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XXXVII. Marmalade Days< Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >

Caliber 

Lost magic of the Hollywood Hills in this late-afternoon hour, as the road grows narrow and quiet and twisty between patches of warm SoCal sunlight—

It’s the marmalade sneaking into the wonderland—

Double-checking the address on the curb, you find yourself facing The House.

He was voted one of the greatest directors of all time by film media…

It’s no big deal. I’ve sent characters into worse with certain foes than putting myself here with a stranger-friend… And I’m a bold girl. I’m a bold girl… This story needs him…

Your index finger extends, reaches toward the buzzer, you run over scripts in your mind—You’ve brought cinnamon rolls to the meeting—Everything done in goodwill, because you care—

So why are you so scared?

If you’re so bold, then why are you so scared?

And all the time, that white buzzer, the deserted street, the hitch in the pendulum…

There is no time.

But now.

But only if you press the buzzer…

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All Manners 

Dearest H,

Do you recall when, just before I turned 15, I would write you electronic letters in the form of Ulysses, Macbeth and things of that sort rewritten to be about our hilarious lives? Or the terribly formal correspondence from the hand of a well-educated, 19th century Duke or some such gentleman of my own invention, whose letters you had to print out in order to read them properly? Of course that all stopped when I discovered underage drinking. As I am now once again under the influence of literature, I will indulge myself in that missed style at least once more in order to express so many affections that have been lacking on my part since I quit all attempts of writing responsible letters to my best friends. Oh instead I really rather should be writing so many business letters to good producers and agents and other businessmen who see to it that film is made. Imploring, asking, seeking, educating, pitching in letters of cold introduction to strangers I hope to win to the project and as partners... Blast! I also owe a few follow-ups to those foolish sorts of individuals who, unless they perceive the tables turning, deem themselves so much more important so as to need fashionable follow-upping on my part before they trouble to respond when they have very much to gain themselves in the doing. I write so many letters. And, while the prospects of anything being possible with the sending of a letter to another do please me, none of these writlets are truly for pleasure, or perhaps I would not be so tired of them presently. There was even a brief time when I was rather good about sending you handwritten letters. Yes, yes: I know you recall. It was practically yesterday, and we shall revisit a hybrid of that now in a somewhat different medium. At that time I really only sent such funny, literary letters to you who would “get them,” with the exception that M.R.G. would agree to receive and be amused by some as well even though she preferred to come over to the house where together, on my computer, we could compose silly fictions about all of our most-recent poor decisions. Some of these employed Spanglish to comedic effect. (The stories. And the poor decisions.) Oh remember! It is so hilarious to think about, because it hasn’t changed one bit.

In keeping with the routine of a proper letter and what is expected of the letter writer, I will tell you about my last few days as if post is our only way of communication. Friday I chose two things from the bookstore at an outdoor marketplace called The Grove, both of which items (and the place, actually,) you would like. First, after scanning the classics for the second time in a week I picked up Little Women and read the first page. It is very well done: Immediately I knew the countenance of the four main characters and was pleased by them, so I pressed the novel into the crook of my arm and decided to take it home. At the checkout I also purchased the latest National Geographic. I have read their website a great deal as of late and think it’s high time I subscribe. This is yet another instance of post-Mancha appreciation as my Mom has always had loads of copies laying around and I scarcely looked at them until I moved out, save peeks at covers that caught my eye here and there or that one time I had to do a report with visuals on the Great Alaska Earthquake. Of course I chose the Great Alaska Earthquake as my disaster because M.Sto keeps all of her National Geographics and that was the first resource I found as my fingers skipped through the miserable, dusty boxes of saffron-trimmed magazines stored next to the vinyl records in the crawlspaces of Stover Mancha. Among other things that you will like, in the current NatGeo issue there exists coverage of Great Smokey Mountains National Park, which isn’t too far away, I dare say. I also found a pretty thing on their website today: A story with the headline, “Snake Threat May Have Spurred Evolution of Primate Eyes.” Just think! We have better vision so as to detect snakes. Could you imagine if this particular scholar-scientist is correct in her theories and observations?! In the human context of religion, mythology and history, it only brings up so many interesting ties to the serpent, is all. Oh it all fits together in such a fascinating form! Not a web, or a tapestry or a puzzle, really, but that common, shared seed that the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell uses for metaphor in The Power of Myth, which is the one academic book I would have everyone read, if I had to choose. In said issue there is also an editorial by Bill McKibben regarding environmentalism that is worth investigating. I won’t apologize for digressing into the woods a little, but will return to the trail by saying that it is more the former purchase that I meant to recommend than the latter. Mostly because you are already well aware that National Geographic well-fits your interests.

