Friday, April 29, 2005

BY&M picked "Quality" and "Original"

This web site was judged as "Quality" and "Original" and a by Jane's Guide. The reviewer has some very nice things to say about the novel and this web site (click on the Jane's Guide name to read the whole review). For starters, how about "if you are a fan of novels like Wuthering Heights, you'll find this writing interesting." A comparison to any of the Bronte sisters is high praise.

I'm blushing, I admit it.

The review ends "an interesting, rich, visually interesting, and often quite steamy read."

OK, are you agents listening?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Visit the Beyond You & Me on-line store

Purchase Photos From the Novel

Signed, limited edition high-quality reproductions of selections from the photographs which open each chapter of Beyond You & Me can now be purchased from the BY&M on-line store (see link at right or go to BY&M On-Line Store). All photos are 8 x 10 printed on archival quality inkjet paper with photo-quality inks. Each one is individually signed and numbered by the author. Orders can be placed directly by email.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Chapter 4 (part III)


S. and I thought along parallel lines, had similar interests, were in the same astral plane at the same exact moment in time. And our flirting was safe, too: both of us knew I was married, my being married was like armor plating keeping any real danger away. I figured out I could flirt and play as much as I wanted and nothing bad would ever happen, right? He didn’t seem at all younger than me, or on the make, we were just about perfectly attuned in our attitudes and our interests. I was in control, and I remembered my mother’s warnings:

“Keep your legs closed. Don’t give boys the idea they can get anything for free.”

Ah, Child, the whole mess seems so fucking middle class and pathetic now! Maybe I even knew it was at the time, I just can’t separate the threads of the yarn any longer. I mean, why do these things happen? Couldn’t he have gone to some other college? Did it have to be Manuscripts he walked into? Couldn’t his Senior thesis have been on something besides history, my catnip? It doesn’t make sense looking for some deep-seated dissatisfaction with P. Yes, we had been married for nearly five years, yes, I’ve heard about the “seven year itch” coming on early with certain couples; the difference is, we were happily-married, we were! Our sex life was fantastic, I don’t want to leave the wrong impression for posterity— if there is such a thing. Or that anyone but me will ever care about this story. P. is the kind of man a girl wants to be married to— loving, considerate, gentle— we’re good together, he’s always telling me we’re “two halves of the same whole.” He’s smart— even if his favorite songs are The Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun” (everyone in Philly knows the Four Seasons are TWICE as good as the Beach Boys, and can dance, too), and the Byrds’ “Chestnut Mare.” Tells me that one always reminds him of me, how he’s struggled all these years trying to tame me! He says I’m a sponge soaking up life and ideas, and he’s a wonderful guide to the many things in life I’ve never been exposed to— which is a lot if you’re from South Philly.

Plus P. and I have plenty in common— like old movies or driving in our 1965 Mustang, reading at night, listening to music, cuddling for hours in bed (even after making love) and talking. Talking with P. is almost like opening my heart to a best girlfriend. Plus I just plain feel at peace when he’s with me. He’s older than me, and I confess I sometimes feel intimidated by his brains, yet we’re kinda like Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” he’s a wonderful teacher and mentor, as well as a good husband. He wrote a cycle of love sonnets for me after we got married, and had them printed up and bound in book form. All in all, I’m lucky to be married to him— and he tells me the same thing.

With S., I just enjoyed hanging around. I could never imagine him and me having anything serious— much less leaving P. for him, us running off and eloping, God, no! For one thing, he’s terrifically unreliable— also messy, he smokes, he’s selfish in many small ways and, worst of all, afraid of offending anyone he perceives as “above” him. He’s always deferring to the three scions of industry who share a dorm suite with him Stiles because they come from money and he doesn’t have a cent. It made me furious sometimes the way they intimidated him.

There were lots of little things that showed how off-balance he felt, but one afternoon sticks out in particular. We’d stopped by after class at Durfee Sweet Shop, it’s a grungy basement space in Durfee Hall off old campus where they sell candy and ice cream and there’s a big juke box with great tunes on it. S. and I were sitting at one of the tables shooting the shit when two of the suite mates walked in and began eyeing me.

