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Motivation: motivated by more than meets the eye; bear down and do whatever it takes to survive; reptilian, like the sword, only motivation is survival; how, what do I do to survive? Logic versus emotion; what about instinct? Tom always loved reptiles…

And why the hell isn’t my stuff being posted when I email it??? Grr. (Or should I say hssss?)


In his memoir, Hitch expressed regret that he never engaged in combat at arms, to fight the brave fight (a la Orwell in Spain). But his life and work demonstrated that HIS pen was mightier than any sword he might have held. The world mourns his loss today.

“Tom and Viv,” which was made into a 1994 film starring Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson, told the story of Eliot’s calamitous 17-year marriage to a high-spirited but unstable British woman, Vivien Haigh-Wood, and its aftermath, when she was committed to a mental hospital where she eventually died. Meticulously researched and treading carefully on delicate personal matters, the play nonetheless engendered outrage, especially in England, from those who found it an unseemly invasion of private lives. On the other hand it also elicited frustration from those, like the New York Times critic Frank Rich, who found it not invasive enough.

“It’s possible that Mr. Hastings has placed too much stock in his store of dry facts,” Mr. Rich wrote. “Eloquently written as this work can be, it’s also bloodless until its waning moments. It’s as if the playwright were afraid to take the final plunge of imagining, however speculatively or voyeuristically, just what intimacies his couple might have exchanged in all those rooms they unhappily cohabited.”

Michael Hastings, a British playwright whose best-known work, “Tom and Viv,” about the first marriage of T. S. Eliot, created a cultural brouhaha over the appropriateness of fictionalizing the lives of real people, died on Nov. 19, at his home in London. He was 74.

From Harold Bloom in the NYT, 11/14/11.

Chapter 1.  The trip is conceived.


The return trip to Billings was dreamt of in the languorous mid-summer.  Events such as “health care reform” seemed to merit their lower-case status.  Christopher Hitchens was starting to lose his hair but was otherwise in the grip of the giddy gremlin that steals the personhood from a “cancer patient”.  The two sisters, reduced by one from their original number, had not been speaking; took too much energy to pick up the phone, let alone drive 2 hours to visit in person.  But the eldest, web-surfing the days away, saw that Hitch was to debate whether god is truly Great or not in the town of their youth.  Just the thought of it caused Ellie a frisson of dread, a slight sideways jolt, amid the dissipating summer haze.

Elizabeth, Anne and Victoria (yes, named for queens) were not true Billings girls, they lacked some essential ingredient, common to their peers, which was both the source for their often-perspiring palms and the seed of their salvation (although of course none of them understood this until much later).  They all three lacked the capacity to conform.  Not that each didn’t desire the comfort of being the same as the others, the ease of flying beneath the group’s radar—indeed, a deep envy resided within, and propelled at least one of the sisters to escalating acts of outlandishness.  But that sister was gone now; maybe the trip back to Billings would heal some of that old hurt.  Ellie felt the potential as a tingle now.  A sign of magic, good or ill, to come.


Perhaps it was the being named for queens that started everything.  Mother (as we call her now; she was always “Mommy” before) raised us to believe in the concept of monarchy: absolute obedience to the Reign, or off with your head.  Now that I think of it, the fact of calling her Mommy was always incongruent.  Mommy conjures the ideal of a bosomy, welcoming “Mommy” (“Mammie”?), someone who would love you always, no matter what, do anything in the world for you, but she was not that person.  Au contraire, our Mommy ruled with absolute authority and power: you had to obey, you dared not question, your wants and needs were attended at her whim, or not, and you had always to show your allegiance to her rule.  And so having this Queen-like behavior perfectly modeled for us, we each became Mommy and could never fit in, anywhere, let alone Billings, Montana.

The parents found their way there after a series of small towns on the road from Cedar Rapids, where they had met and married.  Dad was a pharmacist, harbored dreams of running a business but after several failed attempts let Mommy rule.  She was the business person, had the drive, the focus to make money out of nothing.  She’d managed to accumulate enough along the way to buy the small shop in Billings and so we landed there.  The early 60s in Billings: not the right time or place for three pre-adolescent Queens in the making.  By then we were starting to feel our own yearnings to rule, were less and less inclined to accept Mommy’s pronouncements and decrees.  We had figured out though that one doesn’t challenge the Supreme Ruler to her face.  So we had all developed the rather subversive tendency to show one face to the world while feeling the opposite at the core.  Anne was always the worst.  She could charm, smile, be the first to do extra helpful things for Mommy; Mommy could never see into the dark heart of the girl, she fell for that beautiful face every time.  Dad was on the road.  Mommy’s business sense in running the new shop led her to send him out.  He would sell things.  Pencils with inspirational engravings.  Aprons patched with bucolic scenes.  Those were the best-sellers in the Midwest of that era.  Even though he lacked business sense, he could sell.  His salesman face would melt you.  Housewives adored him.  He knew the best way to flatter, which is the essence of a good salesman, and come to think of it, of the consort to a Queen.  Years of letting Mommy rule had perfected the obsequiy, the ability to pacify and please.  While the world revolved around, and was dictated by, the necessity of first obedience to Mommy and second navigation of the fabric of each new place, Vicky and I were able to breathe only when Dad came home.  We really sucked at kissing Mommy’s ass, to use a 7th-grader’s vernacular.  And everybody else’s, too.

