Tag Archive | Radcliffe

How the Beatles Broke Up My Marriage

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

I was online at precisely 10:00am this past Monday morning, when tickets to Paul McCartney’s July concert at the TU Center went on sale. I even got a seat reserved for me, but Ticketmaster hassled me about my password, so I lost out. I don’t feel too badly, though, because I saw Paul twice, along with the other Beatles, at their historic Shea Stadium concerts.

I recall the exact moment the Sixties blazed into my life, powered by an electric guitar. It was November of 1964, and I was in a studio at Columbia University, working on an oil painting about the Kennedy assassination, when a piercing guitar note blasted from my studio mate’s tinny AM radio, followed by an infectiously rhythmic riff. I put down my brush.

“What is THAT?” I asked.

“It’s the Beatles,” Susan said, shooting me an incredulous stare that suggested I’d just arrived from outer space. The song was “I Feel Fine,” the group’s sixth number one single that year, yet I’d barely heard of them, never heard their music. How could I have been so oblivious? The major culprit was probably jazz. I met the man who would become my first husband** at the Harvard radio station, where he was head of programming and I was a jazz disc jockey, and we bonded over our love of music. When he quit Harvard, I followed him to New York City. He got a job at WBAI-FM, the iconic independent radio station. We considered ourselves far too hip to own a television set, much less listen to AM radio.

When the Cuban missile crisis hit in October of 1962, I was still a child of the Fifties. I’d grown up convinced that the world wouldCubanMissileSplashimage1 end in a nuclear Armageddon, and that I’d never live past my twenties. Throughout the thirteen days we followed the conflict between the U.S.A. and Russia via public radio and the New York Times, I was terrified we were going to die. Therefore, I reasoned, it was absolutely imperative that we get married as soon as possible. We were already practically living together, so it wasn’t as if we had to recite our vows before consummating our love, but back then marriage was a major goal of every Ivy League coed.

I was still a conventional Fifties girl on November 22nd of 1963. I remember leaving a medieval art history class, emerging into the central rotunda of Barnard Hall, and hearing the din of women and girls abuzz with the news of Kennedy’s assassination. Beatles with Bruce Morrow 1965In February of 1964, I earned my Barnard degree and Phi Beta Kappa key. That same month, the Beatles made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan show. But I was oblivious, caught up in planning a summer wedding in Milwaukee and studying five days a week at the Art Students League, getting together a portfolio of paintings to submit for admission to the MFA program at Columbia. Figurative paintings featuring my jazz idols Miles, Mingus and Coltrane, and dark canvases depicting JFK’s motorcade in Dallas.

The big summer wedding never happened. Vietnam was increasingly in the news, and my Harvard man received a letter from Selective Service, so we pulled together a quickie April wedding in Manhattan to help keep him from the draft. Now I’d fulfilled two major dreams: an Ivy League degree and a Harvard husband. What lay ahead, I had no idea, beyond vague notions of becoming a successful artist, with my husband as the primary breadwinner. Motherhood wasn’t an option – we believed it would be wrong to bring children into a world that was bound to self-destruct before we were thirty.

Amazingly, I’m still here fifty years later, a mother and grandmother, in a sunny studio in upstate New York, typing away with the aid of technology no one could have envisioned all those decades ago. But getting back to Columbia: why did those twangy notes from John Lennon’s guitar*** mark the start of the Sixties for me? True, I’d already lived through a couple of major milestones of that decade, but before the Beatles, I was living out life scripts that had been written for me long before.

In a way, the Beatles destroyed my marriage, and not just because I came close to getting into their bedroom suite at the Warwick Hotel when they played Shea Stadium in 1965. No, it was the hedonistic intensity of their music and the way it inspired me to paint them, in ever larger and more idolatrous likenesses, that brought home the realization that in some ways I’d bypassed my adolescence. I’d been a good girl, focused on straight A’s and Ivy League schools, propelled into a premature marriage by outdated standards. I’d never had the chance to bust loose and explore my wild side.

