfied and annoying I’m Right and You’re Wrong thing that lawyers do to justify having gone to law school so that they can argue with anyone and everyone about anything and everything for the rest of their lives, enjoying it immensely while they do.

I didn’t know this about Hartley when I met him 15 years ago at Christie’s auction house, at Rock Center a couple of blocks from Bill’s, where I was VP/Business Development Liaison, Correspondent and Speechwriter for the Chairman, and he was a new attorney in the general counsel’s office. One evening at the end of a typically long day, we found ourselves standing next to one another in the executive offices staring at a Blue Period Picasso slated for auction a few days hence.

“I heard there was a Blue Period in here. I’ve never seen one in person. Wow,” he said.

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July 30, 2015

‘Round Daylight

By Giselle Minoli

George Washington Memorial Park, Paramus, New Jersey

Under a mound of dirt you lay
I imagine a saxophone
Playing ‘Round Midnight
Maple trees line the road
Their shade saved for the living
While you lay beneath the blazing sun

Under a mound of dirt you lay
On the winds float the notes
Of the sensual Yolanda Anas
Blue pinstripes and a pinky ring
Which direction do your feet point?
It would matter to you

Under a mound of dirt you lay
Not even a butterfly stops to rest
Upon white stones churned up
To make space for your withered presence
Whose eager fingertips once thrummed tabletops
To the tune of The Wind Song

Conversation has ended
Quiet disquiets
Not even a vase of spent flowers
There ought to be a combo
The rumble of the subway, sirens and horns blaring
Street lights and summer fog on the long drive home

The music has stopped
There is no one here
Save the groundsman who clips the grass short
And leads me to you
Right at the 19th Maple tree, stop a few paces short of the road
You will find him, buried under a mound of dirt

You should not be stretched out in Paramus
But scattered in Montreux, Newport and Paris
On the sidewalks outside Birdland, Dizzy’s, the Blue Note
All you ever wanted was good company
A nice lunch, a glass of wine and a few tunes
There is no one here except you

Slumbering in a field of grass

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April 24, 2015

A man sitting in a park in Arezzo…

By Giselle Minoli

In the Summer of 2006, the day before I returned to New York after using my entire year’s vacation to study Italian at the Università per Stranieri in Siena, Italy, I took an early bus to Arezzo and spent the morning roaming the city taking pictures. After the cool early hours had morphed into lunchtime, I found a little trattoria on a small piazza where I could have a salad and a cold glass of Prosecco to ward off the heat that had begun to rise from the cobbled vicolos.

As the daily “riposo’ approached – between 1:00 and 4:00pm when Italians traditionally go home to prepare lunch before returning to work well into the evening hours – the only sounds to be heard came from a church where a funeral was about to be held. The grievers, mostly clad in black, filed past a hearse parked by the front steps, out of which was being lifted a coffin, its glossy ebony surface draped with a bounty of intensely colored summer flowers, their bright beauty a betrayal of the gray solemnity of the moment.

It was late August, and it was hot. Tired from walking, I wanted nothing more than to sit and pass the time watching the Italians be Italian, but I knew there would only be one bus back to Siena after riposo, and if I had any more wine there was a chance I would not be on it. So I pushed myself back up onto my blistered feet, downed the last sip of no longer cold Prosecco, and walked toward the church, its massive wooden and bronze doors shut tight against the blazing sun.

As the church bells rang, the driver of the hearse paced back and forth beside his funeral chariot mopping the sweat oozing from beneath his beret, and the old ones mingled with their ever present pigeon friends, some of them limping, some with damaged wings, all of them fighting over bits of pane tossed from little brown paper bags.

I walked up a vicolo that wound its way to the top of a hill, hoping for a higher view of the city, and turned into a small park filled with tall graceful fir trees enclosed by gorgeous old stone walls. A few tables were tucked here and there under the trees, at one of which sat a man staring off into the distance. I looked in the direction he was looking and saw nothing of particular interest.

Maurizio, Arezzo, Italy, 2006

Lost in thought and obviously peaceful and content, he made no move other than to occasionally raise his left hand to his mouth to take a drag off his cigarette. I watched him for a while, until I could no longer resist taking his picture. I sensed he was aware of my presence – he seemed to be aware of everything, in spite of his self-contained manner – and I wanted to take his portrait up close, but I felt given his quiet demeanor that it would have been an intimate breach.