“Who’s the skirt?” Asshole One asked S.

“She’s typing my thesis.”

He answered as if he’d been caught naked with a minor. What was it he was worried they’d think? I wasn't good enough for their blue-blood money. I wanted to scratch all three of them bloody, but especially the two jerks who think the world fucking revolves around them. Sigh! As much as I love Yale, sometimes the gap between where I come from and what most of the Yalies have given to them as part of their birthright leaves me with mixed feelings at best. Still, my dad always taught me that you can’t let other people determine who you are, or limit what you do.

The next day I called S. to see when those two would be around Stiles. 2 PM? Great. Around 1:30, I told Ellen I had to go out for awhile, and slipped into the library bathroom to change, then headed to Stiles all bundled up in my coat. When I got there, S. was working in his room with the door open, while the Deux Jerques were drinking beers on a sofa one of them had bought for the common area with its shared bathroom. As I walked in through the front door, I took off my coat— underneath, I’d put on a micro-mini I haven’t worn since high school. It ended just south of my ass, and I tugged at the edges “absent-mindedly” a little bit to make sure they didn’t miss my blunt humor.

“Hey, boys, it’s the skirt!”

I closed the door to S.’s room behind me and left them to their low-grade imaginations. They’ll probably all end up as stockbrokers after graduation. I didn’t stay long— just enough to let them sweat about what they thought they were missing.

to be continued (check back often)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The present intrudes on the world of the novel

I plan on posting more of chapter 4 next week, but the present day continues to re-create echoes from Beyond You & Me. In the interim, though, on April 20th the United Auto Workers plans a solidarity march at Columbia University in support of a planned strike starting on April 18th of teaching and research assistants. When was the last time you heard someone in the U.S. use the words "solidarity march"? And here I thought Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard, was going to be all the news on the academic front this season?

Anyone visited "The Invisible Adjunct"? She's just one of thousands of indentured faculty (oops, I meant "non-tenured servants") who demonstrate the bad faith of the academy (not on the streets, but in their actions). In the novel, Cassie's husband is one of the teaching assistants, without whom Yale would not hum. It's workers whose benefits are tied to their education (frequently with hefty loans and billing practices that no state attorney general would let pass if they knew about them) that make the Ivy League great.

So is this book ancient history (as one agen claimed), or timely? It's certainly a timeless story, because temptation happens to almost everyone. Are women better off today than in 1975 when the novel takes place? Do great institutions still dissemble when it comes to their internal needs? Is truth no more fixed than de Man said it was? You be the judge.

And thanks to the trolls! Internet anonymity brings out the best in some folks.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Chapter 4 (part II)

Looking back, I can see all the obvious “reasons why” going in. I never thought much about the whole matter at the time. It wasn’t all that different from my time at South Philadelphia High School: if a girl meets a guy in the hallway, or perhaps he stops by your locker “accidentally on purpose” and pretends to be there (usually for a reason you don’t really care about anyway), maybe you flirt with him a little, even if you already have a boyfriend. If he’s interested, maybe he’ll get up the nerve to hang around after school and ask you to grab a slice of pizza at the Stadium Diner across Broad Street or a soda and a Tastykake at one of the corner stores, the kind that used to be on almost every block in South Philly before the supermarkets put most of them out of business. My whole life drifted along that way: allowing things to drag out slowly so I could enjoy the uncertainty, then let things pull me in this direction or that, never thinking “hmmm, should I?” Sort of the way I would eat chocolate-covered raisins: one at a time, slowly, making them last. My mom didn’t have a lot of money to buy candy and treats like that, I couldn’t be sure the next time my mom would buy more.

Add to that the fact I was pretty plain and awkward right up until senior year of high school. I liked it when boys started paying me some attention. Hardly anyone asked me out until my breasts started developing the Summer before. And without money— my dad still comes home from the Post Office, then heads off to a second job—I couldn’t dress the way the popular girls did, either. Plus, I didn’t “put out” like the fast ones did. Things have changed, of course. One of the undergraduate women was wearing a t-shirt yesterday that read “nice girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.” I was raised differently.