By 1966, that marriage was over and I began making up for lost time. Thanks to the Beatles, I lived the Sixties to the fullest.

*At least I’ve got a ticket to see Ringo Starr at the Palace in June!

Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr

**Frank Haber (Franklin Richard Haber) died in 2012, a fact I learned only after the Harvard-Radcliffe 50th reunion book came out, and the editors had added “deceased 2012” after his name in my entry. He was known as FRH at the Harvard station and WBAI. He was a great guy, and I’d love to hear from anyone who knew him.

**Until I did some fact-checking for this post, I had always assumed George Harrison played the guitar riff at the beginning of “I Feel Fine,” but it was really John. Below is part of the Wickipedia entry. It was probably the feedback that grabbed me. “I Feel Fine” starts with a single, percussive (yet pure-sounding) feedback note produced by plucking the A string on Lennon’s guitar. This was the very first use of feedback preceding a song on a rock record. According to McCartney, “John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pickup on it so it could be amplified . . . We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it . . . it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!” And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ Wow, it’s a great sound!’ George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’ ‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object, an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.”[3] Although it sounded very much like an electric guitar, Lennon actually played the riff on an acoustic-electric guitar (a Gibson model J-160E),[8] employing the guitar’s onboard pickup.

April is Camp NaNoWriMo Month

On April Fool’s Day, a year ago today, I embarked on the Script Frenzy challenge, an offshoot of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. I succeeded in turning out the requisite 100 pages during the month of April, then began turning the story into a novel I hoped would be finished and on the market by now.

Picasso 1934

Picasso 1934

No such luck, although strictly speaking, I’ve got to ‘fess up: luck has nothing to do with it. The past year has been wonderful in many respects. I crawled back up out of the black hole of depression I’d been trapped in for far too long, savored time with my husband and family, rediscovered the joys of gardening and downhill skiing, even adopted a dog. I’ve got an enormous amount to be grateful for, and maybe that should be enough. But I’m beating myself up over indulging in present-time pleasures instead of slaving away at my novel.

I’m hereby making a solemn vow: I will finish my novel this month! I’ve got some excellent incentives. In late May, I’ll be attending the fiftieth reunion of my Harvard-Radcliffe class, a golden networking opportunity I plan to take full advantage of. Then in September, Bouchercon, the world’s biggest and best mystery writers’ conference, will take place in Albany, just 20 minutes from my house. Talk about networking! I want to have all my books up on Kindle as well as in print in plenty of time to concentrate on schmoozing.*

I registered for Bouchercon this morning, and the online form included a section where I could express my interest in presenting. The form is simple, with three sections where I could describe my qualifications in 50 words or less. Lots of my favorite authors are already listed as attendees, with links to their websites, and I’m looking forward to seeing my own link up there one of these days. I’ve already connected with some members of the mystery site Dorothy L, who are planning a Friday night dinner, and they’ll probably take me up on my recommendation of the Pump Station.

A couple of New Jersey conferences are on my list of possibilities as well: Deadly Ink and the International Women Writers Guild. Both sound promising, but they may be beyond my budget, especially since I need to save up for a few concerts. I promised to take my granddaughter to Les Miserables when the road show hits Schenectady, and I’ve already got my ticket for Country Fest on July 13 – Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow are headlining.

Right after I paid my $175 Bouchercon registration online, I wandered over to the Live Nation web site and scored a lawn ticket for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I was actually looking for Rascal Flatts tickets, but they don’t go on sale till Friday. It’s a good thing I’m not in full manic mode – maybe a bit hypomanic, but I’ve still got a modicum of control over my online shopping.

Eduard Manet

Eduard Manet

Anyway, back to NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy: they’re not doing Script Frenzy this month, but they’ve launched a new venture called Camp NaNoWriMo. Unlike the original November NaNo, where you have to churn out 50,000 words, they let you set your own word count goal. I picked 30,000 – a thousand words a day should be doable, and if I keep up the pace, I may actually finish the vampire soap opera novel I’ve been blogging about so much. My user name for Camp is soapvamp.In this new challenge, you can sign up to be in virtual cabins with writers of your choice, organized by genre or other factors, and if you want to be cliquish, you can even sign up with your friends.