As for the latter, Little Women, upon arriving back to my flat I flipped to the introduction to investigate whether or not it was worth the read (I find most introductions are not) and found this gem: “On March 22, 1927, the New York Times printed the results of a poll of high-school students who had been asked, ‘What book has interested you most?’ The respondents overwhelmingly chose Little Women as their favorite, as the book that had most influenced them, surpassing even the bible.” This study was taken 58 years after the publication of the novel and the results immediately ensnared me as they relate to one of my favorite points of story-theory, the one I’m always blathering on about: Relevance and timeliness.

Of the first part of the novel (it was published in halves, which is nearly as fascinating as this letter, which comes in fifths), I will say that it is heavy-handed with frequent crying on the part of every female involved. The four daughters of the March family serve as our pious protagonists. In the course of a chapter, one pilgrimette learns in turn some lesson. Then, come chapter’s end, Mrs. March sits us down on her knee and reveals the overly-obvious moral of said chapter’s lesson. The daughter cries, the mother ministers and that is all very boring to me; the girl who likes to learn lessons by observing the falls of others or on her own the hard way so as to internalize and solve them in private and pretend to the public she’s known them all along. Yes I know stories of the Little Women sort serve that exact function in society, but "Marmee" March taking a page to tell me what I’ve already figured quite well on my lonesome, thank you, is wholly unnecessary and stifles personal discovery. However, the lessons taught are timeless, and as an artist and reader I’ve never shied from a morality play. It is fact, as you well know, that these stories interest me a great deal more so than most works. But, but, I prefer "morality to live by" in fairytale form because metaphor is less abrasive and transparent, and more likely to involve a witch. Of course there always do come exceptions to one's rules.

Permit me to take an aside so as to share one of Campbell’s theories that I often find use for academically, including in the context of this letter: “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”

Once you pass through the first chapter-lessons in the novel, (and the heavy-handed public dreams,) our girls' troubles grow deeper, the lines blur and moral challenges are, thus, more interesting and real. There is less perpetual crying and more games, picnics and amusing instances. There also comes Laurie. Dear, dear Laurie. Have I mentioned I love him? I do. I must avoid seeing a film of this story because it will ruin all of the sweet, little castles I have built-up in my imagination. Of course Laurie is my new boyfriend-character and I shall never move on from him, never! Please don’t tell anyone: He remains unaware of my affections and I wouldn’t want a society scandal to develop and ruin our responsible reputations, oh no.

Soon after waketime on Saturday, whilst engaging in my regular morning correspondences with my Mother, I wrote, “I purchased Little Women. Have you read the it? I read about a third of the brick yesterday.”

“Yes, I had a copy of it when I was a kid. I read it about ten times,” replied she.

Egad! More cross-generational relevance and timeliness. Truly, it was time for a deeper look at the evolution of an evolution of a metaphor that brings people back to Alcott's writing again and again. It seems good girls over generations skipped from the Bible to The Pilgrim’s Progress to Little Women, picking the one that made most sense to their lives, (more recently that would be the latter). The two former books provide the framework for the third, and now we add to the progression this letter that is so obviously affected by, and threaded with, Little Women.