Bottom line: things were pretty hopeless for me until the last year of high school— and that meant I was usually pretty lonely, too. Add to it all, I got married young (only 19), and since then, I’ve tried hard to be the good faculty-wife-in-training for P. Translation: “no flirting allowed.” So a brief few years of attention and then everything seemed like it ended before it’d begun. All the short skirts that suddenly looked terrific, the tight sweaters, the smiles and whispers and teasing, all left behind.

It wasn’t just opportunity, S. was catnip on a certain level. He was 21 to my 24, but he didn’t seem younger than me, and he was sophisticated, with dark, European-rake looks, and a slight German accent that made him seem— worldly. Also slightly dangerous. Our conversations— banter really— were always peppered with flirting asides and thinly-disguised innuendo, mostly sexual allusions and flat-out tease I never took offense at— or tired of. If I write down a few things I can still remember (God, there’s so much I CAN remember, it’s scary!), I wonder if anyone reading this could tell which of us said what?

— Have you seen the posters around campus that say “Is there life after Yale”?

— Is there life AT Yale?

— Yale is like a mother with too many children who still refuses to let any of them grow
up as long as they live at home.

— That’s not so bad, personally I think independence is overrated, you have to take care of yourself, cook your own meals, pay the rent, shop, what a bore! Definitely a worse choice than a warm, enveloping bed.

— Yale is like always coming back to your own bed!

— Bed? Why is it the bed is the symbol of sexual submission and gratification when sex occurs in a large variety of locations, some of which I’ve tried and others I’m looking forward to trying in the right circumstances.

— Tell me about your first love?

— When I lost my virginity?

— No, your first love. Love and sex aren’t always the same.

— Well, love without sex certainly isn’t as good as love WITH sex.

— Tell me about your first love?

— Do I have to tell the truth?

— No, but at least make up an entertaining lie, if it’s one thing I can’t stand it’s boring lies, they should be colorful and enjoyable stories.

— You certainly are an opinionated person.

— Yes, well, what point is there to living with blandness, life is too short to put up with mediocrity, or worse just going along to get along.

— Ah, but what about society? What about offending others?

— Well, I don’t think you have to hurt other people to be yourself. I try never to lie in a way that will hurt another person, and I don’t always tell them the unvarnished truth, especially if it will do any real harm.

— Give me an example.

— I don’t tell Ellen that I think she’s an obnoxious bitch. I doubt it’s going to change her character if I did, and it won’t do anything to improve my situation at work, either.

— You don’t believe in redemption?

— The only redemption Ellen is going to respond to is a ball peen hammer to the head!

— Oh, you ARE wicked.

— Am I? Besides, it my turn, tell me about YOUR first love.

— Ah, but you see, I’m still waiting to find her.

OK, maybe it’s NOT so hard to figure out which is me and which is him. But the ideas we kicked around were ones we shared, not necessarily in the conventional boy/girl thing, either. Attraction isn't always just about the physical.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Chapter 4 (in the library, in installments)

I met S. at work (can’t get much more ordinary than that, right?). I’m a secretary in Manuscripts & Archives in Yale’s Sterling Library, not because I want to be a secretary, but because that’s all Yale will let me be without a degree. So much for the open mind of the academy. M & A is the place where the Important People deposit their Important Papers so researchers can, well, research them for insight— or gossip or whatever researchers want for their books and scholarly papers. Seems like everyone who comes into M & A is writing a book, so usually I take pity on the article writers or students and help them instead. If nothing else, I find it passes my boring days talking to people who don’t normally rate any attention from the rest of the staff. They’re busy throwing themselves at the book writers, hoping to get a mention in the introduction: “and finally, most importantly, I want to thank Maureen Busybody at Sterling Memorial Library’s Manuscripts & Archives, without whose magnificent help this exceptionally wonderful tome could not have seen the light of day.” Not that Ms. Busybody had anything really to do with writing the book, it’s just the author knows if he doesn’t kiss up to her, he won’t get any help the next time he needs to rummage around in the papers of Important People.

