Monday, May 28, 2012

Looking Back and Sideways at Fairhope

When you leave a place, that doesn't mean it leaves you. I've been haunted by Fairhope and working it out by writing books about the Fairhope I remember (The Fair Hope of Heaven, Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree) and the Fairhope of the days before I was born (That Was Tomorrow).

There's a new Fairhope now, and I certainly know it. The old one is not quite buried yet, however, with this last trip I for one was able to identify the source of my conflict about the place. When I lived in Fairhope I carved out as my mission the education of the new people about the place; after over 20 years I have realized I was talking to myself. History is not high on the agenda of a town on the move and on the make. New people are not interested in the old ways, even if they were radical and would be avant garde today. The new who have come to Fairhope would be even less interested in the radical and avant garde.

I'm grateful, however, for the magnificent little museum run by my old friend Donnie Barrett, in the heart of town. There are history buffs and Fairhope buffs who congregate there and bask in the weekly teas and talks about the old days. It and the Marietta Johnson Museum, the restored Bell Building on what is now the campus of Faulkner Community College, provide a blanket of psychic warmth and a stimulus of respect for history for the curious

I wrote this several years ago in The Fair Hope of Heaven: "No matter where people move, they look for the tribe they can relate to, and there is a sense of inclusiveness in the many tribes of Fairhope. They are pleased to meet and work with new people. And the tribes reflect a myriad of interests which may catch a person off guard and may trigger new enthusiams."

There is still a chance for me, then, in the new Fairhope. I still have a tribe there, and it is one of writers, artists, and historians, amateur and professional, whom I haven't yet met. There are people I know and trust from years past. And there is always the coastline of Mobile Bay with its spectacular sunsets and instant solitude and peace.

Here's what one writer was inspired to say in a book about Fairhope: "And somewhere in a gully on a particular day in a certain season, the fortunate wanderer will actually find a tree covered in butterflies...It should not be a surprise, even if it is not expected, if a shadow dances among the leaves, a face appears (or seems to), even a community of phantoms from the past. Here you will find answers, questions, and a host of stories."

That writer was me. The book is called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. And somewhere in my heart I retain the belief that that magic might happen only in Fairhope.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Have You Ever Been in Love?

A simple enough question, I guess, yes or no. Yet when I man I'd met on an online dating service asked me I was stumped for an answer.

I had never been asked that question before. I've been married three times and was what I would have called in love with all of them at the time we tied the knot. The man asking the question had been married once, for nearly 40 years, to one woman, and had been at her side every day as she suffered from Alzheimer's until she died. That was what he meant by love, and I was not one to argue. It is the stuff fairy tales are made of, and rom-coms from Hollywood, and probably a large percentage of the fiction we read. Happily ever after, and then you close the book and never ask what happens next.

It looks so easy when other people do it, but on the other hand there are many of us who struggle with the concept for our whole lives. It would be so pleasant to have a partner for life, someone to banter with over coffee every morning, some to care for us, observe our triumphs, soothe us through difficulties, be in love with us forever. In my experience marriage itself had something to do with the loss of that "in love" feeling--time, familiarity, a growing awareness of the reality of the other and knowledge that he had the same awareness of you. My dating friend told me that he had been his wife's whole world through their marriage, and in my eyes she was fortunate that he never abused that devotion. He is a wise and courageous person. How do I, who lived a rootless, sometimes reckless, often self-centered, and always questing and questioning existence, respond to a person so sincere, so profound in his conventionality? All I could say was "I've had a different sort of life."

He chooses to believe that my last husband, whom I was with for 25 years and who died of cirhossis of the liver, was the love of my life. I would not say that. So I look back--was there a love of my life at all, or am I still seeking him? There were passionate affairs, complex adjustments, and there was a layer of love over all, but is there one person I would characterize as the love of my life?

Television hotshot Piers Morgan, replacing Larry King as interviewer to the stars, has in his arsenal of pointed questions, "How many times would you say you've really been in love?" Being English, he seems to expect this to be a whammy to the hapless interviewee, and perhaps in England it would be. But in the U.S., interrogating the likes of sophisticated, sarcastic comedian Kathy Griffin, he is answered by an eye-roll and an Is-that-all-ya-got evasive comeback, as if she knows it's a canned question and she ain't gonna talk about this stuff with him. Needless to say, under the circumstances of a TV studio and a million viewers, I would like to be like Kathy and demand the next question. None of your beeswax, you remote, snobbish, self-important English guy.

But this was an intimate friend, a man I respected. How to break it to him, what my life has been, how different the experience of love itself has been from my family of origin on. It's too much to answer lightly. I was in love, but I was in another world. and I don't mean the soap opera either. I was in "The Guiding Light," and in "The Edge of Night," but when I was in love I was in another world.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Fair Hope of Rebirth

This blog has always been about hopes--high hopes, dashed hopes, fair hopes, and just about every kind of hope I could weave into my personal narrative--including a town called Fairhope in the south of Alabama. I lived in Fairhope until December of 2007, and in a sense I expect to live in fair hope of something for the rest of my days.

Today I'm looking at new things for my future. I've written a novel and am publishing it online as a ebook (whatever that is). Ironically it is set in the utopian town of Fairhope in 1921 and will probably find most of its fans in the age range of people who actually don't know what an e-reader is. Well, they'll just have to buy one, because I think they'll love this book. It concerns a young woman who moves from New Jersey to south Alabama to teach in an extraordinary school and live among nonconformists who have an agenda to change the world. I've been researching the time and place for over 20 years, and picked up a zillion anecdotes and tall tales, some of which are in the book.

In those days, Fairhope was populated with idealists who were planning for a better tomorrow for the generations to follow. At some point, my heroine calls into question the very basis of old Fairhope and even the school and her mentor and idol, Marietta Johnson. From this existential doubt comes my title, That Was Tomorrow, but not before we've all had a jolly old time revisiting the Fairhope of the past.

Through the deep investigation of what old Fairhope means to me, and what I have firm hopes that it once actually was, I'm reborn. No longer a concerned citizen of a town whose approach to the 21st century caused me distress, no longer an actress and director of theatre, I'm now an author with not only two non-fiction books to my credit but also one historical novel--with some violence, sex, romance and heart in it. I have a birthday next week, and am looking at life at 72 with fresh, youth-filled eyes. My Organic education has provided me with an optimistic outlook and an awareness that life is what you can make it, and it is full of surprises and adventures. The Internet is a place where infinite changes can happen. I'll revive this blog, and my other two blogs, and this is the place I shall continue to investigate hope, fair and otherwise. I hope you'll bookmark it and revisit it regularly

Maybe you found this blog from my website. If that's the case, I suggest you browse the blog and the many posts over the years. You can do so by clicking the Archive section on any random month or by typing in a subject in the "Search" box in the upper left hand corner. I've dealt with religion, education, politics, and personalities over the years--and probably shall for years to come. Try typing "Searching Our Souls" or "God" if you want something profound and thought-provoking; otherwise try "Fairhope Pier" or some other spot of interest.

And if you didn't find this from my website, I hope you'll go here now and buy my book. Make that plural; buy all of them.