Of the four March sisters, I rather identify with the character of Jo early on and in the middle because I am most like her, even more so than I am like Elizabeth Bennet. For one, Jo is much more active and less proper, for two her best friend is a boy (Laurie) and they often race and do other things on a lark as I had done until I moved to Los Angeles where you cannot run for fear of inhaling quantities of tea-colored air. Furthermore, when we were in elementary, C.Sto also used to tease-call me “Joe." An amusing occurence because “Jo” is actually found in a portion of her full name, not mine. This was in response to my nicking her “Cheeky.” She hated “Cheeky,” along with my tendency to form many a charming C-based nickname just for her… “Chaunky, Chunky, Catheter… .” Luckily, Joe didn’t stick and J9/J.Sto promptly took over when “Stover” or “Stove-top” wouldn’t do because too many Stovers were about. I should also mention that Jo March is a writer, a dramatist-actor and unapologetically bookish. She writes little anecdotes with her friends and sells stories to the town paper and puts on plays with her sisters, much the like of all the videos I used to love to make. I don't know that you ever witnessed the best school version of Macbeth ever wherein the witches' chants were converted to raps and those weird sisters smoked and talked trashed as they prophesied. Macbeth was dubbed “The Mack” and after murdering Macduff proclaimed, “Who’s the mack now!” Yes, my genius manifested itself in so many ways. Just think of K.A. playing Macbeth and you will laugh. I also will never forget our gripping, emotional “out damn spot” scene, which concluded with Lady Macbeth suiciding off of Stover Mancha’s three-foot high deck. Of course the framing made it appear much more perilous, as did the live, in-camera editing I used so as to save myself the trouble of buying editing software when the project was due (ahem) the following morning. What a nice thing it was when I was gifted with iMovie and was no longer doing school projects of that sort due to my schedule and having professional projects in which to dabble and play. Of course none of those will ever top the rap I rewrote to the Beastie Boys’ Rhymin & Stealin. "For what purpose?" you ask? Why, to tell the story of Grendel from Beowulf:

Killin & Stealin
Because Grendel was this monster living down
In the darkness in a cave, underground
He came out of the water, to terrorize the land
He slaughtered every woman and killed every man
Then along came Beowulf from across the seas…


That’s a jolly sampling. And, yes, I do remember the rest of the rhyme and could include it all here if I so wanted. K.T. and D.V.M. were the others involved in the trio of merry beast boys, just as they were the other witches in Macbeth. Come to think of it, I recruited them to a lot of rapping in the name of school projects and I know their lives are the better for my trouble.

Deliver Grendel’s Mom down to Davy Jones’ locker!

You would have laughed hard if you saw those performances, and actually would now were you to hear Rhymin & Stealin and shout the afore mentioned rewritten line at the appropriate part, as anyone Licensed to Ill and familiar with the Grendel remix is want to do during that particular Beastie’s diddy.

Of course I made the mistake of near finishing Little Women over the course of writing this letter and it is driving me mad. American literature from that time period (and in general) is depressing, even when the story has what is considered a happy ending. For this reason I don’t like American Literature just like I don’t much like it in Part Two when the girls and Laurie become older and all start marrying and things just don’t end up how I’d like them to as if the author set-up one thing and then yanked it right away to teach me some sort of lesson. She really is a heavy-handed mother, that Ms. Alcott, and her middle name is spelled all wrong. It is funny to me that when Jo’s sisters start getting married she’s upset because they’re leaving her and she’s never getting married herself, if she can help matters. That makes a lot of sense. Of course, there is Laurie, what about Laurie? In her journal the author wrote,

“Began the second part of ‘Little Women.’ …Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

Bravo! Except, she did marry them all off and I would have had Jo with Laurie instead of the husband she ends up with. But Jo tells Laurie she can’t marry him because she only sees him as a friend and that she doesn’t think she’ll ever marry, but then she does. Why then can’t Jo be an old maid? I didn’t buy into her marriage love story at all, and I thought it rather foolish and hypocritical of the author, although I will admit her not falling for Laurie would be realistic (if he weren’t so attractive in all manners of attractiveness). What I mean, H, is that sometimes you simply can’t like your best friends like that, no matter how well you get on. Of course the ending of the book is all perfectly fine for Jo and things of that sort but not very interesting. Then of course comes the criticism that there is a war going on and that that is not mentioned much. Giving our present times, however, that too might be rather realistic: People don’t pay attention unless they are directly involved. This was also criticism for Pride & Prejudice when it was published, for it seems when there is a war a certain set goes gallivanting about Europe with nary a care but marriage. That’s probably a bit harsh: Life must go on and I’m sure all the men kept up with politics capitally. You know, just as they do now. Oh well, at least they had manners. And, anyway, I don’t see why people have to grow-up and get married at all no matter if there’s a war or not, really. Especially if they say they don’t want to.