Anyway, S. was researching his Senior thesis— it’s a big paper, really a mini-book Yalies have to write Senior year before they graduate— his was about the diplomatic failures leading up to the First World War, so he wanted to work with the papers of Col. Edward House, delegate to the Versailles Peace Conference, and Yale alumnus. The one good thing about Manuscripts is I like history. S. was charming and funny and right off we got talking, chatting on and off for a few weeks as I made sure he got the papers he needed (sometimes ones he wasn’t supposed to have access to, he was only a student after all). Hey, it passed the time. The more we talked, though, the more I could see he wasn’t just funny, he was urbane and sophisticated. More than that, we clicked on a certain level different from anyone else that came in there. His one major defect (and I teased him about it all the time): he was dating Ellen Lefrak, the woman who works at the desk next to mine (and whom I despise). Ellen’s my age, yet she looks ten years older and acts twenty years older still. She’s not bad looking, and he must’ve seen something or other in her. Turns out, though, he also liked gossiping with me about his misadventures with Ellen— especially the plans and schemes he concocted in a fruitless crusade to bed down “Ellen Iron Panties” (his name for her; mine is much worse). We traded gossipy tidbits about Ellen— and the whole stuffy M & A crew. He even asked my advice on improving his chances with her. What girl could resist such fun?

One day S. invites me for a cup of coffee in the library cafeteria. We talked about the usual things— his latest vision to spirit Ellen away to some remote location in the Black Forest where no one could hear her crying for help while he licked honey off her naked body, gently forcing her to submit to his carnal desires. I know that sounds horrible, only she’s been a total bitch to me since the day I started, I don’t now and didn’t care then what happened to her virginity, it has never been important to me. See, she has a college degree, she’s an “archivist-in-training” (still a secretary, really), while I’m worthless “clerical staff” with no prospects for advancement until I come up with a sheepskin (and sheep haven’t grazed on the New Haven Green since the Civil War, so there aren’t any around for me to skin). No chance for advancement, no chance for acknowledgements, tsk, tsk. I thought his scheming was a hoot, I encouraged him in the conviction my enemy’s enemy is my friend (and it wasn’t too bad having a friend, either). Right about the time I stood up to return to work, he grabbed my hand and asked me:

“Would you do me a huge favor? Since you’re such a good typist—" it’s true: 100 words per minute! “—would you type my Senior thesis for me?”

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I can tell you it wasn’t that!

On a whim I’ll never be able to explain, I said “sure.” My dad once told me the most important lesson he’d learned during five years in the Marines was “never volunteer.” Guess I should’ve listened to my dad more!

(to be continued)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Chapter 16

June 15

All traces of the Spring have vanished, and I don’t mean the weather, though it’s getting warmer and muggier each day. The Yalies have either graduated and moved on (S. is home in Germany before starting graduate school at Harvard come September), or have returned to the nest until the Fall Semester brings things here to life once more. The campus is hardly deserted, however, the Summer session started up before the beds of the Spring semester’s students were cold, the graduate’s tears dried, the memories of “Bright College Years” (the Yale theme song, with its treacly lyrics and smarmy sentiments) beginning already to fade, along with the snapshots and yearbook autographs put away to be brought out again in 10 years or so at some future reunion.

I’m sure, as always, my feelings are strongly slanted to the negative by my tiredness. P. on the other hand is relaxing a bit these days, he has completed his oral examinations and is reading a few crucial texts before submitting his final PhD thesis prospectus to de Man for approval. Nothing really taxing. I’m not surprised he’s picked some complex topic that will combine all the strengths of his voracious interests and wide experience. How I envy his ability to concentrate and his opportunities to do so. Occasionally I’m envious to the point of destructive behavior, even a tantrum now and then, though I understand it makes no sense for him to stop his rush toward his doctorate for me who didn’t even finish sophomore year of college to start over. It would be madness putting my needs and wants (there’s that word again) above his clear path and promising future. As he always tells me— and I believe it, though it’s not always easy to accept— the quickest way for me to get my life back is for him to finish his doctorate, then I’ll be free to pursue my own dreams.

Well, at least the ones that married life allows.

Besides, women learn early in life to sublimate their wants and needs, we’re good at it.