I was in 7th grade, Anne in 5th and Vicky in 4th.  (That’s the only way I can think of it, what grade were we in?)  Now you know 7th grade is probably the worst of all the grades to have to move to a new school.  And of course 5th is the best.  Anne, having already perfected her mask, got along from the start, although the darkness was still, always, there and Vicky and I saw it and felt it.  I hated Billings from the start.  The junior high school was small, a rickety warren of slapped-up hovels they called classrooms.  (Everyone knew not to waste resources on the hapless young teens; junior high being a stinking stew of hormonal craziness; although not much better of a fate awaited high-schoolers, most of whom would complete their educational journeys there.)  Of course, for a 7th-grader, everything revolved around clothes, and what I had in my small part of the shared closet was not in Billings’s high style.  Every day, the same: not those shoes, not that skirt, not again.  But Mommy wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t deign to even glance my way when I pleaded, please, pretty-please, can’t I get a nice poodle-skirt?  No, no use even to ask.  No chore, no menial task, no extra-something I did for her would buy me a poodle-skirt, even when, as in 1963, they were no longer the height of fashion for teenagers.  So off I went in my dour, too-long gabardine, topped with a shapeless pea-coat, scowl in place as I boarded the bus (which I also hated, maybe hated even the most) ready to fight anybody who dared make a single crack.  That was how I started out in Billings.

Anne, skipping along the charmed path she had set for herself, always set for herself, walked to school and made immediate friends along the way.  Her clothes, many of which used to be mine, always seemed to enliven her impish demeanor, set off the dark sparkle of her brown eyes, nevermind that they were almost as frumpy as mine.  She never set off with a scowl; in fact, she rarely let that deep-simmering anger out of its locket around her neck.  Nonetheless, there were tell-tale signs that Anne too had difficulty accepting our new home town.  In the way of a random graffito found in the misty mirror one morning (“disgusting”), the mysterious word “shit” crayoned on the sidewalk in front of our house, Anne’s secrets had their way of making themselves known.  But, as we were later to discover, most of them remained incognito or inscrutable when they did leak.  Anne started out as the obedient Mommy-subject that Vicky and I aspired to but within a couple of months in that horrid, cold, dry, barren nowheresville, even the Perfect Princess drew Mommy’s vengeful stings when a command was “accidentally” disregarded (Oh, Mommy, I meant to wipe down the counter, I’m sorry, the phone rang and I had to give the poor salesman a story about why we couldn’t buy Highlights again this month, I just couldn’t tell him that money was tight) or even intentionally disobeyed (Well, Mommy, I don’t think I should have been the one to rake the leaves again since I did it the last time); her precociousness couldn’t save her every time.  Not that Mommy ever, ever meted out the kinds of punishments Vicky and I were served to her Precious Princess.  But more on that later.  

Vicky, who should have gotten off easiest as the baby, actually had the worst time of it early on in Billings.  For one, she had just gotten glasses, a fate worse than death for girls of that era, and to have needed them so young, well might as well have branded her with a scarlet A.  She received cruel teasings on a daily basis, mostly from the hard-scrabble boys who saw that weakness for what it was.  Rocks were thrown even, resulting in Mommy’s appearance at her school, which of course resulted only in escalating and more covert forms of torture.  Poor thing, she got angry too (did she write shit on the sidewalk?), and actually yelled at Mommy once.  It was our third week in town, we girls having started to breathe just a tad, and Mommy threw one of her typical fits after finding orange peels on the ground outside our bedroom window.  She immediately zeroed in on me, and, I confess, I couldn’t help myself, of course I blamed it on Vicky (whom I thought still too much of a baby to speak up for herself, even if none of us dared to on any kind of a regular basis) who then let Mommy have it at the top of her lungs: “Mommy!  How dare you believe Ellie, I would NEVER, EVER EVER throw orange peels out the window.  NEVER!!!”  Yes, I’d have to say Vicky found her roar that day, and a roar befitting a future Queen it was indeed.  Unfortunately, the lioness always gets eaten by the Tyrannosaurus every time: Vicky was made to scrub every inch of the bathroom with a toothbrush that afternoon.  

Breaks in the routine; breaks for sanity, getting clarity, moving in a new direction with a new purpose.  Breaking up, apart: mysterious sometimes, other times not at all, true for both whether one instigated it or not.  May not have instigated it wittingly…


I hate it when things break.  You expect some things to last a lot longer than they do.


On the other hand, one must question the attachment to something that can break so easily.  Throw it out and try something different.