So Jo let me down, but not before a fine study was done about writing “sensational” stories (basically hack writing), something I myself rail against every chance I get. Oh I don’t like Jo’s choices there either, but still it was a nice look at catering to masses as opposed to writing for passion. Also in the second half (that gradually began to torment me), the youngest Miss March learns the lessons of successful party-hostessing. You may have noticed my struggles on that front. I dare say I’ve improved a great deal over the past year. I had Amy, the youngest, for that, but then she gets married and it is all ruined! I would say I most like Laurie the boy and am most like Laurie the boy, but then he becomes boring, too. They all go up on the shelf and I don’t like that one bit. I wish I could have stopped earlier in the book. Then I would be left to imagine better ends for the Marches. You and Lord D must promise never to become boring.

It was after reading the chapter I mentioned regarding hack writing (Literary Lessons) that this letter started writing itself in my mind and I knew I’d best put it to paper for you right away. It was hard going, for I’m not any use to anyone when I’m in a book. To say a chosen book influences me would be a gross understatement because I do indeed live its world and it grips me whole. I would go to work on writing and be stopped by the lingering knowledge that there were more chapters waiting and the job wasn’t done, so I did my best to write this while I broke for meals. I’m not traveling as I wish, after all, so a sturdy book is all I’ve got for remedy when it gets hard. I take holidays inward.

Overall I thought my holiday in Little Women heavy-handed and thought how much smarter I was than all the characters. "I already know all of these silly lessons!" I said to myself. Of course when you think something like that, you then go on to realize you’ve just made yourself twice as bad as they who-you-thought-yourself-better-than just by thinking so, and suddenly you are the one starting from scratch, from a lower point than the person you were just better than two seconds ago. So I came to love the bits when the family of girls is young with the dashing, brooding neighbor Laurie hanging about and even the obvious lessons, but then when they all get on toward the middle it made me depressed. American novels depress me in general. For instance, I will never again read The Grapes of Wrath. Dreadful book. Anyway, if only I could have stopped Little Women in the middle of Part Two, but it was not to be.

This novel is distracting me so much that I thought about reading it again, but instead figured it prudent to put it on a shelf, and go on with my active life using said influences to the best of my betterment.

Speaking so much of sisters in this letter, today C.Sto read a part of the screenplay that is the second film. I trust you take to my meaning of the in regards to which “second film.” (I will not say more in case this letter falls under public eye or into the hands of a foreign government. Or worse: Our own.) She liked it a great deal, but also found some sadness in the turn of events that is the story, so I suppose I am doing my part well. I admit that I am alarmed now that I am receiving less criticisms: I wonder if I’m making easy, palatable choices that take less time to execute properly and thus, in association, have less of that passion and plucky “take on the hard way” spirit that leads to joyous payoff once solved on the page. I realize this is a ridiculous notion because I don’t write when I don’t care for a work obsessively, but still one does not want to end up a Wachowski Brother or a George Lucas or a M.Night Shamalamamamamlanbananana. I doubt that will occur anytime soon. I think their trouble lies in my future: When there is no one to tell you “no” when you most need it, and every fool wants a hand in stirring the pot even if they’ve never held court over a stove a day in their lives. It’s probably just that I’m a better writer now. Still, I am afraid of what it means to be a better writer. Amateur for life, I hope. If you have had the occasion to acquaint yourself with the denotation of “amateur,” where the meaning derives, then you understand. So I move onward, wishing that the business and the marketing could be put to an end and hoping that the turning of the world’s momentum around such pieces will take some burden off my artist’s shoulders, because it’s a mean place to be to feel you have to hustle something you believe in and know is worthy in order to share it, when so much doubt usually surrounds other works and you watch works of lesser caliber on parade daily. The ridiculous struggle wears on me and I don’t want it to wear me down to submission. I want to travel and write and film and share stories in all mediums, so I must find a way to do that the right way—

Oh! And I have just received a reply from M.Sto while writing you. Her reply says, “Just read and shredded the script. It's awesome. Write faster; I can't wait.” So for once in my life not even one spelling error or helpful criticism in a draft, only excitement. This is all nice. Since having brought up C.Sto I should also note that she had a strange dream including we sisters running about and away from some Pirates. The adventure involved pocket sweatshirts, a baseball game, bits from TSL and kidnapping. There was a mix-up where, at the baseball game, a Pirate tried to convince onlookers that he was C.Sto’s husband so that they’d hand her over, which infuriated her because not only was he not her husband, but he was also trying to kidnap her and the onlookers believed him! Needless to say she solved it all in the end and woke-up just as fine and Pirate-free as always, and didn’t recall a thing about the ordeal until she phoned me up in the late afternoon and my voice jarred the recollection.