I did not want to intrude without asking his permission, and I began to walk toward him. He turned and smiled, and I asked in Italian if I could take his picture. He nodded “Si,” uncrossed his legs, turned ever so slightly to his right and granted me the faintest of smiles. I said, “Grazie,” and worked quickly to capture his mood before it turned into something else, something less personal, something perhaps more designed to please a foreign woman with a camera.

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February 1, 2015

A Room of My Own in My Father’s New York…

By Giselle Minoli

I ought to have been born between the World Wars, when it was romantic to be sentimental, when having an attachment to the past was normal, when lovers would hand-write nostalgia-filled letters whenever apart, when taking a journey down a memory lane strewn with tales of adventures and friends and events long gone by could rouse a spontaneous and unembarrassed launch into Doris Day’s and Les Brown’s rendition of A Sentimental Journey.

Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old me-emories…

My parents, unapologetic romantics, loved Doris Day. They listened to big band music, wrote long letters and took countless black and white photographs of people long passed into the Al di là, which my mother tucked away in envelopes or framed and hung on the walls of the house I grew up in – the house my father built for her with his own hands, the ultimate amorous gesture – with a multitude of framed memories from their individual and collective lives.

Artworks suspended on stuccoed walls next to pen and inks of places I thought I would never have an opportunity to visit conjured imaginary blueprints of the imaginary house with the imaginary rooms I dreamed of building for myself one day, the walls of which I would hang with art and photographs curated from my own memory lanes.

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June 7, 2014

The Mythical Presence of Eros & Psyche: A Dialogue about the Bedroom, the Boardroom…and a Piece of Bread… (by Giselle Minoli and Meg Tufano)

By Giselle Minoli

I don’t watch much television, but these past few months I have looked forward to late Sunday nights with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, an update of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which aired in 1980 to mesmerized viewing.

Standing on the barren landscape of what was once Uruk in ancient Sumer, now known as Iraq, in The Immortals (Episode 11 of the modernized series), Tyson tells us about Enheduanna, an Akkadian Princess (2285-2250 BCE) about whom I had never heard until The Immortals aired on May 18, 2014.

Enheduanna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, who appointed her High Priestess of the Moon, a role of political importance often held by daughters of royalty. But Princess and Priestess Enheduanna was also a respected poet, who made a decision about herself and the words she penned that had an everlasting impact on literature – Enheduanna became the first person we know of to sign her name to what she wrote and, in so doing, she became an author.

Tyson relayed that Enheduanna is “…the first person about whom we can say we know who she was, and what she dreamed. She dreamed of stepping through the Gate of Wonder. Here’s a thought Enheduanna sent across more than 4,000 years to you. It’s from her work, entitled Lady of the Largest Heart:”

Inanna, the Planet Venus, Goddess of Love, will have a great destiny throughout the entire Universe. – Enheduanna

Published in The Journal for Social Era Knowledge, May 2014

Tyson followed the story about Enheduanna with that of another ancient Sumerian, whose name was Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, the very first real life epic hero, whose travels and superhuman feats were chronicled in The Epic of Gilgamesh, an early Mesopotamian work of poetic literature that, in contrast to the writings of Enheduanna, was the work of numerous anonymous authors.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the story of a man seeking immortality, or, put another way, the story of a man hoping to avoid death. In a way, Princess Enheduanna and Gilgamesh were both after the same thing – to step through the Gate of Wonder into the Realm of Immortality.

Enheduanna achieved a kind of immortality when she signed her name to poems that have lasted over 4,000 years. Gilgamesh achieved a kind of immortality by becoming such a memorable heroic character in real life that others were inspired to write a tale of his adventures – a tale that has also survived 4,000 years.

The stories of Enheduanna and Gilgamesh resonate loudly at a time when many people believe that The Age of Storytelling, poetry, hand-written letters and long-form journalism will soon come to an end, to be replaced by The Age of Metrics and Analytics, in which people will communicate in shorter and shorter sound bursts – perhaps even in spoken code – an ever increasing amount of shared information discharged into Internet space like so many competing pulsars.

The difference, of course, between storytelling and information is so vast as to be almost indescribable. Storytelling is a never ending inquiry about what it means to be human, about the cultures and environments that give birth to ideas and progress, and about the failures and successes of the men and women determined to leave some kind of imprint on the world before they pass into the unknown.

