Since this has been my Dickens year, I've neglected to mention that "the man who invented Christmas" is not my only literary love. In the past I've devoted years to writers as diverse as D.H. Lawrence and William Dean Howells. And decades to Herbert Gold, the "elder statesman of the beat generation."
I first met the latter at novelist Carolyn See's Symposium of California Writers at Loyala Marymount in 1979. In those days I lived in Long Beach, CA, and wrote for an arts magazine, Uncle Jam. See pointed Gold out at an evening reception and said, "Go say hello to that handsome man. He's Herb Gold."
I nearly spilled my Pinot Noir. Gold's Salt: A Novel so moved me when it first appeared in 1963 that I made a diary entry: "Gold's writing is so electrifying that I'm convinced he'll one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature." Alas, he never did...but his close friend, Saul Bellow, did.
So I walked over to Gold and said, "I'd like to give you a hug to thank you for Salt." And always a gentleman, Gold hugged me in return.
Now Dickens, Howells or Lawrence never hugged me. And none of those writers phoned me up yesterday, either. But Herbert Gold did.
Throughout the '80s Gold and I kept in touch. Every time I'd visit my father in San Francisco, I'd give him a call. Once he took me to the San Francisco Press Club, and kissed me goodbye while we waited for the Market Street cable car to return me to Twin Peaks. Another time he came to the house on State Street to exchange stories about the Tenderloin with my dad who had operated night clubs there.
I sent Gold a copy of Uncle Jam with my tale of meeting Henry Miller at his 80th birthday party at a UCLA shebang. Gold sent me autographed copies of his books to offer at a Womenshelter auction. Every time he published a new book, I'd send a fan letter...even confessing that I was so irritated at the conclusion of Swiftie the Magician, that I flung the book across the room.
A quirky correspondent, Gold sent his notes on an assortment of postcards, some depicting the famed Haitian hangout of Graham Greene, The Hotel Oloffson, sometimes known as the Greenwich Village of Haiti. When I finally got to Port-au-Prince in 2001, where I was conducting a Peace Corps HIV/AIDS and Youth training on September 11, I stayed a night at the Oloffson, and bought a copy of the house band's latest cassette.
This past spring I read Gold's latest memoir, Still Alive!: A Feisty Bohemian Explores the Art of Growing Old. Though it had been a dozen years since I last contacted him, I wrote Gold a note and sent the RAM cassette to him. He responded, irreverent as ever.
When the earthquake hit Haiti earlier this year, I called Gold right away. He assured me that he had planned to return to Haiti sometime this year. It was still his favorite haunt. His Haiti: The Best Nightmare on Earth,details his love of the place. At one time Bill Clinton had offered him the ambassadorship there. He declined.
When I visited my son in Southern California this past summer I finally boxed up my hard-to-find these days Herbert Gold books that had been stored in his garage since I first went overseas with Peace Corps in 1987. I think they're worth something these days, as collector's items. But I intend to reread them all.
So why did Gold call me yesterday? I'd sent him a holiday card with a story about my late husband that will be published next year in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for the Young at Heart. "Our Great Expectations" relates the final trip to UK that Ken and I took when he still could negotiate airports, and my Dickensian summer at Cambridge. Gold wanted to tell me that he was touched by the piece. Imagine! A man I consider the greatest living American male writer, bothered to call up an old acquaintance.
"Terri? It's Herb. I guess it's not necessary to say Gold, since nobody since 1929 has been named Herb. It would be like naming your son Adolph in the early '40s."
I wanted to know about Haiti. Gold did go, and his article will appear in The Hudson Review's upcoming issue. I intend to read it. And I'll send another fan note. I have a collection of notes and letters from Herbert. He told me to hold on to them, and maybe I could sell them someday. He confessed he's sold some letters from his correspondents. But he was quick with a disclaimer: "I don't do it while they're still alive."
I asked if he'd sold his letters from Bellow. "Nearly did, but the dealer wanted to barter and nickle-and-dime and it wasn't worth it."
Gold's leaving his own papers and correspondence to the Bancroft Library at Stanford. I plan to copy his notes and the photo or two I have, and mail them to Gold soon...I like the idea of being archived.
Talking yesterday with Herbert Gold, who will turn 87 in March, certainly brightened my day. Especially when Gold responded to my comment that I intended to return to Cambridge this next summer.