And now my good little hot coffee is drained and this little girl will admit that she has also been considering what she might like to publish next, if anything, and how she might go about distribution. (How my mother would cringe at that one! She shouldn’t worry, though: I cannot do anything else but focus on taking the film around now and therefore will not be picking up any more tedious independent projects for the time being.) I only bring it up because people have been enquiring about second editions and other things and I have found myself without a prepared answer. Regarding publishing, as being good is no longer good enough, as being American (a Canadian told me recently and I was inclined to agree) is about “making people care,” I don’t feel that any House would want my sort of work. Or maybe it is that I feel I don’t belong there, just as I feel about California and everywhere all it once, while also feeling I belong everywhere. Is that possible? To belong everywhere and nowhere all at once? To me home will always be where certain people are, but I cannot live in Virginia because I am too ambitious. This has, and will be for a long time, my tragic flaw. It is even worse to be self-aware of all this: That I moved to move away again. I make the best of the course that must be. Still, I tire of “making people care.” I will know more when I see you in November when, speaking again of sisters, all of yours will be wed! Tell everyone a big “Hello!” and do make good use of the late afternoon hour for me by sipping some tea, shoes off, on your back porch or the like. Maybe you will do so while reading Little Women (and oh, have you read The Pilgrim’s Progress? I have only read a part in second year. It is too bad that I don’t recall any of it as the works are infinitely tied and the context I am curious to examine…) or perhaps you are already doing so while reading this letter from your friend, never a true Californian but always the Impish Lark,
                                                                                                 Jessica Mae

P.S.: Shamalamamamamlanbananana

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A Rhyme for C 

Soft written for the girl so fair
With attitudes like mine,
As all the jokes fall in-between,
This poem’s a sisters' sign.

At eve, from east-opposing coast
On late-sent winds I say,
Read even though your eyes fall tired
And soon your head must lay.

It matters not that we’re apart,
Or that I’m lost at sea,
Or that your hair is doubly blonde
Unlike our pedigree.

Yes it is true; you’re adopted,
The secret files will tell—
Oh now don’t cry, ‘twas just a lie
To torment you so well.

See? We still laugh; it matters not
That we traverse apart:
No time can break a bloodline strong,
No space can rub our start.

So grow up, fine, I guess that’s right,
But promise me one thing:
We’ll still meet where the side lane ends
To have ourselves a swing.

For when days stretch and light is grey
And I am cast aside,
I’ll walk that lane with my last dream,
I'll race you to the slide.


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Marmalade Days 

The weather is nice today, just how I prefer, really: 70 and breezy. It is late afternoon toward evening in the hour when everything slows and there is always some water or chirping to be heard and some interesting light to be seen. Everyone looks good at this time of day as the prospects of the noontime are complete and plans for night dilly-dally. It’s that hitch in the pendulum between right and left where you hover... just, hover… In the summer, this point of day always seems endless and is dear to me.

Every bit my childhood, it is the time of day that recalls my parents walking up the driveway after a long chat with the neighbors across the street. It is my Dad shouting, “Look at the big fireball in the sky, girls!” in a funny captain’s voice as we turn gaze to discover an orange sun sitting bold against a 'scape of mandarin and marmalade clouds that burn above a line of green, that same line of green that is now restrained by so many power lines. This is always the time just before, during or just after dinner, depending on what time your family eats, so bikes are strewn in front yards in hopes of being picked up once again before nightfall. It is hard to find these moments in this city. Maybe they are uniquely suburban and rural. Regardless, moments of this sort are missed this time of year, even when the light and lazy of Los Angeles comes close. Especially when the light and lazy of Los Angeles comes close. It is also the time when C.Sto and I fail to amuse one another while waiting for our neighbor-friends to finish dinner. Our overflowing energy will result in a fight. You know, the sort that leaves scratches and torn hair behind…

She had the longest damn nails. I still have marks: Pale silver slivers here and there in half-moon shapes on my right arm. And the one on my right hand, just below my thumb.

Of course, I deserved them.

We were worse than boys.

(I probably still am.)

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