The plans S. was unveiling about Ellen almost every day started to resemble my bad dream after awhile. I even began to wonder whether these fantasies were really more about me, or maybe some perverse ideal in his head. Surely he couldn’t be so hopeful and stupid as to think she’d ever surrender to his desires? Her family’s some kind of obscure Orthodox Christian sect, she ran down the rituals they followed for engagements and weddings once for her friend, Trudy. There was no way in hell she’d yield to this product of the streets and his avidly pornographic mind, which he stoked (when not working on his senior thesis or his last few classes) reading Victorian erotica like The Autobiography of a Flea and A Man with a Maid. He declaimed a few passages aloud to me one evening in the kitchen, thinking I’m sure I’d find it shocking.

He couldn’t know about a magazine one of my co-workers had brought in when I was working at the post office in Philly. Printed in Sweden, it showed a couple who looked like the boy and girl next door doing everything under the sun. The final photo showed the guy ejaculating on her face, and I remember thinking “why would a woman pose for a photo like that?” It wasn’t the act that disturbed me, it was the fact she’d posed for the picture doing something so personal, for money. Yes, I posed nude for The Yale Daily News, but that was just a hoot, and certainly nothing sexual, other than what the undergraduate men did with it in the privacy of their dorm bathrooms— and keep in mind, they have Playboy and lots better than my picture to stoke— or stroke— their libidos. But the more I thought about that Swedish girl, the more I understood people in photos are just shadows, we can’t know anything about them, can’t trick any meaning about them or their lives from the images we see, no matter how open and revealing their expressions or actions. One way or another, the pictures are only shadows, pure and simple. Her feelings and motives didn’t matter, and we couldn’t learn anything about life from pictures, either.

The next day after class, S. was walking me back to M & A, even carrying my books like we were at Southern High. I think I surprised him this time asking if he ever looked at pornography.

“Not often,” he answered after hesitating a bit. “For one thing, it only makes me feel lonelier than I already am.” We were walking from Lit Y class back to M & A, the sun was shining and Spring was literally in full bloom, daffodils trumpeted their yellow life force from every flower bed and along many walkways. “It’s like going to the ‘naked parties’ off campus. Everyone stands around nude, but it doesn’t usually do anything but make you realize what you’re missing out on. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” We walked a little more, me watching the campus beginning to reach out from its Winter doldrums. “The other day you insisted true romance could enter our lives in the form of a married person.” I held my arms up to my chest as we walked along, absent-mindedly thinking it would protect me from all things bad. “Don’t you think that’s an evil thing to do? To break up someone’s marriage?”

“Not if it were true love. Why are we so certain marriage and romance have any connection? Couples for thousands of years have gotten married for tons of reasons. It wasn’t until the troubadours came along in the Middle Ages that people even thought about love as an important ingredient in the relationships between men and women. Before that, marriage was a sacred act or to seal a land sale.”

“You mean to say couples didn’t love one another during Roman times or in China or India? What about the Taj Mahal? This king was so grief-stricken over his dead queen he constructed the most beautiful monument to love ever built.”

“The one who bore him 14 children? I never said married people can’t be in love.”

“I read once where he locked himself in his room after she died and refused to come out or eat for eight straight days. When he emerged from his grief, his black beard had turned completely white.” I couldn’t imagine a love like that, though I wanted to believe I could feel such a love, that P. felt such a love for me. At the same time, I worried if any test to prove his love could last so long would just come up short. “I believe the Taj Mahal was built after the troubadours, though I doubt they were widely read in India.” I had him on that point and I savored my rare triumph.

“You mistake my meaning, Mis-sus Campbell. I meant simply love has rarely in history been the basis for marriage. Families married off their children to cement political or financial alliances or to escape from having to feed and clothe them.”

“Then that begs a question: is there a difference between love and romance?”

“Has to be. You can love another person even when they don’t love you back. It’s the basis for most of the world’s tragic literature and much popular music.”

“That’s true, where would Cole Porter or Gershwin be without unrequited love?”

“You’re right, though. Unrequited love would seem to be unromantic. However, our culture has raised it to an art form. If you look at Abelard and Heloise, her letters to him reveal a deep and abiding love, without romance, since he became a monk after her brothers castrated him for bedding down their unmarried sister.”