Information, on the other hand, is more a record keeping of that ongoing inquiry, a tally of acquired data and details, facts and figures, the study of which quite possibly serves to underpin any particular creative endeavor, but which is distinct and separate from the creative instinct itself.

In the modern world, do writers sign their names to their work to protect their royalties, or to stake a claim to their own opinions, which they perceive to have merit, individuality, meaning? Or do they write because they are compelled to communicate, because, whether their words are ever heard, read or acknowledged in any way, they quite simply must communicate no matter the circumstances, the time or the place in which they live?

When Enheduanna made the decision to sign her name to her own words so long ago, I would guess it had less to do with concern over future royalties than with a desire to cast her name into the Cosmos to intermingle with the future voices of future writers who would also aspire to be a part of the The Great Conversation About Life, and to make their own predictions about planets and goddesses and the Universe.

That conversation is neither short nor long. It is both spoken and written. It is both poetic and scientific. It is subjective and objective. It is personal and reflective. It is distant and unemotional.

It bows not to money, or convenience, or cultural trends, or censorship. It certainly does not bow to metrics and analytics. It continues on, ebbing and flowing like the seas, roiling and churning like the shifting climate, colliding and separating like the plates of the Earth. It comforts, it provokes, it challenges. It is unpredictable.

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January 12, 2014

Women at Work: Lyrical Confessions of an Erstwhile Renegade

By Giselle Minoli

Women at work: Lyrical Confessions of an Erstwhile Renegade, my first essay as Editor-at-Large for SynaptIQ+: The Journal for Social Era Knowledge, was published online in the Winter 2013 issue.

“All human beings have three lives: public, private and secret.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I choose to have a public profile as a writer. I choose what to share about my private life. And I choose when and how to share whatever secrets (I admit to) with anyone I choose. After all, part of the intrinsic nature of a secret is that it might eventually be divulged or discovered.

Yet, no matter my choices, do I really have any control over how others perceive me, what they believe about me, and therefore how they behave toward me? Or in the social era is it pure folly to think that we are the architects of our own images?

My recollection of a description of me when I was a young executive at CBS Records, written over three decades ago and printed in Esquire Magazine, is as clear as though I had read it yesterday, yet so much time has passed that part of me wonders if I made it up. A journalist’s portrayal of me as a ‘renegade marketing director,’ which my memory believes was the case, is such an ineradicable and juicy characterization that I have been a little reluctant to consider the possibility I might not have remembered exactly what was written all those years ago. Print magazines dating back to the 80s are not cached online so, without knowing the month or the writer’s name, a search had turned up nothing. Besides, tracking down the article would force me not only to test the accuracy of my memory, but also perhaps to let go of that colorful description in favor of something more banal. The difficulty in finding the article let me conveniently off the hook.

The phrase ‘renegade marketing director,’ had been accompanied, as I recalled, by a reference to what I wore to a meeting attended by a journalist who was writing an article about Columbia Records’ marketing plans for an album by the popular Australian band Men at Work, which the label was releasing in the United States. There were several other women department heads in that meeting whose clothing for some reason did not warrant mention by the (male) journalist who zeroed in on my short, dark brown leather skirt (by Agnes B), my black fishnet stockings (by Betsey Johnson), my spike-heeled black leather pumps (by Walter Steiger), and my hand-me-down wool leopard print button-up-the-front sweater.

Men at Work, in their new video: "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive"

I remember the makers of my own music industry threads because they were the designers from whom I purchased the physical packaging––the costumes––I wore to my job as National Director of Customer Merchandising for CBS Records, one of the biggest and hippest music companies in the world at the time.

At Black Rock, the imposing building on Sixth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets in New York City that was home to CBS, the power of costume was evident in the posters of the label’s artists, which graced the halls––among them Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and Cyndi Lauper––and were in the offices of nearly every employee, each artist with their own distinct style and physical look pulled together by a coterie of stylists, make-up wizards, press agents, photographers, managers, and anyone else who had a minute to weigh in on what a recording artist should wear on any given day. The department I ran designed the point-of-purchase materials for all the releases on CBS. It was a no brainer that as head of the department I should pay attention to my personal packaging, however, given the environment, with all the stars themselves dressed to the nines, I thought it odd that a journalist would even notice what a member of the marketing team was wearing.

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September 24, 2013

A Woman’s Worth

By Giselle Minoli

A Woman’s Worth was published online in the August 2013 issue of SynaptIQ+: The Journal for Social Era Knowledge.