Writing should be easier this month because Michael Easton is away from General Hospital for the time being, while they indulge in their 50th Anniversary celebrations. But that’s a topic for another day. Meanwhile I’m going public with this goal in hopes my readers will encourage me to keep on track, so please leave comments, and subscribe if you haven’t yet done so.

Happy April Fool’s Day, and here’s hoping April isn’t the cruelest month for any of you. Talk to you soon!

*The weird formatting above, with some sections in a larger font, is something WordPress is doing that I can’t get rid of. I may tinker with it later. I used to love WordPress, but every time I try posting something new, it gets worse in many respects. Is it just that they want me to pay for an upgraded version? Anyone else having problems?  I’ll add some links later, but I can’t cope with the program another second without freaking out!

Math anxiety – one of those pesky women’s problems?

Charles Demuth, "I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold"

My face is red – well, at least pink – because of a glaring error in the math for my contest. I wrote, “I’m about to reach a milestone on this blog  – 50,000 hits! My stat meter when I logged on this morning at 8:58 a.m. stood at 48,888, so based on my current number of visits, over 300 per day, I expect to hit 50,000 sometime today!”

At that point I had 1,112 hits left to go, and there’s no way I could have racked up that many visits in one day. Three or four days, yes; one day – no way! Perhaps it’s a tribute to my readers’ trust that nobody questioned my math skills. Maybe they should have. The contest is still on, though, and I’ll probably have a winner by midweek, so keep leaving those comments. I’ve added one additional rule: no one who already owns my books is eligible. I treasure those readers I have, but my goal here is to acquire some new ones.

Actually, I’ve always been quite good at math, but like many women, I suffer from acute math anxiety, and my attitude is avoidant in the extreme. This became glaringly obvious in my high school years in Milwaukee, where I was one of a dozen or so winners in a city-wide math contest sponsored by an insurance company. It was my first awards banquet, and they gave me a check – not huge, maybe $100 or so – which I misplaced and never cashed. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to become an actuary – as it turned out, that was the ulterior motive of the contest sponsors.

The pattern continued in college. I won early admission to Radcliffe, and managed to avoid mathematics during my two years there. My major was Social Relations, Soc Rel for short, a cutting-edge combination of anthropology, psychology and sociology. But when I transferred to Barnard, there was no such major. I considered psychology, but that would have meant taking basic statistics. The very notion terrified me, so I ended up in art history, one of the most useless majors imaginable. (I wanted studio art, but the “heavenly seven” Ivy League women’s colleges had no such major.)

Years later, deciding to go for a PhD in psychology, I finally had to confront that dreaded statistics course as a prerequisite. I enrolled at a community college and studied like mad, but before the midterm, instead of turning up for class, I panicked, wandered over to the registrar’s office and withdrew from the course – the only time in my life I dropped a course, except for a web design course a couple of years ago, but that’s another story. (I finally tried statistics again and got an A, but I abandoned my doctoral ambitions. That’s another story, too.)

My daughter has inherited both my mathematical ability and my mathematical phobia – why, I don’t know. Did I pass it along in my genes, or was it something about my attitude? Like me, she’s learned to transcend the anxiety and confront math when necessary. But what is it about mathematics that inspires such dread among women? Danged if I know. I’m sure feminist scholars have lots of theories, and maybe even some hard evidence. But perhaps I’m overgeneralizing, and there are lots of women out there who confront mathematical challenges with gusto. Perhaps math anxiety is fading into the past, and younger generations of women have no such fears.

What about you? Do you suffer from math anxiety, or do you love math? I welcome your comments. Meanwhile, remember my contest is still on, and you still have a chance to win one of my books. I hope I’ve learned from my previous error, and I can do the basic arithmetic to figure how many visits I need to hit that monumental 50,000 mark.