"Just make certain you don't fall for some tall, good-looking 23-year-old British undergrad who will offer to marry you for your money."
Here's links to commentary about Gold and to his piece about Allen Ginsberg, written for Salon not long after the poet's death.
My spirits picked up after I learned that two of my stories will appear this next summer in Inspiration for the Young at Heart. One, "I Never Would Have Bet," recounts how I met Ken via Socialnet.com in the early days of computer dating. The other, "Our Great Expectations," concerns our relationship, and, surprise, surprise, my experiences at the University of Cambridge where I fulfilled a lifetime dream of studying Victorian history and literature.
I wrote the latter story one afternoon earlier this week, and after submitting it decided it could double as my 2010 Christmas letter. The next morning, as I was readying to print it out, I received an e-mail from Chicken Soup telling me it is a finalist for the book. Usually it takes weeks or months, and in a few cases even a year or more, to hear if a piece has been accepted. This instant notice helped lift me out of my Dickensian dismay...at least momentarily. So everybody on my Christmas card list will get a preview.
I'd mentioned earlier that I'd an idea for my novel in stories. Now I have one for a non-fiction book, as well...a format for finally putting together a marketable memoir. So in January I intend to prepare a couple of proposals and move forward with these two books. In the meantime, I have a few more anthology essays to create. I especially hope to write something suitable for the upcoming Thin Threads special edition, Women and Friendship.
The Thin Threads blog posted a story on turning on the light...I needed to read that story when I was so immersed in the gray days of last week. Here it is...it's heartwarming. http://www.thinthreads.com/blog/?p=627
This has not been the happiest of times. Here's the deal. This past month or so I've learned that my brother in January will begin undergoing radiation for prostate cancer. My sister in Santa Cruz, whose spinal stenosis keeps her wheelchair bound, canceled my proposed visit, claiming she just wasn't up to seeing me.
Then earlier this week I got a phone call from the wife of my half-brother, telling me he had died this past August of complications from melanoma. She'd just discovered my phone number on an old Christmas letter in one of his dresser drawers and wondered if I could notify some of the other relatives from his father's side of the family. She wondered if I had any memories I could share with their children of Albert or his and my father, Al. I mailed her two stories I'd written about our father, Daddy and Raggedy Ann, recently published in "Thin Threads: Compassion and Giving," and Foote Notes from My Father, which I've submitted to a few potential publishers.
Over the weekend I finally watched the Masterpiece Theater 2005 production of Charles Dicken's own Bleak House, three DVDs, each 2 hours and 25 minutes. It's got Gillian Anderson turning in a riveting performance as Lady Dedlock, and Carey Mulligan shimmering as Ada Clare. Though it might be the best production of a Dickens novel I've ever seen, it did little to lift my sagging spirits, even though (spoilers ahead) heroine Esther Summerson gets a "happily ever after," at its conclusion. Well, of course, it's Dickens typical Victorian conclusion...can't leave the folks in the provinces down in the dumps, after all.
To add to the melancholia and general malaise, the ice and snow have transformed my snug home into a true bleak house, gray and gloomy. Even the dogs and cats move listlessly around the living room, peering out at the frozen fog. Just look at the photo I took the other morning. I warned Ken when he ordered the painters to change the maroon trim to white that he was eliminating the only spot of color to brighten a winter day landscape. White on white.
So to try to segue into a more positive mood, I've concentrated on the future. I've browsed Holland America's website and selected three possible autumn cruises that cover Venice and the Greek islands that I've always wanted to visit, and sent a letter to a girlfriend with a suggestion that we consider scheduling one of them. I've poured over the 2011 Cambridge University summer catalog and nearly settled on some selections for this next summer.
And to take care of the present, I finally visited my doctor for a long overdue annual checkup, and am scheduled for a mammogram later this week.
So suddenly this morning the sun has burst through. Natty and Nami are enjoying the backyard winter wonderland. I'm crockpotting some meatballs for the annual AAUW FUNdraiser holiday party and silent auction this afteroon. Maybe I'll pick up some surprise Christmas gifts for grandbaby Kendra or her parents...I'll be seeing them soon for the holidays.
One more touch...I took down the autumn welcome sign and put up something cheerier...and a little more crimson.