Workin’ Woman Blues
Lyrics by Valerie June

I ain’t fit to be no mother
I ain’t fit to be no wife yet
I been workin’ like a man, y’all
I been workin’ all my life yeah

There ain’t no dinner on the table
Ain’t no food in the ‘fridgerator
I’ll go to work and I’ll be back later
I go to work said I’d be back later

Lord you know I’m a good looking woman
Lord you know I’m a good looking girl
If you want to give me something
Anything in this great big world yeah

Lord you know that I am ready
for my sugar my sugar daddy.

…chants Valerie June in Workin’ Woman Blues, from Pushin’ Against a Stone, a collection of songs and ballads I can only describe as Blues Gospel Folk Soul Incantation Poetry. Music is visceral, entering the spirit as do the sounds, sights and scents of a long walk on the beach—sea foam meeting ocean spray, kelp bulb greeting beach grass, driftwood adorning sand dune, bare toes testing tide pull, salt wind softening gull caw, seal bark parting morning fog—the whole intoxicating whiff of it infused into my body and soul come stroll’s end. When the voice and lyrics of a song kiss my imagination in that way that raises goosebumps, I stop, and listen..

…to June’s Tennessee-stropped voice calling out the most primary of female choices—to work, or to be a wife and mother—evoking in me the night howl of a She-Wolf, until the crepuscule cedes to morning light and washes the air of its haunting sound, and the creature, hiding from the sun on the fringes of civilization, waits for another’s day’s dusk to emerge and sing her song once more, with only the moon in attendance…her mating desire, her pack identity, her eternal hunger, her difficult life all borne on the winds of the wild until the end of time.

Workin’ Woman Blues is not a feminist cri, rather it is a finely feathered arrow aimed from the crossbow of reality, one that curses a woman’s hard decisions—whether to work, for which effort she will earn a salary, or to have a family, for which effort she will not, or perhaps, by embracing the aspiration to juggle both, to create a bottomless pit of guilt filled with the hourly sacrifice of one endeavor’s needs to the other’s. No feminist movement forgives any individual woman the burden of her person choice, for she who chooses to work is excoriated by the sneers of the motherhood dominion (Does she hate children? Is she incapable of love?), while she who chooses not to is judged by the society of salaried female workers (Is she male-dominated? Does she lack self-esteem?).

In many ways the three waves of feminism, officially dating back to the mid 1800s, have made it even more difficult for a woman to make a choice with which she can comfortably live, the assumption being that there is, or should be, or can be, a practicable choice between working or being a stay at home mother, or that there is a viable way to do both well.

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May 27, 2013

Remembering a Friend…

By Giselle Minoli

The news did not exactly come as a shock. I had filed away the possibility that his life would end one day in the part of my brain reserved for things I simply did not want to think about happening. A less willful, less stubborn, less enthusiastically alive man would have long ago succumbed to the many illnesses he had endured over the last 2 decades. His ability to push back had convinced me that nothing could kill him. An email in mid-March relaying that he was in hospice care switched on the emotional regulator that controlled my reservoir of memories about him, sending through a few at a time, as though dropping them into my consciousness in a metered manner would avoid a flood tide the day he finally decided to part this Earth.

I called and left a message on his home answering machine – announcing, asking, hinting – that I would get on a plane to see him if I could be sure I wouldn’t be intruding. When his wife called back minutes later, I hoped she would say, ‘Yes, of course! Come!,’ but instead I heard, “No one has told you…Jim died last night.”

I had not seen Jim and his wife since the Summer of 2011, when I accompanied my husband to New Mexico for the unveiling of his mother’s tombstone. The four of us had gotten together for lunch, a lunch that was interrupted by an unexpected visit from my family, a lunch over which I had wanted to talk to him about so many things suddenly shared with too many people, a lunch I did not know would be the last one over which I would enjoy his company.

“No!,” I wailed, then apologized, embarrassed. How could I commandeer this sorrow for myself – for it was she who had lost her husband the night before, while mine, still very much alive, was out enjoying his regular Saturday morning tennis game. She did not know all that it meant that he was gone. Northern New Mexico, its red clay hills overgrown with yucca and sagebrush and tumbleweeds, would always beckon, singing a siren song of desert mystery whenever I remembered any event from my childhood. But I had long ago moved away, as had the many friends who had kept me company in my girlhood, and the men and women who had become mentors after my father died…painters, artists, architects…one-by-one they too had died, as had my mother and my husband’s parents, each death distancing me from the city in which I was born, each passing removing another reason to visit the place I once called home, each burial setting me more and more free from the past.