Then, almost out of nowhere, I called to mind part of a letter written by Heloise I’d memorized in high school English class. It blew me away and I could still quote it almost verbatim:

For it is thou alone that canst make me sad, canst make me joyful or canst comfort me. And it is thou alone that owest me this great debt, and for this reason above all that I have at once performed all things that you didst order, till that when I could not offend thee in anything I had the strength to lose myself at thy behest. And what is more, and strange it is to relate, to such madness did my love turn that what alone it sought it cast from itself without hope of recovery when, straightway obeying thy command, I changed both my habit and my heart, that I might show thee to be the one possessor both of my body and of my mind. God knows I have never required anything of thee save myself, desiring thee purely, not what was thine. Not for the pledge of matrimony, nor for any dowry did I look, not my own passions or wishes but thine (as thou thyself knowest) was I zealous to gratify.

Both of us stayed quiet after I finished, each as surprised as the other by this unexpected feat of recitation. Why it was I could recall a complete chunk of Heloise’s letter, while failing to remember simple geometry formulas, God only knows.

“Touching and romantic. Though not very romantic having one’s testicles removed for a beloved. How can you have romance when he’s in a monastery and she’s wearing a nun’s habit locked away by her father in a convent?”

There was no time to answer these unanswerable questions, I was back outside the Wall Street entrance to the library, ready to return to my own monkish cell. The conversation, though, left me with a disquieting awareness that S. might be plotting all these elaborate, impossible, ultimately futile scenarios, not with Ellen in mind, but me. I don’t know where that realization came from, and it didn’t emerge for hours. In fact, I was standing at the sink washing the dishes (more mindless tasks to leave my brain free to think too much). I must have flushed right down to my toes, I felt sweat soak my blouse and I had to turn off the hot rinse water which was elevating my already skyrocketing temperature. It wasn’t that he was hopelessly in love with the wrong woman— instead it all began to make more sense to me as a sub-text he was composing in his mind to communicate with me! The more outrageous the scheme, the harder it would be for me to ignore it— or him.

“It’s too absurd, I’m married,” I blurted out, forgetting P. was in his study only a few feet away, blushing and smiling at the flattering notion he might be in love with me.

“What did you say, Love?”

“I was remembering a line of Heloise’s letter to Abelard where she writes him—

And if the name of wife appears more sacred and more valid, sweeter to me is ever the word friend, or, if thou be not ashamed, concubine or whore. To wit that the more I humbled myself before thee, the fuller grace I might obtain from thee, and so also damage less the fame of thine excellence. Thou hast not disdained to set forth sundry reasons by which I tried to dissuade thee from our marriage, from an ill-starred bed; but were silent as to many, in which I preferred love to wedlock, freedom to a bond. I call God to witness, if Augustus, ruling over the whole world, were to deem me worthy of the honor of marriage, and to confirm the whole world to me, to be ruled by me forever, dearer to me and of greater dignity would it seem to be called thy strumpet than his empress.”

“Was that Heloise’s letter to Abelard?” he shouted from the other room.


“Good recitation, Cassie. What in the world led you to memorize it.”

On another night, I might’ve taken offense at his being surprised, implying a low estimation of my learning. This particular night I preferred to let it slide.

“Just something I remember from high school,” I replied.

Then I remembered the Petrarchan sonnet he’d written for me shortly after we’d gotten married entitled “A Walk Along the Santa Monica Beach.”

Your loveliness is undisputed,
Gold shimmers in your chestnut strands,
While daylight slips through graceful hands
Brushing aside breezes partly muted,
Raised like champagne in glasses fluted
To scatter ocean airs drifting from distant lands,
As aimlessly as our feet gliding over heated sands
In this hour time has not diluted.
Eventually there will be no light,
Or strength to grasp your supple hand,
The sun will darken, the stars above
Go dark, death come with all its fright
My body covered over with sand
Nothing left but my unceasing love.

“Recognize that one?” I wasn’t sure whether he’d remember it. Suddenly I felt his hands around my waist, felt his breath next to my ear, it tickled and startled me. He just held me for a few minutes and then we both went back to what we’d been doing.