Jim O'Leary at La Luz, Summer 2011

Jim was the last of the spirit guides from my youth, the word ‘mentor’ insufficient to describe the role he played – unbeknownst to him – in the script of my life. It was he who tossed me the literary lifeline that dragged me out of the decade dominated by my father’s death and pointed me toward the next one, in which I began to read, to learn, to grow, to see the world as bigger than my day-to-day reality.

But I wasn’t able to articulate the complexity of his influence that late Winter Saturday morning punctured by the sudden news of his death. All I managed to tell his wife was that her husband’s impact on me was greater than all of the mentors, all of the grown-ups…all of the teachers I had ever known.

James O’Leary officially became my teacher when I was a student at the private, and more than a little experimental, Sandia School (for girls) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and by the time I left for college his importance had been cemented, although it would take years for me to fully understand why. Caught up in the shifting tides and storms and currents of the childhood I was leaving behind and the life I wanted to embrace, I was not in touch with him again until my class’s 30th reunion. Even though he had played a leading role in my life’s script, I was certain mine had been merely a walk-on part in his. I had long wanted to reconnect, but I was convinced he would not remember who I was. Read more »

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March 29, 2013

A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution

By Giselle Minoli

I wrote A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution in stupefied disbelief that Sheryl Sandberg, the successful and highly educated woman at the COO helm of the legendary FaceBook, would write Lean In, a modern feminist call-to-arms, in which she essentially claims that women, individually and collectively, are not occupying their rightful place at the top of the business world next to men because they do not know how to use their negotiating skills to their professional advantage.

This assertion flies in the face of what I have personally witnessed in business over the course of the last 35 years of my life, during which time I have seen scores of brilliant, visionary and highly assertive women be turned down repeatedly for seats at the top for reasons that have nothing to do with their lack of skill or their unwillingness to be assertive, and everything to do with the massive support structure that men provide one another…a support structure that is unavailable to women because there simply are not enough of them in top management to provide a supportive structure for other women coming up the ladder.

When I was growing up I watched with a mixture of envy, awe and anger the tightly knit and organized infrastructure that encouraged my older brother’s life. Much of the considerable mentoring and tutelage about survival skills that he received came from the numerous sports he enjoyed – baseball, football, rugby, basketball and scuba diving. Boys learn, at a very early age, to work together, to compete with one another, to fight with one another, and to help one another even if they don’t like one another, and, when all is said and done, to end their days joking in the locker room or having a beer at the corner bar no matter what transpired during the course of their sporting or business days. Life, for men, is a smorgasbord of argument and camaraderie spiced with deal making and money.

For girls and women, on the other hand, life is often an agonizing choice between two competing concepts, each with its own cliquish heirarchy – that of chosing between fitting into the marriage and mothering world, or of slogging down the often solitary and mine-strewn road of being a woman in business. Men have never had to choose between one or the other. It is assumed that a man will marry, raise children, work, and become successful. In contrast, a woman will have to choose which of these endeavors she will indulge, for the only assumption about a woman’s life is that she will never be able to manage marriage and children along with the demands of a successful career.

Is this because women do not ask for, demand or expect to get what they want and need for their lives? Or is it because the world has been run by men for such a long time that the very infrastructure needs to change in order for women to have more fully enriched and balanced lives? Or is it perhaps because women do not have the time, when all is said and done, to help one another rise to the top? The following essay is a personal look at some of the issues I have faced during my own creative and professional career(s).

Sculpture by Juliëtte van Bavel

(A Woman’s De-Liberation: There Never Was a Sexual Revolution, © Giselle Minoli, was originally published in SynaptIQ+ The Journal for Social Era Knowledge, Spring 2013.)

In the New York Times on February 18, 2013, in an article entitled Criticisms of a Classic Abound, Jennifer Schuessler revealed that Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique had begun its life as a book proposal circulated at W.W. Norton in early 1959, a full four years before its publication in February 1963. Struck by that pre-60s timeframe, I flashed back to the reality of my own life in early 1959 (I had just turned five) and thought about the number of years it would take me to develop any kind of intellectual, philosophical or political awareness that there was such a thing as the Second Wave of Feminism, which Friedan’s book was credited with initiating. As best I could recollect, a vague awareness of the Great Conversation about Feminism began to creep into my life when I was around 15 years old.

My reminiscence began with the fact that by early July, 1959, my father would be dead, an event that left my mother, an intelligent but formally uneducated woman, who had been out of the work force since the end of World War II, with three young children, ranging from 18 months to seven years old, to support. My extremely well educated father, a suspected communist, had been blacklisted in 1951, which effectively put an end to his work as an architect and civil engineer. There was therefore no health or life insurance, nor any other nest egg to cushion the blow of his death. The only thing that provided shelter against the emotional and financial turmoil that followed was the simple house in which we lived, which my father had built with his own hands. At least my mother didn’t have a huge mortgage with which to contend, but that grace was not enough to save her from having to figure out how to clothe us, put gas in the car and food on the table, not an easy task for a woman who had not worked outside the home for nearly 15 years.

Four years later, the publication in 1963 of Friedan’s tome about female emancipation would neatly coincide with the early days of the Swinging Sixties, those revolutionary counterculture years when anti-War demonstrators, hippies, flower children and feminists were running wild, barefoot and nearly naked in the streets, and everyone was (supposedly) having sex, sex and more sex.

Everyone, it seemed, except my mother, who, at 48 years old, was cleaning the houses of financially well off women to make ends meet. Cleaning toilets for a living does not an emancipated life make, nor were my mother’s rubber gloved hands–continually immersed in soapy pails of water–likely to arouse the dreams of sexual liberation that were being discussed in the growing feminist community, which had, for the most part, declared the prosaic daily duties of mothering and housewifery decidedly at odds with any sort of sexual dynamism.

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February 21, 2013

Beauté et La Jeunesse, Amour et La Mort…

By Giselle Minoli

When I was 15 Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust had such an impact on me I imagined that were I to venture a trip to Los Angeles, Tod Hackett, Faye Greener and their entire entourage of misfit friends would greet me at the train station. My childhood in Northern New Mexico was one from which I was desperate to escape, where Cowboys and Indians were real, not the stuff of Hollywood movies we would watch at a drive-in theatre with the help of a speaker attached to a rolled down car window. While I knew that the American Southwest fostered a kind of mythic appeal for the endless stream of Easterners arriving to set down roots under its majestic skies, I had grown up under that star-strewn ether and longed for something else, something far less real than the rodeos I attended on weekends, and West’s words had convinced me I would find that reality in the City of Angels.

Nathaniel West and Day of the Locust manuscript, photo by Paul Morse

I would not actually see Los Angeles until several years later during college when, craving adventure one night, I drove non stop from Santa Fe with a friend to hunt down a famous hamburger joint and decide for myself whether its reputation was warranted. It was, or so it seemed to me at a time in my life when driving nearly 900 miles in a rickety car to savor a burger could lead to only one possible conclusion – that it was without question the best hamburger I had ever had. True to West’s promise, the panorama of Southern California opposed my familiar New Mexico landscape in every respect. Emerging from the Yucca Valley at sunrise to a vast entanglement of freeways and subdivisions of lazy bungalows punctuated with exotic palm trees was like a shot of tequila on an empty stomach, diminishing my affection for the piñon trees and feed store signs of my youth and giving rise to an immediate hunger to live in a place so supremely self-assured that it need only announce its presence with a hideous sign composed of white letters that spelled out HOLLYWOOD, in case one was lost.

We barely had time to wolf down our burgers and order a few more for the road when 900 miles in the opposite direction beckoned and I was forced to indefinitely delay the possibility of another, hopefully more intimate, experience of Los Angeles. Despite temporarily opting for San Francisco after graduating, my obsession with LA contained such significant energy that my professional move to New York two years later only increased my giddy desire to fly West whenever I could find an excuse to go, all for the purpose of testing the possibility of living there one day. During the early days of my New York life I visited LA fairly regularly, always with a combination of fascination and dread, because I couldn’t reconcile my curiosity with the attraction I felt toward New York. Whether it was my destiny or fate it mattered not, I always knew I was meant to become a New Yorker. So I was more than a little bit afraid that if I spent too much time in LA I would get pulled away from the East Coast by forces I didn’t understand, the same forces that had drawn Tod Hackett and Faye Greener to West’s Los Angeles of the Great Depression.

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